Kiss: A Trick of Nature to Stop Speech When Words Are Superfluous

Ingrid Bergman? Evan Esar? Paul H. Gilbert? Hal Boyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of my favorite websites recently presented a collection of “Ten Favorite Quotations about Words”. Number one was about osculation:

A kiss is a lovely trick, designed by nature, to stop speech when words become superfluous.

These words were attributed to the lovely Oscar-winning actress Ingrid Bergman, but no citation was given. Oddly, most of the other ten quotes incorporated precise citations. Can you tell me when and where this was said?

Quote Investigator: This statement was credited to Bergman in a syndicated newspaper column written by Hal Boyle in 1970, and this was the earliest connection to Bergman located by QI. The actress lived until 1982, so it was possible that she did speak or write this line.

However, the clever definition was in circulation a few decades earlier. In 1943 Evan Esar, the inveterate phrase collector, published “Esar’s Comic Dictionary” which included the following meaning for the word kiss [EECD]:

kiss. A trick of nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.

Esar did not list credits for any of the definitions in his book proclaiming that the contents were “of popular origin and therefore unattributed”. He also complained about the ubiquity of false attributions in his Foreword [EECF]:

Now more than ever is it a wise crack that knows its own father, for the general practice of apocryphal ascription has been aggravated by the rise of radio.

Yet, Esar also admitted that some of the jokes in his book should have been ascribed:

Some of the unattributed items in this work doubtless derive from present-day humorists and men of letters, and for their inadvertent inclusion the writer wishes to apologize in advance.

The humorous remark about kissing was reprinted without ascription for many years until a version was finally assigned to Bergman by 1970.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Kiss: A Trick of Nature to Stop Speech When Words Are Superfluous