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The meaning and origin of the expression: I have nothing to declare but my genius

I have nothing to declare but my genius

What's the meaning of the phrase 'I have nothing to declare but my genius'?

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Supposedly said by Oscar Wilde at Customs Control in New York, 1882.

What's the origin of the phrase 'I have nothing to declare but my genius'?

Wilde did visit the USA and this quotation is certainly in keeping with his style. There's no evidence to prove conclusively that he said it though and it doesn't appear in print until 1914. His US tour was very successful and Wilde became quite famous there, so it is also possible that the 'quotation' was made up for him.

There are many quotations attributed to Wilde, for example, "I can resist everything except temptation" and "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars", and many of them are bogus. Wilde was clearly highly adept at coining repeatable phrases and those two did in fact come from his pen - from The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, and from Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892, respectively. Here are a few others that can't be questioned, as they also come from his published works:

"Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."

"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance."

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood."

Oscar Wilde - I have nothing to declare but my genius

Dubliners are fond of creating humorous rhyming names for statues in the city.

The statue of Molly Malone selling fish is 'the tart with the cart' or 'the trollop with the scallops'. The water-bourne statue of Anna Livia is 'the floozie in the jacuzzi'.

Not to be outdone when it comes to wordplay, Oscar Wilde's statue in Merrion Square is 'the quare in the square'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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