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Winston Churchill

One day shortly after the Second World War ended, Winston Churchill and the newly elected Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee encountered one another at the urinals in the House of Commons men’s washroom. Attlee had arrived first, and was standing at one of the stalls closest to the door.

Although Attlee was the only other man in the room, Churchill entered and walked to the farthest urinal — ten or twelve stalls away from Attlee. With a smug grin, Attlee said, “Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?”

Churchill replied: “That’s right. Every time you see something this big, you want to nationalize it.”

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This anecdote and scores of other hilarious incidents between Winston and Attlee can be found in Martin Gilbert’s definitive biography Churchill: A Life.

At Wednesday’s Bradley Symposium here in Washington, Charles Krauthammer mentioned Churchill in the restroom during his keynote address. He followed it with the proviso that it may in fact be apocryphal, though I’m inclined to believe it — and not just because I want it to be true. Churchill had a razor-sharp wit which he wasn’t afraid to brandish when needed, especially against political adversaries like Attlee. In fact, it’s just as hard to picture someone making this story up than it is to imagine Churchill actually living it.

In another classic, Churchill once referred to Attlee as, “a sheep in sheep’s clothing,” and later as, “a modest man with much to be modest about.”

Lady Astor, the American-born socialite and first female Member of Parliament was once so agitated by Churchill at a dinner party that she belted out, “Winston… if I were your wife, I’d poison your soup.” Churchill’s reply: “Nancy, if I were your husband I’d drink it.”

You can find these and other epic epigrams from Winston in the essential Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations.