"A gentleman never gives offense unintentionally"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Oct 10 19:12:37 UTC 2012

Here are the results of a preliminary search. The joke was in
circulation by 1906 without a specific attribution.

Cite: 1906 January 2, New Orleans Item, With Other Editors,
[Acknowledgement to London Saturday Review], Page 4, Column 3, New
Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
The best extant definition of a gentleman is "a man who never gives
offense unintentionally."
[End excerpt]

By 1922 a nice origin story for the joke was provided.

Cite: 1922, Jokes for All Occasions: Selected and Edited by One of
America's Foremost Public Speakers, Page 107 and 108, Edward J. Clode,
New York. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]

There has been much controversy for years as to the proper definition
of the much abused word "gentleman." Finally, by a printer's error in
prefixing un to an adverb an old and rather mushy description of a
gentleman has been given a novel twist and a pithy point. A
contributor's letter to a metropolitan daily appeared as follows:

"Sir-I can recall no better description of a gentleman than this-
"'A gentleman is one who never gives offense unintentionally.'"
[End excerpt]

By 1958 one of the variants mentioned by LH was connected to Oscar Wilde.

Cite: 1958 November 16, New York Times, Speaking For Himself by Horace
Gregory, [Review of The Magic-Maker: E.E. Cummings by Charles Norman],
Page BR4, New York. (ProQuest)
[Begin excerpt]
Mr. Norman provides further evidence that Cummings is the most courtly
of all living American poets, a gentleman, one who, as Oscar Wilde
would say, "never insults anyone unintentionally."
[End excerpt]

The 1906 quip was connected to Oscar Wilde by the 1980s, I think.

Cite: Circa 1984, Soaring, Manners Aloft, GB Page 42, Soaring Society
of America. (Google Books snippet; Not verified on paper, Data may be
[Begin extracted text]
I can't find the exact quotation, but I think it was Oscar Wilde who
defined a gentleman as one who never gives offense - unintentionally.
[End extracted text]


On Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 11:34 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "A gentleman never gives offense unintentionally"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Oct 10, 2012, at 11:07 AM, Jim Parish wrote:
>> I've seen this quote attributed to Oscar Wilde, but he's a known
>> quote-magnet. Is the correct originator known?
>> Jim Parish
> It also shows up on the web variously as "..who never offense anyone unintentionally", "…who never insults anyone unintentionally", "…who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally", etc., which is a bit suspicious.  It's usually attributed to Oscar Wilde, but John Wayne in his autobiography credits his father (Wayne's, not Wilde's).
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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