Scott Danner, Chief Operating Officer of Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kansas, has been among the more prolific contributors to the Pundit in general, and this Perishable Thoughts section in particular. Among the general pieces he has contributed are these:
And his contributions to our Perishable Thoughts section include these:
We have never been modest in our admiration for Winston Churchill, believing him to be the second greatest democratic leader of all time — only Lincoln, whose hatred for war imbued his very soul, can be deemed greater. So when Scott Danner sent over a quotation identifying Winston Churchill as its author, we were enthused… except we have read a lot of Churchill and were suspicious, as we do not recall Winston Churchill saying any such thing.
Here is the quote:
“He who dares wins.”
— A saying with indeterminate origin.
We knew the only thing to do was call in Pundit aide-de-camp James Elmer and ask him to research the situation:
Just as we found while researching the quote “something for nothing,” there are endless versions of “He who dares, wins” that use the words “dare” and “win” to suggest boldness and action.
Contrary to the claims of modern Internet message boards, “He who dares, wins” was never a quote spoken by Winston Churchill. As you will soon see, the origins of this adage predate Churchill’s birth by 111 years.
“Who dares, wins” has been the motto of at least 8 special forces elite units around the world. The British Special Air Service was first to use “Who dares, wins” as their motto, and its selection is popularly attributed to Lt. Col. David Stirling in approximately 1942. The motto is coupled with a flaming sword (though often described as a winged dagger) and is used as their cap badge. All members of the Greek 1st Raider/Paratrooper Brigade wear similar unit insignia depicting a “winged sword,” and a scroll runs across the sword and wings with the motto “Who dares wins” (Greek: Ο ΤΟΛΜΩΝ ΝΙΚΑ — O Tolmon Nika), in tribute to the Free Greek Special Forces that served with the 1 SAS Brigade during World War II. Special Forces groups that use, or have used, our quote as their motto also include:
● United Kingdom, Special Air Service
● Rhodesia, Rhodesian Special Air Service Disbanded 1980
● Greece, 1st Raider Paratrooper Brigade “Ο τολμών νικά” (pronounced O tolmon nika)
● Australia, Special Air Service Regiment
● New Zealand, Special Air Service
● France, 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment
● Israel, Sayeret Matkal Hebrew: “המעז מנצח” HaMe’ez Menatzeakh
● Belgium, 1st Parachutist Battalion
Several books and movies also bear the title, “Who dares, wins,” which deal mostly with the history and exploits of the British Special Air Service.
Also appropriating use of the quote are a British game show, and a character on the British sitcom, “Only Fools & Horses,” named Del Boy, who made it his catch phrase.
“Who dares, wins” is also the alternate motto of the Yarbrough/Yerburgh family of England. A historically based, dramatic account of its existence by at least 1867 comes from a contributor to The Yarbrough National Genealogical & Historical Association’s “Yarbrough Family Quarterly,” who writes this tale titled: “The Motto” (pg.136) about the emergence of Robert Armstrong Yerburgh as a British Conservative politician. [1st printed in YFQ Vol. 15 No. 4, pgs. 8-13] He was intended for a peerage in 1916 but died before the patent was completed. His second son Robert, who also took to a career in Conservative politics, was elevated to the peerage as Baron Alvingham in 1929.
We begin to delve deeper into the history of where and when this quote came from with Leonard Roy Frank’s “Quotationary,” which in most cases does a masterful job of giving accurate attributions to quotations from noted authors, but says only this of our quote which appears in their category on “Daring”:
“Who dares, wins”
The book “Dares: Webster’s quotations, Facts and Phrases” filled with facts and quotations on “dares” has also thrown in the towel, attributing authorship as “anonymous.”
In their 2007 book, Four Tragedies: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes, Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff translated four of the seven complete, surviving tragedies by Sophocles (The four are named in the book title). Our quote appears in their translation of Philoctetes, written by Sophocles in 409 BC. On line 81 their translation of the ancient Greek spoken by the character of Odysseus matches our quote perfectly. Unfortunately, this is an anomaly. No other translations of Philoctetes, and there are plenty available, give the translation of line 81’s ancient Greek as this same modern English phrase.
