We’d All Like a Reputation for Generosity, and We’d All Like To Buy It Cheap

Mignon McLaughlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: December is a season of generosity for many, but the eagerness of participants varies. A friend recently joked that she wanted to achieve a reputation for generosity as cheaply as possible. She disclaimed authorship of this quip. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in “The Neurotic’s Notebook” by Mignon McLaughlin in 1963. The compendium contained quips, adages, and observations such as the following two items: 1

We’d all like a reputation for generosity, and we’d all like to buy it cheap.

Life marks us all down, so it’s just as well that we start out by overpricing ourselves.

McLaughlin worked as a writer and editor at magazines such as “The Atlantic Monthly”, “Glamour”, and “Vogue” for decades from the 1940s to the 1970s. She was known for her witticisms.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1984 “The Cynic’s Lexicon” compiled by Jonathon Green included the remark together with a citation pointing to McLaughlin’s “The Neurotic’s Notebook”. 2

In 1987 “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations” contained the statement and credited McLaughlin. 3

In 1992 “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio included the statement with a citation. 4

In conclusion, Mignon McLaughlin should receive credit for this quip which she printed in her 1963 book “The Neurotic’s Notebook”.

Image Notes: Illustration depicting a set of wrapped five presents from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay.


  1. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 9: Getting and Spending, Quote Page 82, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1984, The Cynic’s Lexicon, Compiled by Jonathon Green, Section: Mignon McLaughlin, Quote Page 129, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Goodness and Giving, Quote Page 144, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Generosity, Quote Page 135, Column 2, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)