Paragraphing Consists of Stroking a Platitude Until It Purrs Like an Epigram

Don Marquis? Christopher Morley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Crafting a bright witticism or a clever aphorism is a difficult task especially for a writer who is facing a tight deadline. One strategy is described as follows:

Stroke a platitude until it purrs like an epigram.

This remark has been ascribed to Don Marquis who was a popular columnist and storyteller based in New York City. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Don Marquis wrote a daily column called “The Sun Dial” for “The Evening Sun” of New York for more than a decade. He also wrote for other papers such as “The New York Herald Tribune” and the “Buffalo Evening News”. However, some of his writings have not yet been digitized which impedes research.

The earliest match located by QI appeared as a short item in a Hutchinson, Kansas newspaper in February 1921. The term “paragraphing” meant composing stylish and entertaining paragraphs for periodicals. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Don Marquis who really should know, says the art of newspaper paragraphing “consists of stroking a platitude until it purrs like an epigram.”

This citation provides indirect evidence. And QI currently believes Marquis is the most likely creator of the saying. A matching expression occurred directly in a column by Marquis by 1925, and he sometimes repeated sayings in his columns. Interestingly, the saying was also used by his friend and fellow journalist Christopher Morley who did not credit Marquis.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Paragraphing Consists of Stroking a Platitude Until It Purrs Like an Epigram

Notes:

  1. 1921 February 15, The Hutchinson Gazette, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 6, Column 1, Hutchinson, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

There’s Damn Few Girls as Well Shaped as a Fine Horse

Hannah Arendt? Christopher Morley? Kitty Foyle? Rosey Rittenhouse?

Dear Quote Investigator: While looking through a compilation of quotations about horses I came across the following:

Few girls are as well shaped as a good horse.

Inexplicably, the words were ascribed to the political theorist Hannah Arendt who wrote about the Nazi Adolf Eichmann and popularized the phrase “the banality of evil”. I doubt she wrote about horses very often. The saying appears on a large number of webpages. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Christopher Morley was a magazine editor, newspaper columnist, and novelist. In 1939 he published the best-seller “Kitty Foyle” which was later made into a prize-winning movie. The title character was the primary narrator of the book, but the remark about horses was attributed to a minor male character named Rosey Rittenhouse. Interestingly, the original phrasing was slightly different. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As a matter of fact I agree with Rosey Rittenhouse, there’s damn few girls as well shaped as a fine horse. It’s a great piece of kidding Nature put over on men to give them the idea that females are so beautiful; but it’s mighty satisfying to hear it said.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading There’s Damn Few Girls as Well Shaped as a Fine Horse

Notes:

  1. 1939 Copyright, Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley, Quote Page 224, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified visually and with a page image; thanks to Mardy Grothe)