Dorothy Parker was a woman way ahead of her time. Born in 1893, the American writer, journalist, satirist, and poet was famous for her sharp wit and worldly wisdom.
Though she lived in a time when women were expected to behave in a certain way, Parker famously refused to conform to society’s expectations. Instead, she often used her trademark humor to shine a light on women’s issues, and even today, almost 50 years after her death, she’s regarded as a feminist icon by many.
Parker began her career writing columns, short stories, and reviews for major magazines and newspapers. Her work was hugely popular, but from time to time, her sharp tongue and wisecracking ways caused offense, and she was famously fired from Vanity Fair for her determination to speak her mind. But that didn’t stop her career from going from strength to strength. She was also a founding member of the New York literati group, the Algonquin Roundtable, and she published numerous short stories, poems, and free verses throughout her remarkable career.
In honor of Dorothy Parker and her wicked sense of humor, I’ve put together a list of her wittiest and most memorable quotes. If you’ve not read any of her work before, then this is a great place to start.
For a deeper dive into the works of this 20th-century literati queen, get your hands on a copy of The Portable Dorthy Parker, a compilation of her most prominent publications selected and arranged by the author herself.
95 Dorothy Parker Quotes
“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”
Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramps.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.”
“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”
“The first thing I do in the morning is brushing my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Lady make a note of this —
One of you is lying.”
“Heterosexuality is not normal; it’s just common.”
“There’s life for you. Spend the best years of your life studying penmanship and rhetoric and syntax and Beowulf and George Eliot, and then somebody steals your pencil.”
“Misfortune, and recited misfortune especially, can be prolonged to the point where it ceases to excite pity and arouses only irritation.”
“It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate.”
“Authors and actors and artists and such – Never know nothing, and never know much.”
“The only “ism” Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.”
“Mrs. Ewing was a short woman who accepted the obligation borne by so many short women to make up in vivacity what they lack in a number of inches from the ground.”
“I’ll be the way I was when I first met him. Then maybe he’ll like me again. I was always sweet, at first. Oh, it’s so easy to be sweet to people before you love them.”
“Never complain, never explain.”
“All I have to be thankful for in this world is that I was sitting down when my garter busted.”
“There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind…There must be a magnificent disregard of your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Why is it no one sent me yet one perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose.”
“Excuse my dust.”
“I wish, I wish I were a poisonous bacterium.”
“Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.”
“Trapped like a trap in a trap.”
“Prince or commoner, tenor or bass,
Painter or plumber or never-do-well,
Do me a favor and shut your face –
Poets alone should kiss and tell.”
“If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you.”
“Once, when I was young and true.
Someone left me sad –
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.
Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.”
“The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light,
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake ’till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints…
So far, I’ve had no complaints.”
“This is me apologizing. I am a fool, a bird-brain, a liar, and a horse thief. I wouldn’t touch a superlative again with an umbrella.”
“Travel, trouble, music, art, a kiss, a frock, a rhyme —
I never said they feed my heart, but still, they pass my time.”
“Now, look, baby, ‘Union’ is spelled with 5 letters. It is not a four-letter word.”
“They say of me, and so they should,
It’s doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends.
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come
Inseparable my nose and thumb.”
“I hate writing; I love having written.”
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”
“I don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.”
“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.”
“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.”
“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”
“Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.”
“If all the girls attending [the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”
“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
“I’m not a writer with a drinking problem; I’m a drinker with a writing problem.”
“Take care of the luxuries, and the necessities will take care of themselves.”
“Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is a woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
A woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?”
“Living well is the best revenge.”
“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 Romania.”
“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.”
“Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.”
“If I had a shiny gun
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folks that cause me pains :)”
“Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”
“If I don’t drive around the park,
I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
If I’m in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I’ll probably amount to much,
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn…”
“[On 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.
“I shudder at the thought of men….
I’m due to fall in love again.”
“I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”
“Sometimes I think I’ll give up trying and just go completely Russian and sit on a stove and moan all day.”
“Her big heart did not, as is so sadly often the case, inhabit a big bosom.”
“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.”
“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.”
“What fresh hell is this?”
“They sicken of the calm who know the storm.”
“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”
“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.”
“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
“This wasn’t just plain terrible; this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”[Women Know Everything!]”
“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”
“That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”
“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.”
“The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant and let the air out of the tires.”
“Ducking for apples — change one letter, and it’s the story of my life.”
“There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”
“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 anymore.”
“It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”
“A hangover is the wrath of grapes.”
“I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”
“Time doth flit; oh shit.”
“Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)”
“Lady, lady, never start
Conversation toward your heart;
Keep your pretty words serene;
Never murmur what you mean.
Show yourself, by word and look,
Swift and shallow as a brook.
Be as cool and quick to go
As a drop of April snow;
Be as delicate and gay
As a cherry flower in May.
Lady, lady, never speak
Of the tears that burn your cheek-
She will never win him, whose
Words had shown she feared to lose.
Be you wise and never sad,
You will get your lovely lad.
Never serious be, nor true,
And your wish will come to you-
And if that makes you happy, kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.”
“I had been fed, in my youth, a lot of old wives’ tales about the way men would instantly forsake a beautiful woman to flock around a brilliant one. It is but fair to say that, after getting out in the world, I had never seen this happen.”
“I was always sweet, at first. Oh, it’s so easy to be sweet to people before you love them.”
“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded
They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way, you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They’ll try to make you different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They want to change you all around.
Your moods and ways they put a curse on;
They’d make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They’d alter all that they admired.
They make me sick; they make me tired.”
“But I don’t give up; I forget why not.”
“Women and elephants never forget.”
“I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.”
“You don’t want a general houseworker, do you? Or a traveling companion, quiet, refined, speaks fluent French entirely in the present tense? Or an assistant billiard-maker? Or a private librarian? Or a lady car-washer? Because if you do, I should appreciate your giving me a trial at the job. Any minute now, I am going to become one of the Great Unemployed. I am about to leave literature flat on its face. I don’t want to review books anymore. It cuts in too much on my reading.”― Dorothy Parker
“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
“A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.”
“You think You’re frightening me with Your hell, don’t You? You think Your hell is worse than mine.”
“Q: What’s the difference between an enzyme and a hormone?
A: You can’t hear an enzyme.”
“His voice was as intimate as the rustle of sheets.”
“My love runs by like a day in June,
And he makes no friends of sorrows.
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon.
In the pathway of the morrows.
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
My own dear love, he is all my heart —
And I wish somebody’d shoot him.”
“She was pleased to have him come and never sorry to see him go.”
“Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.”
“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.”
“Now I know the things I know, and I do the things I do, and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!”
I hope you enjoyed these fabulous and witty quotes from legendary writer Dorothy Parker. Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!