Location, Location, Location
image -David Pearson
Story by WILLIAM SAFIRE
Published: June 26, 2009 - International Herald Tribune.
You think newspaper journalists don’t check their facts as assiduously as in the Old Days? You say we are unduly influenced by blogospherics, willing to put out whatever comes in? Let me disabuse you.
“I’m working on a wedding announcement,” e-mails my Times colleague Rosalie Radomsky, “and have come across a groom, Albert Naggar, who said his grandfather, the late Lord Harold Samuel, a real estate tycoon in Britain, coined the expression: ‘There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.’ I thought it would be a great piece of information to include in the announcement, but Bob Woletz, my editor, thinks there might be readers claiming someone else came up with the ubiquitous real estate saying.”
She attached 1987 obituaries of Lord Samuel from Britain’s Sunday Times and Financial Times and a 2007 reference in The Daily Telegraph, all identifying him as the reputed coiner. This suggests a British origin. Rosalie added, “Bob also said, in a kidding-around sort of way, ‘This would be a job for William Safire.’ ”
Whaddaya mean “kidding around”? I take my phrasedick assignments seriously. First stops were the indexes of the best-known quotation books: Bartlett’s and Oxford. No soap. On to The Yale Book of Quotations, which often breaks fresh ground, to find an American source: The Van Nuys (Calif.) News said the three most important things about real estate were location, location, location in its issue of June 10, 1956.
Fortuitously, my British-born wife’s eldest sister, who lives in London, is Coral Samuel. Her late husband, Basil Samuel, was Lord Samuel’s cousin and had also been active in real estate. I phoned my sister-in-law, a lifelong lover of language, who agreed to check with family and friends of the man to whom the memorable double-repetition was attributed. After speaking with one of Lord Samuel’s close associates of long ago, Coral reported: “He’s 90 percent certain Harold used those words but cannot confirm his first use, so you would have to say it’s apocryphal.” (That word means “of questionable authenticity.”)
Since the first written citation in Yale’s compendium was in 1956, that means that Lord Samuel, who died in 1987 at age 75, would have had to coin the aphorism before age 44. That’s possible, and Coral’s cautionary conclusion, on top of three British newspaper accounts, did not rule it out. I was inclined to advise The Times’s Weddings and Celebrations pages to use the fuzzy cop-out — that the quotation was “attributed to” Lord Samuel — but I gave my assignment one final shot: a call to Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations.
Hey, Fred, anything new on this triple-word “rule” since your 2006 publication? Without a beat, he replied: “I remember one. Should be here on my computer.” Moments later: “Here it is, from a 1926 real estate classified ad in the Chicago Tribune: ‘Attention salesmen, sales managers: location, location, location, close to Rogers Park.’ ”
That usage appeared when Harold Samuel was 14 years old in London, too young to make deals. The context of the 1926 ad suggests it was already a familiar aphorism in Chicago; phrasal etymologists are not yet finished with this challenge, and the Lexicographic Irregulars are invited to weigh in. (The announcement of the wedding of Nicole Natoli to Albert Naggar appeared in The Times, pristine and unencumbered by any fuzzy attribution — or worse, misattribution — of the phrase to the bridegroom’s grandfather.)
Check out the est of the story here.
And here he is on aha and senior moments, well worth a read.