From the Sharpened Tongue of Dorothy Parker


Dorothy Parker best quotes and critiquesDorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was a master of words and knew how to use them to make a point. As a critic, poet, and essayist, everything and everyone was fair game for her brilliant and ruthless prose.

She once observed, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” Following are just a few products of that sharp tongue:

  • On Kathleen Norris’s novel, Beauty and the Beast: “I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash Beauty and the Beast made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.”
  • From her review of Caste, a novel by Cosmo Hamilton: “Until today, I walked square-shouldered among my fellows, looking them in the composite eye, and said in unshaken tones: ‘Anyway, there are two things I have never done. I never resisted an officer, and I never read anything by Cosmo Hamilton.’ Today only the first half of that ringing boast is true. I made, as usual, the wrong selection.”
  • In her newspaper column Constant Reader, Parker reviewed AA Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, she began quoting from the book before summing up her dislike of it: “‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it snows, tiddely-pom-’ ‘Tiddely what’ said Piglet. (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.) ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that to make it more hummy.’ And it is that word ‘hummy’, my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up.”
  • From her review of Will Durant’s novel, Transition, she writes: “Dr. Will Durant, the worst reporter that the Snyder-Gray trial ever had (and that’s no faint praise), says of his book, Transition, which has a sub-title ‘A Sentimental Story of One Mind and One Era,’ that he just dashed it off by way of a holiday. Dr. Will Durant should stick to business.”
  • Of Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Dodsworth, she writes: “I can not, with the slightest sureness, tell you if it will sweep the country, like Main Street, or bring forth yards of printed praise…My guess would be that it will not. Other guesses I which I have made in the past half-year have been that Al Smith would carry New York state, that St. John Ervine would be a great dramatic critic for an American newspaper, and that I would have more than twenty-six dollars in the bank on March 1st. So you see my confidence in my judgment is scarcely what it used to be.”
  • “I tried Gay Agony — eventually these trick titles will get me, and I will be found in a small, quiet place, completely surrounded by iron bars, sitting looking at my hands all day — by H.A. Manhood. Well, if it’s the man’s name, can I help it?”
  • On André Gide’s The Counterfeiters: “The Counterfeiters is too tremendous a thing for praises. To say of it, ‘Here is a magnificent novel’ is rather like gazing into the Grand Canyon and remarking, ‘Well, well, well; quite a slice.’ Doubtless you have heard that this book is not pleasant. Neither, for that matter, is the Atlantic Ocean.”
  • From her review of Robert Hyde’s book: “Crude is the name of Robert Hyde’s first novel. It is also a criticism of it.”
  • Her assessment of another birthday rolling around: “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible; it was terrible with raisins in it.”
  • “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”
  • On suicide: “Résumé Razors pain you, Rivers are damp, Acids stain you, And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful, Nooses give, Gas smells awful. You might as well live.”
  • “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”
  • “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
  • “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
  • “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”
  • “The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.”
  • “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
  • “The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘check enclosed.'”
  • “I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.”
  • “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.”
  • “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
  • “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
  • “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
  • Her suggestion for the epitaph to be engraved on her tombstone: “Excuse my dust.”

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