Winston Churchill? Ronald Knox? Gerald K. Rudulph? C. H. McNider? Richard N. Elliott? Louis Sobol? Frances Langford? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous statesman and orator Winston Churchill was asked about the length of an ideal address, and he supposedly said:
A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.
Yet, a similar remark about sermons is often attributed to the theologian Ronald Knox. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: This quip is difficult to trace because it has many variants, and the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in May 1920 in “The Buffalo Enquirer” of Buffalo, New York. The columnist Gerald K. Rudulph employed quotation marks to signal that the joke was already in circulation. This version used a simile comparing the length of a newspaper column and a woman’s skirt. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
. . . we will do our best and try to make this column like a woman’s skirt, “short enough to be attractive, but long enough to cover the subject.”
An instance was attributed to Churchill by 1942. He probably used it after it had been coined. Pertinent citations are presented further below. QI has been unable to find substantive evidence that Ronald Knox used the expression.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1920 May 21, The Buffalo Enquirer, The Port Side Column by Gerald K. Rudulph, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