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Dorothy Parker, the Woman I Would Have Most Liked to Lunch With

March 18, 2012

I woke up this morning needing a smile.  In responding to a friend I made comment about Dorothy Parker.  Reading her words always makes me smile.  Having passed away in 1967, many today may not be familiar with her work and wit.

Dorothy was born in 1893.  This age put her in her prime in the Roaring 20s and being in New York City at a time, when women began to step out with a voice truly their own, her wit was well received.  She is the source of many classic and witty sayings, such as:

“Men seldom make passes
at girls who wear glasses.”

She used this sort of tongue-in-cheek wit while she was the poetry editor and drama critic for Vogue and Vanity Fair.  It is cute and flirty but understates the depth Dorothy could go to make a point.  As a charter member of the Algonquin Round Table, a daily luncheon of New York writers and wits between 1919 and 1929, she was often challenging during word games.  During one such lunch, Franklin P Adams challenged her to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence.  Dorothy replied:

“You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.”

It is easy to write about Ms. Parker in rosy platitudes, but she would hate that.  Better to just let a few of her better known quotes speak for themselves:

“Time doth flit; oh shit.”

“I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”

“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”

“She was pleased to have him come and never sorry to see him go.”

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”

“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

“Women and elephants never forget.”

“If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”

“Q: What’s the difference between an enzyme and a hormone?
A: You can’t hear an enzyme.”

“Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

But my favorite Dorothy quote was made in response to a telegram she received on her honeymoon from her editor stating the publisher wanted to know why she did not meet a deadline.  Her telegram back simply read:

“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.”

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5 comments

  1. She was definitely a character! It’s the first time I hear about her too. Funny how figures of female wit like this hit popular culture and remain there.

    I tried to come up with a comparison of what is womanly wit today and I can’t think of it. I don’t want to say it doesn’t exist, but maybe people are not listening hard enough.


    • You are right Joe, today we tend to gloss over true wit in general and specifically from women. I enjoy the writing of many women I find witty, even contemporaries. the problem is how to increase interest in such writing. I wish I had the answer.


      • I think the first problem is how it’s easier for society at large to think a woman is crass for using swear words, even if they’re used with actual intelligence, weight and merit..


      • there is a double standard for sure, but I think women will point out that it is simply one of many double standards they deal with daily. I personally like women that think fast and have wit. I guess the trick with swear words, as you put it, is using them to good effect, to make a point. That is no different for men or women, just seem to be expected from men. Men being crass and all. In the end, it is all about writing ability. Either someone has it or they do not. Makes no difference if they are male or female.


      • Indeed.



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