Tag Archives: Earl Wilson

A Diplomat Is a Person Who Can Tell You To Go To Hell in Such a Tactful Way That You’ll Look Forward with Pleasure To Making the Trip

Winston Churchill? Caskie Stinnett? Gary Knafelc? Vince Lombardi? Viola Layne? Earl Wilson? Joe Williams? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Diplomacy is a difficult profession that rewards sensitivity and great verbal dexterity. The following witticism has been credited to travel writer and humorist Caskie Stinnett:

A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

The following similar remarks have been attributed to Winston Churchill:

  • Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.
  • Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Winston Churchill employed this joke. He received credit by the 2000s. Caskie Stinnett did use this gag in his book “Out of the Red” in 1960, but it was already in circulation.

The earliest instance located by QI appeared as an anonymous filler item in the “St. Louis Star-Times” of Missouri in November 1937. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a tactful way that you’ll look forward with pleasure to making the trip.

The phrasing is variable which makes the expression difficult to trace. Thus, earlier evidence may be discovered by future researchers. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1937 November 27, St. Louis Star-Times, (Filler item), Quote Page 10, Column 1, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)

The Only Thing More Painful Than Learning from Experience Is Not Learning from Experience

Archibald MacLeish? Laurence J. Peter? Earl Wilson? Eleanor Hoyt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The American poet Archibald MacLeish apparently said that learning from experience was painful, but the alternative of not learning was worse. A similar remark has been ascribed to quotation collector Laurence J. Peter. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1966 in the widely syndicated column of Earl Wilson who presented it as an anonymous “Remembered Quote”: 1

“The only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience.”

More than a decade later in 1978 Archibald MacLeish received credit, and in 1982 Laurence J. Peter included an instance in one of his books.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1966 April 28, Reno Gazette-Journal, It Happened Last Night: Oscar-Winner Lee Marvin Has Bit of Bogart in His Style by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)

They’ve Absolutely Ruined Your Perfectly Dreadful Play

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

orpheus11Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest one-line review of a movie I have ever encountered is the following:

Darling, they’ve absolutely ruined your perfectly dreadful play.

According to a show-business legend, the movie star Tallulah Bankhead delivered this mortifying judgement to the famous playwright Tennessee Williams when she saw the film version of his play “Orpheus Descending”. Would you please explore this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1940 Tennessee Williams wrote a play titled “Battle of Angels”; however, at that time he was unable to successfully mount a full production. He rewrote and retitled the work “Orpheus Descending”, and in 1957 it was presented on Broadway, but the reception was muted. The construction of the play had been inspired by the tragic ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

In 1960 “Orpheus Descending” was adapted into a film titled “The Fugitive Kind” with top performers in the cast: Marlon Brando played the Orpheus-type role and Anna Magnani played the Eurydice-type role. The critical notices were mixed, and the commercial performance was weak.

The earliest evidence located by QI of a match for the quotation appeared in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in May 1960. Winchell stated that Tallulah Bankhead and Tennessee Williams had recently resumed a friendship that previously had been strained. Bankhead’s candor was unhampered. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

They witnessed the film “Fugitive Kind” (adapted from his “Orpheus Descending”) and she told him: “I think it’s disgraceful. They’ve absolutely ruined a bad play!” Tennessee enjoys being spiked by Talu the tiger.

The use of the pedestrian word “bad” in this version of the quotation reduced its humor. Yet, this instance might be the most faithful to the words Bankhead actually uttered. The word choice evolved as the tale was retold during the ensuing years.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1960 May 25, The Terre Haute Tribune, Walter Winchell of New York, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Terre Haute, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me

Dorothy Parker? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Earl Wilson? Robert Harling? Anonymous?

longworth10Dear Quote Investigator: The most trenchant comment pertaining to gossip that I have ever heard is often attributed to the wit Dorothy Parker. The quip is based on altering the following conventional instruction on etiquette:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Here are three versions of the twisted variation:

If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit by me.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.
If you can’t say something good about someone, sit here by me.

These words have also been credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who was the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and a long-time Washington socialite known for adroit remarks. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a magazine profile of Alice Roosevelt Longworth titled “The Sharpest Wit in Washington” published in “The Saturday Evening Post” issue of December 4, 1965. Interestingly, the expression was not spoken; instead, it was embroidered on a pillow. Also, the word “good” was used instead of “nice”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

We walked to Mrs. Longworth’s upstairs sitting room, where she often reads until six o’clock in the morning. Books were piled everywhere on the tables and on the floor, and contemporary newspaper clippings were strewn on the side tables. Coyote skins were lying on the backs of two large, comfortable chairs, and on one of the chairs was a pillow with the words, IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT SOMEONE, SIT RIGHT HERE BY ME.

Longworth definitely popularized the expression, and she may have crafted it. There is no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker employed the saying though it has been attributed to her in recent decades.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1965 December 4, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 238, Issue 24, The Sharpest Wit in Washington by Jean Vanden Heuvel, (Interview with Alice Roosevelt Longworth), Start Page 30, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premiere EBSCO)

Modern Man Drives a Mortgaged Car Over a Bond-Financed Highway on Credit-Card Gas

Earl Wilson? Cy N. Peace? Earl Nelson? Whitt N. Schultz? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to unearth the source of a quote credited to the columnist Earl Wilson which seems to be everywhere on the web but without a source:

Modern man drives a mortgaged car over a bond-financed highway on credit-card gas.

Any help tracking this down would be appreciated.

Quote Investigator: In May 1960 the popular syndicated gossip scribe Earl Wilson did include this saying in his column as one of “Earl’s Pearls” [EWEP]. But the phrase entered circulation a few years before this. The earliest appearance located by QI was in a column called “Tower Ticker” in the Chicago Tribune on September 2, 1957 [HLCP]:

And Cy Peace in a national magazine quips, “Modern man is one who drives a mortgaged car over a bond financed highway on credit card gas!”

Many magazine issues are distributed in advance of their cover dates. The columnist was probably referring to The Saturday Evening Post which was a popular high-circulation periodical in the 1950s. The September 7, 1957 issue of the magazine printed the words in a box as a freestanding quotation. The saying was attributed to Cy N. Peace [SPCP].

On September 6, 1957 a nearly identical version was printed in a Portsmouth, Ohio newspaper. The column “Pete’s Pungent Patter” by Pete Minego listed the saying without an attribution [OHPP]:

Modern man: One who drives a mortgaged car over a bond-financed highway on credit card gas.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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