“Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Oscar Wilde? George Bernard Shaw? Ambrose Bierce? Charles Frederick Joy? Percival Christopher Wren? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you are attending a soporific party, and the host asks whether you are content you might reply with the following comically self-absorbed zinger attributed to the famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Wilde?”
“Enormously, Madam, there’s nothing else to enjoy.”

This same quip has been attributed to the prominent English playwright George Bernard Shaw:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Shaw?”
“Yes—and that’s the only thing I am enjoying.”

Are either of these exchanges genuine? Would you please explore this topic

Quote Investigator: The evidence supporting an ascription to either Wilde or Shaw is weak.

The humor of this rejoinder rests on verbal ambiguity. The host’s inquiry “Are you enjoying yourself?” typically means “Are you experiencing enjoyment via conversation with fellow partygoers and via consuming the refreshments?”. The humorously contorted interpretation is “Are you deriving enjoyment from experiencing your own being?”

A matching joke appeared in 1883 in “The Times” newspaper of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which acknowledged the “Boston Transcript” of Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Wrapped in his own originality: Young Goldy sat by himself in the corner, meditatively twirling his moustache, not noticing anybody and noticed by none. He was finally spied out by Brown, who approached and said, “You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, Goldy, my boy.” “Oh, yes, I am,” replied Goldy in a languid manner: “enjoying myself hugely, old fellow; but kill me if I am enjoying any of these people, you know.”—Boston Transcript.

The identity of the joke creator was not given in “The Times”. It might be specified in the “Boston Transcript”, but QI has not yet seen the original context. Currently, the creator is anonymous. The same passage was reprinted in other newspapers in 1883 such as “The Times-Democrat” of New Orleans, Louisiana: 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Notes:

  1. 1883 January 8, The Times, Midwinter Mirth, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1883 January 12, The Times-Democrat, All Sorts, Quote Page 3, Column 6, New Orleans, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)

Keep Your Eyes On the Stars, But Your Feet On the Ground

Theodore Roosevelt? Oscar Wilde? William Allen Harper? Ayn Rand? Casey Kasem?

Dear Quote Investigator: High aspirations should be combined with a practical spirit to achieve greatness. This notion can be expressed with the following adage:

Keep your eyes on the stars, but your feet on the ground.

This statement has been attributed to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In 1900 New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in Chicago, Illinois during which he signaled that he did not wish to be the Vice President of the U.S. The speech closed with the following words reported in “The Daily Inter Ocean” newspaper of Chicago. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The head-in-the-air theorists will not succeed in politics any more than in law, or physics, or dry goods. We’ve got to face facts. An uncomfortable truth is a safer companion than the most attractive falsehood. Strive mightily for high ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but don’t forget that your feet are necessarily on the earth.

Roosevelt employed different versions of the saying about stars and feet in several speeches over the years. He served as U.S. President from 1901 to 1909.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Keep Your Eyes On the Stars, But Your Feet On the Ground

Notes:

  1. 1900 April 27, The Daily Inter Ocean, Roosevelt Says No, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Oscar Wilde? Louise Jopling? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: After the enormously successful debut of a comedy by Oscar Wilde the audience demanded that the playwright deliver a few words. His speech included a comically self-congratulatory line that was similar to the following:

You think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.

Would you please help me to locate a citation and determine precisely what Wilde said?

Quote Investigator: On February 22, 1892 “The Morning Post” of London printed a review of Oscar Wilde’s new play “Lady Windermere’s Fan” which the paper said “was received with great favour”. The curtain was “thrice raised”, and the theatergoers were eager to hear remarks from Wilde. He began as follows: 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it is the privilege of an author to allow his words to be reproduced by others while he himself remains silent. But, as you seem to wish to hear me speak, I accept the honour you are kind enough to confer upon me.

Wilde praised George Alexander who produced the show and the performers who brought the story to life. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

I have to thank them one and all for the infinite care they have taken to fill in every detail until the sketch has become a finished picture. I think that you have enjoyed the performance as much as I have, and I am pleased to believe that you like the piece almost as much as I do myself.

