Dorothy Parker

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You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893June 7, 1967) was an American writer, poet, and critic. A fixture of 1920s literary society known for her acerbic wit and low opinion of romantic relationships, she became a member of the famous Algonquin Round Table.


There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
  • Excuse my dust.
    • Her proposed epitaph for herself, quoted in Vanity Fair (June 1925)
  • And she had It. It, hell; she had Those.
    • Regarding a character in Elinor Glyn's novel It; in her review, "Madame Glyn Lectures on 'It,' with Illustrations" in The New Yorker (26 November 1927)
  • Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.
    • New Yorker (4 February 1928)
  • Well, Aimee Semple McPherson has written a book. And were you to call it a little peach, you would not be so much as scratching its surface. It is the story of her life, and it is called In the Service of the King, which title is perhaps a bit dangerously suggestive of a romantic novel. It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.
    • "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker" in The New Yorker (25 February 1928)
  • That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.
    • "But the One on the Right" in The New Yorker (1929)
  • A lady … with all the poise of the Sphinx though but little of her mystery.
    • Concerning a child actress in A. A. Milne's play Give Me Yesterday; in her review of same, "Just Around Pooh Corner" in The New Yorker (14 March 1931)
  • The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.
    • Review of "The House Beautiful" by Channing Pollock, New Yorker (21 March 1931)
  • Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
    Love, the reeling midnight through,
    For tomorrow we shall die!
    (But, alas, we never do.)
    • "The Flaw in Paganism" in Death and Taxes (1931)
  • The ones I like … are "cheque" and "enclosed."
    • On the most beautiful words in the English language, as quoted in The New York Herald Tribune (12 December 1932)
  • And I'll stay away from Verlaine too; he was always chasing Rimbauds.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939); this plays on the title of the popular song "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"; Paul Verlaine was Arthur Rimbaud's lover.
  • I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound; if I can remember any of the damn things.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • I'm never going to accomplish anything; that's perfectly clear to me. I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • One more drink and I'd have been under the host.
    • As quoted in Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf (1944)
    • Misattributed as quatrain beginning “I like to have a martini,” (see below).
  • There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
  • It's not the tragedies that kill us; it's the messes.
    • Interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)
  • All those writers who write about their own childhood! Gentle God, if I wrote about mine you wouldn't sit in the same room with me.
    • Interview in The Paris Review, Issue #13 (Summer 1956)
  • [On being told of Calvin Coolidge's death] How do they know? (Coolidge was well-known for being a man of very few words.)
  • There is no such hour on the present clock as 6:30, New York time. Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you'll live through the night.
    • "New York at 6:30 P.M.", Esquire (November 1964)
  • You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.
    • Attributed to Parker after her death, by Robert E. Drennan The Algonquin Wits (1968), p. 124. However the same quip appears anonymously fifteen years earlier, in the trade journal Sales Management (Chicago: Dartnell Corp., 1918-75), vol. 70 (Survey of Buying Power, 1953), p. 80: "Marxism never changes. You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks."
  • Too fucking busy, and vice versa.
    • Response to an editor pressuring her for overdue work, as quoted in The Unimportance of Being Oscar (1968) by Oscar Levant, p. 89
  • It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
    • On her abortion, as quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970)
  • You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.
    • Parker's answer when asked to use the word horticulture during a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence?, as quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970). The quote is a variation on the saying You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. "Horticulture", in this context, is a homophone for "whore to culture".
  • What fresh hell can this be?
    • "If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, 'What fresh hell can this be?' — and it wasn't funny; she meant it." You might as well live: the life and times of Dorothy Parker, John Keats (Simon Schuster, 1970, p124). Often quoted as "What fresh hell is this?" as in the title of the 1987 biography by Marion Meade, "Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?".

Enough Rope (1926)[edit]

Ballads of a Great Weariness

Scratch a lover, and find a foe.


