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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 2097
AUTHOR: George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
QUOTATION: Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.
ATTRIBUTION: Attributed to GEORGE BERNARD SHAW.—Franklin P. Adams, FPA Book of Quotations, p. 883 (1952).

Archibald Henderson, in his third biography of Shaw, George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century, chapter 62, p. 845 (1956), included this statement (using “sin” instead of “crime”) in a section of anecdotes. He had not included this in earlier biographies of 1911 and 1932.

The anecdote apparently was first told in the 1930s, since it is one which appears in Lewis and Faye Copeland, 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, & Stories, p. 555 (1939, 1940). It was also used in Reader’s Digest, April 1940, p. 84. Sometimes heard “…waste it on the young.”

Dr. Stanley Weintraub, author and editor of books on Shaw, believes this is incorrectly attributed to Shaw and that it actually belongs to Oscar Wilde, since Shaw often took quotations from Wilde and inverted them for his own use.