Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“C” Quotations



  • Getting into her books is like getting in bed with a cadaver. Something vital is lacking; namely, life. Edward Abbey, on the works of Jane Austen, “On Writing and Writers, Books, and Art,” in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Cadavers and spirits are human refuse, and they are absurdly difficult to dispose of properly. When someone dies, a small gang of specialists is required to remove and inter the body in such a way that it can always be located precisely at any time while preventing it from ever appearing again. Michael Cisco, in The Traitor (2007)
  • The traditional flowers of courtship are the traditional flowers of the grave, delivered to the victim before the kill. The cadaver is dressed up and made up and laid down and ritually violated and consecrated to an eternity of being used. Andrea Dworkin, in Letters from a War Zone: Writings 1976-1987 (1988)
  • You are a person and then you cease to be a person, and a cadaver takes your place. Mary Roach, in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2004)

In the book, Roach also wrote: “Sharing a room with a cadaver is only mildly different from being in a room alone. They are the same sort of company as people across from you on subways or in airport lounges, there but not there. Your eyes keep going back to them, for lack of anything more interesting to look at, and then you feel bad for staring.”

  • For over 100 years the cadaver, that unsung hero of murder mysteries, has been accommodating, gracious and generally on time. There is no other figure in crime who has proved more reliable. Amor Towles, the opening words of “The Corpse in the Library,” in The New York Times (August 10, 2023)

In his opening paragraph, Towles continued: “Since the murder mystery first gained popularity, there have been two world wars, multiple economic crises, dance crazes and moonshots, the advent of radio, cinema, television and the internet. Ideas of right and wrong have evolved, tastes have changed. But through it all, the cadaver has shown up without complaint to do its job. A clock-puncher of the highest order, if you will.”

  • Along with a dozen other students I had dissected a human cadaver and sorted its contents by size, color, function, and weight. There was nothing pleasant about the experience. Its only consolation was its truth and its only virtue was its utility. Robert Charles Wilson, in Spin (2010)


(see COFFEE)



  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou, title of 1969 autobiography

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Angelou’s book—a fictionalized account of her early years—was borrowed from the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (see below)

  • A robin redbreast in a cage/Puts all Heaven in a rage. William Blake, in “Auguries of Innocence” (1803)

QUOTE NOTE: Written in 1803, the poem was not published until 1863, when it appeared in a companion volume to Alexander Gilchrist’s biography The Life of William Blake.

  • Our nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination . . . rationalized by an attitude of “romantic paternalism” which, in practical effect, put women not on a pedestal, but in a cage. William J. Brennan, in plurality opinion in Frontiero v. Richardson (1973)
  • I know why the caged bird sings! Paul Dunbar, line from the poem “Sympathy,” in Lyrics of the Hearthside (copyright 1899; published 1902)

QUOTE NOTE: Maya Angelou borrowed this line from Dunbar’s poem for her 1969 autobiography (the complete poem and a brief analysis may be found at “Sympathy”. Most critics view Dunbar’s poem—and the concept of a caged bird—as a metaphor for people struggling to free themselves from racism and racial oppression, but Dunbar’s widow took a slightly different view. Writing in the A. M. E. Review in 1914, she wrote:

“The iron grating of the book stacks in the Library of Congress suggested to him the bars of the bird’s cage. June and July days are hot. All out of doors called and the trees of the shaded streets of Washington were tantalizingly suggestive of his beloved streams and fields. The torrid sun poured its rays down into the courtyard of the library and heated the iron grilling of the book stacks until they were like prison bars in more senses than one. The dry dust of the dry books (ironic incongruity!—a poet shut up with medical works), rasped sharply in his hot throat, and he understood how the bird felt when it beats its wings against its cage.”

In employing the caged bird metaphor, Dunbar was almost certainly inspired by a line from John Webster’s 1612 play The White Devil (see the Webster entry below)

  • The world goes by my cage and never sees me. Randall Jarrell, from the poem “The Woman at the Washington Zoo,” (1956, l. 20), in The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Poems & Translations (1960)
  • Her beauty was sold/For an old man’s gold,/She’s a bird in a gilded cage. Arthur J. Lamb, lyric from the 1900 song Bird in a Gilded Cage (music by Harry Von Tilzer)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the key lyric to the most popular song of 1900. The song is also one of history’s most popular sentimental ballads, telling the sad story of a young beauty who marries for money rather than love. For more, including the entire set of lyrics, go to A Bird in a Gilded Cage.

  • We cannot do without it, and yet we disgrace and vilify the same. It may be compared to a cage, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair to get out. Michel de Montaigne, “Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” in Essays (1580–88)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also an example of chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus). In an essay in Representative Men (1850), Ralph Waldo Emerson piggy-backed on Montaigne’s observation when he wrote (also chiastically): “Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in.”

  • We think caged birds sing, when indeed they cry. John Webster, the character Flamineo speaking, in The White Devil (1612)
  • I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage. Tennessee Williams, the character Margaret (Maggie the Cat), speaking to husband Brick, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)



  • Calamity is man’s true touchstone. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, the character Martius speaking, in The Triumph of Honor (written c. 1610; published 1647)
  • Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Public calamity is a mighty leveler. Edmund Burke, in “Conciliation With America” speech in the House of Commons (March 22, 1775)
  • Every calamity is a spur and valuable hint. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Divine Providence send the chiefest benefits under the mask of calamities. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “The Fortune of the Republic,” speech at Boston’s Old South Church (March 30, 1878)
  • I am thankful that in a troubled world no calamity can prevent the return of spring. Helen Keller, in a letter to Carrie Fuld (May 10, 1933); in To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller (2000)
  • It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. Benjamin E. Mays, “What a Man Lives By,” in Best Black Sermons (1972; E. M. Philpot, ed.)
  • Necessity may well be called the mother of invention—but calamity is the test of integrity. Samuel Richardson, the title character speaking, in Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady (1748)
  • Learn to see in another’s calamity the ills which you should avoid. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)



  • California is once-and-future America, and much that is newest and biggest in this country, both its best and worst, is concentrated along our western edge. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)

Alexander continued: “What is liveliest in America, most energetic, most dissatisfied with things-as-they-are, more ardent for things-as-they-might be has always tended to pile up along our Pacific shore.”

  • Californians tend to be outspoken. When the great migration began, the more timid people must have stayed home, and the bolder ones headed west. Shana Alexander, in Anyone’s Daughter: The Times and Trials of Patty Hearst (1979)
  • Today it is the richest, most populous, looniest state, and a host of other superlatives, but above all it is first. Soothsayers once foretold the future by dropping molten gold into water. If we could drop the dogleg of California into water, we could forecast America. Shana Alexander, in Anyone’s Daughter: The Times and Trials of Patty Hearst (1979)

Alexander continued: “The sun moves from east to west, but as every long-suffering California reporter knows, everything else in the United States moves in the opposite direction. What happens today in California turns up tomorrow in the Midwest and only then arrives in the decaying and moribund cities of the East.”

  • Nearly all of our national fads and foibles, political trends, and social seizures seem to begin in California. They appear along the Pacific shoreline like salamanders crawling up onto the beaches out of the sunset’s fire to begin the trek. Eastward, ho! Shana Alexander, in Anyone’s Daughter: The Times and Trials of Patty Hearst (1979)

Alexander went on to add: “Consider hula hoops, bikini suits, skateboards, smog alerts, encounter groups, jogging, open sex, swinging singles, BankAmericards, Frisbees, McDonald’s, I Ching, Zen tennis, topless cocktails, and black power. Consider the taxpayers’ revolt—Proposition 13. Consider picture windows. Think of it! The very flesh and profile of today, all blooming first in the warm California sunshine! The place is prototypical America. The entire state is a series of stage sets, from the forced-perspective streets of San Francisco to the faded, painted backcloth of Los Angeles. The apparent unreality of California may be what is most real about it. The place is continually in the process of becoming, perpetually emergent, like a darkroom image developing in its chemical bath, and what is liveliest about America, most energetic, most dissatisfied with things-as-they-are, most ardent for things-as-they-might-be, most rootless, most forward-looking, most superficial, most contemporary, most independent, most existential, most flimsy, all piles up along our teeming western edge.”

  • California’s a wonderful place to live—if you happen to be an orange. Fred Allen, in American Magazine (Dec., 1945)
  • California, the last frontier, the goal of adventurers, desperadoes, nonconformists, fugitives from justice, undiscovered geniuses, impenitent sinners, and hopeless lunatics, a place where even today every possible formula for avoiding the anguish of living proliferates. Isabel Allende, the voice of the narrator, in The Infinite Plan (1991)

Allende continued: “There is something in the air of the place that agitates the spirit. Or maybe those who came to populate the region were in such a hurry to find their fortune—or easy oblivion—that their soul lagged behind, and they are still looking for it. Uncounted charlatans have profited from this phenomenon, offering magic formulas to fill the painful void left by the absent spirit.”

  • I am a Californian, and we have twice the individuality and originality of any people in the United States. We always get quite huffy when we are spoken of as merely Americans. Gertrude Atherton, the character Lee speaking, in Transplanted (1919)
  • California has all the beauties of youth as well as its idiocies and vices. Gertrude Atherton, the character Hélène speaking, in The Avalanche (1919)
  • Nowhere can it rain harder and with a more tiresome persistence than in California during the brief season when it rains at all. Gertrude Atherton, in The Adventures of a Novelist (1932)
  • In California death is one of the most successfully kept secrets there is. If you doubt this, try to find a cemetery. Sheila Ballantyne, a reflection of the title character, in Norma Jean the Termite Queen (1975)
  • Californians are good at planning for the earthquake, while simultaneously denying it will happen. Sheila Ballantyne, “Letter to John Lennon,” in Life on Earth (1988)
  • Californians have brought suburb-making almost to an art. Their cities and their country-side are equally suburban. No-one has a country house in California; no-one has a city house. It is good to see trees always from city windows, but it is not so good always to see houses from country windows. Stella Benson, the voice of the narrator, in The Poor Man (1923)
  • Always there is a sort of dream of air between you and the hills of California, a veil of unreality in the intervening air. It gives the hills the bloom that peaches have, or grapes in the dew. Stella Benson, the voice of the narrator, in The Poor Man (1923)

A moment earlier, the narrator introduced the subject by writing: “Except for a lapse into greenness after the rains, California hills are always golden; sometimes rose-gold, sometimes lemon-gold.”

  • California, more than any other part of the Union, is a country by itself, and San Francisco a capital. James Bryce, in The American Commonwealth, Vol. II (1888)
  • A disaster in Florida is regarded in California in the same way that a disaster in Italy is regarded in Britain—as something briefly and morbidly diverting, but too far away to be tragic in any personal sense. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
  • It’s a scientific fact that for every year you live in California, you lose two points off your I.Q. Truman Capote, a 1975 remark, quoted in the Jay Presson Allen play Tru (1989)

According to Allen, Capote continued: “It’s redundant to die in L.A.”

  • In California everyone goes to a therapist, is a therapist, or is a therapist going to a therapist. Truman Capote, quoted in Fred Metcalf, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (1986)
  • Whatever starts in California unfortunately has a tendency to spread. Jimmy Carter, remark at a cabinet meeting (March 21, 1977)
  • California, the department-store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing. Raymond Chandler, a reflection of protagonist Philip Marlowe, in The Little Sister (1949)
  • California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension. Joan Didion, “Notes from a Native Daughter,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)

About that sense of unease, Didion explained: “The mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”

  • We Californians are constantly accused of not having seasons, but we do. We have fire, flood, mud, and drought. Phyllis Diller, in Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse (2005)
  • The attraction and superiority of California are in its days. It has better days, and more of them, than any other country. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (April-May 1871)
  • California is a state peculiarly addicted to swift enthusiasms. It is a seed-bed of all manner of cults and theories, taken up, and dropped, with equal speed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935)
  • People in California seem to age at a different rate than the rest of the country. Maybe it’s the passion for diet and exercise, maybe the popularity of cosmetic surgery. Or maybe we’re afflicted with such a horror of aging that we’ve halted the process psychically. Sue Grafton, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Kinsey Millhone, in “E” Is for Evidence (1988)
  • I’m today’s hero of the love-and-flowers cult out in the Screwy State, so they tell me. Robert Graves on California, in Paris Review interview (Summer 1969)
  • California can and does furnish the best bad things that are obtainable in America. Hinton R. Helper, in Land of Gold: Reality versus Fiction (1855)
  • Californians are a race of people; they are not merely inhabitants of a state. O. Henry, “A Municipal Report,” in Strictly Business (1910)

He preceded the thought by writing: “East us East, and West is San Francisco, according to Californians.”

  • California…is the place that sets the trends and establishes the values for the rest of the country; like a slow ooze, California culture spreads eastward across the land. Ada Louise Huxtable, in The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion (1993)

In her book, Huxtable also wrote: “Only a Californian would have observed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the real fake from the fake fake.”

  • California is a tragic country—like Palestine, like every Promised Land. Christopher Isherwood, “Los Angeles,” in Horizon magazine (1947); reprinted in Exhumations (1966)

Isherwood continued: “Its short history is a fever-chart of migrations—the land rush, the gold rush, the oil rush, the movie rush, the Okie fruit-picking rush, the wartime rush to the aircraft factories—followed, in each instance, by counter-migrations of the disappointed and unsuccessful, moving sorrowfully homeward.”

  • California reminds me of the popular American Protestant concept of heaven: there is always a reasonable flow of new arrivals. George F. Kennan, journal entry (May 13, 1956), in Sketches From a Life (1989)

Kennan added: “One meets many—not all—of one’s friends; people spend a good deal of their time congratulating one another about the fact that they are there; discontent would be unthinkable.”

  • There is something brown and holy about the East; and California is white, like washlines, and emptyheaded. Jack Kerouac, in On the Road (1957)
  • California is a queer place—in a way, it has turned its back on the world, and looks into the void Pacific. It is absolutely selfish, very empty, but not false, and at least, not full of false effort. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to J. Middleton Murry (September 24, 1923)

Lawrence added: “I don’t want to live here, but a stay here rather amuses me. It’s sort of crazy-sensible.”

  • When a tree takes a notion to grow in California nothing in heaven or on earth will stop it. Lilian Leland, in Travelling Alone: A Woman's Journey Round the World (1890)
  • What does a Californian make for dinner? Reservations. Maureen Lipman, in How Was It for You? (1985)
  • As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit southern California to observe the future.” Alison Lurie, a reflection of protagonist Paul Cattleman, in The Nowhere City (1966)
  • There was nothing wrong with California that a rise in the ocean wouldn’t cure. Ross MacDonald, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Lew Archer, in The Drowning Pool (1950)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of MacDonald’s most popular observations, but few know the backstory. As Lew Archer was taking a swim in his beloved Pacific ocean, he was thinking about the environmental havoc that had been wrought in California. He preceded the observation above by thinking: “I turned on my back and floated, looking up at the sky, nothing around but cool clear Pacific, nothing in my eyes but long blue space. It was as close as I ever got to cleanliness and freedom, as far as I ever got from all the people. They had jerrybuilt the beaches from San Diego to the Golden Gate, bulldozed super-highways through the mountains, cut down a thousand years of redwood growth, and built an urban wilderness in the desert. They couldn’t touch the ocean.”

  • California, that advance post of our civilization, with its huge aircraft factories, TV and film studios, automobile way of life…its flavorless cosmopolitanism, its charlatan philosophies and religions, its lack of anything old and well-tried, rooted in tradition and character. J.P. Priestley, “They Come From Inner Source Space,” in Thoughts in the Wilderness (1957
  • I am struck in California by the deep and almost religious affection which people have for nature, and by the sensitiveness they show to its influences; not merely poetically, but also athletically, because they like to live as nature lives. George Santayana, in letter to Porter Garnett (Aug. 15, 1911)
  • Satan, from one of his elevations, showed mankind the kingdom of California, and they entered into a compact with him at once. Henry David Thoreau, in a journal entry about the discovery of gold in California ((Feb. 2, 1852)
  • On Venice Beach…I once saw a man blowing truly spectacular soap bubbles the size of watermelons—still the symbol for me of the tendency of people in Southern California to become awfully good at something that isn’t terribly important. Calvin Trillin, in Travels with Alice (1989)
  • All scenery in California requires distance to give it charm. Mark Twain, in Roughing It (1872)
  • All Californians travel toward water; toward the sea; once toward the rivers; now toward the rivers impounded and called lakes; toward snow, which is frozen water. Jessamyn West, in Hide and Seek: A Continuing Journey (1973)

West continued: “And even when Californians head toward the desert, they do so more to marvel at the presence of swimming pools and fountains than to play in the sand.”

  • California is an Italy without its art. Oscar Wilde, quoted in The Denver Tribune (April, 1882)
  • Southern California, I found, is a veritable paradise of statuspheres. Tom Wolfe, in The Pump House Gang (1968)

Wolfe continued: “For example, the move to age segregation. There are old people’s housing developments, private developments in which no one under 50 may buy a home. There are apartment developments for single persons 20 to 30 only. The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles has become the exclusive hangout of the 16 to 25 set.”

  • If you turned the country on its side, everything loose would fall into Southern California. Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted by Herb Caen in his San Francisco Chronicle column (Aug. 6, 1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This became something of a signature line for Wright. One other oft-quoted version is: “From time to time the continent shifts, and everything that isn’t fastened down slides into Southern California.”



  • Your calling is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner, in The Hungering Dark (1969)

Buechner introduced the thought by writing: “The world is full of people who seem to have listened to the wrong voice and are now engaged in life work in which they find no pleasure or purpose and who run the risk of suddenly realizing someday that they have spent the only years they are ever going to get in this world doing something which could not matter less to themselves or to anyone else.”



  • There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. Willa Cather, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • You must learn to be still in the midst of activity, and to be vibrantly alive in moments of calm. Indira Gandhi, in Freedom Is the Starting Point (1976)
  • They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm. Dorothy Parker, “Fair Weather,” in Sunset Gun (1928)
  • First of my own personal requirements is inner calm. This, I think, is an essential. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)

Roosevelt continued: “One of the secrets of using your time well is to gain a certain ability to maintain peace within yourself so that much can go on around you and you can stay calm inside.”

  • At night, time becomes a calm sea. It goes on for ever. Françoise Sagan, in Nightbird: Conversations With Françoise Sagan (1974)



  • The camera is a kind of license. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972; Doon Arbus & Marvin Israel, eds.)

QUOTE NOTE: A few years later, in Susan Sontag’s On Photography (1977), Arbus was quoted as saying: “Photography was a license to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do.”

  • The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking. Brooks Atkinson, “August 28,” in Once Around the Sun (1951)
  • The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Revelation” (1935), in Illuminations (1968; Hannah Arendt, ed.)
  • The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other God has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget. John Berger, “Uses of Photography,” in About Looking (1980)
  • The camera can photograph thought. It’s better than a paragraph of sweet polemic. Dirk Bogarde, quoted in The Independent (London; Jan. 28, 1990)
  • The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth. Harold Evans, in Good Times, Bad Times (1983)
  • A movie camera is like having someone you have a crush on watching you from afar—you pretend it’s not there. Darryl Hannah, quoted in a 1990 issue of Vanity Fair (specific issue undetermined)
  • So successful has been the camera’s role in beautifying the world that photographs rather than the world, have become the standard of the beautiful. Susan Sontag, “The Heroism of Vision,” in On Photography (1977)
  • The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own. Susan Sontag, “Melancholy Objects,” in On Photography (1977)
  • The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied. Susan Sontag, “The Image World,” in On Photography (1977)
  • I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything. John Steinbeck, in letter to Robert O. Ballou (June 10, 1932); reprinted in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (1975; E. Steinbeck & R. Wallsten, eds.)
  • A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet. Orson Welles, a 1960 remark, quoted in Peter A. Cowie, A Ribbon of Dreams: The Cinema of Orson Welles (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Cowie’s book was taken from a 1969 Welles remark quoted in London’s Observer: “A film, besides being a ribbon of celluloid, is a ribbon of dreams.”



  • Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style. It is love of the exaggerated. Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” in Partisan Review (Fall, 1964); reprinted in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966)

QUOTE NOTE: The American Heritage Dictionary defines camp as “Deliberate affectation or exaggeration of style, especially of popular or outdated style, for ironic or humorous effect: The word has its origins in the French expression se camper, meaning “to pose in an exaggerated fashion.”


(see also HIKING and OUTDOORS and NATURE and MOUNTAINS and [National] PARKS and PICNIC and WILDERNESS)

  • During camping, cleanliness is at best an approximation. Bill (not “the Science Guy”) Nye, quoting his friend Andrew Heunis, who was attempting to wash the fine mountain dust off his hands during a 1980s camping trip in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
  • The promotion from all-day picnics to a two weeks’ camping-trip is like going from school to college. Henry Van Dyke, “A Leaf of Spearmint, III,” in Little Rivers (1895)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and ENGLAND & THE ENGLISH and other nations & their citizens, including China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia; see also NATIONS OF THE WORLD—N. E. C.)

  • If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia. Margaret Atwood, in The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970)
  • Americans don’t usually have to think about Canadian-American relations, or, as they would put it, American-Canadian relations. Why think about something which you believe affects you so little? We, on the other hand, have to think about you whether we like it or not. Margaret Atwood, “Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties,” in Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (1982)
  • The beginning of Canadian cultural nationalism was not “Am I really that oppressed?” but “Am I really that boring?” Margaret Atwood, in Margaret Atwood: Conversations (1990; Earl G. Ingersoll, ed.)
  • The beginning of Canadian cultural nationalism was not “Am I really that oppressed?” but “Am I really that boring?” Margaret Atwood, quoted in Earl G. Ingersoll, Margaret Atwood: Conversations (1990)
  • I see Canada as a country torn between a very northern, rather extraordinary, mystical spirit which it fears and its desire to present itself to the world as a Scotch Banker. Robertson Davies, “The Table Talk of Robertson Davies,” in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1990)

Earlier in the piece, Davies had written: “Canada is not really a place where you are encouraged to have large spiritual adventures.”

  • The air and the sky seem to have been freshly washed and polished, and the people too. Marlene Dietrich, on Canada, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • Canada has never been a melting pot; more like a tossed salad. Arnold Edinborough, quoted in Laurence J. Peter, Quotations for Our Time (1978)
  • To enter the United States is a matter of crossing an ocean; to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent. Northrop Frye, in The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (1971)

Frye preceded the observation by writing: “The traveler from Europe edges into it like a tiny Jonah entering an inconceivably large whale, slipping past the straits of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where five Canadian provinces surround him, for the most part invisible. Then he goes up the St. Lawrence and the inhabited country comes into view, mainly a French-speaking country with its own cultural traditions.”

  • In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations—it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir. J. Stuart Keate, publisher of The Vancouver Sun, quoted in John Robert Colombo, Colombo’s Canadian Quotations (1974)
  • If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. William Lyon Mackenzie King, on Canada, in speech to Canadian House of Commons (June 18, 1936)
  • Canadians look down at the United States and consider it Hell. They are right to do so. Canada is to the United States what, in Dante’s scheme, Limbo is to Hell. Irving Layton, “Obs II,” in The Whole Bloody Bird (1969)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many respected quotation anthologies present the phrase look down on rather than the correct look down at.

  • Canadians are Americans with no Disneyland. Margaret Mahy, the character Laura speaking, in The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (1984)
  • Canada is a country where nothing seems ever to happen. A country always dressed in its Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. A country you wouldn’t ask to dance a second waltz. Clean. Christian. Dull. Quiescent. But growing. Yes, it must be admitted, the Dominion is growing. Carol Shields, in The Stone Diaries (1994)
  • Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt. Pierre Trudeau, on Canada’s relationship to the USA, in remarks at Washington, DC Press Club (March 25, 1969)
  • Canada is bounded on the north by gold; on the west by the East; on the east by history; and on the south by friends. Frances Shelley Wees, in “Geography Lesson,” cited in a 1960 ALA Bulletin (Vol. 54)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Wees was inspired by Philip Guedalla’s famous definition of biography (to be found in Biography & Biographers).



  • Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey, a 1969 remark, quoted in Les Standiford, “Desert Places: An Exchange with Edward Abbey,” in Western Humanities Review (Autumn, 1970); reprinted as “Arizona: How Big is Enough?” in One Life at a Time, Please (1986)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original source for Abbey’s most widely quoted observation (Standiford said his article was “assembled from correspondence with the author in 1969”). Abbey preceded the observation by writing: “The religion of endless growth—like any religion based on blind faith rather than reason—is a kind of mania, a form of lunacy, indeed a disease. And the one disease to which the growth mania bears an exact analogical resemblance is cancer.” He then concluded the ideology thought by writing: “Cancer has no purpose but growth; but it does have another result—the death of the host.”

  • We “need” cancer because, by the very fact of its incurability, it makes all other diseases, however virulent, not cancer. Gilbert Adair, “Under the Sign of Cancer,” in Myths and Memories (1986)
  • Nobody knows what the cause is,/Though some pretend they do;/It’s like some hidden assassin/Waiting to strike at you. W. H. Auden, in the poem “Miss Gee” (1938), in Another Time (1940)

The poem continued: “Childless women get it,/And men when they retire;/It's as if there had to be some outlet/For their foiled creative fire.”

  • A cancer is not only a physical disease, it is a state of mind. Michael M. Baden, quoted in The New York Times (June 17, 1979)
  • Cancer is such a ruthless adversary because it behaves as if it has its own fiendishly cunning agenda. Paul Davies, “Cancer Can Teach Us About Our Own Evolution,” in The Guardian (Nov. 18,2012)

Davies, a physicist and science writer, continued: “Cancer cells come pre-programmed to execute a well-defined cascade of changes, seemingly designed to facilitate both their enhanced survival and their dissemination through the bloodstream. There is even an air of conspiracy in the way that tumors use chemical signals to create cancer-friendly niches in remote organs.”

  • Fear of cancer is a fear of the unknown. It is a mysterious blackness with a ghoul’s name and a sadist’s reputation. Marion Hilliard, in A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life (1957)
  • Cancer cells behave like the members of a barbarian horde run amok—leaderless and undirected, but with a single-minded purpose: to plunder everything within reach. Sherwin B. Nuland, in How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (1993)
  • Cancer is a demonic pregnancy. Susan Sontag, in Illness as a Metaphor (1978)
  • Madness is locked beneath. It goes into tissues, is swallowed by the cells. The cells go mad. Cancer is their flag. Norman Mailer, the character Stephen Rojack speaking, in An American Dream (1965)

Rojack added: “Cancer is the growth of madness denied.”



  • When you hear the word cancer, it’s as if someone took the game of Life and tossed it in the air. All the pieces go flying. The pieces land on a new board. Everything has shifted. Regina Brett, “Lesson 2: Get Busy on the Possible,” in Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible (2012)

Brett was writing about her diagnosis of stage II breast cancer in 1998. She went on to write: “When you have cancer, it’s like you enter a new time zone: the Cancer Zone. Everything in the Tropic of Cancer revolves around your health or your sickness. I didn’t want my whole life to revolve around cancer. Life came first; cancer came second. So I came up with a game plan: Celebrate life in the midst of cancer.”

