To quote: Wilde and Shaw supply most humorous lines of all time

In 1663 the French playwright and actor Molière wrote in La Critique de l’École des Femmes that “it’s an odd job, making decent people laugh”.

Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde would have been amused by that comment, just as he might have had a giggle at discovering that he has become the most quotable figure in the history of the English language, published yesterday, on his birthday.

He might have been doubly amused to find that his nearest rival for quotable quotes is also an Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, according to the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations.

Among his 92 entries is one of the most favourite jokes of all time: “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” from his 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The list, compiled by Gyles Brandreth, marks the fifth edition of the dictionary, which includes 5,000 of the most memorable lines written or spoken.

Wilde beat the opposition by a Swedish mile, with his 92 entries almost double that of his nearest rival, Shaw.

The highest ranking English humorist is Noel Coward and the funniest female is the American satirist Dorothy Parker, whose most quotable quote is: “I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”

Parker leads the list of the top five wittiest women, with 43 entries, ahead of Mae West, among whose best lines is: “Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.”

Margaret Thatcher is the fifth most-quoted woman, and the fourth most- quoted politician. “Margaret Thatcher was not noted for her sense of humour, but she is in the top five because she said some memorable things, such as this oft-quoted line: ‘If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.’”

Brandreth said: “These are the people whose lines, written or spoken, have stood the test of time. They are the all-time greats.

“Some are notable for their original humour, some for their pertinent wit and wry observation. What makes them eligible for the dictionary is that what they say raises a smile or a laugh and is memorable, and they manage to do it again and again. These are the most quotable and, in our book, the most quoted.”

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