Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“B” Quotations



  • I have received memos so swollen with managerial babble that they struck me as the literary equivalent of assault with a deadly weapon. Peter Baida, “Management Babble,” in American Heritage (April, 1985)
  • Most public speakers talk so badly that a sudden quotation from a poet appears in their babble like a lady in a slum. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Psychobabble is…a set of repetitive verbal formalities that kills off the very spontaneity, candor, and understanding it pretends to promote. Richard Dean Rosen, in Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling (1977)

Rosen, who coined the term psychobabble, added: “It’s an idiom that reduces psychological insight to a collection of standardized observations, that provides a frozen lexicon to deal with an infinite variety of problems.”



  • I like handling newborn animals. Fallen into life from an unmappable world, they are the ultimate immigrants, full of wonder and confusion. Diane Ackerman, in The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
  • Father asked us what was God's noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are. Louisa May Alcott, an 1843 diary entry; in Her Life, Letters, and Journals (1889; Edna D. Cheney, ed.)
  • A babe is nothing but a bundle of possibilities. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • The human baby, the human being, is a mosaic of animal and angel. Jacob Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man (1973)
  • The babe in arms is a channel through which the energies we call fate, love, and reason visibly stream. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Everyone knows that by far the happiest and universally enjoyable age of man is the first. What is there about babies which makes us hug and kiss and fondle them, so that even an enemy would give them help at that age? Desiderius Erasmus, in In Praise of Folly (1509)
  • Babies are such a nice way to start people. Don Herold, quoted in Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Prescription (1972)
  • The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion. William James, in The Principles of Psychology, Vol. I (1890)
  • Out of the mouths of babes comes a lot of what they should have swallowed. Franklin P. Jones, tweaking the familiar biblical saying about truth, quoted in Bob Kelly, In Celebration of Children (1992)
  • Now the thing about having a baby—and I can’t be the first person to have noticed this—is that thereafter you have it. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. Ronald Knox, his definition of a baby, recalled by Colin Blakemore on BBC Radio (Reith Lecture, Dec. 1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Knox was a respected English cleric and theologian who, in addition to his religious writings, worked as a BBC broadcaster, wrote popular detective fiction, and co-founded The Detection Club, a social group for British mystery writers. He died in 1957, but his remark about babies was given a second life when Ronald Reagan tweaked it during his run for governor of California in 1965. At a campaign rally, candidate Reagan quipped: “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.” After the remark appeared in a Nov. 14, 1965 New York Times story, it began to be widely repeated. The line was almost certainly written by a Reagan speechwriter—never identified—who was familiar with Knox’s original observation. Today, few people who cite Reagan’s remark know that he was piggybacking on a prior quotation.

  • Each time a new baby is born there is a possibility of reprieve. Each child is a new being, a potential prophet, a new spiritual prince, a new spark of light precipitated into the outer darkness. R. D. Laing, in The Politics of Experience (1967)
  • Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)
  • In came…a baby, eloquent as infancy usually is, and like most youthful orators, more easily heard than understood. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Babies are necessary to grown-ups. A new baby is like the beginning of all things—wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities. Eda J. LeShan, in The Conspiracy Against Childhood (1967)

LeShan continued: “In a world that is cutting down its trees to build highways, losing its earth to concrete…babies are almost the only remaining link with nature, with the natural world of living things from which we spring.”

  • Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, quoted in Michael Teague, Mrs. L.: Conversations With Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1981)
  • Every new baby is a blind desperate vote for survival: people who find themselves unable to register an effective political protest against extermination do so by a biological act. Lewis Mumford, in The City in History (1961)
  • But for the lack of language, a baby has many sad stories to tell. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication (Aug. 1, 2021)
  • They lie flat on their noses at first in what appears to be a drunken slumber, then flat on their backs kicking and screaming, demanding impossibilities in a foreign language. Katherine Anne Porter, in The Days Before (1952)
  • Having a baby dragged me, kicking and screaming, from the world of self-absorption. Paul Reiser, quoted in a 1997 issue of Good Housekeeping (specific issue undetermined)
  • When people talk about wanting “to have children someday,” what they really mean is that they want to have babies. Paul Reiser, in Babyhood (1998)

Reiser continued: “Nobody wants an obnoxious seven-year-old trying to wear out dirty words they just learned in school that day. What they really want is cute, adorable babies who love you and need you. The bad stuff is just the price you agree to pay for having the good stuff.”

  • A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on. Carl Sandburg, the character Orville Brand Windom speaking to his grandson Raymond in Remembrance Rock (1948)

ERROR ALERT: Many books and websites mistakenly present the quotation as if it read: A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.

QUOTE NOTE: This observation—in both the correct and mistaken versions—has become one of Sandburg’s most popular quotations. Most people do not know, however, that it was the introduction to a larger thought–and one that is also worth remembering. In the novel, Windom is a retired Supreme Court Justice who is offering his reflections about life to his grandson. He continued:

“A book that does nothing to you is dead. A baby, whether it does anything to you, represents life. If a bad fire should break out in this house and I had my choice of saving the library or the babies, I would save what is alive. Never will a time come when the most marvelous recent invention is as marvelous as a newborn baby. The finest of our precision watches, the most super-colossal of our supercargo plants, don’t compare with a newborn baby in the number and ingenuity of coils and springs, in the flow and change of chemical solutions, in timing devices and interrelated parts that are irreplaceable. A baby is very modern. Yet it is also the oldest of the ancients. A baby doesn’t know he is a hoary and venerable antique—but he is. Before man learned how to make an alphabet, how to make a wheel, how to make a fire, he knew how to make a baby—with the great help of woman, and his God and Maker.”

  • Life is a flame that is always burning itself out; but it catches fire again every time a child is born. George Bernard Shaw, the title character speaking, “The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God,” in Short Stories, Scraps, and Shavings (1932)
  • A soiled baby, with a neglected nose, cannot be conscientiously regarded as a thing of beauty; and inasmuch as babyhood spans but three short years, no baby is competent to be a joy “forever.” Mark Twain, “Answers to Correspondents,” a sketch about a young mother who had written that her new baby was a thing of beauty and a joy forever, in Sketches New and Old (1875)
  • A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother. Mark Twain, in letter to Annie Webster (Sep. 1, 1876)
  • I admit he’s a darling, but babies are an acquired taste. Percy White, the character Althea speaking, in The Heart of the Dancer (1901)

QUOTE NOTE: The phrase Babies are an acquired taste also shows up in Margaret Lee Runbeck’s novel Miss Boo is Sixteen (1956). I can’t be certain, but believe Runbeck was was unaware of the earlier usage.

  • Baby caca is like Kryptonite to a father. Even the dog says, “You don’t rub his face in it.” Robin Williams, in his stand-up routine, quoted in J. Brown, The Comedy Thesaurus (2005)


(see also [Fear of] INTIMACY and MARRIAGE and SPINSTER)

  • People always assume that bachelors are single by choice and spinsters because nobody asked them. It never enters their heads that poor bachelors might have worn the knees of their trousers out proposing to girls who rejected them or that a girl might deliberately stay unmarried. Jilly Cooper, in Men and Super Men (1972)
  • A bachelor is a man who can take a nap on top of a bedspread. Marcelene Cox, in a 1949 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • A bachelor is a guy who never made the same mistake once. Phyllis Diller, from her stand-up routine
  • No bachelor should invite guests to his home unless he has a full retinue of servants to care for their wants. Lillian Eichler, in Book of Etiquette, Vol. 2 (1921)
  • The only really good vegetable is Tabasco sauce. Put Tabasco sauce in everything. Tabasco sauce is to bachelor cooking what forgiveness is to sin. P. J. O'Rourke, in The Bachelor Home Companion: A Practical Guide to Keeping House Like a Pig (1986)

O'Rourke added: “The next best vegetable is the jalapeño pepper. It has the virtue of turning salads into practical jokes.”

  • A confirmed bachelor girl is one who hasn’t married—yet. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • Somehow, a bachelor never quite gets over the idea that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever! Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)

In the book Rowland also wrote: “Never trust a husband too far, nor a bachelor too near.”



  • Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be. Clementine Paddleford, quoting her mother, Jenny Paddleford, in A Flower for My Mother (1958)


(see also CANDY and EATING and FOOD and MEAT)

  • Bacon is meat candy Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: According to master quotation researcher Barry Popik, this saying first emerged in 2005. It quickly evolved into two phrasings that have become very popular: “Bacon is the candy of meat” and “Bacon: The candy of meat.”

  • The power of bacon seems to know no bounds. It’s not just the taste, which is like eating pure joy. The frying of bacon even sounds like applause. Jim Gaffigan, “Bacon: The Candy of Meat,” in Food: A Love Story (2014)

A bit earlier in the chapter, Gaffigan had written: “My affection for bacon goes beyond any appropriate relationship a man should have for a food item.” A moment later, he went on to add: “Bacon is the candy of meats. Bacon even defies its categorization as a food and becomes a metaphor for wealth. You take care of your family by ‘bringing home the bacon.’”

  • Bacon is so good by itself that to put it in any other food is an admission of failure. You’re basically saying, “I can’t make this other food taste good, so I’ll throw in bacon.” Penn Jillette, quoted in Adam Blount, “Why We Love Eating Meat,” the Telegraph (London; June 13, 2016)
  • Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (July 16, 1989)
  • Bacon. In a frying pan. If you record the sound of bacon in a frying pan and play it back, it sounds like the pops and cracks on an old 33 1/3 recording. Tom Waits, his answer to the question, “What is your favorite sound?” quoted in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Aug. 11, 2011)



  • Don’t forget that the bacteria watch us from the other end of the microscope. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in More Unkempt Thoughts (1964)


(see also GOODNESS & THE GOOD)

  • As I get older there is nothing more constantly astonishing to me than the goodness of the Bad—unless it is the badness of the Good. Margaret Deland, the title character speaking, in Dr. Lavendar’s People (1903). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Badness has such energy/it can drive the goodness from your soul/and leave you bad, even if you’ve practiced/goodness, and have been walking down the road/to grace all your life. Deborah Keenan, “Be Good,” in The Only Window That Counts (1985)
  • Is it really so difficult to tell a good action from a bad one? I think one usually knows right away or a moment afterward, in a horrid flash of regret. Mary McCarthy, “My Confession” (1953), in On the Contrary (1961)
  • It is not badness, it is the absence of goodness, which, in Art as in Life, is so depressing. Freya Stark, in Baghdad Sketches (1929)



  • Bagel—A doughnut dipped in cement, a Jewish brass-knuckle. Milton Berle, quoted in The Terre Haute Star (March 28, 1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Berle claimed authorship of the cement doughnut metaphor, but he was likely passing along a popular saying about a Jewish staple that was originally so thick and chewy it seemed almost inedible to an American palate accustomed to light and sweet pastries. Master quotation researcher Barry Popik traced the history of the dipped in cement/concrete metaphor in a fascinating 2009 post, finding its first appearance in print in 1951. For more, go to: Cement Donut.

  • The bagel, an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis. Beatrice and Ira Freeman, “About Bagels,” in The New York Times (May 22, 1960)
  • Never buy a bagel in a donut shop. Cathrine Holdeman, in a personal communication to the compiler (2010)
  • A bagel is a doughnut with the sin removed. George Rosenbaum, quoted in Molly O’Neill, “Bagels Are Now Fast Food, and Purists Do a Slow Boil,” The New York Times (April 25, 1993)

Rosenbaum, a food trend analyst for a market research firm, added: “If you can become a doughnut, or a doughnut proxy in the fast-food market, you are no longer an ethnic food. You are as American as pizza.”



  • Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise. E. K. Kruger, quoted in Des McHale, Wit (2003)
  • The bagpipe occupies the strangest rung on the musical ladder, shaped like an octopus in plaid pants, sounding to some like a goose with its foot caught in an escalator and played during history’s most lopsided battles—by the losing side. Josh Shaffer, the opening paragraph of “Zebulon Now Boasts North America’s Only Crafter of Bagpipes,” in News & Observer [Raleigh, NC] (Jan. 24, 2023)

QUOTE NOTE: In this article about piper Roddy MacLellan and “the only North American studio that makes, sells and teaches the Scottish national instrument,” Shaffer continued:

“Add to this the bagpipe’s cantankerous nature, fashioned from some of the world’s rarest wood, a combination of cracking pipes and leaking bags that strain all but the heartiest lungs.”

Shaffer has crafted many memorable opening paragraphs in his career—commonly referred to as ledes in the world of journalism—and two of them are unforgettable descriptions of musical instruments (for the other one, see his entry in TUBA).



  • To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better. Victor Hugo, in Ninety-Three (1874)
  • It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Carl Sagan, in The Burden of Skepticism (1987)
  • The crucial task of age is balance, a veritable tightrope of balance; keeping just well enough, just brave enough, just gay and interested and starkly honest enough to remain a sentient human being. Florida Scott-Maxwell, in The Measure of My Days (1968)


(see also APPEARANCE and HAIR and VANITY)

  • Bald as the bare mountaintops are bald, with a baldness full of grandeur. Matthew Arnold, on William Wordsworth, in “Wordsworth,” Essays in Criticism: Second Series (1888)
  • There is more felicity on the far side of baldness than young men can possibly imagine. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Last Words,” in All Trivia (1933)



  • Ballet’s image of perfection is fashioned amid a milieu of wracked bodies, fevered imaginations, Balkan intrigue, and sulfurous hatreds where anything is likely, and dancers know it. Shana Alexander, in Nutcracker: Money, Madness, Murder: A Family Album (1985)

Alexander continued: “A well-known backstage anecdote concerns the occasion when the prima ballerina found ground glass in her toe slipper—and every other dancer in the Company was equally suspect.”

  • They must go on like a bedroom slipper and do the work of combat boots. Christine Amanpour, on a ballerina’s toe shoes, in a CNN broadcast (May 1, 1987)
  • The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener. George Balanchine, “Mr. B Talks About Ballet,” in Life magazine (June 11, 1965)

Balanchine continued: “Woman can do without man in the ballet, but man cannot have any ballet company without woman.” The full article may be seen at 'Mr. B Talks”

  • A toe shoe is as eccentric as the ballerina who wears it: their marriage is a commitment. Toni Bentley, “The Toe Shoe Makes Its Pointe,” in Smithsonian magazine (June, 1984)

Bentley, at the time a member of the New York City Ballet Company, proved to be as skilled at writing as at dance, telling the fascinating story behind the toe—or pointe—shoes worn by ballerinas all around the world. The full article may be seen at Bentley “Toe Shoe” Article

  • A brand-new pair of toe shoes presents itself to us as an enemy with a will of its own that must be tamed. Toni Bentley, “The Toe Shoe Makes Its Pointe,” in Smithsonian magazine (June, 1984)

Bentley continued: “With the combined application of door hinges, hammer, pliers, scissors, razor blade, rubbing alcohol, warm water and muscle power—followed by repeated rapping against a cement wall—we literally bend, rip, stretch, wet, flatten a new shoe out of its hard immobility into a quieter, more passive casing for our feet.”

  • Ballet is more than a profession—it is a way of life. Margot Fonteyn, in A Dancer’s World (1979)





  • One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)

Sagan continued: “Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new ones rise.”




  • Life for most of us is full of steep stairs to go puffing up and, later, of shaky stairs to totter down; and very early in the history of stairs must have come the invention of banisters. Louis Kronenberger, “Unbrave New World,” in The Cart and the Horse (1964)
  • Like a banister after years of handling, quotes get polished with use. Mordechai Schiller, “Unquote,” in Jewish World Review (Dec. 11, 2017)



  • Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not. Isaiah Berlin, “The Pursuit of the Ideal” (a March 17, 1988 speech in Turin, Italy); reprinted in The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays (1997)
  • You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. John Buchan, the character Mr. Leithen speaking, in The Power House (1916)

Leithen continued: “A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.”

  • As I have said, it may be difficult to define civilization, but it isn’t so difficult to recognize barbarism. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization: A Personal View (1969)
  • The true barbarian is he who thinks everything barbarous but his own tastes and prejudices. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made. José Ortega y Gasset, in The Revolt of the Masses (1930)
  • If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win. Thomas Sowell, “Wimps Versus Barbarians,” in Townhall.com (May 21, 2013)
  • I would suggest that barbarism be considered as a permanent and universal human characteristic which becomes more and less pronounced according to the play of circumstances. Simone Weil, “Hitler and Roman Foreign Policy,” in Nouveaux Cahiers (Jan. 1, 1940)



  • The bar…is an exercise in solitude. Above all else, it must be quiet, dark, very comfortable—and contrary to modern mores, no music of any kind, no matter how faint. Luis Buñuel, in the autobiography My Last Sigh (1983)

Buñuel added: “In sum, there should be no more than a dozen tables, and a clientele that doesn’t like to talk.”

  • The bar is the male kingdom. For centuries it was the bastion of male privilege, the gathering place for men away from their women. Shulamith Firestone, “The Bar as Microcosm,” in Voices From Women’s Liberation (L. B. Tanner, ed., 1970)
  • There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. Samuel Johnson, a March 21, 1776 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • They are universal places, like churches, hallowed meeting places of all mankind, and each one is different. Iris Murdoch, the character Jenkin Riderhood describing pubs, in The Book and the Brotherhood (1987)



  • Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Roger Angell, “On the Ball” in Five Seasons (1977)

Angell continued: “Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance—thrown hard and with precision.”

  • The catcher has more equipment and more attributes than players at the other positions. He must be large, brave, intelligent, alert, stolid, foresighted, resilient, fatherly, quick, efficient, intuitive, and impregnable. These scoutmaster traits are counterbalanced, however, by one additional entry—catching’s bottom line. Most of all, the catcher is invisible. Roger Angell in “In the Fire,” The New Yorker (Winter, 1984); reprinted in Season Ticket (2015)
  • Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game—and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. Jacques Barzun, in God’s Country and Mine (1954)
  • Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical. Yogi Berra, in Yogi: It Ain’t Over…. (1997; with Tim Thorton & Tom Horton)
  • Baseball is religion without the mischief. Thomas Boswell, “The Church of Baseball,” in Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History (1996)
  • You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. Jim Bouton, on being in baseball’s grip, in Ball Four (1970)
  • For those of who are baseball fans and agnostics, the Hall of Fame is as close to a religious experience as we may ever get. Bill Bryson, “Baseball Hall of Fame,” in Great Baseball Stories (1991)
  • To be an American and unable to play baseball is comparable to being a Polynesian and unable to swim. John Cheever, “The National Pastime,” in The New Yorker (Sep. 28, 1953)
  • There are only five things you can do in baseball–run, throw, catch, hit, and hit with power. Leo Durocher, quoted in Time magazine (July 16, 1973)
  • Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast. Joe Garagiola, in Baseball Is a Funny Game (1960)
  • It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone. A. Bartlett Giamatti, on baseball, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine (November 1977)
  • Baseball has the largest library of law and love and custom and ritual, and therefore, in a nation that fundamentally believes it is a nation under law, well, baseball is America’s most privileged version of the level field. A. Bartlett Giamatti, quoted in Sports Illustrated (April 17, 1989)
  • Baseball is already the world’s most tranquil sport. It is probably the only active sport where you are not seriously required to be alive to play. Nikki Giovanni, “A Patriotic Plea for Poetry Justice,” in Sacred Cows…And Other Edibles (988)
  • Sports, unlike life, are played according to rules. Indeed, the rules are the sport: life may behave bizarrely and still be life, but if the runner circles the bases clockwise it's no longer baseball. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • For most baseball fans, maybe oldest is always best. We love baseball because it seizes and retains the past, like the snowy village inside a glass paperweight. Donald Hall, “Fenway Park: Age Cannot Wither Her,” in Ford Times (April, 1977); reprinted in Hall’s Fathers Playing Catch With Sons (1984)
  • Oh, the joys of baseball, manly men in tight pants. Carolyn Hart, a reflection of the character Laurel, in the short story “Mothers Must Do,” in Mary Daheim Motherhood Is Murder (2003)

A moment earlier, the narrator said about Laurel: “She was never one to ignore well-built men. They added so much pleasure to the world.”

  • The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again, but baseball has marked time while America has rolled by like a procession of steamrollers. W. P. Kinsella, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Ray Kinsella, in Shoeless Joe (1982)
  • Baseball is where boys practice being boys and/men practice being boys, and/they get real good at it. Mary Cecile Leary, “Why I Love It,” in Elinor Nauen, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (1994)
  • Baseball is often talked about as the American game, but there is something wildly immigrant about it too. No other game can so solidly confirm the fact that you are in the United States, yet bring you home to your original country at the same time. Colum McCann, “What Baseball Does to the Soul,” in The New York Times (April 1, 2012)
  • Baseball is what we were. Football is what we have become. Mary McGrory, quoted in John Leo, “Now Don’t Interrupt” (Best Sayings of 1996),in U.S. News & Report (1997)
  • Baseball has a special place in our hearts. It is the game that shows us as we would like to be. Mary McGrory, “Boston Fans Mourn Their Touchy Baseball King,” in Washington Post (July 14, 2002)
  • Baseball is played on the fields of the imagination as much as on the diamond. Elinor Nauen, in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (1994)
  • For every man with a baseball story—a memory of a moment at the plate or in the field—there is a woman with a couldn’t-play-baseball story. Mariah Burton Nelson, in Are We Winning Yet? How Women Are Changing Sports and Sports Are Changing Women (1991)
  • In a neighborhood where most children grew up Lutheran or Methodist, we grew up Baseball. Molly O’Neill, “Coming to the Plate,” in Elinor Nauen, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (1994)
  • Anyway, hitting a homer your last time up,/That’s the way to go, isn’t it? Louis Phillips, the final words of “Williams’ Last Bat,” a poem in Phillips’ The Domain of Silence and the Domain of Absence: New and Selected Poems, 1963-2015 (2015)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the final words of one of the best baseball poems I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. To enjoy it for yourself, go here

  • I’ll never understand why it’s easier for a female to become an astronaut or cop or fire fighter or soldier or Supreme Court justice than it is to become a major league umpire. For Christ sakes, it’s only baseball. Pam Postema, in Pam Postema and G. Wojciechowski, You’ve Got to Have Balls to Make It in This League: My Life As an Umpire (1992)
  • Baseball, like some other sports, poses as a sacred institution dedicated to the public good, but it is actually a big, selfish business with a ruthlessness that many big businesses would never think of displaying. Jackie Robinson, in I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography (1972; “as told to Alfred Duckett”)
  • I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones…I know things. Susan Sarandon, as the character Annie Savoy, in the 1988 film Bull Durham, with the screenplay written by Ron Shelton

In the film, Annie continued: “For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance.”

  • Baseball lasts as long as it takes. Like life, like love, baseball exists in real time. Carol Tavris, “Why I Love Baseball,” in Elinor Nauen, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (1994)
  • At a ballgame, as in a place of worship, no one is alone in the crowd. John Thorn, in The Game for all America (1988)
  • Baseball is a public trust. Players turn over, owners turn over, and certain commission turn over. But baseball goes on. Peter Ueberroth, quoted in The New York Times (August 9, 1985)
  • Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U. S. Steel. Bill Veeck, repeating an old baseball saying, in The Hustler’s Handbook (1965)
  • It has been said that baseball is to the United States what revolutions are to Latin America, a safety valve for letting off steam. George F. Will, “Don’t Beep in My Outfield” in 1985 issue of Newsweek; reprinted in The Morning After (1986)

Will added: “I think baseball is more serious than any Latin American revolution. But then, I am a serious fan.”

  • Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal. George F. Will, in Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1990)

This is one of Will’s most popular observations. He reprised the thought in his 1998 book Bunts: “It is said that baseball is ‘only a game.’ Yes, and the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”


  • Your body is just like a bar of soap. It gradually wears down from repeated use. Dick Allen, explaining in a 1971 spring training interview why he never took batting practice, quoted in Bob Chieger, Voices of Baseball (1984)
  • A catcher and his body are like the outlaw and his horse. He’s got to ride that nag till it drops. Johnny Bench, originally quoted in a 1982 issue of Inside Sports

QUOTE NOTE: Bench was explaining why it had taken him so long to step away from the catcher’s position and convert to the less physically demanding third base position.

  • By the end of the season, I feel like a used car. Bob Brenley, quoted in American Way magazine (May 14, 1985)
  • Your bat is your life. It’s your weapon. You don’t want to go into battle with anything that feels less than perfect. Lou Brock, quoted in American Way magazine (April 29, 1986)
  • A ball bat is a wondrous weapon. Ty Cobb, My Life in Baseball: The True Record (with Al Stump; 1961)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all collections of baseball quotations have Cobb saying: “A baseball bat is a wondrous weapon”

  • Essentially pitching is this simple. You try to put the ball where you want it and where—you hope—the batter doesn’t want it. You throw the curve inside, the fast ball outside. Then you bring the fast ball in, send the curve out. You move the ball around. You change speeds. You try not to throw your strikes over the middle of the plate. Whitey Ford quoted in The Saturday Review (March 3, 1962)
  • The triple is the most exciting play of the game. A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home. It drags on and you’re never sure how it’s gonna turn our until it happens. George Foster, quoted in Charles McCabe, The Charles McCabe Reader (1984)

Despite his reputation for hitting towering home runs, Foster said, “I don’t know why people like the home run so much. A home run is over as soon as it starts…wham, bam, thank you ma’am.“


  • Talking to Yogi Berra about baseball is like talking to Homer about the gods. A. Bartlett Giamatti, quoted in Murray Chass, “Baseball Notebook,” The New York Times (April 5, 1987)

QUOTE NOTE: Giamatti, a Renaissance scholar and former president of Yale University, was President of the National League when he made this remark (he was named Commissioner of Major League Baseball two years later, but served only five months before his death from a heart attack at age fifty-one). In The Yogi Book (1998), Berra offered a quintessential “Yogism” about Giamatti’s remark: “One of the nicest things ever said about me that I didn’t understand.”

  • Blind people come to the park just to hear him pitch. Reggie Jackson, on Tom Seaver, quoted in Howard Burman, Season of Ghosts: The ’86 Mets and Red Sox (2012)
  • Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork. Willie Stargell, on Sandy Koufax, quoted in Michael MacCambridge, ESPN Sports Century (1999)
  • He could throw a ball through a car-wash without it ever getting wet. Willie Stargell, on Cincinnati Reds pitcher Don Gullett, quoted in Gullet’s New York Times obituary (Feb, 17, 2024)



  • Basketball is like war, in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up. Red Auerbach, quoted in I. T. Marsh & E. Ehre, Best Sports Stories: 1964 Edition (1964)
  • Michael Jordan: A Shooting Star, title of 1994 book edited by George W. Beahm
  • When you’re the top dog, everybody wants to put you in the pound. Charles Barkley, quoted in The Los Angeles Times (March 24, 1993)
  • Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath. Wilt Chamberlain, quoted in Zander Hollander, Great Athletes of the 20th Century (1972)

During his career, this was one of Chamberlain’s most quoted lines, but he changed his tune in his 1992 autobiography A View From Above (1992): “Earlier I said that no one roots for Goliath. I was wrong. Today many people are rooting for Goliath.”

  • The game is my wife. It demands loyalty and responsibility, and it gives me back fulfillment and peace. Michael Jordan, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Jan. 5, 1987)
  • What is so fascinating about a group of pituitary cases trying to stuff the ball through a hoop? Janet Margolin, as the character Robin, speaking to Alvy Singer as he is engrossed in a televized New York Knicks game, in the 1977 film Annie Hall (screenplay by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman)
  • Michael Jordan, “Air” to his compatriots, played a game 10 feet off the ground. You needed the R. A. F. to stop him. He only came down periodically to refuel. Jim Murray, in Jim Murray: An Autobiography (1993)
  • It’s ballet, hip-hop and kung fu. The ballet is grace, the hip-hop is cool, and the kung fu is kill the opponent. Shaquille O’Neal, on basketball, quoted in New York magazine (Feb. 15, 2010)
  • Our offense is like the pythagorean theorem: There is no answer! Shaquille O’Neal, to a sports reporter during his team’s winning streak, in Shaq Uncut: My Story (2011; with Jackie MacMullan)
  • The basketball is a tool that the black [man] has now, same as maybe once he had a plow. Willis Reed, quoted in Roger Kahn sports column in 1971 issue of Esquire magazine.

Reed, a former NBA star who had become coach of the New York Knicks, added: “He can use it to make something of himself and make a life for his children.”