  • I have been attacked by a nuisance of a cancer. My veins are filled, once a week with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am bald as an egg. John Cheever, on his cancer treatment, in letter to Philip Roth (May 10, 1982); reprinted in The Letters of John Cheever (1989)

Cheever continued: “However I still get around and am mean to cats.”

  • Carcinoma works cunningly from the inside out. Detection and treatment often work more slowly and gropingly, from the outside in. Carcinoma works cunningly from the inside out. Christopher Hitchens, “Topic of Cancer,” in Vanity Fair (Sep, 2010)

QUOTE NOTE: On the detection of his esophageal cancer, Hitchens went on: “My father had died, and very swiftly too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was seventy-nine. I am sixty-one. In whatever kind of ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.” Hitchen’s essay on the cancer that resulted in his death at age 62 in 2011 contains many memorable observations—and many of the best were expressed metaphorically. See the full essay at Topic of Cancer.

  • Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that. Molly Ivins, “Who Needs Breasts, Anyway?” in Time magazine (Feb. 18, 2002)
  • I’m the only topless octogenarian in Washington. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, remark after her double mastectomy, quoted in Michael Teague, Mrs. L.: Conversations With Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1981)
  • I think of my illness as a school, and I’ve finally I’ve graduated. Gilda Radnor, quoted in a 1988 issue of Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • All of a sudden I’ve become a member in an elite club that I'd rather not belong to. Gilda Radner, remark to Alan Zweibel, in Zweibel’s Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Romantic Comedy (1994)
  • Like any of life’s refining fires, cancer is a potentially profound learning experience. So what did I learn? I learned that profound learning experiences are vastly overrated. Jomi Rodgers, in Bald in the Land of Big Hair (2001)




  • I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. John Dean, in testimony before the U. S. Senate Watergate Committee (June 25, 1973)

QUOTE NOTE: This is what Dean famously said to the Watergate Committee. The so-called Watergate Tapes—made from recording devices secretly installed in the Oval Office—captured his exact words. In a March 21, 1973 meeting with President Nixon, Dean began by saying: “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing.”

  • Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)

Dr, King added this lovely example of Double Chiasmus: “Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”

  • That war is a moral and political disaster—a terrible cancer eating away at the soul of our nation. George McGovern, on the Vietnam War
  • Don’t ask a writer what he’s working on. It’s like asking someone with cancer about the progress of his disease. Jay McInerney, in Brightness Falls (1985)
  • The cancer of jealousy on the breast can never wholly be cut out, if I am to believe great masters of the healing art. Jean Paul Richter, in Hesperus (1795)




  • I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out. Apocrypha—II Esdras 14:25
  • Ritual is the act of sanctifying action—even ordinary actions—so that it has meaning: I can light a candle because I need the light or because the candle represents the light I need. Christina Baldwin, in Life's Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest (1990)
  • We all think we’re too important to be snuffed out like candles, and probably that’s how the idea of immortality originated. Dorothy Müller Bowick, in Tapestry of Death (1973)
  • Colors seen by candle-light/Will not look the same by day. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Lady’s ‘Yes,’” Poems (1844)
  • As a white candle/In a holy place,/So is the beauty/Of an aged face. Joseph Campbell, from 1913 poem “The Old Woman,” in H. Monroe, The New Poetry (1917)
  • Writing is a labor of love and also an act of defiance, a way to light a candle in a gale wind. Alice Childress, “A Candle in a Gale Wind,” in Mari Evans, Black Women Writers (1950-1980) (1984)
  • If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it. Margaret Fuller, quoted in Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book (1923)
  • Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)

Gladwell preceded the thought by writing: “As human beings, we are capable of extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct. We can hold a face in memory, and we can solve a puzzle in a flash. But…all these abilities are incredibly fragile.”

  • I began to recognize that death was indeed a part of life; that dying was merely the blowing out of the candle that was lit at birth. Tasha Halpert, “Death is a Part of Life,” in The Grafton News (Grafton, MA; Sep. 2, 2015)
  • To light a candle is to cast a shadow. Ursula K. Le Guin, in A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  • To see a candle’s light, one must take it into a dark place. Ursula K. Le Guin, in The Farthest Shore (1972)
  • Absence lessens the minor passions and increases the great ones, as the wind douses a candle and kindles a fire. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: La Rochefoucauld, the most famous of all French aphorists, usually gets credit for this sentiment, but he may have been inspired by a similar analogy in Histoire amoureuse des Gaules (1665) by Roger de Bussy-Rabutin. In a section on “Maxims of Love,” he wrote: “Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it enkindles the great.”

  • The memories of childhood have a strange shuttling quality, and areas of darkness ring the spaces of light. The memories of childhood are like clear candles in an acre of night, illuminating fixed scenes from surrounding darkness. Carson McCullers, “The Orphanage,” in Collected Stories of Carson McCullers (1988)
  • My candle burns at both ends;/It will not last the night;/But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—/It gives a lovely light! Edna St. Vincent Millay, “First Fig,” in A Few Figs From Thistles (1920)
  • Imparting knowledge is only lighting other men’s candles at our lamp, without depriving ourselves of any flame. Jane Porter, in Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss Porter (1807)
  • The old faiths light their candles all about,/But burly Truth comes by and blows them out. Lizette Woodworth Reese, “Truth,” in Selected Poems (1927)
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Carl Sagan, title of 1995 book
  • I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. George Bernard Shaw, “Art and Public Money,” in Sussex Daily News (March 7, 1907)

Shaw preceded the thought by saying: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”

QUOTE NOTE: The brief candle phrase above as an allusion to—and an absolute rejection of—an idea contained in Macbeth’s famous lament about life: “Out, out brief candle.” That line from Macbeth, by the way, preceded one of Shakespeare’s most famous metaphors, the one beginning Life’s but a walking shadow.

  • It seems to me you lived your life/like a candle in the wind. Bernie Taupin, on Marilyn Monroe, lyric in the 1973 song “Candle in the Wind” (music by Elton John)
  • There are two ways of spreading light; to be/The candle or the mirror that reflects it. Edith Wharton, in the poem “Vesalius in Zante (1564)” (1902)

The verse continued: “I let my wick burn out—there yet remains/To spread an answering surface to the flame/That others kindle.”

  • Yet it is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness. W. L. Watkinson, “The Invincible Strategy,” in The Supreme Conquest: and Other Sermons Preached in America (1907)

QUOTE NOTE/ERROR ALERT: This appears to be the very first appearance of a saying that went on to become a modern proverb after The Christophers, a Catholic religious society, adopted it as a motto in 1945 (in the form: It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness). Some reputable reference sources have identified Father James Keller, founder of the Christophers, as the author of the sentiment, and it is true that he did write something very similar in his 1948 book You Can Change the World: “A Christopher spends his time improving, not disapproving, because he knows that ‘it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’” [italics in original] Keller believed he was citing “an ancient Chinese Proverb,” but that does not appear to be the case. Watkinson (1838–1925), a popular English preacher who ultimately became president of England’s Wesleyan Methodist Conference, should be credited as the author of the sentiment. Watkinson visited America as the nineteenth century drew to a close, preaching sermons at a number of American Methodist churches.



  • Give me the avow’d, the erect, the manly foe,/Bold I can meet—perhaps may turn his blow;/But of all plagues, good heaven, thy wrath can send,/Save, save, oh! save me from the Candid Friend! George Canning, from “New Morality” (1898), in Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin (1801)
  • There are very few honest friends—the demand is not particularly great. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It’s how true friends talk. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990)
  • Candor is always a double-edged sword; it may heal or it may separate. Wilhelm Stekel, in Marriage at the Crossroads (1931)
  • Innocence in genius, and candor in power, are both noble qualities. Germaine de Staël, in De L’Allemagne (1813)
  • How beautiful is candor! All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor. Walt Whitman, in Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)



  • Candy/Is dandy/But liquor/Is quicker. Ogden Nash, in “Reflection on Ice-Breaking” (1931)



  • It is the eggness of them. A shell, chocolate placenta, proteiny peanut baby. Life shape, birth shape, cell shape, protoplasmic-ooze shape. A shape that calls straight through civilization to our reptilian brains. Cynthia Heimel, on peanut M&Ms, in a 1986 column in The Village Voice (specific issue undetermined)



  • Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell. Frank Borman, quoted in Forbes magazine (June 8, 1981)
  • History suggests only that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition. Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962)
  • Clarity and perseverance are difficult in American society because the basis of capitalism is greed and dissatisfaction. Natalie Goldberg, in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (1990)
  • Capitalism undoubtedly has certain boils and blotches upon it, but has it as many as government? Has it as many as marriage? Has it as many as religion? I doubt it. It is the only basic institution of modern man that shows any genuine health and vigor. H. L. Mencken, in American Mercury magazine (Aug., 1928)

QUOTE NOTE: Fourteen months later, the American stock market collapsed, precipitating the Great Depression.

  • Capitalism without failure is like religion without hell. Charlie Munger, quoted in Tao of Charlie Munger (2017, David Clark, ed.)
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Max Weber, title of book

QUOTE NOTE: Weber’s book, considered a foundational work in the newly-emerging field of sociology, began as a series of articles written in 1904 and 1905. It first appeared in English as a 1930 book, translated from the German by Talcott Parsons.



  • Capitalism, it is said, is a system wherein man exploits man. And communism—is vice versa. Daniel Bell, quoting a “wry Polish intellectual,” in Introduction to The End of Ideology (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: Even though Bell clearly said he was quoting someone else, most quotation anthologies and internet sites attribute the observation directly to him.



  • The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons speech (Oct. 22, 1945)


(includes DEATH PENALTY; see also CRIME and MURDER and PUNISHMENT)

  • If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers. Alphonse Karr, in Les Guêpes (Jan. 31, 1849)
  • If I do not speak out and resist, I am an accomplice. Helen Prejean, C.S.J., on her opposition to the death penalty, in Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States (1993)



  • You are free only when you care for nobody in the world. But if you stop caring, life isn’t worth living. Martha Albrand, in Nightmare in Copenhagen (1954)
  • One must learn to care for oneself first, so that one can then dare to care for someone else. Maya Angelou, quoted in Jeffrey M. Elliot, “Maya Angelou: A Search of Self,” in Negro History Bulletin (1977; specific issue undetermined )

Angelou added: “That’s what it takes to make the caged bird sing.”

  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This sentiment—a famous example of chiasmus—has been offered in a number of slightly varying forms by Maya Angelou, Stephen Covey, John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar, and many others (I’ve even seen it attributed to Theodore Roosevelt!). The original author, however, remains unknown. The earliest version of the saying I’ve been able to find appeared in an April 3, 1970 political advertisement in the Grand Prairie Daily News (Grand Prairie, Texas), when mayoral candidate Joe W. Colwell proclaimed to voters: “No one cares how much you know, but everyone knows how much you care. I care about Grand Prairie.”

A few months later, a July 2, 1970 issue of the Provo [Utah] Daily Herald quoted a speaker at a local Hospital Auxiliary as saying that one of her favorite sayings was: “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” By the mid-70s, the saying was in common currency—most often in the form People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care—and by the end of the decade it was even being referred to as “an old saying.”

  • What’s a codependent? The answer’s easy. They’re some of the most loving, caring people I know. Melody Beattie, in Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself (1987)
  • Parents don’t make mistakes because they don’t care, but because they care so deeply. T. Berry Brazelton, in Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development (1992)
  • Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in Life’s Instructions for Wisdom, Success, and Happiness (2000)
  • People who care for you inevitably become beautiful. Rita Mae Brown, A reflection of narrator and protagonist Nickel Smith, in Bingo (1988)
  • Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia, in a 1993 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • To care passionately for another human creature brings always more sorrow than joy; but all the same…one would not be without that experience. Agatha Christie, the character Laura Welman speaking, in Sad Cypress (1940)

Mrs. Welman continued: “Anyone who has never really loved has never really lived.”

  • We’re here to use our intelligence, yes, but that ain’t everything. It’s our duty to see through things, but also to see things through. Or I’ll put it another way. We're not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through. Peter De Vries, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Stanley Waltz, in Let Me Count the Ways (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: The final portion has become almost a signature saying for De Vries. Note the two separate examples of chiasmus in the full observation.

  • Of Course—I prayed—/And did God Care? Emily Dickinson, a circa 1862 poem fragment, quoted in Thomas H. Johnson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960)
  • You can teach someone who cares to write columns, but you can’t teach someone who can write columns to care. Ellen Goodman, offered in interview with Gary Provost, from “Ellen Goodman” chapter, in Bill Strickland’s On Being a Writer (1992)
  • When peoples [sic] care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul. Langston Hughes, the character Simple speaking, from the short story “Last Whipping,” in Simple Takes a Wife (1953)

QUOTE NOTE: When the sentiment was adapted for the 1957 Broadway musical Simply Heavenly, Simple said to a friend: “When peoples care for you and cry for you—and love you—Joyce, they can straighten out your soul.”

  • The test of a democracy is not the magnificence of buildings or the speed of automobiles or the efficiency of air transportation, but rather the care given to the welfare of all the people. Helen Keller, “Try Democracy,” in a 1935 issue of The Home Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Care is a state in which something does matter; it is the source of human tenderness. Rollo May, quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote (1977)
  • Caring is the only daring. Kenneth Patchen, in What Shall We Do Without Us? The Voice and Vision of Kenneth Patchen (1984)
  • Too many of us stay walled up because we are afraid of being hurt. We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • The way a man looks at himself in a mirror will tell you if he can ever care about anyone else. Rita Rudner, IN Rita Rudner’s Guide to Men (1994)
  • Caring can cost a lot, but not caring always costs more. Merle Shain, in When Lovers Are Friends (1978)
  • Home is a symbol of the self. Caring for a home is caring for one's self. Gloria Steinem, in My Life on the Road (2015)
  • Not listening is probably the commonest unkindness of married life, and one that creates—more devastatingly than an eternity of forgotten birthdays and misguided Christmas gifts—an atmosphere of not loving and not caring. Judith Viorst, in Yes, Married (1972)
  • We love those we feed, not vice versa; in caring for others we nourish our own self esteem. Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived (1979)

West continued: “Children are dependent upon adults. It’s a craven role for a child. It’s very natural to want to bite the hand that feeds you.”



  • Caregiving leaves its mark on us. No matter what we do to prepare ourselves the hole left behind looms large. Dale L. Baker, in More Than I Could Ever Know: How I Survived Caregiving (2014)
  • There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers. Rosalyn Carter, quoting an unnamed caregiver, in Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers (orig. ed. 1994, revised 2013; with Susan K. Golant)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute the quotation directly to the former First Lady.

  • No disease should be allowed to have as its victims both the patient and the caregiver. But that is exactly what is happening every minute of every day [with Alzheimer’s]. Meryl Comer, in Slow Dancing With a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s (2014)
  • For some caregivers, this role offers a chance in Second Adulthood to compose a more tender sequel to the troubled drama of our First Adulthoood. We can become better than our younger selves. Gail Sheehy, in Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos Into Confidence (2011)
  • The secret of caregiving success took me years to discover. Quite simply, we cannot do it alone. No one can. We must create a support circle—a circle of care. Gail Sheehy, in Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos Into Confidence (2011)
  • The caregiver’s journey…does not proceed from stage to stage in a neat fashion. It is definitely not linear. It feels like we are going around in circles, thinking we have resolved a crisis only to have it return or be superseded by a different, unexpected crisis. Gail Sheehy, in Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos Into Confidence (2011)
  • Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible. Tia Walker, “Journey of a Caregiver—Tia’s Story,” in Peggi Spears and Tia Walker, The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love (2013)



  • People don’t choose their careers; they are engulfed by them. John Dos Passos, quoted in The New York Times (Oct. 25, 1959)
  • The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness—whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or songs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Careers, like rockets, don’t always take off on time. The trick is to always keep the engine running. Gary Sinise, quoted on Internet Movie Database (IMDb), date undetermined.



  • A good caricature, like every work of art, is more true to life than reality itself. Annibale Carracci, quoted in Philip Kennedy, “Al Hirschfeld: Broadway’s King of Caricature,” an undated post on www.illustrationchronicles.com

QUOTE NOTE: In his post, Kennedy suggests that caricature is an eponym, traced back to the Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci (1560–1609). So far, I’ve been unable to confirm his contention.

The word caricature derives from the Italian caricare, meaning “to charge or load.” A caricature, then, may be seen as a “loaded image.” An early use of the term in English appeared in Thomas Browne’s Christian Morals, published posthumously in 1716, where he wrote: “When Men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura.”

  • Parodies and caricatures are the most penetrating of criticisms. Aldous Huxley, the voice of the narrator, in Point Counter Point (1928)
  • Caricature is rough truth. George Meredith, the character Sir Willoughby speaking, in The Egoist (1879)
  • Caricature is the tribute which mediocrity pays to genius. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (1946)





  • Castles in the air—they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too. especially for the builders who have a—a dizzy conscience. Henrik Ibsen, the character Hilda speaking, in The Master Builder (1892)


  • There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Joseph Heller, in Catch-22 (1961)

QUOTE NOTE: These days, almost everyone knows the central plot of Heller’s darkly comic novel: a WWII pilot named Frank Yossarian (also known as Orr) tries to get himself declared insane in order to be relieved of bombing flights. In the maddening world of the military, however, there was a problem, described above. About the “catch-22” regulation, the narrator continues: “Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”

The term “Catch-22” is now a part of the cultural lexicon, describing a logical paradox that arises when people want or need something, but can only acquire it by not wanting or needing it (as in: you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job). The term has become one of the most popular idioms of the modern era and is now included in almost all modern dictionaries, as in this entry in The American Heritage Dictionary: “1. A situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently contradictory rules or conditions; 2. A contradictory or self-defeating course of action; 3. A tricky or disadvantageous condition; a catch.”



  • Cathedrals do not seem to me to have been built. They seem, rather, stupendous growths of nature, like crystals, or cliffs of basalt. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854)
  • A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft, and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. Caitlin Moran, “Alma Mater,” in The Reading Agency, The Library Book (2012)

Moran continued: “On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff.’”

  • I have been into many of the ancient cathedrals—grand, wonderful, mysterious. But I always leave them with a feeling of indignation because of the generations of human beings who have struggled in poverty to build these altars to the unknown god. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an 1882 observation, quoted in Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters, Diary. and Reminiscences, Vol. 2 (1922)



  • Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination—everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell. John Adams, in letter to wife Abigail (Oct. 9, 1774)
  • If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary. Margaret Atwood, in Earl G. Ingersoll, Waltzing Again: New and Selected Conversations With Margaret Atwood (2006)
  • The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight. Hilaire Belloc, a remark to William Temple, in Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957).
  • Anti-Catholicism is the anti-semitism of the intellectuals. Pat Buchanan, quoted in the Observer (London; Dec. 15, 1991)
  • The most important thing about me is that I am a Catholic. It’s a superstructure within which you can work, like a sonnet. Jean Kerr, quoted in Time magazine (April 14, 1961)
  • I am disturbed about Roman Catholicism. This church stands before the world with its pomp and power, insisting that it possesses the only truth. It incorporates an arrogance that becomes a dangerous spiritual arrogance. It stands with its noble Pope who somehow rises to the miraculous heights of infallibility when he speaks ex cathedra. But I am disturbed about a person or an institution that claims infallibility in this world. I am disturbed about any church that refuses to cooperate with other churches under the pretense that it is the only true church. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” a sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (Nov. 4, 1956)

Dr. King continued: “I must emphasize the fact that God is not a Roman Catholic, and that the boundless sweep of his revelation cannot be limited to the Vatican. Roman Catholicism must do a great deal to mend its ways.”

  • Catholicism is not a soothing religion. It’s a painful religion. We’re all gluttons for punishment. Madonna, in interview in Rolling Stone magazine (March 23, 1989)
  • It is now quite lawful for for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry. H. L. Mencken, “Minority Report,” in Notebooks (1956)
  • Children who were very truly pious in a Catholic childhood are apt to retain a nostalgia for the absolute. Sonia Orwell, quoted in Hilary Spurling, The Girl From the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell (2002)
  • Protestant women may take the pill. Roman Catholic women must keep taking The Tablet. Irene Thomas, quoted in the Guardian (London; Dec. 28, 1990)



  • It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. Deng Xiaoping, quoted in The Washington Post (Jan. 22, 1982)
  • The fog comes/on little cat feet./It sits looking/over the harbor and city/on silent haunches/and then moves on. Carl Sandburg, in “Fog” (1916)
  • One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot-stove lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)


(including KITTENS; see also ANIMALS and BIRDS and CATS & DOGS and DOGS and HORSES and PETS)

  • I think all cats are wild. They only act tame if there’s a saucer of milk in it for them. Douglas Adams, in a discussion of feral cats, in 1989 BBC radio documentary Last Chance to See; in 1990 published under the same title, and formally authored by Douglas Adams and Carwardine
  • If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, you end up with a non-working cat. Do not try this. Douglas Adams, quoted by Richard Dawkins, in “Eulogy for Douglas Adams,” in www.Edge.org (Sep. 17 2001)
  • Nothing divided people more deeply than how they felt about cats. Kingsley Amis, the voice of the narrator, in Difficulties with Girls (1988)
  • As anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows, cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human mind. Cleveland Amory, in The Cat Who Came for Christmas (1987)

Amory continued: “They realize that, whether they like it or not, they are simply going to have to put up with what to them are excruciatingly slow mental processes, that we humans have embarrassingly low I.Q.’s, and that probably because of these defects, we have an infuriating inability to understand, let alone follow, even the simplest and most explicit of directions.”

  • There are three basic personality factors in cats: The kind who run up when you say hello and rub against you in cheap romance; the kind who run away certain that you mean to ravish them; and the kind who just look back and don’t move a muscle. I love all three kinds. Eve Babitz, in Eve’s Hollywood (1974)
  • The cat is not in the long run anxious to please. T. O. Beachcroft, in Just Cats (1936; photographs by L. D. Luard)
  • The cat is, above all things, a dramatist. Margaret Benson, in The Soul of a Cat: And Other Stories (1901)

Benson continued: “Its life is lived in an endless romance though the drama is played out on quite another stage than our own, and we only enter into it as subordinate characters, as stage managers, or rather stage carpenters.“

  • Cat, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary (1911)
  • If a cat spoke, it would say things like, “Hey, I don’t see the problem here.” Roy Blount, Jr., in The Atlantic Monthly (Feb., 1985)
  • A cat…plays for her own enjoyment, in a self-contained way, with no desire to share. Shut her up alone, and a ball, a fringe, or a looped piece of string is enough to make her give herself up to silent and graceful sport. Karel Čapek, in Intimate Things (1935)

Capek continued: “While she is playing, she does not say, ‘Man, I’m so awfully glad I’ve got you here!’ She will play beside the bed of a corpse.”

  • A cat knows how to anticipate. Roger Caras, in A Cat is Watching (1989)
  • The cat crossed the street daintily, pointing his feet like a ballet dancer, lifting them high as if his feet were too good for the pavement. Vera Caspary, in Laura (1943)
  • Cats don’t have friends. They have co-conspirators. Darby Conley, in his Get Fuzzy comic strip (May 31, 2015)
  • A grey old cat his whiskers licked beside;/A type of sadness in the house of pride. George Crabbe, in “The Parish Register” (1807)
  • A cat is the ideal literary companion. A wife, I am sure, cannot compare except to her disadvantage. A dog is out of the question. It may do at a butcher’s—it would be out of place in a bookseller’s. A cat for a bookseller is a different creature temperamentally from the same animal at a fishmonger’s or a baker’s. In these shops the cat is a useful animal—I suppose it is employed to eat fish entrails or to keep down rats and mice—but in my shop its function is that of a familiar. It is at once decorative—contemplative—philosophical, and it begets in me great calm and contentment. William Darling, the voice of the narrator, in The Bankrupt Bookseller (1947)
  • Perhaps God made cats so that man might have the pleasure of fondling the tiger. Robertson Davies, a reflection of the title character, in The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947)

In the work, Marchbanks also offers this thought about kittens:

“The kitten has a luxurious, Bohemian, unpuritanical nature. It eats six meals a day, plays furiously with a toy mouse and a piece of rope, and suddenly falls into a deep sleep whenever the fit takes it. It never feels the necessity to do anything to justify its existence; it does not want to be a Good Citizen; it has never heard of Service. It knows that it is beautiful and delightful, and it considers that a sufficient contribution to the general good. And in return for its beauty and charm it expects fish, meat, and vegetables, a comfortable bed, a chair by the grate fire, and endless petting.”

  • Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons. Robertson Davies, from a character in the play Mehitabel (1959); reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: Mehitabel is one of Davies’ lesser-known works, published in 1959. The play was inspired by a cat of the same name, originally created by Don Marquis and featured in his “Archy and Mehitabel” newspaper columns. In those columns, Mehitabel was a streetwise alley cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. She related her adventures in free verse poetry, while Archy, a cockroach who was a poet in a previous life, typed the poems by jumping on the keys of a typewriter.

  • Cats—by day the most docile of God’s creatures, every one of them in the night enlisting under the devil’s banner—took the place by storm after the human voice had ceased. W. H. Davies, in The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908)
  • I love in the cat that independent and almost ungrateful temper which prevents him from attaching himself to anyone; the indifference with which he passes from the salon to the housetop. François-René de Chateaubriand, quoted in Comte de Marcellus, Chateaubriand et son Temps (1859)
  • The cat purrs itself to sleep, being the only creature that sings its own lullaby. Malcolm de Chazal, in Sens-Plastique (1948)
  • In Greenville, South Carolina, I had the honor of knowing a magnificent tom[cat], weighing eight pounds, who opened doors by leaping up, seizing the knob forcibly between his fore-paws, and turning it, his only defect in the matter being that he could not close the door after him. John William De Forest, “Modern Cats,” in The Atlantic Monthly (June 1874)

De Forest continued: “Some years ago a family residing in New Haven, Connecticut, was alarmed by what the servants supposed to be a ghost, and the lady of the house, a thief. An outside door was repeatedly opened, no one entering but the cat. In spite of watching, nobody was discovered, and the mystery grew to be frightful. At last the ghost was caught, and it proved to be pussy. She had observed, she had reflected, she had drawn an inference; in other words, she had performed three distinct intellectual operations. The result was that she knew how to open doors by leaping up to the latch and pressing her paw on the thumb-piece.”

  • Who can tell what just criticisms Murr the Cat may be passing on us beings of wider speculation? George Eliot, a reflection of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • Before a Cat will condescend/To treat you as a trusted friend,/Some little token of esteem/Is needed, like a dish of cream. T. S. Eliot, “The Ad-dressing of Cats,” in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)

Eliot continued: “And you might now and then supply/Some caviar, or Strassburg Pie,/Some potted grouse, or salmon paste—/He’s sure to have his personal taste.”

