Dorothy Parker? Punch Humor Magazine? Sally’s Sallies Comic Strip? Ann Landers?
Dear Quote Investigator: Previously you discussed a quote of Dorothy Parker’s which was self-critical, but she also directed her barbs at others. Here is an example [LWO]:
When a garrulous old battle-ax was praised as “outspoken,” Mrs. Parker raised an eyebrow to take dead aim: “Outspoken? By whom?”
I would like to know if Parker really said this, and if she did who was the “battle-ax”? Could you trace this quotation?
Quote Investigator: Yes, QI will attempt to locate examples of this quip, but the targets of witty remarks sometimes remain anonymous in newspaper accounts.
QI has found citations for this word-play joke that show it is more than one-hundred years old. Thus, it predates the seminal Algonquin Round table period. The quip is first attributed to Dorothy Parker on or before 1944. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.
In 1969 a woman writes to Ann Landers and says she is married to an alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge he has a problem. She describes him with a string of adjectives including: insincere, infantile, incompetent, insensitive, incomprehensible, insufferable, indecent, and insolvent. She signs her letter OUTSPOKEN, and Landers replies [HCO]:
DEAR FRIEND: Outspoken? By whom?
In 1944 Bennett Cerf, the quotation and anecdote collector, credits the joke to Dorothy Parker [TSO]. This attribution to Parker is the earliest one known and it appears in the invaluable Yale Book of Quotations [YQO]:
Miss Parker could scarcely be considered the ideal week-end guest. Her hostess at one such gathering was described as “outspoken.” “Outspoken by whom?” rasped Miss Parker.
In 1937 the joke appears in The Hartford Courant newspaper of Connecticut which cites an earlier appearance in Pearson’s Weekly [HCO]:
Then there was the husband who when told that his wife was outspoken, asked, “By whom?” – Pearson’s Weekly.
In 1934 the quip appears in the London humor magazine Punch where it is applied to modern women in general [PUO]:
It is stated by a critic that the modern woman is outspoken. By whom?
In 1929 the remark appears in the caption of a one-panel cartoon, Sally’s Sallies, depicting a small group of women speaking with one another [RAO]:
Uncle Joe says women are outspoken—by whom?
In the New York Times in 1901 the punch line of the joke is delivered by a stereotypical henpecked husband [NYO]:
Minnick—Well, there was one thing I remarked about your wife the first time I saw her; she was undoubtedly outspoken.
Henpeck—You don’t say! By whom?—Philadelphia Press.
In conclusion, Dorothy Parker may have uttered the witticism, but it was in circulation before she was famous for being clever. QI thanks you for being outspoken and raising this question.
[LWO] 1987 August 23, Lawrence Journal-World, Repartee from Round Table of a Long-Ago Algonquin” by Hugh A. Mulligan, Page 6D, Column 2, Lawrence, Kansas. (Google News archive)
[HCO] 1969 April 5, The Hartford Courant, “Ann Landers’ Advice: The ‘Simple Soul’ Only Needs Booze” by Ann Landers, Page 16, Hartford, Connecticut, (ProQuest)
[TSO] 1944 “Try and Stop Me: a Collection of Anecdotes and Stories, Mostly Humorous” by Bennett Cerf, Page 112, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on paper) link
[YQO] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Dorothy Parker: Quote 32, Page 580, Yale University Press, New Haven.
[HCO] 1937 May 7, The Hartford Courant, Quips From the Press, Page 18, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
[PUO] 1934 December 12, “Punch, or The London Charivaria”, Charivaria, Page 645, Volume 187, London. (Google Books snippet view; Snippet not visible; Verified on paper) link
[RAO] 1929 December 12, The Record-Argus, Sally’s Sallies, Page 8, Greenville, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
[NYO] 1901 October 7, New York Times, Nuggets: Surprised, Page 6, New York, New York. (ProQuest)