Many a quote gets attributed to Winston Churchill, the majority of them quite humorous. He was known for both his self-deprecation and his withering put-downs. One of his most well-known exchanges, supposedly with a woman named Bessie Braddock, went as follows:
Braddock: “Sir, you are drunk.”
Churchill: “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”
Of course, it’s unlikely this dialogue ever took place. But given Churchill’s wit, it’s fun to think it might have.
While it’s possible that Churchill didn’t use his trademark wittiness to put Braddock in her place, he did use it not only to guide the United Kingdom through World War II — but arguably the world as well. Today, 70 years after the end of WWII, his words of wisdom continue to make him one of modern history’s greatest communicators.
Here are 20 gems from Churchill’s repertoire that show not only his wit, but also his wisdom:
- “To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.”
- “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often.”
- “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
- “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”
- “Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”
- “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
- “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
- “Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.”
- “You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
- “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterward to explain why it didn’t happen.”
- “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace, and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.”
- “What is adequacy? Adequacy is no standard at all.”
- “There is only one duty, only one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right.”
- “In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”
- “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
- “If we open a quarrel between the past and the present we shall find that we have lost the future.”
- “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
- “Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.”
- “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a piledriver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.”
Not only a great orator and wit, Churchill was also an accomplished artist and writer, producing novels, histories, and biographies as well as impressionist landscapes. He published under the name Winston S. Churchill and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He was also a hobbyist bricklayer and butterfly breeder!
To read more of Churchill’s words of wisdom, visit the BBC’s 50 Sir Winston Churchill Quotes to Live By.