  • Cats, I always think, only jump into your lap to check if you are cold enough, yet, to eat. Anne Enright, in The Gathering (2007)
  • The Cat was a creature of absolute convictions, and his faith in his deductions never varied. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “The Cat,” in Treasury of Great Cat Stories (1987; Roger Caras, ed.)
  • Nothing’s more playful than a young cat, nor more grave than an old one. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia (1732)
  • The cat is the only non-gregarious domestic animal. It is retained by its extraordinary adhesion to the comforts of the house in which it reared. Francis Galton, in Inquiries Into Human Faculty (1883)
  • The cat is a dilettante in fur. Théophile Gauthier, quoted in Nigel Rees, Cassell Companion to Quotations (1997)
  • There was something theatrical and grandiloquent about him, and he seemed to pose like an actor who attracts admiration. His motions were slow, undulating, and full of majesty. Théophile Gauthier, on his cat Enjolras, in Ménagerie Intime (1869)

Gauthier continued: “He seemed always to be stepping on a table covered with china ornaments and Venetian glass, so circumspectly did he select the place where he put down his foot.”

  • We don’t have a dog./We have a hostile cat./I think Sam’s/intelligent; he/resents being a pet. Louise Glück, “Meadowlands I,” in Meadowlands (1996)
  • Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat. Robert A. Heinlein, in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985)
  • How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven. Robert A. Heinlein, in To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987)
  • One cat just leads to another. Ernest Hemingway, in letter to first wife Hadley Mowrer (Nov. 25, 1943); reprinted in Hemingway, Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981; Carlos Baker, ed.)
  • Cats are connoisseurs of comfort. James Herriot, in James Herriot’s Cat Stories (1994)
  • As one of the poets has said, no cat ever gave anyone a straight answer. Dorothy J. Heydt, “Ratsbane,” in Sword and Sorceress VI (1990; Marion Zimmer Bradley (ed.)
  • However long you have a cat and however plainly he lays his life open before you, there is always something hidden, some name he goes by in a place you never heard of. Barbara Holland, in The Name of the Cat (1988)

In her book, Holland also wrote:

“Very few people have no opinions about cats.”

“ She’s a cat with a strong sense of order and the rightness of things, and would have made an excellent secretary.”

“The new little black cat never opens her mouth to say anything, but speaks in her throat, to herself, trotting up and down stairs and in and out of closets chirping and murmuring and exclaiming in a kind of watered-silk pattern of sound that can make the possessor of mere English feel as mute and flightless as a turnip.”

  • We all know how cats feel about traveling in a car. You never see a cat with his head out the window, fur flying in the breeze. A cat is never anyone’s designated driver. Nicole Hollander, in Everything Here Is Mine (2000)
  • A cat can be trusted to purr when she is pleased, which is more than can be said for human beings. W. R. Inge, in A Rustic Moralist (1934)
  • Very few human beings are privileged to know the cat. He does not care whether you like him or not…. He is a philosopher. Michael Joseph, in Cat’s Company (1930)
  • Confront a cat with something he has never seen before and his first reaction will almost invariably be not one of fear but of curiosity. Michael Joseph, in Cat’s Company (1930)
  • A cat is sometimes inaccurately described as a domesticated animal. Fundamentally, he is no more domesticated than a crocodile. Michael Joseph, in Cat’s Company (1930)
  • Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function. Garrison Keillor, in NPR broadcast of The Prairie Home Companion (June, 1983)
  • I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. Rudyard Kipling, in “The Cat That Walked by Himself,” in Just So Stories (1902)
  • Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want. Joseph Wood Krutch, “February,” in Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • Cats are rather delicate creatures and they are subject to a good many ailments, but I never heard of one who suffered from insomnia. Joseph Wood Krutch, in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • Cats are narcissistic. Their needs come before ours. They don’t understand the word No. They carry themselves with that aloof, arrogant sense of perpetual entitlement, they will jump up and insinuate themselves wherever they please—on your lap, on your newspaper, on your computer keyboard—and they really couldn’t care less how their behavior affects the people in their lives. I’ve had boyfriends like this; who needs such behavior in a housepet? Caroline Knapp, “Lucille Versus Stumpy: The (Real) Truth About Cats and Dogs,” in The Merry Recluse (2004)

QUOTE NOTE: Knapp’s essay, originally published in 1998, was written in response to an article (“Stumpy Versus Lucille: The Great Pet Debate”) that her friend and fellow journalist Ron Rosenbaum had written in his regular column in the New York Observer (Aug. 8, 1998). Rosenbaum, in proclaiming the superiority of cats–particularly his cat Stumpy–over dogs, had disparaged canines as “the pathetic transparent brown-nosers of the domestic animal kingdom” (see more on Rosenbaum’s views in DOGS and in CATS & DOGS). Knapp’s essay, a rejoinder to Rosenbaum’s thesis, proclaimed the superiority of dogs–particularly her dog Lucille–over cats.

  • I like a cat because it does not disguise its selfishness with any flattering hypocrisies. Its attachment is not to yourself, but to your house. Let it but have food, and a warm lair among the embers, and it heeds not at whose expense. Then it has the spirit to resent aggression. You shall beat your dog, and he will fawn upon you; but a cat never forgives: it has no tender mercies, and it torments before it destroys its prey. L. E. Landon, Ethel Churchill: or The Two Brides, Vol. I (1837)
  • The cat is a wild animal that inhabits the homes of humans. Konrad Lorenz, in Man Meets Dog (1949; in English 1954)
  • If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air. Doris Lessing, in Particularly Cats…and Rufus (1967)
  • Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another. C. S. Lewis, in a July 31, 1962 letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, in Letters to an American Lady (pub. posthumously in 1967)
  • It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. H. P. Lovecraft, the voice of the narrator in the short story “The Cats of Ulthar,” in The Tryout (1920); reprinted in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943)

In the story, the narrator continued: “He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.”

  • Cats always made up to the people who hated them the most. Depending on how you chose to look at it, it was a touching manifestation of trust, or a malicious pleasure in human discomfort. Barbara Michaels, in Witch (1973)
  • Cats sleep fat and walk thin. Rosalie Moore, “Catalogue,” in The New Yorker (May 25, 1940)
  • What I like about cats is the way they ignore you. There’s no telling what way they feel. If I want to be popular all I have to do is rattle the tin opener and he’s all over me, purring and sharpening his back on my shins. Bernard MacLaverty, in the short story, “Words the Happy Say,” in The Great Profundo: and Other Stories (1989)
  • The idea, to a cat, that somebody else owns him is ludicrous. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, in The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart (2002)
  • The cat does not merely experience contentment, he exudes it. You cannot be in the presence of a contented cat and not have some of that contentment rub off on you. Which surely is a good part of the reason we love cats so. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, in The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart (2002)

Later in the chapter Masson went on to write:

“Many people feel more complete with a cat in their life, and I would not be surprised if cats felt the same way about us. I know that if I disappeared from the lives of my five cats, they would not be as happy as before. I know, because they wait for me to go on walks along the beach, though they could perfectly well go on their own. When I am with them, they react in such a strong way, gamboling, racing ahead of me, and then flopping down in my path, that it is obvious they derive great pleasure from my company. I find it hard to believe, though, that they could possibly enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs. This is not surprising: we domesticated cats for our benefit. While they get something from it, we probably got the better deal.”

  • Anything that moves becomes for them an object of fun. They believe that nature exists only for their amusement. François-Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif, in cats, in A History of Cats (1727)

QUOTE NOTE: In the essay “Agrippina” (in her 1893 book Essays in Idleness, Agnes Repplier offered a slightly different translation, writing: “Wisely has Moncrif observed that a cat is not merely diverted by everything that moves, but is convinced that all nature is occupied exclusively with catering to her diversion.”

  • When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn’t amusing herself with me more than I am amusing myself with her? Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580)
  • People who don’t like cats always seem to think there is some peculiar virtue in not liking them. L. M. Montgomery, in The Blue Castle (1926)
  • The domestic cat is a contradiction. No animal has developed such an intimate relationship with mankind, while at the same time demanding and getting such independence of movement and action. Desmond Morris, in Catwatching (1986)

Morris continued: “The dog may be man’s best friend, but it is rarely allowed out on its own to wander from garden to garden or street to street. The obedient dog has to be taken for a walk. The headstrong cat walks alone.”

  • Cats are autocrats of naked self-interest. They are both amoral and immoral, consciously breaking rules. Their “evil” look at such times is no human projection. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae (1990)

Paglia continued: “The cat may be the only animal who savors the perverse or reflects upon it.”

  • The way to get on with a cat is to treat it as an equal—or even better, as the superior it knows itself to be. Elizabeth Peters, in The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog (1992)

In the book, Peters also offered these observations:

“Nothing looks as self-satisfied as a contented cat.”

“The approval of a cat cannot but flatter the recipient.”

  • This is the sphinx of the hearthstone, the little god of domesticity, whose presence turns a house into a home. Agnes Repplier, “Agrippina,” in Essays in Idleness (1893)
  • If I call Agrippina, she does not come; if I tell her to go away, she remains where she is; if I try to persuade her to show off her one or two little accomplishments, she refuses, with courteous but unswerving decision. Agnes Repplier, on her beloved pet, “Agripinna,” in Essays in Idleness (1893)

Repplier preceded the thought by writing: “A man who owns a dog is, in every sense of the word, its master; the term expresses accurately their mutual relations. But it is ridiculous when applied to the limited possession of a cat.”

  • For there is nothing so lowering to one’s self-esteem as the affectionate contempt of a beloved cat. Agnes Repplier, in The Fireside Sphinx (1901)

In the book, Repplier also wrote: “Cats, even when robust, have scant liking for the boisterous society of children, and are apt to exert their utmost ingenuity to escape it. Nor are they without adult sympathy in their prejudice.”

  • The vanity of man revolts from the serene indifference of the cat. Agnes Repplier, “The Grocer’s Cat,” in Americans and Others (1912)
  • Cats, indeed, appear to regard human beings who may be domiciled with them rather as part of the furniture than as comrades. Louis Robinson, in Wild Traits in Tame Animals (1897)

Robinson continued: “We are probably, to the feline mind, merely so many items of environment which might affect a cat’s safety or comfort.

  • I just don’t get cats. To me, they’re a waste of fur. Rita Rudner, in First (1993)
  • Confront a child, a puppy, and a kitten with a sudden danger; the child will turn instinctively for assistance, the puppy will grovel in abject submission, the kitten will brace its tiny body for a frantic resistance. Saki (pen name of H. H. Munro), “The Achievement of the Cat,” in The Complete Saki (1976)

Munro preceded the thought by offering this observation about cats: “The animal which the Egyptians worshipped as divine, which the Romans venerated as a symbol of liberty, which Europeans in the ignorant Middle Ages anathematized as an agent of demonology, has displayed to all ages two closely blended characteristics—courage and self-respect.”

  • All cats were at first wild. But were at length tamed by the industry of Mankind; it is a Beast of prey, even the tame one, more especially the wild, it being in the opinion of many nothing but a diminutive Lyon. William Salmon, employing the then-popular spelling of lion, in The Compleat English Physician (1693)
  • When cats sat staring into the fire they were thinking out problems. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Clouds of Witness (1926)
  • See the cat at love, rolling with its sweetheart, up and over, with shriek and moan. But if a person comes by, they break away, sit separate upon a fence washing their faces—and might never have met at all. Stevie Smith, in Cats in Colour (1959)

In the book, Smith also wrote: “I like to see cats in movement. A galloping cat is a fine sight. See it cross the road in a streak, cursed by the drivers of motor cars and buses, dodging the butcher's bicycle, coming safe to the kerb [sic] and bellying under its home gate.”

  • I cannot agree that it should be the declared public policy of Illinois that a cat visiting a neighbor’s yard or crossing the highways is a public nuisance. It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming. Adlai E. Stevenson, in an April 23, 1949 veto message while serving as governor of Illinois; reprinted in The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson (1973; Walter Johnson, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: In his veto of the legislation, Stevenson also wrote: “Moreover, cats perform useful service, particularly in rural areas, in combating rodents—work they necessarily perform alone and without regard for property lines.”

  • The life of the city cat is short but so sophisticated. Jennifer Stone, “On the Naming of Cats,” in The Cat Book (1988)
  • The playful kitten…is infinitely more amusing than half the people one is obliged to live with in the world. Lady Morgan Sydney, in The Book of the Boudoir, Vol. 2 (1829)
  • Nothing makes a house cozier than cats. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)

In the book, Taber also wrote: “A cat is, by and large, sophisticated and complex, and capable of creating three-act plays around any single piece of action.”

  • Cat lovers know that every cat is remarkable. Gladys Taber, in Still Cove Journal (1981)

In the Journal, Taber also wrote: “Most cats feel that bird-catching is their duty; the instinct goes back to prehistoric times. Amber keeps in practice by chasing moths.”

  • Cats, no less liquid than their shadows,/Offer no angles to the wind./They slip, diminished, neat, through loopholes/Less than themselves. A. S. J. Tessimond, “Cats II” (1934), in Not Love Perhaps: Selected Poems (1978)

These are the opening lines of Tessimond’s lovely poetic tribute to cats. The full poem may be seen at “Cats II”

  • Cats are a standing rebuke to behavioral scientists wanting to know how the minds of animals work. The mind of a cat is an inscrutable mystery, beyond human reach, the least human of all creatures and at the same time, as any cat owner will attest, the most intelligent. Lewis Thomas, “Clever Animals,” in Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)
  • A home without a cat—and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat—may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title? Mark Twain, in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)

The narrator preceded the thought by writing: “When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there—in sunny weather—stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then that home was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible.”

  • Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. Mark Twain, an 1894 notebook entry, in Notebook (1935; A. E. Paine, ed.)

Twain added: “If man could be crossed with a cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”

  • Yesterday…was a very queer and alarming day: classically still and brooding, and both our cats with staring coats, and slinking about at my heels in the most woe-begone way. They have a wonderful talent for being Cassandras, only unfortunately they cannot prophesy with any explicit detail, so we never know whether to expect floods, lightning, or visitors. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1957 letter, in Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982; William Maxwell, ed.)
  • I wish you could see the two cats, drowsing side by side in a Victorian nursing chair, their paws, their ears, their tails complementally [sic] adjusted, their blue eyes blinking open on a single thought of when I shall remember it’s their suppertime. They might have been composed by Bach for two flutes. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1965 letter, in Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982; William Maxwell, ed.)
  • One reason why my memory decays is that I have three cats, all so loving and insistent that they play cat’s-cradle with every train of thought. They drove me distracted while I was having influenza, gazing at me with large eyes and saying: O Sylvia, you are so ill, you'll soon be dead. And who will feed us then? Feed us now! Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1977 letter, in Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982; William Maxwell, ed.)
  • She is a gray cat, but around her eyes the fur is black, so that she looks a little like those fifteen-year-olds who believe that being Cleopatra is mostly a matter of mascara. Jessamyn West, in A Matter of Time (1966)
  • Round, gray, plump-jowled like a grandmother, she washed, ate, and saw to it that she and her offspring went outside for calls of nature as regularly as any privy-bound housewife. With a recipe written in cat language, she could have baked cookies or fried a chicken. Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived (1979)
  • Without doubt cats are intellectuals who have been, by some mysterious decree of Providence, deprived of the comfort of the word. Rebecca West, “Pounce,” in The Essential Rebecca West: Uncollected Prose (2010)
  • A cat devotes most of his life to gratifying his basic needs and thereby making himself happy. You may have noticed that a cat’s first commitment is to himself. Carole C. Wilbourn, in Cat Talk (1979)
  • A cat does furnish a room. Like a graceful vase, a cat, even when motionless, seems to flow. But a cat also is a flawlessly designed killer. George F. Will, “Winston, the User-Friendly Cat,” in Will’s syndicated Washington Post column (Dec. 28, 1989); reprinted in Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home, 1986–1990 (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: This killer quality, according to Will, helped human beings get civilization. He continued: “Cats are carnivores that prey on vegetarians. When humans advanced from hunter-gatherers to tillers of soil, they needed cats. Agriculture, and hence everything else, depends upon storage of surpluses, and hence depends on control of mice and rats. Small wonder Egyptians worshiped cats. Later, when Europe was swept by plagues, cats helped control rodents that were disease carriers.”

  • The real objection to the great majority of cats is their insufferable air of superiority. Cats, as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by the fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshiped as gods. P. G. Wodehouse, the character Mr. Mulliner speaking, “The Story of Webster,” in Mulliner Nights (1933); reprinted in A Wodehouse Bestiary (1985)

Mulliner continued: “This makes them too prone to set themselves up as critics and censors of the frail and erring human beings whose lot they share. They stare rebukingly. They view with concern. And on a sensitive man this often has the worst effects, inducing an inferiority complex of the gravest kind.”


(see also ANIMALS and BIRDS and CATS and DOGS and HORSES and PETS)

  • Dogs have owners, cats have staffs. Author Unknown
  • Lord,/I am the cat./It is not, exactly, that I have something to ask of You!/No—/I ask nothing of anyone—/but,/…/Wouldn’t You like someday/to put a curse on the whole race of dogs?/If so I should say, Amen. Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, “The Prayer of the Cat,” in Prayers From the Ark (1963)
  • A dog is going to bark. A cat is going to vomit. Roy Blount, Jr., in Not Exactly What I Had in Mind (2013)

Blount preceded the thought by writing: “I don’t know why cats are such habitual vomiters. They don’t seem to enjoy it, judging by the sounds they make while doing it. Every so often cats say to themselves, ‘Well, time to vomit,’ and then they do. It’s in their nature.”

  • Dogs are high on life. Cats need catnip. Mary Bly, in Missy Dizick & Mary Bly, Dogs are Better Than Cats (1985)
  • Dogs will come when called. Cats will take a message and get back to you. Missy Dizick, in Missy Dizick & Mary Bly, Dogs are Better Than Cats (1985)
  • Dogs serve people, but people serve cats. Temple Grandin, in Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Animals Make Us Human (2010)
  • If animals could speak as fabulists have feigned, the dog would be a blunt, blundering, outspoken, honest fellow, but the cat would have the rare talent of never saying a word too much. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, in Chapters on Animals (1893)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites—and in scores of published books on cats and dogs—a similar sentiment has been mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain. To see the full original observation, go to Hamerton on Cats & Dogs

  • Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are god. Christopher Hitchens, in Introduction to The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007)
  • You shall beat your dog, and he will fawn upon you; but a cat never forgives: it has no tender mercies, and it torments before it destroys its prey. L. E. Landon, Ethel Churchill: or The Two Brides, Vol. I (1837)

Landon introduced the thought by writing: “I like a cat because it does not disguise its selfishness with any flattering hypocrisies. Its attachment is not to yourself, but to your house. Let it but have food, and a warm lair among the embers, and it heeds not at whose expense. Then it has the spirit to resent aggression.”

  • We own a dog—he is with us as a slave and inferior because we wish him to be. But we entertain a cat—he adorns our hearth as a guest, fellow-lodger, and equal because he wishes to be there. H. P. Lovecraft, “Cats and Dogs,” in Something About Cats: And Other Pieces (1971)

Lovecraft continued: “It is no compliment to be the stupidly idolized master of a dog whose instinct it is to idolize, but it is a very distinct tribute to be chosen as the friend and confidant of a philosophic cat who is wholly his own master and could easily have chosen another companion…more agreeable and interesting.”

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly omit the word philosophic, and end the quotation as if it were phrased “the friend confidant of a cat” (a mistake that deprives the reader of the completely delightful final portion of the observation).

  • Dogs want only love but cats demand worship. L. M. Montgomery, the character Dean Priest speaking, in Emily of New Moon (1923)
  • Dogs…can be made to feel guilty about anything, including the sins of their owners. Cats refuse to take the blame for anything—including their own sins. Elizabeth Peters, in Trojan Gold (1987)
  • It’s funny how dogs and cats know the insides of folks better than other folks do, isn’t it? Eleanor H. Porter, the title character speaking, in Pollyanna (1912)
  • The dog may be wonderful prose, but only the cat is poetry. Proverb (French)
  • People who wish to salute the free and independent side of their evolutionary character acquire cats. People who wish to pay homage to their servile and salivating roots own dogs. Anna Quindlen, “Mr. Smith Goes to Heaven,” in The New York Times (April 7, 1991); reprinted in Thinking Out Loud (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation appeared in a eulogy—done in traditional New York Times style—Quindlen wrote for the family dog, Jason Oliver C. Smith, who died eight days earlier at age thirteen. The entire article, a must-read for any dog lover who’s ever mourned the loss of a family pet, may be read in full at: “Mr. Smith Goes to Heaven.”

  • A man who owns a dog is, in every sense of the word, its master; the term expresses accurately their mutual relations. But it is ridiculous when applied to the limited possession of a cat. Agnes Repplier, “Agripinna,” in Essays in Idleness (1893)

About her beloved cat, Repplier went on to write: “If I call Agrippina, she does not come; if I tell her to go away, she remains where she is; if I try to persuade her to show off her one or two little accomplishments, she refuses, with courteous but unswerving decision.”

  • The dog is guided by kindly instinct to the man or woman whose heart is open to his advances. The cat often leaves the friend who courts her, to honor, or to harass, the unfortunate mortal who shudders at her unwelcome caresses. Agnes Repplier, in The Fireside Sphinx (1901)
  • The dog is guided by kindly instinct to the man or woman whose heart is open to his advances. The cat often leaves the friend who courts her, to honor, or to harass, the unfortunate mortal who shudders at her unwelcome caresses. Agnes Repplier, in The Fireside Sphinx (1901)
  • If the dog’s hunting motto is ‘The more the merrier,’ the cat’s is ‘The fewer the better fare.’” Louis Robinson, in Wild Traits in Tame Animals (1897)
  • A dog, as someone said, always acts like he’s afraid he's going to lose his job. A cat acts like the employer, you’re the ranch hand—and you’re always in danger of losing your job. A cat’s vast sense of entitlement may be delusive, but at least it’s honest: A cat does not fake orgasms of affection the way dogs do, a cat is not an easy lay emotionally. If you win the love of a cat you have something meaningful, you have something that can genuinely increase your self-respect. Ron Rosenbaum, “Stumpy Versus Lucille: The Great Pet Debate,” in The New York Observer (August 9, 1988)

Rosenbaum offered these thoughts in response to the success of Caroline Knapp’s adoring book about dogs—and especially her dog Lucille—in her 1998 best-seller Pack of Two. A bit later in the article, Rosenbaum went on to add: “That old saying, ‘Want a friend, buy a dog’ could have been invented by a cat. You can buy a dog’s friendship, but with a cat a lifetime of devotion might, only might qualify you for some visible signs of affection. And then again, it might not. But it seems to me that even the slightest intimation of affection from a cat like Stumpy means far, far more than the slobbering flattery of some brown-nosing dog.”

  • I love both the way a dog looks up to me and a cat condescends to me. Gladys Taber, in Stillmeadow Daybook (1955)

In another comparison from the book, Taber wrote: “I cannot imagine a cat in an Obedience ring, running around in the hot sun and doing things on command. For it would not make sense. Whereas a dog is tolerant of your not making sense and only wants to fix things so you are happy.”

  • Walking is a human habit into which dogs readily fall but it is a distasteful form of exercise to a cat unless he has a purpose in view. Carl Van Vechten, in The Tiger in the House: A Cultural History of the Cat (1936)

Van Vechten preceded the observation by writing: “A cat will not take an excursion merely because a man wants a walking companion.” And he continued the comparison by adding: “I have never known a cat with a purpose in view to refuse a walk.”

  • If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you. If a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer. Alfred North Whitehead, in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1977; Lucien Price, ed.)



  • Shake and shake/The catsup bottle,/None will come,/And then a lot’ll. Richard Armour, in Going to Extremes (1949)


(includes [Good] CAUSE and [Just] CAUSE and [Lost] CAUSE; see also see CAUSE [as in Causal Agent] and CAMPAIGN and CRUSADE and DRIVE and MOVEMENT and REFORM & REFORMERS)

  • God is not averse to deceit in a holy cause. Aeschylus, a fragment, quoted in George Seldes, The Great Thoughts (1985)
  • I feel I have a cause. A cause may be inconvenient, but it’s magnificent. It’s like champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it. Arnold Bennett, the character Hildegarde speaking, in The Title: A Comedy in Three Acts (1918)
  • Obstinacy in a bad cause is but constancy in a good. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1642)
  • The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. William Jennings Bryan, in 1896 speech at National Democratic Convention; reprinted in The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896 (1896)
  • They never fail who die/In a great cause. George Noel Gordon (Lord Byron), in Marino Faliero (1821)
  • When a just cause reaches its flood-tide…whatever stands in the way must fall before its overwhelming power. Carrie Chapman Catt, “ “Is Woman Suffrage Progressing?” a 1911 speech to the International Woman Suffrage Association (Stockholm, Sweden)
  • I give it as my firmest conviction that service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life. Carrie Chapman Catt, “The Making of A Pioneer Suffragette,” in The American Scrap Book (1928)
  • When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men's souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty. Winston Churchill, in a BBC radio broadcast (June 16, 1941); published in The Imperial Review (June 28, 1941)
  • If a cause be good, the most violent attack of its enemies will not injure it so much as an injudicious defense of it by its friends. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes. Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Critical Articles: Introduction,” in Complete Collected Works (1895)
  • In the end it is how you fight, as much as why you fight, that makes your cause good or bad. Freeman Dyson, in Disturbing the Universe (1979)

Dyson preceded the observation by writing: “A good cause can become bad if we fight for it with means that are indiscriminately murderous. A bad cause can become good if enough people fight for it in a spirit of comradeship and self sacrifice.”

  • There is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause. Albert Einstein, in Out of My Later Years (1950)
  • Great causes are never tried on their merits; but the cause is reduced to particulars to suit the size of the partisans, and the contention is ever hottest on minor matters. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • He that hath the worst cause makes the most noise. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • A good cause makes a stout heart and a strong arm. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Truth never damages a cause that is just. Mohandas K. Gandhi, in Non-Violence in Peace and War, Vol. 2 (1949)
  • The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul. Emma Goldman, “What I Believe,” in New York World (1908)
  • Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)

Also in the book, Hoffer these two other observations:

“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, Hoffer is credited as saying, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” There is, however, no evidence that he ever wrote or said such a thing.

  • We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause. William James, in letter to E. L. Godkin (Dec. 24, 1895)
  • If you believe you have a just cause, an important message, or a key contribution to make, you will be just as innovative as a college freshman desperate to see his girlfriend six hundred miles away. You will get there any way you can. Laurie Beth Jones, in Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership (1995)
  • If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Abraham Lincoln, in address to Washingtonian Temperance Society, Springfield, Illinois (Feb 22, 1842)

Lincoln continued: “Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgement of the justice of your cause.”

