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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (a.k.a. Talleyrand) was a French diplomat of the late 18th Century.

A number of websites of quotes (for example: [1], [2], [3]) claim that he said:

"If we go on explaining we shall cease to understand one another."

I am usually very skeptical about such quote websites, even more since I have not found any other sources

Did he ever say that?

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    Perhaps we have to search for what it was before it was translated from French into English.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 11, 2018 at 21:00
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    Looking for a French original, I can't find anything like it on web quote lists. This site seems to have all the quotes that other sites have, and it includes things like (my translation) “if it goes without saying, it goes even better with saying” and “to be part agreeable in society, one must explain many things that are already known”. Granted he also allegedly said “Man was given speech to dissimulate one's thoughts”, but it's quite different. Aug 12, 2018 at 22:57
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    Talleyrand might have said it in English. He was an ambassador in England and visited Philadelphia. Sources differ as to whether he spoke English or not — he used translators but he may or may not have understood — and been able to say — more than he let on (footnote 37). Aug 12, 2018 at 23:01

2 Answers 2

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I find nothing of the sort on equivalent quotes website in French.

The closest would be, from wikiliberal:

« N'expliquez jamais les raisons pour lesquelles vous prenez une décision : la décision peut être bonne et les raisons mauvaises. »

Which I would translate as:

Never explain your reasons for taking a decision: the decision may be right and the reasons bad.

Or, from Le Monde:

Pour être agréable en société, il faut expliquer bien des choses que l'on sait déjà!

To please in society, one has to explain many things that everybody already knows!

It is always hard to prove a negative, but until a better source is found, the quote should be considered as apocryph.

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It appears in an 1886 work titled Chapters in European History, Volume I by William Samuel Lilly. I don’t see it anywhere else (at least in the form worded this way, which is the French version of what you've written in English.) The passage reads:

GRIMSTON. I like this. But explain further, please. Although, indeed, I am afraid that it will be as Talleyrand said: "Si nous nous expliquons, nous cesserons de nous entendre."

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    Interestingly, the meaning of entendre evolved: in addition to hear, in older French, it could mean understand, but in modern French, that meaning has largely disappeared. In modern French, and already by 1886, “entendre” in this context would mean agree. I'm not sure how the sentence would have been understood in Talleyrand's time. If it's the modern meaning, it would state “if we explain ourselves, we'll stop agreeing”, which is rather banal. Feb 28 at 22:25

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