Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The world of social media highlights upvotes, shares, and retweets. Many marketers, influencers, and politicians adhere to the following axiom:
It’s better to be quotable than honest.
Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?
Quote Investigator: British playwright Tom Stoppard has earned an Academy Award and four Tony Awards. In 1973 journalist Janet Watts interviewed Stoppard for the London newspaper “The Guardian”. She prompted him with a comment he had previously made during a television interview, and he responded with the quotation under examination. 1
Stoppard (a true ex-journalist) has a gift for quotable remarks. “I write fiction because it’s a way of making statements I can disown, and I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself,” he once said on television. He looks wry when reminded of it: “It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn’t going to be quotable . . . it’s better to be quotable than honest,” he says (doing it again).
Stoppard’s shrewd remark illustrates the principle it extols. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1973 March 21, The Guardian, Tom Stoppard: Janet Watts interviews the playwright who has a work at the National Theatre, and a translation of Lorca opening tomorrow, Quote Page 12, Column 4, London, England. (Newspapers_com) ↩