Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Genuine free speech entails disagreement and debate; it is never a one-sided notion. According to a Facebook meme Winston Churchill supposedly said:
Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
I cannot tell whether this was really said by the famous British Prime Minister. Would you please trace it?
Quote Investigator: A closely matching statement was spoken by Winston Churchill in the U.K. Parliament on October 13, 1943. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1
So we must beware of a tyranny of opinion which tries to make only one side of a question the one which may be heard. Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
The original remark recorded in the Hansard used the pronoun “it”. The slightly inaccurate modern version replaces “it” with the referent “free speech” to create a more compact and self-contained expression.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The 1993 reference “The New International Dictionary of Quotations” included an entry for the quotation. The word “free speech” was bracketed to signal that the editors had performed a substitution: 2
Some people’s idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
—WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech, Oct. 13, 1943
The 2013 Kindle edition of the important compilation “Churchill By Himself” by Churchill quotation expert Richard M. Langworth contained an entry for the quotation. Langworth made a different stylistic choice; he replaced the pronoun “it” with “debate” in brackets: 3
…some people’s idea of it [debate] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
1943, 13 OCTOBER.
In conclusion, Winston Churchill may be credited with the words he spoke in Parliament in 1943. The popular modern version has been slightly altered and compressed.
Image Notes: Winston Churchill in Downing Street displaying a ‘V’ sign. Picture from the collections of the Imperial War Museums accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Image presenting a 3D reconstruction of a Common Press. Author: Brett Osteen; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
(Great thanks to Robin Marwick whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1943 October 13, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, Coalmining Situation, Speaking: The Prime Minister (Winston Churchill), HC Deb, volume 392, cc920-1012. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on October 12, 2016) link ↩
- 1993, The New International Dictionary of Quotations, Selected by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson, (Second Edition), Topic: Free Speech, Quote Page 112, A Dutton Book: Penguin Books, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Topic: Debate, RosettaBooks. (Kindle Location 3772) ↩