  • A bad cause seldom fails to betray itself. James Madison, in The Federalist Papers, No. 41; originally published in the New York Independent Journal (Jan. 19, 1788)
  • Nothing fails like success; nothing is so defeated as yesterday’s triumphant Cause. Phyllis McGinley, “How to Get Along With Men,” in The Province of the Heart (1959)
  • A bad cause should be silent. Ovid, in Epistulae ex Ponto [“Letters from the Black Sea’] (1st c. A.D.)
  • When the Cause Has Charisma, Shrinking Violets Bloom in Public. Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson, a section title, in Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: The concept of a noble cause has been around for some time, but Porras and his colleagues extended the idea by suggesting that a cause itself can have charisma. They went on to write: “Enduringly successful people—whether they’re shrinking violets or swashbuckling entrepreneurs—serve the cause, and it also serves them. It recruits them and they are lifted up by its power. When that happens for you, a bigger, more engaging version of you shows up.” A little later, the authors further explicated the idea by writing: “For the cause to have charisma, it must reach into your heart in a personal way to unlock all you have to give.”

  • No one should be judge in his own cause. Proverb (English)
  • A bad cause requires many words. Proverb (German)
  • Men are blind in their own cause. Proverb (Scottish)
  • In a just cause the weak will beat the strong. Sophocles, in Oedipus at Colonus (401 B.C.)
  • When Gold argues the cause, eloquence is impotent. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” speech at the Sorbonne (Paris; April 23, 1910)
  • As a cause becomes more and more successful, the ideas of the people engaged in it are bound to change. Margaret Sanger, in Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography (1938)
  • God befriend us, as our cause is just. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Henry IV, Part I (1597)
  • What need we any spur but our own cause. William Shakespeare, the character Brutus speaking, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • Because one cause is bad does not make the opposing cause good. Fay Weldon, in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (1984)
  • A good cause has to be careful of the company it keeps. Rebecca West, “World of Books: The Greek Way,” in the Sunday Times (London; Aug. 23, 1942
  • It’s a blessing to die for a cause, because you can so easily die for nothing. Andrew Young, in Playboy interview (July, 1977)



  • It is not possible to refer a complex difficulty to a single cause. Helen Keller, in Out of the Dark (1914)



  • I see only one danger about all this—that you might be led to take too many precautions! Alfed Adler, quoted in Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: A Portrait From Life (1957)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly present the thought as if it were phrased this way: “The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.”

  • Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Susan B. Anthony, quoted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1898)
  • The cautious seldom err. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • If you risk nothing, then you risk everything. Geena Davis, quoted in Kevin Sessums, “Geena’s Sheen,” in Vanity Fair (Sep., 1992)
  • You can’t test courage cautiously. Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood (1987)
  • Do not be too timid & squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Nov. 26, 1842)

Emerson continued: “What if they are a little coarse, & you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall nevermore be so afraid of a tumble.”

  • He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Life is made up of a series of judgments on insufficient data, and if we waited to run down all our doubts, it would flow past us. Learned Hand, in The Spirit of Liberty: Papers and Addresses of Learned Hand (1959); Irving Dilliard, ed.)
  • You must make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation. T. H. Huxley, in letter to Anton Dohrn (Oct. 17, 1873); reprinted in Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, Vol. I (1900); Leonard Huxley, ed.)
  • Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Helen Keller, in Let Us Have Faith (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has become indelibly associated with Keller, whose life personified the words. Here’s the full passage in which her signature line originally appeared: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run that outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

  • Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Still Life with Woodpecker: A Novel (1980)
  • It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default. J. K. Rowling, in “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” Harvard University Commencement Address (June 5, 2008)
  • Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • In thinking about the future, it is better to err on the side of daring, than the side of caution. Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock (1970)

Toffler preceded the thought by writing: “Let us not fear occasional error—the imagination is only free when fear of error is temporarily laid aside.”

  • Don’t…play for safety. It’s the most dangerous thing in the world. Hugh Walpole, the character Mrs. Launce speaking, in the novel Fortitude (1913)



  • Caviar is to dining what a sable coat is to a girl in evening dress. Ludwig Bemelmans, in La Bonne Table (1964)
  • Always do the things you fear the most; courage is an acquired taste, like caviar. Erica Jong, the protagonist Isadora Wing speaking, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)



  • It takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. Louisa May Alcott, the voice of the narrator, in Jo’s Boys (1886)
  • The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness. Daniel Boorstin, in The Image (1961)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Boorstin’s most popular quotations. Later in the book, he offered this additional observation: “A sign of a celebrity is that his name is often worth more than his services.”

  • A celebrity is someone who no longer does the things that made him a celebrity. Peg Bracken, in But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World! (1973)
  • 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)
  • Celebrity is the religion of our time. Maureen Dowd, “Camelot 144,” in The New York Times (April 25, 1996)
  • Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time. Carrie Fisher, quoted in Leslie Bennetts, “Carrie on Baggage,” Vanity Fair magazine (Oct. 5, 2009)
  • Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face. John Updike, in Self-Consciousness (1989)

Updike added: “As soon as one is aware of being ‘somebody,’ to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his overanimation. One can either see or be seen.”



  • As we see censorship it is a stupid giant traffic policeman answering “Yes” to “Am I my brother’s copper?” Franklin P. Adams, in Nods and Becks (1944)

Adams continued: “He guards a one-way street and his semaphore has four signs all marked ‘STOP!’”

  • Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This saying is widely misattributed to Mark Twain, but he never said or wrote anything like it. The original author may never be known, but we do know that it was inspired by a passage in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950) In the novel, a television executive is asked how he feels about censorship. He exclaims:

“Don’t use that word! How anybody expects a man to stay in business with every two-bit wowser in the country claiming a veto over what we can say and can’t say and what we can show and what we can’t show—it's enough to make you throw up. The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.”

  • The punishment of wits enhances their authority, and a forbidden writing is thought to be a certain spark of truth that flies up in the face of them who seek to tread it out. Francis Bacon, quoted by John Milton, in Areopagitica (1644)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to the original appearance of a saying that I have not been able to find in any of Bacon’s writings. A number of people have reported that it comes from The Advancement of Learning (1605), but that does not appear to be the case.

  • As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends. Jeremy Bentham, “Principles of the Penal Code,” in Theory of Legislation (1964)
  • By placing discretion in the hands of an official to grant or deny a license, such a statute creates a threat of censorship that by its very existence chills free speech. Harry A. Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade (1973)
  • I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen. Judy Blume, “Judy Blume Talks about Censorship,” an undated post on her website.

QUOTE NOTE: Blume, the author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) and a host of other bestselling Young Adult novels is one of the modern era’s most frequent targets of censors and book challengers. In her website satement, she also offers these two other thoughts on the subject:

“Censors don’t want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty.”

“But it’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

  • In this age of censorship I mourn the loss of books that will never be written, I mourn the voices that will be silenced—writers’ voices, teachers’ voices, students’ voices—and all because of fear. Judy Blume, “Censorship: A Personal View,” in Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers (1999)
  • There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Ray Bradbury, in Coda to the 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Bradbury continued: “Every minority…feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain-porridge unleavened literature licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.”

QUOTE NOTE: Bradbury’s dystopian 1953 novel went on to become a classic on the evils of censorship, book burning, and government attempts at mind control (the title comes from the temperature at which paper bursts into flame). He was moved to write the Coda after learning that many phrases and sayings from his original novel had been deleted from editions of the book used in high schools (those same phrases, however, remained intact in teachers’ editions of the book). The original 1953 edition had been out of print for some time, and the 1979 publication was considered a “restored” edition.

  • The censor believes that he can hold back the mighty traffic of life with a tin whistle and a raised right hand. For, after all, it is life with which he quarrels. Heywood Broun, quoted in Ezra Goodman, The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood (1961)
  • Some have said that the strongest drive is not love or hate, but the drive to censor another’s opinions. Marie Alena Castle, in Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom (2013)
  • Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion, incapable, that is, of doing an honest or intelligent job. Henry Steele Commager, in Freedom, Loyalty and Dissent (1954)

Commager went on to add: “In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the difference between independence of thought and subservience.”

  • Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with delusion. David Cronenberg, in Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1992)
  • Censorship laws are blunt instruments, not sharp scalpels. Once enacted, they are easily misapplied to merely unpopular or only marginally dangerous speech. Alan M. Dershowitz, in Finding, Framing, and Hanging Jefferson (2008)
  • Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in speech at Dartmouth College (June 14, 1953)
  • Every burned book or house enlightens the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

ERROR ALERT: This observation, which came in a discussion of the history of persecution, is almost always mistakenly presented as if it were worded every burned book enlightens the world.

  • We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance, In the present, amidst dangers whose outcomes we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship. E. M. Forster, “The Tercentenary of the Areopagitica,” in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
  • What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages, they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books. Sigmund Freud, in a January, 1933 letter to Ernest Jones; reprinted in Jones’s, Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Vol. 1 (1953)

QUOTE NOTE: Freud offered this sardonic—or should I say, sarcastic—assessment shortly after he learned that the Nazis, who had recently assumed power in Germany, included many of his works in their book-burning efforts.

  • Censorship and democracy don’t mix, and there is no argument in favor or censorship that does not assume an antidemocratic social tendency. Northrop Frye, “Dr. Kinsey and the Dream Censor” (1948), in Northrop Frye on Modern Culture (2003)
  • However rationalized it may be censorship is always an attack on human intelligence and imagination and is always a sign of weakness, not strength, in those who enforce it. Northrop Frye, “Introduction to Canadian Literature” (1988), in Northrop Frye’s Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings (2007)
  • The only way to forestall the work of criticism is through censorship, which has the same relation to criticism that lynching has to justice. Northrop Frye, “Polemical Introduction,” in Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (2006)
  • Censorship is to art what lynching is to justice. Henry Louis Gates, “2 Live Crew, Decoded,” in The New York Times (June 19, 1990)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this observation, Professor Gates was almost certainly inspired by a similar 1957 observation from Northrop Frye (see his entry above)

  • The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. Paul Gilmore, quoted in Phillip Elmer-Dewitt, “First Nation in Cyberspace,” Time magazine (Dec. 6, 1993)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented with the words as damage replaced by as a defect.

  • Where there is official censorship it is a sign that speech is serious. Where there is none, it is pretty certain that the official spokesmen have all the loudspeakers. Paul Goodman, in Growing Up Absurd (1960)
  • Censorship may have to do with literature; but literature has nothing whatever to do with censorship. Nadine Gordimer, in The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics, Places (1988; Stephen Clingman, ed.)
  • Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever. Nadine Gordimer, “Censorship and Its Aftermath,” keynote address at P.E.N. International meeting on International Writer’s Day (June 2, 1990)

ERROR ALERT: All over the Internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Noam Chomsky

  • Censorship is the height of vanity. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)
  • In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education. A. Whitney Griswold, “A Little Learning,” address at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts (Spring, 1952); reprinted in Atlantic Monthly (Nov. 1952)

Griswold preceded the thought by writing: “Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail.”

  • To portray only what you would like to be true is the beginning of censorship. David Hare, in The History Plays (1984)
  • Wherever books will be burned, men also, will be burned. Heinrich Heine, in Almansor (1823)
  • History proves there is no better advertisement for a book than to condemn it for obscenity. Holbrook Jackson, in The Fear of Books (1932)
  • Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second. Phil Kerby, in a postcard to Nat Hentoff, quoted in Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me, but Not for Thee (1993)
  • It is not the idea as such which the censor attacks, whether it be heresy or radicalism or obscenity. He attacks the circulation of the idea among the classes which in his judgment are not to be trusted with the idea. Walter Lippmann, “The Nature of the Battle Over Censorship,” in Men of Destiny (1927)
  • Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there. Clare Booth Luce, “Problem of Pornography,” in McCall’s magazine (Oct., 1966)
  • We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1858)
  • If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty 1859)
  • As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. John Milton, in Areopagitica (1644)
  • 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)
  • What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. Salman Rushdie, quoted in Weekend Guardian (London; Feb. 10, 1990)
  • An attack upon our ability to tell stories is not just censorship—it is a crime against our nature as human beings. Salman Rushdie, in speech at University of Colorado—Boulder (April 17, 2013); quoted in Joe Rubino, “Salman Rushdie Discusses the Role of the Novel,” in Huffington Post (April 18, 2013)
  • Heretical views arise when the truth is uncertain, and it is only when the truth is uncertain that censorship is invoked. Bertrand Russell, in The Value of Free Thought (1944)
  • All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1902)
  • Assassination is the extreme form of censorship. George Bernard Shaw, in preface to The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet (1911)
  • Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Potter Stewart, a dissenting opinion, in Ginzburg et. al. v. United States (1965)

Stewart continued: “Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman’s intrusive thumb or a judge’s heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance.”

  • Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination. Harry S Truman, in speech at the National Archives (Dec. 15, 1952)
  • But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. Mark Twain, in letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore (Feb. 7, 1907)
  • The censor’s sword pierces deeply into the heart of free expression. Earl Warren, in Times Film Corp v. City of Chicago (Jan. 23, 1961)
  • God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide. Rebecca West, “The Tosh Horse,” in The Strange Necessity (1928)
  • I believe in censorship. After all, I made a fortune out of it. Mae West, quoted in C. Robert Jennings, “Mae West: A Candid Conversation with the Indestructible Queen of Vamp and Camp,” Playboy magazine (Jan., 1971)
  • Censorship made me. Mae West, quoted in Matthew McCann Fenton, “œGoodness Had Nothing to Do With It: The Life of Mae West,” in Biography magazine (Sep., 2001)
  • 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)
  • The dirtiest book in all the world is the expurgated book. Walt Whitman, a May 9, 1888 remark, quoted in Horace Traubel, Walt Whitman in Camden, Vol. 1 (1906)



  • You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand. Leonardo da Vinci, a circa 1500 notebook entry, in Leonardo da Vinci’s Note-Books (1906, Edward MacCurdy, ed.)
  • They have a right to censure, that have a heart to help. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)

A little later in the book, Penn offered this related thought: “They must first judge themselves, that presume to censure others.”

  • Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts of Various Subjects (1711)



  • I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Kurt Vonnegut, the character Finnerty speaking, in Player Piano: A Novel (1952)

Finnerty added: “Big undreamed-of things—the people on the edge see them first.”



  • I have spent a lifetime looking for remedies to all manner of life's problems—personal, social, political, global. I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth. Madeleine Albright, in Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 (2012/
  • If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. Francis Bacon, in The Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth—and truth rewarded me. Simone de Beauvoir, in All Said and Done (1972)
  • I have lived in this world just long enough to look carefully the second time into things that I am most certain of the first time. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam’s Uncle Josh: Or, Josh Billings on Practically Everything (1953)
  • Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, your’e wrong. Shut up.” Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” a TED Talk (Jan. 3, 2011 )
  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Karl von Clausewitz, in On War (1832-34)

Clausewitz continued: “It prefers to day-dream in the realms of chance and luck rather than accompany the intellect on its narrow and tortuous path of philosophical inquiry and logical deduction.”

  • I am certain there is too much certainty in the world. Michael Crichton, “Author’s Message,” in State of Fear (2004)
  • Love of certainty is a demand for guarantees in advance of action. John Dewey, in Human Nature and Conduct (1922)
  • Inquiry is fatal to certainty. Will and Ariel Durant, in The Age of Napoleon: A History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815 (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: The Age of Reason was the eleventh—and final—volume in The Story of Civilization, a monumental series begun in 1935. The first six volumes were published only under Will Durant’s name, the final five under the names of both husband and wife.

  • There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty. Bart D. Ehrman, in God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (2008)
  • As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. Albert Einstein, in Sidelights on Relativity (1922)
  • It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel. Anatole France, quoted in David Pratt, Nobel Wisdom: The 1000 Wisest Things Ever Said (2007)
  • In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (Nov. 13, 1789)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation has been remembered by posterity, but it was originally part of a larger observation in which Franklin was hopeful—and far from certain—that the new American Constitution would succeed. Here’s the full passage: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

  • The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself (1947)
  • We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)

Hoffer added: “Thus a feeling of utter unworthiness can be a source of courage.”

  • Longing for certainty and for repose…is in every human mind. But certainty generally is illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “The Path of the Law,” in Harvard Law Review (Feb., 1897)
  • Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Natural Law,” in Harvard Law Review (Nov., 1918)
  • A reasonable probability is the only certainty. E. W. Howe, in Sinner Sermons: A Selection of the Best Paragraphs of E.W. Howe (1926)
  • It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. T. H. Huxley, “Agnosticism and Christianity,” in Nineteenth Century magazine (June, 1889); reprinted in Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions (1892)

Huxley considered this the central principle of agnosticism, a term he coined. He concluded the observation above by writing: “This is what agnosticism asserts.”

  • Anyone who takes the sure road is as good as dead. Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1970)
  • They’re talking about things of which they don’t have the slightest understanding, anyway. It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves. Franz Kafka, a reflection of protagonist Josef K., in The Trial (1920)
  • The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable. John F. Kennedy, in State of the Union address (Jan. 11, 1962)
  • We are never so certain of our knowledge as when we’re dead wrong. Adair Lara, “A Lot of Knowledge Is Dangerous, Too,” San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 9, 1997)
  • One certainty we all accept is the condition of being uncertain and insecure. Doris Lessing, “The Small Personal Voice,” in A Small Personal Voice: Essays, Reviews, Interviews (1975; Paul Schlueter, ed.)
  • There are inquiries in which scanty evidence is worth using. We may not be able to get certainty, but we can get probability, and half a loaf is better than no bread. C. S. Lewis, in Christian Reflections (1967)
  • The highest probability amounts not to certainty. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • It is wise to be sure, but otherwise to be too sure. Sophie Irene Loeb, in Epigrams of Eve (1913)
  • There is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)

Mencken continued: “All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’”

  • Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul/When hot for certainties in this our life! George Meredith, in the poem “Modern Love” (1862)
  • There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof. Ashley Montagu, in Introduction to Science and Creationism (1984). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • The only certainty is that nothing is certain. Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), in Historia Naturalis (1st. c. A.D.)
  • The only thing that’s certain is the final curtain. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication (Oct., 2017)
  • Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth, and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them. Karl Popper, in In Search of a Better World (1994)
  • Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality. Bertrand Russell, “Don’t Be Too Certain,” in Am I An Atheist or An Agnostic? (1947)
  • The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. Bertrand Russell, in Philosophy for Laymen (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: A moment later, Russell went on to add: “To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy.”

  • The minute one utters a certainty, the opposite comes to mind. May Sarton, the title character speaking, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. Thomas Szasz, “œMental Illness,” in The Second Sin (1973)

Szasz continued: “The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.”

  • I believe in evil. It is the property of all those who are certain of truth. Edward Teller, quoted in Istvan Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006)
  • A maxim for the twenty-first century might well be to start not by fighting evil in the name of good, but by attacking the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found. Tzvetan Todorov, in Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2000, in French; English trans. in 2003)

ERROR ALERT: This is how the quotation appears in Princeton University Press’s English translation of Todorov’s Hope and Memory. Almost all internet sites, however, present the following version of the observation: “We should not be simply fighting evil in the name of good, but struggling against the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found.”

  • Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right. Laurens van der Post, in The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958)
  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition. But certainty is an absurd one. Voltaire, in letter to Frederick the Great (Nov. 28, 1770)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation has been presented in a number of slightly different ways. In The Story of Philosophy (1926), for example, Will Durant presented the following translation: “Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

  • Nietzsche said something marvelous, he said “Madness is not a consequence of uncertainty but of certainty,” and this is fanaticism. Elie Wiesel, in Nobel Prize interview with Georg Klein (Dec. 10, 2004)
  • In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly. Alfred North Whitehead, in Preface to Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929)

Whitehead preceded the thought by writing: “How shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things.”

  • Only the madman is absolutely sure. Robert Anton Wilson, the voice of the narrator, in Masks of the Illuminati (1981)



  • I learned the importance of a man’s chair early in life. I learned that he may love several wives, embrace several cars, be true to more than one political philosophy, and be equally committed to several careers, but he will have only one comfortable chair in his life. I learned it will be an ugly chair. It will match nothing in the entire house. It will never wear out. Erma Bombeck, in Family—The Ties That Bind—And Gag! (1987)
  • A house that does not have one worn, comfy chair in it is soulless. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • I wonder what chairs think about all day: “Oh, here comes another asshole.” Robin Williams, from his stand-up comedy routine



  • A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache. Catherine the Great, quoted in Gamaliel Bradford, Daughters of Eve (1930)
  • Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition, such as lifting weights, we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. Stephen R. Covey, in First Things First (1994)
  • It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb; the smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang on to. Aretha Franklin, quoted in a 1964 issue of Ebony magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk “his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor” on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else. Robert A. Heinlein, the narrator describing the challenge facing nurse Jill Boardman, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  • For a long time it seemed to me that real life was about to begin, but there was always some obstacle in the way. Something had to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. Bette Howland, in W-3 (1974)
  • I thrive on challenges, and there is no more imposing challenge for someone in my profession than winning an NBA title. Phil Jackson, in The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul (2005)
  • Fortunately, any kind of setback has represented a challenge to do better, rather than an acceptance of inferiority on my part. Frances Parkinson Keyes, in Roses in December: The Memoirs of Frances Parkinson Keyes (1960)
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands art times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Disasters will always come and go, leaving their victims either completely broken or steeled and seasoned and better able to face the next crop of challenges that may occur. Nelson Mandela, letter to Winnie Mandela (June 23, 1969); in Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012)
  • You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)
  • None of us has the luxury of choosing our challenges; fate and history provide them for us. Our job is to meet the tests we are presented. Jerome Powell, quoted in The Wall Street Journal (April 27, 2020)
  • You can’t choose the ways in which you’ll be tested. Robert J. Sawyer, the narrator and protagonist Thomas Jericho reflecting on a lesson learned in childhood, in Calculating God (2000)
  • To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist. Gail Sheehy, in Spirit of Survival (1986)

Sheehy preceded the observation by writing: “Children may need challenges and high-risk conditions in order to develop the self-generated immunity to trauma that characterizes survivors.”

  • Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings, which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them. Anne Sophie Swetchine, quoted in Frédéric-Alfred-Pierre (Count de Falloux), The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869)
  • The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and a conscious person more intensely conscious. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1997)

Tolle continued: “You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare.”

  • If you cannot be present even in normal circumstances, such as when you are sitting alone in a room, walking in the woods, or listening to someone, then you certainly won’t be able to stay conscious when something “goes wrong” or you are faced with difficult people or situations, with loss or the threat of loss. You will be taken over by a reaction, which ultimately is always some form of fear, and pulled into deep unconsciousness. Those challenges are your tests. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1997)
  • When such challenges come, as they always do, make it a habit to go within at once and focus as much as you can on the inner energy field of your body. This need not take long, just a few seconds. But you need to do it the moment that the challenge presents itself. Any delay will allow a conditioned mental-emotional reaction to arise and take you over. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1997)
  • The fruit that can fall without shaking,/Indeed is too mellow for me. Mary Wortley Montagu, “Answer for Lord William Hamilton,” in The Works of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 5 (1803)
  • I’ve spent my whole life learning how to do things that were hard for me. Sonia Sotomayor, in My Beloved World (2012)
  • Now civilizations, I believe, come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them which they fail to meet. Arnold J. Toynbee, in Civilization on Trial (1948)
  • The very thing that seems to impede your progress can often be turned to account for you. Margery Wilson, in The Woman You Want to Be (1928)
  • Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties so much as the being obliged to struggle with the world. Mary Wollstonecraft, “Matrimony,” in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787)


(see also TRIUMPH and VICTORY and WINNING)

  • In sports, you simply aren’t considered a real champion until you have defended your title successfully. Winning it once can be a fluke; winning it twice proves that you are the best. Althea Gibson, quoted in Ed Fitzgerald, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody (1958)



  • Accident accounts for much in companionship as in marriage. Henry Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • They, believe me, who await/No gifts from chance, have conquered fate. Matthew Arnold, “Resignation,” in The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems (1849)
  • Chance is necessity hidden behind a veil. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign. Théophile Gauthier, in La Croix de Berny (1855; pub. in English in 1873 as The Cross of Berny: or, Irene’s Lovers)

QUOTE NOTE: Gautier was one of four authors of the novel (the others were Émile de Girardin, Joseph Méry, and Jules Sandeau,). The entire tale is told through correspondence between four fictional characters (Gautier signed his letters under the name Edgard de Meilhan). It is rare for literary partnerships to occur in works of fiction, and even rarer for them to be successful, but the book was very popular in its day. In the original English translation of the book, the chance line was presented this way: “Do not attempt to coerce chance; let it act, for perhaps it is the pseudonym of God.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all of major internet quotation sites mistakenly attribute the observation to Anatole France.

  • For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance. Mignon McLaughlin, in Atlantic magazine (July, 1965)
  • No victor believes in chance. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science (1882)
  • In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur, in inaugural address as Dean of the Faculty of Science, Univ. of Lille (Lille, France; Dec. 7, 1854)

QUOTE NOTE: In Ansel Adams: A Biography (2014), Mary Street Alinder says that this was Adam’s favorite aphorism, and one he often simply expressed as “Chance favors the prepared mind.” The saying is often mistakenly attributed to Adams.

[Second] CHANCES



  • Living things tend to change unrecognizably as they grow. Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? Flora or fauna, we are all shape-shifters and magic reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves. Diane Ackerman, in Cultivating Delight; A Natural History of My Garden (2001)
  • Every therapeutic cure, and still more, any awkward attempt to show the patient the truth, tears him from the cradle of his freedom of responsibility and must therefore reckon with the most vehement resistance. Alfred Adler, “The Neurotic Disposition” (originally written in 1912); reprinted in The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: People who are most stubbornly resistant to change, according to Adler, live their lives according a “life-lie” that has been concocted to safeguard their self-esteem and maintain the status quo. In his view, change was only possible after people confronted these fictions about themselves.

  • Change means movement. Movement means friction. Saul Alinsky, in Rules for Radicals (1971)
  • That’s the risk you take if you change: that people you’ve been involved with won’t like the new you. But other people who do will come along. Lisa Alther, the character Dr. Hannah Burke speaking, in Other Women (1984)
  • The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
  • The sad thing is that, even though we know our lives aren’t working in certain areas, we are still afraid to change. We are locked into our comfort zone, no matter how self-destructive it may be. Robert Anthony, in Beyond Positive Thinking (2007)

Anthony continued: “Yet, the only way to get out of our comfort zone and to be free of our problems and limitations is to get uncomfortable. We can only experience freedom in direct proportion to the amount of truth that we are willing to accept without running away.”

  • There are some people that you cannot change, you must either swallow them whole, or leave them alone. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • We would rather be ruined than changed. W. H. Auden, in The Age of Anxiety (1948)
  • Be the change you wish to see in the world. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites attribute this saying to Mohandas K. Gandhi, often in the phrasing, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” In The Quote Verifier (2006), Ralph Keyes writes: “Despite diligent searching, no one has ever found this saying in [Gandhi’s] published works.”