  • When it’s played the way it’s spozed to be played, basketball happens in the air, the pure air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams, as I do in my lifelong fantasies of escape and power, finally, at last, once and for all, free. John Edgar Wideman, quoted in Alexander Woolf, Sports Illustrated 100 Years of Hoops (1995)



  • My philosophy is very simple: when in doubt, take a bath. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (1995)
  • Bathe twice a day to be really clean, once a day to be passably clean, once a week to avoid being a public menace. Anthony Burgess, a “grim apothegm” found in a women’s magazine, in Inside Mr. Enderby (1963)
  • Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar. Pablo Picasso, quoted in Jean Cocteau, Opium (1929)
  • No matter what you call it, for some of us it’s the source of all comfort, the great womb incarnate: the bath. Susan Salter Reynolds, reviewing Alexia Brue’s Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath, in The Los Angeles Times (Jan. 26, 2003)
  • I have had a good many more uplifting thoughts, creative and expansive visions—while soaking in comfortable baths or drying myself after bracing showers—in well-equipped American bathrooms than I have ever had in any cathedral. Here the body purges itself, and along with the body, the spirit. Edmund Wilson, “Europe,” in A Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty (1956)



  • Marriage is like a warm bath. Once you get used to it, it’s not so hot. Cindy Adams, in Joey Adams, Strictly for Laughs (1955)
  • Take a music-bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • Hiring someone to write your autobiography is like hiring someone to take a bath for you. Mae West, quoted in Bookviews (February 11, 1977)





  • One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • Waves, once they land on the beach, are not reversible. Grace Paley, in a 1992 issue of Ms. magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • So, the thing about the beach is that it’s always the same and never the same. Laurence Shames, the opening line of the novel, a reflection of the narrator, a chihuahua named Nacho, in The Paradise Gig (2020)
  • I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me. Anna Quindlen, “At the Beach,” in Living Out Loud (1988)



  • Like sand on the beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken. Sharon Begley, in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (2007)
  • The biggest part of painting perhaps is faith, and waiting receptively, content to go any way, not planning or forcing. The fear, though, is laziness. It is so easy to drift and finally be tossed up on the beach, derelict. Emily Carr, in Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr (1966)
  • Writing every book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty…like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again. Daphne du Maurier, in Ladies’ Home Journal (November 1956)
  • Hospitals are a little like the beach. The next wave comes in, and the footprints of your pain and suffering, your delivery and recovery, are obliterated. Anna Quindlen, in One True Thing (1994)



  • There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep. Edward Abbey, in One Life at a Time, Please (1988)
  • Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  • There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (June 23, 1712)
  • Beauty soon grows familiar to the lover,/Fades in his eye, and palls upon the sense. Joseph Addison, the character Juba speaking, in Cato, A Tragedy (1713)
  • If you go through life trading on your good looks, there’ll come a time when no one wants to trade. Lynne Alpern & Esther Blumenfeld, in Oh, Lord, I Sound Just Like Mama (1986)
  • We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. Maya Angelou, quoted in M. A. Monroe, The Butterfly’s Daughter (2011)
  • By its very nature the beautiful is isolated from everything else. From beauty no road leads to reality. Hannah Arendt, in Rahel Varnhagen (1957)
  • Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of reference. Aristotle, quoted in Lives of the Philosophers (3rd cent. A.D.) by Diogenes Laërtius.

QUOTE NOTE: See the similar Publilius Syrus observation below.

  • Beauty is only skin deep, and the world is full of thin skinned people. Richard Armour, tweaking the proverbial saying (see below), in It All Started with Eve (1956)
  • When they reach the age of fifteen and their beauty arrives, it’s very exciting—like coming into an inheritance. Eve Babitz, “The Sheik,” in Eve’s Hollywood (1974)

Babitz, who was talking about the adolescent daughters of Hollywood’s elite, added: “And, as with inheritances, it’s fun to be around when they first come into the money and watch how they spend it and on what.”

  • Beauty is as summer fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last. Francis Bacon, “Of Beauty,” in Essays (1625)
  • There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. Francis Bacon, “Of Beauty,” in Essays (1625)
  • Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the infinite. George Bancroft, in 1854 speech to New York Historical Society
  • Beauty is the sole ambition, the exclusive goal of Taste. Charles Baudelaire, “Théophile Gautier” (1859), in L’art romantique (1869)
  • The study of beauty is a duel in which the artist shrieks with terror before being overcome. Charles Baudelaire, in Paris Spleen (1869)
  • Beauty may be said to be God’s trademark in creation. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is. Saul Bellow, a reflection of protagonist Moses Herzog, in Herzog (1964)
  • Beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be allied. Max Beerbohm, the voice of the narrator, in Zuleika Dobson (1911)
  • Bait, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Beauty is the melody of the features. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam’s Uncle Josh: Or, Josh Billings on Practically Everything (1953)
  • Beauty in distress is much the most affecting beauty. Edmund Burke, in the Introduction to The Sublime and the Beautiful (1756)
  • It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast. Julie Burchill, in Sex and Sensibility (1992)
  • I am extraordinarily privileged in nearly every way, but what I’m most grateful for now is my parents’ belief, passed down like any other inheritance, that there’s more beauty in the world than horror. Laurel Braitman, in What Looks Like Bravery (2023)

A moment later, Braitman went on to write: “This optimism gives you license. It’s a kind of audacity and it can work like an all-purpose key to the locked doors of your dreams. ‘Why not you?’ it whispers.”

  • Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time. Albert Camus, a May, 1935 entry in Notebooks 1935-1942 (1962)
  • There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder (1965)

In the book, Carson also wrote: “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

  • I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we destroy beauty, or whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man's spiritual growth. Rachel Carson, a 1954 observation, quoted in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1998; Linda Lear, ed.)
  • In this world people have to pay an extortionate price for any exceptional gift whatever. Willa Cather, the protagonist Henry Seabury reflecting on all gifts, but especially the gift of beauty, in the short story “The Old Beauty” (1936), in The Old Beauty, and Others (1948)

QUOTE NOTE: I've always loved the word extortionate here, having expected to see exorbitant instead. Cather found a subtle but effective way of saying the cost to be paid for great beauty is extremely—even grossly—high, and even higher than exorbitant, which is already pretty pricey.

  • You agree—I'm sure you agree, that beauty is the only thing worth living for. Agatha Christie, the character Joanna Burton speaking, The Moving Finger (1942)
  • I have been told that beauty is the great seducer of men. Paulo Coelho, in The Alchemist (1993)
  • The problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer. Joan Collins, quoted on Internet Movie Database website (www.imdb.com)
  • Beauty is the lover’s gift. William Congreve, in The Way of the World (1700)
  • There is such a thing as too much beauty in a woman and it is often a burden as crippling as homeliness and far more dangerous. It takes much luck and integrity to survive the gift of perfect beauty, and its impermanence is its most cunning betrayal. Pat Conroy, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Tom Wingo, in The Prince of Tides (1986)
  • Beauty is but a lease from nature. Edward Counsel, in Maxims: Political, Philosophical, and Moral (2nd ed., 1892)
  • To the sightless, beauty bursts forth in sound, touch, fragrance, and taste. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 24, 2024)
  • Beauty that dies the soonest has the longest life. Because it cannot keep itself for a day, we keep it forever. Because it can have existence only in memory, we give it immortality there. Bertha Damon, in A Sense of Humus (1943)
  • Beauty without grace, is a hook without a bait. Ninon de L’Enclos, in The Memoirs of Ninon de L’Enclos, Vol. 1 (1761)

QUOTE NOTE: A century later, in his “Beauty” essay in The Conduct of Life (1860), Ralph Waldo Emerson offered virtually the same observation: “Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait.” It’s difficult to imagine that Emerson plagiarized the line. My hunch is that he had read it years earlier, filed it away in his mind, and forgot about the original source when he was writing the beauty essay.

  • Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful, and famous more authority than they deserve. Maureen Dowd, “Giant Puppet Show,” in The New York Times (Sep. 10, 1995)
  • Judge nothing by the appearance. The more beautiful the serpent, the more fatal its sting. William Scott Downey, in Proverbs (7th edition; 1853)
  • There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Adam Bede (1859)

In the novel, Eliot also wrote on the subject: “All honor and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women and children—in our gardens and in our houses. But let us love that other beauty too, which lies in no secret of proportion but in the secret of deep human sympathy.”

  • Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Beauty ensnares hearts, captures minds, and stirs up emotional wildfires. From Plato to pinups, images of human beauty have catered to a limitless desire to see and imagine an ideal human form. Nancy L. Etcoff, in Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (1999)
  • Beauty ought to look a little surprised: it is the emotion that best suits her face. E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927)

Forster went on to add: “The beauty who does not look surprised, who accepts her position as her due—she reminds us too much of a prima donna.”

  • Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it’s a common mistake nonetheless Charles Frazier, remark from a character simply described as “the old woman,” in Cold Mountain (1997)
  • The pursuit of beauty is much more dangerous nonsense than the pursuit of truth or goodness, because it affords a stronger temptation to the ego. Northrop Frye, in Anatomy of Criticism (1957)
  • Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically quoted, but the fuller passage reads: “Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face./But you are life and you are the veil./Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror./But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”

  • Beauty is a welcome guest everywhere. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the voice of the narrator, in Elective Affinities (1809)
  • Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Maxims and Reflections (1883)
  • The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is. Nadine Gordimer, “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer” (1963), in Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1950–2008 (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: Gordimer is playing off one of the most famous couplets in the history of verse, to be seen in the John Keats entry below.

  • Do I love you because you’re beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you? Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics from the song “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” from the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Cinderella” [music by Richard Rodgers]

QUOTE NOTE: “Cinderella” is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television, first broadcast on CBS-tv on March 31, 1957. Originally made as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, it was viewed by more than 100 million people. The musical was remade for television twice, in 1965 and 1997. It was first staged at the London Coliseum in 1958 and, after several other stage versions over the years, it finally appeared on Broadway in 2013.

  • Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. David Hume, “On the Standard of Taste,” (1739) in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (1741-42)

Hume continued: “One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.” Hume’s thought is regarded as the inspiration for the proverb Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (see the Hungerford entry below)

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, the character Marcia speaking, in the novel Molly Bawn (1878).

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance in print of one of history’s most famous sayings. Hungerford was repeating a sentiment that was already in popular use, all inspired by an observation that first came a century earlier when Richard Cumberland wrote in The Observer (1788): “Beauty, gentleman, is in the eye, I aver it to be in the eye of the beholder and not in the object itself.” Cumberland, in turn, was almost certainly inspired by a 1739 observation from the English philosopher David Hume (see his entry above). The saying has inspired numerous tweaks and spin-offs, including:

• “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.” Kinky Friedman, in Cowboy Logic (2006)

• “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.” Miss Piggy, in an episode of The Muppet Show

For other variations, see also the Goldberg entry in NORMALITY, the Peter entry in COMPETENCE, and the Steinem entry in LOGIC.

  • She had always found it difficult to believe what experience had taught her, that men and women could be physically beautiful without also possessing some comparable qualities of mind and spirit, that beauty could be wasted on the mundane, the ignorant or the stupid. P. D. James, the voice of the narrator, describing what the character Rhoda Gradwyn found hard to believe about the handsome Robin Boynton, in The Private Patient (2008)
  • Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. Franz Kafka, quoted in Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (1951; 2nd expanded ed., 1971)

A moment earlier, Kafka introduced the thought by saying: “Youth is full of sunshine and life. Youth is happy, because it has the ability to see beauty. When this ability is lost, wretched old age begins, decay, unhappiness.” Some Kafka scholars have questioned the authenticity of these observations. See explanation in the Kafka ACHIEVEMENT entry.

  • If there is a fruit that can be eaten raw, it is beauty. Alphonse Karr, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Pearls of Thought (1882)
  • The sorrows of beautiful women draw tears from our purses. Alphonse Karr, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Notable Thoughts About Women: A Literary Mosaic (1882)
  • A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:/Its loveliness increases; it will never/Pass into nothingness. John Keats, in Endymion (1818)
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. John Keats, the final lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn (written 1819, published 1820). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want—an adorable pancreas? Jean Kerr, in The Snake Has All the Lines (1958)
  • To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers. Paul Klee, diary entry (March, 1906), in The Diaries of Paul Klee (1965)
  • The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975
  • The human soul needs actual beauty even more than bread. D. H. Lawrence, “Men and Women,” in Star Review (Nov. 1929); reprinted as “Men Must Work and Women as Well,” in Assorted Articles (1930)
  • The collector walks with blinders on; he sees nothing but the prize. In fact, the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • I have not yet forgot the invective (I cannot term it any other) which you made against beauty, calling it a deceitful bait with a deadly hook. John Lyly, in Euphues (1578)
  • Beauty can pierce one like a pain. Thomas Mann, in Buddenbrooks (1901)
  • For in almost every artist’s nature is inborn a wanton and treacherous proneness to side with the beauty that breaks hearts. Thomas Mann, the narrator describing Aschenbach, in Death in Venice (1912)
  • The ideal has many names, and beauty is but one of them. W. Somerset Maugham, in Cakes and Ale (1930)

Later in the chapter, Maugham went on to write: “Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.”

  • It is well known that Beauty does not look with a good grace on the timid advances of Humor. W. Somerset Maugham, in Cakes and Ale (1930)
  • Beauty often fades, but seldom so swiftly as the joy it gives us. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Beauty in woman is that potent alchemy which transforms men into asses. Abraham Miller, in Unmoral Maxims (1906)
  • Beauty is Nature’s coin, must not be hoarded,/But must be current. John Milton, in Comus (1634)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from Comus, who adds: “If you let slip time, like a neglected rose/It withers in the stalk with languished head.” And then he continues in a metaphorical vein: “Beauty is Nature’s brag,/and must be shown/In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities.”

  • The beauty of stature is the only beauty of men. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Presumption,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • And is it wrong for me to ask you why it is that faith goes out of the window when beauty comes in at the door? George Moore, in The Lake (1905)
  • Which of us has not been stunned by the beauty of an animal’s skin or its flexibility in motion? Marianne Moore, “Of Beasts and Jewels,” in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1996)
  • My only books/Were Woman’s looks,/And Folly’s all they taught me. Thomas Moore, in The Time I’ve Lost in Wooing (undated, circa 1820)
  • In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. Christopher Morley, “A Slice of Sunlight,” in Essays (1928)
  • If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. William Morris, “The Beauty of Life,” in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882)
  • No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. John Muir, journal entry (June 26, 1875); quoted in Edith Jane Hadley, John Muir’s Views of Nature and Their Consequences (1956)

Muir continued: “Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening—still all is Beauty!”

  • Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. John Muir, in The Yosemite (1920)

Muir continued: “This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks.”

  • For even the humblest person, a day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. Lewis Mumford, in The Condition of Man (1944)
  • Beauty plus pity—this is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Vladimir Nabokov, discussing Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in Lectures on Literature (1980)
  • An essential quality of beauty is aloofness. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Beauty’s a fragile boon, and the years are quick to destroy it,/Always diminished with time, never enduring too long. Ovid, in The Art of Love (1st c. A.D.)

On the fading of beauty over time—and the predictable effect on the formerly beautiful—Ovid continued: “Violet’s always fade, and the bloom departs from the lily;/When the roses are gone, nothing is left but the thorn.”

  • Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae (1990)
  • It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art. Walter Pater, “Postscript,” in Appreciation (1889)

QUOTE NOTE: Pater was likely inspired by the Francis Bacon above.

  • Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together. Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), in De Remediis, Book II (1354)
  • The flowers anew, returning seasons bring! But beauty faded has no second spring. Ambrose Philips, in The First Pastoral (1709)
  • Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Edgar Allan Poe, in “The Rationale of Verse,” in The Pioneer (March, 1843)
  • Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;/Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul. Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock (1712)

In the poem, Pope also wrote: “Fair tresses man’s imperial race ensnare,/And beauty draws us with a single snare.”

  • Beauty is only skin-deep. Proverb (English)

QUOTE NOTE: This pithy saying about superficial quality of beauty has been proverbial since the late seventeenth century. It was inspired by the English writer Thomas Adams, who wrote in The Blacke Devil (1615): “The beauty of the fairest woman is but skin-deep.” Davis, in turn, may have borrowed the concept from Sir Thomas Overbury, whose popular 1614 poem “A Wife” contained this couplet: “And all the carnall [sic] beauty of my wife/Is but skin-deep.”

  • Beauty without virtue is a flower without a sword. Proverb (French)
  • Beauty in art is often nothing but ugliness subdued. Jean Rostand, in The Substance of Man (1962); originally in Pensèes d’un Biologiste (1939)
  • Somehow, a bachelor never quite gets over the idea that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever! Helen Rowland, playing off the famous John Keats line, seen above, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance. John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, Vol. I (1851)
  • Mathematics rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. Bertrand Russell, “The Study of Mathematics” (1902); first published in New Quarterly (Nov. 1907); reprinted in Philosophical Essays (1910)
  • I am waylaid by beauty. Edna St. Vincent Millay, from the poem “Assault,” in Second April (1921)
  • The world appears beautiful so that the living may love being alive in it. Carl Safina, in Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace (2020)
  • Nature distributes her favors unequally. To some of her creatures she gives intelligence, to others beauty. George Sand, jounal entry (undated, 1837), in The Intimate Journal of George Sand (M. J. Howe, ed., 1929)
  • Beauty as we feel it is something indescribable: what it is or what it means can never be said. George Santayana, “Expression,” in The Sense of Beauty (1896)
  • Outstanding beauty, like outstanding gifts of any kind, tends to get in the way of normal emotional development, and thus of that particular success in life we call happiness. Milton Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life (1955)
  • Beauty, at the outer edge of all that is good. Felice Schillaci, in personal communication to the compiler (March 22, 2021)
  • Beauty itself doth of itself persuade/The eyes of men without an orator. William Shakespeare, in The Rape of Lucrece (1594)
  • O Beauty,/Till now I never knew thee. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking when he first catches sight of the beautiful Anne Bullen (Boleyn), in Henry VIII (1613)
  • Beauty can give an edge to the bluntest sword. Philip Sidney, in Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss [Jane] Porter (1807)

QUOTE NOTE: In a comment on this observation, Porter wrote: “The power of beauty has always been considered as a riddle. It is difficult to explain why a set of features, arranged in one particular way, should command the soul, as if by enchantment.”

  • Beauty and adventure have a certain value of their own, which can be weighed only in spiritual scales. Elva S. Smith, offering a “considered conviction” of Amelia Earhart, in Adventure Calls: True Stories and Some That Might Have Been True (1953)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites attribute the observation to Amelia Earhart, but it is clear from Smith’s book that she was summarizing a belief of the legendary aviator.

  • Beauty is only a promise of happiness. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in On Love (1822). See also the WEIL entry below.
  • A beauty is a woman you notice; a charmer is one who notices you. Adlai E. Stevenson, in The Stevenson Wit (1966)
  • I had first noticed her in the lobby of the Churchill, because she rated a glance as a matter of principle—the principle that a man owes it to his eyes to let them rest on attractive objects when there are any around. Rex Stout, the character Archie Goodwin speaking (on noticing Flora Gallant), in Framed-Up for Murder (1958)
  • A beautiful face is a mute recommendation. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st cent. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is also commonly translated as: “A fair exterior is a silent recommendation.” See the similar Aristotle observation above.

  • The perception of beauty is a moral test. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (June 21, 1852)
  • Beauty is simply Reality seen with the eyes of love. Evelyn Underhill, in Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “All things are perceived in the light of charity, and hence under the aspect of beauty: for beauty is simply Reality seen with the eyes of love.”

  • It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it. Voltaire, “Taste,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war. David Foster Wallace, “Federer as Religious Experience,” in The New York Times (Aug. 20, 2006)

Wallace continued: “The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”

  • Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything. Evelyn Waugh, quoted in The Observer (London; April, 15, 1962)
  • Beauty always promises, but never gives anything. Simone Weil, in 1943 essay “Human Personality,” reprinted in Selected Essays (1962, ed. by R. Rees). See also the STENDHAL entry above.
  • All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. Walt Whitman, in Preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855)
  • Beauty seen is never lost,/God’s colors are all fast. John Greenleaf Whittier, in the poem “Sunset on the Bearcamp” (1849); in Songs of Labor and Other Poems (1850)
  • It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But…it is better to be good than to be ugly. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
  • The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life. Frank Lloyd Wright, a 1970s remark, quoted in John Rattenbury, Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin Architects (2000)

Wright introduced the thought by writing: “The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.”

  • The innocent and the beautiful/Have no enemy but time. William Butler Yeats, “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” (1927), in The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)



  • Beauty in art is often nothing but ugliness subdued. Jean Rostand, in The Substance of Man (1962); originally in Pensèes d’un Biologiste (1939)
  • No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade, or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly. Oscar Wilde, from lecture to art students at the Royal Academy (London; June 30, 1883)



  • Everyone gets to be something by starting as something else—either that or he stays unevolved. John Ciardi, quoted in Vince Clemente, “‘A Man is What He Does with His Attention’: A Conversation with John Ciardi,’ in Vince Clemente, John Ciardi: Measure of the Man (1987)
  • In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. Max De Pree, in Leadership is an Art (1987)

ERROR ALERT: Many books and internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended “by remaining who we are.”

  • Every fellow is really two men—what he is and what he might be; and you’re never absolutely sure which you’re going to bury till he’s dead. George Horace Lorimer, the title character writing in a letter to his son, in Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • I want to be all that I am capable of becoming. Katherine Mansfield, in Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927)
  • One does not become fully human painlessly. Rollo May, in Foreword to Ronald S. Valle and Mark King, Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology (1978)
  • Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. Anaïs Nin, in D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study (1936)
  • To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Henry David Thoreau,” in Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882)
  • We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man’s features, and meanness or sensuality to imbrute them. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

Thoreau introduced the thought by writing: “Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own.”


(see also BEDROOM and SLEEP and NIGHT)

  • I suppose there is hardly any one in the civilized world— particularly of those who do just a little more every day than they really have strength to perform—who has not at some time regarded bed as a refuge. J. E. Buckrose, “Bed as a Refuge,” in What I Have Gathered (1923)
  • A bed, a nice fresh bed, with smoothly drawn sheets and a hot-water bottle at the end of it, soft to the feet like a live animal's tummy. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in Music Hall Sidelights (1913)



  • I can only say that politics, like misery, “bring a man acquainted with strange bedfellows.” William Gifford, playing off the familiar Shakespeare quotation on misery, in The Baviad, and Maeviad (1797)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original expression of a sentiment that ultimately evolved into politics makes strange bedfellows, a saying that went on to become so popular that it completely supplanted the Shakespeare observation that inspired it (see the Shakespeare entry in MISERY). The sentiment about politics making for strange bedfellows has been attributed to many other people, including Charles Dudley Warner, who wrote in My Summer in a Garden (1871): “I may mention here, since we are on politics…that politics makes strange bed-fellows.” Gifford, however, deserves credit as the person who first extended the concept from misery to politics.


(see also BED and DINING ROOM and HOUSE and HOME)

  • It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses. Mrs. Patrick Campbell, quoted in Daphne Fielding, The Duchess of Jermyn Street (1964)
  • She also told him that where the bedroom is wrong the whole house is wrong. She was a coarse creature, but he took some of her maxims to heart. Only he felt that, in his own case, the converse might be true Margaret Kennedy, the narrator describing an interaction between two characters. in The Feast (1950)
  • More divorces start in the bedroom than in any other room in the house. Ann Landers, in Since You Ask Me (1961)


(see also ANIMALS and BIRDS and HONEY and INSECTS)

  • If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive. Dale Carnegie, in How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936; rev. ed., 1981)
  • If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead of honey, it will yield us bees. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers. Robert G. Ingersoll, quoted in “In Memoriam—Robert G. Ingersoll,” The Humanitarian Review (Aug. 1910)
  • When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees. Kenneth Kaunda, quoted in The Observer (London, Jan. 2, 1983)
  • What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage is also commonly translated: “What is not good for the hive is not good for the bee.”

  • Everywhere bees go racing with the hours,/For every bee becomes a drunken lover,/Standing upon his head to sup the flowers. Vita Sackville-West, “Spring,” in The Land (1927)



  • Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Author Unknown, but widely misattributed to Benjamin Franklin

QUOTE NOTE: Franklin did, however, make a similar observation about wine. While serving as Ambassador to France (1779-85), Franklin wrote an undated letter in French to the Abbé Morellet in which he extolled the virtues of wine: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!”

  • Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Dave Barry, in “The Greatest Invention in the History of Mankind is Beer” and Other Manly Insights. (2001)

Barry added: “Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”

  • Beauty’s in the eye of the beer holder. Sally Chapman, the character Paoli speaking, in Hardwired (1988)



  • Every event, menial or momentous, has a first step. And it goes on and on, until the last day. And even on that day, we have a first-time experience. On that day, the bud becomes a blossom. For the first time, we die. Myrtle Barker, in I Am Only One (1963)
  • In every phenomenon the beginning remains always the most notable moment. Thomas Carlyle, the voice of the narrator, in Sartor Resartus (serialized in Fraser’s Magazine 1833-34; pub. as a novel 1836)
  • Beginnings are apt to be shadowy. Rachel Carson, in The Sea Around Us (1950)
  • The beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. Kate Chopin, the voice of the narrator, in The Awakening (1899)
  • The fresh start is always an illusion but a necessary one. Eleanor Clark, in Eyes, Etc. (1977)
  • There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory. Francis Drake, in

Letter to Francis Walsingham (May 17, 1587)

  • Not, outwardly, but to my inward vision/Things are achieved when they are well begun./The perfect archer calls the deer his own/While yet the shaft is whistling. George Eliot, the character Zarca speaking, in The Spanish Gypsy: A Poem (1868)

Zarca continued: “His keen eye/never sees failure, sees the mark alone.”

  • In all failures, the beginning is certainly the half of the whole. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1828 journal entry, in The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1960; R. N. Linscott, ed.)
  • There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. Louis L’Amour, the opening words of the novel, the narrator (William Tell Sackett) recalling words of advice from his father, in Lonely on the Mountain (1980)
  • The births of all things are weak and tender, and therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580-88)
  • I never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often the mustard seed germinates and roots itself. Florence Nightingale, quoted in Eleanor Frances Hall, Florence Nightingale (1920)
  • A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Proverb (Chinese)
  • Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes, work never begun. Christina Rossetti, in Time Flies: A Reading Diary (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the way Rossetti began her entry for January 5th. A bit later, she added: “A bad beginning may be retrieved and a good ending achieved. No beginning, no ending.”



  • The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy: the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and eminently, the finish of a voyage. John Galsworthy, the voice of the narrator, in Over the River (1933)



  • One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Meister Eckhart, in Work and Being (14th c.)

Eckhart continued with this chiastic conclusion: “Our works do not enable us; but we must ennoble our works.”

  • Men may be divided almost any way we please, but I have found the most useful distinction to be made between those who devote their lives to conjugating the verb “to be” and those who spend their lives conjugating the verb “to have.” Sydney J. Harris in For the Time Being (1972)



  • In downtown Seattle, for some reason, most of the excess buildings are beige. Seattleites complain of beige à vu: the sensation that they’ve seen that color before. Tom Robbins, “Canyon of the Vaginas,” in Esquire magazine (June, 1988); reprinted in Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)



  • A belief is not true because it is useful. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Nov. 15, 1876)
  • There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death. Isaac Asimov, “Worlds in Confusion,” in The Stars in Their Courses (1971)
  • Where is the world whose people don’t prefer a comfortable, warm, and well-worn belief, however illogical, to the chilly winds of uncertainty? Isaac Asimov, the character Dr. Deniador speaking, in Foundation and Earth (1986)
  • Unless you believe, you will not understand. Saint Augustine, in On Free Choice of the Will (4th c. A.D.)
  • A red-hot belief in eternal glory is probably the best antidote to human panic that there is. Phyllis Bottome, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a Viennese psychoanalyst who fled to England in the 1930s, in Survival (1943)
  • Belief/Initiates and guides action—/Or it does nothing. Octavia Butler, epigraph containing a passage from a fictional book titled Earthseed, in The Parable of the Talents (1998)
  • Belief like any other moving body follows the path of least resistance. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be colored by desire. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion (2006)
  • The most important quality of an inept person is to rely on popular belief and hearsay. Marie de Gournay, in The Equality of Men and Women (1622)
  • Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • A man can believe a considerable deal of rubbish, and yet go about his daily work in a rational and cheerful manner. Norman Douglas, in An Almanac (1941)
  • “What is your religion?” said Dorothea. “I mean—not what you know about religion but the belief that helps you most?” George Eliot, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in denying them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Montaigne; Or, The Skeptic,” in Representative Men (1850)
  • What we do stems directly from what we believe. Millicent Fenwick, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)
  • A man’s got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink. W. C. Fields, quoted in 1972 Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I do not believe in Belief. E. M. Forster, “What I Believe,” in Clifton Fadiman, The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the opening words of the essay, which begins with Forster admitting that he feels a little out of step in the current age of faith. A moment later, he added: “I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul.”

  • It is legitimate to have one’s own point of view and political philosophy. But there are people who make anger, rather than a deeply held belief, the basis of their actions. Indira Gandhi, in Freedom Is the Starting Point (1976)

Gandhi continued: “They do not seem to mind harming society as a whole in the pursuit of their immediate objective. No society can survive if it yields to the demands of frenzy, whether of the few or the many.”

  • No matter what the belief, if it had modestly said, “This is our best thought, go on, think farther!” then we could have smoothly outgrown our early errors and long since have developed a religion such as would have kept pace with an advancing world. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in His Religion and Hers (1923)

Gilman added: “But we were made to believe and not allowed to think. We were told to obey, rather than to experiment and investigate.”

  • To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will. Judith Guest, the opening lines of Ordinary People (1980)
  • A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason ((2005)

Harris went on to add: “Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings.” And a little later in the book, he wrote: “Every belief is a fount of action in potentia.”

