In a Word.... Caustic

Dorothy Parker was renowned for her caustic remarks

A celebrated wit in her day, Dorothy Parker had a tongue as caustic as the renowned soda. The American writer and critic, once claimed: "The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."

In 1933 she made one of her best known observations when, on hearing of the death of famously silent former US president Calvin Coolidge, she asked, "How could they tell?" A man of some wit himself, he was once seated next to her at a dinner party. She said: "Mr Coolidge, I've made a bet that it is impossible to get more than two words out of you." He replied, "You lose."

Born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey, she spent most of her life in New York and attended a Catholic school there from which she claimed to have been expelled for describing the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion".

Her early fame rested on the Algonquin Round Table – at the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street – where she and other New York writers met regularly between 1919 and 1929. Sometimes known as the "Vicious Circle", they acquired a national reputation in the US for the wit of their newspaper columns.


She hated writing and once advised: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of the Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

Ms Rothschild became Dorothy Parker when she married stockbroker Edwin Parker. They divorced in 1928 and she later married – twice – actor Alan Campbell who, she discovered, was bisexual. Then, she did say "heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common".

She had many affairs, leading to a particular insight, that:
"By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make note of this –
One of you is lying."

She also enjoyed a drink: “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.”

Dorothy Parker (73) died in New York on June 7th 1967, 55 years ago next Tuesday. Her epitaph, she suggested, should read: “Excuse my dust.”

Caustic, from Latin causticus, "capable of burning".