  • A man marries a woman hoping she’ll never change—and she does. A woman marries a man hoping he will change—and he doesn’t. Author Unknown
  • Before you’ll change, something important must be at risk. Richard Bach, in Messiah’s Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul (2004)
  • He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator. Francis Bacon, in “Of Innovations,” in Essays (1625)
  • We must change in order to survive. Pearl Bailey, in Hurry Up, America, & Spit (1976)
  • Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin, “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” The New York Times (Jan. 14, 1962)
  • Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock. James Baldwin, in “Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone” in New York magazine (Dec. 19, 1977); reprinted in The Price of the Ticket (1985)
  • All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves. Amelia Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Barr was inspired by a similar thought from an 1881 Anatole France novel, to be seen below.

  • Youth is always sure that change must mean something better. Amelia Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • When you are through changing, you are through. Bruce Barton, quoted in Franklin Pierce Adams, F.P.A.’s Book of Quotations (1952)
  • If I were to give off-the-cuff advice to anyone trying to institute change, I would say, “How clear is the metaphor?” Warren Bennis, “Why Leaders Can’t Lead,” in The Unconscious Conspiracy: Why Leaders Can’t Lead (1976)
  • For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. Henri Bergson, in Creative Evolution (1907)
  • Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? The Bible—Jeremiah 13:23
  • Each new season grows from the leftovers from the past. That is the essence of change, and change is the basic law. Hal Borland, “Autumn’s Clutter,” in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)
  • People who talk of new lives believe there will be no new troubles. Phyllis Bottome, in Old Wine (1925)
  • A blossom must break the sheath it has been sheltered by. Phyllis Bottome, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • Weep not that the world changes—did it keep/A stable, changeless state, ’twere cause indeed to weep. William Cullen Bryant, in “œMutation” (1824)
  • All birth is unwilling. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1943)
  • A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

QUOTE NOTE: The paradoxical notion that change is a method of conservation is one of Burke’s most enduring contributions. He returned to the theme two years later in a Jan. 3, 1792 letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, a member of the House of Lords: “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.” Burke believed in gradual change, however. He continued: “All we can do, and that human wisdom can do, is to provide that change shall proceed by insensible degrees. This has all the benefits which may be in change, without any of the inconveniences of mutation.”

  • There is always new life trying to emerge in each of us. Too often we ignore the signs of resurrection and cling to parts of life that have died for us. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)
  • The tragedy of life is that people do not change. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in There is a Tide…. (1948; pub. in UK as Taken at the Flood)
  • 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)
  • Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Henry Steele Commager, “We Have Changed—and Must,” in The New York Times April 30, 1961)
  • What threatens our security is not change but the inability to change; what threatens progress is not revolution but stagnation; what threatens our survival is not novel or dangerous ideas but the absence of ideas. Henry Steele Commager,“The University and the Community of Learning,” speech at Kent State University (April 10, 1971)
  • They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • Funny thing about change, it’s like pulling off a bandage. Hurts like hell when you do it, but you always feel better after. Danny Devito, as the character Merl Striker in the 2008 film Just Add Water (screenplay by Hart Bochner)
  • It is only in romances that people undergo a sudden metamorphosis. In real life, even after the most terrible experiences, the main character remains exactly the same. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • A belated discovery, one that causes considerable anguish, is that no one can persuade another to change [italics in original]. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be unlocked from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1987, 2nd ed.)
  • All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves: we must die to one life before we can enter into another! Anatole France, a reflection of the title character, in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881)
  • Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor. Robert Frost, “The Black Cottage,” in North of Boston (1914)
  • Whenever you take a step forward you are bound to disturb something. You disturb the air as you go forward, you disturb the dust, the ground. You trample upon things. When a whole society moves forward this tramping is on a much bigger scale and each thing that you disturb, each vested interest which you want to remove, stands as an obstacle. Indira Gandhi, in Indira Gandhi: Speeches and Writings (1975)
  • People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off. Paul Gibbons, in The Science of Successful Organizational Change (2015)
  • All change is not growth; all movement is not forward. Ellen Glasgow, quoted in Barbara Jean Ringheim, Ellen Glasgow’s Interpretation of Human Action and Ethics As Reflected in Her Novels and Essays (1948)
  • If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow. Woody Guthrie, quoted in Woody Sez (1975)

Guthrie preceded the observation by writing: “Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it.”

  • The most powerful way to change the world is to secretly commit little acts of compassion. You must behave as if your every act, even the smallest, impacted a thousand people for a hundred generations. Because it does. Thom Hartmann, in The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now (1998; rev. ed. 2004)
  • Yesterday people were permitted to change things. They will be permitted to advocate changing them tomorrow. It is only dangerous to think of changing anything today. Elizabeth Hawes, in Men Can Take It (1939)
  • People change and forget to tell each other. Lillian Hellman, the character Anna speaking, in Toys in the Attic (1960)
  • You can’t change the music of your soul. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Lee Israel, “Last of the Honest-To-God Ladies,” Esquire magazine (Nov., 1967)
  • We used to think that revolution is the cause of change. Actually, it is the other way around: revolution is a by-product of change. Change comes first, and it is the difficulties and irritations inherent in change that set the stage for revolution. Eric Hoffer, “The Madhouse of Change,” The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 6, 1967)

Hoffer continued: “To say that revolution is the cause of change is like saying juvenile delinquency is the cause of the change from boyhood to manhood.”

  • In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • Even luxury finds a zest in change. Horace, in Odes (1st c. BC)
  • If one is going to change things, one has to make a fuss and catch the eye of the world. Elizabeth Janeway, in Open Secrets (1972)
  • For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)

QUOTE NOTE: A year earlier, Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had only a few months to live. A few weeks later, though, further testing suggested that surgery might help, and after the operation was performed, Jobs thought he was in the clear. The experience profoundly shaped what he wanted to tell the Stanford grads in what was his very first Commencement speech.

  • Change can be exhilarating, refreshing—a chance to meet challenges, a chance to clean house. It means excitement when it is considered normal, when people expect it routinely, like a daily visit from the mail carrier—known—bringing a set of new messages—unknown. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in The Change Masters (1983)
  • The more things change, the more they remain the same. Alphonse Karr, in Les Guêpes (Jan., 1849)
  • You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. Ursula K. Le Guin, the Master Hand speaking, in A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)

Here, in speaking about wizardry to young Ged, a wizard-in-training, the old Master is issuing a warning about the danger of changing things without having thoroughly thought things through. He continued: “The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow….” (ellipsis in original)

  • There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith (1940)

Earlier in the book, Lindbergh had written: “Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”

  • 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)
  • We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)

Maugham continued: “Mostly, different ourselves, we make a desperate, pathetic effort to love in a different person the person we once loved. It is only because the power of love when it seizes us seems so mighty that we persuade ourselves that it will last forever.”

  • Every day of our lives we are on the verge of making those changes that would make all the difference. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • It’s the most unhappy people who most fear change. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)

McLaughlin’s book also contained this observation: “Loneliness, insomnia, and change: the fear of these is even worse than the reality.”

  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Margaret Mead, a signature saying

QUOTE NOTE: This may very well be the most famous quotation from one of history’s most famous women. The saying is so intimately associated with Mead that it has been registered to protect its use. The trademark is currently held by Mead’s granddaughter, Sevanne Kassarjian, who graciously permitted me to include the quotation in my 2011 book of Neverisms. Mead’s legendary saying is often followed by the words, “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” but that portion has not been trademarked.

The Institute for Intercultural Studies, which Mead founded in 1944, prominently features the saying on its website. An original source has never been found, but the Institute does provide this statement on its origin: “We believe it probably came into circulation through a newspaper report of something said spontaneously and informally. We know, however, that it was firmly rooted in her professional work and that it reflected a conviction that she expressed often, in different contexts and phrasings.”

ERROR ALERT: On a number of internet sites, Mead’s famous observation is erroneously presented in this way: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  • Isn’t it strange/That however I change,/I still keep on being me? Eve Merriam, “My, Myself, and I,” in Rainbow Writing (1976)
  • People are capable of profound metamorphosis, though unfortunately they rarely avail themselves of this genius, force of habit being an even greater enemy of change than cowardice. Robin Morgan, in Saturday’s Child: A Memoir (2001)
  • Ignorance is always afraid of change. It fears the unknown and sticks to its rut, however miserable it may be there. In its blindness it stumbles on anyhow. Jawaharlal Nehru, in Glimpses of World History: Being Further Letters to his Daughter, Written in Prison, and Containing a Rambling Account of History for Young People (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation came in a passage in which Nehru was talking about invention of the printing press and its impact on society. He preceded the thought by writing: “The more people read, the more they think…. And the more one thinks, the more one begins to examine existing conditions and to criticize them. And this often leads to an challenge of the existing order.”

  • None of us knows what the next change is going to be, what unexpected opportunity is just around the corner, waiting to change all the tenor of our lives. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • When men are ruled by fear, they strive to prevent the very changes that will abate it. Alan Paton, “The Challenge of Fear,” in Saturday Review (Sep. 9, 1967)
  • As people age, they confuse changes in themselves with changes in the world, and changes in the world with moral decline—the illusion of the good old days. And so every generation believes that the kids today are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it. Steven Pinker, in the Prologue to The Sense of Style (2014)
  • Sometimes change came all at once, with a sound like a fire taking hold of dry wood and paper, with a roar that rose around you so you couldn’t hear yourself think. And then, when the roar died down, even when the fires were damped, everything was different. Anne Quindlen, in Object Lessons (1991)
  • The moment of change is the only poem. Adrienne Rich, “Images for Godard,” in The Will to Change (1971)
  • Changes are not only possible and predictable, but to deny them is to be an accomplice to one’s own unnecessary vegetation. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)
  • If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)

Sheehy continued: “It may mean a giving up of familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, relationships that have lost their meaning. As Dostoevsky put it, ‘taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.’ The real fear should be of the opposite course.”

  • Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass. John Steinbeck, in Sweet Thursday (1954)

The words come from the narrator, describing how the character Doc was beginning to change “in spite of himself.” He continues: “Change may be announced by a small ache, so that you think you’re catching cold. Or you may feel a faint disgust for something you loved yesterday. It may even take the form of a hunger that peanuts won’t satisfy. Isn’t overeating said to be one of the strongest symptoms of discontent. And isn’t discontent the lever of change?”

  • It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)
  • It is never too late—in fiction or in life—to revise. Nancy Thayer, in Morning (1989)
  • Change is the process by which the future invades our lives. Alvin Toffler, in Introduction to Future Shock (1970)
  • And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself. Leo Tolstoy, “Three Methods of Reform,” in Pamphlets: Translated from the Russian (1900; Aylmer Maude, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: The quotation is also commonly presented this way: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” In both translations, it is the final portion of a fuller sentiment: “There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Thanks to Dave Hill of WIST for providing the original source.

  • When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’™t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them. Andy Warhol, in POPism: The Warhol Sixties (1980; with Pat Hackett)
  • The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. Alan W. Watts, in The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety (1951)
  • Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative. H. G. Wells, in Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945)
  • We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for what’s new. Margaret J. Wheatley, “Willing to Be disturbed,” in Turning to One Another (2002)

Wheatley continued: “Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly.”

  • A single moment can change all. Christoph Martin Wieland, in Oberon (1780)
  • There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go. Tennessee Williams, the character Lord Byron speaking, in Camino Real (1953)
  • Failure is not fatal but failure to change might be. John Wooden, in Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court (1997; with Steve Jamison)



  • In politics, a mind can be a terrible thing to change. Marc Fisher, on political flip-flopping, playing off the famous slogan of the United Negro College Fund, in The Washington Post (May 28, 2012)



  • Every therapeutic cure, and still more, any awkward attempt to show the patient the truth, tears him from the cradle of his freedom of responsibility and must therefore reckon with the most vehement resistance. Alfred Adler, “The Neurotic Disposition” (originally written in 1912), in The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Adler, people who are most stubbornly resistant to change live their lives according a “life-lie” that they have concocted to safeguard their self-esteem and maintain the status quo. In Adler’s view, change was only possible after people confronted these fictions about themselves.

  • All appears to change when we change. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Feb. 5, 1853)
  • God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me. Author Unknown, tweaking the famous “Serenity Prayer”
  • You can’t grow somebody else up. Author Unknown, a popular saying from the Recovery movement
  • Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Author Unknown, but commonly attributed to Leo Tolstoy
  • A man marries a woman hoping she’ll never change—and she does. A woman marries a man hoping he will change—and he doesn’t. Author Unknown
  • Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock. James Baldwin, in “Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone,” in New York magazine (Dec. 19, 1977); reprinted in The Price of the Ticket (1985)
  • When you are through changing, you are through. Bruce Barton, quoted in Franklin Pierce Adams, F.P.A.’s Book of Quotations (1952)
  • Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? The Bible—Matthew 7:3 (RSV)

QUOTE NOTE: This biblical verse began with the immortal words: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

  • Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others. Jacob M. Braude, in Braude’s Handbook of Stories for Toastmasters and Speakers (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this observation, Braude was almost certainly inspired by a fifteenth century thought from Thomas à Kempis (to be seen below)

  • Never underestimate your power to change yourself; never overestimate your power to change others. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in Life’s Little Instruction Book (1991)
  • If a man wants to be of the greatest possible value to his fellow-creatures, let him begin the long, solitary process of perfecting himself. Robertson Davies, the character Roberts speaking, in A Jig for the Gypsy (1955)
  • 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.”

  • Great mischief comes from attempts to steady other people’s altars. Mary Baker Eddy, “Wedlock,” in Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896 (1896)
  • There is, perhaps no surer mark of folly, than an attempt to correct the natural infirmities of those we love. The finest composition of human nature, as well as the finest china, may have a flaw in it; and this, I am afraid, in either case, is equally incurable; though, nevertheless, the pattern may remain of the highest value. Henry Fielding, the voice of the narrator, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)

QUOTE NOTE: This is my all-time favorite quotation on the subject of changing others. I cited it frequently in marriage counseling sessions back in the day, and I’ve used it as a helpful reminder to myself when tempted to engage in a reform effort. The narrator continued: “Upon the whole, then, Mr. Allworthy certainly saw some imperfections in the captain; but, as he wasd a bery artful man, and eternally upon his guard before him, these appeared to him no more than blemishes in a good character; which his goodness made him overlook, and his wisdom prevented him from discovering to the captain himself.”

  • All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves: we must die to one life before we can enter into another! Anatole France, a reflection of the title character, in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881)
  • Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof. John Kenneth Galbraith, “How Keynes Came to America,” in Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971); reprinted in The Essential Galbraith (2001)
  • Do not worry about what others are doing! Each of us should turn the searchlight inward and purify his or her own heart as much as possible. Mohandas K. Gandhi, quoted in Louis Fisher, Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World (1954)
  • You can’t save others from themselves because those who make a perpetual muddle of their lives don’t appreciate your interfering with the drama they’ve created. They want your poor-sweet-baby sympathy, but they don’t want to change. This is a truth I never seem to learn. Sue Grafton, a reflection of protagonist Kinsey Millhone, in T is for Trespass (2007)

Millhone introduced the thought this way: “In my experience, the urge to rescue generated aggravation for the poor would-be heroine without any discernible effect on the person in need of help.”

  • I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself. Aldous Huxley, quoted in The Observer (London, July 2, 1961)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation has not been found in any of Huxley’s published works, so it may simply be an orphan quotation that has been attributed to Huxley to give it greater cachet. For more on the quotation—as well as some even earlier illustrations of the sentiment—see this Quote Investigator post by Garson O’Toole.

  • Whereas I formerly believed it to be my bounden duty to call others to order, I must now admit that I need calling to order myself, and that I would do better to set my own house to rights first. Carl Jung, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man” (a 1928 essay), in Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933)
  • If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. Carl Jung, in The Integration of the Personality (1939)
  • The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions. James Russell Lowell, in My Study Windows (1871)
  • Changing ourselves is the most effective way to change others. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing his mind. W. Somerset Maugham, the voice of the narrator, in Of Human Bondage (1915)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is almost always presented in quotation anthologies. In the novel, it was preceded by these words: “The Vicar of Blackstable would have nothing to do with the scheme which Philip laid before him. He had a great idea that one should stick to whatever one had begun.”

  • Every day of our lives we are on the verge of making those changes that would make all the difference. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Even if there were only two men left in the world and both of them saints they wouldn’t be happy. One of them would be bound to try and improve the other. That is the nature of things. Frank O’Connor, the opening words of the short story “Song Without Words,” in Argosy magazine (Dec., 1951); reprinted in Collected Stories (1982)
  • The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person (1961)

A moment later, Rogers went on to add: “We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

  • I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out. David Sedaris, in Naked (1997)
  • Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ (c. 1420)
  • If you want to make enemies, try to change something. Woodrow Wilson, in “Democracy of Business” speech at Salesmanship Congress (Detroit, Michigan; July 10, 1916)
  • A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living. Virginia Woolf, quoted in Virginia Lee (2008) by Hermione Lee
  • You can’t change people, but you can effect a change in them by your behavior. Garrison Wynn, a signature saying, first used in 2004 and repeated often in his talks and seminars; confirmed in a personal conversation (August, 2017)
  • Change yourself and you have done your part in changing the world. Every individual must change his own life if he wants to live in a peaceful world. Paramahansa Yogananda, in Autobiography of a Yogi (1946)


(see also ORDER & DISORDER)

  • Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • When tempest-tossed, embrace chaos. Dean Koontz, a passage from the fictional Book of Counted Sorrows, in Dragon Tears (1993)
  • Chaos is the score upon which reality is written. Henry Miller, in Tropic of Cancer (1934)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this slightly larger observations, made in the book’s opening pages: “When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”

  • Chaos, if it does not harden into a pattern of disorder, may be more fruitful than a regularity too easily accepted and a success too easily achieved. Lewis Mumford, in Findings and Keepings. Analects for an Autobiography (1975)
  • Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds. George Santayana, in Dominations and Powers (1951)



  • It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific nation, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Abigail Adams, in letter to twelve-year-old son John Quincy Adams (Jan. 12, 1780)

QUOTE NOTE: Young Mr. Adams was in Paris at the time, accompanying his father, who had been dispatched to France to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. Mrs. Adams, who wrote some of the most beautiful and moving letters ever written to her husband as well as to her sons, went on to add:

“All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities, which would otherwise lie dormant, wake into life and form the character of the of the hero and the statesman.”

  • Few men have the strength of character to rejoice in a friend’s success without a touch of envy. Aeschylus, in Agamemnon (5th c. B.C.)
  • Those who assume a character which does not belong to them, only make themselves ridiculous. Aesop, “The Crow and Raven,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Adversity is the touchstone of character: it is not in success but in misfortune that hidden powers bear fruit. Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, in Sunny Sicily (1904)
  • A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)

Later in the book, Allen expressed the idea more fully in this extended analogy: “As you cannot have a sweet and wholesome abode unless you admit the air and sunshine freely into your rooms, so a strong body and a bright, happy, or serene countenance can only result from the free admittance into the mind of thoughts of joy and good will and serenity.”

  • It took me years to learn that character is fate and that no one can be made over. Gertrude Atherton, in The Adventures of a Novelist (1932)
  • Character is who you are when no one else is watching. Author Unknown
  • Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. Author Unknown, but widely misattributed to Winston Churchill
  • Character builds slowly, but it can be torn down with incredible swiftness. Faith Baldwin, “July,” in Harvest of Hope (1962)
  • Character…is the best security. Margaret A. Barnes, the character Granny speaking, in Within This Present (1933)
  • Happiness is not the end of life, character is. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • Character, like porcelain-ware, must be painted before it is glazed. There can be no change of color after it is burned in. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • My problem is I lack what the British call character. By which they mean the power to refrain. Alan Bennett, “An Englishman Abroad,“ in Single Spies (1989)
  • In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation appears just after the epigram entry, said to be from “the learned and ingenious Dr. Jamrach Holoblom.”

  • I make this distinction between character and reputation— reputation is what the world thinks of us, character is what the world knows of us. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

QUOTE NOTE: 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 (the original form of this saying was: “I make this distinkshun between charakter and reputashun—reputashun iz what the world thinks ov us, charakter is what the world knows of us.”).

  • We become familiar with the outsides of men, as with the outsides of houses, and think we know them, while we are ignorant of so much that is passing within them. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 1 (1862)

Bovee also offered these additional observations on the subject:

“To great force of character there is often added a greater pride that impairs its influence.”

“It is only an error of judgment to make a mistake, but it argues an infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered.”

“Something of a person’s character may be discovered by observing when and how he smiles. Some people never smile; they grin.”

“It is with the finest characters as it is with the finest woods and marbles—the polishing hand is still needed to bring out the veins of beauty and of grace.”

“Much misconstruction of character arises out of our habit of assigning a motive for every action—whereas a good many of our acts are performed without any motive.”

  • Sports do not build character. They reveal it. Heywood Hale Broun, quoted in James A. Michener, Sports in America (1976)
  • Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through. Rita Mae Brown, in Sudden Death (1983)

The words come from the novel’s narrator, who continued: “Sport gives players an opportunity to know and test themselves. The great difference between sport and art is that sport, like a sonnet, forces beauty within its own system. Art, on the other hand, cyclically destroys boundaries and breaks free.”

  • Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • Golf puts a man’s character on the anvil and his richest qualities—patience, poise, restraint—to the flame. Billy Casper, quoted in Michael Hobbs, The Golf Quotation Book (1992)
  • Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. E. H. Chapin, quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation was mistakenly attributed to Kahlil Gibran in The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran (1995). Ever since, almost all quotation anthologies have repeated the error.

  • The more peculiarly his own a man’s character is, the better it fits him. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Officiis (1st c. B.C.)
  • Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Karl von Clausewitz, in On War (1832-34)

Clausewitz continued: “Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.”

  • Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character. Henry Clay, in The Clay Code: Or Text-Book of Eloquence (1844; G. Vandenhoff, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: In the 1800s, it was common for books to have lengthy subtitles. The full title of this work was: The Clay Code: Or Text-Book of Eloquence, a Collection of Axioms, Apothegms, Sentiments, and Remarkable Passages on Liberty, Government, Political Morality, and National Honor: Gathered from the Public Speeches of Henry Clay.

  • Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition, such as lifting weights, we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. Stephen R. Covey, in First Things First (1994)
  • No man knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on the installment plan, and raised an adolescent. Marcelene Cox, in a 1995 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Though intelligence is powerless to modify character, it is a dab hand at finding euphemisms for its weaknesses. Quentin Crisp, in The Naked Civil Servant (1968)
  • I know sage, wormwood, and hyssop, but I can’t smell character unless it stinks. Edward Dahlberg, “On Human Nature,” in Reasons of the Heart (1965)
  • There is a kind of sweetness of character that stinks. Benjamin DeCasseres, “Fantasia Impromptu,” in The American Mercury (March, 1933)
  • The man of character finds an especial attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that he can realize his potentialities Charles de Gaulle, in The Edge of the Sword (1960)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites contain the phrase a special attractiveness in difficulty.

  • To be a character is amusing. To have character is sublime. Jim DeKornfeld, in personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 3, 2019)
  • Character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs. Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • It is only in romances that people undergo a sudden metamorphosis. In real life, even after the most terrible experiences, the main character remains exactly the same. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • The discipline of desire is the backbone of character. Will Durant & Ariel Durant, in The Story of Civilization: The Age of Louis XIV, Vol. VIII (1963)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to John Locke. In truth, the Durants were summarizing Locke’s approach to the education of children. They continued by writing: “This discipline is to be made as pleasant as possible, but it is to be insisted upon throughout [childhood].”

  • We cannot judge either of the feelings or of the character of men with perfect accuracy, from their actions or their appearances in public; it is from their careless conversation, their half-finished sentences that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real character. Maria Edgeworth, in the Preface to Castle Rackrent (1800)
  • Character is like stock in trade; the more of it a man possesses, the greater his facilities for making additions to it.

Tryon Edwards, in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)

  • A man’™s character is most evident by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or reciprocate. Paul Eldridge, “Lanterns in the Night,” in The Jewish Forum (Aug., 1948)

QUOTE NOTE: Similar observations have been offered by Malcolm Forbes, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren, but Eldridge is the original author of the sentiment. He presented a slightly modified version in his 1965 book Maxims for a Modern Man: “A man is most accurately judged by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or to reciprocate.” For more, see this 2012 Quote Investigator post from Garson O’Toole.

  • It is hardly an argument against a man’s general strength of character that he should be mastered by love. George Eliot, the character Arthur Donnithorne speaking, in Adam Bede (1859)

Arthur continued: “A fine constitution doesn’t insure one against smallpox.”

  • Character is not cut in marble—it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do. George Eliot, the character Mr. Farebrother speaking, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871—72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)

QUOTE NOTE: In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, Eliot offered a thought about a person’s nature that also applies to the topic of character. The words come from the mouth of the character Adolphus Irwine, who says:

“A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germ of his most exceptional action; and if we wise people make eminent fools of ourselves on any particular occasion, we must endure the legitimate conclusion that we carry a few grains of folly to our ounce of wisdom.”

  • No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Character,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • Character wants room; must not be crowded on by persons, nor be judged from glimpses got in the press of affairs, or on few occasions. It needs perspective, as a great building. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “œCharacter,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • A man’s fortunes are the fruit of his character. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Character itself lies deep and secret below the surface, unknown and unknowable by others. It is the mysterious core of life, which every man or woman has to cope with alone, to live with, to conquer and put in order, or to be defeated by. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Vermont Tradition (1935)
  • Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Torquato Tasso (1790)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “Genius is formed in quiet, character in the stream of human life.”

  • There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Elective Affinities (1809)
  • Life is a quarry, out of which we are to mold and chisel and complete character. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted in “What They Say,” Autumn Leaves (Jan., 1892)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This popular quotation—which now usually appears with the phrase complete a character at the conclusion—has not been found in Goethe’s writing, and it may be a paraphrase of what he thought rather than something he actually wrote. Autumn Leaves was a monthly publication aimed at Morman youth, popular in the late nineteenth century. To see the original publication, go to Autumn Leaves.

  • There is an old-fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: character. Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995)

In the book, Goleman also offered this thought on the subject: “The ability to control impulse is the basis of will and character.”

  • Emotion doesn’t travel in a straight line. Like water, our feelings trickle down through cracks and crevices, seeking out the little pockets of neediness and neglect, the hairline fractures in our character usually hidden from public view. Sue Grafton, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, in “I” is for Innocent (1992)
  • A family library is a breeding-place for character. Graham Greene, “Background for Heroes” (1937), in Collected Essays (1969)
  • Character demonstrates itself in trifles. Louise Imogen Guiney, in Goose-Quill Papers (1885). See the similar observation from Arthur Schopenhauer below.
  • Persons with any weight of character carry, like planets, their atmospheres along with them in their orbits. Thomas Hardy, the voice of the narrator, in The Return of the Native (1878)
  • A person who has no genuine sense of pity for the weak is missing a basic source of strength, for one of the prime moral forces that comprise greatness and strength of character is a feeling of mercy. The ruthless man, au fond, is always a weak and frightened man. Sydney J. Harris, in On the Contrary (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: The French term au fond means: “at bottom” or “by one’s (or it’s) very nature.”

