Quote Origin: The Worst Tempered People I’ve Ever Met Were People Who Knew They Were Wrong

David Letterman? Wilson Mizner? Edward Dean Sullivan? Apocryphal?

Theater masks depicting Comedy and Tragedy

Question for Quote Investigator: People who are angry and irritable often conceal a secret. They know they are mistaken about something vital. Here is a germane saying:

The worst tempered people I have ever met were people who knew they were wrong.

This saying has been attributed to comedian and television host David Letterman. Yet, I think it is older because it has also been credited to playwright and wit Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Wilson Mizner died in 1933, and two years later Edward Dean Sullivan published a biography titled “The Fabulous Wilson Mizner” which included a section of quips called “Miznerisms”. The following four items appeared in this section. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

I’ve had several years in Hollywood and I still think the movie heroes are in the audience.

A fellow who is always declaring he’s no fool, usually has his suspicions.

The worst tempered people I’ve ever met were people who knew they were wrong.

Some of the greatest love affairs I’ve known have involved one actor, unassisted.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1935 a columnist in the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” of Virginia reprinted several “Miznerisms” while acknowledging Sullivan’s book. Here were two items. The first item differed slightly from the statement in the book:2

I’ve had several years in Hollywood and I still think all the heroes are in the audiences.

The worst tempered people I ever met were people who knew they were wrong.

In 1943 the saying under examination appeared in Edmund Fuller’s “Thesaurus of Epigrams” with Wilson Mizner receiving credit.3

In 1977 the saying credited to Mizner appeared in the compilation “Quote Unquote” edited by Lloyd Cory.4

In 2005 “The Comedy Thesaurus: 3,241 Quips, Quotes, and Smartass Remarks” compiled by Judy Brown included the following entry:5

The worst-tempered people I have ever met were those who knew that they were wrong.
—David Letterman

The book above did not state when or where Letterman employed the saying.

In conclusion, QI believes Wilson Mizner deserves credit for this remark based on the 1935 citation. It is also possible that David Letterman employed the saying, but he did not craft it.

Image Notes: Theater masks depicting Comedy and Tragedy from Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay. The image has been resized. Acknowledgement: Great thanks to anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

  1. 1935, The Fabulous Wilson Mizner by Edward Dean Sullivan, Chapter 17: Miznerisms, Quote Page 266, 268 and 269, The Henkle Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩︎
  2. 1935 November 20, Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Once Over: When Wisecracks Were Wisecracks (Items reprinted from Edward Dean Sullivan’s “The Fabulous Wilson Mizner”), Quote Page 10, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  3. 1943 Copyright, Thesaurus of Epigrams, Edited by Edmund Fuller, Topic: Anger, Quote Page 22, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans; HathiTrust) ↩︎
  4. 1977, Quote Unquote, Compiled by Lloyd Cory, Section: Anger, Quote Page 19, Published by Victor Books: A Division of SP Publications, Wheaton, Illinois. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
  5. 2005, The Comedy Thesaurus: 3,241 Quips, Quotes, and Smartass Remarks, Compiled by Judy Brown, Topic: Attitudes – Bad Temper, Quote Page 26, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
Exit mobile version