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Q: origin of a quotation ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: origin of a quotation
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: nicolasdruid-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 30 Jun 2004 07:32 PDT
Expires: 30 Jul 2004 07:32 PDT
Question ID: 368109
What is the origin of the expression:"temporary suspension of
reasonable disbelief"  I have done all the usual, "Quotation Portal,"
etc.  Google itself has a number of near hits, ie. "temporary
suspension of disbelief," "suspension of reasonable disbelief,"
"suspension of disbelief," but no clear provenance, and no origin for
the complete expression.

Request for Question Clarification by aceresearcher-ga on 30 Jun 2004 10:22 PDT
Greetings, Nicholas!

I can provide you with what is generally accepted as the original
source for this phrase -- albeit in a slightly different form. The
phrase as you've posted it -- indeed, all of the phrases you included
in your Question -- are all more recent variations on the original

Would you be willing to accept this as your Answer?



Request for Question Clarification by juggler-ga on 07 Jul 2004 02:21 PDT

It seems that there is clear provenance for the expression "suspension
of disbelief." A famous poet coined the phrase almost 200 years ago.

Would you be interested in information about the poet and his first
use of the expression?

Subject: Re: origin of a quotation
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 07 Jul 2004 13:24 PDT
Hello Nicholas,

Thanks for the chance to answer a very interesting -- and very
challenging -- question.

What makes it particularly challenging is your choice of  a
'quotation':  the origin of the expression "temporary suspension of
reasonable disbelief".

The reason this is such a challenge is that this phrase is not,  in
fact, an 'expression' -- at least not in the common meaning of the
term as a set of words that is commonly used and fairly well-known. 
As a matter of fact, it would be quite interesting to learn where --
if anywhere -- you actually came across this precise combination of
words, as it is a rare combination, indeed.

If you conduct a Google search on a phrase and enclose the phrase in
quotes, Google will search for the exact phrase (as opposed to merely
searching for pages that contain all the words within the phrase).  A
fuller explanation of the use of quotation marks in Google can be seen

Phrase Searches 
Search for complete phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks.
Words enclosed in double quotes ("like this") will appear together in
all results exactly as you have entered them. Phrase searches are
especially useful when searching for famous sayings or proper names.

So, let's try that with your expression.  When we search on: [
"temporary suspension of reasonable disbelief" ] in Google, exactly
one result appears:


and it happens to be your question!!!!

Google Answers: origin of a quotation... What is the origin of the
expression:"temporary suspension of reasonable disbelief" ...


As I'm sure you know, Google indexes several billion web pages, none
of which (except for your Google Answers question) contain the precise
phrase you are looking for.

Similar results occur in other massive databases.

The phrase does not appear at all in the voluminous Lexis-Nexis newspaper database.

An "Inside the Book" search at

results in the following message: 
"Books search results: we were unable to find exact matches for your search for" is another large collection of books, journal, magazines,
and newspapers:

with a heavy emphasis on the humanities -- and again, the search
results yield nothing:
"We searched for "temporary suspension of reasonable disbelief" and
found 0 total results."


So...the persnickety answer to your question is that the phrase you
cited has no real provenance to speak of.  It is not a phrase in
frequent -- or even infrequent -- use, and if you have a source that
actually uses this particular combination of words, there's a good
chance that the phrase is an original construction.

But that's not to say there isn't a good deal of distinguished history behind it.  

Let's try a bit of truncation.  Searching the same sites as above for
the phrase "suspension of reasonable disbelief" doesn't turn up very
much...this, too, is an uncommon arrangement of words:

We searched for "suspension of reasonable disbelief" and found 0 total results.  

and the same search on Google:


again returns only your question.

However, searching on:  "temporary suspension of disbelief" does begin
to get us some useful results, and some history.  In particular, the
search at turns up two relatively early results:


The Good Estate of Poetry 
Book by Chauncey Brewster Tinker; Little, Brown, and Company, 1929 

When we pass on to Browning " Love among the Ruins ," eloquently
does he set the shepherd boy's passion before us that the sympathetic
reader experiences a temporary "suspension of disbelief" in the
validity of the contrast emphasized.


The Works of Morris and of Yeats in Relation to Early Saga Literature 
Book by Dorothy M. Hoare; The University Press, 1937 

Romance need not contradict the facts of life; it overleaps them, or
charges them with a quality which does not essentially belong to them
and which illuminates them in a new way. It implies an unusual turn of
the feeling away from the matter of fact...possibly the most common
use of "romance", is the momentary or temporary "suspension of
disbelief" and the acceptance of a world which is secure in its own
conditions. Many of the exquisite French "lais" with their clear
flute-like simplicity, numerous tales of enchantment and faery, the
dreaming accounts of folk-legend, belong to this secondary kind of


In both the above quotes, "suspension of disbelief" appear in quotes,
and is used in a literary context.   An even earlier siting of the
phrase can be found in a Washington Post article from 1904:

Washington Post
Saturday, July 16, 1904

Review of New Books

[reviewing:  The Dynasts, by Thomas Hardy]

"The chief thing hoped for them is that they and their utterances may
have dramatic plausibility enough to procure for them, in the words of
Coleridge, "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which
constitutes poetic faith."


" the words of Coleridge"...!

Here -- at last -- is your provenance.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the
late 18th/early 19th century poet, best known for the Rhyme of the
Ancient Mariner, also was apparently the first to pen the phrase,
"suspension of disbelief".

A Google search on [ coleridge "suspension of disbelief" ] pretty
quickly get us right to the source:

"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which
it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and
characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer
from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth
sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing
suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic
faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as
his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and
to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the
mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the
loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible
treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and
selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and
hearts that neither feel nor understand..."


Several articles on the concept of "suspension of disbelief" attribute
the quote to Coleridge, but also note that the concept itself goes
back even further:
Suspension of disbelief is a willingness of a reader or viewer to
suspend their critical faculties in order to "go along for the ride."
The phrase was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge Samuel Taylor
Coleridge but the concept was certainly recognised by Shakespeare...
Much concerning the Fantastic may be said to parallel ? and to depend
upon the successful textual practice (or even just the intent) of ?
Coleridge's well-worn strategy of stimulating in the reader ?that
willing suspension of disbelief?.


I hope this answer provides you the information and insights that you
were looking for regarding the phrase in question.  As you originally
cited it, there does not appear to be any real provenance of
fact, the phrase is almost nonexistent in terms of its electronic
presence on the web in any of a number of databases.

However, with some in-depth searching, the notion of a "suspension of
disbelief" can be traced directly back to Coleridge in 1817, and the
concept itself goes back even further.

Before rating this answer, please let me know if you have any
questions about what I have presented here.  Just post a Request for
Clarification, and I'll be happy to assist you further.

All the best,

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