  • It is an error to suppose that no man understands his own character. Most persons know even their failings very well, only they persist in giving them names different from those usually assigned by the rest of the world; and they compensate for this mistake by naming, at first sight, with singular accuracy, those very same failings in others. Arthur Helps, in Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd (1835)
  • To keep your character intact you cannot stoop to filthy acts. It makes it easier to stoop the next time. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 24, 1974)
  • A man’s character is his fate. Heraclitus, in On the Universe (6th c. B.C.)
  • I have learned by experience that no man’s character can be eventually injured but by his own acts. Rowland Hill, quoted in Edwin Sidney, The Life of Rev. Rowland Hill (second ed; 1834)
  • Resistance, whether to one’s appetites or to the ways of the world, is a chief factor in the shaping of character. Eric Hoffer, in The Ordeal of Change (1964)
  • We must have a weak spot or two in a character before we can love it much. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860)
  • Reputation is what folks say about us: Character is what God knows about us. Marion Howard, in Perpetrations: Wise and Otherwise (1911)
  • The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born. W. R. Inge, quoted in the Observer (London; June 21, 1929)
  • Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. Robert G. Ingersoll, on the character of Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Allen Thorndike Rice, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (1885)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, Abraham Lincoln is mistakenly quoted as saying: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The erroneous Lincoln quotation, which has been in wide circulation since the mid-1970s, was almost certainly constructed on the basis of Ingersoll’s observation. Ingersoll concluded by saying: “It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except upon the side of mercy.”

  • I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: “This is the real me!” William James, in letter to future wife Alice Howe Gibbens (June 7, 1877)
  • It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again. William James, in The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (1890)
  • No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved. William James, “Habit,” in The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (1890)

James went on to add: “There is no more contemptible type of human character that that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.”

  • The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. William James, in Talks to Teachers on Psychology (1899)

James went on to add: “We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.”

  • ’Tis true that tho’ People can transcend their Characters in Times of Tranquillity, they can ne’er do so in Times of Tumult. Erica Jong, a reflection of the title character, in Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980)
  • Every man has three characters—that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has. Alphonse Karr, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1896)
  • Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller, in Helen Keller’s Journal: 1936-1937 (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Keller was almost certainly inspired by a similar observation made centuries earlier by Goethe (see his entry above)

  • The world may take your reputation from you, but it cannot take your character. Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins, in Megda (1891)
  • Reputation is what others think about you. What’s far more important is character, because that is what you think about yourself. Billie Jean King, quoted in Marlo Thomas, The Right Words at the Right Time (2002)
  • I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Civil Rights March in Washington (Aug. 28, 1963)
  • Knowledge will give you power, but character respect. Bruce Lee, in Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (2002; John Little, ed.)
  • One stumble is enough to deface the character of an honorable life. Roger L’Estrange, in Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (1692)
  • Underneath this flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character. Oscar Levant, in Memoirs of an Amnesiac (1965)
  • We judge nothing so hastily as character, and yet there is nothing over which we should be more cautious. In no other case are we so little inclined as here to wait until we have all the facts, and it is the whole which really constitutes character. G. C. Lichtenberg, in The Reflections of Lichtenberg (1908; Norman Alliston)

Lichtenberg continued: “I have always found that the so-called bad people improve on closer acquaintance, while the good fall off.” Alliston’s anthology also contains these other Lichtenberg reflections on the subject:

“I have invariably found that, all else failing, a man’s character can be deduced from nothing so surely as from a jest that he takes in bad part.”

“If men were to describe their dreams exactly we might perhaps learn much about their character. This would require, however, not merely one but a good number of dreams.”

“There is something in the character of every man which cannot be broken in—the skeleton of his character; and to try to alter this is like training a sheep for draught purposes.”

“People make a great mistake in trying to judge a man’s character or opinions from what he says and does in company. It is not always under the eye of a philosopher that we speak or act.”

  • Character doesn’t just count. It is the password to every code you will ever need to crack. Reggie Love, in Power Forward: My Presidential Education (2015)
  • Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character. James Russell Lowell, “Dryden,” in Among My Books (1870)
  • Character is what emerges from all the little things you were too busy to do yesterday, but did anyway. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • A man’s character is revealed by his speech. Menander, a fragment (4th c. B.C.), quoted in Menander, The Principal Fragments (1921; Francis G. Allinson, trans.)
  • Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries. James Michener, the character Rosalind speaking, in Chesapeake: A Novel (1978)
  • Character is what you are in the dark. Dwight L. Moody, quoted by his son William R. Moody, in D. L. Moody (1930)

QUOTE NOTE: In Respectfully Quoted (1993), Suzy Platt writes that a number of respected quotation anthologies say the observation came from one of Moody’s sermons, but scholars have not found it in any of them.

  • No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character. John Morley, “Robespierre,” in Critical Miscellanies, Vol. 1 (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally the conclusion to an observation Morley made about the famous French political figure known mainly by a single name: “To run risks for chivalry’s sake was not in Robespierre’s nature, and no man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”

  • Character is the architecture of the being. Louise Nevelson, in Dawns + Dusks (1976)
  • The shell is America’s most active contribution to the formation of character. A tough hide. Grow it early. Anaïs Nin, a 1946 entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • Character is much easier kept than recovered. Thomas Paine, in The American Crisis (April 19, 1783)
  • Riches I may owe to Fortune; beauty, to my parents; but character I can owe only to myself. Ivan Panin, in Thoughts (1886)
  • A man never reveals his character more vividly than when portraying the character of another. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), the voice of the narrator, in Titan: A Romance (1803)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the modern translation of a passage that, a century ago, was more likely to be presented in English this way: “Never does a man portray his own character more vividly than in his manner of portraying another’s.”

  • I think character never changes; the Acorn becomes an Oak, which is very little like an Acorn to be sure, but it never becomes an Ash. Hester Lynch Piozzi, from a 1797 letter, in The Piozzi Letters: 1792—1798 (1991; E. A. and L. D. Bloom, eds.)
  • ’Tis from high Life high Characters are drawn. Alexander Pope, “Epistle to Cobham” [Sir Richard Temple, Lord Cobham], in Moral Essays (1731-35)
  • Character is what a person is in the dark. Proverb (English)
  • You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans. Ronald Reagan, quoted in The New York Times (Jan. 15, 1981)
  • Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution. Theodore Roosevelt, “Character and Success,” in Outlook magazine (March 31, 1900); reprinted in The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (1900)

Roosevelt continued: “The boy who is going to make a great man, or is going to count in any way in the after life, must make up his mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.” The full article, still worth reading more than a century later, may be found at: Character and Success.

  • Men best show their character in trifles, where they are not on their guard. It is in insignificant matters, and in the simplest habits, that we often see the boundless egotism which pays no regard to the feeling of others, and denies nothing to itself. Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is the first appearance I’ve been able to find of a quotation that has become very popular. So far, though, I’ve been unable to find it in any of Schopenhauer’s writings. See the similar observation from Louise Imogen Guiney above.

  • Ninety-nine percent of leadership failures are failures of character. Norman Schwarzkopf, quoted in John C. Maxwell, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth (2012)
  • You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • There is a kind of character in thy life,/That to the observer doth thy history/Fully unfold. William Shakespeare, the character Duke Vincentio speaking, in Measure for Measure (1604-05)
  • The best contact with humanity is through love and sex. Here, really, you learn all about life, because in sex and in love human character is revealed more than anywhere else. Isaac Bashevis Singer, in Richard Durgin, “Isaac Bashevis Singer Talks…About Everything,” in The New York Times (Nov. 26, 1978)
  • It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names. Isaac Bashevis Singer, in Richard Durgin, “Isaac Bashevis Singer Talks…About Everything,” in The New York Times (Nov. 26, 1978)

A bit later, Singer went on to explain: “We [writers], for some reason, always love to discuss and discover character. This is because each character is different, and human character is the greatest of puzzles. No matter how much I know a human being, I don’t know him enough. Discussing character constitutes a supreme form of entertainment.”

  • There are many counterfeits of character, but the genuine article is difficult to be mistaken. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1859)
  • Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character; and loyal adherence to veracity its most prominent characteristic. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1859)
  • Education has for its object the formation of character. Herbert Spencer, in Social Statics (1850)
  • A good character is the best tombstone. C. H. Spurgeon, in John Ploughman’s Talk: Or Plain Advice for Plain People (1869)

Spurgeon continued: “Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble.”

  • It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it argues an infirmity of character to stick to it. Adela Rogers St. Johns, in Some Are Born Great (1974)
  • One can acquire everything in solitude except character. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), “Miscellaneous Fragments,” in On Love (1822)
  • It is by character and not by intellect the world is won. Stephen G. Tallentyre (pen name of Evelyn Beatrice Hall), “D’™Alembert: The Thinker,” in The Friends of Voltaire (1906)
  • It is ultimately character that underwrites art. Anne Truitt, in Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (1982)
  • The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back. Abigail Van Buren, in a 1974 “Dear Abby” syndicated column

QUOTE NOTE: Four years later, Ann Landers (Van Buren’s sister) echoed the theme in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978) when she wrote: “Keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good.”

  • There is a nobler character than that which is merely incorruptible. It is the character which acts as an antidote and preventive of corruption. Henry van Dyke, “Salt,” in Counsels by the Way (1921 rev. ed.)

Van Dyke preceded the though by writing: “There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.”

  • 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)
  • Character is nothing but habit. Strong when habit is strong. Jessamyn West, the voice of the narrator, in South of the Angels (1960)
  • The making of the substance called character was a process about as slow and arduous as the building of the Pyramids; and the thing itself, like those awful edifices, was mainly useful to lodge one’s descendants in, after they too were dust. Edith Wharton, a reflection of the character Nick Lansing, in The Glimpses of the Moon (1922)
  • Nobility of character manifests itself at loop-holes when it is not provided with large doors. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’” in A New England Nun (1891)
  • True character arises from a deeper well than religion. It is the internalization of moral principles of a society, augmented by those tenets personally chosen by the individual, strong enough to endure through trials of solitude and adversity. Edward O. Wilson, in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)

Wilson continued: “The principles are fitted together into what we call integrity, literally the integrated self, wherein personal decisions feel good and true. Character is in turn the enduring source of virtue. It stands by itself and excites admiration in others. It is not obedience to authority, and while it is often consistent with and reinforced by religious belief, it is not piety.”

  • If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig. Woodrow Wilson, in speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Oct. 24, 1914)
  • The only way…of really finding out a man’s true character is to play golf with him. In no other walk of life does the cloven hoof so quickly display itself. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator speaking, “Ordeal by Golf,” in Collier’s magazine (Dec. 6, 1919); reprinted in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)



  • A character or an idea has to grow like a seed and take possession…it’s something to do with one’s own development and passage through life. Daphne du Maurier, quoted in Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier (1993)
  • The main characters in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. Graham Greene, in Preface to Ways of Escape (1980)

Greene added: “The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in.”

  • My characters are galley slaves. Vladimir Nabokov in Paris Review article (Summer-Fall 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Nabokov was replying to a question about E. M. Forster’s famous remark that his major characters sometimes take over and dictate the course of his novels.

  • Contradictions in human character are one of its most consistent notes. Muriel Spark, the protagonist Fleur Talbot speaking, in Loitering with Intent (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: Talbot, working on her first novel and assisting Sir Quentin, another character, with his memoirs has discovered that the characters in Sir Quentin’s book “sounded stiff and false.” She went on to add: “Since the story of my own life is just as much constituted of the secrets of my craft as it is of other events, I might as well remark here that to make a character ring true it needs must be in some way contradictory, somewhere a paradox.”



  • Charisma is the ability to persuade without the use of logic. Quentin Crisp, on Mae West, in How to Go to the Movies (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation typically appears, but it originally came in the following fuller passage: “If charisma is the ability to persuade without the use of logic, then probably it was by this elusive power that Miss [Mae] West ruled with such apparent ease her chosen domain.”

  • Lack of charisma can be fatal. Jenny Holzer, in Truisms and Essays (1983)
  • Throughout history, certain people have seemed to possess an unusual, even inborn power to command attention. The Greeks called it charisma, meaning “gift,” and that sums up perfectly the popular view of this trait: that it’s something mysterious, not earned but given, by God or by fortunate genetics. Some people just seem to have it. Mark Oppenheimer, “Charm School,” in The New York Times (July 20, 2008)
  • When the Cause Has Charisma, Shrinking Violets Bloom in Public. Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson, a section title, in Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: The concept of a noble cause has been around for some time, but Porras and his colleagues extended the idea by suggesting that a cause itself can have charisma. They went on to write: “œEnduringly successful people—whether they’re shrinking violets or swashbuckling entrepreneurs—serve the cause, and it also serves them. It recruits them and they are lifted up by its power. When that happens for you, a bigger, more engaging version of ‘you’ shows up.” A little later, the authors further explicated the idea by writing: “For the cause to have charisma, it must reach into your heart in a personal way to unlock all you have to give.”

  • But charisma only wins people’s attention. Once you have their attention, you have to have something to tell them. Daniel Quinn, the title character speaking, in Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (1992)
  • Marvellous is the power which can be exercised, almost unconsciously, over a company, or an individual, or even upon a crowd by one person gifted with good temper, good digestion, good intellects, and good looks. Anthony Trollope, the narrator describing Mrs. Butler Corbury, in Rachel Ray: A Novel, Vol. II (1863)

The narrator continued: “A woman so endowed charms not only by the exercise of her own gifts, but she endows those who are near her with a sudden conviction that it is they whose temper, health, talents, and appearance is doing so much for society. Mrs. Butler Cornbury was such a woman as this.”

  • The term “charisma” will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. Max Weber, in Economy and Society (1922)

QUOTE NOTE: Weber (1864-1920), one of the founding figures of the field of sociology, didn’t invent the term charisma, but he gets most of the credit for helping it become part of modern discourse. He continued: “These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a ‘leader.’”

  • We need less posturing and more genuine charisma. Charisma was originally a religious term, meaning “of the spirit” or “inspired.” It’s about letting God’s light shine through us. It’s about a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects. Marianne Williamson, “Surrender,” in A Return to Love (1992)

Williamson continued: “To let go, to just love, is not to fade into the wallpaper. Quite the contrary, it’s when we truly become bright. We’re letting our own light shine.”



  • While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary. Chinua Achebe, the narrator summarizing a belief of the character Ikem Osodi, in Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
  • Charity is a virtue of the heart, and not of the hands, says an old writer. Gifts and alms are the expressions, not the essence of this virtue. Joseph Addison, quoted in The Guardian (Sep. 21, 1713)

Addison went on to explain: “A man may bestow great sums on the poor and indigent without being charitable, and may be charitable when he is not able to bestow anything. Charity is therefore a habit of good will, or benevolence in the soul, which disposes us to the love, assistance, and relief of mankind, especially of those who stand in need of it.”

  • Charity, by which God and neighbor are loved, is the most perfect friendship. Thomas Aquinas, in Quaestiones disputatae: De caritate (Disputed Questions on Truth) (c. 1270)
  • In charity there is no excess. Francis Bacon, “Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature,” in Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation appears on many quotation sites, but the full observation reveals that the observations is as much about excess as it is charity: “The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall; but in charity there is no excess, neither can angel or man come in danger by it.”

  • Never let your zeal outrun your charity. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Puck (April 18, 1883)
  • And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. The Bible: I Corinthians 13:13 (KJV)
  • And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. The Bible: 1 Peter 4:8 (KJV)
  • We should be sure, when we rebuke a want of charity, to do it with charity. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)

QUOTE NOTE: Bovee uses want in the traditional way here, meaning “to lack.”

  • For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • Charity begins at home, is the voice of the world. Sir Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1642)
  • For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity. Charlotte Brontë, the title character speaking, in Shirley (1849)

QUOTE NOTE: Prior to the publication of the novel, Shirley was almost exclusively a male name. In the book, the father of the female protagonist had expected a son and planned to name his son Shirley. When a female child was born, he decided to stick with the name. The popularity of the novel resulted in a great shift in child-naming patterns, and today Shirley is almost exclusively a female name.

  • The highest exercise of charity is charity towards the uncharitable. Joseph S. Buckminster, in Sermons by the Late Rev. J. S. Buckminster (1814)
  • Without all doubt, charity to the poor is a direct and obligatory duty upon all Christians. Edmund Burke, in Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795)
  • Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity. Albert Camus, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall (1956)
  • Did universal charity prevail, earth would be a heaven, and hell a fable. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Posthumous charities are the very essence of selfishness when bequeathed by those who, when alive, would part with nothing. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • That charity which longs to publish itself ceases to be charity. Eliza Cook, “Diamond Dust,” in Eliza Cook’s Journal, Vol. IV (1851)
  • All zeal for a reform, that gives offense/To peace and charity, is mere pretense. William Cowper, “Charity” (1782); in The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, Esq. (1869; H. Stebbing, ed.)
  • When faith and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must try charity, which is love in action. Dinah Craik, in Christian’s Mistake (1865)

Craik continued: “We must speculate no more on our duty, but simply do it. When we have done it, however blindly, perhaps Heaven will show us why.”

  • In most cases, I have found charity to be another name for guilt feelings. Barbara D’Amato, in The Eyes on Utopia Murders (1981)
  • Charity is really self-interest masquerading under the form of altruism. Anthony de Mello, in Awareness (1992)
  • It is quite fitting that charity should begin at home…but then it should not end at home; for those that help nobody will find none to help them in time of need. Maria Edgeworth, “The Will,” in Popular Tales (1804)
  • Charity is from person to person; and it loses half, far more than half, its moral value when the giver is not brought into personal relation with those to whom he gives. James Anthony Froude, the narrator and protagonist Markham Sutherland speaking, in The Nemesis of Faith (1849)
  • Humility makes us charitable toward our neighbor. Nothing will make us so generous and merciful to the faults of others as seeing our own faults. François Fénelon, from an undated letter, in The Complete Fénelon (2008; Robert Edmonson & Hal M. Helms, eds.)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the quotation translated this way: “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others as by self-examination thoroughly to know our own.”

  • Charity begins, but doth not end, at home. Thomas Fuller, in The Appeal of Injured Innocence (1659)
  • If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. Bob Hope, quoted in a 1991 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Technological advance is rapid. But without progress in charity, technological advance is useless. Indeed, it is worse than useless. Aldous Huxley, in Ends and Means: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Ideals (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Huxley famously continued: “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”

  • We live in a society which salves its conscience more by helping the interestingly unfortunate than the dull deserving. P. D. James, in Cover Her Face (1962)
  • Charity may cover a multitude of sins, but success transmutes them into virtues. Hugh Kingsmill, “Rudyard Kipling,” in The Progess of a Biographer (1949)
  • Charity…has always been a expression of the guilty consciences of a ruling class. Doris Lessing, in Children of Violence: A Proper Marriage (1954)
  • A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog. Jack London, “My Life in the Underworld: A Reminiscence and a Confession,” in Cosmopolitan magazine (May, 1907)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve long been familiar with this popular London quotation, but not the story behind it. London was recalling his hoboing days in Nevada in 1892 when he discovered that he was more likely to receive charity from the poor than the well-to-do. Here’s the passage that preceded the observation above: “The very poor can always be depended upon. They never turn away the hungry. Time and again, all over the United States, have I been refused food at the big house on the hill; and always have I received food from the little shack down by the creek or marsh, with its broken windows stuffed with rags and its tired-faced mother broken with labor. Oh! you charity-mongers, go to the poor and learn, for the poor alone are the charitable. They neither give nor withhold from the excess. They have no excess. They give, and they withhold never, from what they need for themselves.” The full article may be seen here. Thanks to Carl Bell at Baylor University for making it available.

  • We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the commandment of charity than any other positive commandment because charity is the sign of a righteous man. Moses Maimonides, quoted in A Maimonides Reader (1972; Isadore Twersky, ed.)
  • Affectation hides three times as many virtues as charity does sins. Horace Mann, in Thoughts (1867)
  • One applauds the industry of professional philanthropy. But it has its dangers. After a while the private heart begins to harden. We fling letters into the wastebasket, are abrupt to telephoned solicitations. Charity withers in the incessant gale. Phyllis McGinley, in Saint-Watching (1969)
  • In the economy of divine charity we have only as much as we give. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • The other part of the true religion is our duty to man. We must love our neighbour as our selves, we must be charitable to all men for charity is the greatest of graces, greater then even faith or hope & covers a multitude of sins. We must be righteous & do to all men as we would they should do to us. Isaac Newton, “Of Humanity,” in A Short Schem [sic] of the True Religion (undated manuscript)
  • The small charity that comes from the heart is better than the great charity that comes from the head. Ivan Panin, in Thoughts (1886)
  • In Faith and Hope the world will disagree,/But all mankind’s concern is charity. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • Charity begins at home. Proverb (English)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying was already proverbial when Thomas Browne wrote in Religio Medici (1642): “Charity begins at home, is the voice of the world.” In the Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro traces the origin of the proverb to John Wycliffe, a fourteenth century English divine, who wrote the following in English Works (c. 1383): “Charite schuld bigyne at hem-self.”

  • Charity covers a multitude of sins. Proverb (English)

QUOTE NOTE: The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations dates this proverb to the early 17th century, but it is clearly derived from the biblical passage: “Charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). The saying is commonly interpreted to mean that many people are motivated to charitable action as a way to make amends for selfish behavior or to soothe a guilty conscience.

  • Lots of people think they’re charitable if they give away their old clothes and things they don’t want. Myrtle Reed, in Old Rose and Silver (1909)
  • As for charity, it is injurious unless it helps the recipient become independent of it. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quoted in S. J. Woolf, Drawn from Life (1932)
  • Charity literally translated from the original means love, the love that understands, that does not merely share the wealth of the giver, but in true sympathy and wisdom helps men to help themselves. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in speech at Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, PA (June 27, 1936)
  • Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it. George Sand, in Consuelo (1842)
  • Ah! what a divine religion might be found out, if charity were really made the principle of it, instead of faith. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a remark made to Leigh Hunt, quoted in Hunt’s, Memoir of Shelley (1828)
  • The essence of charity, he often thought, was not deciding what others needed and giving it to them, but giving them what they wanted. Jane Smiley, a reflection of the character Nils Harstad, in Moo: A Novel (1995)
  • The reward of charity depends entirely upon the measure of loving-kindness in the act. The Talmud—Sukkah 49b
  • Charity, to be fruitful, must cost us. Give until it hurts. To love it is necessary to give; to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness. Mother Teresa, in The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living (1996; Jaya Chalila & Edward Le Joly, eds.)
  • He is truly great, that is great in charity. He is truly great, that is little in himself, and maketh no account of any height of honor. Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ (c. 1420)
  • 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. Evelyn Underhill, in Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (1911)
  • It is not every one who asketh that deserveth charity; all, however, are worthy of the inquiry, or the deserving may suffer. George Washington, in letter to nephew Bushrod Washington (Jan. 15, 1783)

Washington introduced the thought by writing: “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distresses of every one, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”

  • Charity is an ugly trick. It is a virtue grown by the rich on the graves of the poor. Unless it is accompanied by sincere revolt against the present social system, it is cheap moral swagger. Rebecca West, in a 1912 edition of The Clarion (specific issue undetermined)

“In former times it was used as fire insurance by the rich, but now that the fear of Hell has gone along with the rest of revealed religion, it is used either to gild mean lives with nobility or as a political instrument.”

  • Why is it that so many people think that charity consists in giving away merely what they cannot use instead of the article the recipient needs? Mabel Osgood Wright, a February 10 diary entry, in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)



  • A general must be a charlatan. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)
  • Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)

Sagan preceded the observation by writing: “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.”



  • There’s nothing more dangerous than a boy with charm. Christina Aguilera, lyric from the song “Candyman” (written with Linda Perry), on the album Back to Basics (2006)

The lyrics continue: “He’s a one-stop shop, makes the panties drop/He’s a sweet-talkin’, sugar-coated candyman.”

  • Brains, integrity, and force may be all very well, but what you need today is Charm. Gracie Allen, in How to Become President (1940)

Allen continued: “Go ahead and work on your economic programs if you want to, I’ll develop my radio personality.”

  • Charm: the quality in others that makes us more satisfied with ourselves. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, an 1883 entry in his Journal Intime
  • “I judge people’s charm by the ease with which I express myself in their presence. Natalie Clifford Barney, “Scatterings” (1910), in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992; Anna Livia, ed.)
  • It’s a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don’t need to have anything else; and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t much matter what else you have. J. M. Barrie, the character Maggie Wylie speaking, on charm, in What Every Woman Knows (1908)
  • You must have this charm to reach the pinnacle. It is made of everything and of nothing, the striving will, the look, the walk, the proportions of the body, the sound of the voice, the ease of the gestures. Sarah Bernhardt, in The Art of the Theatre (1924)

Berhnardt concluded: “It is not at all necessary to be handsome or to be pretty; all that is needful is charm.”

  • Charm is the next best asset after looks and brains—and can almost make up for looks. Helen Gurley Brown, in Having It All (1982)
  • Charm is a glow within a woman that casts a most becoming light on others. John Mason Brown, in Vogue magazine (Nov. 15, 1956)
  • Dad could charm a dog off a meat wagon. Rita Mae Brown, in Bingo (1988)
  • You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question. Albert Camus, the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence speaking, in The Fall (1956)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the observation this way: “Charm is a way of getting the answer yes without ever having asked a clear question.”

  • charm should be on the surface. It has no hidden use. Ivy Compton-Burnett, in A Heritage and Its History (1959)
  • Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm. Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise (1938)
  • All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others. Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise (1938)
  • O, popular applause! What heart of man/Is proof against thy sweet, seducing charms? William Cowper, in The Task (1785)
  • It's always good to know, if only in passing, a charming human being; it refreshes one like flowers and birds and clear brooks. George Eliot, an 1850 journal entry; quoted in J.W. Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885)
  • Charm is a woman’s strength, just as strength is a man’s charm. Havelock Ellis, in The Task of Social Hygiene (1912). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • Charm might be described as enlightened self-interest, a development of one's best self. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • In the simplest possible terms, I think genuine charm is an unmotivated interest in others. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • Counterfeit charm is worse than none at all. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • He had that nameless charm, with a strong magnetism, which can only be called “It.” Elinor Glyn, in the title story, in “It” and Other Stories (1927)
  • Those people who rely on charm to get them what they want, who never need to work for love or admiration, what monsters they turn out to be! Rosemary Harris, in All My Enemies (1973)
  • Charm is nebulous. It may be a mannerism; it may be a voice; it may be the movement of a hand. But whatever it is that makes a person charming, it needs to remain a mystery, particularly to the charmer, herself or himself. Rex Harrison, quoted in Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, What They Said in 1977: The Yearbook of World Opinion (1978)

Harrison continued: “Because once the charmer is aware of a mannerism or characteristic that others find charming, it ceases to be a mannerism and becomes an affectation. And good Lord, there is nothing less charming than affectations!”