If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
First printed in New York World, (16 August 1925)


Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.
First printed in New York World, (16 August 1925)


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.
First printed in New York World, (16 August 1925)

News Item

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
First printed in New York World, (16 August 1925)

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying,
Lady, make a note of this —
One of you is lying.
First printed in Life, (8 April 1926) p. 11


Some men tear your heart in two,
Some men flirt and flatter,
Some men never look at you,
And that clears up the matter.
First printed in Life, (8 April 1926) p. 11

Rainy Night

I am sister to the rain;
Fey and sudden and unholy,
Petulant at the windowpane,
Quickly lost, remembered slowly.
First printed in New Yorker, (26 September 1926) p. 10


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
First printed in Life, (11 November 1926) p. 12

Sunset Gun (1927)[edit]

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Will look on Helen's face in Hell;
While they whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.
First printed in Life, 24 February 1927 p. 5

A Pig's-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde

If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
First printed in Life, (2 June 1927) p. 13

Fair Weather

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
First printed in New York World, (20 January 1928) p. 13

Thoughts for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
"Your clan will pay me back some day."
First printed in New Yorker, (9 April 1927) p. 31

Our Mrs Parker (1934)[edit]

Quotes of Parker from Alexander Woollcott's biographical essay "Our Mrs Parker" in While Rome Burns (1934) which is the original published source for some of the most famous things she said at the Algonquin Round Table.
  • And there was that wholesale libel on a Yale prom. If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, Mrs Parker said, she wouldn't be at all surprised.
  • Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
    • Caption written for Vogue 1916
  • Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.
    • Woollcott writes in While Rome Burns that Parker had "recently...achieved an equal compression in reporting on The Lake, Miss Hepburn, it seems, had run the whole gamut from A to B." These words do not appear in Dorothy Parker's 1934 printed review of The Lake, but were elsewhere described as a spoken remark. "'We might as well go back,' said Dorothy Parker during an intermission of The Lake in 1934, 'and watch Katharine Hepburn run the gamut of emotions from A to B.'"
    • "Hepburn From A to B : Close-up of a Stage Struck Youngster" by Alan Jackson, in Cinema Arts Vol. 1 No. 2, (July 1937)

Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker (1996)[edit]

  • Dotty had
    Great Big
    Visions of
    Dotty saw an
    Ad, and it
    Left her
    Dotty had a
    Great Big
    Snifter of
    And that (said Dotty)
    Is that.
    • "When We Were Very Sore (Lines on Discovering That You Have Been Advertised as America's A. A. Milne)", first printed in New York World (10 March 1927) p. 15; based on A. A. Milne's "Happiness"


  • The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
    • Widely attributed to Dorothy Parker and to Ellen Parr, but the origin is unknown.


Note: A great many misquotations are attributed to Mrs. Parker. Please try to verify the provenance of any quotations you believe should be ascribed to her. Parker herself wrote about the perils of misquotation in "A Pig's Eye Look At Literature"
  • If you want to know what the Lord God thinks of money, just look at those to whom he gives it.
    • Man and the Gospel (1865) by Thomas Guthrie "and you may know how little God thinks of money by observing on what bad and contemptible characters he often bestows it."
    • “We may see the small Value God has for Riches, by the People he gives them to.” -- Alexander Pope (1727).
  • Upon my honor
    I saw a Madonna
    Standing in a niche
    Over the door
    Of the glamorous whore
    Of a prominent son of a bitch.
    • Said to have been written in the guest-book of Hearst Castle, referring to the room occupied by Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Parker always denied it, pointing out that she would never have rhymed "honor" with "Madonna".
    • Since Parker didn't write it, there are many different versions of this, including ones where the word describing the whore is "favorite" or "famous", and ones where "son of a bitch" is modified by "the world's worst" instead of "a prominent".
  • How odd
    Of God
    To choose
    The Jews
    • This is actually by William Norman Ewer (1885-1976) in Week-End Book (1924); This has sometimes been misattributed to Parker, who was herself of Jewish heritage, in the form:
      How odd of God
      To choose the Jews
    • Similar sayings have also been attributed to Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
      'It wasn't odd;
      the Jews chose God
    • Cecil Brown
      But not so odd
      As those who choose
      A Jewish God,
      But spurn the Jews
    • Leo Rosten
      Not odd
      Of God
      The goyim
      Annoy 'im.
  • I like to have a martini,
    Two at the very most.
    After three I’m under the table,
    After four I’m under my host.
  • This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
    • Quoted in The Algonquin Wits (1968) edited by Robert E. Drennan, and The Dispatch (October 1962). As noted at Snopes, Drennan's source seems to be a Parker review which does not seem to contain this quote. If Parker wrote this statement anywhere the primary source seems to have gone missing.

Quotes about Parker[edit]

  • Everything I've ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.
    • George S. Kaufman, as quoted in George S. Kaufman and His Friends (1974) by Scott Meredith

External links[edit]

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