Power Without Responsibility — The Prerogative of the Harlot Throughout the Ages

Stanley Baldwin? Rudyard Kipling? Arthur W. Baldwin? Benjamin Disraeli? Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the 1930s British politician Stanley Baldwin reacted with anger when he read a claim that he considered defamatory in the pages of a popular newspaper. Shortly afterward he delivered a speech accusing the U.K. press barons of wielding power without responsibility, and he employed a mordant analogy that compared his antagonists to harlots.

Some claim that the famous English author Rudyard Kipling supplied this analogy to Stanley Baldwin who was his cousin. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Stanley Baldwin delivered a speech to a full house of supporters at Queen’s Hall, London on March 17, 1931. Several newspapers reported on the event including the “The Lancashire Daily Post” of Preston, 1 the “Liverpool Echo” of Liverpool, 2 and “The Times” of London. The start of Baldwin’s oration included some praise for U.K. newspapers: 3

Let me begin by saying that the Press of Great Britain is the admiration of the world for its fairness, the ability with which it is conducted, and the high principles of journalism to which it adheres.

Yet, Baldwin’s plaudits were not universal. He criticized the newspapers of two powerful press barons:

The papers conducted by Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook are not newspapers in the ordinary acceptance of the term. (Cheers.) They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes of two men. (Loud cheers.)

Baldwin admitted that he had used the stinging description “insolent plutocracy”. He then presented the recent harsh response to his words that was printed in the “Daily Mail”:

“These expressions come ill from Mr. Baldwin, since his father left him an immense fortune, which, so far as may be learned from his own speeches, has almost disappeared. It is difficult to see how the leader of a party who has lost his own fortune can hope to restore that of anyone else or of his country.”

Baldwin said that the claims in the “Daily Mail” were false:

The first part of that statement is a lie, and the second part of that statement by its implication is untrue. The paragraph itself could only have been written by a cad.

Baldwin employed the quotation under examination while condemning the press barons. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

The most detailed evidence that Rudyard Kipling supplied the statement about prerogatives to Stanley Baldwin was provided by his son Arthur W. Baldwin in 1971. See the citation presented further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Power Without Responsibility — The Prerogative of the Harlot Throughout the Ages


  1. 1931 March 17, The Lancashire Daily Post, Mr. Baldwin Fearlessly Hits Out At His Critics, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Lancashire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1931 March 17, Liverpool Echo, Mr. Baldwin’s Sensational Speech: Blunt Reply To Peer Critics, Quote Page 12, Column 1 and 2, Liverpool, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  3. 1931 March 18, The Times, A Vigorous Speech: Mr. Baldwin On Press Interference, Quote Page 18, Column 1 and 2, London, England. (Gale – The Times Digital Archive)

It’s Better To Be Quotable Than Honest

Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The world of social media highlights upvotes, shares, and retweets. Many marketers, influencers, and politicians adhere to the following axiom:

It’s better to be quotable than honest.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: British playwright Tom Stoppard has earned an Academy Award and four Tony Awards. In 1973 journalist Janet Watts interviewed Stoppard for the London newspaper “The Guardian”. She prompted him with a comment he had previously made during a television interview, and he responded with the quotation under examination. 1

Stoppard (a true ex-journalist) has a gift for quotable remarks. “I write fiction because it’s a way of making statements I can disown, and I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself,” he once said on television. He looks wry when reminded of it: “It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn’t going to be quotable . . . it’s better to be quotable than honest,” he says (doing it again).

Stoppard’s shrewd remark illustrates the principle it extols. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Better To Be Quotable Than Honest


  1. 1973 March 21, The Guardian, Tom Stoppard: Janet Watts interviews the playwright who has a work at the National Theatre, and a translation of Lorca opening tomorrow, Quote Page 12, Column 4, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

Fashion Passes; Style Remains

Coco Chanel? Yves Saint Laurent? Diana Vreeland? Pier Luigi Nervi? Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The fashion designer Coco Chanel was brilliant and innovative. I am interested in a motto that she may have originated:

Fashion passes; style remains.

When did she say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for this phrase known to QI appeared in an interview of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel conducted by the journalist Joseph Barry in McCall’s magazine in 1965. Chanel was primarily a speaker of French, and the phrase she used in 1965 did not employ the word fashion; instead, she used the word “mode” which is both French and English:

Mode passes; style remains.

Here is an excerpt from the interview which took place when Chanel was an eminent 81-year-old. Boldface has been added to some excerpts: 1

INTERVIEWER: Apropos copying, you are probably the most copied dress designer in the world. Does it bother you?

CHANEL: I suppose it is a kind of flattery. Someone said I dress eighty per cent of the well-dressed women—and the not so well-dressed, I’m afraid—whether they know it or not. But style should reach the people, no? It should descend into the streets, into people’s lives, like a revolution. That is real style. The rest is mode. Mode passes; style remains. Mode is made of a few amusing ideas, meant to be used up quickly, so they can be replaced by others in the next collection. A style endures even as it is renewed and evolved.

The word “mode” has several meanings in English including the following which is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary: 2

A prevailing fashion, custom, practice, or style, esp. one characteristic of a particular place or period.

Both Chanel and her interviewer were able to speak in French and English, and it is not clear whether Chanel spoke the aphorism in French or English. If she spoke it in French then she probably said:

La mode passe; le style reste.

This expression can be translated into English in more than one way. One possibility is:

Fashion passes; style remains.

Adages that contrast the longevity of fashion and style have been in circulation for many decades. In 1889 a precursor was printed that presented part of the idea, i.e., a particular style can have a long life: 3

The natural inconvenience resulting from such a style of dress, it would appear, would induce a change in the fashion plates, but while the seasons change this style “goes on forever.

In 1904 a variant of the motto was employed in the architectural domain: 4

The fashions of architecture—they perish. Style endures.

In 1929 a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper printed an excellent example of the maxim under investigation using a different phrasing. The newspaper article discussed a trend that had swept through New York and had reached Springfield. The trend did not involve garments or accessories. It was based on the skin: the “sun tan”. The article author contended that the “sun tan” was a fad among women that was fleeting. The story referred to “beauty officials” who claimed that the peak of the fad was past, and it was unlikely to return the next summer. The overall report was humorously wrong-headed, but it did include an interesting version of the adage: 5

As one philosophical beauty expert put it, “Fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fashion Passes; Style Remains


  1. 1965 November, McCall’s, An Interview with Chanel, [Interview with Gabrielle Chanel conducted by Joseph Barry], Start Page 121, Quote page 170, Column 4, McCall Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. Entry for “mode”, noun, Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, September 2002; online version June 2011.  (Accessed at oed.com on August 15, 2011)
  3. 1889, Sketches from the Mountains of Mexico by J. R. Flippin Standard publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1904 American Renaissance: A Review of Domestic Architecture by Joy Wheeler Dow, Quote Page 155 Publisher William T. Comstock, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1929 August 25, Springfield Republican, America’s Great Skin Game That Has Coated Femininity with Sun Tan Wanes, Section: Magazine, Quote Page 1 (GNB Page 45), Column 3, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)