  • The most dangerous heresy of our time, it bears repeating, is the belief that belief in itself is a good thing, regardless of its content; for faith that is attached to an unworthy or inadequate object makes people less than they are, not more. Sydney J. Harris, in Leaving the Surface (1968)
  • Men to a great extent believe what they want to. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. “Natural Law,” in Harvard Law Review (Nov., 1918)
  • Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact. William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” in The Will to Believe (1896)
  • There seems to be a terrible misunderstanding on the part of a great many people to the effect that when you cease to believe you may cease to behave. Louis Kronenberger, “The Spirit of the Age,” in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)
  • It really takes a hero to live any kind of spiritual life without religious belief. Mary McCarthy, in a 1979 interview in The Observer (London; specific date undetermined)
  • One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests. John Stuart Mill, in On Representative Government (1861)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests.”

  • Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • You’re not free/until you’ve been made captive by/supreme belief. Marianne Moore, “Spenser’s Ireland,” in What Are Years? (1941)
  • When people reject a truth or an untruth it is not because it is a truth or an untruth that they reject it,/No, if it isn’t in accord with their beliefs in the first place they simply say, “Nothing doing,” and refuse to inspect it./Likewise when they embrace a truth or an untruth it is not for either its truth or its mendacity,/But simply because they have believed it all along and therefore regard the embrace as a tribute to their own fair-mindedness and sagacity. Ogden Nash, “Seeing Eye to Eye is Believing,” in Good Intentions (1942)
  • Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate. Flannery O’Connor, “On Her Own Work,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969; Sally & Robert Fitzgerald, eds.)
  • There is nothing that you may not get people to believe in if you will only tell it them loud enough and often enough, till the welkin rings with it. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos (1884)

QUOTE NOTE: Welkin is an archaic English word for “the heavens” or “the firmament.”

  • To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. Henri Poincaré, quoted by Bertrand Russell in Foreword to the 1913 English translation of Poincaré’s Science and Method (1908)
  • My belief or non-belief does not alter reality. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)
  • Belief is as necessary to the soul as pleasures are necessary to the body. Elsa Schiaparelli, in Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli (1954)
  • Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life. David J. Schwartz, in The Magic of Thinking Big (1965)
  • I realized a long time ago that a belief which does not spring from a conviction in the emotions is no belief at all. Evelyn Scott, in Escapade (1923)
  • The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.. George Bernard Shaw, in The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (written 1928; published 1937)
  • My own education operated by a succession of eye-openers each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief. George Bernard Shaw, in The Quintessence of G.B.S.: The Wit and Wisdom of Bernard Shaw (1949; Stephen Winsten, ed.)
  • To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives: it is the only way we can leave the future open. Lillian Smith, in The Journey (1954)

Smith continued: “Man, surrounded by facts, permitting himself no surmise, no intuitive flash, no great hypothesis, no risk, is in a locked cell. Ignorance cannot seal the mind and imagination more surely.”

  • Few really believe. The most only believe that they believe or even make believe. John Lancaster Spalding, in Thoughts and Theories of Life and Education (1899)
  • If you want to create art, you’d best have a deep belief in yourself and no ulterior motives. Twyla Tharp, in Push Comes to Shove (1992)

[False] BELIEF


  • There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death. Isaac Asimov, “Worlds in Confusion,” in The Stars in Their Courses (1971)
  • Where is the world whose people don’t prefer a comfortable, warm, and well-worn belief, however illogical, to the chilly winds of uncertainty? Isaac Asimov, the character Dr. Deniador speaking, in Foundation and Earth (1986)
  • I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Affurisms,” in Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original version of a sentiment that gave birth to a modern American proverb: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Variations on the proverbial saying are commonly attributed to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but there is no evidence either man ever said anything like it. For more, see this excellent 2018 post by Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator.

Shaw, a New York journalist, adopted the name Josh Billings in the 1860s and became famous for a cracker-barrel philosophy that was filled with aphorisms written in a phonetic dialect (he called them “affurisms”). Mark Twain was a big fan, once even comparing Billings to Ben Franklin. Almost all of the Billings quotations seen today first appeared in a phonetic form and were later changed into standard English. in this case: “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.“

  • Human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be colored by desire. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion (2006)
  • It is worthy of remark that a belief inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason. Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (1871)

Darwin preceded the thought by writing: “How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated, we do not know; nor how it is that they have become, in all quarters of the world, so deeply impressed on the mind of men.”

  • An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth. Robert G. Ingersoll, in The Great Infidels (1881)
  • We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. George Orwell, in “In Front of Your Nose,” Tribune (March 22, 1946)
  • My own education operated by a succession of eye-openers each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief. George Bernard Shaw, in The Quintessence of G.B.S.: The Wit and Wisdom of Bernard Shaw (1949; Stephen Winsten, ed.)



  • It is precisely the stupidest people who are most sincere in their mistaken beliefs. Norman Angell, quoted in Louis Bisceglia, Norman Angell and Liberal Internationalism in Britain, 1931–35 (1982)
  • Have we arrived at our own faith and our own path or simply internalized the beliefs of parents, clergy, spouse, or friends? Joan Borysenko, in A Woman’s Journey to God (1999)
  • This is how humans are: We question all our beliefs, except for the ones we really believe, and those we never think to question. Orson Scott Card, the title character speaking, in Speaker for the Dead (1986)
  • Any group has a sense of who it is and what it values, but this sense often remains beneath the surface. A wise leader can discern these unspoken beliefs and articulate them. Diane Dreher, in The Tao of Personal Leadership (1996)
  • A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)
  • We are born believing, A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • They clung to their rock-bottom opinions. They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness. Louise Erdrich, the character Albertine Johnson describing her mother and her aunt, in Love Medicine (1954)
  • The true believer is in a high degree protected against the danger of certain neurotic afflictions; by accepting the universal neurosis he is spared the task of forming a personal neurosis. Sigmund Freud, in The Future of an Illusion (1927)
  • It is worthy of remark that a belief inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason. Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (1871)

Darwin preceded the thought by writing: “How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated, we do not know; nor how it is that they have become, in all quarters of the world, so deeply impressed on the mind of men.”

  • We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in letter from the title character, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)
  • One must marry one’s feelings to one's beliefs and ideas. That is probably the only way to achieve a measure of harmony in one’s life. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts. T. H. Huxley, “The Natural Inequality of Man,” in Nineteenth Century (January 1890); reprinted in Collected Essays vol. 1 (1893)
  • The less depth a belief system has, the greater the fervency with which its adherents embrace it. The most vociferous, the most fanatical are those whose cobbled faith is founded on the shakiest grounds. Dean Koontz, a reflection of protagonist and narrator Odd Thomas, in Forever Odd (2005)
  • Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon. Walter Lippmann, in A Preface to Politics (1913)
  • It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing. John Henry Newman, “The Usurpations of Reason,” a sermon ay Oxford University (Dec. 11, 1831)
  • Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011)

QUOTE NOTE: Pinker went on to write: “When people organize their lives around [certain] beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.”

  • We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem which is threatened. James Harvey Robinson, in The Mind in the Making (1921)

Robinson introduced the thought by writing: “We sometimes find ourselves changing our minds without any resistance or heavy emotion, but if we are told that we are wrong we resent the imputation and harden our hearts.”

  • We are all endowed with defense mechanisms which operate automatically. It is a poor technic [sic] when attempting to convert one’s neighbor to attack his beliefs directly, especially those of the sacred variety. James Harvey Robinson, in The Human Comedy (1937)

Robinson continued: “We may flatter ourselves that we are undermining them by our potent reasoning only to find that we have shored them up so that they are firmer than ever.”

  • A set of beliefs is at once a way of seeing the world more clearly while, at the same time, foreclosing an alternative vision. Lillian Rubin, in Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together (1983)
  • A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessments of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. Kathryn Schulz, in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010)

Schulz continued: “As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.”

  • The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to Androcles and the Lion (1916)

Shaw added: “The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.”

  • I have no faith in the sense of comforting beliefs which persuade me that all my troubles are blessings in disguise. Rebecca West, “I Believe,” in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1939)
  • Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false. Edward O. Wilson, in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)



  • “Belonging” is about finding that place where you finally let out a deep breath you had no idea you were holding and where you feel with great certainty that the people around you understand you. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)
  • What every one of us wants is communication, connection, never being left out, never being alone on a Saturday night or ever. More than Mallomars, more than hot sex, we want to belong. Cynthia Heimel, in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye (1993)

Heimel preceded the thought by writing: “There is one thing that humans strive for with every cell, every gene, every nerve fiber of our beings, No, not being more intelligent. Humans hate being smart, it makes us think about things, and if we think about things for more than a minute we become incurably despondent.”



  • Belligerence is the hallmark of insecurity—the secure nation does not need threat to maintain its position. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in What Eisenhower Thinks (1952; Allan Taylor, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Eisenhower’s observation—made before his presidency—applies equally well to individuals.






(see also BEST & WORST and [Doing One’s] BEST and EXCELLENCE and GOOD and QUALITY and QUALITY CONTROL)

  • Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit. Matthew Arnold, in Preface to Literature and Dogma (1873)
  • All things…are best to those who know no better. Samuel Butler (1613-80), in Prose Observations (1660-80)
  • In art the best is good enough. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a journal entry (March, 1787), Italian Journey (1816)
  • The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst. David Hume, in The Natural History of Religion (1757)
  • The best is the enemy of the good. Voltaire, a signature saying

QUOTE NOTE: The most respected reference sources disagree on the origin of this popular quotation. The Yale Book of Quotations cites a June 18, 1744 letter to the Duc de Richelieu. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (17th ed.) puts it in an entry on “Dramatic Arts” in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary (1764). And The MacMillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases cites the 1772 poem “La Bégueule” [“The Prude Woman”]. What all agree on, though, is that Voltaire was not offering the observation as his own. He attributed the saying to an “wise Italian” or, in some translations, an “Italian sage” (quotation expert Burton Stevenson believes he was referring to Boccaccio). Voltaire originally presented the saying in Italian (Il meglio, e l’inimico del bene), and several years later provided the familiar French version: Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. The saying is sometimes presented as the perfect is the enemy of the good, but that should not be regarded as an accurate version.

  • Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it. W. Somerset Maugham, a reflection of protagonist Richard Harenger, in the short story “The Treasure” (1940) in The Mixture as Before (1940)


(see also BEST and [Doing One’s] BEST and EXCELLENCE and GOOD and QUALITY and QUALITY CONTROL)

  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are filled with a passionate intensity. W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming,” written in 1919, first published in The Dial (November 1920); reprinted in Yeats’s 1921 book of verse, Michael Robartes and the Dancer.

[Doing One’s] BEST


  • The Supreme Ethical Rule: Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself. Felix Adler, in An Ethical Philosophy of Life: Presented in Its Main Outlines (1918)
  • I know when it’s the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it’s the best I can do. Maya Angelou, in 1990 Paris Review interview

Angelou continued: “I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, No. No, I’m finished. Bye. And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.”

  • Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Maya Angelou, quoted in Megan Angelou, “16 Unforgettable Things Maya Angelou Wrote and Said,” Glamour.com (May 28, 2014)
  • Do the best you can where you are; and, when that is accomplished, God will open a door for you, and a voice will call, “Come up hither into a higher sphere.” Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • Success isn’t outscoring someone, it’s the piece of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best. Gita Bellin, in A Sharing of Completion and Celebration (1983)
  • There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave,/There are souls that are pure and true;/Then give to the world the best you have,/And the best will come back to you. Madeleine Bridges, the poem “Life’s Mirror,” published in Life’s Echoes (1864/
  • The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in A Hero in Every Heart (1996; with Robin Spizman)
  • I think a child’s first attitude to the world is a simple love for all living things: and he will have learned that the best work a man can do is when he works for love’s sake only, with no thought of name, or gain, or earthly reward. Lewis Carroll, in the Introduction to Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1886)
  • Life is no always what one wants it to be, but to make the best of it, as it is, is the only way of being happy. Jennie Jerome Churchill, quoted in Ralph G. Martin, Jennie (1971)
  • The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)
  • Do you know that doing your best is not good enough? You have to know what to do. Then do your best. W. Edwards Deming, quoted in William W. Scherkenbach, The Deming Route to Quality and Productivity (1986)
  • We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our sacred human responsibility. Albert Einstein, in a conversation recorded by Algernon Black (Fall, 1940); reported in Alice Calaprice, The New Quotable Einstein (2005)
  • Strive to be the greatest Man in your Country, and you may be disappointed; strive to be the best, and you may succeed. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (January, 1747)

Franklin added: “He may well win the race that runs by himself.”

  • All true service is God’s service, when we do the best we can. We never know what miracle is wrought in our own life or the life of another. Helen Keller, quoted in Mary B. Lenhart, “My way of Finding Happiness,” in The Delineator magazine (May, 1915)

ERROR ALERT: These days, almost all internet sites omit the introductory words and present the quotation as if it were phrased this way: “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life or the life of another.”

  • If falls your lot to be a street sweeper in life, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures. Sweep streets like Michelangelo carved marble. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Overcoming an Inferiority Complex” sermon, Montgomery, Alabama (July 14, 1957)

In the sermon, delivered from the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. King continued: “Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’”

  • What’s terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better. Doris Lessing, the character Tommy Portmain speaking, in The Golden Notebook (1962)
  • There’s only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that the second-best is anything but the second-best. Doris Lessing, a reflection of the character Anna Wulf, in The Golden Notebook (1962)
  • I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, then ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Francis Bicknell Carpenter, Six Months at the White House (1872)
  • One of the great undiscovered joys of this life comes from doing everything one attempts to the best of one’s ability. There is a special sense of satisfaction, a pride in surveying such a work, a work which is rounded, full, exact, complete in its parts, which the superficial person who leaves his or her work in a slovenly, slipshod, half-finished condition, can never know. Og Mandino, in The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story (1988)

Mandino continued: “It is this conscientious completeness which turns any work into art. The smallest task well done becomes a miracle of achievement.”

  • No matter how trifling the matter on hand, do it with a feeling that it demands the best that is in you, and when done look it over with a critical eye, not sparing a strict judgment of yourself. William Osler, in Aphorisms from His Bedside Teachings and Writings (1961)

Osler preceded the thought by writing, “The artistic sense of perfection in work is another much-to-be-desired quality to be cultivated.”

  • At the very least, be the best. Hart Pomerantz, citing words from his mother, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 14, 2018)
  • To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. Steve Prefontaine, quoted Tom Jordan, Pre: America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (1977)
  • Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool: Thoughts from a Psychoanalyst’s Notebook (1976)
  • He who has done his best for his own time has lived for all times. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, in Prologue to Wallenstein’s Camp (1798)
  • The answer to the big questions in running is the same as the answer to the big questions in life: do the best with what you’ve got. George Sheehan, in George Sheehan on Running to Win (1992)
  • Your responsibility ends when you have made sure you are honest in will and intention, and are doing your best. Evelyn Underhill, in The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (1943)
  • My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Tuchy Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)
  • I still want what I've always wanted…to be the best person I can be. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Marianne Ruuth, Oprah Winfrey (2008)
  • Who does the best his circumstance allows/Does well, acts nobly; angels could no more. Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742–1745)



  • Best-sellerism is the star system of the book world. A “best seller” is a celebrity among books. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1962)

Boorstin added about a bestseller: “It is a book known primarily (sometimes exclusively) for its well-knownness.”

  • Best-sellers are about murder, money, revenge, ambition, and sex, sex, sex. So are literary novels. But best-selling authors give you more per page. Ken Follett, quoted in Barry Turner, The Writer’s Companion (1996)
  • A best-seller is the gilded tomb of a mediocre talent. Logan Pearsall Smith, in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • The principle of procrastinated rape is said to be the ruling one in all the great best-sellers. V. S. Pritchett, in The Living Novel (1946)



  • What its betrayal? They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience. Joseph Conrad, the character Razumov speaking, in Under Western Eyes (1911)
  • With some people there is such a thing as the habit of betrayal. Han Suyin, in And The Rain My Drink (1956)
  • There are different kinds of infidelity, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it. By betrayal, I mean promising to be on your side, then being on somebody else’s. Jeanette Winterson, the narrator and protagonist Jeannette speaking, in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
  • We have to mistrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal. Tennessee Williams, the character Marguerite Gautier speaking, in Camino Real (1953)




  • It is assumed that the skeptic has no bias; whereas he has a very obvious bias in favor of skepticism. G. K. Chesterton, “The Error of Impartiality,” in All Things Considered (1908)
  • Reality has a well-known liberal bias. Stephen Colbert, in remarks at White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (Washington, DC; April 29, 2006)
  • “Bias” is what somebody has when you disagree with his or her opinion. Hedley Donovan, the editor in-Chief of Life magazine from 1965 to 1979, in Right Time, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: Several years later (Jan. 15, 1995), noted news broadcaster David Brinkley expressed a similar thought in a CNN interview: “A biased opinion is one you don’t agree with.”

  • I discovered when I had a child of my own that I had become a biased observer of small children. Instead of looking at them with affectionate but nonpartisan eyes, I saw each of them as older or younger, bigger or smaller, more or less graceful, intelligent, or skilled than my own child. Margaret Mead, in Blackberry Winter (1972)
  • There is no neutrality. There is only greater or less awareness of one’s bias. Phyllis Rose, in Writing of Women: Essays in a Renaissance (1985)
  • To my mind, a man without a bias cannot write interesting history—if, indeed, such a man exists. I regard it as mere humbug to pretend to a lack of bias. Bertrand Russell, in Autobiography, Vol. 2 (1968)

[Confirmation] BIAS


  • Our brains have evolved to crave information consistent with what we already believe. We seek out and focus on facts and arguments that support our beliefs. More worrisome, when we are trapped in confirmation bias, we may not consciously perceive facts that challenge us, that are inconsistent with what we have already concluded. James Comey, in A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018)
  • We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions, to which I know that I do not belong, we are influenced, and sometimes strongly, by our personal bias; and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we have to defend. August Krogh, in 1929 address at the XIII International Congress of Physiological Sciences, quoted in Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen, August and Marie Krogh: Lives in Science (1995)
  • The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out or stumble upon a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it the representative of a whole class. Walter Lippmann, “The Detection of Stereotypes,” in Public Opinion (1922)
  • Policy is formed by preconceptions, by long implanted biases. When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood. Barbara W. Tuchman, in Practicing History (1981)



  • The Bible has been interpreted to justify such evil practices as, for example, slavery, the slaughter of prisoners of war, the sadistic murders of women believed to be witches, capital punishment for hundreds of offenses, polygamy, and cruelty to animals. Steve Allen, in Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality (1990)

Allen continued: “It has been used to encourage belief in the grossest superstition and to discourage the free teaching of scientific truths. We must never forget that both good and evil flow from the Bible. It is therefore not above criticism.”

  • If you suspect that my interest in the Bible is going to inspire me with sudden enthusiasm for Judaism and make me a convert of mountain‐moving fervor and that I shall suddenly grow long earlocks and learn Hebrew and go about denouncing the heathen—you little know the effect of the Bible on me. Properly read, it is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived. Isaac Asimov, quoted in Janet Jeppson Asimov, in Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing (2006)
  • The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond; but, if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. Henry Ward Beecher, In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. Henry Ward Beecher, In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • The only good thing ever done by a committee was the King James Version. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Nicole Smith, in Bingo (1999)
  • The Bible may be the truth, but it is not the whole truth, nor is it nothing but the truth. Samuel Butler (1835-1902), in Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1934; A. T. Bartholomew, ed.)
  • If you search the bible, you will find no reference to birth control or gay marriage, and you will not find a word, strangely, about stem cell research. I have searched. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Freethought Today (2012)
  • The bible is a sealed book to him who has not first heard its laws from his soul. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “Trust Yourself” sermon at Second Church of Boston (Dec. 3, 1830)
  • Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John, and Paul. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (July 21, 1836)
  • The Old Testament is the record of men’s conviction that God speaks directly to men. Edith Hamilton, in Spokesmen for God (1949)
  • It is tiresome to keep hearing that the Bible is “the best-selling book” of all time, as though the fact that many people buy it indicates that they read it, understand it or follow it. Sydney J. Harris in For the Time Being (1972)
  • The Bible gives me a deep, comforting sense that “things seen are temporal, and things unseen are eternal.” Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • There is much in the Bible against which every instinct of my being rebels, so much that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to read it through from beginning to end. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)

Keller continued: “I do not think that the knowledge which I have gained of its history and sources compensates me for the unpleasant details it has forced upon my attention.”

  • It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. C. S. Lewis, in a letter (Nov. 8, 1952)
  • The English Bible—a book which everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power. Thomas Babington Macaulay in On John Dryden (1828)
  • The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counterattractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course. A. A. Milne, in Year In, Year Out (1952)
  • I picked up the Bible and read it from cover to cover one weekend—just as if it were a novel—very rapidly, and I’ve never gotten over the shock of it. The miracles, the inconsistencies, the improbabilities, the impossibilities, the wretched history, the sordid sex, the sadism in it—the whole thing shocked me profoundly. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, in Playboyinterview (1962)
  • A cat and a Bible, and nobody needs to be lonely. Mary Roberts Rinehart, the voice of the narrator, in the title story, The Frightened Wife (1953)
  • The Bible is literature, not dogma. George Santayana, in the Introduction to The Ethics of Spinoza (1910)
  • The Bible and Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in an 1896 issue of Free Thought Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. Mark Twain, quoted in Alex Ayres, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)
  • The Bible is like a once fearsome lion that, not toothless and declawed, can be petted and teased. John Updike, “Stones Into Bread: Norman Mailer and the Temptation of Christ,” New Yorker magazine (May 12, 1997)
  • I read the Bible to understand what is happening today. Eli Wiesel, in a National Press Club speech (May 20, 1997)
  • The Bible writers didn’t care that they were bunching together sequences some of which were historical, some preposterous, and some downright manipulative. Faithful recording was not their business; faith was. Jeanette Winterson, in Boating for Beginners (1985)



  • A careful blending of sarcasm, irony, and teasing, bickering has its own distinctive cadence and rhythm and is as difficult to master as French, Spanish, or any elective second language. Linda Sunshine, “Mom Loves Me Best” (And Other Lies You Told Your Sister) (1990)

Sunshine continued: “Like Chinese, the fine points of bickering can be discerned in the subtle rise and fall of the voice. If not practiced properly, bickering can be mistaken for its less sophisticated counterpart: whining.”



  • I think it [the bicycle] has done a great deal to emancipate women. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of freedom, self-reliance and independence…and away she goes, the the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood. Susan B. Anthony, an 1898 remark, quoted in Lynn Sherr, Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (1995)
  • Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: All over the internet, this quotation is wrongly attributed to H. G. Wells. Even though Wells was a bicycle enthusiast, there is no evidence he ever said or wrote such a thing. For more, go to: Quote Investigator

  • A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. Irina Dunn, graffito (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, but it was originally authored by Dunn, an Australian writer, filmmaker, and politician. In 1970, Dunn scrawled the bicycle analogy on the walls of two women’s restrooms in Sydney, Australia. A few years ago, she told a reporter, “I only wrote it in those two spots, and it spread around the world.” The quotation is a wonderful example of how a well-crafted analogy can take on a life of its own and capture the imagination of millions.

  • What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. Steve Jobs, in 1990 presentation on “Memory & Imagination”; reprinted in I Steve: Steve Jobs, In His Own Words (2011; Geroge Beahm, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: To see Jobs deliver the line in a “classroom” presentation, go to: Bicycle For Our MInds

  • The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine. John Howard, in The Cyclist’s Companion (1984)
  • Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • Alert and purposeful, Maggie McGilligan approached her bike as a warrior would a respected opponent. Keeping her eyes on the overloaded front basket, she took a deep breath, gripped the chest-high handlebars of the rusted, crusted relic, and strained to drag the beast away from the school stand. Echo Lewis, the opening lines of A Long Way from Welcome (2002)
  • It’s awesome to realize that if your greatest potential talent is for riding a bicycle upside down on a high wire, you will somehow discover it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. Iris Murdoch, the character Christopher Bellman speaking, in The Red and the Green (1965)
  • Buying a bicycle is a momentous event, akin to marriage: you are acquiring a partner. Dervla Murphy, in South From the Limpopo (1997)
  • Show business is like riding a bicycle—when you fall off, the best thing to do is get up, brush yourself off and get back on again. Gilda Radner, in It’s Always Something (1989)
  • The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created: Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon. Bill Strickland, in The QuotabLe Cyclist (1997)
  • When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle. Elizabeth West, in Hovel in the Hills: An Account of the “Simple Life” (1977)
  • The bicycle is the steed that never tires, and is “mettlesome” in the fullest sense of the word. It is full of tricks and capers, and to hold his head steady and make him prance to suit you is no small accomplishment. Frances E. Willard, in A Wheel Within a Wheel (1895)

In her book, Willard also offered these other thoughts:

“If I am asked to explain why I learned the bicycle I should say I did it as an act of grace, if not of actual religion.”

“As a temperance reformer I always felt a strong attraction toward the bicycle, because it is the vehicle of so much harmless pleasure, and because the skill required in handling it obliges those who mount to keep clear heads and steady hands.”



  • Bigamy is nothing to a woman. She is wedded to her art and a man simultaneously. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Phases, Mazes, and Crazes of Love (1904)
  • Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same. AUTHOR UNKNOWN

QUOTE NOTE: This is the female version of the saying, and the one offered by Erica Jong in an epigraph to a chapter in her classic Fear of Flying (1973). There is a male version of the saying is well, the wording of which replaces husband with wife.



  • Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. Maya Angelou, in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Angelou was almost certainly inspired by a popular 1869 quotation from Mark Twain (to be seen below)

  • Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a diary entry (June 20, 1831)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically presented and, while it is accurate, it was originally the conclusion to a slightly larger observation: “A man may die by fever as well as by consumption, and religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference.”

  • I made a comparison at table some time since, which has often been quoted, and received many compliments. It was that of the mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is frequently misattributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who referred to the saying from time to time, but was not its author. Most internet sites also mistakenly phrase the thought this way: “The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.”

  • Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Adams, Aug. 1, 1816)

QUOTE NOTE: Jefferson’s more complete thought was as follows: “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education & free discussion are the antidotes of both.”

  • The doctrine which, from the very first origin of religious dissensions, has been held by all bigots of all sects, when condensed into a few words and stripped of rhetorical disguise, is simply this: I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me, for it is your duty to tolerate truth; but when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you, for it is my duty to persecute error. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Sir James Mackintosh,” in Edinburgh Review (July, 1835); reprinted in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1843)
  • I cannot help mentioning that the door of a bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly. Ogden Nash, in Good Intentions (1942)
  • Stupidity is the petri dish of bigotry. Jamie Seagle, in a personal communication to the compiler (June 2, 2018)
  • Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hand/With a grip that kills it. Rabindranath Tagore, in Fireflies (1928)
  • Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Mark Twain, “Conclusion,” in The Innocents Abroad (1869)

Twain continued: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”


(see also BEACH and TANNING and SWIMMING)

  • A bikini is like a barbed-wire fence. It protects the property without obstructing the view. Joey Adams, in Strictly for Laughs (1981)

ERROR ALERT: I helped perpetuate a common error when I mistakenly used the phrase disturbing the view in my 2008 book I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.




  • Writing biography is a one-way transaction in friendship. Gay Wilson Allen, the biographer of Emerson, William James, & Walt Whitman, quoted in New York Times obituary (Aug. 8, 1995)
  • The biographer becomes the subject’s closest ally and bitterest enemy. Paula R. Backscheider, in Reflections on Biography (2000)

About biographers, Backscheider added: “They become closer than mother, wife, school friend; they see through the subject’s eyes, try to feel exactly what hurt about each painful event. But only an enemy touches the very soul, probes until the deepest, most shameful secrets and the most raw aches lie exposed, trembling in the light under the surgeon’s dissecting tool.”

  • Biography should be written by an acute enemy. Arthur James Balfour, quoted in The Observer (London; Jan. 30, 1927)
  • And kept his heart a secret to the end/From all the picklocks of biographers. Stephen Vincent Benét, of Robert E. Lee, in John Brown’s Body (1928)
  • The shadow in the garden. Saul Bellow, his description of biographer James Atlas, in James Atlas, “The Shadow in the Garden,” The New Yorker (June 26, 1995)
  • In every picture there should be shade as well as light. James Boswell, on writing a biography, in Introduction to The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Boswell’s goal was to describe his subject “more completely than any man who has ever yet lived” (and, in truth, many believe he achieved his goal). Boswell added: “He will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not his panegyric, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect.” Despite his intention to avoid a panegyric, Boswell was later accused of developing a “disease of admiration” for his subject (see the Macaulay entry below).

