There’s Damn Few Girls as Well Shaped as a Fine Horse

Hannah Arendt? Christopher Morley? Kitty Foyle? Rosey Rittenhouse?

Dear Quote Investigator: While looking through a compilation of quotations about horses I came across the following:

Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.

Inexplicably, the words were ascribed to the political theorist Hannah Arendt who wrote about the Nazi Adolf Eichmann and popularized the phrase “the banality of evil”. I doubt she wrote about horses very often. The saying appears on a large number of webpages. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Christopher Morley was a magazine editor, newspaper columnist, and novelist. In 1939 he published the best-seller “Kitty Foyle” which was later made into a prize-winning movie. The title character was the primary narrator of the book, but the remark about horses was attributed to a minor male character named Rosey Rittenhouse. Interestingly, the original phrasing was slightly different. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As a matter of fact I agree with Rosey Rittenhouse, there’s damn few girls as well shaped as a fine horse. It’s a great piece of kidding Nature put over on men to give them the idea that females are so beautiful; but it’s mighty satisfying to hear it said.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1940 “Reader’s Digest” printed “According to Foyle” which presented a collection of excerpts from “Kitty Foyle”. Here were four of the quotations ascribed to Morley: 2

Men are good about Telling the World, but pretty often some woman whispered it to him first

Pop used to say about Presbyterians, it don’t prevent them committing all the sins there are but it keeps them from getting any fun out of it.

Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you’re not really interested, in order to get where you’re going.

Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.

The ‘Reader’s Digest” editors shortened the statement from the book, removed the word “damn”, and changed “fine horse” to “good horse”. This widely disseminated version has largely superseded the original.

In 1949 the columnist Ollie M. James printed an instance of the saying while crediting Morley: 3

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY once said: “Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.” And, to keep peace in the family, you may quote Ollie James as saying that few men are as well shaped as a good mule.

“It’s a silly argument, however. After all, horses can’t cook.

Also, in 1949 the industrious collector Evan Esar included the expression in “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”: 4

MORLEY, Christopher, born 1890, American novelist, editor, and man of letters.
Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.

In 1960 the pseudonymous columnist Walter Scott of the popular Sunday newspaper supplement “Parade” magazine answered a question about the saying: 5

Q. Who is the author of the following quotation: “Few girls are as well-shaped as a good horse”? — Frank Fredericks, Pasadena, Calif.
A. The late Christopher Morley.

The implausible ascription to Hannah Arendt was in circulation by 2006; the compilation “1001 Best Things Ever Said about Horses” included the following: 6

Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse. —Hannah Arendt

In conclusion, QI recommends using the version of the quotation appearing in “Kitty Foyle” and crediting Christopher Morley. The quotation in the 1940 “Reader’s Digest” was not completely accurate. Also, the modern linkage to Hannah Arendt was spurious.

Images Notes: Picture of galloping horses from jpduretz at Pixabay. Image has been resized, retouched, and cropped.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to him for accessing a hard copy of “Kitty Foyle” to verify the quotation with a page image. Grothe has written several valuable books about quotations. His online database “Dr. Mardy’s Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations” includes an entry for this saying that includes QI’s research.)

Notes:

  1. 1939 Copyright, Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley, Quote Page 224, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified visually and with a page image; thanks to Mardy Grothe)
  2. 1940 July, Reader’s Digest, Volume 37, According to Foyle (Excerpts from “Kitty Foyle” by Christopher Morley), Start Page 41, Quote Page 41 and 42, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1949 June 26, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Innocent Bystander by Ollie M. James, Section 3, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Christopher Morley, Quote Page 150, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)
  5. 1960 November 27, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday Supplement: Parade Magazine, Walter Scott’s Personality Parade, Quote Page 15, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 2006 Copyright, 1001 Best Things Ever Said About Horses, Edited by Steven D. Price, Section: Sayings and Neighings, Quote Page 341, The Lyons Press: Imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut. (Google Books Preview)