A. J. Liebling? Shirley Povich? Red Smith? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The journalist A. J. Liebling was well-known for his productivity at the typewriter. Yet, high speed in composition and high quality in prose are sometimes antithetical goals. Liebling crafted a statement about his skills that was simultaneously egotistical and self-deprecating:
I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.
This adroit remark used a rhetorical technique called antimetabole; the main clause was repeated with keywords transposed. Would you please explore the origin of this statement?
Quote Investigator: The earliest citation known to QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in January 1964 shortly after the death of A. J. Liebling in December 1963. Fellow journalist Waverley Root reminisced about incidents that occurred when he was accompanying his friend Liebling in New York and Paris. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
I think that Joe was simply trying to situate himself, with as much impartiality as if he were someone else standing aside and looking at Joe Liebling, and to my mind what he said summed up better than anyone else has ever done it, just what his merit was. He said:
“I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.”
Thanks to researcher Barry Popik who located the above citation.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1964 January 19, The Washington Post, When Dadaists Played Chess: That Was the Decade That Was; A Rose Was a Rose and the Ilk Oozed by Waverley Root (The Washington Post Foreign Service), Quote Page E3, Column 5 and 6, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) ↩