George Bernard Shaw? Brendan Behan? Reba Lombard? Arthur Caesar? George Jean Nathan? Erskine Johnson? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A remarkably large number of utterances from the prominent Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw appear in quotation collections. Apparently, he once humorously commented on his quoteworthiness. Here are three versions:
- I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.
- I like to quote from myself; it adds spice to the conversation
- I always quote myself. It adds spice to the conversation.
Did Shaw really make one of these remarks? Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the June 1943 issue of “Reader’s Digest” magazine within a section called “Patter” which printed miscellaneous quotations. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Bernard Shaw once remarked: “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”
QI has not found this quotation in the writings or interviews of Shaw. The items in “Patter” were contributed by readers who received compensation, and some items were of doubtful accuracy. Shaw died in 1950; hence, this quotation was circulating for several years while he was alive which increases its credibility. Nevertheless, QI does not know whether this quotation is authentic.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1897 a half-match for the remark appeared in “The Kansas City Journal” of Missouri which acknowledged the “Detroit Free Press” of Michigan. This joke circulated for decades, and it may have influenced the construction of the quotation under analysis. Alternatively, it might be unrelated: 2
She—”George, why do you always have a clove in your mouth?”
He—“I rather think it adds spice to my conversation.”
In June 1943 the quotation appeared in “Reader’s Digest” where it was attributed to Shaw as noted above. In July 1943 “The Sacramento Bee” of California printed the remark: 3
(George Bernard Shaw)
I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.
In October 1943 the remark together with an ascription to Shaw appeared in the “St. Louis Star-Times” of Missouri. 4 QI conjectures that the source of the July and October occurrences of this item was the “Readers Digest”.
In November 1943 “The Morning Post” of New Jersey published a somewhat different version of the quotation within an anecdote which appeared together with other unrelated stories under the title “Famous Fables”. The tale began with Shaw attending a party and regaling guests with episodes from his life: 5
Every now and then, to punctuate a remark, he would quote a line or two from one of his plays.
“I see you like to quote yourself, Mr. Shaw,” said one lady sarcastically.
“Of course,” chuckled Shaw. “It adds spice to my conversation.”
In the story above, Shaw did not utter the first part of the quotation.
In 1944 the remark was placed into the compilation “How To Get Along In This World: A Unique Collection of 5,000 Interesting Quotations”: 6
I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.
—George Bernard Shaw
Shaw was a resident of England; yet, there was a delay before the remark appeared in that country. In 1945 it was printed in the “Liverpool Echo” of Lancashire, England. 7
In February 1947 U.S. drama critic George Jean Nathan published a different phrasing within a piece he wrote for “The American Mercury” of New York: 8
“I like to quote from myself,” says Bernard Shaw; “it adds spice to the conversation”
In November 1947 the syndicated gossip columnist Erskine Johnson attributed an instance to a Hollywood screenwriter: 9
Arthur Caesar, the writer, was telling one of his funny stories on the set of “Mickey.” A listener accused him of repeating something he had said only a short time before in front of another audience. Said Arthur: “Oh, I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”
In 1948 publisher and syndicated columnist Bennett Cerf published the variant that had also appeared in “The American Mercury”: 10
“I like to quote from myself,” confesses that perennial modest violet, George Bernard Shaw; “it adds spice to the conversation.”
In 1951 a Camden, New Jersey newspaper published an anecdote under the title “Famous Fables”. The words attributed to Shaw were different: 11
To punctuate his remarks, the playwright quoted repeatedly from his plays.
“I see you like to quote yourself, Mr. Shaw,” said his hostess.
“Of course,” replied Shaw. “It keeps the conversation from getting dull.”
In 1953 a columnist in the “Los Angeles Times” of California credited the quip to another person: 12
At the Kopper Kart, Reba Lombard chirping to her fiancé Marvin Doss and the Jack Hugginses, “I always quote myself. It adds spice to the conversation!”
In 1986 “The Treasury of Clean Sports Jokes” compiled by Tal D. Bonham attributed the jest to an anonymous athlete: 13
A famous ball player remarked, “I often quote myself. It adds spice to the conversation.”
In 2001 quotation expert Nigel Rees writing in “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” observed that a variant had been credited to another Irishman: 14
When I’m talking to people I like to stop and quote myself. My quotes have a way of spicing up a conversation.
Brendan Behan, Irish playwright (1923-64).
With Brendan Behan (1981).
In 2004 “Uncle John’s Colossal Collection of Quotable Quotes” attributed the same instance to Behan. 15
In conclusion, George Bernard Shaw is the leading candidate for creator of the statement published in the “Reader’s Digest” in June 1943. Yet, QI has not found the statement in Shaw’s corpus; hence, this evidence is indirect. Later citations may have been derived directly or indirectly from the appearance in the “Reader’s Digest”. QI believes it is conceivable that the quotation was concocted to poke fun at Shaw. Perhaps future research will clarify its provenance.
(Great thanks to Ben Aveling whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1943 June, Reader’s Digest, Volume 42, Patter, Quote Page 18, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1897 December 12, The Kansas City Journal, Spicy, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Kansas City, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1943 July 16, The Sacramento Bee, Shavian Modesty, Quote Page 21, Column 5, Sacramento, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1943 October 19, St. Louis Star-Times, Club Cheers Soldiers With Cartoons, Quote Page 14, Column 6,St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1943 November 6, The Morning Post, Famous Fables, Quote Page 10, Column 6, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1944 Copyright, How To Get Along In This World: A Unique Collection of 5,000 Interesting Quotations, Edited by Robert E. Adams (Robert Emmett Adams), Topic: Conversation, Quote Page 49, Column 1, Nelson-Hall Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1945 November 17, Liverpool Echo, Echoes and Gossip of the Day: Wit and Wisdom, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Liverpool, Lancashire, England. (British Newspaper Archive) ↩
- 1947 February, The American Mercury, The Theatre: A View of Musical Comedy by George Jean Nathan, Start Page 194, Quote Page 195, Column 1, The American Mercury, New York. (Unz) ↩
- 1947 November 19, The Marshfield News-Herald, Question: Was Economy Wave a Stock Deal by Erskine Johnson, Quote Page 18, Column 6, Marshfield, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 March 24, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 9, Column 3,Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1951 August 3, Courier-Post, Famous Fables, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1953 April 24, Los Angeles Times, Section: 3, Skylarking with James Copp, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1986, The Treasury of Clean Sports Jokes, Compiled by Tal D. Bonham, Chapter: Conceit, Quote Page 39, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Quotations and quoting, Quote Page 364, Cassell, London and Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2004, Uncle John’s Colossal Collection of Quotable Quotes by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute, Section: Quotes On Quotes, Quote Page 12, Column 1, Bathroom Readers’ Press, Ashland, Oregon. (Verified with scans) ↩