  • I lived in the midst of an affectionate charming family, and I am sure that there is no greater obstacle to a person who is just beginning to write. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith (1942)
  • I don’t believe one can acquire charm. I think its very essence is naturalness. Louise Platt Hauck, in Without Charm, Please! (1936)
  • Charm is an odorless perfume, which cannot be analyzed in the chemist’s test tube. It is a permeation, a radiation. It emanates from the climate of a warm human spirit, which not only contains light, but gives it off. Fannie Hurst, quoted in Arlene Francis, That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • Charm is often despised but I can never see why. No one has it who isn't capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn’t false. P. D. James, a reflection of the narrator, Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • There are charms made only for distant admiration. Samuel Johnson, “Waller,” in Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–81)
  • I was raised to be charming, not sincere. James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, the Prince, replying to a question from his wife, Cinderella, about his infidelity, in Into the Woods (1986; book by Lapine; music & lyrics by Sondheim)
  • Spilling your guts is just exactly as charming as it sounds. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • Oozing charm from every pore,/He oiled his way around the floor. Alan Jay Lerner, lyric from the song “You Did It,” in the play My Fair Lady (1956)
  • People were not charmed with Eglantine because she herself was charming, but because she was charmed. Ada Leverson, in Love at Second Sight (1916)
  • The rarest of all things in American life is charm. We spend billions every year manufacturing fake charm that goes under the heading of “public relations.” Without it, America would be grim indeed. Anita Loos, in Kiss Hollywood Good-by (1974)
  • Men who have a lot of charm have it in place of something real that you are eventually going to want from them and find that they do not have. Merrill Markoe, in How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me (1994)
  • We are all born charming, frank, and spontaneous and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1982)
  • Charming villains have always had a decided social advantage over well-meaning people who chew with their mouths open. Judith Martin (Miss Manners), in Common Courtesy (1996)
  • Charm and nothing but charm at last grows a little tiresome, I think. It’s a relief then to deal with a man who isn’t quite so delightful but a little more sincere. W. Somerset Maugham, Deputy Commissioner Waddington speaking, in The Painted Veil (1925)
  • Essayists must not only be succinct but have original ideas and, even harder to come by, or to fake, likable voices. Consciously or not, they endeavor to win us over by charm. Cyra McFadden, in a 1995 issue of The Boston Sunday Globe (specific issue undetermined)

McFadden continued: “If an essayist can not only charm but write the unforgettable sentence, one that reveals the heart in a few words, I'm her slave.”

  • It’s innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn’t. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • Falling out of love is chiefly a matter of forgetting how charming someone is. Iris Murdoch, in A Severed Head (1961)
  • Charm is simply the art of being pleasing. Patti Page, in Once Upon a Dream (1960)
  • There is entirely too much charm around, and something must be done to stop it. Dorothy Parker, “These Much Too Charming People,” in The New Yorker (April 21, 1928)
  • An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit. Pliny the Younger, in Letters (1st. c. A.D.)
  • Charm is the ability to make others feel attractive. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Perhaps the basic thing which contributes to charm is the ability to forget oneself and be engrossed in other people. Eleanor Roosevelt, in If You Ask Me (1946)
  • Charm is a cunning self-forgetfulness. Christina Stead, in House of All Nations (1938)
  • Charming people live up to the very edge of their charm, and behave just as outrageously as the world will let them. Logan Pearsall Smith, in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • Do you, by the way, know the difference between a beautiful woman and a charming one? A beauty is a woman you notice; a charmer is one who notices you. Adlai Stevenson, quoted in a 1963 Newsweek magazine article (specific date undetermined); later reprinted in The Stevenson Wit (1966)
  • Without charm there can be no fine literature, as there can be no perfect flower without fragrance. Arthur Symons, in The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899)
  • There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind. Kurt Vonnegut, in Breakfast of Champions (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: The thought comes immediately after the narrator had described the early life of the character Kilgore Trout this way: “He made his living as an installer of aluminum combination storm windows and screens. He had nothing to do with the sales end of the business—because he had no charm.”

  • It is absurd to divide people into good or bad. People are either charming or tedious. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Darlington speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

Darlington, speaking to Lady Windermere, continues: “I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them.”

  • All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction. Oscar Wilde, the unnamed narrator speaking, in “The Portrait of Mr. W. H.” first published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (July, 1889); later republished in Lord Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, 2nd ed. (1901)
  • Charm lies in complete forgetfulness of self. Margery Wilson, in The Woman You Want to Be (1928)
  • “Charm,” she said, carefully and clearly, “is the ability to make someone else think that both of you are pretty wonderful.” Kathleen Winsor, the character Shireen Delaney speaking, in Star Money (1950)



  • I think there is this about the great troubles—they teach us the art of cheerfulness; whereas the small ones cultivate the industry of discontent. Mary Adams, in Confessions of a Wife (1902)
  • I have always preferred cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as an habit of mind. Mirth is short and transient, cheerfulness fixed and permanent. Joseph Addison, “Cheerfulness and Mirth,” in The Spectator (May 17, 1712)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the opening line of the essay. In that first paragraph, Addison went on to write: “Mirth is like a flash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.”

  • Have your fun, my dear; but if you must earn your bread, try to make it sweet with cheerfulness, not bitter with the daily regret that it isn’t cake. Louisa May Alcott, in Jo’s Boys (1886)
  • Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. J. M. Barrie, the narrator describing the character Leeby, in A Window in Thrums (1890)
  • Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us. Charlotte Brontë, in Shirley (1849)
  • I like the man who faces what he must,/With steps triumphant and a heart of cheer;/Who fights the daily battle without fear. Sarah Knowles Bolton, from the title poem, in The Inevitable and Other Poems (1895)
  • Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • Stay cheerful. Suffering makes lines in the face. Chris Chase, in How to Be a Movie Star or A Terrible Beauty Is Born (1972)
  • Cheerfulness is to the spiritual atmosphere what sunshine is to the earthly landscape. I am resolved to cherish cheerfulness with might and main. Lydia Maria Child, in 1865 letter to Lucy Osgood, in Letters of Lydia Maria Child (1882)

Child began by writing: “To everything there is a bright side and a dark side; and I hold it to be unwise, unphilosophic, unkind to others, and unhealthy for one's own soul, to form the habit of looking on the dark side.”

  • Be of good cheer, for sadness cannot heal the national wounds. Dorothea Dix, an 1845 remark, quoted in Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Stranger and Traveler: The Story of Dorothea Dix, American Reformer (1975)
  • Statistically speaking, the Cheerful Early Riser is rejected more completely than a member of any other subculture, save those with boot odor. Ellen Goodman, in Close to Home (1979)
  • Life is getting through the moment. The philosopher William James says to cultivate the cheerful attitude. Now nobody had more trouble than he did—except me. I had more trouble in my life than anybody. But your first big trouble can be a bonanza if you live through it. Get through the first trouble, you'll probably make it through the next one. Ruth Gordon, in Paul Rosenfield, “The Careerist Guide to Survival,” The Los Angeles Times (1982)
  • I think cheerfulness is a fortune in itself. George Eliot, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • The most manifest sign of wisdom is continued cheerfulness. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580-88)
  • Cheerfulness, sir, is the principal ingredient in the composition of health. Arthur Murphy, the character Gargle speaking, in The Apprentice (1756)
  • Cheerfulness is a debt we owe to society, in the paying of which we receive a generous discount. We can not open our hearts to give out cheer without more cheer rushing in to take its place. Alice Hegan Rice, in Happiness Road (1942)
  • But every road is tough to me/That has no friend to cheer it. Elizabeth Shane, in The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Shane (1945)
  • I’ve always tried to be cheerful, because I think people who whine are boring, and I never could tolerate bores. Beverly Sills, quoted in Beverly (1987; with Lawrence Linderman)

In a 1975 interview on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes,” Sills also offered this observation on the subject: “A happy woman is one who has no cares at all; a cheerful woman is one who has cares but doesn’t let them get her down.”

  • Ripe old age, cheerful, useful, and understanding, is one of the finest influences in the world. Ida M. Tarbell, in The Business of Being a Woman (1912)



  • Goat cheese…produced a bizarre eating era when sensible people insisted that this miserable cheese produced by these miserable creatures reared on miserable hardscrabble earth was actually superior to the magnificent creamy cheeses of the noblest dairy animals bred in the richest green valleys of the earth. Russell Baker, in The New York Times (Nov. 27, 1985)
  • If antiquity be the test of nobility, as many affirm and none deny…then cheese is a very noble thing. Hilaire Belloc, “On Cheeses,” in First and Last (1911)
  • A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in The Physiology of Taste (1825)
  • Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. G. K. Chesterton, “Cheese,” in Alarms and Excursions (1910)
  • A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman, in Any Number Can Play (1957)
  • Apple pie without a piece of cheese is like a smooch without a squeeze. Stephen King, the character Irv speaking, in Firestarter (1980)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “A slice of pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.”





  • After the game, the King and the Pawn go into the same box. Proverb (Italian)
  • Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy. Siegbert Tarrasch, in The Game of Chess (1931)


(see also CANDY and SWEETS)

  • Basically, gum is an adult pacifier. William Wrigley III, quoted in a 1988 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: The author mentioned above was the grandson of William Wrigley, Jr., the founder of the famous chewing gum firm (the formal name of the company when founded in 1891 was The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company). He headed the company until 1932, when his son, Philip K. Wrigley (known as “P. K.”) took over the helm. In E. Darby’s The Fortune Builders: Chicago’s Famous Families (1986), adult pacifier was identified as “P. K.’s phrase.” There is some evidence, though, that nobody in the Wrigley family authored the popular metaphor. The first appearance of the saying came in 1962, when the anonymous author of a Newsweek article wrote: “The most avid choppers of what could be described as an adult pacifier are between the ages of 18 and 34.”




  • Politics never takes a holiday in Chicago. Jane Byrne, in My Chicago (1992)
  • This is the greatest and most typically American of all cities. New York is bigger and more spectacular and can outmatch it in other superlatives, but it is a “world” city, more European in some respects than American. John Gunther, on Chicago, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)

Later in the book, Gunther continued about The Windy City: “The last copy of the Chicago Daily News I picked up had three crime stories on its front page. But by comparison to the gaudy days, this is small-time stuff. Chicago is as full of crooks as a saw with teeth, but the era when they ruled the city is gone forever.”

  • Was there ever a name more full of purpose than Chicago's? Jan Morris, “Boss No More,” Locations (1992)

Morris went on to add: “Spoken as Chicagoans themselves speak it, with a bit of a spit to give heft to its slither, it is gloriously onomatopoetic.”

  • Chicago’s downtown seems to me to constitute, all in all, the best-looking twentieth-century city, the city where contemporary technique has best been matched by artistry, intelligence, and comparatively moderated greed. No doubt about it, if style were the one gauge, Chicago would be among the greatest of all the cities of the world. Jan Morris, “Boss No More,” in Locations (1992)

In her book, Morris also wrote: “Buildings are seldom just buildings in downtown Chicago, they are Examples, and not a city on Earth, I swear, is as knowledgeably preoccupied with architectural meaning. Where else would a department store include in its advertisements the name of the architect who created it, or a newspaper property section throw in a scholarly exposition of theoretical design?”



  • Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse- or bull- of elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war. Paul Fussell, “Chickenshit: An Anatomy,” in Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (1989)

ERROR ALERT: Even though American historian Stephen E. Ambrose presented the first portion of this quotation—with full attribution to Fussell—in his Band of Brothers (1992), many internet sites mistakenly attribute the observation to Ambrose.

QUOTE NOTE: The quotation above is the conclusion of a fuller passage that began this way: “Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant “paying off of old scores”; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

[Only] CHILD


  • When you’re the only pea in the pod, your parents are likely to get you confused with the Hope Diamond. Russell Baker, “Life With Mother,” in William Zinsser, ed., Inventing the Truth (1987)

Baker preceded the thought by writing: “I worry about people who get born nowadays, because they get born into such tiny families—sometimes into no family at all.”



  • In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again. James Agee, in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941)
  • 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.”

  • When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. Brian Aldiss, quoted in The Guardian (London; Dec. 31, 1971)

Aldiss added: “That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay.”

  • Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors are mysterious apparitions who come, go, and do strange unfathomable thing in and around the child, the region’s only enfranchised citizen. Maya Angelou, in A Letter to My Daughter (2008)
  • Few persons can relate the story of their childhood without idealizing, or distorting, or overdramatizing the facts. Katharine Anthony, quoted in Helen Hull, The Writer’s Book (1950)
  • Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
  • The countenances of children, like those of animals, are masks, not faces, for they have not yet developed a significant profile of their own. W. H. Auden, “Face, The Human,” in A Certain World (1970)
  • You are only as happy as your most unhappy child. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has become so popular in recent years that it is only a matter of time before it is referred to a a modern proverb. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find an original author or source.

  • So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us. Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Reverie (1969)
  • Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child’s world, and thus a world event. Gaston Bachelard, in Fragments of a Poetics of Fire (1988)
  • Children sweeten labors; but they make misfortunes more bitter. Francis Bacon, “Of Parents and Children,” in Essays (1625)
  • Childhood is a thing that happens so early you don’t forget it. Everything else you grow out of, but you never recover from childhood. Beryl Bainbridge, quoted in Willa Petschek, “Beryl Bainbridge and Her Tenth Novel,” in The New York Times (March 1, 1981)
  • Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. James Baldwin, “The Precarious Vogue of Ingmar Bergman,” in Vogue magazine (April 1960); reprinted in Nobody Knows My Name (1961)
  • To me there is no picture so beautiful as smiling, bright-eyed, happy children; no music so sweet as their clear and ringing laughter. P. T. Barnum, in The Colossal P.T. Barnum Reader: Nothing Else Like it in the Universe (2005; James W. Cook, ed.)
  • However strong the seduction of treating children as adults, it is always a seduction to resist. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • All children, except one, grow up. James M. Barrie, the opening sentence of Peter and Wendy (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: In 1902, Barrie introduced the character of Peter Pan in his novel The Little White Bird, but it was only a minor role, and Peter never advanced beyond infancy. Two years later, he developed Peter into the character we all know today for the 1904 London stage production, “Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” The play was a spectacular success, and catapulted Barrie into worldwide celebrity.

In 1911, Peter Pan was already one of the world’s most famous fictional characters when Barrie extended the stage play into a full-blown novel titled Peter and Wendy. The novel’s opening line is now regarded as a classic in world literature. What is less well known, though, is how Barrie continued the first paragraph:

“They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this forever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up.”

  • The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of his time each day.  O. A. Battista, quoted in Sidney Greenberg, A Treasury of the Art of Living (1963)
  • When we are young our parents run our life; when we get older, our children do. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a perfectly fine observation in its own right, but when I first came upon it many years ago, I misread it as ruin rather than run. I even remember thinking at the time that it was even better in my misread version. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I ultimately came across a remark attributed to Clarence Darrow: “The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, the second half is ruined by our children” (see the Darrow entry below)

  • When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. The Bible: 1 Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) has this translation: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

  • Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. The Bible: Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)
  • Childhood, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth—two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • But childhood prolonged, cannot remain a fairyland. It becomes a hell. Louise Bogan, “Childhood’s False Eden,” in Selected Criticism: Poetry and Prose (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Bogan was referring specifically to the life and struggles of writer Katherine Mansfield, but her observation has wide applicability.

  • I firmly believe kids don’t want your understanding. They want your trust, your compassion, your blinding love and your car keys, but you try to understand them and you’re in big trouble. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • A child develops individuality long before he develops taste. I have seen my kid straggle into the kitchen in the morning with outfits that need only one accessory: an empty gin bottle. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • Kids need love the most when they deserve it the least. Erma Bombeck, quoted in Jerry Dunn, Tricks of the Trade (1991)
  • What are so mysterious as the eyes of a child? Phyllis Bottome, “Brother Leo,” in Innocence and Experience (1934)
  • What is a neglected child? He is a child not planned for, not wanted. Neglect begins, therefore, before he is born. Pearl S. Buck, in Children for Adoption (1964)
  • The place is very well and quiet and the children only scream in a low voice. Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron), in letter to Lady Melbourne (Sep. 21, 1813); reprinted in Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. 3 (1974; L. A. Marchand, ed.)
  • If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder(1965)
  • A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. W. Hodding Carter II, in Where Main Street Meets the River (1953)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, the a wise woman portion is omitted, and the quotation is directly attributed to Carter, most often in the following way: “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children: one of these is roots, the other, wings.”

  • The actual American childhood is less Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney than Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Susan Cheever, in A Woman’s Life (1994)
  • The popular idea that a child forgets easily is not an accurate one. Many people go right through life in the grip of an idea which has been impressed on them in very tender years. Agatha Christie, the character Dr. Reilly, in Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
  • More children suffer from interference than from non-interference. Agatha Christie, the character Charles Hayward speaking, in The Crooked House (1949)
  • If you’ve had a happy childhood, nobody can take that away from you. Agatha Christie, in A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
  • One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood. Agatha Christie, in An Autobiography (1977)
  • It is not a bad thing that children should occasionally, and politely, put parents in their place. Colette, “The Priest on the Wall,” in My Mother’s House (1922)
  • It is a mystery why adults expect perfection from children. Few grownups can get through a whole day without making a mistake. Marcelene Cox, in a 1943 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • A child who constantly hears “Don’t,” “Be careful,” “Stop will eventually be overtaken by schoolmates, business associates, and rival suitors. Marcelene Cox, in a 1943 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Children whose problems aren’t recognized become problem children. Marcelene Cox, in a 1944 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • A child can never be better than what his parents think of him. Marcelene Cox, in a 1945 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Children should not be condemned for accidents. Compared with an adult, the child is all left hand. Marcelene Cox, in a 1945 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • To give children everything is often worse than giving them nothing. Marcelene Cox, in a 1947 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Children always take the line of most persistence. Marcelene Cox, in a 1947 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Children in a family are like flowers in a bouquet: there’s always one determined to face in an opposite direction from the way the arranger desires. Marcelene Cox, in a 1955 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Two important things to teach a child: to do and to do without. Marcelene Cox, in a 1957 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Little seedlings never flourish in the soil they have been given, be it ever so excellent, if they are continually pulled up to see if the roots are grateful yet. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • For though the first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, the second half is ruined by our children. Clarence Darrow, quoted in Changing Times magazine (July, 1878)

QUOTE NOTE: I have not been able to find an original source for this popular remark, and it just may be apocryphal. In the Changing Times piece, editor Sidney Sulkin cites it in "Chat with the Editor," an imaginary conversation he has with Darrow, Shaw, Twain, and John Milton.

  • How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children. Charles Darwin, in letter to W. D. Fox (March 7, 1852)
  • Young children have no sense of wonder. They bewilder well, but few things surprise them. All of it is new to young children, after all, and equally gratuitous. Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood (1987)
  • Cleaning your house/While your kids are still growing/Is like shoveling the walk/Before it stops snowing. Phyllis Diller, in Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints (1966)
  • Those who cannot remember clearly their own childhood are poor educators. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Childhood is only the beautiful and happy time in contemplation and retrospect: to the child it is full of deep sorrows, the meaning of which is unknown. George Eliot, in an 1844 letter, reprinted in George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885; J.W. Cross, ed.)
  • Children are all foreigners. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1839 journal entry
  • We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Illusions,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Children “fall apart” repeatedly, and unlike Humpty Dumpty, grow together again. Erik Erikson, quoted in M. J. E. Senn, Symposium on Healthy Personality (1950)
  • I rarely think about my childhood. It’s a slippery thing I can’t keep hold of for long—it slithers out of my grasp. And a lot of the time I remember what was missing instead of what was there. I am a chronicler of absence. Carrie Fisher, in Delusions of Grandma (1994)
  • A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort. Gillian Flynn, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Camille Preaker, in Sharp Objects (2006)
  • Let your children go if you want to keep them. Malcolm Forbes, quoted in William Safire and Leonard Safir, Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice (1989)
  • Your children are not your children/They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself./They come through you but not from you,/And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. Kahlil Gibran, “On Children.” in The Prophet (1923)

This is the beginning of the Prophet’s answer to a woman who said, “Speak to us of Children.” He continued: “You may give them your love but not your thoughts,/For they have their own thoughts./You may house their bodies but not their souls,/For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

And then, as he begins the final portion of his answer, he added: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

  • Becoming a parent is like discovering a new room in the house of your soul, where you were certain there wasn’t one. Emily Giffin, in Baby Proof (2010)
  • Children are unreliable, foreigners to discretion. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), in Is She Dead Too? (1950)
  • Everything matters terribly to children, you know, they’re fresh and unformed. Dorothy Gilman, the title character speaking, in A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax (1973)
  • Children…are like wet cement. Any word that falls on them makes an impact. Haim Ginott, in Between Parent and Child (1965)

ERROR ALERT: In almost all quotation anthologies, this quotation appears without an ellipsis and is mistakenly phrased as if it ends Whatever falls on them makes an impression.

  • Hurts of childhood live on; in one form or other they are there to the end. Susan Glaspell, the voice of the narrator, in The Morning Is Near Us (1939)
  • If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in The Autobiography of Goethe (Eng. ed. pub. posthumously in 1848)

QUOTE NOTE: Goethe preceded the thought by writing: “The child…seems so intelligent and rational, and at the same time so easy, cheerful, and clever, that one can hardly wish it further cultivation.”

  • Childhood is a disease—a sickness that you grow out of. William Golding, quoted in The Guardian (London; June 22, 1990)
  • Children are incurable romantics. Brimful of romance and tragedy, we whirl through childhood hopelessly in love with our parents. Roger Gould, in Transformations: Growth and Change in Adult Life (1978)

Gould continued: “In our epic imagination, we love and are loved with a passion so natural and innocent we may never know its like as adults.”

  • There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. Graham Greene, in The Power and the Glory (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: Graham returned to the theme of a life-altering childhood moment nearly two decades later when he wrote in Our Man in Havana (1958): “Who knows whether there may not be a moment in childhood when the world changes forever, like making a face when the clock strikes?”

  • It is impossible to betray another man’s child—for whatever reason—without also betraying one’s own. To do less than justice to another man’s child, no matter who that man is, is to impair by that much the chances one’s own children have for a life of meaning and purpose. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)
  • Children hold us hostage; they represent our commitment to the future. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Italian Days (1989)
  • Bringing a child into the world is the greatest act of hope there is. Louise Hart, “Postscript: On Nightmares,” in The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem in Your Children and Yourself (1987)
  • Perhaps we have been misguided into taking too much responsibility from our children, leaving them too little room for discovery. Helen Hayes, in A Gift of Joy (1965; with Lewis Funk)
  • Childhood is a short season. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life (with M. G. Gladney, 1987)
  • Children are not only innocent and curious but also optimistic and joyful and essentially happy. They are, in short, everything adults wish they could be. Carolyn Haywood, in B is for Betsy (1939)
  • Childhood is less clear to me than to many people: when it ended I turned my face away from it for no reason that I know about, certainly without the usual reason of unhappy memories. Lillian Hellman, in Pentimento (1973)

Hellman continued: “For many years that worried me, but then I discovered that the tales of former children are seldom to be trusted. Some people supply too many past victories or pleasures with which to comfort themselves, and other people cling to pains, real and imagined, to excuse what they have become.”

  • No one knows you like a person with whom you’ve shared a childhood. No one will ever understand you in quite the same way. Alice Hoffman, in Practical Magic (1995)
  • Anyone who has raised more than one child knows full well that kids turn out the way they turn out—astonishingly, for the most part, and usually quite unlike their siblings, even their twins, raised under the same flawed rooftree. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)

Holland continued: “Little we have done or said, or left undone and unsaid, seems to have made much mark. It’s hubris to suppose ourselves so influential; a casual remark on the playground is as likely to change their lives as any dedicated campaign of ours. They come with much of their own software already in place, waiting, and none of the keys we press will override it.”

  • A sibling is the lens through which you see your childhood. Ann Hood, in Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time (2000)
  • Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors. Khaled Hosseini, the character Rahim Khan speaking, in The Kite Runner (2003)
  • If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers. Edgar Watson Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • Childhood is the world of miracle and wonder; as if creation rose, bathed in light out of the darkness, utterly new and fresh and astonishing. The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us. Eugène Ionesco, in Fragments of a Journal (1968)

Ionesco continued: “When the world seems familiar, when one has got used to existence, one has become adult. The brave new world, the wonderland has grown trite and commonplace.”

  • Childhood is the one prison from which there’s no escape, the one sentence from which there’s no appeal. We all serve our time. P. D. James, the voice of the narrator, in Innocent Blood (1980)
  • If from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils. P. D. James, a diary entry by Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give. P. D. James, in Time To Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (1999)

QUOTE NOTE: James was actually thinking about her father when she wrote these powerful words. Here’s the original passage: “I don’t think he had known much demonstrative love in his childhood and what a child doeasn’t receive he can seldom later give.”

  • Children live in occupied territory. The brave and the foolhardy openly rebel against authority, whether harsh or benign. But most tread warily, outwardly accommodating themselves to alien mores and edicts while living in secret their iconoclastic and subversive lives. P. D. James, in Time To Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (1999)
  • Childhood does sometimes pay a second visit to man—youth never. Anna Brownell Jameson, quoted in Edward Parsons Day, Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)
  • Children have more need of models than of critics. Joseph Joubert
  • If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. Carl Jung, in The Integration of the Personality (1939)
  • Warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. Carl Jung, “The Gifted Child,” lecture in Basel, Switzerland (Dec. 1942); reprinted in The Development of Personality (1954)

Jung preceded the thought by saying: “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings”

  • The real menace in dealing with a five-year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five-year-old. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experiences of life; the thorns should never be plucked from his roses. Ellen Key, in The Century of the Child (1909)
  • A child’s nature is too serious a thing to admit of its being regarded as a mere appendage to another human being. Charles Lamb, “A Bachelor’s Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People,” in Essays of Elia (1823)
  • A child is fed with milk and praise. Mary Ann Lamb, “The First Tooth,” in Poetry for Children (1809)
  • Children have an uncanny way of living up—or down—to what is expected of them. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)

Lebowitz made several other wry observations about children in the book:

“All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.”

“Children make the most desirable opponents in Scrabble as they are both easy to beat and fun to cheat.”

“Notoriously insensitive to subtle shifts in mood, children will persist in discussing the color of a recently sighted cement-mixer long after one’s own interest in the topic has waned.”

  • A torn jacket is soon mended; but hard words bruise the heart of a child. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • Do you remember your childhood? I am always coming across these marvelous accounts by writers who declare that they remember “everything.” Katherine Mansfield, “A Married Man's Story,” in The Doves' Nest (1923)

The narrator continued: “I certainly don't. The dark stretches, the blanks, are much bigger than the bright glimpses. I seem to have spent most of my time like a plant in a cupboard.”