The newspaper stated that Wilde’s comments “were received with hearty laughter and applause”. Over the years different versions of Wilde’s speech have been presented, however, QI believes that this contemporaneous account probably provided the most accurate transcription.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Notes:

  1. 1892 February 22, The Morning Post, St. James’s Theatre, Quote Page 2, Column 5, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Oscar Wilde? Michael Cunningham? Robert Klitzman? Robert Michels? Frank Underwood? Kevin Spacey? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the precipitous downfall of an influential literary tastemaker and powerbroker at “The Paris Review” I encountered once again a remark attributed to Oscar Wilde. Here are three versions:

  • Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
  • Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.
  • Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.

The Wilde ascription is often labeled apocryphal. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this remark. It is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the “Provincetown Arts” journal of 1995. Author Michael Cunningham employed the saying during an interview conducted by fellow author Paul Lisicky. Cunningham is now best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

If you’re writing about what people do to and with one another, it’s sort of crazy to leave sex out. I think Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in human life is really about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” And I think he’s got something there.

Cunningham disclaimed coinage and provided an attribution that was both tentative and implausible. Hence, the saying remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, Quote (Quotation is absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1995, Provincetown Arts, Volume 11, Conversations: A Talk with Michael Cunningham by Paul Lisicky, Start Page 36, Quote Page 39, Column 3, Published Annually in July by Provincetown Arts Inc., Provincetown, Massachusetts. link (Internet Archive at archive.org accessed June 5, 2018)

The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Oscar Wilde? Alfred Hitchcock? Joseph Wood Krutch? Margo Coleman? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Anyone who has grown tired of reading idealized and overly sentimental visions of nature will enjoy the following skewed definition:

Nature is where the birds fly around uncooked.

These words are credited to Oscar Wilde, but I haven’t found any convincing citations. Would you please help uncover the true author?

Quote Investigator: In 1949 the theater critic and biographer Joseph Wood Krutch published a book about nature titled “The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Children can be taken occasionally to the country to see what the sun looks like as they are taken now to see a hill or a mountain. Probably many of them will not want to go anyway, for the country will be to them only what it was to the London club man: “A damp sort of place where all sorts of birds fly about uncooked.”

QI believes that the anonymous “London club man” may be viewed as an archetype, and it is reasonable to directly credit Krutch with the joke. Alternatively, one may state that Krutch popularized the remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Notes:

  1. 1970 (Copyright 1949), The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country by Joseph Wood Krutch, Chapter: June: Spring Rain, Quote Page 33 and 34,(Reprint of 1949 edition by arrangement with William Morrow & Co.), Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. (Verified on paper)

Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Irish Barrister? Wilton Lackaye? Margaret Waters? Well-Known Young Clubman? Gustav Traub? Mike Romanoff? Samuel George Blythe? Arthur M. Binstead? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating conversationalist Oscar Wilde enjoyed modifying dusty platitudes to construct comical alternatives. For example, he permuted an old complaint about the working class to yield:

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Oddly, I have not found a citation for this statement dated before the death of Wilde. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in November 1900. The earliest published instance of this quip located by QI occurred in the caption of a newspaper cartoon in 1902. The details are given further below.

Yet there is good evidence that Oscar Wilde did craft this statement. In 1916 the writer and outsized personality Frank Harris who was a friend of Wilde’s published a biography titled “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions”. Harris described a party he threw during which Wilde delivered the remark. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A little later I gave a dinner at the Savoy and asked him to come. He was delightful, his vivacious gaiety as exhilarating as wine. But he was more like a Roman Emperor than ever: he had grown fat: he ate and drank too much; not that he was intoxicated, but he became flushed, and in spite of his gay and genial talk he affected me a little unpleasantly; he was gross and puffed up. But he gave one or two splendid snapshots of actors and their egregious vanity. It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet.

“Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”

Yet even when making fun of the mummers there was a new tone in him of arrogance and disdain. He used always to be genial and kindly even to those he laughed at; now he was openly contemptuous.

The accuracy of the above ascription to Wilde depends on the veracity of Harris who was a direct witness. Harris explained the long delay before the appearance of his book in the introduction. Wilde was a controversial figure and Harris’s sympathetic work condemned the harshness of Wilde’s punishment. Harris waited more than ten years hoping that someone else would write a comparable book. He acted when he finally felt compelled to present his own viewpoint.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Notes:

  1. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 1, Quote Page 166, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

George Bernard Shaw? George Melly? I. S. Johar? Ann Landers? Patrick Harte? Robert Frost? Winston Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

dancing07Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an adage highlighting the sensual aspects of popular gyrations:

  1. Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
  2. Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal idea.

