Assuming Oscar Said It

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.

–Dorothy Parker

Wilde’s sayings – aphorisms, epigrams – are seen and heard everywhere; but how many of these are genuine?

On this page, we list the probable and improbable attributions, seek their origins, and encourage readers to join the game.

“The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (née Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of ‘The Duchess’. In Molly Bawn, 1878, there’s the line “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which is the earliest citation that I can find in print”

Yasmin Wooldridge writes
  1. ‘Be yourself, everyone is already taken’ (or ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’ sounds much more like Groucho Marx than Oscar Wilde.

  2. The “spend time alone” quote is fact that of Olivia Wilde:

  3. could you tell me the origin of the quote “never love a person who thinks you’re ordinary” (or something like that)…
    everywhere I look it has been attributed to Oscar Wilde, but I haven’t seen a source cited.

  4. The “sing a song only you can hear” quote seems to have been adapted from something said by Elizabeth Cooper:

  5.  Picturemewilde

    The one about being talked about is from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry says it to Basil.

  6. Apart from false quotations, there are also false anecdotes. Here two are joined together:

    ‘At the best of times, there were elaborate champagne dinners … and pre-dinners and post-dinners; Wilde ordered his staff to serve champagne “at intervals” throughout the day. And at the worst of times – after being imprisoned for charges of indecency and sodomy – Wilde made the most of things by ordering cases of his favorite vintage, an 1874 Perrier-Jouët, straight to his cell…. In a famous anecdote, Wilde was elegant until the very end, ordering champagne to his deathbed …’
    Many more such inventions were reported in ‘The Other Oscar’, a feature on the old oscholars website. Try googling oscholars the other oscar

  7.  Ryan

    I’m pretty sure the ‘everything is about sex’ quote is Germain Greer and in fuller form is, ‘Everything is about sex, except for sex. Sex is about power.’

  8.  queenhyena

    “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power” – this misattributed Oscar Wilde quote is driving me mad. To me it’s an obvious fake and yet it’s attributed to him everywhere on the Internet – always without a source though. It lacks his usual wit and sounds like an anacronism – I don’t think the word “sex” was used in that modern 20th Century sense during the Victorian era. Ryan suggests Germaine Greer but I can’t find any evidence that she said it either. I’m beginning to suspect that some anonymous copywriter or t-shirt maker just made it up in the 90’s. 1990’s, that is. Still, I’d love to be able to prove this. Please help!.

  9. Oh silly pinterest, because if a quote has a pretty background it is clearly a reliable source.

  10.  Zach

    “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them” It should read ‘after a time they judge them, rarely if ever do they forgive them.’

    I don’t know about the rest of them, but this one is actually correct in both its forms. The first is from The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the “corrected” verse was simply recycled and slightly changed in one of his plays (I can’t remember which at the moment). Wilde was known for recycling verses from one work to another, the only differences between them perhaps being a minor rewording.

1 Response to Assuming Oscar Said It

  1. cardsandstars says:

    “Except sex. Sex is about power.” What’s the story here? To me it looks like the original quote was from Robert Klitzman, In a House of Dreams and Glass: Becoming a Psychiatrist, 1995, p. 73, which reads “I once had a supervisor who used to say that ‘Everything in therapy is really about sex except sex, which is about aggression.’ ” Klitzman was born in 1958 and must have been doing a residency in the mid-80s. The quote seems to sum up a perspective on Freudian psychology informed by the 1970s feminist associations of sex and power. After Klitzman, the sentiment was repeated by Susan C. Vaughn in The Talking Cure, 1997, p. 60. The association with WIlde seems to begin with The Advocate vol. 862, 2002, pg. 25 in a review of Brendon Lemon. Here, I suspect the advocate has a preference for iconic gay sources. Next seems to be Richard Canning’s 2003 “Hear Us Out: Conversations with Gay Novelists” p. 106. The quote seems to have been adopted as emblematic of a gay sensibility. As late as 2014, though, The Iowa Review, vol. 44, p. 16 suggests Freud as the origin.

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