Oscar Wilde? Walter Winchell? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A well-known moral injunction states that one should forgive one’s enemies. A humorous twist suggests that one should grant forgiveness because it produces annoyance in one’s adversaries. This notion has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and QI has found no substantive evidence that he originated this quip. It is not listed in researcher Ralph Keyes’s important compilation “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”. 1 Also, the joke does not occur in the 2006 compendium “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms”. 2
The earliest match located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Walter Winchell in 1954, and he pointed to the mass-circulation magazine “Reader’s Digest”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 3
Reader’s Digest recalls O. Wilde’s: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
QI has not yet located a precise citation within an issue of “Reader’s Digest”. In addition, quotations with attributions appearing in that magazine were often provided by readers who were compensated. The information was not carefully vetted for accuracy; hence, faulty data was sometimes submitted and propagated.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1954 May 27, , Courier-Post, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 21, Column 1, Camden, New Jersey. (ProQuest) ↩