39. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

George Carlin quoted this line, but he didn’t compose it.

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

In 2013 I saw a massively shared pic on Facebook which attributed this quotation to Nietzsche. In short, there’s no evidence that Nietzsche ever said this; I have yet to see anybody present a source (one idiot insisted that it was Nietzche, and her evidence was telling me to “googel [sic] this”). When I saw the quotation myself, I immediately recognized it as a miswording of a line from page 74 of Carlin’s book Brain Droppings (1997): “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.”

So that settles it, right? Well, no. In Carlin’s next book, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001), the preface contains page of quotations from other people, and the same quotation found in Brain Droppings is attributed there to “Anon.” (anonymous). So what’s going on here? Well, Carlin always prided himself in writing his own material, so I’m reluctant to call him a thief. I think it’s more likely that he ran into a problem that writers and musicians occasionally fall for, which is plagiarizing something unknowingly. This can when you get something in your head that sounds good and think that you came up with yourself, but you’re just repeating something whose source you’ve forgotten. This even happens to musicians who think they’ve written a song they had in their head, when in reality they had heard it before but forgot where. Regardless, as Carlin attributed the line to “anonymous” in 2001, he clearly wasn’t trying to take credit for it.

Who was the real author of the quotation? Unfortunately this is one of those quotations that seems to have grown to have a life of its own. QuoteInvestigator.com did some EXCELLENT research on this (see the link below). You can find the same underling joke in some writings going as far back as the early 19th century. For example, in 1813 Anne Louise Germaine de Stael published the work “De l’Allemagne”, where this line appears in the English translation: “…where we did not hear the music; the dancing that we saw there would appear insane.” Over the years there were many, many variations of this, until things wound up in the worded form that Carlin quoted. Where Carlin himself found the quotation, I don’t know.