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Quote of the Day: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

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Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

About a week ago, this quote was attributed to Winston Churchill in an excellent article by Bruce Maiman about Dr. Martinez, superintendent of Twin Rivers USD.

While I have praised the article, and I think the quote is quite witty, I think Maiman was wrong about the origin and wording of the quote…  It appears the original quote was by Caskie Stinnett, and went as follows:

A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.

Written by Jacob Walker

November 21st, 2013 at 11:59 am

6 Responses to 'Quote of the Day: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”'

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  1. Sometimes they won’t just give up, and knowing you are alone, just keep the harassment going until you drop dead or move away…hmmmmm!

    Carolyn Jette

    21 Nov 13 at 12:33 pm

  2. I suspect you’re right. I very much doubt that Winston Churchill would have mixed plural and singular like that. If he’d really said it the quote would have been, “tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that he looks forward to the trip,” or similar.

    Dave Burton

    1 Sep 14 at 4:42 am

  3. The note above, attributing this to Caskie Skinnett, before Churchill, is incorrect. Though Skinnett was born in 1911, the quote was printed in 1960. Churchill said it much before then. Now, did Churchill say in in a way that subject and verb matched up — “he looks forward” rather than “they look forward”? Probably. But he certainly said it before Skinnett wrote it down.

    Oh, and it would be nice, on the Internet, to find ONE source that says WHEN/WHERE Churchill said it, and in what context. That helps us to know THAT he said it. But Churchill was completely out of power before 1960 (having retired completely by 1955), so IF he said it, it was before Skinnett wrote it down.

    BH

    9 Feb 15 at 9:19 am

  4. I think the burden of proof is to find some evidence that it was said before 1960 by anyone, including Churchill. Quotes are always hard to trace to the source, especially if they were only spoken… And at one time Google had really good searching of newspaper archives, but its searching has continued to get worse, so I wasn’t able to check other sources beyond books.

    Jacob Walker

    10 Feb 15 at 5:38 pm

  5. Given the coverage of Churchill’s life and his own writings, it seems strange that the widespread attribution to Churchill can’t be readily backed up, and Wikiquote regards it as a misattribution. The version attributed to Churchill is more commonly given as “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions”

    El Sid

    25 Aug 15 at 2:25 pm

  6. There’s some newspaper quotes going back to 1953, it looks like it was in common use before Stinnett used it :

    http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/a_diplomat_is_a_person_who_can_tell_you_to_go_to_hell_so_that_you_look_forw/

    24 June 1953, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, “Hits and Misses,” pg. 6, col. 5:
    Diplomat—one who can tell you to go to hades and make you look forward to the trip.—Everson News.

    Google Books
    Railway Carmen’s Journal
    Brotherhood Railway Carmen of the United States and Canada, Brotherhood Railway Carmen of America
    Volume 60
    1955
    Pg. 151:
    “A true diplomat is a gentleman who can tell you to go to hell in such a nice way that you look forward to the trip.”

    Google Books
    The Student Lawyer:
    Journal of the American Law Student Association
    Volume 1
    1955 (WorldCat shows at 1957 date for Volume 1—ed.)
    Pg. 13:
    You know what a diplomat is— he is a fellow who can tell you to go to hell, but he does it in such a nice way that actually you look forward to the trip.

    Google Books
    The Australian Law Journal
    Volume 31
    1957
    Pg. 289:
    Probably you know the definition of a diplomat as a man who can tell you to go to Hell in such a nice way that you actually look forward to the trip.

    27 November 1959, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 1:
    A diplomat can tell you where to go and make you look forward to the trip.

    El Sid

    25 Aug 15 at 2:33 pm

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