  • A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one. Thomas Carlyle, referring to biographies, “Jean Paul Friedrich Richter,” in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1838)

In that same essay, and still on the topic of biographies, Carlyle added: “There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”

  • Biographies are likely to be either acts of worship or acts of destruction. And the best ones have elements of both. Humphrey Carpenter, quoted in John Batchelor, The Art of Literary Biography (1995)
  • I could not pin him down to a conventional biographical text like a dead insect. Humphrey Carpenter, on his biography of Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, quoted in Sunday Telegraph (London, Sep. 15, 1996)
  • A good biographer should combine the skills of the novelist and the detective, and add to them the patience and compassion of the priest. Gerald Clarke, in “Biography Comes of Age,” Time (July 2, 1979)

Later in his essay, Clarke wrote: “The biographer must be close enough to sympathize, but far enough away to see clearly, to explain but not to defend or attack. He is literature’s high-wire performer. A false step this way or that and he loses his balance—and his book.”

  • When a reader steps into a novel, he is walking into the writer's imagination. When he opens a biography, he is entering two lives; the subject and his biographer are like twins who will remain together until the pages turn to dust. Gerald Clarke, “Biography Comes of Age,” Time (July 2, 1979)
  • Biography at its best is a form of fiction. Robertson Davies, in The Lyre of Orpheus (1988)
  • Biography seemed to be no more than a high-spirited game of yanking out shirttails and setting fire to them. Bernard De Voto, quoted in Gerald Clarke, “Biography Comes of Age,” Time (July 2, 1979)
  • Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. Benjamin Disraeli, the father’s advice to the protagonist, in Contarini Fleming (1832)
  • Biographies generally are a disease of English literature. George Eliot, in letter to Mrs. T. A. Trollope (Dec. 19, 1879)
  • Biography is history seen through the prism of a person. Louis Fischer, in 1965 speech at National Book Awards, accepting History and Biography Award for The Life of Lenin (1964)
  • A writer’s life stands in relation to his work as a house does to a garden, related but distinct. It is the business of critical biography to make the two overlap—to bring some of the furniture out to the garden, as it were, and spread flowers all over the house. Mavis Gallant, in Paris Notebooks: Essays and Reviews (1986)
  • The facts of life are to the biographer what the text of a novel is to the critic. Victoria Glendinning, quoted by John Haffenden in Times Literary Supplement (Feb. 23, 1996)
  • However you disguise novels, they are always biographies. William Golding, “Universal Pessimist, Cosmic Optimist” (interview by MaryLynn Scott), in Aurora Online (1990)
  • Good biography requires the psychologist’s eye, the historian’s nose, the novelist’s feel for narrative. A. C. Grayling, “Philosophy With Warts,” in The New York Times Book Review (Dec. 29, 1996).

Grayling added about biography: “It is a form of highly organized gossip, and the more private corners the biographer can wriggle into—especially the dark ones—the better the resulting book.”

  • Biography is a very definite region, bounded on the north by history, on the south by fiction, on the east by obituary, and on the west by tedium. Philip Guedalla, quoted in The Observer (London, March 3, 1929)
  • Biography, like big game hunting, is one of the recognized forms of sport, and it is as unfair as only sport can be. Philip Guedalla, in Supers and Supermen (1920)
  • Biographers, the quick in pursuit of the dead, research, organize, fill in, contradict and make in this way a sort of completed picturepuzzle with all the scramble turned into a blue eye and the parts of the right leg fitted together. Elizabeth Hardwick, “What She Was and What She Felt Like,” in The New York Times (Nov. 7, 1982)

Hardwick continued: “They also make a consistent fiction, the fiction being the arrangement, artful or clumsy, of the documents.”

  • A biography is like a hand-shake down the years that can become an arm-wrestle. Richard Holmes, remark in “Waterson’s Literary Debate” (Oct. 16, 1990), quoted in Sunday Times (London, Oct. 21, 1990)
  • I hate biographies; they always end badly. William Huber, in Adolph Sutro: King of the Comstock Lode and Mayor of San Francisco (2020)
  • My sole wish is to frustrate as utterly as possible the post-mortem exploiter. Henry James, on biographers, in a letter (April 7, 1914)
  • On the trail of another man, the biographer must put up with finding himself at every turn: any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it. Paul Murray Kendall, in The Art of Biography (1965)

In his book, Kendall also offered this thought on members of his profession: “The biographer does not trust his witnesses, living or dead. He may drip with the milk of human kindness, believe everything that his wife and his friends and his children tell him, enjoy his neighbors and embrace the universe — but in the workshop he must be as ruthless as a board meeting smelling out embezzlement, as suspicious as a secret agent riding the Simplon-Orient Express, as cold-eyed as a pawnbroker viewing a leaky concertina. With no respect for human dignity, he plays off his witnesses one against the other, snoops for additional information to confront them with, probes their prejudices and their pride, checks their reliability against their self-interest, thinks the worst until he is permitted to think better.”

  • Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon. Walter Lippmann, in A Preface to Politics (1913)
  • A biographer is an artist who is on oath. Desmond MacCarthy, quoted in Gerald Clarke, “Biography Comes of Age,” Time (July 2, 1979)
  • Biographers, translators, editors—all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the writings of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Lues Boswelliana, or disease of admiration. Thomas Babington Macaulay, in Edinburgh Review (1834)

This observation appeared in a review of Francis Thackeray’s 1827 biography of William Pitt. Macaulay added: “But we scarcely remember ever to have seen a patient so far gone in this distemper as Mr. Thackeray.” Macaulay’s inventive analogy was derived from biographer James Boswell’s great admiration for his subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Lues (pronounced LOO-eeze or LOO-ez) is Latin for “plague, affliction.” Now rarely used, it once showed up frequently in descriptions of syphilis and other venereal diseases.

  • There is no life that can be recaptured wholly; as it was. Which is to say that all biography is ultimately fiction. Bernard Malamud, in Dubin’s Lives (1979)

Malamud introduced the observation by writing: “The past exudes legend: one can’t make pure clay of time’s mud.” In The Lyre of Orpheus (1988), Robertson Davies echoed the thought: “Biography at its best is a form of fiction.”

  • A burglar at the subject’s keyhole, shamelessly marketing voyeuristic delights. Janet Malcolm, on biographers, quoted by Barbara Johnson, in “Real Absences,” London Review of Books (Oct. 19, 1995)
  • A great biography should, like the close of a great drama, leave behind it a feeling of serenity. André Maurois, in “The Writer’s Craft,” in The Art of Writing (1960)

Maurois added: “We collect into a small bunch the flowers, the few flowers, which brought sweetness into a life, and present it as an offering to an accomplished destiny. It is the dying refrain of a completed song, the final verse of a finished poem.”

  • After a certain number of years, our faces become our biographies. We get to be responsible for our faces. Cynthia Ozick, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1987)
  • Biography is in some ways the most brutish of all the arts. It shifts about uncomfortably in the strangely uncertain middle ground between deliberate assassination and helpless boot-licking. Dennis Potter, quoted in The Times (London; Feb. 24, 1968)
  • Biographies are like anthologies, especially anthologies of poetry. One’s eyes are magnetically directed to what ought to be there but isn’t, as well as to what oughtn’t to be there but is. Mary Stocks, in Still More Commonplace (1973)
  • Biography is the mesh through which real life escapes. Tom Stoppard, in The Invention of Love (1997)
  • Discretion is not the better part of biography. Lytton Strachey, tweaking the familiar saying about valor, in Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey, Vol. 1 (1967)
  • Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man—the biography of the man himself cannot be written. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Vol. I (1924; A. B. Paine, ed.)

Twain introduced the thought by writing: “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts . . . are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world . . . . The mass of him is hidden—it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written.”

  • A biography should be a dissection and demonstration of how a particular human being was made and worked. H. G. Wells, in Experiment in Autobiography (1934)
  • Biography is a form by which little people take revenge on big people. Edmund White, on BBC-TV’s Bookmark (March 9, 1996)

White introduced the observation by saying: “Along comes this little petty bourgeois biographer who has a totally uninteresting life herself or himself and who tries to measure this giant by their own pygmy standards.”

  • Every great man nowadays has his disciple, and it is usually Judas who writes the biography. Oscar Wilde, “The Butterfly’s Boswell,” in Art Journal (April 20, 1887); reprinted in The Critic as Artist (1891)
  • A biographer is like a contractor who builds roads: it’s terribly messy, mud everywhere, and when you get done, people travel over the road at a fast clip. Arthur M. Wilson, quoted in Israel Shenker, “Book-Prize Winners Loved Their Subjects,” The New York Times (April 15, 1973)
  • Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and endears. Virginia Woolf, “The Art of Biography,” in The Death of the Moth (1942)



  • If there is one thing that is bipartisan in Washington, it is brazen hypocrisy. Thomas Sowell, “Supreme Hypocrisy,” in Townhall.com (March 29, 2016)



  • Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song. Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage, in which Carson was describing the environmentally devastating effects of chemical insecticides, served as the inspiration for the title of her book, a landmark work that resulted in the banning of DDT and the establishment of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Birds! birds! Ye are beautiful things,/With your earth-treading feet and your cloud-cleaving wings! Eliza Cook, “Birds,” in The Poetical Works of Eliza Cook (1848)
  • If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages. Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), “The Deluge at Norderney,” in Seven Gothic Tales (1934)
  • How pleasant the lives of the birds must be,/Living in love in a leafy tree! Mary Hewitt, “Birds in Summer,” in Ballads and Other Poems (1847)
  • They are, after all, one of the most graceful of life's fragile diversions. P. D. James, the voice of the narrator, describing birds, in The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982)
  • Butterflies and birds are like one perfect teaspoon of creation. Anne Lamott, in Stiches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair (2013)
  • Only to the rude ear of one who is quite indifferent does the song of a bird seem always the same. Rosa Luxemburg, in Prison Letters to Sophie Liebknecht (1917)
  • Birds are very busy at one period each year caring for babies, but this lasts only a few weeks with many of them, and then their babies are grown and gone. Margaret Morse Nice, in Research Is a Passion With Me (1970)

Nice continued: “Best of all, they leave their houses forever and take to camping for the rest of the year. No wonder they are happy.”

  • To a man, ornithologists are tall, slender, and bearded so that they can stand motionless for hours, imitating kindly trees, as they watch for birds. Gore Vidal, “Mongolia!” in Armageddon? Essays 1983–1987 (1987)
  • Few things are more stimulating than the sight of the forceful wings of large birds cleaving the vagueness of air and making the piled clouds a mere background for their concentrated life. Mary Webb, in The Spring of Joy: A Little Book of Healing (1917)
  • “Did St. Francis preach to the birds?” asked Kate. “Whatever for? If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to cats.” Rebecca West, in This Real Night (1984)




  • Countless birds seem to be auditioning for their jobs. Large glossy crows sound as if they’re gagging on lengths of flannel. Blackbirds quibble nonstop from the telephone wires, where they perch like a run of eighth notes. Diane Ackerman, in Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden (2001)
  • Morning has broken, like the first morning./Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. Eleanor Farjeon, in the hymn “Morning Has Broken” (1931)

QUOTE NOTE: Farjeon is best remembered as a children’s author, but she also wrote plays, poetry, history, biography, and “Morning Has Broken,” a now-classic song, thanks to the version done by Cat Stevens on his 1971 album, “Teaser and the Firecat.” In writing the song, Farjeon simply put words to a traditional Scottish/Gaelic tune mamed “Bunessan.”

  • “What is that?” I gasped, nearly blinded by the unexpected vermillion patches on the blackbird’s epaulets. I watched as the bird threw back its head, opened wide its beak and let out a sound so primal it left me marvelling: this was as close as I’d ever stand to dinosaurs. If this bird had been here all along, I thought, what else had I been missing? Julia Zarankin, in Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder (2020)


  • Somewhere over the rainbow/Bluebirds fly,/Birds fly over the rainbow/Why then oh why can’t I? E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, lyrics from the 1939 song “Over the Rainbow.”


  • Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Harper Lee, protagonist Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)


  • You know that if I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back as a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything. William Faulkner, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1956)
  • The children…scattered in every direction, crying as they ran on, only to creep back after a moment drawn by that prurient curiosity which is the one natural tie left between the buzzard and man. Fannie E. Newberry, in Joyce’s Investment: A Story for Girls (1989)


  • Cormorants are hated. In one popular anti-cormorant treatise, the bird is blamed for its very existence: “A war is being waged between the interests of sport fishermen and a predatory bird that has no local natural enemy. The bird’s sole purpose is to reproduce and eat fish.” Of course, obtaining food and reproducing are two primary goals of any species, including our own. Lyanda Lynn Haupt, in Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds (2001)


  • The breed is more than the pasture. As you know, the cuckoo lays her eggs in any bird’s nest; it may be hatched among blackbirds or robins or thrushes, but it is always a cuckoo. Amelia E. Barr, in The Belle of Bowling Green (1904)

Barr went on to write: “A man cannot deliver himself from his ancestors.”


  • The voice of the duck is the glory of the marshes. Proverb (Sumerian) [3rd c. BC]
  • How fleeting are all human passions compared with the massive continuity of ducks. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Gaudy Night (1936)


  • When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head! William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93)
  • Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings? T. S. Eliot, in the 1930 poem “Ash Wednesday”
  • I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country…. The turkey…is a much more respectable bird. Benjamin Franklin, in a latter to Sarah Bache (Jan. 26, 1784)


  • Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. J. M. Barrie, in Peter Pan (1904)
  • The flamingoes are the most delicately colored of all the African birds, pink and red like a flying twig of an oleander bush. Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), in Out of Africa (1937)

In this memoir of her seventeen years in Kenya, Blixen (who wrote novels under the pen name Isak Dinesen), continued: “They have incredibly long legs and bizarre and recherché curves of their necks and bodies, as if from some exquisite traditional prudery they were making all attitudes and movements in life as difficult as possible.” The Dictionary of Unfamiliar Words says about recherché: “A French word meaning searched out, used to describe something rare, refined, or affected.”


  • Far overhead sounded a voluminous prolonged cry, like a great trumpet call. Wild geese flying still farther north, to a region beyond human warmth…beyond even human isolation. [ellipsis in original] Martha Ostenso, the voice of the narrator, in Wild Geese (1925)


  • Last week, when I went early into my garden, a rose-breasted grosbeak was sitting on the fence. Oh, he was beautiful as a flower. I hardly dared to breathe, I did not stir, and we gazed at each other fully five minutes before he concluded to move. Celia Thaxter, in a letter to a friend, quoted in Annie Fields and Rose Lamb, Letters of Celia Thaxter (1895)


  • Gulls present a unique challenge, not only because most of them look similar, but also because plumage varies drastically depending on the age of a bird. To think that a juvenile and adult herring gull are related is to suspend disbelief in earnest. Julia Zarankin, in Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder (2020)


  • “That’s a great white heron,” my father told me. “As close to an angel as a bird can get.” Kathryn Davis, in “Sanna,” a modern retelling of the Intuit myth of Sedna, in Kate Bernheimer, xo Orpheus (2013)


  • The kingfisher was a murderous bird, a kind of flying jackknife. Rosemary Mahoney, in Down the Nile Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff (2007)


  • The mocking bird [sic] is music-mad to-night,/He thinks the stars are notes;/That he must sing each spattered star, and be/A choir of many throats. Grace Noll Crowell, in the poem “Music-Mad,” Good Housekeeping magazine (1923; specific issue undetermined)

The poem continued: “The earth is his cathedral, and its dome/Is all the light-pricked sky;/The pear-tree is his choir loft, and there/He flings his mad songs high.”

  • Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Harper Lee, protagonist Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Harper Lee, the character Miss Maudie speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Then from the neighboring thicket the mocking-bird, wildest of singers,/Swinging aloft on a willow spray that hung o'er the water,/Shook from his little throat such floods of delirious music,/That the whole air and the woods and the waves seemed silent to listen, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847)


  • When a nightingale sits up all night singing to his wife, and singing very well, too, you can't make me believe that aesthetic values of a very high order are not present. Alfred North Whitehead, in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1956; Lucien Price, ed.)


  • Healthy parakeets have the nervous energy of tennis players. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)


  • The parrot eyed me slyly and malevolently, like a wrongdoer who hears his lawyer praising him in court. Gertrude Diamond, in The Days of Ofelia (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: Diamond offered this thought during a trip to Mexico, when she encountered a merchant who was selling a parrot named Leopoldo. Diamond preceded the thought by writing: “‘He is well behaved, señora,’ the old man said when he sold it to me. ‘He is not vulgar. He will never embarrass you.’”


  • I find penguins at present the only comfort in life. One feels everything in the world so sympathetically ridiculous; one can't be angry when one looks at a penguin. John Ruskin, in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton (Nov. 4, 1860), in Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton (1904).


  • No bird sits [on] a tree more proudly than a pigeon. It looks as though placed there by the Lord. Katherine Mansfield, a journal entry, in The Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927)


  • See! From the brake the whirring pheasant springs,/And mounts exulting on triumphant wings:/Short is his joy; he feels the fiery wound,/Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground. Alexander Pope, in Windsor Forest (1713)


  • A robin red breast in a cage/Puts all heaven in a rage. William Blake, in the poem “Auguries of Innocence” (1803)
  • With the coming of the first robin a peculiar elation possesses me. However blustering and snowy the March winds, they cannot fool me now. Mrs. William Starr Dana, in According to Season: A Celebration of Nature (1894)

Mrs. Dana continued: “Youth and hope assert their eternal sway and melt the frozen rills of my being as surely as the sunshine is breaking up every brook that must find its way to the sea.” In her book, she also offered this thought: “The first dandelions touch the heart-strings in much the same way as do the early notes of the robin, their blessed familiarity impressing us like a happy surprise.”

  • Never till one gray evening last week, when the world seemed cold and dreary, did I identify the robin as the Beethoven of birds. Anne Bosworth Greene, in The Lone Winter (1923)

Greene continued: “His cheeriness, his habit of singing when other choristers are abed, are of course familiar; but the sweet reasonableness of that song, noble, true, and strong, had never appealed to me as it did while I stood listening, quite alone.”


  • Those Rooks, dear, from morning till night,/They seem to do nothing but quarrel and fight,/And wrangle and jangle, and plunder. Dinah Craik, “The Blackbird and the Rooks,” in Thirty Years, Poems New and Old (1880)


  • A screaming, sooty, scythe-winged, short-tailed sprite, that makes a swallow seem slow. James Fisher, describing a swift, in Bird Recognition (1957)


  • Conceited brutes. They always look as though they’d just been reading their own fan-mail. Jan Struther, the title character describing swans, in Mrs Miniver (1939)


  • The tit is as gay as a wild beast. It is meticulous in the manner of those model housekeepers who fly into a rage if there is a stain on the parquet: the threshold of her nest does not bear a trace of white droppings. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in Journey for Myself (1944)

Colette continued: “Fierce? How pretty she is when she kills! The worm snatched, she finishes it off with repeated blows and cuts it up with an executioner’s fairness. Fierce, yes, no more and no less than innumerable lovers.”


  • A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far has God partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what and angel means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished. G. K. Chesterton, “Christmas,” in All Things Considered (1908)
  • I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country…. The turkey…is a much more respectable bird. Benjamin Franklin, in a latter to Sarah Bache (Jan. 26, 1784)


  • Wrens are the dumpster divers of the avian world, picking delicacies like caterpillar larvae and beetle meat out of thorny scrub; gnawing down on pebbles and mud. Wrens are sharp-beaked scavengers. They scurry quickly like mice. They are driftless. Mal Wrenn Corbin, in Raising Wrenns: A Memoir (2024)

Corbin preceded the observation by writing: “Wrens are scrappy little birds renowned for the way they flitter from place to place, building shallow rooted nests wherever they land: in old leather boots, sawed off soup cans, cardboard boxes, or old drain pipes.”

Corbin’s wonderful description of wrens appears in the Prologue to her 2024 memoir Raising Wrenns: A Memoir. The opening line of the book is: “It is no accident that my family’s namesake is the wren.”

  • For the poor wren,/The most diminutive of birds, will fight,/Her young ones in her nest, against the owl. William Shakespeare, in Macbeth (1605)
  • Among the dwellings framed by birds/In field or forest with nice care,/Is none that with the little wren’s/In snugness may compare. William Wordsworth, in the poem “A Wren’s Nest” (1801)



  • I should be foolish to release the bird I have in my hand in order to pursue another. Aesop, “The Nightingale and the Hawk,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Success is full of promise till men get it; and then it is a last year’s nest from which the bird has flown. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present the quotation as if it read simply it is last year’s nest.

  • Young birds on their first flight. Georges Bernanos, on adolescence, in The Diary of a Country Priest (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: I found this wonderful phrase in a slightly longer passage that went this way: “What a cunning mixture of sentiment, pity, tenderness, irony surrounds adolescence, what knowing watchfulness! Young birds on their first flight are hardly so hovered around.”

  • The bird of paradise alights only upon the hand that does not grasp. John Berry, on achieving happiness, in Flight of White Crows: Stories, Tales, and Paradoxes (1961)
  • I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you. Charlotte Brontë, the title character speaking to Mr. Rochester, in Jane Eyre (1847)
  • One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

QUOTE NOTE: Bunyan is often cited as the author of this proverbial saying, but he was simply passing along a sentiment that had been around for nearly four centuries.

  • Like dogs in a wheel, birds in a cage, or squirrels in a chain, they still climb and climb, with great labor, and incessant anxiety, but never reach the top. Robert Burton, on ambitious men, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621–51)

ERROR ALERT: In almost all quotation collections, this quotation is wrongly worded as Ambitious men still climb and climb. It is clear that Burton was referring to ambitious men, though. Just prior to this quotation, he wrote: “The mind, in short, of an ambitious man is never satisfied; his soul is harassed with unceasing anxieties, and his heart harrowed up by increasing disquietude.”

  • Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • A man without ambition is like a bird without wings. He can never soar in the heights above, but must walk like a weakling, unnoticed, with the crowds below. Walter H. Cottingham, “The Greatest Game in the World,” in System: The Magazine of Business (Dec., 1908)

Cottingham continued: “He never feels the thrill of enthusiasm which pulsates through the veins of the ambitious man as he presses forward in the exciting struggle to reach his aim.”

QUOTE NOTE: For more on the Cottingham quotation and a peek at how the concept of a bird without wings has shown up in metaphorical observations about other subjects, see this 2015 post by Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator.

  • I’ve always imagined fear as being a blackbird beating its wings inside me. Chloe Gartner, in Anne Bonny (1977)



  • I think of birth as the search for a larger apartment. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)
  • No phallic hero, no matter what he does to himself or to another to prove his courage, ever matches the solitary, existential courage of the woman who gives birth. Andrea Dworkin, “The Sexual Politics of Fear and Courage,” address at Queens College, City University of New York (March 12, 1975); reprinted in Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1976)
  • The act of birth is the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety. Sigmund Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)



  • And, of course, with the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth—the critic. Mel Brooks, from the film History of the World, Part I (1981)
  • Achievement, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • All birth is unwilling. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1943)
  • A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas—a place where history comes to life. Norman Cousins, “The Need for Continuity,” in ALA Bulletin (Oct., 1954)
  • Every time that I write a novel I am convinced for at least two years that it is the last one, because a novel is like a child. It takes two years after its birth. You have to take care of it. It starts walking, and then speaking. Umberto Eco, quoted by Andrew Martin in “Umberto Eco on ‘The Prague Cemetery,’” The Paris Review Daily (Nov. 15, 2011)
  • To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime. Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology (1968)
  • The use of our reading is to aid us in thinking. The perusal of a particular work gives birth, perhaps, to ideas unconnected with the subject of which it treats. Edward Gibbon, “Abstract of My Readings” (March 14, 1761), in The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq. (1837)
  • Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future (1940)
  • It is not for nothing that artists have called their works the children of their brains and likened the pains of production to the pains of childbirth. W. Somerset Maugham, in Mr. Maugham Himself (1954)
  • The births of all things are weak and tender, and therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580-88)
  • The development of the individual can be described as a succession of new births at consecutively higher levels. Maria Montessori, quoted in E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work (1962)
  • Ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child. Carl Sandburg, quoted in Reader’s Digest (Feb., 1978)
  • Kindness gives birth to kindness. Sophocles, in Ajax (5th c. B.C.)
  • A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in On Love (1822)
  • Life commences not with birth, but with the onslaught of awareness. Frank Yerby, in Judas, My Brother (1968)
  • The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools. Marguerite Yourcenar, a reflection of the title character, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)



  • After age twelve, birthdays should be as private as hernia surgery. Erma Bombeck, in The Best of Bombeck (1967)
  • Yet, when all is said and done, birthdays are mere records of time, not registers of distance. They are chronometers, not speedometers. They tell us how long we have been upon the road, not how far we have travelled. F. W. Boreham, “So It’s Your Birthday!” in The Tide Comes In (1958)
  • The first fact about the celebration of a birthday is that it is a way of affirming defiantly, and even flamboyantly, that it is a good thing to be alive. G. K. Chesterton, “Our Birthday,” in G. K.’s Weekly (March 21, 1933)
  • It is lovely, when I forget all birthdays, including my own, to find that somebody remembers me. Ellen Glasgow, in 1936 letter to J. Donald Adams, in Letters of Ellen Glasgow (1958; Blair Rouse, ed.)
  • There is still no cure for the common birthday. John Glenn, at age 75, announcing his retirement from the U. S. Senate at the end of his current term; in a speech in New Concord, Ohio (Feb. 20, 1997), and later quoted in Time magazine
  • Her birthdays were always important to her; for being a born lover of life, she would always keep the day of her entrance into it as a very great festival indeed, Elizabeth Goudge, the narrator describing the character Marguerite, in Green Dolphin Street (1944)
  • Most of us can remember a time when a birthday—especially if it was one’s own—brightened the world as if a second sun had risen. Robert Lynd, in The Peal of Bells (1924)
  • Believing hear, what you deserve to hear:/Your birthday as my own to me is dear./Blest and distinguished days! which we should prize/The first, the kindest bounty of the skies./But yours gives most; for mine did only lend/Me to the world; yours gave to me a friend. Martial, in Epigrams (1st c. AD)
  • My birthday! What a different sound/That word had in my youthful ears!/And how, each time the day comes round,/Less and less white its mark appears. Thomas Moore, “My Birthday,” in The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore (1927; J. W. Lake, ed.)
  • How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? Satchel Paige, quoted in Garson Kanin, It Takes a Long Time to Become Young (1978)
  • Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Titan (1803)
  • Is that a birthday? ’tis, alas! too clear;
/’Tis but the funeral of the former year. Alexander Pope, in “To Mrs. Martha Blount on Her Birthday” (1723)

QUOTE NOTE: Pope was suggesting that a birthday was not worthy of celebration if one was leading an empty or sub-par life. He preceded the thought by writing: “With added years if life bring nothing new,/But, like a sieve, let ev’ry blessing through,/Some joy still lost, as each vain year runs o’er,/And all we gain, some sad reflection more.”

  • Let every birthday be a festival, a time when the gladness of the house finds expression in flowers, in gifts, in a little fête. Margaret E. Sangster, in Winsome Womanhood (1900)

Sangster continued: “Never should a birthday be passed over without note, or as if it were a common day, never should it cease to be a garlanded milestone in the road of life.”



  • The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools. Marguerite Yourcenar, a reflection of the title character, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)



  • At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American White man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself. James Baldwin, “Stranger in a Village,” in Harper’s magazine (Oct., 1953)
  • It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. James Baldwin, “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro,” speech the Cambridge Union, Cambridge, England (Feb. 17, 1965)

Baldwin continued: “It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians and, although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”

  • To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. James Baldwin, quoted in Time magazine (Aug., 1965)
  • Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to get insulted. Sammy Davis, Jr., in Yes I Can (1965)
  • One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Du Bois continued: “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife—the longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.”

  • As a matter of racial pride we want to be called “blacks.” Which has replaced the term “Afro-Americans.” Which replaced “Negroes.” Which replaced “colored people.” Which replaced “darkies.” Which replaced “blacks.” Jules Feiffer, in a 1967 Village Voice cartoon
  • I swear to the Lord/I still can’t see/Why democracy means/Everybody but me. Langston Hughes, “The Black Man Speaks,” in Jim Crow’s Last Stand (1943)
  • Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so. Ida B. Wells, in Introduction to Southern Horrors (1892); later quoted in her “Overlooked” obituary in The New York Times (March 8, 2018)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation is a perfect appropriation of a classic line from Hamlet (see the Shakespeare entry in SIN). The observation—from a pioneering figure in African-American history—was almost completely lost to history until it reappeared in the 2018 New York Times obituary. Beginning with their March 8, 2018 issue, the paper added an “Overlooked” section to their regular obituaries feature (in the inaugural issue, they provided obituaries of 15 previously overlooked women).



  • You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” a TED Talk (Jan. 3, 2011 )
  • We live in a blame culture—we want to know whose fault it is, and how they’re going to pay. Brené Brown, in The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)

Brown continued: “In our personal, social, and political worlds, we do a lot of screaming and finger-pointing, but we rarely hold people accountable. How could we? We’re so exhausted from raging and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them.”

