FACT CHECK: Did Churchill Say, ‘An Optimist Sees The Opportunity In Every Difficulty’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once stated, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." – Winston Churchill

Posted by The Star Online on Monday, July 8, 2019

Verdict: False

The Daily Caller News Foundation found no record of Churchill ever saying or writing this expression.

Fact Check:

The internet is replete with Churchill quotes, both genuine and misattributed. This quote about optimism appears to fall in the latter category. (RELATED: Did Winston Churchill Say, ‘Attitude Is A Little Thing That Makes A Big Difference’?)

TheDCNF searched for the phrase in the complete works of Churchill, as well as the Churchill Archive, a digital database that contains around 800,000 pages of original documents associated with the prime minister, but found no matches.

“The quote is often attributed to Churchill, but there is no known documentation to show that he ever said or wrote it,” confirmed David Freeman, director of publications at the International Churchill Society, in an email to TheDCNF.

A number of other Churchill experts – Timothy Riley, Lee Pollock and Richard Langworth – concurred with Freeman’s assessment of it being falsely attributed, but some added that it sounded like something Churchill would say.

“A nice phrase with a Churchillian ring – but not attributable to him,” said Pollock, an International Churchill Society trustee, in an email to TheDCNF.

Riley, director and chief curator of the National Churchill Museum, told TheDCNF, “The rather upbeat sentiment is certainly Churchillian, however, and recalls a quip he made in a 9 November 1954 speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London.”

Langworth and Pollock also pointed to that same 1954 speech in which Churchill said, “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.”

The website Quote Investigator traced the origin of the quote to a 1919 speech by Bertram Carr, the then-mayor of Carlisle, England, though elements of the quote appeared earlier. The portion of the speech containing the statement reads as follows:

“The past history of an old walled city such as this leaves its legacy of ideas antiquated and out of date. These, as expressed in tangible form, are an embarrassment, and hinder the wheels of progress, but we view these, I hope, in the spirit of the optimist to whom every difficulty is an opportunity, and not as the pessimist, to whom every opportunity presents some difficulty.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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