In 1881, Sir Theodore Martin translated The Works of Horace: Translated Into English Verse, with a Life and Notes. Among Horace’s great surviving works are the Epistles, two actually, the second in Latin is titled “Epistularum Liber Secundus” from 14 BC. In “Epistle XVII — To Scaeva.” Sir Theodore gives us these familiar lines:
“Who fears he’ll fail sits still. But has not he,
Who dares and wins, done well and valiantly?”
“Qui audet adipiscitur” is the Latin translation of “He who dares, wins” but does not appear in the original latin text of Epistle XVII.
Once more, just as we saw in the previous example of the translation of Sophocles’ “Philoctetes,” the modern translator has used the modern phrase of “who dares, wins” to help us to understand the ancient Latin. Again we have only a single instance of a modern translation of an ancient work using a modern expression to illuminate ancient concepts. No other translations of Horace’s “Epistle XVII — To Scaeva” use the phrase “who dares and wins” in their interpretation.
In 1867 we find the earliest publication of our entire quote, “He who dares wins,” in “The Works of Louise MÃ¼hlbach in Eighteen Volumes.” Louise MÃ¼hlbach was the pen name of Clara Mundt, a German writer who is best known for works of historical fiction, such as the one in which we find our quote titled, “Louisa of Prussia.” It appears in volume 7 of “The Works” during a conversation in which the character of Victoria is enlisted to “make an effort” for the welfare of Austria; to use her feminine wiles to discover the intentions of a deceitful France allying itself with “Prussia, Austria’s mortal enemy.”
In 1876 A.O. Wright (pg.16), editor and proprietor of the Wisconsin Journal of Education, translated a list of Hungarian proverbs for its Journal and includes our quote in English: “Who dares, wins”, with the caveat: “the rhyme in this proverb is untranslatable”. Our translation woes from older, eastern tongues to English continue.
“Who dares, wins” has also been claimed to be a German proverb, a Danish proverb, an Icelandic proverb, an ancient Spartan proverb and on and on. I suspect that in some of these cases, just like in the ancient Greek and Latin examples, the translator has used a modern parlance to illustrate an ancient or foreign concept that they were attempting to translate. Sayings similar to our quote which are meant to inspire courageous action most certainly exist throughout all of recorded human history.
In 1878, You Play Me False, our quote appears in a novel in three volumes by Mortimer and Frances Collins. Mortimer Collins was an English writer and novelist writing largely for periodicals in London. In volume I of the novel, Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs are enjoying breakfast when a letter arrives addressed to Miss Lisle, who had recently left the company of their home. On the seal of the letter is a crest, described as containing a hand holding a spear with the motto: “Who dares, wins.”
In 1922 The South Atlantic Quarterly ran a historical account of “The Election of 1876 in South Carolina” by Francis B. Simkins, a historian, and once president of the Southern Historical Association, from Columbia University. The sentence containing our quote: “In a passionate attempt to convert the convention to his views (Martin W. Gary) accused the majority of timidity and the Charleston delegation of connivance with (Daniel H.) Chamberlain. ‘The man who dares, wins; not he who holds back’ cried the South Carolina Danton.”
In 1934, Hungarian author and playwright Jenő Rejtő wrote the operetta “Who Dares Wins”. Rejtő was born in Budapest in 1905 and studied drama before traveling across Europe. When he returned to Hungary he became a successful playwright and went on to write adventure novels based of his journeys abroad. His novels parodying the Foreign Legion gained him the most success and often featured his own brand of bizarre humor. While seriously ill, he was captured from a hospital by Hungarian fascists and, labeled as a subversive, forced to work in a labor camp where he later died in 1943.
Despite the instance mentioned in the Wisconsin Journal of Education of “who dares, wins” being a Hungarian proverb, and Wikiquote including “He who dares, wins” in its list of “Hungarian proverbs as: Aki mer, az nyer, and while we can say definitively that a native Hungarian used our quote as the title of his operetta, we cannot give much credence to our quote having originated in Hungary.
Variations over time on the theme of “He who dares, wins” are the most interesting aspect when compiling the history of this quote. As this chronology of examples will show, this quote has existed in many adaptations and in many varied types of media. The latter half of the 19th century seems to have been a high point in its usage.