  • I praise loudly; I blame softly. Catherine the Great (Catherine II), quoted in A. Lentin, Voltaire and Catherine the Great: Selected Correspondence (1974)
  • ’Tis weak and vicious people who cast the blame on Fate. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Blaming mother is just a negative way of clinging to her still. Nancy Friday, in My Mother/My Self (1977)
  • What cannot be altered must be borne, not blamed. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Blame is like the lightning; it hits the highest. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • We do not suffer gladly human frailty or the limitations of life itself. We need someone to blame for whatever frustration or deprivation we may have experienced in our lives. Too often that someone is mother. Elaine Heffner, in Mothering: The Emotional Experience of Motherhood After Freud and Feminism (1978)

Heffner preceded the observation by writing: “Motherhood today is a high risk profession. Charges of malpractice have not been reserved for doctors and lawyers alone. Mothers have had firsthand experience with the peculiar belief in our culture that if something goes wrong, someone is at fault.”

  • Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame. Erica Jong, in How To Save Your Own Life (1977)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is presented in a multitude of mistaken ways on Internet sites and in published quotation anthologies.

QUOTE NOTE: This ironic thought comes to protagonist Isadora Wing as she reflects on her reasons for staying in a marriage long after the love was gone. She began by thinking: “How wonderful to have someone to blame! How wonderful to live with one’s nemesis! You may be miserable, but you feel forever in the right. You may be fragmented, but you feel absolved of all the blame for it.”

  • Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I will be tomorrow. The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds. Louis L’Amour, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard, in The Walking Drum (1984)

Kerbouchard introduced the thought by saying: “Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.”

  • You cannot blame everything on the enemy. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Belle speaking, in the short story “The New Atlantis” (1975); in The Compass Rose: Stories (1982)
  • The mind sins, not the body; if there is no intention, there is no blame. Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (1st. c. B.C.)
  • When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing to himself. Louis Nizer, in My Life in Court (1961)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly phrased as if it ended at himself.

  • There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. Oscar Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: The narrator is describing the emotional state of the title character immediately after he has written a deeply sorrowful letter of apology to a woman he had wronged. The narrator continued: “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven.”



  • There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. John Adams, in letter to Thomas Jefferson (Jan. 23, 1825)

A bit later in the letter, Adams went on to write: “I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.”

  • A wasted human being—that’s a sort of practical blasphemy, according to my religion. Samuel Hopkins Adams, the character Gloria Greene speaking, in Wanted: A Husband (1920)
  • Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? mIs it not they who blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over you? The Bible—James 2:6-7 (RSV)

The New International Version (NIV) provides a slightly different translation: “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?” (NIV)

  • Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. G. K. Chesterton, “Introductory Remarks,” in Heretics (1905)

Chesterton added: “If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor.”

  • I hold it blasphemy to say that a man ought not to fight against authority: there is no great religion and no great freedom that has not done it, in the beginning. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • This year’s blasphemy is next year’s liberating truth. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)
  • To me, at least, the greatest blasphemy in the world is not the denial of God’s existence, but the claim that we have a pipeline to Him, and that all other claimants are wrong. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Jan. 20, 1985).

Harris continued: “This assertion is what plunged the world into the bloodiest of wars in the past, and might well do so again if the zealots had their way.”

  • Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense. Robert G. Ingersoll, in Six Interviews with Robert G. Ingersoll on Six Sermons by the Rev. T. De Witt Talmage (1882)
  • It is hard to swear when sex is not dirty and blasphemy does not exist. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Shevek speaking, in The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)
  • Blasphemy and prayer are one. Both assert the existence of a superior power. The first, however, with conviction. David Mamet, the title character speaking, in the play Faustus (2004)
  • The only way to the truth is through blasphemy. Flannery O’Connor, the character Onnie Jay Holy speaking, in Wise Blood (1952)
  • On the whole “blasphemy” has been a force for good in human history. It is part of the process by which millions of people have come to reject theocracy and think for themselves. Katha Pollitt, “Blasphemy is Good for You,” in The Nation (Sep. 26, 2012)

Pollitt added: “When it comes to ideas—and religions are, among other things, ideas—there is no right not to be offended.”

  • All great truths begin as blasphemies. George Bernard Shaw, the Grand Duchess speaking, in Annajanska (1919)



  • Blessings brighten as they take their flight. Susan Coolidge, in What Kady Did (1900)
  • The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785)
  • It is true, I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine. Elinore Pruitt Stewart, in Letters of a Woman Homesteader (1914)
  • Family is the source of life's most profound blessings. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)
  • I have no faith in the sense of comforting beliefs which persuade me that all my troubles are blessings in disguise. Rebecca West, QUOTED in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe (1939)



  • When you have once gained sight, it is impossible to feign blindness. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Only One Year (1969)
  • To the sightless, beauty bursts forth in sound, touch, fragrance, and taste. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 24, 2024)
  • In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Desiderius Erasmus, in Adagia (Book 3; 1500)
  • If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. The Bible (Matthew 15:14 KJV)
  • The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than the problems of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. Helen Keller, in a 1910 letter to Dr. J. Kerr Love, quoted in Brian Grant The Quiet Ear (1987)
  • My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence. Helen Keller, in Out of the Dark (1914)
  • The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them. Helen Keller, from a 1925 speech, in To Love This Life (2000)
  • We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not. Audre Lorde, “Trip to Russia,” in Sister Outsider (1984)
  • None so blind as those that will not see, PROVERB (English)

QUOTE NOTE: This proverb originated in the 1600s, but became established only after it was popularized by Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible (1708)




  • The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism. Angelina Grimké, on Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)
  • We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not. Audre Lorde, “Trip to Russia,” in Sister Outsider (1984)
  • I love to praise what I love, and I won't for a minute believe that love is blind—indeed, it gives clearness without sharpness, and surely that is the best light in which to look at anything. Katherine Anne Porter, in a 1952 letter to Eudora Welty, in Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990; Isabel Bayley, ed.)
  • I was so obsessed and consumed with my grievances that I could not get away from myself and think things out in the light. I was in the grip of that blinding, destructive, terrible thing—righteous indignation. Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water,” in Hungry Hearts (1920)


(see also HAIR and SEX APPEAL)

  • Blondes are like white mice, you only find them in cages. They wouldn’t last long in nature. They’re too conspicuous. Margaret Atwood, remark in conversation between two unnamed characters, in The Blind Assassin (2000)
  • She was what we used to call a suicide blonde—dyed by her own hand. Saul Bellow, a signature line

QUOTE NOTE: One of Bellow’s most frequently quoted lines, it made its original appearance in the narrator’s description of a character in the short story “Cousins” (from the 1984 collection Him with His Foot in His Mouth: and Other Stories). Here’s the original passage: “His former wife, Libby, weighing upward of 250 pounds, hurrying about the hotel on spike heels, was what we used to call a ‘suicide blonde’ (dyed by her own hand).”

  • It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. Raymond Chandler, the protagonist Philip Marlowe describing a woman he sees in a photograph he's been given, in Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
  • Blondes are the best victims. They’re like virgin snow which shows up the bloody footprints. Alfred Hitchcock, on casting female leads in suspense films, quoted in The Sunday Times (London; Sep. 1, 1973)



  • They’ve laughed to shield their crying/then shuffled though the dreams/and stepped ’n fetched a country/to write the blues with screams. Maya Angelou, “Song for the Old Ones” (1975), in Maya Angelou: Poems (1981)

The poem continues: “I understand their meaning/it could and did derive/from living on the edge of death/They kept my race alive.”

  • There are all different shades of blues. Betty Carter (Lillie Mae Jones), quoted in Kitty Grime, Jazz Voices (1983)
  • Rock is like a battery that must always go back to blues to get recharged. Eric Clapton, quoted in Myles Palmer, Small Talk, Big Names: 40 Years of Rock Quotes (1993)
  • As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically. Ralph Ellison, “Richard Wright’s Blues,” in Shadow and Act (1964)

Ellison introduced the thought by writing: “The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosoiphy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”

  • The blues is an art of ambiguity, an assertion of the irrepressibly human over all circumstances whether created by others or by one’s own human failings. Ralph Ellison, “Remembering Jimmy,” in Shadow and Act (1964)
  • In its origin, modern blues music is the expression of the emotional life of a race. W. C. Handy, “The Heart of the Blues,” in Etude Music Magazine (March, 1940)

Handy, who said that the study of the blues “has been most of my life’s work” is often described as “The Father of the Blues.” He continued: “In the south of long ago, whenever a new man appeared for work in any of the laborers’ gangs, he would be asked if he could sing. If he could, he got the job. The singing of these working men set the rhythm for the work, the pounding of the hammers, the swinging of scythes; and the one who sang most lustily soon became strawboss.”

  • The blues came from the man farthest down. The blues came from nothingness, from want, from desire. And when a man sang or played the blues, a small part of the want was satisfied. W. C. Handy, quoted in Jet magazine (Dec. 31, 1953)
  • That's how the blues emerged, by the way—/Our spirits needed a way to dance through the heavy mess./The music, a sack that carries the bone of those left alongside/The trail of tears when we were forced/To leave everything we knew by the way. Joy Harjo, “By the Way: For Adrienne Rich,” in The New Yorker (Dec. 5, 2016)

QUOTE NOTE: The complete poem, Harjo’s tribute to poet Adrienne Rich, may be seen—and heard—at By the Way.

  • There are five steps to correctly performing a Walking Your Blues Away session. They are: Define the issue. Bring up the story. Walk with the issue. Notice how the issue changes. Anchor the new state. Thom Hartmann, in Walking Your Blues Away (2006)
  • In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone/I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan. Langston Hughes, in “The Weary Blues” (1926)

In the poem’s preceding lines, Hughes wrote: “With his ebony hands on each ivory key/He made that poor piano moan with melody./O Blues!/Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool/He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool./Sweet Blues!/Coming from a black man’s soul.” The complete poem may be seen at The Weary Blues

  • When we sing the blues, we’re singing out our hearts, we’re singing out our feelings. Maybe we’re hurt and just can’t answer back, then we sing or maybe even hum the blues. Zora Neale Hurston, quoted in Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff, Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya (1955)
  • The person who sings only the blues is like someone in a deep pit yelling for help. Mahalia Jackson, in Movin’ on Up (1966; with E. M Wylie)

Jackson had earlier written: “I’ll never give up my gospel songs for the blues. Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope. When you sing them you are delivered of your burden. You have a feeling that there is a cure for what’s wrong.”

  • The blues slows you down and gives you time to think. Albert King, in “Albert King’s Blue Funk,” Essence magazine (Oct., 1977)
  • Being a blues singer is like being black two times. B. B. King, in Tom Wheeler, “B. B. King: ‘Playing the Guitar Is Like Telling the Truth,’” Guitar Player magazine (Sep., 1980 cover story)
  • The blues was like that problem child that you may have had in the family. You was a little bit ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn’t know how other people would take it. B. B. King, quoted in The Sunday Times (London; Nov. 4, 1984)
  • Good mornin’ blues, how do you do?/I’m doin’ alright this mornin’, how are you? Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), opening lyric of the song “Good Mornin’ Blues” (1940)
  • The spirituals and the blues were not created out of sweet deceit. Spirituals and blues contain sublimated bitterness and humility, pathos and bewilderment. Claude McKay, “A Negro Writer to His Critics,” in New York Herald Tribune (March 6, 1932)

McKay went on to write: “Feelings of bitterness are a natural part of the black man’s birthright. To ask him to render up his bitterness is asking him to part with his soul.”

  • Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread—without it, it’s flat. Carmen McRae, “Blues is a woman,” in a talk at the Newport Jazz Festival (New York City; July 2, 1980)
  • The Blues Had a Baby and the World Called it Rock and Roll. Brownie McGhee, title of song, written in 1960, first recorded in 1975

QUOTE NOTE: The saying and the song are often attributed to Muddy Waters, but McGhee is the original author. In 1977, Waters recorded his version of McGhee’s song for his Hard Again album, presenting it under the title “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll.”

  • We today have the blues, too, but it is a blues of our day. It’s more of the mind and heart and not of the beating of the back. Joe Williams, in Melody Maker magazine interview (Feb. 21, 1959); quoted in Paul Roland, Jazz Singers: The Great Song Stylists in Their Own Words (1999)
  • White folks don’t understand the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there. August Wilson, the character Ma Rainey speaking, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984)

Rainey continued: “They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking. You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ’cause that’s a way of understanding life.”



  • Brooding over blunders is the biggest blunder. Muhammad Ali, “What I’ve Learned,” in Esquire magazine (Jan., 2004)
  • Nature is continually sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. But, by the due exercise of patience and diligence, they may work their way to the top again. Alfred Austin, in The Garden That I Love (1906)

Austin, who was thinking about gardeners when he wrote this, preceded the thought by writing: “For there is no gardening without humility, an assiduous willingness to learn, and a cheerful readiness to confess you were mistaken.”

  • Success doesn’t consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Josh Billings’ Wit and Humor (1874)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is generally presented these days, but it was originally written in Shaw’s distinctive phonetic style: “Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.”

Shaw’s 1874 book contained three other observations on blunders. They are presented below (in both the “corrected” versions as well in their original phrasings):

“Don’t be afraid, young man, to make a blunder once in a while, most all blunders are made by the sincere and honest (“Don’t be afrade, yung man, tew make a blunder once in a while, most all blunders are made by the sincere and honest”).

“Nature never makes any blunders. When she makes a fool she means it” (“Nature never makes enny blunders. When she makes a phool she means it”).

“I must respect those, I suppose, who never make any bl;unders, but I don’t love them” (“I must respekt those, I suppose, who never make any blunders, but I don’t luv them”).

  • O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us!/It would frae mony a blunder free us,/And foolish notion. Robert Burns, in “To a Louse” (1786)

QUOTE NOTE: This legendary quatrain is the source of the popular expression to see ourselves as other see us. In the poem, Burns is suggesting that God would be giving us a great gift indeed if he granted us such a power—for if we could only see ourselves as others do, we would be far less likely to blunder or hold foolish notions.

  • A successful career has been full of great blunders. Charles Buxton, in Notes of Thought (1873)
  • War is mainly a catalogue of blunders. Winston Churchill, in The Second World War: The Grand Alliance (1950)
  • For nothing stands out so conspicuously, or remains so firmly fixed in the memory, as something in which you have blundered. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Oratore (55 B.C.)
  • But what is woman? Only one of nature’s agreeable blunders. Hannah Cowley, the character Granger speaking, in Who’s the Dupe? (1779)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is commonly misattributed to Abraham Cowley.

  • Weaknesses in men of genius are usually an exaggeration of their personal feeling; in the hands of feeble imitators they become the most flagrant blunders. Eugène Delacroix, journal entry, in The Journal of Eugène Delacroix (1951; Hubert Wellington. Ed.)

Delacroix continued: “Entire schools have been founded on misinterpretations of certain aspects of the masters. Lamentable mistakes have resulted from the thoughtless enthusiasm with which men have sought inspiration from the worst qualities of remarkable artists because they are unable to reproduce the sublime elements in their work.”

  • Grief is the agony of an instant; the indulgence of Grief the blunder of a life. Benjamin Disraeli, the character Mr. Beckendorff speaking, in Vivian Grey (1826)
  • A candid admission of a blunder is refreshing and not often heard in human affairs. It is the saint alone who is large-minded enough to think and speak in this way. This is part of his authenticity. Thomas Dubay, in Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment (1977)
  • Finish every day and be done with it. For manners and for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a letter to one of his daughters (specific date undetermined); quoted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol 14 (1887; James Elliot Cabot, ed.)

Emerson continued: “Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered [sic] with your old nonsense.”

  • Man’s greatest blunder has been in trying to make peace with the skies instead of making peace with his neighbors. Elbert Hubbard, in The Philistine (Sep., 1910)
  • A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in the experience. Elbert Hubbard, in A Thousand & One Epigrams (1911)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites and published quotation anthologies have the mistaken phrasing cash in on the experience.

  • Great blunders are often made, like large ropes, of a multitude of fibers. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

QUOTE NOTE: The full passage has also been translated this way: “The greatest blunders, like the thickest ropes, are often compounded of a multitude of strands. Take the rope apart, separate it into the small threads that compose it, and you can break them one by one. You think, That is all there was! But twist them all together and you have something tremendous.”

  • The best men of the best epochs are simply those who make the fewest blunders and commit the fewest sins. T. H. Huxley, “Agnosticism,” in The Nineteenth Century magazine (Feb., 1889)
  • We must learn to give ourselves permission to blunder, to fail, and to make fools of ourselves every day for the rest of our lives. We do so in any case. Sheldon B. Kopp, in Even a Stone Can Be a Teacher: Learning and Growing from the Experiences of Everyday Life (1985)
  • Our blunders mostly come from letting our wishes interpret our duties, or hide from us plain indications of unwelcome tasks. Alexander MacLaren, in The Secret of Power: And Other Sermons (1902)
  • For the wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven. Phyllis McGinley, “Running to Paradise,” in Saint-Watching (1969)
  • Success covers a multitude of blunders, and the want of it hides the greatest gallantry and good conduct. Sir Horatio Nelson, in a 1797 letter to Andrew Hamond, quoted in J. S. Clarke and J. MacArthur, The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson (1810)

ERROR ALERT: On countless internet sites and many published quotation anthologies, “Success covers a multitude of blunders” is mistakenly attributed to George Bernard Shaw.

  • Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • Which is it? Is man one of God’s blunders? Or is God one of man’s blunders? Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols (1889)
  • It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder. Richard M. Nixon, on Watergate, quoted in Observer (London; Dec. 3. 1978)

QUOTE: In this observation, Nixon is clearly playing of a popular saying that emerged during the era of Napoleon (see the Boulay de la Meurthe entry above). In his 1990 memoir In The Arena, Nixon returned to the issue of Watergate when he offered this assessment: “Watergate was one part wrongdoing, one part blundering, and one part political vendetta by my enemies.”

  • Life has a strange way of making us pay for our blunders in the exact coinage we misspent. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • We go forward by failure. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us and only those who are willing to fail shall taste the dangers and splendors of life. To be a good loser is to learn how to win. The real coward is he who sees no glory in failure Carl Sandburg, in Incidentals (1904; orig. published under the name Charles Sandburg)

The twenty-four-old Sandburg introduced the thought by writing: “Back of every mistaken venture and defeat is the laughter of wisdom, if you listen.”

  • Human blunders…usually do more to shape history than human wickedness. A. J. P. Taylor, in The Origins of the Second World War (1961)
  • A blunder at the right moment is better than cleverness at the wrong time. Carolyn Wells, in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • And however dark the skies may appear,/And however souls may blunder,/I tell you it all will work out clear,/For good lies over and under. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the concluding lines of the poem “Insight,” in An Erring Woman’s Love (1892)
  • The pain others give passes away in their later kindness, but that of our own blunders, especially when they hurt our vanity, never passes away. William Butler Yeats, journal entry (March 18, 1909); later reprinted in Dramatis Personae (1935)



  • Sex as something beautiful may soon disappear. Once it was a knife so finely honed the edge was invisible until it was touched and then it cut deep. Now it is so blunt that it merely bruises and leaves ugly marks. Mary Astor, in A Life on Film (1967)
  • Never be blunt with a woman who has an ax to grind. Richard Armour, in It All Started with Eve (1956)
  • Silence is the bluntest of blunt instruments. It seems to hammer you into the ground. It drives you deeper and deeper into your own guilt. It makes the voices inside your head accuse you more viciously than any outside voices ever could. Erica Jong, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)
  • A critical, strong speech made by a man is “blunt” or “outspoken” or “pulls no punches.” A speech of similar force and candor made by a woman is “waspish,” “sarcastic,” or “cutting.” A man of strong opinions is defined as having “deep convictions.” A woman so constituted is merely “opinionated,” and always “aggressive.” Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • Don’t confuse being stimulating with being blunt. Barbara Walters, in How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything (1970)



  • Never blurb a book you’ve read and never read a book you’ve blurbed. Author Unknown, an example of chiasmus.

According to Stephen King, this was “a hard-and-fast rule” from “A fairly cynical writer acquaintance of mine, who has blurbed his fair share of novels both good and bad.”

  • Walking rapidly—or even slowly—through a gallery is equivalent to browsing through a bookstore and reading the blurbs. Wendy Beckett, in Contemporary Women Artists (1988)
  • People always ask me why I don’t tweet. And my answer is that I blurb. They are, after all, conceptually identical: the short, targeted judgment in which the initiator draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else. Malcolm Gladwell, quoted in A. J. Jacobs, “How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb,” in The New York Times (July 27, 2012)
  • I have blurbed so many books that they fill a bookcase in my apartment. A. J. Jacobs, “How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb,” in The New York Times (July 27, 2012)
  • The blurb has its place. Just not a very honorable one. Stephen King, “Stephen King on the ‘Art’ of the Blurb,” in Entertainment Weekly (March 20, 2008)

King went on to write: “Consumers aren’t stupid, and they’ve grown increasingly cynical about the dubious art of the blurb. After you’ve been tricked into paying for a couple of really bad movies because of one, you realize the difference between real praise and a plain old con job. Every good blurb of bad work numbs the consumer’s confidence and trust.”

  • Blurbs, like bullshit, existed long before the term coined to describe them (“bullshit,” in case you were wondering, appeared in 1915). They were born of marketing, authorial camaraderie, and a genuine obligation to the reader, three staples of the publishing industry since its earliest days. Alan Levinovitz, “I Greet You in the Middle of a Great Career: A Brief History of Blurbs,” in MM: The Millions (February 2012)

Levinovitz preceded the observation by writing: “When did this circus get started? It’s tempting to look back no further than the origins of the word ‘blurb,’ coined in 1906 by children’s book author and civil disobedient Gelett Burgess.”

  • No blurb can be a bullet-proof vest, but in my own experience it can put a square inch of Kevlar over a worried writer’s heart. Elinor Lipman, in “A Famous Author Says: “Swell Book! Loved It!” in Writers on Writing: More Collected Essays From the New York Times (Vol. II, 2003)
  • The trouble is that the novel is being shouted out of existence. Question any thinking person as to why he ‘never reads novels’, and you will usually find that, at bottom, it is because of the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers. George Orwell, “In Defense of the Novel,” in New English Weekly (Nov. 12 and 19, 1936)

In his essay, Orwell linked the blurb to the hack review, writing: “The hack review is in fact a sort of commercial necessity, like the blurb on the dust-jacket, of which it is merely an extension. But even the wretched hack reviewer is not to be blamed for the drivel he writes. In his special circumstances he could write nothing else. For even if there were no question of bribery, direct or indirect, there can be no such thing as good novel criticism so long as it is assumed that every novel is worth reviewing.”



  • Bluster will scarcely produce a mouse. Abigail Adams, in 1791 letter to her daughter, Letters of Mrs. Adams (1848)
  • Show me one who boasts continually of his “openness,” and I will show you one who conceals much. Minna Thomas Antrim, in At the Sign of the Golden Calf (1905)
  • Nothing is more deceitful…than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.‬ Jane Austen, the character Mr. Darcy speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • The less you speak of your greatness, the more I will think of it.

Francis Bacon, a remark to the boastful Sir Edward Coke, in Joseph Sortain, The Life of Francis, Lord Bacon (1851)

  • Boast is always a cry of despair, except when in the young it is a cry of hope. Bernard Berenson, in Conversations with Berenson (1965; Umberto Morra, ed.)
  • This is what the Lord says:“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches; but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me.” The Bible—Jeremiah 23-24 (New International Version)

QUOTE NOTE: In the King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the word boast is replaced by glory.

  • What greater vanity is there than that of boasting without any ground for it? John Calvin, in Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol. 1 (1848; John Pringle, ed.)

A moment later, Calvin went on to add: “A man that extols himself is a fool and an idiot.”

  • Even a stopped clock is right twice every day. After some years, it can boast of a long series of successes. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Bragging is not merely designed to impress. Bragging is designed to produce envy and assert superiority. It is, therefore, an act of hostility. Bragging is also a transparent ploy. It reveals your lack of self-confidence. “I am not enough,” you feel. So you resort to showering me with your “achievements,” in order to mask your perceived deficiencies. Aaron Hass, in Doing the Right Thing: Cultivating Your Moral Intelligence (1998)
  • Nothing can be more true than that the greatest Boasters have the least of what they pretend to. Eliza Haywood, the character Elismonda in a letter to Theano, in Love-Letters on All Occasions: Lately Passed Between Persons of Distinction (1730)

QUOTE NOTE: Later in the novel, another character (Fidelia) makes an observation about women that is probably more true of men: “Those women who boast the affection of their admirers have a greater share of Vanity than Love.”

  • You know, that might be the answer—to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail. Joseph Heller, Colonel Korn speaking, in Catch-22 (1961)
  • No human power can deprive the boaster of his own encomiums. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Jan. 21, 1752)
  • It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help. Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”), in a 1991 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • In artful boasting, one states all the information necessary to impress people, but keeps the facts decently clothed in the language of humility. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior: Freshly Updated (2005)
  • A politician or political thinker who calls himself a political realist is usually boasting that he sees politics, so to speak, in the raw; he is generally a proclaimed cynic and pessimist who makes it his business to look behind words and fine speeches for the motive. This motive is always low. Mary McCarthy, “The American Realist Playwrights,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • I simply cannot understand the passion that some people have for making themselves thoroughly uncomfortable and then boasting about it afterwards. Patricia Moyes, in Down Among the Dead Men (1961)
  • If you want people to think well of you, do not speak well of yourself. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • To those who are given to virtue, the boast of titles is wholly alien and distasteful. Petrarch, “On the Various Academic Titles,” in Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul (mid-14th c.)
  • Great boast, small roast. Proverb (English); first reported in John Heywood, Proverbs (1540)
  • A boaster and liar are first cousins. Proverb (German)
  • Love is a boaster at heart, who cannot hide the stolen horse without giving a glimpse of the bridle. Mary Renault, in The Last of the Wine (1956)
  • In private life there are few things more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and it the boaster is not prepared to back up his words his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. Theodore Roosevelt, in The Strenuous Epigrams of Theodore Roosevelt (1904)
  • Who knows himself a braggart,/Let him fear this: for it will come to pass,/That every braggart shall be found an ass. William Shakespeare, the character Parolles speaking, in All’s Well That Ends Well (1604)
  • The bigger the brag, the poorer the feat. C. H. Spurgeon, in The Salt-Cellars (1889)
  • Mostly every one is needing some one to be one listening to that one being one being one boasting. Gertrude Stein, in The Making of Americans (1925)
  • You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast. John Steinbeck, the narrator Samuel Hamilton speaking, in East of Eden (1952)
  • [He] had tall tales to tell, but that is not uncommon among inferior men. He was only one of a long series of males, who for one reason or another, to boost their own ego, find it satisfying to boast of what they have not achieved. Han Suyin, about a man who had made a pass at her, in A Mortal Flower (1965)
  • ’Tis the ignorant who boast. Carmen Sylva & Alma Strettel, an unnamed character speaking, in “The Nixies’ Cleft,” a short story in Legends From River and Mountain (1896)


(see also ANATOMY and BODY & MIND and BODY & SOUL and FACE and HEALTH and MIND and MIND & BODY and NUDITY and STOMACH)

  • Your body is like a bar of soap. It gradually wears down from repeated use. Dick Allen, his reply when asked why he rarely took batting practice, quoted in Donald Honig, National League Rookies of the Year (1989)
  • Over the years our bodies become walking autobiographies, telling friends and strangers alike of the minor and major stresses of our lives. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • Your body is the baggage you must carry through life. The more excess baggage, the shorter the trip. Arnold H. Glasow, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • The body is a sacred garment. It’s your first and your last garment; it is what you enter life in and what you depart life with, and it should be treated with honor, and with joy and with fear as well. But always, though, with blessing. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)
  • The body is the outermost layer of the mind. David Mitchell, the protagonist Eiji Miyake quoting his father, in number9dream: A Novel (2001)
  • If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred. Walt Whitman, from “I Sing the Body Electric” (1855), in Leaves of Grass (1855)

QUOTE NOTE: While Whitman did write any thing, many quotation anthologies present it as anything.


(see MIND & BODY)



  • For as your majesty saith most aptly and elegantly, “As the tongue speaketh to the ear so the gesture speaketh to the eye.” Francis Bacon, quoting King James I, in The Advancement of Learning, Book II (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: This may be history’s earliest observation on body language (although that term didn’t make its first appearance until the 1960s). Bacon continued: “And, therefore, a number of subtle persons, whose eyes do dwell upon the faces and fashions of men, do well know the advantage of this observation, as being most part of their ability; neither can it be denied, but that it is a great discovery of dissimulations, and a great direction in business.”

  • Men are like that—they can resist sound argument and yield to a glance. Honoré de Balzac, Madame Evangelista speaking to her daughter Natalie, in A Marriage Settlement (1835)
  • The telltale body is all tongues. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson, who wrote eloquently on the language spoken by the body, preceded the observation by writing: “A main fact in the history of manners is the wonderful expressiveness of the human body. If it were made of glass, or of air, and the thoughts were written on steel tablets within, it could not publish more truly its meaning than now. Wise men read very sharply all your private history in your look and gait and behavior.”

  • The glance is natural magic. The mysterious communication established across a house between two entire strangers, moves all the springs of wonder. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

Emerson continued: “The communication by the glance is in the greatest part not subject to the control of the will. It is the bodily symbol of identity with nature. We look into the eyes to know if this other form is another self, and the eyes will not lie, but make a faithful confession what inhabitant is there.”

