Stephen Potter

British writer (1900–1969)

Stephen Potter (1 February 19002 December 1969) was an English scholar, critic, broadcaster and humorist. He is best-known for coining the words gamesmanship and one-upmanship, and explaining the concepts behind them.

Stephen Potter, James Stephens and Christopher Hassall

Quotes edit

  • The theory and practice of gamesmanship; or, The art of winning games without actually cheating.
    • Title of book (1947)
  • There are those who believe that the sole duty of the poker gamesman is to build up his reputation for impenetrability and toughness by suggesting that he last played poker by the light of a moon made more brilliant by the snows of the Yukon, and that his opponents were two white slave traffickers, a ticket-of-leave man and a deserter from the Foreign Legion. To me this is ridiculously far-fetched, but I do believe that a trace of American accent – West Coast – casts a small shadow of apprehension over the minds of English players.
    • The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (1947) pp. 82-83
  • In our small chess community in Marylebone it would be mock modesty on my part to deny that I have built up for myself a considerable name without ever actually having won a single game. Even the best players are sometimes beaten, and that is precisely what happens to me.
    • The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (1947) p. 92
  • How to be one up - how to make the other man feel that something has gone wrong, however slightly.
    • Some Notes on Lifemanship (1950) p. 14
    • Definition of one-upmanship
  • "Yes, but not in the South", with slight adjustments, will do for any argument about any place, if not about any person.
    • Some Notes on Lifemanship (1950) p. 43.
    • This versatile gambit for disconcerting one's opponent in debate is usually said to have been originated by Potter, even though he had himself said in a footnote to Lifemanship that "I am required to state that World Copyright of this phrase is owned by its brilliant inventor, Mr. Pound". On publication of Lifemanship the critic Richard Usborne wrote to Potter protesting that this stratagem had been invented not by the mysterious Mr. Pound but by Usborne himself, in an article called "Not in the South" published in the May 28, 1941 number of Punch magazine, where the phrase was described as "a formula that let me off the boredom of finding out facts and retaining knowledge". Potter replied, "My God, have I got it wrong? I now perceive with horrifying clearness that I have", but he never corrected the attribution in print. The whole story was set out by Usborne in a letter published in Time magazine, January 5, 1970. [1]
  • A good general rule is to state that the bouquet is better than the taste, and vice versa.
    • One-Upmanship (1952) ch. 14
    • On wine-tasting.
  • Talk of the "imperial decay" of your invalid port. "Its gracious withdrawal from perfection, keeping a hint of former majesty withal, as it hovers between oblivion and the divine Untergang of infinite recession."
    • One-Upmanship (1952) p. 143
    • On how to talk up a faded Cockburn 1897.

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