Quote Origin: A Diplomat Is a Person Who Always Remembers a Woman’s Birthday But Never Remembers Her Age

Robert Frost? Lillian Russell? Fliegende Blätter? Evan Esar? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator®
5 min readAug 28


Illustration of a birthday cake from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: An old-fashioned quip about vanity and aging states that a diplomat always remembers a person’s birthday but never remembers a person’s age. This joke has been attributed to the famous U.S. poet Robert Frost, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. The subject of the jest is usually a woman. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match for the core of this joke located by QI appeared as a filler item in a Rochester, New York newspaper in May 1896. The remark was ascribed to a German humor magazine called “Fliegende Blätter” (“Flying Pages”). A diplomat was not mentioned in this version. Boldface added to excerpts by QI

Husband — Strange, but my wife always wants me to remember her birthday, but to forget her age. — Fliegende Blatter.

Another instance of the joke appeared as a filler item in a Monmouth, Illinois newspaper in June 1896:²

Many a woman wants her husband to remember her birthday but to forget her age.

Yet, another instance appeared in a Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania newspaper in July 1896:³

It is safe to remember a woman’s birthday, provided you forget her age.

In 1912 a newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee⁴ and papers in several other locations⁵ printed an anecdote in which the prominent actress Lillian Russell received credit for a version of the joke using the word “diplomat”:

Miss Lillian Russell, more beautiful than ever, was serving tea at the Professional Woman’s League bazaar at the Waldorf-Astoria. A member of the Spanish legation passed with two charming girls, and Miss Russell said.

“No wonder that young man is so popular with the ladies. He is a ladies’ diplomat.”

“How a ladies’ diplomat?” a composer asked.

“Well,” explained Miss Russell, “he is the sort of chap who always remembers a woman’s birthday and forgets her age.”

Many years later in 1939 after the quip was already in circulation it was attributed to Robert Frost. Thus, the linkage to Frost was very weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In February 1913 “The Pittsburgh Gazette Times” of Pennsylvania published the following instance:⁶

Tommy: “Pop, what is a diplomatist?”
Tommy’s Pop: “A diplomat, my son, is a man who remembers a woman’s birthday, but forgets her age.” — Philadelphia Record.

In 1936 a column called “Annabelle’s Answers” printed the following:⁷



In 1939 an instance was credited to “Frost” (probably Robert Frost) in a Jackson, Tennessee newspaper:⁸

“A diplomatist is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday, but never remembers her age.” — Frost

In 1943 Frost received credit in a Belleville, Kansas newspaper:⁹

It is Frost, we believe, who said that a diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday, but never remembers her age.

In 1949 “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” compiled by Evan Esar contained the following entry:¹⁰

FROST, Robert, born 1875, American poet.
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.

In 1959 the “Saturday Review” magazine printed the joke as the answer to a cryptogram puzzle:¹¹

Answer to Literary Crypt № 854
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.

In 1979 “The Book of Quotes” compiled by Barbara Rowes included this entry:¹²

A diplomatist is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday, but never remembers her age.
— Robert Frost

In conclusion, the central part of this joke appeared as an anonymous quip in 1896. The German humor magazine Fliegende Blätter was acknowledged. Actress Lillian Russell told a version using the word “diplomat” in 1912. Robert Frost implausibly received credit by 1939.

Images Notes: Illustration of a birthday cake from Deva Williamson at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Brian whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to researcher Barry Popik for his pioneering work on this topic. Popik found citations beginning in 1913 together with attributions to Frost by 1949.

[1] 1896 May 10, Democrat and Chronicle, (Filler item), Quote Page 8, Column 5, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

[2] 1896 June 11, Warren County Democrat, (Filler item), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Monmouth, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

[3] 1896 July 15, Daily News, Selected Items: That Will Prove Interesting Reading for Daily News Patrons, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

[4] 1912 February 4, The Journal and Tribune, Section: The Woman’s Page, A Ladies’ Diplomat, Quote Page 3A, Column 4 and 5, Knoxville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

[5] 1912 March 1, The Gothenburg Times, Ladies’ Diplomat, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Gothenburg, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

[6] 1913 February 23, The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Funny Fancies, Section 5, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

[7] 1936 November 24, Monrovia News-Post, Annabelle’s Answers by Ray Thompson, Quote Page 5 Column 5, Monrovia, California. (Newspapers_com)

[8] 1939 November 5, The Jackson Sun, Wise Sayings Of Wise Men by W. A. Caldwell (Secretary-Treasurer of Sun Publishing Co.), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Jackson, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

[9] 1943 December 9, The Belleville Telescope, Out of Focus by L. G. M., Quote Page 1B, Column 2, Belleville, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

[10] 1949 Copyright, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Robert Frost, Quote Page 79, Bramhall House, New York. (Verified with scans)

[11] 1959 November 7, Saturday Review, Fraser Young’s Literary Crypt Answer to Number 854, Quote Page 22, Column 3, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

[12] 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Chapter 29: Politics, Quote Page 279, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper)



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