  • An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun, or can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance with joy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in Conduct of Life (1860)
  • The glance is natural magic. The mysterious communication established across a house between two entire strangers, moves all the springs of wonder. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

Emerson continued: “The communication by the glance is in the greatest part not subject to the control of the will. It is the bodily symbol of identity with nature. We look into the eyes to know if this other form is another self, and the eyes will not lie, but make a faithful confession what inhabitant is there.”

  • Become aware of body language. Your own and other people’s. If you are explaining something important to your staff, try to convey some of your own urgency and enthusiasm; you’ll diminish your effect if you’re sitting rigidly, drawn tight together, with arms and legs crossed. Cheryl Reimold, in Being a Boss (1988)

A moment late, Reimold continued: “The body language that expresses confidence and authority is the easy, open stance, accompanied by direct eye contact with the other person”

  • A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point. P. G. Wodehouse, the protagonist Bertie Wooster picking up on the body language of his manservant, Jeeves, in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
  • I speak two languages, Body and English. Mae West, widely attributed

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is attributed to Mae West, but it has never been found in any of her works. The wise choice is to consider it apocryphal.


(includes PIERCED EARS)

  • Men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry. Rita Rudner, in Tickled Pink (2001)



  • Boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: In the Western tradition, boldness is so often regarded as a trait of great leadership or courage (see the Terence entry below), that many fail to see that it also has a downside. In The Ethics of Confucius (1915), Chinese scholar Miles Menander Dawson wrote about Confucius: “The sage was not unaware that boldness may be the result of ignorance as well as of knowledge, that it may be madness and folly instead of clear sanity and wisdom.”

  • The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from. Moss Hart, on New York City, in Act One: An Autobiography (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: Hart was reflecting on the unexpectedly enthusiastic reception to the opening night performance of his 1930 Broadway play Once in a Lifetime (written with George S. Kaufman). Just after dawn, returning to his Brooklyn apartment in a cab, he noticed a ten-year-old boy performing some before-school errand. Recalling his own boyhood days, he wrote: “It was possible in this wonderful city for that nameless little boy—for any of its millions—to have a decent chance to scale the walls and achieve what they wished. Wealth, rank, or an imposing name counted for nothing.” He then continued with the only credential thought above.

  • The first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it is boldness. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

The narrator continued: “It is the two sexes tending to approach each other, and each assuming the other’s qualities.”

  • Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Peter Carr (Aug. 10, 1787)
  • A decent boldness ever meets with friends. Homer, in Odyssey (8th c. B.C.; trans. by Alexander Pope)
  • It’s better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late. Marilyn Moats Kennedy, “The Case Against Performance Appraisals,” in Across the Board (Jan., 1999)
  • It was a small boldness, but they count too. In the cellars of the night, when the mind starts moving around old trunks of bad times, the pain of this and the shame of that, the memory of a small boldness is a hand to hold. John Leonard, “Private Lives”, in The New York Times (Feb. 2, 1977)
  • Even God lends a hand to honest boldness Menander, a fragment (4th c. B.C.), quoted in Menander, The Principal Fragments (1921; Francis G. Allinson, trans.)
  • Even if strength fail, boldness will at least deserve praise. In great endeavors even to have had the will is enough. Sextus Propertius, in Elegies (1st. c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “What though strength fails? Boldness is certain to win praise. In mighty enterprises, it is enough to have had the determination.”

  • Fortune favors the bold. Terence, in Phormio (161 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This sentiment quickly became popular and began showing up in other classical Greek works. Virgil essentially repeated it in The Aeneid (c. 25 B.C.), and around that same time, Cicero described the saying as an “old proverb” (vetum proverbium).





  • Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Sep. 10, 1711)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Be careful; there are wrongly phrased versions of this quotation all over the internet.

  • In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you—how many you can make your own. Mortimer J. Adler, “How to Mark a Book,” in Saturday Review of Literature (July 6, 1941)

QUOTE NOTE: One of Adler’s most famous observations, this is also an example of the literary device known as chiasmus. To see Adler’s full original article, in which he argued that the thoughtful marking of key passages was “indispensable to reading,” go to How to Mark a Book.

  • The first book that a child reads has a colossal impact. Joan Aiken, in The Way to Write for Children (1982)

In that same book, Aiken also offered this additional thought about children and their books: “Children read to learn—even when they are reading fantasy, nonsense, light verse, comics, or the copy on cereal packets, they are expanding their minds all the time, enlarging their vocabulary, making discoveries; it is all new to them.”

  • A book is not an end in itself; it is only a way to touch someone—a bridge extended across a space of loneliness and obscurity—and sometimes it is a way of winning other people to our causes. Isabel Allende, “A Strip of Exposed Film,” in William Zinsser, Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel (1989)
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. Francis Bacon, “Of Studies,” in Essays (1625)

Bacon continued: “That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

  • Worthy books/Are not companions—they are solitudes:/We lose ourselves in them and all our cares. Philip James Bailey, in Festus: A Poem (1839)
  • You think your pains and heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive. James Baldwin, “James Baldwin Recalls His Childhood,” in The New York Times (May 31, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: A year earlier, in a May 24, 1963 Life magazine article by Jane Howard (titled “Doom and Glory of Knowing Who You Are”), Baldwin offered a slightly different version of the remark, this time giving two legendary writers special credit for teaching him such an important life lesson:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian.”

Thanks for Garson O'Toole, aka the Quote Investigator for his invaluable research on this quotation.

  • Fitting people with books is about as difficult as fitting them with shoes. Sylvia Beach, in Shakespeare and Company (1956)
  • A book is good company. It is full of conversation without loquacity. It comes to your longing with full instruction, but pursues you never. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

Earlier in the book, Beecher had written: “A book is a garden; a book is an orchard; a book is a storehouse; a book is a party. It is company by the way; it is a counselor; it is a multitude of counselors.”

  • Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)

QUOTE NOTE: Beecher was an avid reader and it is likely that his observation was inspired by a remark from the English clergyman Sydney Smith: “No furniture so charming as books.” Smith’s observation was enjoying popularity at the time, having recently appeared in Lady Holland’s 1855 book A Memoir of the Rev. Sydney Smith. In an essay in Thinking Out Loud (1993), Anna Quindlen echoed the sentiment when she wrote: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

  • A book is a device to ignite the imagination. Alan Bennett, the character Queen Elizabeth II speaking, in The Uncommon Reader: A Novella (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novella, the uncommon reader (a play on the phrase common reader) of the title is The Queen. One day, while walking her beloved corgis, she happens upon a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace. The fictional piece plays out the consequences as she becomes enthralled—even obsessed—with books.

  • Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life. Jesse Lee Bennett, in What Books Can Do For You (1923)
  • A good heavy book holds you down. It’s an anchor that keeps you from getting up and having another gin and tonic. Roy Blount, Jr., “Reading and Nothingness: Of Proust in the Summer Sun,” in The New York Times (June 2, 1985)

Blount continued: “Many a person has been saved from summer alcoholism, not to mention hypertoxicity, by Dostoyevsky. Put The Idiot in your lap or over your face, and you know where you are going to be for the afternoon.”

  • Books are messengers of freedom. They can be hidden under a mattress or smuggled into slave nations. Daniel J. Boorstin, in Books in Our Future (1984)
  • When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation. Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in “The Talk of the Town,” in The New Yorker (July 7, 1986)

QUOTE NOTE: In an interview in The Guardian (Sep. 19, 2008) ), Alastair Reid said: “Borges used to say that when writers die they become books—a quite satisfying reincarnation in his view. With luck, however, I think they become voices.” Reid added:“It is in voices…that the dead continue to live.”

  • Books are embalmed minds; they make the great of other days our present teachers. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • Books are men of higher stature,/And the only men that speak aloud for future times to hear. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” in Poems (1844)
  • Many a fervid man/Writes books as cold and flat as graveyard stones. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • Books are like imprisoned souls until someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them. Samuel Butler, in Notebooks (1912)
  • A good book is the purest essence of a human soul. Thomas Carlyle, in speech at the London Library (June 24, 1840)
  • All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. Thomas Carlyle, in On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic (1841)
  • The true University of these days is a Collection of Books. Thomas Carlyle, in On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic (1841)

ERROR ALERT: Carlyle preceded the observation by writing: “The place where we are to get knowledge…is the Books themselves! It depends on what we read, after all manner of Professors have done their best for us.” Some years after the book first appeared, somebody paraphrased this passage, and one is now far more likely to find the edited—and erroneous—version in books, blogs, and web sites: “What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”

  • In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. God be thanked for books. They are the voices of the distant and the dead. William Ellery Channing, in “Self-Culture,” a speech at the American Unitarian Conference (Boston, September, 1838)

Channing introduced the thought by writing: “It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds, and these invaluable means of communication are in the reach of all.”

  • Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy, then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant and, in the last stage, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public. Winston Churchill, in remarks after being awarded The Times Literary Award in 1942, quoted in Richard Langworth, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008)
  • My soul found ease and rest in the companionship of books. Pat Conroy, recalling his college years, in My Losing Season: A Memoir (2002)

Conroy continued: “The library staff knew me on a first-name basis; I felt as comfortable entering the Citadel library as a shell entering its shell.”

  • Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next 10 years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart. Pat Conroy, a Facebook post (Oct 15, 2013)
  • A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight. Robertson Davies, in “Too Much, Too Fast,” in Peterborough Examiner (June 16, 1962), reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1979)
  • To read good books is like holding a conversation with the most eminent minds of past centuries and, moreover, a studied conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts. René Descartes, in Discourse on Method (1637)
  • A book is a bottle cast upon the high seas on which this label must be placed: “Catch who can!” Alfred de Vigny, an 1842 journal entry, in Journal d'un poète (1867)
  • There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away/Nor any Coursers like a Page/Of prancing Poetry. Emily Dickinson, in “A Book” (circa 1873)
  • The world is a library of strange and wonderful books, and sometimes we just need to go prowling through the stacks. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)

Dirda added: “Those journeys, with their serendipitous discoveries and misguided side trips, allow us to probe our characters, indulge our passions and prejudices, and finally choose books for which we possess a real affinity.”

  • I make books for people to live in, as architects make houses. I lived in it by writing it. Now it’s the reader’s turn. E. L. Doctorow, quoted in Bruce Weber, “The Myth Maker,” The New York Times, (Oct. 20, 1985)
  • An interesting book is food that makes us hungry. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Some books leave us free and some books make us free. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Dec. 23, 1839)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation typically appears, and it does seem defensible to present it in this way. But here’s the exact way the thought-in-process was originally written in Emerson’s journal: “Some books leave us free and some books make [me]↑us↓free.”

  • It happens to us once or twice in a lifetime to be drunk with some book which probably has some extraordinary relative power to intoxicate us and none other; and having exhausted that cup of enchantment we go groping in libraries all our years afterwards in the hope of being in Paradise again. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in letter to Sam Ward (July 7, 1840)

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson enclosed with the letter a copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions, about which he wrote: “I push the little antiquity toward you merely out of gratitude to some golden words I read in it last summer. What better oblation could I offer to the Saint than the opportunity of a new proselyte?”

  • There are…books which take rank in our life with parents and lovers and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • ’Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Success,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • If a book read when young is a lover, that same book, reread later on, is a friend. Anne Fadiman, in the Foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005)

Fadiman continued: “This may sound like a demotion, but after all, it is old friends, not lovers, to whom you are most likely to turn when you need comfort.”

  • It is customary to speak of children as vessels into which books are poured, but I think the reverse analogy is more accurate: children pour themselves into books, changing their shape to fit each vessel. Anne Fadiman, in the Foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Socrates called himself a midwife of ideas. A great book is often such a midwife, delivering to full existence what has been coiled like an embryo in the dark, silent depths of the brain. Clifton Fadiman, in The Lifetime Reading Plan (1960)
  • I sat staring up at a shelf in my workroom from which thirty-one books identically dressed in neat dark green leather stared back at me with a sort of cold hostility like children who resent their parents. Don’t stare at us like that! they said. Don’t blame us if we didn’t turn out to be the perfection you expected. We didn’t ask to be brought into the world. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves. E. M. Forster, “A Book That Influenced Me,” in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: This notion, while beautifully expressed here, was advanced several decades earlier by American historian Carl Becker in The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (1922, rev., 1942). He wrote: “Generally speaking, men are influenced by books which clarify their own thought, which express their own notions well, or which suggest to them ideas which their minds are already predisposed to accept.”

  • A book is never finished, it is abandoned. Gene Fowler, on the role of publisher’s deadlines in book authorship, quoted in H. Allen Smith, The Life and Legend of Gene Fowler (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: see the POEM section for a similar thought widely attributed to Paul Valéry.

  • The book is the most efficient technological instrument for learning that has ever been devised by the human mind. Northrop Frye, in 1985 interview with Anne Craik, orig. published in Columns (Univ. of Toronto, Fall, 1985); reprinted in Peter Lang, A World in a Grain of Sand: Twenty-Two Interviews with Northrop Frye (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: Frye repeated this metaphor in slightly varying ways many times over the years. It looks like its first formal appearance came in an interview with David Cayley broadcast on CBC Radio in 1970. Frye said: “I’ve often said that the book is the most efficient technological in­strument ever devised in learning. I think it’s more efficient than a computer ever will be. It’s a model of patience because it keeps saying the same thing no matter how often you consult it.”

  • A book is a little empathy machine. It puts you inside somebody else’s head. You see out of the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you’ve just read a book by one of those people. Neil Gaiman, in interview with Toby Litt, The Guardian (London; Nov. 17, 2014)
  • Books do not make life easier or more simple, but harder and more interesting. Harry Golden, in So What Else is New? (1964)

Golden introduced the thought by writing: “Reading is a joy, but not an unalloyed joy.”

  • A book—a well-composed book—is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world we cannot enter in any other way. Caroline Gordon, in How to Read a Novel (1957)
  • Books are like movies of the mind. Sue Grafton, “A Conversation With Sue Grafton” (1996), presented on Grafton’s website www.suegrafton.com.

QUOTE NOTE: Grafton offered the simile when explaining her decision to never sell film or television rights for any of her Kinsey Millhorne books. Here’s the complete thought: “I don't want an actress's face superimposed on Kinsey's. Most of her fans have a very clear sense of what she looks like so the minute an actress steps into the role, fifty percent of my readers would be up in arms, claiming she was wrong for the part. And they'd be right. Readers are perfect casting directors. Books are like movies of the mind and it's better to leave Kinsey where she is.” See the complete interview at Grafton interview.

  • A book is like a sandy path which keeps the indent of footsteps. Graham Greene, the voice of the narrator, in The Human Factor (1978)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have the observation ending with footprints, not footsteps. In the book, the narrator is describing a scene in which the protagonist Maurice Castle is choosing a bedtime book to read to his stepson Sam. The fuller passage is lovely: “He took down a volume of verse which was one he had guarded from his childhood. There was no tie of blood between Sam and himself, no guarantee that they would ever have any taste in common, but he always hoped—even a book could be a bridge. He opened the book at random, or so he believed, but a book is like a sandy path which keeps the indent of footsteps.”

  • I look at my books the way parents look at their children. The fact that one becomes more successful than the other doesn’t make them love the less successful one any less. Alex Haley, in Hans J. Massaquoi, “Alex Haley’s Hideaway,” Ebony (September, 1987)
  • For every book that survives the merciless judgment of time, there are nine hundred and ninety-nine rotting unread in libraries and nine thousand and ninety-nine that were never written in the first place. Michael Harrington, in Fragments of the Century (1973)
  • Sometimes, even when you start with the last page and you think you know everything, a book finds a way to surprise you. Emily Henry, a reflection of protagonist Nora Stephens, in Book Lovers (2022)
  • Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books. bell hooks, in Outlaw Culture (1994)
  • The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all. William Dean Howells, in letter to Charles Eliot Norton (April 6, 1903)
  • Great books are great teachers; they are showing us every day what ordinary people are capable of. Robert M. Hutchins, in Great Books: The Foundations of a Liberal Education (1954)
  • A book is not complete until it has found a mate who can read and understand. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)
  • Never put off till to-morrow the book you can read to-day. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)
  • Most agree that books worth reading are worth reading more than once. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the observation as if it ended “are worth re-reading.”

  • History proves there is no better advertisement for a book than to condemn it for obscenity. Holbrook Jackson, in The Fear of Books (1932)
  • Great books conserve time. Holbrook Jackson, in Maxims of Books and Reading (1934)
  • If we are imprisoned in ourselves, books provide us with the means of escape. If we have run too far away from ourselves, books show us the way back. Holbrook Jackson, in Maxims of Books and Reading (1934)
  • The better the book the more room for the reader. Holbrook Jackson, in Maxims of Books and Reading (1934)
  • A book should serve as an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka, in letter to Oskar Pollack (Jan. 27, 1904)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Kafka’s powerful answer to a rhetorical question he had just posed to Pollack: “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?”

  • Books are a narcotic. Franz Kafka, quoted in Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (1951; 2nd expanded ed., 1971)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Some Kafka scholars have questioned the authenticity of this quotation. See explanation in the Kafka ACHIEVEMENT entry.

  • The Book: Man’s Chief Weapon Against Tedium. Woman’s too. Garrison Keillor, “The Floating Village,” in The New York Times (Jan, 6, 2010)

Keillor prefaced his observation by writing: “Vacation cruises are advertised as luxurious journeys to exotic places, but a chief pleasure is the reading of books…. On steamer chairs topside or poolside, in the lounges, everywhere you see men and women with their noses in books, devouring them for hours.”

  • Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once. Stephen King, the character Ted speaking, in Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
  • I devoured books like a person taking vitamins, afraid that otherwise I would remain this gelatinous narcissist, with no possibility of ever becoming thoughtful, of ever being taken seriously. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
  • For some of us, good books and beautiful writing are the ultimate solace, even more comforting than exquisite food. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
  • When I was very little, say five or six, I became aware of the fact that people wrote books. Before that, I thought that God wrote books. I thought a book was a manifestation of nature, like a tree. When my mother explained it, I kept after her: What are you saying? vWhat do you mean? I couldn’t believe it. It was astonishing. It was like—here’s the man who makes all the trees. Then I wanted to be a writer, because, I suppose, it seemed the closest thing to being God. Fran Lebowitz, in Paris Review interview (Summer 1993)

Lebowitz continued: “I never wanted to be anything else. Well, if there had been a job of being a reader, I would have taken that, because I love to read and I don’t love to write. That would be blissful.”

  • If I have something I want to say that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet (1972)
  • Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty—and vice versa. Doris Lessing, in Introduction to the 1971 edition of The Golden Notebook (1962)
  • We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel—or have done and thought and felt; or might do and think and feel—is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become. Ursula K. Le Guin, “Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing,” in The Living Light (Fall 1979; 7:3); reprinted in The Language of the Night 1979)

Le Guin continued: “A person who had never known another human being could not be introspective any more than a terrier can, or a horse; he might (improbably) keep himself alive, but he could not know anything about himself, no matter how long he lived with himself. And a person who had never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite fully what it is to be human.”

  • A book is a mirror: if an ape peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms (1775–79)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation commonly appears with the word ass replacing the word ape.

  • All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words. Amy Lowell, title poem, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914)

ERROR ALERT: The final word of the title of the poem and the book is often mistakenly rendered as Seeds, even in many highly respected reference works.

  • Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind. James Russell Lowell, in a review of Longfellow’s Kavanaugh, in North American Review (July, 1849)
  • The book is the greatest interactive medium of all time. You can underline it, write in the margins, fold down a page, skip ahead. And you can take it anywhere. Michael Lynton, said after being named Chairman and CEO of Pearson Group publishing company, in Daily Telegraph (London, Aug. 19, 1996)
  • The walls of books around me, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its dangers. I hated to get up. Ross Macdonald, the protagonist Lew Archer speaking, in The Chill (1963)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented with the phrasing The walls of books around him.

  • A good book often serves as a match to light the dormant powder within us. There is explosive material enough in most of us if we can only reach it. Orison Swett Marden, in Architects of Fate (1895)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have the wording the dormant power. To see Marden’s continued description of the value of books, go to Architects of Fate.

  • Library books were, I suddenly realized, promiscuous, ready to lie in the arms of anyone who asked. Not like bookstore books, which married their purchasers, or were brokered for marriages to others. Elizabeth McCracken, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Peggy Cort, in The Giant’s House (1997)
  • There are books one needs maturity to enjoy, just as there are books an adult can come on too late to savor. Phyllis McGinley, (1905-1978) American author, “The Consolations of Illiteracy,” in Saturday Review (Aug. 1, 1953); reprinted in The Province of the Heart (1959).
  • Somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator, in White-Jacket (1850)
  • A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum—of both books and money. Henry Miller, in The Books in My Life (1952)

Miller, who believed that books are one of a person’s “most cherished possessions,” went on to write: “A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”

  • Books, the Mind’s food. Hannah More, in The Bas Bleu: or, Conversation (1784)
  • A book is the only place I know in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear that it will go off in your face. Edward P. Morgan, in Clearing the Air (1963)

ERROR ALERT: Many books and anthologies mistakenly omit the “I know” portion of this quotation. Morgan concluded his thought with this observation about the experience of reading a book: “It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.”

  • You can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries. Christopher Morley, in The Haunted Bookshop (1919)
  • When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Christopher Morley, in Parnassus on Wheels (1917)
  • The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking. Christopher Morley, quoted in Reader’s Digest (July, 1958)
  • I have a low opinion of books; they are but piles of stones set up to show coming travelers where other minds have been, or at best signal smokes to call attention. John Muir, journal entry (1872), in Linnie Marsh Wolfe, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938)

Muir added: “No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains. As well seek to warm the naked and frostbitten by lectures on caloric and pictures of flame. One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books.”

  • If you only ever read one book in your life…I highly recommend you keep your mouth shut. Simon Munnery, in How to Live (2005)
  • Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. Iris Murdoch, the character Arnold Baffin speaking, in The Black Prince (1973)
  • When a man writes a letter to himself, it is a pity to post it to somebody else. Perhaps the same is true of a book. Vladimir Nabokov, in Aaron’s Rod (1922)
  • The lover of books is a miner, searching for gold all his life long. He finds his nuggets, his heart leaps in his breast; he cannot believe in his good fortune. Kathleen Norris, “Beauty in Letters” in These I Like Best (1941)

Norris added: “Traversing a slow page, to come upon a lode of the pure shining metal is to exult inwardly for greedy hours. It belongs to no one else; it is not interchangeable.”

  • In books as in life, there are no second chances. On second thought: it’s the next work, still to be written, that offers the second chance. Cynthia Ozick, in interview in The Guardian (London; April 24, 2012)
  • The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before. Katherine Paterson, in The Horn Book (1991)
  • There are times in one’s life when a good book—the right book—feels like a voice speaking in the darkness, or a hand reaching out from the past; providing solace when all else seems lost. Justine Picardie, “What to Read When You’re Feeling…Heartbroken” (her regular “Bibliotherapy” column), The Sunday Telegraph (London; Sep. 7, 2008)
  • A book is a friend who doesn’t get upset if you abruptly leave it without explanation. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 2, 2017)
  • No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents. Ezra Pound, in The ABC of Reading (1934)
  • In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. Anna Quindlen, in How Reading Changed My Life (1998)

Quindlen’s early and deep interest in books separated her from all of her childhood friends. She wrote: “I felt that I…existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.”

  • Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home. Anna Quindlen, in How Reading Changed My Life (1998)

Quindlen introduced the thought by writing: “Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yearning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the world’s great nomads, if only in our minds.”

  • Books that children read but once are of scant service to them; those that have really helped to warm our imaginations and to train our faculties are the few old friends we know so well that they have become a portion of our thinking selves. Agnes Repplier, “What Children Read,” in Books and Men (1888)
  • We all know that books burn—yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and nor force can abolish memory. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in message to American Booksellers Association (April 23, 1942)
  • A war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships. Books, like ships, have the toughest armor, the longest cruising range, and mount the most powerful guns. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in Dec. 1, 1942 letter to W. W. Norton, chairman of the CBW (Council on Books in Wartime)
  • When you publish a book, it’s the world’s book. The world edits it. Philip Roth, “A Visit with Philip Roth” (an interview with James Atlas), in The New York Times Book Review (Sep. 2, 1979)
  • A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return. Salman Rushdie, quoted in The Independent on Sunday (London; Feb. 4, 1990)
  • Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul—what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love? Salman Rushdie, in Imaginary Homelands (1992)
  • A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)

Sagan continued: “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.”

  • Books are like seeds. They can lie dormant for centuries and then flower in the most unpromising soil. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)
  • Books…are like lobster shells. We surround ourselves with ’em, and then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidences of our earlier stages of development. Dorothy L. Sayers, the protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey speaking, in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1986)
  • Books, that paper memory of mankind. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Art of Literature: On Men of Learning,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is usually presented, but the full observation in which it originally appeared is as follows: “Of human knowledge as a whole and in every branch of it, by far the largest part exists nowhere but on paper—I mean, in books, that paper memory of mankind.”

  • Each reader puts his or her own stamp on a book’s meaning as surely as any editor puts his or her stamp on the words. Shawn Christopher Shea, in Happiness Is.: Unexpected Answers to Practical Questions in Curious Times (2004)

Shea continued: “Many gifted writers have been keenly aware of this fact—that their final period does not end the creative process. It begins it.”

  • The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business. John Steinbeck, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 24, 1962)
  • A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. John Steinbeck, in Paris Review interview (Fall, 1975)

Steinbeck added: “For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.”

  • Authors are actors, books are theaters. Wallace Stevens, in Opus Posthumous (1957)
  • Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped at every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage. Robert Louis Stevenson, in dedicatory letter to Travels with a Donkey (1879)
  • A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. William Styron, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1954)

QUOTE NOTE: This was one of 44 quotations selected by the New York Public Library to be engraved on sidewalk plaques on Manhattan’s “Library Way” (41st St., between Park and Fifth Avenues). To see an image of the plaque, as well as a Wall Street Journal article on the attraction, go to Library Way.

  • Books, the children of the brain. Jonathan Swift, in Tale of a Tub (1704)
  • How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. Henry David Thoreau, “Reading,” in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: For Thoreau, the book in question was Emerson’s Nature, published in 1836. And for me—as well as countless others over the years—the book that dated a new era was Walden. Thoreau introduced the thought by writing: “There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us.”

  • Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Henry David Thoreau, “Reading,” in Walden (1854)

Thoreau added: “Their authors are a natural irresistible aristocracy in every society, and more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind”

  • As part of my research for An Anthology of Author’s Atrocity Stories About Publishers, I conducted a study (employing my usual controls) that showed the average shelf life of a trade book to be somewhere between milk and yogurt. Calvin Trillin, in Uncivil Liberties (1982)
  • Of all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it be readable. Anthony Trollope, in An Autobiography (1883)
  • Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. Barbara W. Tuchman, in Library of Congress speech (Oct. 17, 1979)

Tuchman added: “They are engines of change, windows on the world, and (as a poet has said) ‘lighthouses erected in the sea of time.’ They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.” For more information on the lighthouse metaphor from the unnamed poet, see the Edwin P. Whipple entry below.

  • A good book is the best of friends, the same to-day and for ever. Martin F. Tupper, “Of Reading,” in Proverbial Philosophy (1838–42)
  • There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Vol. I (1924; A. B. Paine, ed.)

Twain added: “It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.”

  • Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a TV remote, the average book fits into the human hand with a seductive nestling, a kiss of texture, whether of cover cloth, glazed jacket, or flexible paperback. John Updike, “A Case for Books,” in The New York Times (June 18, 2000); reprinted in Due Considerations: Essays and Considerations (2007)

Updike went on to write: “The rectangular block of type, a product of five and a half centuries of printers’ lore, yields to decipherment so gently that one is scarcely aware of the difference between daydreaming and reading.” Originally written as an Op-Ed piece, Updike’s brief but eloquent elegy to books contains a number of other memorable metaphorical flourishes, including this: “Shelved rows of books warm and brighten the starkest room, and scattered single volumes reveal mental processes in progress—books in the act of consumption, abandoned but readily resumable, tomorrow or next year. By bedside and easy chair, books promise a cozy, swift, and silent release from this world into another, with no current involved but the free and scarcely detectable crackle of brain cells. For ease of access and storage, books are tough to beat.” The full article may be seen at A Case for Books.

  • It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part; the rest are lost in the multitude. Voltaire, in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • Books—lighthouses erected in the great sea of time. Edwin P. Whipple, in Literature and Life (1890)
  • I am beginning to feel a little more like an author now that I have had a book banned. The literary life, in this country, begins in jail. E. B. White, on learning that the U.S. Army and Navy had banned his 1942 book One Man’s Meat, in a letter to Stanley Hart White (June, 1944)
  • Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book. E. B. White, in letter to the children of Troy, New York (April 14, 1971); reprinted in Robert Dawson, The Public Library: A Photographic Essay (2014)

QUOTE NOTE: White was responding to a note from Marguerite Hart, the first children’s librarian at the new Troy Public Library (Troy, NY). Hart had asked a large number of public figures to write to the children of Troy describing the significance of libraries and the importance of reading. He preceded the thought by writing: “Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered.”

