Mark Twain? Miss Manners? Judith Martin? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am considering using a quotation that is attributed to Mark Twain in the conclusion of my Master’s Thesis about social media. Unfortunately, I have been unable to verify the ascription, and the origin of the expression is uncertain:
Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.
I would be grateful for your assistance in tracing these words.
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said or wrote the statement above. It is not listed on Barbara Schmidt’s TwainQuotes.com website, an important reference tool for checking expressions ascribed to the humorist. The earliest relevant citation located by QI appeared many years after Twain’s death in 1910.
For more than three decades Judith Martin has authored a popular syndicated advice column called “Miss Manners”. In 1979 she wrote an article contrasting communication and conversation that began with the following initial sentence: 1 2
The new social season being now upon us, let us make a special effort to learn to stop communicating with one another, so that we can have some conversation.
Martin was opposed to the oversharing of inappropriate personal details with acquaintances:
In communication, people express their true feelings, and tell everything about themselves with complete honesty, holding back nothing except their last names.
She wished that discretion and propriety would return to discourse:
Miss Manners’ hope is that, having learned to communicate, people have now rid themselves of their emotional backlogs, and are willing to return to talking like civilized people.
QI hypothesizes that the quotation from Martin was streamlined and then incorrectly reassigned to Mark Twain.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1979 September 1, The Bulletin, Miss Manners: Stop ‘communicating’ and start conversing by Judith Martin, (United Features Syndicate), Quote Page 19, Column 1, Bend, Deschutes County, Oregon. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1979 September 3, State Times Advocate, Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Quote Page 3B, Column 1, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank) ↩