A newspaper archive search of regional U.S. papers dating back to the 1700’s turned up these examples of variations on our quote: “Who dares, wins”.
● “Who dares not wins not” 1888
● “In sailing, as in most other things, it is the man who dares that wins” 1897
● “The Man Who Dared” — a play continued running on State St. in Trenton, NJ 1904
● “The man who dares is the man who wins” 1911
● “The love that dares all and wins all” 1917
● “…dares all and wins all” 1930
● “…is the policy of one who dares and wins” 1933
● “Youth school body dares, wins hour” -article title 1936
● “He is now in British special service with a unit trained in sabotage beyond the enemy lines. The unit badge is the winged dagger with the motto ‘Who Dares Wins’.” Announcement of Sergeant James H. Horsfield’s wedding 1945
In 1767, The Constitutions of the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons printed, among quite a bit of other information on Free Masonry, an Ode, “written by a member of the Alfred lodge at Oxford, and set to music by Mr. Fisher, and performed at the Dedication of Free-Masons’ Hall.” The Ode ends with this as its final chorus:
“What pain he shuns, who dares be wise”
“What glory wins, who dares excel!”
Odes were popular in England in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. These few lines bear a faint similarity to our modern quote and they very well could be evidence of a lineage. This book was a popular work and was reprinted for at least the next 51 years, examples exist from 1777, 1802, and 1818. Some other Odes include: The Progress of Poesy, Ode to the West Wind, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode on Indolence, Ode to Autumn
In 1832, a fine example is found in a poem titled “Press On!” from American poet, journalist, editor and newspaper founder Park Benjamin Sr. The poem could be one of the most rousing pieces of prose on courageousness ever written and was published countless times during its heyday. Read it in its entirety in “< The Cambridge Book of Poetry and Song: Selected from English and American Authors.”
“He wins who dares the hero’s march”
In 1851 the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents published in their “Annual Report” a list of musical compositions delivered to the librarian of the Smithsonian Institution in the year 1850 (in compliance with the Act of Congress in 1846 establishing the Smithsonian Institution, for those hoping to secure a copyright). Among these works was the song: “The Hero Who Dares is the Hero Who Wins”, which was sung at the grand complimentary ball given in honor of Major General Zachary Taylor, on the 5th of February 1850 with words by Chas. D Stewart, Esq. and music by composer Austin Phillips.”
In 1873, William Vicars Lawrance opens his poetic novel, “Ellina, the Bride of Montross,” with an authorless three-line poem on its title page that, just like our modern quote, figuratively equals: “nothing ventured, nothing gained”:
“Who dares and does not win,
Fails not so far as he who never dares,
Or, daring wins unworthily.”
In 1878 prolific comic writer and dramatist Sir Francis Cowley Burnand published, “One-and-three!: By (that Distinguished French Novelist) Fictor Nogo” containing this line:
“Who dares, escapes; who escapes, wins.”
In 1885 The Kansas City Review of Science and Industry published the commencement speech given by Judge Solon O. Thatcher (who was also a candidate for Governor of Kansas) titled, “The Fanatic” at Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas. Near its end, Thatcher makes this comment:
“Even in the lower plane of life we look with interest on the man who dares to take a risk, and if he wins we applaud.”
In 1897 Joseph Le Roy Harrison Compiled “With Pipe and Book: A Collection of College Verse” which included a tongue-cheek-poem titled “Sword Song,” by Harry K. Webster. Devoted, as the title suggests, to his sword, of which he is evidently quite fond.
“But when mad and hot the battle fares,
When he who wins is he who dares
Then bright’s the robe my mistress wears
My sword! My love!”
In 1898 “The Albany Law Journal” ran a curious article titled, “Lawyers Many Ruses — Preponderance of Evidence and Law is Not Always Decisive,” with a snippet of advice for a “skillful and daring attorney” who, with a bit of experimentation, can “overcome a weight of damaging evidence more certainly than anything else that could be devised.”
“The lawyer who dares something unusual in his efforts to clear his clients frequently wins success.”
Brazenly, this line continues: “where, if he had relied on the usual forms of evidence, an almost certain conviction would have resulted.” It seems that daring action in war and espionage is as advantageous on the battlefield as it is in the courtroom.