White was one of ninety-seven who responded to Ms. Hart's letter. His reply (along with notes from Isaac Asimov and Dr. Seuss) may be seen at: White Letter.

  • There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all. Oscar Wilde, in Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

In the novel, Wilde has the character Lord Henry Wotton extend the sentiment: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame,”

  • In a sense, one can never read the book that the author originally wrote, and one can never read the same book twice. Edmund Wilson, in Foreword to The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subjects (revised 1948 ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Most Internet sites mistakenly present a paraphrased version of this observation: “No two persons ever read the same book.”

  • Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Carl “Tuchy” Palmieri, Oprah, in Her Words (2008)
  • The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools. Marguerite Yourcenar, a reflection of the title character, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)
  • Books represent the harvest, not the creative process. Gabriel Zaid, in So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (1996)
  • There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times. Yevgeny Zamyatin, in A Soviet Heretic (1970)



  • Alas! Where is human nature so weak as in a book-store! Henry Ward Beecher, in Star Papers (1873)

Beecher added: “Speak of the appetite for drink; or of a bon-vivant’s relish for dinner! What are these mere animal throes and ragings compared with those fantasies of taste, of those yearning of the imagination, of those insatiable appetites of intellect, which bewilder a student in a great bookseller’s temptation-hall.”

  • We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. Roy Blount, Jr., in a 2018 Holiday letter, written while he was president of The Authors Guild (Dec., 2008)
  • Bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places. Jen Campbell, in The Bookshop Book (2014)

In her homage to bookshops, Campbell also wrote: “Printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.”

  • Inside, it was clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way around. Agatha Christie, in The Clocks (1963)

The observation comes from the character Colin Lamb, who has just entered a small, dingy London bookshop. He continued: “Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”

  • Booksellers, who are a race apart and one and all delightful company, as befits those in whom the ideal and the practical are so nicely blended. Cyril Connolly, in Previous Convictions (1963)
  • Professors of literature collect books the way a ship collects barnacles, without seeming effort. A literary academic can no more pass a bookstore than an alcoholic can pass a bar. Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun), the protagonist, English professor Kate Fansler, speaking, in Death in a Tenured Position (1981)
  • Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the number of books that were written because authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to. Alain de Botton, in The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
  • When I visit a new bookstore, I demand cleanliness, computer monitors, and rigorous alphabetization. When I visit a secondhand bookstore, I prefer indifferent housekeeping, sleeping cats, and sufficient organizational chaos to fuel my fantasies. Anne Fadiman, in Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998)
  • There is nothing like the smell of a bookstore. If you ask me, it’s actually a combination of smells: part library, part new-book smell, and part expectation for what you might find. Kathryn Fitzmaurice, the protagonist Emily Davis speaking, in Destiny, Rewritten (2013)
  • What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul. Neil Gaiman, the character Hinzelmann speaking, in American Gods (2001)
  • Even an ice cream parlor—a definite advantage—does not alleviate the sorrow I feel for a town lacking a bookstore. Natalie Goldberg, in Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft (2000)

A bit earlier, Goldberg had written: “You can live on a small hamlet on the Nebraska plains and if there’s a bookstore, it’s like the great sun caught in one raisin or in the juicy flesh of a single peach. A bookstore captures worlds—above, behind, below, under, forward, back. From that one spot the townspeople can radiate out beyond any physical limit.”

  • If you’re interested in low wages, a bookstore ranks below retail clothing sales, except the hours are worse. Sue Grafton, the protagonist Kinsey Millhone speaking, in T is for Trespass (2007)
  • Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home. Stephen King, in The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: The bookstore Jake entered was called “The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind.” A bookstore with a complete restaurant motif, it had a chalkboard menu that listed the day’s Specials, including “From Mississippi! Pan-Fried William Faulkner” and “From California! Hard-Boiled Raymond Chandler.” As Jake surveys the interior, he thinks: “This was without a doubt the best bookstore he’d ever been in.”

  • Our bookselling is becoming all too much like selling national brands of cars and breakfast cereals—which is great for cars and cereals, but terrible for books. Mary Ann Lash, in Publisher’s Weekly (June 6, 1985)
  • Library books were, I suddenly realized, promiscuous, ready to lie in the arms of anyone who asked. Not like bookstore books, which married their purchasers, or were brokered for marriages to others. Elizabeth McCracken, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Peggy Cort, in The Giant’s House (1997)
  • The tradition I was born into was essentially nomadic, a herdsmen tradition, following animals across the earth. The bookshops are a form of ranching; instead of herding cattle, I herd books. Writing is a form of herding, too; I herd words into little paragraphlike clusters. Larry McMurtry, on his antiquarian bookselling and writing efforts, in The New York Times magazine (Nov. 30, 1997)

QUOTE NOTE: In the early 70s, following the success of Horseman, Pass By (made into the 1962 film Hud) and The Last Picture Show, McMurtry and two partners opened up an antiquarian bookstore near Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Named Booked Up, the entire operation was moved in 1988 to McMurtry’s home town of Archer City, Texas (population less than 2,000). It ultimately became the country’s largest antiquarian bookstore, with nearly a half-million titles. The rise of internet bookselling ultimately took its toll, however, and in 2012 the enterprise was drastically downsized in an epic auction called “The Last Book Sale” (playing off the title The Last Picture Show). It continues to exist on a more limited scale (www.bookedupac.com).

  • I wish there could be an international peace conference of booksellers, for (you will smile at this) my own conviction is that the future happiness of the world depends in no small measure on them and on the librarians. Christopher Morley, the character Roger Mifflin, in a letter to brother-in-law Andrew McGill, in The Haunted Bookshop (1919)

A bit later in the letter, Mifflin went on to write: “I thank God I am a bookseller, trafficking in the dreams and beauties and curiosities of humanity rather than some mere huckster of merchandise.”

  • We visit bookshops not so often to buy any one special book, but rather to rediscover, in the happier and more expressive words of others, our own encumbered soul. Christopher Morley, “On Visiting Bookshops,” in Pipefuls (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: The concluding line of the essay, this observation resonates as much today as when it was written nearly a century ago. To read the full essay, also resonant with meaning for book lovers, go to “On Visiting Bookshops”.

  • Those of us who read because we love it more than anything…feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers. Anna Quindlen, in How Reading Changed My Life (1998)
  • I love bookstores. A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have that people are still thinking. Jerry Seinfeld, in Seinlanguage (1993)
  • A bookstore is one of the few places where all the cantankerous, conflicting, alluring voices of the world co-exist in peace and order, and the avid reader is as free as a person can possibly be, because she is free to choose among them. Jane Smiley, quoted in Gibbs M. Smith, The Art of the Bookstore (2009)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a wonderful observation in its own right, but it was actually the concluding words to a lovely larger thought about the central role a bookstore can play in the hearts of people: “Leaving any bookstore is hard, especially on a day in August, when the street outside burns and glares, and the books inside are cool and crisp to the touch; especially on a day in January, when the wind is blowing, the ice is treacherous, and the books inside seem to gather in colorful warmth. It’s hard to leave a bookstore any day of the year, though, because a bookstore is one of the few places where all the cantankerous, conflicting, alluring voices of the world co-exist in peace and order, and the avid reader is as free as a person can possibly be, because she is free to choose among them.”

  • The relationship between a bookstore and its patrons is more than commerce, more than business; it’s an emotional and spiritual connection. Gibbs M. Smith, in The Art of the Bookstore (2009)
  • Wherever I go, bookstores are still the closest thing to a town square. Gloria Steinem, in My Life on the Road (2015)
  • The Bookshop has a thousand books,/All colors, hues, and tinges,/And every cover is a door/That turns on magic hinges. Nancy Byrd Turner, “The Bookshop,” reprinted in Schools for Democracy (1939; C. O. Williams, ed.)
  • Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Virginia Woolf, describing a used bookstore in London, in Street Haunting: A London Adventure (1930)

Woolf continued: “Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”



  • When you start to bore yourself and others, that's when you begin to get old. Martha Albrand, in Wait for the Dawn (1950)
  • It is all right to hold a conversation but you should let go of it now and then. Richard Armour, quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow, Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: No source for this quotation has ever been provided in any anthology I’ve seen, and I’ve been unable to find an original source in my research. My best guess is that in first appeared in “Armour’s Armory,” his popular syndicated newspaper column.

  • He’s the kind of bore who’s here today and here tomorrow. Binnie Barnes, quoted in Michèle Brown and Ann O'Connor, Hammer and Tongues: A Dictionary of Women’s Wit and Humor (1986)
  • Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Travel never made a bore interesting; it only makes for a well-traveled bore, in the same way coffee makes for a wide-awake drunk. Peg Bracken, in But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World! (1973)

Bracken continued: “In fact, the more a bore travels, the worse he gets. The only advantage in it for his friends and family is that he isn’t home as much.” For another thought on travel bores, see the Sackville-West entry below.

  • There is no doubt that the garrulous bore is the most maddening creature to be shut up with for any length of time, on the wide earth. J. E. Buckrose, “On Bores,” in What I Have Gathered (1923)

A moment later, Buckrose added: “As a matter of fact, I have sometimes wondered if these impulsive, perfectly meaningless murders of which one has read at times, can have come about through one party babbling on endlessly—just once too often—when the other longed to be left in peace.”

  • Society is now one polished horde,/Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan (1819–24)
  • Nobody ever bores another on purpose. The Bore sees himself as the life of the party, a vivacious cutie, information dispenser, or some other flattering guise. You and I, horrible thought, may be a bore without knowing it. Dorothy Carnegie, in Don't Grow Old—Grow Up! (1956)
  • It is bad when a married pair bore each other, but far worse when only one of them bores the other. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • The bore is usually considered a harmless creature, or of that class of irrational bipeds who hurt only themselves. Maria Edgeworth, in Thoughts on Bores (1826)

In the book, Edgeworth also wrote: “The bore is good for promoting sleep; but though he causeth sleep in others, it is uncertain whether he ever sleeps himself; as few can keep awake in his company long enough to see. It is supposed that when he sleeps it is with his mouth open.”

  • A bore is a fellow who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it. Henry Ford, attributed without citation in Gyles Brandeth, Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (5th ed., 2013)
  • There is nothing more boring than a bored person. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • A bore: Someone who persists in holding to his own views after we have enlightened him with ours. Malcolm Forbes, quoted in The Forbes Book of Business Quotations (1997; Ted Goodman, ed.)
  • Man is the only animal that can be bored. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955)
  • Bores. People who talk of themselves, when you are thinking only of yourself. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Most of my contemporaries at school entered the World of Business, the logical destiny of bores. Barry Humphries, in More Please (1992)
  • If you haven’t struck oil in five minutes, stop boring! George Jessel, quoted in Cleveland Amory, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables (1959)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is almost always presented: “If you haven’t struck oil in the first three minutes, stop boring!” However, the version in Amory’s book—the first to feature the quotation in print—takes precedence.

  • Politeness is the art of bearing boredom without being bored. Joseph Joubert, in The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert (1883)
  • Highly educated bores are by far the worst; they know so much, in such fiendish detail, to be boring about. Louis Kronenberger, quoted in Forbes magazine (May 1, 1964)
  • We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those whom we bore. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Bores bore each other too; but it never seems to teach them anything. Don Marquis, quoted in Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis: A Biography (1962)
  • Under pressure, people admit to murder, setting fire to the village church, or robbing a bank, but never to being bores. Elsa Maxwell, quoted in a 2000 issue of Forbes magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • A bore: one who knows as well as you do what he is going to say next. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • I am sometimes bored by people, but never by life. Nancy Mitford, a character known as The Frenchmen speaking, in The Blessing (1951)
  • A bore is a person not interested in you. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)

In the book, Poole also wrote: “A woman's definition of a bore: a man in love with another woman.”

  • I am never bored anywhere; being bored is an insult to oneself. Jules Renard, journal entry (Sep., 1893), in Journal (1964)
  • Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not not in the least want to hear what he has seen in Hong-Kong. Vita Sackville-West, in Passenger to Teheran (1926)

For another thought on travel bores, see the Peg Bracken entry above.

  • I am one of those unhappy persons who inspire bores to the highest flights of their art. Edith Sitwell, quoted in Elizabeth Salter, The Last Years of a Rebel (1967)
  • One can be bored until boredom becomes a mystical experience. Logan Pearsall Smith, quoted in Morris Bishop, The Life and Adventures of La Rochefoucauld (1951)
  • A bore is a man who, when you ask him how he is, tells you. Bert Leston Taylor, in The So-Called Human Race (1922)
  • A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience. John Updike, “Confessions of a Wild Bore,” in Assorted Prose (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation almost always appears, but it was originally an integral portion of the essay’s opening words (one of the finest opening paragraphs in the history of essay writing):

“Pity the poor bore. He stands among us as a creature formidable and familiar yet in essence unknowable. We can read of the ten infallible signs whereby he may be recognized and of the seven tested methods whereby he may be rebuffed. Valuable monographs exist upon his dress and diet; the study of his mating habits and migrational routes is well past the speculative stage; and statistical studies abound. One out of three hundred and twelve Americans is a bore, for instance, and a healthy adult male bore consumes….”

  • The secret of being a bore is to tell everything. Voltaire, in Sept Discours en vers sur l’homme [Seven Discourses in Verse on Man](1738)

QUOTE NOTE: In the original thought, Voltaire expressed it this way: “Le secret d’ennuyer est celui de tout dire.”

  • If you have once thoroughly bored somebody it is next to impossible to unbore him. Elizabeth von Arnim, in The Enchanted April (1922)
  • In heaven they will bore you, in hell you will bore them. Katharine Whitehorn, quoted in Jilly Cooper and Tom Hartman, Violets and Vinegar (1982)
  • Taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human being becomes a bore. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)

Lord Illingworth preceded the thought by saying, “One should never take sides in anything.”


(see also APATHY and BORES and ENNUI)

  • There is no greater fraud or bore than the writer who has acquired the art of saying nothing brilliantly. Gertrude Atherton, in The Californians (1898)
  • Boredom is like a pitiless zooming in on the epidermis of time. Every instant is dilated and magnified like the pores of the face. Jean Baudrillard, in Cool Memories (1987)
  • Boredom…is also the shriek of unused capacities, the doom of serving no great end or design, or contributing to no master force. Saul Bellow, the character Hymie Basteshaw speaking, in The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites this observation is presented simply as “Boredom is the shriek of unused capacities.” Here’s the complete passage: “Boredom therefore can arise from the cessation of habitual functions, even though these may be boring too. It is also the shriek of unused capacities, the doom of serving no great end or design, or contributing to no master force.” A bit earlier in his conversation with the title character, Basteshaw had offered this additional thought on the subject: “Boredom is the conviction that you can’t change.”

  • Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. Walter Benjamin, in The Storyteller (1936)
  • Is boredom anything less than the sense of one’s faculties slowly dying? John Berger, in A Fortunate Man (1967)
  • The world is eaten up by boredom. To perceive this needs a little preliminary thought: you can’t see it all at once. It is like dust. You go about and never notice, you breathe it in, you eat and drink it. It is sifted so fine, it doesn’t even grit on your teeth. But stand still for an instant and there it is, coating your face and hands. To shake off this drizzle of ashes you must be forever on the go. George Bernanos, in The Diary of a Country Priest (1936)
  • I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom. Thomas Carlyle
  • The life of pleasure breeds boredom. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • Boredom is the fear of self. Comtesse Diane de Beausacq, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • We pay for security with boredom, for adventure with bother. Peter De Vries, the protagonist Chick Swallow speaking, in Comfort Me With Apples (1956)
  • One must, in one's life, make a choice between boredom and suffering. Germaine de Staël, in an 1800 letter, quoted in J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël (1958)
  • Boredom is a pleasing antidote to fear. Daphne du Maurier
  • Boredom is nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers and the sense of unaliveness. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955)

Fromm continued: “Among the evils of life, there are few which are as painful as boredom, and consequently every attempt is made to avoid it.”

  • I am convinced that boredom is one of the greatest tortures. If I were to imagine Hell, it would be the place where you were continually bored. Erich Fromm, “Medicine and the Ethical Problem of Modern Man,” in The Dogma of Christ: and Other Essays (1963)

Fromm continued: “In fact, people make a frantic effort to avoid boredom, running away to this, that, or the other, because their boredom is unbearable. Even if you have anxiety and compulsive symptoms, at least they are interesting! In fact, I am convinced that one of the motivations for having such things is escape from boredom.”

  • Politeness is the art of bearing boredom without being bored. Joseph Joubert
  • There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But whatever it is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant—a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioral, medical and social consequences. Maggie Koerth-Baker, “Why Boredom Is Anything but Boring,” in Nature magazine (Jan. 18, 2016)
  • When you consider how epidemic boredom is in our time, you have to concede that entertaining is a healing art. Judith Martin
  • Against boredom even the gods themselves struggle in vain. Friedrich Nietzsche, playing off the famous Johann Friedrich von Schiller observation on stupidity, in The Antichrist (1888)
  • Boredom is the self being stuffed with itself. Walker Percy, in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983)
  • Boredom or discontent is useful to me when I acknowledge it and see clearly my assumption that there’s something else I would rather be doing. In this way, boredom can act as an invitation to freedom by opening me to new options and thoughts. Hugh Prather, in Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person (1970)
  • Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it. Bertrand Russell, “Boredom and Excitement,” in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • Soon he felt rising in his soul a desire for desires—boredom. Leo Tolstoy, the narrator describing the emotional state of Count Vronsky, in Anna Karenina (1877)
  • The boredom produced by a complete absence of risk is also a sickness of the soul. Simone Weil, in Selected Essays, 1934-1943 (1962)

Weil preceded the thought by writing: “The human soul has need of security and also of risk. The fear of violence or of hunger or of any other extreme evil is a sickness of the soul. The boredom produced by a complete absence of risk is also a sickness of the soul.”





  • If everyone laughs and your joke isn’t funny, you must be the boss. Esther Blumenfeld, in Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alpern, Humor at Work (1994)
  • Some bosses are so greedy (for themselves only) they forget underlings are not thirteenth-century peasants who can be satisfied with a glass of mead and three festivals a year. Helen Gurley Brown, in Having It All (1982)
  • In many ways, your boss may be more important than the job. Pat Heim, in Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business (1993; with Susan K. Golant)

Heim preceded the thought by writing: “Whether you’re moving to a new company or a new department within your current organization, I believe you’ll end up miles ahead if you shop for a boss, not a position. You may secure the greatest job in the world, but a miserable boss will turn gold into ashes.”

  • It is the quick thinkers who become leaders. He who hesitates is bossed. Martha Lupton, quoted in The Speaker’s Desk Book (1937)
  • The person who knows “how” will always have a job. The person who knows “why” will always be his boss. Diane Ravitch, quoted in a 1985 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)
  • No matter what the job description says, your real job is to make the boss look good. Lois Wyse, in The Six-Figure Woman (1983)




  • I have just returned from Boston. It is the only sane thing to do if you find yourself up there. Fred Allen, in letter to Groucho Marx (June 12, 1953)
  • And this is good old Boston,/The home of the bean and the cod,/Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,/And the Cabots talk only to God. John Collins Bossidy, in toast at a 1910 Holy Cross alumni dinner

QUOTE NOTE: In this famous piece of verse, Bossidy was referring to three of the most aristocratic families in Boston. In his F.P.A.’s Book of Quotations (1952), Franklin Pearce Adams offered a poetic parody. Titled “On the Aristocracy of Harvard, Revised,” Adams wrote: “And here’s to the city of Boston,/The town of the cries and groans,/Where the Cabots can’t see the Kabotschniks,/And the Lowells won’t speak to the Cohns.”

  • Boston’s freeway system is insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America (1989)
  • We say the cows laid out Boston. Well, there are worse surveyors. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Never have so many been so high so often. When a Boston research group decided to compare the effects of marijuana on experienced and inexperienced users, it took them two months to line up nine student subjects who had never used marijuana. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Brain Revolution (1973)
  • The spring in Boston is like being in love: bad days slip in among the good ones, and the whole world is at a standstill, then the sun shines, the tears dry up, and we forget that yesterday was stormy. Louise Closser Hale, a reflection of narrator Melissa “Missy” Robinson, in Her Soul and Her Body (1912)
  • Boston—wrinkled, spindly-legged, depleted of nearly all her spiritual and cutaneous oils, provincial, self-esteeming—has gone on spending and spending her inflated bills of pure reputation, decade after decade. Elizabeth Hardwick, “Boston,” in A View of My Own (1962)
  • Boston State-house is the hub of the solar system. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)

A decade later, in Last Winter in the United States (1868), the reverend F. B. Zinckle helped to clarify the reference: “Massachusetts has been the wheel within New England, and Boston the wheel within Massachusetts. Boston therefore is often called the ‘hub of the world,’ since it has been the source and fountain of the ideas that have reared and made America.”

  • This is a town where there are three pastimes: politics, sports, and revenge. Lawrence C. Moulter, quoted in The New York Times (Feb 17, 1993)
  • Tonight I appear for the first time before a Boston audience—4,000 critics. Mark Twain, in a letter (Nov. 9, 1869)



  • Boxing is just show business with blood. Frank Bruno, quoted in The Guardian (London; Nov., 1991)
  • There ain’t nothing like being in the corner, and the trainer is whispering in your ear and another guy is putting in your mouthpiece. Five seconds to go, then boom! The bell. It's more exciting than looking down a cliff. George Foreman, quoted in Newsweek (Jan. 26, 1976)
  • Once that bell rings you're on your own. It's just you and the other guy. Joe Louis, quoted in Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory (1993)
  • Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost. Joyce Carol Oates, in On Boxing (1987)
  • Boxing as a public spectacle is akin to pornography: in each case the spectator is made a voyeur, distanced, yet presumably intimately involved, in an event that is not supposed to happening as it is happening. Joyce Carol Oates, in On Boxing (1987)

Oates introduced the thought by writing: “The spectacle of human beings fighting each other for whatever reason, including, at certain well-publicized times, staggering sums of money, is enormously disturbing because it violates a taboo of our civilization. Many men and women, however they steel themselves, cannot watch a boxing match because they cannot allow themselves to see what it is they are seeing.”



  • Life has this in common with prizefighting: if you’ve received a belly blow, it’s likely to be followed by a right to the jaw. Amanda Cross, in The James Joyce Murder (1967)
  • The blow you can’t see coming is the blow that knocks you out. Joyce Carol Oates, “Golden Gloves,” in Raven’s Wings (1985)
  • I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing—for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible not to see your opponent is you. Joyce Carol Oates, in On Boxing (1987)
  • Give your main clause a little space. Prose is not like boxing; the skilled writer deliberately telegraphs his punch, knowing that the reader wants to take the message directly on the chin. William Safire, on placing a comma after the dependent clause, in How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar (1990)



  • Boys have a period of mischief as much as they have measles or chicken-pox. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Boys do not grow up gradually. They move forward in spurts like the hands of clocks in railway stations. Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise (1938)
  • The time of the psychological passing over from boyhood to manhood is a movable feast. The legal date fixed on the twenty-first birthday has little or no connection with it. There are men in their teens, and there are boys in their forties. James Weldon Johnson, in Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson (1933)

Johnson continued: “This passing over is really not across a line, but across a zone. There are some who are driven across early in life by the steady pressure of responsibility. A few, projected by some sudden stroke of fate, take the zone in a single leap. But most of us wander across…and a good many of us grow old without ever getting completely over.”

  • Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable. Plato, in Theaetetus (4th c. B.C.)



  • The brain is only three pounds of blood, dream, and electricity, and yet from that mortal stew come Beethoven’s sonatas. Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz. Audrey Hepburn’s wish to spend the last month of her life in Somalia, saving children. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)
  • Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse-gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasuredome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag. Diane Ackerman, in An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain (2004)

QUOTE NOTE: Ackerman’s opening words are a metaphorical tour de force, providing readers with a satisfying taste of what awaits them in the rest of the book. In the opening paragraph, she continued: “The neocortex has ridges, valleys, and folds because the brain kept remodeling itself though space was tight. We take for granted the ridiculous-sounding yet undeniable fact that each person carries around atop the body a complete universe in which trillions of sensations, thoughts, and desires stream.”

  • He’s very clever, but sometimes his brains go to his head. Margot Asquith, on Lord Birkenhead, in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith (1936)
  • My brain? It’s my second favorite organ. Woody Allen, as the character Miles Monroe, in the 1973 film Sleeper (screenplay by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman)
  • The brain is a subservient organ to the gonads. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This was clearly inspired by a famous Carl Jung observation, to be seen below.

  • The mind, of course, is just what the brain does for a living. Sharon Begley, “Gray Matters,” in Newsweek magazine (March 26, 1995)
  • Like sand on the beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken. Sharon Begley, in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (2007)
  • Brain, n. An apparatus with which we think that we think. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also. Robert Browning, “One Word More,” in Men and Women (1855)
  • The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love, having no geography, knows no boundaries. Truman Capote, the character Randolph speaking, in Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)

QUOTE NOTE: This line is engraved on Capote’s memorial stone in Bridgehampton, Long Island.

  • In the little grey cells of the brain lies the solution of every mystery. Agatha Christie, the narrator and protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The King of Clubs (1926)
  • The seat of perfect contentment is in the head; for every individual is throughly satisfied with his own proportion of brains. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1825)
  • Our brains have evolved to crave information consistent with what we already believe. We seek out and focus on facts and arguments that support our beliefs. More worrisome, when we are trapped in confirmation bias, we may not consciously perceive facts that challenge us, that are inconsistent with what we have already concluded. James Comey, in A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018)
  • The Brain—is wider than the Sky—/For—put them side by side—/The one the other will contain/With ease—and You—beside. Emily Dickinson, poem no. 632 (1862)
  • The human brain is unique in that it is the only container of which it can be said that the more you put into it, the more it will hold. Glenn Doman, in How to Teach Your Baby to Read (1964)
  • I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking to Dr. Watson, in A Study in Scarlet (1887)

QUOTE NOTE: A Study in Scarlet was the mystery novel that introduced the world’s first “consulting detective” to the reading public. Holmes extended the metaphor as follows:

“A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful [sic] workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Conan Doyle revisited the idea two years later in “The Five Orange Pips” (in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), where he had Holmes expressing the thought more succinctly: “A man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.” For a similar metaphor see the Louis L’Amour entry in Mind.

  • The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around. Thomas A. Edison, quoted in Leo Rosten, Infinite Riches: Gems from a Lifetime of Reading (1979)
  • Socrates called himself a midwife of ideas. A great book is often such a midwife, delivering to full existence what has been coiled like an embryo in the dark, silent depths of the brain. Clifton Fadiman, in The Lifetime Reading Plan (1960)
  • Although most of us are complacent in our assumption that science is gaining on the unknown, scientists are acknowledging that man’s own brain is complex beyond any hope of complete understanding. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Brain Revolution (1973)
  • The mob has many heads but no brains. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. As well speak of a female liver. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Women and Economics (1898)
  • If brains were all that important in a beauty contest, you could enter wearing a Hefty Bag. Lewis Grizzard, in Won’t You Come Home, Billy Bob Bailey? (1980)
  • With the thoughts I’d be thinkin’/I could be another Lincoln,/If I only had a brain. E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg, lyric in the song “If I Only Had a Brain” (1939)
  • Knowledge fills a large brain; it merely inflates a small one. Sydney J. Harris, in “Strictly Personal” syndicated column, reprinted in Best of Sydney J. Harris (1976)
  • The human brain is both a broadcasting and a receiving station. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success (1925)

QUOTE NOTE: The full thought, from which the metaphor was taken, is as follows: “More times than I can enumerate, I have proven to my own satisfaction at least, that every human brain is both a broadcasting and a receiving station for vibrations of thought frequency.” Hill offered the thought many times in his lifetime. In Think and Grow Rich (1937) he wrote: “More than forty years ago, working in conjunction with the late Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and Dr. Elmer Gates, I observed that every human brain is both a broadcasting and a receiving station for vibrations of thought.”

  • More gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth. Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Some later editions of the same book use the phrase “thoughts of men” instead of brains.

  • Our brains are seventy-year clocks. The Angel of Life winds them up once for all, then closes the case, and gives the key into the hand of the Angel of the Resurrection. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • Brain: A commodity as scarce as radium and more precious, used to fertilize ideas. Elbert Hubbard, in The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
  • The brain grows to the exact modes in which it has been exercised. William James, in The Principles of Psychology (1890)
  • The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public. George Jessel, quoted in The Observer (London; Aug. 7, 1949)

QUOTE NOTE: This popular Jessel observation is also commonly presented this way: “The human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born, and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.”

  • The brain is viewed as an appendage of the genital glands. Carl Jung, on Freud’s theory of sexuality, in “Wise Old Man,” Time magazine (Feb. 14, 1955)
  • For nearly a century the psychoanalysts have been writing op-ed pieces about the workings of a country they’ve never traveled to, a place that, like China, has been off-limits. Suddenly, the country has opened its borders and is crawling with foreign correspondents, neurobiologists are filing ten stories a week, filled with new data. These two groups of writers, however, don’t seem to read each other’s work. That’s because the analysts are writing about a country they call Mind and the neuroscientists are reporting from a country they call Brain. Susanna Kaysen, in Girl, Interrupted (1993)
  • What the brain does by itself is infinitely more fascinating and complex than any response it can make to chemical stimulation. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Dr. Haber speaking, in The Lathe of Heaven (1971)

Haber went on to add: “The creative and therapeutic resources of the brain—whether waking or sleeping or dreaming—are practically infinite. If we can just find the keys to all the locks.”

