H. L. Mencken? Jack Dempsey? Peg Bracken? Bennett Cerf? Alexander Woollcott? Stewart Holbrook? William Safire? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Forceful newspaper columnists often receive opinionated and hostile responses. There is a powerful temptation to send a sharp retort. Yet, one famous journalist typically replied with a brief disarming note:
Dear Sir (or Madam ),
You may be right.
Would you please help me to determine the name of this columnist and locate a citation?
Quote Investigator: The earliest citation QI has found for this tale appeared in a letter dated November 23, 1942 which was sent from U.S. drama critic Alexander Woollcott to U.S jurist Felix Frankfurter. Woollcott described a tactic he had acquired from prominent journalist H. L. Mencken of Baltimore, Maryland. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1944, The Letters of Alexander Woollcott by Alexander Woollcott, Edited by Beatrice Kaufman and Joseph Hennessey, Letter to: Felix Frankfurter, Date: November 23, 1942, Location: New York City, Start … Continue reading
However, I learned from H. L. Mencken a happy formula for answering all controversial letters. He invented one which is final, courteous and can be employed without reading the letter to which it replies. He merely says: “Dear Sir (or Madam): You may be right.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. The 1964 citation further below is particularly intriguing because it provides strong support for this tale.
Continue reading Dear Sir (Or Madam), You May Be Right
|↑1||1944, The Letters of Alexander Woollcott by Alexander Woollcott, Edited by Beatrice Kaufman and Joseph Hennessey, Letter to: Felix Frankfurter, Date: November 23, 1942, Location: New York City, Start Page 382, Quote Page 383, The Viking Press, New York. (Verified with scans)|