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Where did that come from - Age before beauty
Stan St. Clair

When wishing to flatter young ladies, gentlemen have sometimes utilized this phrase over the last two-plus centuries, in jest. 

The gentleman would enter a room first, stopping, smiling and motioning for the lady to come on in. 

It is uncertain who coined it, but it was in use in the Victorian era, as is evidenced by its inclusion in an article in the Illinois newspaper, the Decatur Republican, in 1869. But it has become better known as an intended insult.

It was recorded as a supposed quote from playwright / politician Claire Boothe Brokow, then with Vanity Fair, later known as Claire Boothe Luce. She reportedly said it somewhat sarcastically to legendary New York writer Dorothy Parker while holding a door open for her in a hotel lobby in the 1930s. Parker snapped back. Luce later denied it, but Parker, it seems, stuck to it. 

A London periodical gave the story on Sept. 16, 1938 not mentioning Luce by name.

On Oct. 14 the same year, the Hartford Courant printed the following in the celebrity gossip column of Sheilah Graham:

“Dorothy Parker tells me of the last time she encountered Playwright Clare Boothe. The two ladies were trying to get out of a doorway at the same time. Clare drew back and cracked, ‘Age before beauty, Miss Parker.’ As Dotty swept out, she turned to the other guests and said. ‘Pearls before swine.’”

Though it originated in England, this incident greatly helped to popularize the saying.

As for me, when we are once again able to socialize, I’ll just stick to the polite expression when entering a room with members of the fairer sex: “Ladies before gentlemen.”


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at (931) 212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.