It’s Better To Be Quotable Than Honest

Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The world of social media highlights upvotes, shares, and retweets. Many marketers, influencers, and politicians adhere to the following axiom:

It’s better to be quotable than honest.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: British playwright Tom Stoppard has earned an Academy Award and four Tony Awards. In 1973 journalist Janet Watts interviewed Stoppard for the London newspaper “The Guardian”. She prompted him with a comment he had previously made during a television interview, and he responded with the quotation under examination. 1

Stoppard (a true ex-journalist) has a gift for quotable remarks. “I write fiction because it’s a way of making statements I can disown, and I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself,” he once said on television. He looks wry when reminded of it: “It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn’t going to be quotable . . . it’s better to be quotable than honest,” he says (doing it again).

Stoppard’s shrewd remark illustrates the principle it extols. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1980 “The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations” included an entry for the statement: 2

It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn’t going to be quotable … It’s better to be quotable than honest.
Tom Stoppard, in the Guardian, 21 March 1973

In 1987 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” of Missouri printed the saying together with some other miscellaneous quotations: 3

Replays
It is better to be quotable than to be honest.
— Tom Stoppard, playwright

In 1991 it appeared in the “Bloomsbury Dictionary of Quotations” 4 and in 2006 it appeared in “Brewer’s Famous Quotations”. 5

In conclusion, Tom Stoppard should receive credit for the comment he uttered in 1973.

Image Notes: Quotation marks from Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

Notes:

  1. 1973 March 21, The Guardian, Tom Stoppard: Janet Watts interviews the playwright who has a work at the National Theatre, and a translation of Lorca opening tomorrow, Quote Page 12, Column 4, London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1980, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations, Edited by J. M. Cohen and M. J. Cohen, Second edition, (Reprint dated 1983), Section: Foreword, Quote Page 8, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1987 June 24, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fast Track by Cheryl Lavin, Quote Page 2W, Column 1, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1991, Bloomsbury Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by John Daintith et al, Entry: Tom Stoppard, Quote Page 372, Column 1, Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, London. (Verified with scans)
  5. 2006, Brewer’s Famous Quotations, Editor Nigel Rees, Section Tom Stoppard, Page 448, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. (Verified with hardcopy)