That’s the Point of Quotations, You Know: One Can Use Another’s Words To Be Insulting

Carolyn G. Heilbrun? Amanda Cross? Kate Fansler? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: By employing a quotation from a well-known individual it is possible to firmly express a viewpoint without directly endorsing it. I vaguely recall the following similar statement:

Often the point of quotations is to use somebody else’s words to deliver an insult.

Would you please help me to determine the correct wording and attribution?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 Columbia University Professor of English Carolyn G. Heilbrun published “The Theban Mysteries” under the pen name Amanda Cross. The protagonist of the book, Kate Fansler, was an amateur detective who had attended “The Theban School”, an elite all-girls academy. Fansler returned to her alma mater to moderate a seminar, and she became entangled in a mystery when a dead body was discovered on campus. In the following dialogue a member of the school asked Fansler whether she wished to join the institution, and she declined. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Have you ever thought of joining the Theban in some permanent capacity?”

“Do you know what Dickens said when they asked him to stand for Parliament? ‘I believe that no consideration would induce me to become a member of that extraordinary assembly.’ That’s the point of quotations, you know: one can use another’s words to be insulting.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading That’s the Point of Quotations, You Know: One Can Use Another’s Words To Be Insulting


  1. 1979 (1971 Copyright), The Theban Mysteries by Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn G. Heilbrun), Series: A Kate Fansler Novel, Chapter 6, Quote Page 89 and 90, Avon Books, New York. (Verified with scans)