In 1900 Charles Benjamin Newcomb says in the preface to “Discovery of a Lost Trail” that there is “Nothing new in this book. It is a simple study of the strange and beautiful thing which we call life.” I would have to agree, at least in part, due to his inclusion of this familiar line:
“The man who dares and perseveres is the man who wins”
In 1904 the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, a youth association established by Brigham Young as an official auxiliary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, published an article titled “The Cause For Worry” in their official magazine, “Improvement Era.” In the notes section of the article, in a paragraph discussing self help and self reliance, Joseph K. Smith writes that:
“It is he who dares to be himself and to work by his own programme, without imitating others, who wins.”
Having already found an instance of “Who dares, wins” in the legal field, on June 10, 1905, we find our very first professional medical adaptation of the quote. John Eggerton Cannaday M.D. wrote an article titled, “Gunshot Wounds of the Abdomen,” for the “Medical Record.” Not an easy read, trust me when I tell you that no other instance of our quote caused such a visceral reaction in this researcher:
“Who dares not, never wins a race.”
“The world is won by battle, not by surrender; and he alone wins who dares take hard blows, and if need be to provoke them.”
In 1907 The Arena included a book study of “The Kingdom of Love” by Henry Frank, which “deals with love from the viewpoint of a critical scientist, an introspective philosopher and an imaginative poet, and is thus, we think, the broadest and most comprehensive study of the master dynamic force of creation that has been written.” One of the lines from this lovely book reprinted in its review:
“He wins who dares. The world loves a hero and deplores a coward”
We’ll end this chronology in 1916 with “Patriotic Essays,” by Elroy Headley. It is a collection of essays listed under titles taking their names from the virtuous principles, ideologies and Americana buzzwords on which our country was founded. The essay with our quote is called “Right Living” and has a great opening line: “The world has a standing advertisement, ‘Wanted: the man able and willing to accomplish results.’” Our quote appears almost exactly as the version we began our research with:
“The man who perpetually hesitates accomplishes nothing; It is the man who dares who wins.”
We end here because as we have followed this quote from 1763 to 1916; we have seen its full progression from its archaic form that includes references to winning and success being a product of daring and action, into the quotation it has become today; short, pointed, comprehensible and inspiring to all: “Who dares, wins.”
Even though, we cannot give original authorship credit of our quotation to Winston Churchill. He was responsible for speaking and writing many more that we can. In the spirit of “Who dares, wins”, we give you this Churchill original:
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
By Winston Churchill
Published by Butterworth, 1937
And how ‘bout a Shakespeare for good measure:
The quote can be viewed here:
Four Tragedies: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes (Google Books)
By Sophocles, Peter Meineck, Paul Woodruff
Translated by Peter Meineck, Paul Woodruff
Published by Hackett Publishing, 2007
267 pages, Pg. 193, Line 81
The quote can be purchased here
Four Tragedies: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes (Barnes & Noble)
By Sophocles, Peter Meineck, Paul Woodruff
Translated by Peter Meineck, Paul Woodruff
Published by Hackett Publishing, 2007
267 pages, Pg. 193, Line 81
This exhaustive study is revealing, not least for pointing out throughout western history the notion that daring leads to progress has infused our literature and our culture. Of course, this leaves open the question of whether for any actual individual or organization the sentiment expressed by the quote is actually true?
Some might argue that daring is analogous to the infamous “bleeding edge,” as opposed to the “leading edge.”
We are not certain that there is some preponderance of evidence that those who dare tend to win. Many who dare probably lose. We are certain, however, that almost all the winners are those who dared.
In this sense it may be analogous to investing. If you concentrate your investments, you are at great risk. Most people who select one single stock to own do not become rich; they go broke.
Yet almost all really rich people concentrated their wealth.
Think of it this way, any sound financial planner would have told Bill Gates to diversify his Microsoft holdings when he had a million dollars’ worth of stock that accounted for 100% of his net worth.
That he did not was, in fact, imprudent. It is also why he became the world’s richest man.
Many thanks to Scott Danner for sharing this quote and to James Elmer for his diligence.
Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.