  • As turning the logs will make a dull fire burn, so change of studies a dull brain. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • But if God had wanted us to think just with our wombs, why did he give us a brain? Clare Booth Luce, in Slam the door Softly 1970)
  • It is not for nothing that artists have called their works the children of their brains and likened the pains of production to the pains of childbirth. W. Somerset Maugham, in Mr. Maugham Himself (1954)
  • Brains, on the whole, are like hearts, and they go where they are appreciated. Robert S. McNamara, in The Essence of Security: Reflections in Office (1968)
  • I had no reason to doubt that brains were suitable for a woman. Margaret Mead, in Blackberry Winter (1972)
  • I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me. A. A. Milne, the title character speaking, in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
  • It is good to rub and polish our brains against that of others. Michel de Montaigne, in Essais (1580–88)
  • The brain is a muscle/of busy hills, the struggle/of unthought things with things/eternally thought. Joyce Carol Oates, “The Grave Dwellers,” in Love and Its Derangements (1970)
  • There is no more terrible woe upon earth than the woe of the stricken brain, which remembers the days of its strength, the living light of its reason, the sunrise of its proud intelligence, and knows that these have passed away like a tale that is told. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos (1884)
  • Half a brain is enough for him who says little. Proverb (Italian)
  • Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains. Proverb (Italian)
  • The world needs scientists, engineers—and if a brain is qualified to do such work, it should be encouraged, not smothered because it is a female brain. Marguerite Rawalt, quoted in Judith Paterson, Be Somebody: A Biography of Marguerite Rawalt (1986)
  • Love kills intelligence. The brain and the heart act upon each other in the manner of an hour-glass. One fills itself only to empty the other. Jules Renard, a March, 1901 journal entry; in The Journal of Jules Renard (1964; Louise Bogan & Elizabeth Roget, eds.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation was introduced to an American audience in 1964. Today, almost all internet sites and scores of quotations anthologies omit the love kills intelligence portion and present a more succinct version of the thought: “Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties.”

  • If little else, the brain is an educational toy. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)

Robbins added: “While it may be a frustrating plaything—one whose finer points recede just when you think you are mastering them—it is nonetheless perpetually fascinating, frequently surprising, occasionally rewarding, and it comes already assembled; you don’t have to put it together on Christmas morning.”

  • Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain. J. K Rowling, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999)
  • The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous. Carl Sagan, in Boca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)
  • The brain is a tool that gets rusty without constant, albeit moderate, exercise. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • The more you put into a brain, the more it will hold—if you have one. Rex Stout, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in Might as Well Be Dead (1956)
  • I don’t know how a brain that is never used passes the time. Rex Stout, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in The Final Deduction (1961)
  • I cannot put sense in a fool’s brain. I have tried. Rex Stout, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in The Doorbell Rang (1965)
  • Books, the children of the brain. Jonathan Swift, in Tale of a Tub (1704)
  • The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth, open to everything, sending out messages to everything. To be sure, it is hidden away in bone and conducts internal affairs in secrecy, but virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds. Lewis Thomas, “On Probability and Possibility,” in Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974)

Thomas continued: “We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind, so compulsively and with such speed that the brains of mankind often appear, functionally, to be undergoing fusion.”

  • The brain upon which my experiences have been written is not a particularly good one. If their were brain-shows, as there are cat and dog shows, I doubt if it would get even a third class prize. H. G. Wells, in the Introduction to Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (1934)
  • All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. Walt Whitman, in Preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855)
  • I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow. Woodrow Wilson, a 1914 remark, quoted in Eugene C. Brooks, Woodrow Wilson as President (1916)
  • I like going from one lighted room to another, such is my brain to me; lighted rooms. Virginia Woolf, a diary entry (Aug. 15, 1924) in A Writer’s Diary (1953; Leonard Woolf, ed.)







  • The bitterest creature under heaven is the wife who discovers that her husband’s bravery is only bravado, that his strength is only a uniform, that his power is but a gun in the hands of a fool. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • Any fool knows that bravado is always a cover-up for insecurity. That's the truth. Bobby Darin, quoted in David Evanier, Roman Candle: The Life of Bobby Darin (2004)

QUOTE NOTE: See also the similar observation in the Sanderson entry below.

  • Cats don’t bark and act brave when they see something small in fur or feathers, they kill it. Dogs tend to bravado. They’re braggarts. In the great evolutionary drama the dog is Sergeant Bilko, the cat is Rambo. James Gorman, quoted in Armand Eisen, Cat Talk: A Quote Book for Cat Lovers (1995)
  • As boys without bonds to their fathers grow older and more desperate about their masculinity, they are in danger of forming gangs in which they strut their masculinity for one another, often overdo it, and sometimes turn to displays of fierce, macho bravado and even violence. Frank Pittman, in Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity (1993)
  • Bravado is to bravery as timidity is to virtue. Richard Raymond III, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 1, 2015)
  • The hallmark of insecurity is bravado. Brandon Sanderson, in The Way of Kings (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: I can't be sure, but it's possible that Sanderson was inspired by a very similar remark from Bobby Darin, to be seen above.

  • The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. Donald Trump, in Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: The words were written by ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, who later recalled his role in writing the book his “greatest regret in life.”

  • Bravado is just shame in a big, loud hat. Karen Weese, in Real Simple (2016)



  • It is easy to be brave at a safe distance. Aesop, “The Wolf and the Kid,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self. Aristotle, quoted in Johannes Stobaeus, Florilegium (5th c. A.D.)
  • The brave man is not he who feels no fear,/For that were stupid and irrational;/But he, whose noble soul its fear subdues,/And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from. Joanna Baillie, the character Count Rosinberg speaking, in Count Basil: A Tragedy (1798)
  • It is the perpetual dread of fear, the fear of fear, that shapes the face of a brave man. Georges Bernanos, the character M. Olivier speaking, in The Diary of a Country Priest (1936)
  • The truly brave,/When they behold the brave oppressed with odds,/Are touched with a desire to shield and save:—/A mixture of wild beasts and demi-gods/Are they—now furious as the sweeping wave. George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), in Don Juan (1818–24)
  • Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle. G. K. Chesterton, “The Prehistoric Railway Station,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)
  • When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened. Billy Graham, “A Time for Moral Courage,” in Reader’s Digest (July, 1964)

Graham preceded this observation by famously writing: “Courage is contagious.”

  • To be brave in misfortune is to be worthy of manhood; to be wise in misfortune is to conquer fate. Agnes Repplier, ”Strayed Sympathies,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. J. K. Rowling, the character Dumbledore speaking, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997)
  • Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), “On Providence,” in Sententiae (1st. cent. B.C.)
  • Men are not given awards and promotions for bravery in intimacy. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)
  • Bravery never goes out of fashion. William Makepeace Thackeray, “George II,” in The Four Georges (1860)



  • Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. Adelle Davis, in Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (1954)
  • I like breakfast-time better than any other moment in the day. No dust has settled on one’s mind then, and it presents a clear mirror to the rays of things. George Eliot, the character Mr. Irwine speaking, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. John Gunther, quoted in Newsweek magazine (April 14, 1958)
  • The breakfast hour is no time for creative experimentation, which is why everyone’s more or less content to eat the same breakfast five or six days a week, while a dinner repeated even once is an outrage. Barbara Holland, opening line of “Wearing Fur,” in Endangered Pleasures (1995)

Holland continued: “Breakfast was never really supposed to be a pleasure anyway; it was nutrition, and something of a moral litmus test for the lady of the house.”

  • A simple enough pleasure, surely, to have breakfast alone with one’s husband, but how seldom married people in the midst of life achieve it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • Breakfast is the one meal at which it is permissible to read the paper. Amy Vanderbilt, in New Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living (1963)



  • Males cannot look at breasts and think at the same time. In fact, scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid. Dave Barry, “Wonderbra Presents Double-Barrelled Threat,” in the Orlando Sentinel (March 1, 1994)
  • Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. The Bible—Song of Solomon 4:5 (RSV)
  • Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,/To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak. William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride (1697)

ERROR ALERT: This is the exact phrasing of Congreve’s famous couplet about the calming and restorative powers of music (it was the very first line of the play, delivered by the character Almeria). In everyday use these days, though, savage beast has almost completely supplanted savage breast (and hath commonly replaces has). I long believed that the dropping of the “r” in breast was an example of what linguists call elision or syncope, but I now have a plausible alternative explanation for the shift. In 1718, twenty-one years after the first performance of Congreve’s play, a contemporary English poet named Matthew Prior came out with an epic prose-poem titled Solomon, on the Vanity of the World. That work contained a piece of verse that appears to make an allusion to Congreve’s couplet: “Often our seers and poets have confess’d,/That music’s force can tame the furious beast;/Can make the wolf, or foaming boar restrain/His rage.”

It’s easy to understand how savage breast and furious beast could get intermixed in popular discourse as the years went by, resulting in the current savage beast saying.

  • A full bosom is actually a millstone around a woman’s neck: it endears her to the men who want to make their mammet of her, but she is never allowed to think that their popping eyes actually see her. Germaine Greer, “Curves,” in The Female Eunuch (1970)

Greer continued: “Her breasts…are not part of a person, but lures slung around her neck, to be kneaded and twisted like magic putty, or mumbled and mouthed like lolly ices.”

  • Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • They press’d/The yielding marble of her snowy breast. Edmund Waller, “Of Her Passing Through a Crowd of People,” a circa 1670 poem in Poetical Works of Edmund Waller and Sir John Dehham (1857)
  • Doubt springs eternal in the human breast. Thornton Wilder, the voice of the narrator, playing off Alexander Pope’s famous saying above.


(includes NURSING; see also BABIES and BREASTS and INFANTS)

  • It is only in the act of nursing that a woman realizes her motherhood in visible and tangible fashion; it is a joy of every moment. The milk becomes flesh before our eyes; it blossoms into the tips of those delicate flower-like fingers; it expands in tender, transparent nails; it spins the silky tresses; it kicks in the little feet. Honoré de Balzac, in letter from the character Renée de L’Estorade to the other “bride,” Louise de Macumer, in Letters of Two Brides (1841-42)

A moment later, L’Estorade went on to add: “Yes, Louise, nursing is a miracle of transformation going on before one’s bewildered eyes. Those cries, they go to your heart and not your ears; those smiling eyes and lips, those plunging feet, they speak in words which could not be plainer if God traced them before you in letters of fire!”

  • A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three. Grantly Dick-Read, Childbirth Without Fear (2006)
  • Nursing does not diminish the beauty of a woman’s breasts; it enhances their charm by making them look lived in and happy. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don’t decide how much and how deeply to love—you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want. Marni Jackson, in The Mother Zone: Love, Sex, and Laundry in the Modern Family (1992)
  • As a breastfeeding mother you are basically just meals on heels. Kathy Lette, quoted in Connie Robertson. The Wordsworth Book of Humorous Quotations (1998)
  • Every time the word “breastfeeding” is mentioned, there’s a snicker on the House [of Representatives’] floor. This has been happening since the dawn of creation. Can we finally get a grip on it? Susan Molinari, quoted in Patricia Schroeder, 24 Years of House Work…and the Place Is Still a Mess (1998)
  • The benefits to the mother of immediate breastfeeding are innumerable—not the least of which, after the weariness of labor and pain, is the emotional gratification, the feeling of strength, of power, the composure, and the sense of fulfillment that comes with the handling and suckling of the baby. Ashley Montagu, in Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (1986)
  • The truth is that there’s nothing sexy about nursing in public, a process that usually includes a deft disarrangement of garments and the weird stares of passers-by and is quite like hiding a soccer ball beneath your shirt. Anna Quindlen, “Public & Private; To Feed or Not to Feed,” in The New York Times (May 25, 1994)

Quindlen’s article appeared just after New York State passed legislation making public breastfeeding of babies a civil right (the third state to do so). She brought the article to an end by writing: “Sometimes a breast is a sexual object, and sometimes it’s a food delivery system, and one need not preclude nor color the other.”

  • I can’t get past the fact that food is coming out of my wife’s breasts. What was once essentially an entertainment center has now become a juice bar. Paul Reiser, after the birth of his first child, in Babyhood (1997)

Reiser continued: “This takes some getting used to. It’s like if bread were suddenly coming out of a person’s neck. Wouldn’t that be unsettling?”



  • Perhaps the summary of good breeding may be reduced to this rule. “Behave unto all men as you would they should behave unto you.” Henry Fielding, a 1752 passage in The Covent Garden Journal

Fielding continued: “This will most certainly oblige us to treat all mankind with the utmost civility and respect, there being nothing that we desire more than to be treated so by them.”

  • Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person. Mark Twain, quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935)



  • Brevity and conciseness are the parents of conviction. The leaden bullet is more fatal than when multiplied into shot. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1886)
  • Brevity is the soul of lingerie. Dorothy Parker, playing off the famous line from Hamlet, quoted in Alexander Woollcott, While Rome Burns (1934)

QUOTE NOTE: This ingenious tweaking of a famous Shakespeare line (see below) has become one of Parker’s most popular quotations, but you should know that it’s a shortened version of her original creation. In 1916, while employed at Vogue magazine, Parker’s job included the writing of captions for the magazine’s many fashion and wardrobe layouts. On a page devoted to ladies’ underwear, she wrote the following: “From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.” See also the Maugham entry in IMPROPRIETY.

  • Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,/Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)
  • Brevity is the soul of wit. William Shakespeare, the character Polonius speaking, in Hamlet (1601)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the saying is generally presented, but it was originally part of a larger passage: “Since brevity is the soul of wit,/And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,/I will be brief.” In Shakespeare’s time, the word wit was often synonymous with wisdom. Polonius was known for his verbosity, and the meaning of his saying is that words of wisdom should not be lengthy and tedious, but brief and to the point. For two famous tweaks of the saying, see Maugham in IMPROPRIETY and Parker in LINGERIE.

  • If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. Robert Southey, quoted in Henry Southgate, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1862)

QUOTATION CAUTION: So far, this is the earliest appearance I’ve been able to find of this popular observation on the importance of brevity in writing and speaking. Despite years of sleuthing by quotation researchers, the passage has not been found in Southey’s works.



  • A friend that you buy with presents will be bought from you. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Our political system has been thoroughly corrupted, and by the usual suspect—money, what else? The corruption is open, obscene, and unmistakable. The way campaigns are financed is a system of legalized bribery. Molly Ivins, in You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You (1998)

Ivins continued: “We have a government of special interests, by special interests, and for special interests. And that will not change until we change the way campaigns are financed.”

  • Young people do not need bribes to act responsibly. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • Between friends there is no bribery. Margaret Mead, in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family (1965)

Mead went on to add: “The relationship of friends is intrinsically fair and equal. Neither feels stronger or more clever or more beautiful than the other.”

  • A conscience which has been bought once will be bought twice. Norman Wiener, in The Human Use of Human Beings (1954)



  • Bridges are America’s cathedrals. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: In The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2006), Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner make reference to a December, 1973 American Heritage article in which an unnamed writer described bridges as “those gaunt and wistful structures on whose weathered surfaces can be read so much of our history.”

  • De railroad bridge’s/A sad song in de air./Every time de trains pass/I wants to go somewhere. Langston Hughes, in “Homesick Blues” (1926)

QUOTE NOTE: The poem was originally written in this dialect style, but when Hughes recorded the poem for Smithsonian Folkways, he recited it in standard English: “The railroad bridge is/A sad song in the air./Every time the trains pass/I wants to go somewhere.” It may be heard at “Homesick Blues.”



  • There are those in the industry who believe broadcasting can move men, and even some who believe it could move mountains, but they are outnumbered by those who believe all it has to do is move goods. Alexander Kendrick, in Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow (1969)


(includes [Chicken] BROTH; see also EATING and FOOD and SOUP)

  • Broth is meat tea. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: The notion that broth is a kind of meat tea first emerged in the Twitterworld on Oct. 4, 2009 when @Brian Genisio posted the question: “What is the difference between ‘meat tea’ and broth/stock?” A week later, Summer Anne Burton followed up with: “Just imagine, if someone hadn’t invented the word ‘broth’ we’d all be stuck with ‘meat tea.’” It was only a matter of time, then, before a new metaphor was born, sometimes in the form “Chicken broth is [just] meat tea.” Thanks to Barry Popik for his original—and invaluable—research on this saying.



  • The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? Pablo Casals, quoted in Albert E. Kahn, Joys and Sorrows: Reflections‎ by Pablo Casals as told to Albert E. Kahn (1974)

According to Kahn, Casals continued: “There is a brotherhood among all men. This must be recognized if life is to remain. We must learn the love of man.”



  • Brothers are so unpleasant. George Eliot, IN Middlemarch (1871)



  • My home is humble and unattractive to strangers, but to me it contains what I shall find nowhere else in the world—the…affection which brothers and sisters feel for each other. Charlotte Brontë, quoted in Clement King Shorter, Charlotte Brontë and Her Sisters (1905)
  • The experience of having brothers and sisters, born of the same parents, sleeping under the same roof, eating at the same table, is an inescapable, delightful and repelling, desired and abhorred part of each child’s life. Margaret Mead, in Family (1965; with Ken Heyman)



  • We shape our buildings, then they shape us. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons debate (Oct. 28, 1943); quoted in Churchill By Himself (2008; Richard M. Langworth, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill’s words—a legendary example of chiasmus—came during a vigorous debate about how to repair the main chamber of the House of Commons, which had been destroyed in a German air raid on May 10, 1941. While many wanted to significantly enlarge the space, which was too small to seat every member of Parliament, Churchill argued in favor of essentially re-creating the original structure. The chamber was only rarely filled to capacity, Churchill argued, and there would be “a sense of crowd and urgency” during the occasional times when it was filled beyond capacity. Churchill’s argument ultimately won the day.

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites and quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotation this way: “We shape our dwellings and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

  • Light, God’s eldest daughter, is a principal beauty in a building. Thomas Fuller, “Of Building,” in The Holy State and the Profane State (1642)
  • Three things are to be looked to in a building: that it stand on the right spot; that it be securely founded; that it be successfully executed. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Elective Affinities (1808)
  • If you survive long enough, you’re revered—rather like an old building. Katharine Hepburn, in M. Freedland, Katharine Hepburn (1984)
  • The home of the Utopian impulse was architecture rather than painting or sculpture. Painting can make us happy, but building is the art we live in; it is the social art par excellence, the carapace of political fantasy, the exoskeleton of one’s economic dreams. It is also the one art nobody can escape. Robert Hughes, “Trouble in Utopia,” in The Shock of the New (1991; 2nd ed.)

ERROR ALERT: This observation has also been commonly presented in this abridged version: “Architecture is the one art nobody can escape.”

  • People commonly educate their children as they build their houses, according to some plan they think beautiful, without considering whether it is suited to the purposes for which they are designed. Mary Wortley Montagu, letter to Lady Bute, her daughter (Feb. 19, 1750); in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)
  • When I say artist I don’t mean in the narrow sense of the word—but the man who is building things…. It’s all a big game of construction—some with a brush—some with a shovel—some choose a pen. Jackson Pollock, in a 1932 letter to his father; reprinted in Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 4 (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a slightly abridged version of the full thought, which was as follows: “When I say artist I don’t mean in the narrow sense of the word—but the man who is building things—creating molding the earth—whether it be the plains of the west—or the iron ore of Penn. It’s all a big game of construction—some with a brush—some with a shovel—some choose a pen.”

  • When we build, let us think that we build forever. John Ruskin, “The Lamp of Memory,” in The Seven lamps of Architecture (1849)

QUOTE NOTE: Ruskin was speaking about the construction of great public buildings when he wrote this, but the thought can be legitimately applied to all buildings. He continued: “Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our fathers did for us.’ For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold. Its glory is in its Age.

  • The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (July 14, 1852)
  • Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance. Kurt Vonnegut, a musing of the protagonist Eugene Debs Hartke, in Hocus Pocus (1990)
  • Too low they build, who build beneath the stars. Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742–45)


(see also MATADOR and SPECTACLE)

  • Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor. Ernest Hemingway, in Death in the Afternoon (1932)



  • The bully must be met with instant repulse or he multiplies his own violence. A placated bully is a hand-fed bully. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic: An Autobiography (1963)

A moment later, Ferber went on to add: “One thing I’ve learned in life; you cannot placate the power-mad. You must—to paraphrase an old saying—take the bully by the horns. Early.”



  • Some people like being burdened. It gives them an interest. Beryl Bainbridge, the character Stella speaking, in An Awfully Big Adventure: A Novel (1989)
  • No one is useless in this world, retorted the Secretary, who lightens the burden of it for any one else. Charles Dickens, the protagonist John Harmon speaking (in the assumed role of a secretary named John Rokesmith), in Our Mutual Friend (serialized 1864-65; book form 1865)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”



  • Bureaucracy, the rule of nobody. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)
  • Bureaucracy, a giant mechanism operated by pygmies. Honoré de Balzac, in The Government Clerks (1838)
  • In this day and age, we need to revise the old saying to read, “Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” Milton Friedman, “Bureaucracy Scorned,” in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 29, 1975); reprinted in Bright Promises, Dismal Performance: An Economist’s Protest (1983)
  • The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty. Eugene McCarthy, quoted in Time magazine (Feb. 12, 1979)
  • Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism. Mary McCarthy, “The Vita Activa,” in The New Yorker (Oct. 18, 1958)
  • A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth. Ronald Reagan, in “A Time for Choosing” television address (Oct. 27, 1964); reprinted in Speaking My Mind (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: The speech, offered in support of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, brought Reagan into national prominence as a new conservative spokesperson. He preceded the remark by saying, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear.”

  • If you’re going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy; God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t. Hyman G. Rickover, quoted in The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1986)
  • There is something about a bureaucrat that doesn’t like a poem. Gore Vidal, in Preface to Sex, Death, and Money (1968)



  • There is ever a slight suspicion of the burlesque about earnest, good men. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1840 journal entry
  • There is parody, when you make fun of people who are smarter than you; satire, when you make fun of people who are richer than you; and burlesque, when you make fun of both while taking your clothes off. P. J. O’Rourke, in Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1995)



  • One thing more dangerous than getting between a grizzly sow and her cub is getting between a businessman and a dollar bill. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Business once lost, does not easily return to the old hands. Abigail Adams, from letter to Harriet Welsh (June 6, 1815); in The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009; John P. Kaminski, ed.)
  • In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield. Warren Buffett, in The Tao of Warren Buffett (2006; Mary Buffett & David Clark, eds.)
  • I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel, and incompetent comes naturally to me. John Cleese, quoted in Newsweek (June 15, 1997)

QUOTE NOTE: Cleese was making reference to his appearance as a businessman in some industrial training videos made earlier in his career.

  • Business is other people’s money. Delphine de Girardin, in Marguerite: or Two Loves, Vol. II (1852)
  • Longing, the hope for fulfillment, is the one unwavering passion of the world’s commerce. E. L. Doctorow, “Theodore Dreiser: Book One and Book Two,” in Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution (1993)
  • There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. Peter F. Drucker, in The Practice of Management (1954)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is almost always presented without the word purpose. The quotation originally emerged in a section titled “The Purpose of a Business,” where Drucker began by writing: “If we want to know what a business is we have to start with its purpose. And its purpose must lie outside of the business itself. In fact, it must be in society since a business enterprise is an organ of society.”

  • Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision. Peter F. Drucker, quoted in a 1962 issue of Forbes magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Drive thy Business, or it will drive thee. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Sep., 1744)
  • Do business, but be not a slave to it. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • The poets of commerce. Stephen A. Grayser, on advertising copywriters, quoted in The New York Times (April 28, 1987)
  • In a business society, the role of sex can be summed up in five pitiful little words. There is money in it. Margaret Halsey, The Folks at Home (1952)
  • In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits. Lee Iacocca, in Iacocca: An Autobiography (1985; with William Novak)
  • Most of my contemporaries at school entered the World of Business, the logical destiny of bores. Barry Humphries, in More Please (1992)
  • Monopoly is business at the end of its journey. Henry Demarest Lloyd, in Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894)
  • Business more than any other occupation is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight. Henry R. Luce, quoted in a 1972 issue of Manage magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • In business you get what you want by giving other people what they want. Alice Foote MacDougall, in The Autobiography of a Business Woman (1928)
  • Business is a combination of war and sport. André Maurois, quoted in Forbes magazine (June 15, 1959)
  • Like the color black, business mixed with anything turns to business. Lynda Obst, in Hello, He Lied—And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (1996)
  • More businesses die of indigestion than starvation. David Packard, quoting an unnamed engineer, in The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying about staying focused is routinely associated with Packard, but he never claimed it as his own, writing: “Wells Fargo sent a retired engineer to visit us. I spent a full afternoon with him and I have remembered ever since some advice he gave me. He said that more businesses die of indigestion than starvation. I have observed the truth of that advice many times since then.” The saying has become a modern business maxim—with the word businesses sometimes replaced by companies, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. For more, see this post by master quotation researcher Barry Popik

  • In business courtesy and efficiency have a symbiotic relationship. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • Dispatch is the soul of business. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Feb. 5, 1750)

QUOTE NOTE: Dispatch is a word that is not commonly used these days, but its meaning (“to complete, transact, or dispose of promptly”) does seem to be at the core of any successful business.

  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (May 22, 1749)
  • Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. Robert Louis Stevenson, “An Apology for Idlers,” in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • Most men are engaged in business the greater part of their lives because the soul abhors a vacuum, and they have not discovered any continuous employment for man’s nobler faculties. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (April 27, 1854)
  • A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator. Paul Valéry, quoted in a 1994 issue of Forbes magazine

QUOTE NOTE: This is modern translation of an observation that, according to quotation researcher Barry Popik, first appeared between 1941 and 1943. Personal calculators were not part of the conversation back then, so earlier translations of the line were not so neatly phrased. Here’s how the sentiment was presented in a 1970 translation by Stuart Gilbert: “The businessman . . . a cross between a dancer and a ready-reckoner.”

  • Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Andy Warhol, in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (1975)
  • Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion. Jack Welch, quoted in N. Tichy and R. Charan, “Speed, Simplicity, and Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch,” in Harvard Business Review (Sep.-Oct., 1989)


(see also BUSINESS & BUSINESS PEOPLE and BUSINESS PEOPLE—DESCRIBED BY OTHERS and other occupational groups “ON THEMSELVES” sections)

  • I want to put a ding in the universe. Steve Jobs, remark in a 1981 conversation with writer Phil Patton, quoted in Steve Jobs: Insanely Great Quotes (2011)

QUOTE NOTE: Later in his career, Jobs also occasionally talked about putting “a dent in the universe.” Both sentiments would have to considered examples of what the bestselling business author Jim Collins referred to as BHAGs (pronounced “BEE-hags), his acronym for “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.”

  • It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy. Steve Jobs, quoted in John Sculley, Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple: A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and the Future (1987; with John A. Byrne)

QUOTE NOTE: Jobs made the remark to Sculley as he was attempting to persuade him to leave his position as president of Pepsi-Cola to become CEO of Apple Computer (Sculley ultimately served in that position from 1983 to 1993). In making his pitch to Sculley, Jobs also famous asked: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

  • Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets. Steve Jobs, quoted in Success magazine (June, 2010)
  • Like a midwife, I make my living bringing new babies into the world, except that mine are new advertising campaigns. David Ogilvy, in Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963)
  • Deals are my art form. Donald Trump, in Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987)

Trump added: “Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”


(see also BUSINESS & BUSINESS PEOPLE and BUSINESS PEOPLE—ON THEMSELVES & THEIR WORK and other occupational groups “ON THEMSELVES” sections)

  • What fascinated me about [Peter] Drucker, and still does, is how he infuses his broad perspective on business issues with philosophical and historical considerations. Henry Kaufman, in On Money and Markets (2000)
  • If Max gets to Heaven he won’t last long. He will be chucked out for trying to pull off a merger between Heaven and Hell . . . after having secured a controlling interest in key subsidiary companies in both places, of course. H. G. Wells, on the British publishing tycoon Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972)



  • Your Best Self: Mined, Carved, Polished. June Scudder Donenfeld, slogan for her business as a writing coach specializing in college admissions essays (www.admissionsessaycoach.com)




  • Honest bread is very well—it’s the butter that makes the temptation. Douglas Jerrold, in The Catspaw (1850)



(see also ANATOMY and ASS and BODY and SEX)

  • The buttocks are the most aesthetically pleasing part of the body because they are non-functional. Although they conceal an essential orifice, these pointless globes are as near as the human form can ever come to abstract art. Kenneth Tynan, “Meditations on Basic Baroque, IV” (1966), in Tynan Right and Left (1967)



  • Buttons are the fossils of the sartorial world, enduring long past the garments they were designed to hold together. Martha Stewart, quoted in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC; Jan. 29, 2000); later reprinted in The World According to Martha (2005; Bill Adler, ed.)

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