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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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Notes:

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