In Depth

Winston Churchill quotes: memorable words of a master orator

From digs at Americans to gags about breasts, nothing was out of bounds for Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill was arguably one of Britain's most influential public speakers, capturing the public's heart and rallying a nation during the Second World War.

The most well-known Churchill quotes "have almost become cliches, showing that Churchill was a master of what we now call the sound bite," argues historian Stephen Bungay. 

The leader, who understood the power of words from early in his career, wrote all of his own speeches, but "wasn't born a master orator," NPR's Tom Vitale says out. He "overcame a childhood lisp by practising enunciation."

Half a century after his death, we celebrate a selection of his most memorable quotes.

Churchill's take on the truth

"A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on."

"Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing happened."

Churchill on death

"I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Churchill on democracy

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Churchill on politicians

"Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains."

Churchill on pedantry

Having read a civil servant's memo decrying the habit of ending sentences with prepositions, Churchill followed the instructions to the letter. In the margin he scrawled:

"This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put!"

Churchill on Americans

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they've tried everything else."

Churchill on words

"We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out."

Churchill on courage

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

"You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Churchill on his legacy

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

Churchill on drinking

The precise wording of the quotation varies, but when told that he was drunk, Churchill is supposed to have replied: "I am drunk today, madam, and tomorrow I shall be sober, but you will still be ugly."

When Lady Astor said to him, "If I were married to you, I'd put poison in your coffee," Churchill is supposed to have replied: "If I were married to you, I'd drink it." But according to the Churchill Centre that quotation is apocryphal.

Churchill on breasts

While being served a cold chicken lunch in America, Churchill asked the hostess: "May I have some breast?" 

"Mr Churchill," she replied, "In this country we ask for white meat or dark meat."

The next day Churchill had an orchid delivered to her, along with the message: "I would be obliged if you would pin this on your white meat."

Churchill on... being disturbed

When told that the Lord Privy had come to see him while on the toilet: "Tell the Lord Privy Seal that I am sealed in the privy and can only deal with one s*** at a time."

Winston Churchill's speeches

The following are a selection of extracts from speeches given by Churchill as he rallied support for the war effort at home and abroad.

Blood and tears - 13 May 1940

"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many long months of toil and struggle."

'We shall never surrender' - 4 June 1940

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."

Tribute to 'the few' - 20 August 1940

"The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

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