Does anyone know the origin of the phrase 'What man believes, man can achieve'?
August 27, 2006 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know the origin of the phrase 'What man believes, man can achieve'? It appeared on a banners at sporting events throughout the summer but a web search only yields listings from people who have either seen it there or have copied it or both.
posted by feelinglistless to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
Not quite the same, but in the mid-90s I attended a Jesse Jackson rally in which he yelled "if you can believe it, you can achieve it!" several times. There was probably some conceiving and receiving in there too.

Appearing on banners makes me think it's the kind of "go team!" slogan that's probably been around more informal sporting events for years and just now cropped up in more public, televised events.
posted by jessicapierce at 6:39 AM on August 27, 2006

This was either an Adidas or Reebok ad campaign. They also used some quotes from Muhammed Ali. Not sure what the origin of your quote is.
posted by spicynuts at 7:33 AM on August 27, 2006

Actually I think it was part of this campaign but I could be wrong.
posted by spicynuts at 7:36 AM on August 27, 2006

It's quite similar to a quote from Theodore Herzl: "If you will it it is no legend" (Im Tirtzu ein zo agadah) . Legend is sometimes translated as "dream".
posted by PenDevil at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2006

W. Clement Stone used a variation on this -- "What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve" -- as a sort of mantra from at least the 1950s or '60s in both the corporate culture of his company and in his various self-help/get rich books. (I used to work at the insurance company he founded, and this slogan was among the many that were pounded into us day after day -- the full saying in Stone-speak is actually "what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve with PMA" -- i.e., Positive Mental Attitude.) I don't know if he actually coined the phrase, but that's certainly a much older usage of it than contemporary advertising campaigns.
posted by scody at 8:57 AM on August 27, 2006

...interestingly, now that I look a little further into the wikiquote section on Stone, they say (at the bottom of the page) that it as Napoleon Hill (his co-author on one of his books) who said "what the mind of man can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve," and that Stone added the "...with PMA" bit. In any case, Hill and Stone were popularizing the slogan (or some variation on it) by the early 1960s.
posted by scody at 9:06 AM on August 27, 2006

Thanks Scody!
posted by feelinglistless at 9:44 AM on August 27, 2006

my pleasure. I used to be a copywriter for the sales teams, and so at one point I had dozens of his little sayings and slogans at my fingertips.... :)
posted by scody at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2006

It may have it's roots in Buddhism, I rememeber the phrase "For a mind that can concieve Emptiness, nothing is impossible."

Unfortunately, I can't find that phrase anywhere, so I may just be making it up. (of course, googling the phrase seperately does bring up many Buhhdism links, but that's because of the word "Emptiness")
posted by hatsix at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2006

I don't think Buddhism had much influence on ad-speak. It's a clever rhyming slogan of the kind copywriters are so good at; I doubt there's much point searching for ancient antecedents. (And once again I'm impressed at AskMe's ability to ferret out obscure information!)
posted by languagehat at 11:43 AM on August 27, 2006

I believe Wikipedia is wrong about Napoleon Hill. He said a lot of great things, but I don't believe this was one of them. I think the quote is actually from a Hill protégé named Earl Nightingale who popularized the phrase in a recording called, "The Strangest Secret."

posted by Gerard Sorme at 7:19 PM on August 27, 2006

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