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28 More-Than-Just-Clever Remarks From One of History’s Great Smartasses

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No one could turn a phrase like Oscar Wilde, but I think the truth in Wilde’s remarks is often overlooked because of how witty he made them.

Though he was known primarily for his wit, Wilde had a dramatic and difficult life, perpetually running afoul of society’s values, giving him some poignant things to say about humankind. It’s easy to have a quick laugh at an Oscar Wilde quip without recognizing the profound statement he is really making about human beings and their values.

The following are more than just snarky comments. Laugh, but don’t forget to think too.


1. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

2. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

3. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

4. A true friend stabs you in the front.

5. I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.

6. I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.

7. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

8. Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.

9. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.

10. America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

11. I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.

12. All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.

13. Ah! Don’t say that you agree with me. When people agree with me I always feel that I must be wrong.

14. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

15. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

16. I see when men love women, they give them but a little of their lives. But women when they love give everything.

17. There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One should sympathise with the colour, the beauty, the joy of life. The less said about life’s sores the better.

18. Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

19. Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals.

20. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.

21. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

22. There is no sin except stupidity.

23. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

24. The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.

25. One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry.

26. There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom one has ceased to love.

27. One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be.

28. Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.


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Astrid September 20, 2010 at 10:05 am

Great post, thank you. I am not sure if you have heard of Stephen Fry, but I think his humour and wisdom may inspire you – http://www.stephenfry.com/2008/12/01/beauty-of-soul-oscar-wilde-anton-chekhov/

David September 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I have definitely seen Stephen Fry before. Great article, thank you.

jeremybrett March 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm

he played wilde in the biography of his called wilde, you might be interested to have a look at it, couldn’t imagine a better choice for the role.. haha someone’s already mentioned it below this

A regular and appreciative reader of this blog September 21, 2010 at 9:04 am

I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but look closely … doesn’t Stephen Fry rather resemble Oscar Wilde, at least that photograph of his up there?

lu5cus September 22, 2010 at 4:31 am

You guys are aware the Stephen Fry played Oscar Wilde in the Bio-pic “Wilde” aren’t you?

He was the obvious choice


Astrid September 25, 2010 at 10:00 am

Yes, a perfect casting I think. I went to see him (Stephen Fry) at the Albert Hall in London a few nights ago and he was talking about Oscar Wilde’s writings being more relevent today than ever before. Got me onto reading De Profundis this morning and it’s well worth it – http://www.upword.com/wilde/de_profundis.html – his changed perspective on suffering struck a chord with me.

Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm

number 19.

Jessica September 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I also love his quote:

“Most people are other people.”


James M. Convey September 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I think my favorite from Wilde, upon his first being asked to remark as to the “brilliant” spectacle, that was the sight of the hounds and riders preparing for the hunt, he remarked with noted sarcasm:
” Ah yes. The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”

nrhatch September 20, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Great list.

I don’t agree with everything OW posits, but he’s hit more than a few nails squarely on the head.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) September 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I like 4~ one friend (female) tells me I have Fierce Compassion; another (male) said I was like a samurai sword~ guess which one remains up for the challenge ~:-)

Réjean Lévesque September 20, 2010 at 9:53 pm

The Prince of Wit also said, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.”
If you like witty quotes, you might want to visit my blog: The Frictionary at http://frictionary.blogspot.com.

Everybody December 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

I don’t.
I won’t

Tim September 20, 2010 at 10:10 pm

That look on his face. Priceless. Utterly, utterly priceless.

Slava September 21, 2010 at 12:09 am

Wow, I can’t believe I haven’t read anything by Oscar Wilde before. This guy was really on to many things…

Réjean Lévesque September 21, 2010 at 9:42 am

If you can’t find the time to read Wilde, you can at least get an idea of his views on himself, the world and its institutions by reading The Wit of Oscar Wilde by Sean McCann (New York, Dorset Press, 1992 (1969 at The O’Brien Press originally).

Jeanne Male September 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Hi David,

WOW – if a mass of matter could feel tremendous cerebral and heart affinity (aka love) for another then my brother…I “get” you. Seemingly every thought and feeling….

Keep it coming and know that I’m sparking your match and refilling the gasoline tank!

Let’s create a self-awareness bonfire!!

Jeanne Male September 22, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hey David,

If a mass of gray matter and an open heart know what’s going on…I “get” you in every way!!

Fabulous works! Please know that I’m in your corner, filling the gas tank and sparking your match to light the fire of self-awareness and audacious authenticity.

With great admiration,

Danielle September 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I love his witticisms, in this list, #4 resonated more than the rest, and also #18. Raised in a Chinese family in Singapore, I’ve been socialized to think that the reverse is true, as part of my education in traditional Chinese values.

Going to print this out and stick it on my wall!

Katie Marsh September 26, 2010 at 11:12 pm

I absolutely adore Oscar Wilde and this is my favorite list of his quotes I have seen. I am one of those weird quote children who collects them in books and writes them on my walls, naked in tube socks.
I love the one to not agree with him, because then he might be wrong…
I think he is the sexiest man not alive, which is kind of tragic, seeing as there will never be a duplicate.

Erin S. September 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Another one of Oscars I like, “Never trust a woman who would tell you her age. If she will tell you that, she would tell you anything.”

Nea | Self Improvement Saga September 27, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I don’t know much about Oscar Wilde’s life, but I’m extremely curious now. The quotes are rich with dark humor/sarcasm. It’s so passive aggressive. Gosh…I wish I could sit down and analyze this guy over a cup of coffee.

Peter Spillmann July 22, 2012 at 1:05 am

Oscar is the complement of George Bernard!!

John Chapman November 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Even on his deathbed he had to be witty:
“Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” — As he lay dying in a drab Paris bedroom.

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