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.
|↑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)|