Mark Twain? Margaret Millar? Elizabeth P. O’Connor? Rebecca West? Leo Buscaglia? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following entertaining remark is often attributed to Mark Twain:
Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.
I have also seen these words ascribed to the award-winning mystery writer Margaret Millar. Could you determine who should be credited?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain wrote or spoke the statement above. The phrase should be credited to Margaret Millar although the original wording was slightly different because it used the singular word “witness”. In the 1942 novel “The Weak-Eyed Bat” Millar wrote the following exchange. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
“As a matter of fact, have you never noticed that most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness?”
“No,” Jakes said.
“Well, listen next time you hear a couple of women talking. They’ll each have a list of likes and dislikes that they intend to reel off. Now wouldn’t it be much simpler for Mrs. Smith to sit in front of a mirror and read her list without competition…”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1942, The Weak-Eyed Bat by Margaret Millar, Quote Page 117, Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of University of North Carolina, Greensboro) ↩