George Bernard Shaw, Ann Landers, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Frost have received credit for this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the London periodical “New Statesman” in 1962. The musician and critic George Melly attributed the saying to the notable playwright George Bernard Shaw. Emphasis added by QI: 1

I have spent a certain amount of time lately watching people in London dance in the various new ways. I report what went on in three very different places where my fellow countrymen and women had come together to give what Shaw called ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire’.

Shaw’s death in 1950 preceded Melly’s article by more than a decade, and the text provided no citation; hence, the evidence supporting the ascription was rather weak. Nevertheless, the citations for competing ascriptions are even less persuasive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

Notes:

  1. 1962 March 23, New Statesman, Late Perpendicular by George Melly, Start Page 426, Quote Page 426, Column 3, New Statesman Ltd., London. (ProQuest)

Genius Is Born, Not Paid

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Apocryphal?

genius09Dear Quote Investigator: The following passage from a philosophical magazine of 1815 asserts that intellectual gifts are innate: 1

That genius is born, is a trite truth; education never creates, it only cultivates and directs the faculties.

An ancient adage states this controversial thesis concisely for the realm of poetry:

A poet is born, not made.

There are many examples of great poets and other geniuses such as Vincent van Gogh and Nikola Tesla who died in poverty. Oscar Wilde who was also financially strapped at the end of his life was aware of the pitfalls of brilliance, so he modified an adage with acerbic wordplay:

Genius is born, not made.
Genius is born, not paid.

Would you please examine this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the 1916 biography “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions” by Frank Harris. A section about Wilde’s last year of life in 1900 described a party during which the witticism was delivered. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2 3

The entertainment usually started with some humorous play on words. One of the company would say something obvious or trivial, repeat a proverb or commonplace tag such as, “Genius is born, not made,” and Oscar would flash in smiling, “not ‘paid,’ my dear fellow, not ‘paid.'”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Genius Is Born, Not Paid

Notes:

  1. January 1815, The Philosophical Magazine And Journal, Volume 45, Dr. Spurzheim’s demonstrative Course of Lectures, Start Page 50, Quote Page 52, Printed by Richard and Arthur Taylor, Shoe Lane, London. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions, Frank Harris, Volume 2, Quote Page 412, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1916 October, The Phoenix, Volume 5, Number 5, Oscar Wilde as a Talker, (Excerpt from Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris), Start Page 146, Quote Page 147, Published by Michael Monahan, South Norwalk, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

If You Want To Tell People the Truth, You’d Better Make Them Laugh or They’ll Kill You

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? Cecile Starr? Billy Wilder? Richard Pryor? James L. Brooks? Dustin Hoffman? Charles Ludlam?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dramatists have discovered that challenging material often elicits hostility or boredom. This is dangerous for creators because jobs in the entertainment industry are precarious. Yet, a provocative production leavened with humor is often embraced by audiences. The following adage now circulates on Broadway and in Hollywood:

1) If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.
2) If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

The playwrights George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Ludlam have all been credited with this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1951 article in “The Saturday Review” by critic and film historian Cecile Starr discussing a documentary film festival. When Starr commented on the works of one filmmaker she mentioned the adage and ascribed it to George Bernard Shaw who had died a year earlier. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . Shaw’s lively aphorism, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” . . .

QI has found no substantive support for crediting Oscar Wilde with the saying. He died in 1900 and the expression appeared decades afterwards. There is some good evidence that the well-known director Billy Wilder employed the saying, but the linkage occurred after it was attributed to Shaw. There was also some indirect evidence Charles Ludlam used the expression. The comedian Richard Pryor, actor Dustin Hoffman, and screenwriter James L. Brooks all delivered the line during interviews, but they spoke when it was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Want To Tell People the Truth, You’d Better Make Them Laugh or They’ll Kill You

Notes:

  1. 1951 October 13, The Saturday Review, Ideas on Film: Edinburgh’s Documentary Festival by Cecile Starr, Start Page 60, Quote Page 60, Column 1, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)