A politician's three-word putdown has topped a poll of the best New Zealand quotes of 2012.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett telling Labour MP Jacinda Ardern in Parliament to "zip it, sweetie" was the overwhelming winner in Massey University's 2012 Quote of the Year competition, collecting 57 percent of the vote.

Dr Heather Kavan, a speech-writing specialist at Massey University's School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, says the quote's win was no surprise.

"There's something almost primal about two women fighting, and the line seemed completely unscripted," Dr Kavan says.


"As far as jibes go, it wasn't outrageously cruel - Jacinda Ardern laughed it off, by tweeting, 'Kids sitting in the gallery could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a Hairspray revival'."

Dr Kavan says "Zip it, sweetie" is also pleasing to the ear because it has nice rhyming syllables, and it is a quote that can be repeated in different contexts.

Finance Minister Bill English came a distant second in the competition with his quote estimating the value of selling state assets: "I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess, it's just a guess."

Dr Kavan says politicians feature prominently on the list because they get a lot of publicity, and the Finance Minister's quote is appealing because of its unintentional humour.

"With some of the quotes, especially the Bill English one, there's also an element of schadenfreude - the pleasure of seeing someone in a superior position say something that makes them look stupid," she says.

Dr Kavan said many of the nominations for the Quote of the Year reflected New Zealanders' interests (rugby, food) and concerns (earthquakes and having enough money to live).

"We can recognise a good quote immediately because we want to say it ourselves, or put it to music. The best lines are usually brief and witty, and they also need to be original."

Dr Kavan and her judging panel, which included Massey's Vice-Chancellor and former politician Steve Maharey, narrowed down several dozen entries nominated by Massey students and the general public to a top 10.

The shortlist was then put to a public vote to find the winner.

The Top 10 quotes of 2012:

1. "Zip it, sweetie." (Paula Bennett to Jacinda Ardern in Parliament.)
2. "I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess, it's just a guess." (Bill English estimating the financial value of selling state assets.)
3. "Oh f...k! I can't afford that." (Ewen Gilmour after his doctor told him he was going to live for another 40 years.)
4. "I don't remember." (John Banks' response when asked about his helicopter ride to Dotcom's mansion.)
5. "You think I came up the river on a cabbage boat." (John Banks responding to media questions about Dotcom.)
6. "Who needs to be able to quote Shakespeare if you can play rugby?" (17-year-old Joshua Iosefo on Campbell Live giving his Mt Roskill Grammar School speech.)
7. "Nonu, Nonu, Nonu, boom!" (Actor Byron Coll as an overly familiar fan greeting Ma'a Nonu in the Mastercard All Blacks advertisement.)
8. "New Zealand's got some great brains out there and most of them are kids." (Luke Nola accepting the New Zealand Television Award for Best Children's/Youth programme.)
9. "Your dish was a car crash but all of the occupants survived." (Josh Emett judging on Masterchef New Zealand.)
10. "I come to Wellington and I'm scared to be here." (Bob Parker speaking to an emergency management conference in Wellington about the state of Wellington buildings.)

- nzherald.co.nz