Ten of Quick-Witted Satirist Dorothy Parker’s Sharpest Quips

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Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker in Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, 1994(Film still)

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” 50 years after the infamous writer died, her wry words are as relevant as ever before

Critic, short story writer, satirist, screenwriter, poet, playwright – Dorothy Parker was a writer in the truest sense of the word. Parker became known for her acerbic wit as she forged a career with her words in the first half of the 20th century, writing theatre reviews for Vanity Fair – a role from which she was fired after her opinions proved too cutting for some producers to bear – and founding the Algonquin Round Table with fellow wordsmiths, before moving on to writing for The New Yorker when it was founded in 1925 and publishing poetry volumes.

Whatever mood you might find yourself in, Parker wrote or said some devilishly sharp, oftentimes bittersweet, words to match: be it in love, seething with rage, confident, insecure, hysterical with either laughter or sadness, Parker noted with abundant wit and a delicious irreverence the ins and outs of emotions. Her later life saw involvement with politics and civil rights activism alongside writing in Hollywood, and she maintained her infamous quick wit even in death – she suggested “excuse my dust” be put on her epitaph, which is written on a plaque in the NAACP garden dedicated to her memory in Baltimore. 50 years to the day since her death, Parker's words remain as fiery and pertinent now as ever. It was difficult, to say the least, to create a list of only ten quips, but the following witticisms are some of Parker’s best.

  1. “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
  2. “A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.”
  3. “Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.”
  4. “I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
  5. “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
  6. “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.”
  7. “A hangover is the wrath of grapes.”
  8. “Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.”
  9. “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”
  10. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”