William Shakespeare? mark Twain? Oscar Wilde? Winston Churchill? Abby Buchanan Longstreet? frank Fay? Pierre de Roman? Joey Adams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: over there exists a arsenal of similar jokes based upon word play and the terms: battle, armed, wit, and half-wit. Here are some examples:

1) ns would an obstacle you come a fight of wits, yet I watch you are unarmed.2) Never connect in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.3) Never, ever, go into a fight of wits half-armed.4) In a fight of wits he come only fifty percent prepared come the battle.

You are watching: I would challenge you to a battle of wits but i see you are unarmed

The an initial of these has actually been attributed come the luminary wilhelm Shakespeare. However I have actually searched his oeuvre and this statement was absent. Versions of the well-known quip have actually been attached come the powerful quotation magnets mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill. Would certainly you please check out this topic?

Quote Investigator: there is no substantive proof that the Bard that Avon penned this jest. Attributions to note Twain, Oscar Wilde, and also Winston Churchill are additionally unsupported. The earliest evidence of equivalent word play located by QI appeared in one 1866 novel which the author, Abby Buchanan Longstreet, exit under a pseudonym. Longstreet explained a character blushing and then work an instance of the trope. Boldface has actually been added to excerpts: 1

The blood swung that reddest pennant out over the boy’s cheeks, yet Trissilian’s the atmosphere was no to it is in resented, or resisted. A battle of wits to be to be fought, and the boy in Blue to be unarmed to-night.

Because this witticism deserve to be to express in many ways looking for it to be difficult. Hence, earlier examples more than likely do exist. QI wishes this short article provides a advantageous sampling because that readers and future researchers.

In December 1927 a thematically connected quip showed up in a Pennsylvania newspaper. However this item go not recommendation a fight or armaments: 2

He—Mabel claims she think I’m a wit.She—Well, she’s fifty percent right.

In December 1928 Walter Winchell’s widely-distributed gossip shaft printed an circumstances of the joke. The punch line was credited to the comedian and actor frank Fay that was engaged in a spicy disagreement with an interior decorator: 3

“Mr. Fay, is this walking to it is in a battle of wits?”“If that is,” was the indifferent retort, “you have actually come unarmed!”

Here are added selected citations in chronological order.

In march 1929 a comedy dubbed “Meet the Prince” by A. A. Milne to be staged in brand-new York. Milne is finest known this particular day as the author of the children’s book “Winnie the Pooh”. A theater review in a Virginia newspaper bylined with the surname Pierre de roman pronounced a harsh referee on Milne’s play. De Roman explained a dialog scene in between two characters: 4

They meet, the course, gasp therefore they deserve to be heard in the last row of the balcony, and also engage in what could have been explained as a battle of wits to be it not that the playwright has actually left them both unarmed because that such one encounter.

In July 1929 the “Goblin” periodical of Toronto, Canada was recognized for the complying with comical dialog: 5

He—It’s to it is in a fight of wits.She—How brave of you, Gerald, to go unarmed!

In 1937 an opulent fashion-spectacle film title “Vogues the 1938” to be reviewed in the “New York Times” and also the reviewer offered a version of the joke: 6

Alan Mowbray unique caricatures the plight the a guy entering a battle of wits half equipped…

In 1938 the quip to be transmitted via another avenue that expression. The comic strip “The Gumps” by Gus Edson had the following line: 7

HA-HA—IN A battle OF WITS, ANDY’S THE BRAVEST the THE BRAVE—ANYBODY who WOULD WALK out ON A BATTLEFIELD UNARMED prefer THAT DESERVES THE UNDYING RESPECT the THE NATION!

In 1941 a paper in Alton, Illinois referred to as the “Western military Academy Shrapnel” printed a variant based on the state “half-armed” and also “half-wit”: 8

Woosley to Barta: “You’re for this reason brave the you’ll go into a battle of wits only half-armed.”Barta to Woosley: “And you space the other component of the half-wit.”

In 1951 an El Paso, Texas newspaper printed an article about college professors that contained the following remark: 9

Then there space those who keep up a running fight of wits v their students, i beg your pardon isn’t such a feat, because most student aren’t end half-armed.

In 1952 the volume “Joey Adams’ hoax Book” disputed the approaches that comedians offered to respond to hecklers: 10

When are they going to learn that in a battle of wits they have no ammunition, while the agree is all set for battle!

In conclusion, this jest has many variants, and also it has been evolving for numerous years. Instances have actually been attached come several renowned names, e.g., william Shakespeare, mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill. However no sustaining citations have actually been found, and false attributions come these people are notoriously commonplace.

The genesis appears to have been anonymous though QI think it is reasonable to credit Abby Buchanan Longstreet with an early example of the idea and also Frank Fay through an instance similar to modern-day versions.

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Image Notes: “Paris 2010 – Le Penseur” from Daniel Stockman Flickr currently via Wikimedia Commons; license is granted under the an imaginative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 share license. Image has been cropped. Mind illustration indigenous OpenClips top top Pixabay. Wilhelm Shakespeare picture known together the ‘Chandos portrait’ via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Victor Steinbok, dalena, Marian T. Wirth, and also Laurelyn Collins whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and also perform this exploration. Many thanks to ADS discussion participants Victor Steinbok, Jonathan Lighter, Benjamin Zimmer, and Bill Mullins. Special thanks to bill for locating the 1937 citation and also to Ben because that identifying the type of the 1927 citation.)