  • Adorable children are considered to be the general property of the human race. (Rude children belong to their mothers.) Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children (1984)
  • Children are forced to live very rapidly in order to live at all. They are given only a few years in which to learn hundreds of thousands of things about life and the planet and themselves. Phyllis McGinley, in Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964)
  • The hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes. Carson McCullers, in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1953)
  • The fault no child ever loses is the one he was most punished for. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • There are children born to be children, and others who must mark time till they can take their natural places as adults. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Children are great idealists, until the stupidity of their elders puts out the fires of the aspirations. Nellie McClung, in The Stream Runs Fast (1945)
  • The ability to forget a sorrow is childhood’s most enchanting feature. Phyllis McGinley, in Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964)
  • Even in the same family, one child will always instinctively know when to ask for things, and another won’t. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Likely as not, the child you can do the least with will do the most to make you proud. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • Children must be taught how to think, not what to think. Margaret Mead, in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)
  • The way in which each human infant is transformed into the finished adult, into the complicated individual version of his city and his century is one of the most fascinating studies open to the curious minded. Margaret Mead, a 1929 observation, quoted in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait (1979)
  • What’s done to children, they will do to society. Karl A. Menninger, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • The child has a primary need to be regarded and respected as the person he really is at any given time, and as the center—the central actor—in his own activity. Alice Miller, in Prisoners of Childhood (1979)

In the book, Miller also wrote: “Every child has a legitimate narcissistic need to be noticed, understood, taken seriously, and respected by his mother. In the first weeks and months of life he needs to have the mother at his disposal, must be able to use her and to be mirrored by her.”

  • Someday we will regard our children not as creatures to manipulate or to change but rather as messengers from a world we once deeply knew, but which we have long since forgotten, who can reveal to us more about the true secrets of life, and also our own lives, than our parents were ever able to. Alice Miller, in the Preface to For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1983)
  • I love children, especially when they cry, because then somebody takes them away. Nancy Mitford, “The Tourist” (1959), in The Water Beetle (1962)
  • It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580)
  • Children see magic because they look for it. Christopher Moore, the voice of the narrator and protagonist, in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (2002)
  • Having children is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. Martin Mull, from his stand-up routine, quoted in Orange Coast magazine (Dec., 1986)
  • Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies./Nobody that matters, that is. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies,” in Wine From These Grapes (1934)

Millay preceded this by writing: “Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age/The child is grown and puts away childish things.”

  • The childhood shows the man,/As morning shows the day. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)
  • To children childhood holds no particular advantage. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. Alden Nowlan, in “Scratchings“ (1971)
  • After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world. Mary Oliver, in Blue Pastures (1995)
  • If you bungle raising your children I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in an NBC News interview (Oct. 1, 1960)
  • What a father says to his children is not heard by the world; but it will be heard by posterity. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Levana (1807)
  • Men are generally more careful of the breed of their horses and dogs than of their children. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)
  • Having children is rolling the dice hoping for a seven to appear. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication (March 3, 2024)
  • Childhood is the fiery furnace in which we are melted down to essentials and that essential shaped for good. Katherine Anne Porter, “Reflections on Willa Cather,” in The Days Before (1952)

In that same essay, Porter wrote: “I have not much interest in anyone’s personal history after the tenth year, not even my own. Whatever one was going to be was all prepared for before that.”

  • Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman, in Introduction to The Disappearance of Childhood (1982)

QUOTE NOTE: There are many wonderful quotations about children, but I regard this as The Single Best Thing Ever Said on the subject. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I have a feeling Postman might have been inspired by a somewhat similar observation in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (1923): “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

  • Children are poor men’s riches. Proverb (English)
  • Children are to be respected and I respect them deeply. They’ve taught me an awful lot. Fred Rogers, in a 1983 interview with Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show
  • To understand children, we must have some memory of how we felt as children. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)
  • Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory; children endow their parents with a vicarious immortality. George Santayana, “Reason in Society,” in The Life of Reason (1905-06)
  • Childhood decides. Jean-Paul Sartre, in The Words: The Autobiography of Jean-Paul Sartre (1964)
  • How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Lear (1605-06)
  • Sometimes the child in one behaves a certain way and the rest of oneself follows behind, slowly shaking its head. James E. Shapiro, in Meditations From the Breakdown Lane (1983)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to the Danish physicist Niels Bohr

  • Although today there are many trial marriages, as Gary Wills says, there is no such thing as a trial child. Gail Sheehy in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)
  • These things I do despise:/Hypocrisy and lies,/And anything at all that dims/The light in children’s eyes. Ruth T. Stamper, quoted in a 1976 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father. Gloria Steinem, quoted in The New York Times (Aug. 26, 1971)
  • It’s never too late for a happy childhood. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution From Within (1993)
  • Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. Elizabeth Stone, quoted in Ellen Cantarow, “No Kids,” The Village Voice (1985)
  • Childhood is Last Chance Gulch for happiness. After that, you know too much. Tom Stoppard, the character Gale speaking, in Where Are They Now? (1968); reprinted in Albert’s Bridge and Other Plays (1977)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly put a the before the Last Chance Gulch phrase (I made the same mistake in my 2008 book I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like).

  • Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)
  • The eyes of childhood are magnifying lenses. Edward Teller, in Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001; with Judith Shoolery)
  • I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want, and advise them to do it. Harry S Truman, in television interview with Edward R. Murrow, CBS News (May 27, 1953)
  • I hated childhood, and spent it sitting behind a book waiting for adulthood to arrive. Anne Tyler, quoted in Janet Sternburg, The Writer on Her Work, Vol. 1 (1980)
  • Children are so afraid of us because they know we may try to keep them from making their biggest and most important mistakes. Brenda Ueland, in Me: A Memoir (1939)
  • Childhood comes at a time in your life when you are too young to understand what you are going through. And you're too young to understand that you are too young to understand. Jane Wagner, in My Life, So Far: by Edith Ann (1994)
  • Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. Oscar Wilde, the voice of the narrator, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: In his 1893 play A Woman of No importance (1893), Wilde reprised the sentiment in a sharper way by having the character Lord Illingworth say to Rachel Arbuthnot, “Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.”

  • Children are an enlarging, if sobering, experience, and often amusing. But childhood is frequently a solemn business for those inside it. George F. Will, in his regular Newsweek column (Dec. 1978); reprinted in The Pursuit of Virtue & Other Tory Notions (1982)
  • The child is father of the man. William Wordsworth, in “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold” (written 1802, published 1807)





  • Hot chocolate is like a hug from the inside. Author Unknown
  • A chocolate in the mouth is worth two on the plate. Author Unknown, playing off the familiar proverb
  • All you really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly attributed to Charles Schulz, with many saying it came from the character Lucy in a Peanuts cartoon. The saying first appeared on a Peanuts-themed Hallmark greeting card in the 1980s, but it was authored by an anonymous Hallmark designer, not Mr. Schulz.

  • More than any other food, chocolate delights and enchants, evoking the memories and emotions that nourish our immeasurable passion for it. Neva Beach, the opening sentence of The Ghirardellli Chocolate Cookbook (1995)

Beach continued with this masterful metaphorical tribute: “Aficionados know that there is no such thing as too much chocolate. Some savor their chocolate in solitude, lingering over each bite; others flock to chocolate tastings in blissfull submission to their cherished obsession. Chocolate promises and chocolate fulfills. Chocolate tantalizes, and it comforts. Chocolate has soothed fretful children and welcomed tired travelers; mountain climbers have saved their last piece of chocolate to celebrate new heights, suitors have given chocolate to show the depth of their devotion. Chocolate has been used a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, and a form of currency.”

  • Chocolate is both an industry and a sensation. And a delight. Herman A. Berliner, in the Foreword to Chocolate: Food of the Gods (1997; Alex Szogyi, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Berliner, a professor at Hofstra University, had hosted a scholarly conference titled, “Chocolate: Food of the Gods,” perhaps history’s first academic conference devoted to the subject. He preceded the foregoing thought by writing: “One can love chocolate, and one can study chocolate. I do both. As an economist, I study the economic and business impact of chocolate—and it is significant. But so is its psychological impact and its impact on health.”

  • Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go. Truman Capote, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 26, 1961)
  • Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re going to get. Sally Field, in the role of Mrs. Gump, speaking to her son (played by Tom Hanks) in the film Forrest Gump (1994; screenplay by Eric Roth)

QUOTE NOTE: When Forrest repeats the line later in the film, he changes it from a metaphor to a simile, saying “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

  • I advise nobody to drown sorrow in cocoa. It is bad for the figure and it does not alleviate the sorrow. Winifred Holtby, “The Right Side of Thirty,” in Pavements at Anderby (1937)
  • The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America, which it has in Spain. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Adams (Nov. 27, 1785); reprinted in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1954; J. P. Boyd, ed.)
  • Dark is to milk chocolate what Dom Pérignon is to Dr. Pepper. Jennifer Harvey Lang, quoted in Anjula Razdan, “Hot Cocoa,” Utne Reader (Jan.-Feb., 2006)
  • The ancient Mayans referred to chocolate as the food of the gods. Over time, it has changed from being a luxury that only the aristocracy could afford to the universal food that it is today. Christelle Le Ru, in Foreword to Passion Chocolat (2007)

Le Ru went on to add: “Most people enjoy chocolate, and some even go so far as calling themselves, ‘chocoholics’, i.e., chocolate addicts, who like me go to great lengths to make sure they never run out of stock. Reminiscent of childhood memories, luxury, sweetness and sensuality, chocolate is more than just food—it is therapy.”

  • Chocolate is no ordinary food. It is not something you can take or leave, something you like only moderately. You don’t like chocolate. You don’t even love chocolate. Chocolate is something you have an affair with. Geneen Roth, in Feeding the Hungry Heart: The Experience of Compulsive Eating (1982)
  • My tongue is smiling. Calvin Trillin, quoting his four-year-old daughter Abigail after she finished a dish of chocolate ice cream, in Alice, Let’s Eat (1978)
  • Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands—and then eat just one of the pieces. Judith Viorst, quoted in Dorothy Uris, Say It Again (1979)
  • The taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex. Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, in a 1998 issue of Verve magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Dr. Ruth went on to add: “For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate…entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better.”



  • Choice is a signature of our species. Diane Ackerman, in A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis (1997)
  • When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice. Author Unknown, although widely attributed to William James
  • You choose, you live the consequences. Every yes, no, maybe, creates the school you call your personal experience. Richard Bach, in Running From Safety (1994)
  • Chance is better than choice; it is more lordly. Chance is God, choice is man. Elizabeth Bowen, in the Foreword to Pictures and Conversations (1975)
  • When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man, Anthony Burgess, the chaplain speaking, in A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  • You are the sum total of your choices. Wayne W. Dyer, in Your Erroneous Zones (1976)
  • With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. Wayne W. Dyer, a Facebook post (April 29, 2015)
  • I say that the strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. George Eliot, the character Mordecai speaking, in Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented on internet sites and in quotation anthologies, but it originally appeared in this larger passage: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

  • “It’s when we're given choice that we sit with the gods and design ourselves; this was the moment to learn who I was and what I’d become. Dorothy Gilman, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Caressa Horvath, in Caravan: A Novel (1992)
  • Don’t be obsessed with the idea that there is only one possibility. If you think so, there is only one. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause. William James, in letter to E.L. Godkin (Dec. 24 1895)
  • It is the ability to choose which makes us human. Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1980)
  • In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others. André Maurois, quoted in “Reading Matter: Some Bookish Quotes,” in The New York Times (April 14, 1963)
  • At twenty your choices are almost unlimited. At fifty you're a prisoner of past decisions. At seventy you have no free will left at all. Helen McCloy, the character Alcott speaking, in Mr. Splitfoot (1968)
  • It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. J. K. Rowling, the character Dumbledore speaking, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
  • The basic division of peoples is of those who believe in choice and those who mistrust it. Nayantara Sahgal, in From Fear Set Free (1962)

Sahgal preceded the thought by writing: “Choice in any sphere is a peril.”

  • Choices are not preferences. Choices are serious and often have significant repercussions. Alexandra Stoddard, in Making Choices: The Joy of a Courageous Life (1994)

Stoddard preceded the thought by writing: “Many people tell me they make big decisions all the time, but to make real choices is never painless. Whether to have fish or chicken for dinner is not a choice. I select one or the other based on my mood or the availability of fresh fish or whom I’m with.” Stoddard’s book also contained these other reflections on the subject:

“Our choices tell our story.”

“Realism, never perfection, is the key to wise choice-making.”

“There is never a perfect choice but there are wise and wonderful and sensible choices.”

  • Of two evils, I always choose the lesser. Gene Stratton-Porter, quoted in Jeannette Porter Meehan, The Lady of the Limberlost: Life and Letters of Gene Stratton-Porter (1928)
  • When conflicted between two choices, take neither. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010)
  • Choice is the essence of what I believe it is to be human. Liv Ullmann, in Choices (1984)
  • I think of all the choices I never knew. And those I let be made for me—to please, from fear, for love. Where did they disappear to, those choices that I never made? They are all part of who I am. They are the legacy I leave behind, they are the finished portrait of myself I cannot change. Liv Ullmann, in Choices (1984)
  • Do lifelong artists pay a price for having chosen to make art? Of course. Everyone pays the price for his or her choices. Sally Warner, quoted in Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating (1995)
  • One of the indispensable foods of the human soul is liberty. Liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense, consists in the ability to choose. Simone Weil, in The Need for Roots (1949)
  • You make what seems a simple choice: choose a man or a job or a neighborhood—and what you have chosen is not a man or a job or a neighborhood, but a life. Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived (1979)
  • Choose well: your choice is brief and yet endless. Ella Winter, in And Not to Yield: An Autobiography (1963)
  • I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had. Jeanette Winterson, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a teenager named Jeanette, in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)



  • I have often thought…it happens very well that Christmas should fall in the Middle of winter. Joseph Addison, quoting an English gentleman called Sir Roger, in The Spectator (London, Jan. 1712)

Addison continued: “It is the most dead uncomfortable time of the year, when the poor would suffer very much from their poverty and cold if they had not good cheer to support them.”

  • “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. Louisa May Alcott, in Little Women (1868-69)
  • Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart…filled it, too, with melody that would last forever. [ellipsis in original] Bess Streeter Aldrich, the voice of the narrator, in Song of Years (1939)

The narrator continued: “Even though you grew up and found you could never quite bring back the magic feeling of this night, the melody would stay in your heart always—a song for all the years.”

  • Christmas: It’s the only religious holiday that’s also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services, and everyone else can sit at home and reflect on the true meaning of the separation of church and state. Samantha Bee, in a 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Christmas itself may be called into question,/If carried so far it creates indigestion. Ralph Bergengren, “The Unwise Christmas,” in Harper’s Monthly Magazine (Dec. 1913)
  • I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the tree-tops glisten/And children listen/To hear sleigh bells in the snow. Irving Berlin, beginning lyric from the 1941 song White Christmas
  • There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child. Erma Bombeck, in I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression (1970)

A moment later Bombeck added: “Time, self-pity, apathy, bitterness, and exhaustion can take the Christmas out of the child, but you cannot take the child out of Christmas.”

  • Isn’t it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for—for—I don’t know what for, exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times. Kate Langley Bosher, the character Carmencita speaking, in How It Happened (1914)
  • There has been only one Christmas—the rest are anniversaries. William John Cameron, in A Series of Talks Given on The Ford Sunday Evening Hour, Vol 3 (1935)
  • Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. Mary Ellen Chase, “Rather Late for Christmas,” in A Lady’s Pleasure (1946)

QUOTE NOTE; The sentiment is not original with Chase. She might have been influenced by a 1927 observation from Calvin Coolidge (see his entry below)

  • The Christmas season is a gift in itself. It releases us from the priorities of ordinary time and gives us the right to party more and pray more and love more. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)
  • Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge, in a Christmas message to the nation (Dec. 25, 1927)

President Coolidge continued: “If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”

  • Our children await Christmas presents like politicians getting in election returns: there’s the Uncle Fred precinct and the Aunt Ruth district still to come in. Marcelene Cox, in a 1950 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,/For Jesus Christ, our Saviour, was born on Christmas-day. Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, “Christmas Carol,” in Poems (1859)
  • Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now; there was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less weariness of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash. Margaret Deland, “Concerning Christmas Giving,” in The Common Way (1904)
  • I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lesson they teach. Charles Dickens, the character Ebeneezer Scrooge speaking after the visit of the third and last Christmas spirit, in A Christmas Carol (1843)
  • It is good to be children sometimes and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in A Christmas Carol (1843)
  • There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas. Petty jealousies and discords are forgotten; social feelings are awakened in bosoms to which they have long been strangers; father and son, or brother and sister, who have met and passed with averted gaze, or a look of cold recognition, for months before, proffer and return the cordial embrace, and burry their past animosities in their present happiness. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, “A Christmas Dinner,” in Sketches by Boz (1833-36)

The narrator continued: “Kindly hearts that have yearned towards each other, but have been withheld by false notions of pride and self-dignity, are again reunited, and all is kindness and benevolence! Would that Christmas lasted the whole year through (as it ought), and that the prejudices and passions which deform our better nature, were never called into action among those to whom they should ever be strangers!”

  • In America, Christmas is the king of all holidays. To be left out of Christmas is the ultimate minority experience. Firoozeh Dumas, in Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (2003)
  • Christmas is an awfulness that compares favorably with the great London plague and fire of 1665-66. No one escapes the feelings of mortal dejection, inadequacy, frustration, loneliness, guilt and pity. Harlan Ellison, “No Offense Intended, But Fuck Xmas!” (1972), The Harlan Ellison Hornbook (1990)

Ellison continued: “No one escapes feeling used by society, by religion, by friends and relatives, by the utterly artificial responsiblities of extending false greetings, sending banal cards, reciprocating unsolicited gifts, going to dull parties, putting up with acquaintances and family one avoids all the rest of the year…in short, of being brutalized by a ‘holiday’ that has lost virtually all of its original meanings and has become a merchandising ploy for color tv set manufacturers and ravagers of the woodlands.”

  • Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling. And I haven’t got it. Edna Ferber, a reflection of protagonist Emma McChesney, in Roast Beef Medium (1913)

QUOTE NOTE: In almost all quotation anthologies, the final portion is omitted, sanitizing the line and removing it's original sadness.

  • It must not simply be taken for granted that a given set of ill-assorted people, for no other reason than because it is Christmas, will be joyful to be reunited and to break bread together. M. F. K. Fisher, in An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • “I do like Christmas on the whole,” she announced. “In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But oh, it is clumsier every year. E. M Forster, the character Margaret Schlegel speaking, in Howard's End (1910)
  • How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep holidays than commandments. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1743)
  • No one has a right to expect anything at Christmas. It should be a day of unexpected and unlooked-for blessings, which drop as the gentle dew from heaven. Margaret Collier Graham, in Gifts and Givers: A Sermon for All Seasons (1906)
  • Christmas, it seems to me is a necessary festival; we require a season when we can regret all the flaws in our human relationships: it is the feast of failure, sad but consoling. Graham Greene, a reflection of protagonist Henry Pulling, in Travels with My Aunt (1969)
  • Sometimes the best Christmas present is remembering what you’ve already got. Cathy Guisewite, in The Cathy Chronicles (1978)
  • There are few sensations more painful, than, in the midst of deep grief, to know that the season which we have always associated with mirth and rejoicing is at hand. Sarah Josepha Hale, “The Thanksgiving of the Heart,” in Traits of American Life (1835)
  • Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle of the spirits, and stir of affections, which prevail at this period, what bosom can remain insensible? It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling—the season for kindling not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart. Washington Irving, “Christmas,” in The Sketch Book (1820)
  • The juggernaut of Christmas will not be stopped. Marni Jackson, in The Mother Zone (1992)
  • Christmas, that annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed. P. D. James, the character Jasper Palmer-Smith speaking, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. Garrison Keillor, in Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories (1987)
  • Christmas is a season of such infinite labor, as well as expense in the shopping and present-making line, that almost every woman I know is good for nothing in purse and person for a month afterwards. Fanny Kemble, in Further Records (1890)
  • I heard the bells on Christmas Day/Their old, familiar carols play,/And wild and sweet/The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the poem “Christmas Bells” (1864)

QUOTE NOTE: The poem was written on Christmas Day, 1864, when the Civil War was raging, and Longfellow was struck by the sound of cannon fire drowning out the sounds of Christmas bells. The despairing strikes a positive tone at the end, though, as the bells keep tolling. He writes: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:/God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!/The Wrong shall fail/The Right prevailWith peace on earth, good-will to men.” In 1872, the English organist John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music, and titled it I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

  • There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas. Robert Wilson Lynd, “On Christmas,” in The Book of This and That (1915)
  • Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. Hamilton Wright Mabie, in My Study Fire (1890)
  • Every year, in the deep midwinter, there descends upon this world a terrible fortnight. A fortnight, or ten days, or a week, when citizens cannot get about the streets of their cities for the surging pressure of persons who walk therein; when every shop is a choked mass of humanity, and purchases…are only possible at the cost of bitter hours of travail. Rose Macaulay, the voice of the narrator, in Crewe Train (1926)

The narrator continued: “A time when nerves are jangled and frayed, purses emptied to no purpose, all amusements and all occupations suspended in favor of frightful businesses with brown paper, string, letters, cards, stamps, and crammed post offices. This period is doubtless a foretaste of whatever purgatory lies in store for human creatures.”

  • Christmas cards…are technically only junk mail from people you know. Patricia Marx, in a 2001 issue of Good Housekeeping (specific issue undetermined)
  • No matter how many Christmas presents you give your child, there’s always that terrible moment when he’s opened the very last one. That’s when he expects you to say, “Oh yes, I almost forgot,” and take him out and show him the pony. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • A new thought for Christmas? Who ever wanted a new thought for Christmas? That man should be shot who would try to brain one. It is an impertinence even to write about Christmas. Christmas is a matter that humanity has taken so deeply to heart that we will not have our festival meddled with by bungling hands. Christopher Morley, “Old Thoughts for Christmas,” in Mince Pie: Adventures on the Sunny Side of Grub Street (1919)
  • And now humanity has its most beautiful and most appropriate Christmas gift—Peace. Christopher Morley, “Old Thoughts for Christmas,” in Mince Pie: Adventures on the Sunny Side of Grub Street (1919)
  • People can’t concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December. Ogden Nash, in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1938)
  • For the children, there is no substitute for Christmas toys, and little Willie will grow up with a hard corner in his heart for the person who greets him on Christmas morning with a smart new sailor suit or a strong pair of shoes. Eleanor O’Malley, quoted in Lillian Eichler, The New Book of Etiquette, Vol. 2 (1924)
  • We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice. Pope Paul VI. in papal address (Dec. 23, 1965)
  • I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass. Sylvia Plath, a reflection of protagonist Esther Greenwood, in The Bell Jar (1963)
  • One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly. Andy Rooney, in Men's Health magazine (Dec. 2006)
  • Heap on the wood!—the wind is chill;/But let it whistle as it will,/We’ll keep our Christmas merry still. Walter Scott, in Introduction to Marmion (1808)
  • Christmas is a kindling of new fires. Gladys Taber, in Stillmeadow Daybook (1955)
  • Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday. Gladys Taber, in Still Cove Journal (1981)
  • If there ever was a time for sentimentality and traditional merrymaking, one that has transcended religious orientation, Christmas must be that time. Anna Thomas, in The Vegetarian Epicure (1972)

Thomas continued: “The effect seems salutary: even people who ordinarily are as colorful and gay as groundworms, who would dare not consider a flamboyant gesture, hang long strings of brightly colored lights around their houses, trim Christmas trees, and talk to strangers.”

  • At Christmas play, and make good cheer,/For Christmas comes, but once a year. Thomas Tusser, in Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1580)
  • I do hope your Christmas has had a little touch of Eternity in among the rush and pitter patter and all. It always seems such a mixing of this world and the next—but that after all is the idea! Evelyn Underhill, in a 1936 letter, in The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (1943; Charles Williams, ed.)

Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. BILL WATTERSON, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes (1988)

Who'd have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously.

  • ’Tis blessed to bestow, and yet,/Could we bestow the gifts we get,/And keep the ones we give away,/How happy were our Christmas Day! Carolyn Wells, “A Christmas Thought,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • Forgive us our Christmases as we/Forgive those who Christmas against us! Carolyn Wells, “A Christmas Petition,” in Baubles (1916)
  • Christmas, like love, was a mystery. Time and again it might disappoint, but like love only the promises of the Christmas to come, never the disappointments of those past, seemed real. Jessamyn West, in The Witch Diggers (1951)
  • From a personal point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. Katharine Whitehorn, “The Office-Party,” in Roundabout (1962)



  • Moreover, a true Christian will not ascribe any prosperity to his own diligence, industry, or good fortune, but he will acknowledge that God is the author of it. John Calvin, in Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (1551)
  • The arrogance of some Christians would close heaven to them if, to their misfortune, it existed. Simone de Beauvoir, in All Said and Done (1972)
  • If conversion to Christianity makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions — if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his “conversion” was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in “religion” mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952)
  • It has been truthfully said that the world is equally shocked by one who repudiates Christianity and by one who practices it. Peace Pilgrim, in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words (1991)
  • Christianity nowadays is like a big household where many cousins live under the same roof. They all belong to the same clan, but at times they have very different ideas about how to run their family affairs. Maria Trapp, in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949)
  • We do injury to a child if we bring it up in a narrow Christianity, which prevents it from ever becoming capable of perceiving that there are treasures of purest gold to be found in non-Christian civilizations. Simone Weil, in The Need for Roots (1949)



  • The nearer the Church the further from God. Lancelot Andrewes, in Sermon on the Nativity (1622)
  • I have no objection to churches so long as they do not interfere with God’s work. Brooks Atkinson, “November 10,” in Once Around the Sun (1951)
  • There is no salvation outside the church. St. Augustine, in De Baptismo
  • Every day people are straying from the church and going back to God. Really. Lenny Bruce, in The Essential Lenny Bruce (1967; J. Cohen, ed.)
  • But I make a distinction between the doctrines of the Church, which matter, and the structure invented by half a dozen Italians who got to be pope and which is of very little use to anybody. Bernadette Devlin, in The Price of My Soul (1969)
  • Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole,” in Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982)
  • If I should go out of church whenever I hear a false sentiment, I could never stay there five minutes. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1841 journal entry
  • I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays (1841)
  • The Church is an organized institution that has always been a stumbling block to progress. Emma Goldman, “What I Believe,” quoted in a 1908 issue of The New York World (specific issue undetermined)

Goodman preceded the observation by saying: “Religion is a superstition that originated in man's mental inability to solve natural phenomena.”

  • And now the Nurse knew why she disliked church services, for as she raised her head, she observed that the Curate, and the Rector and the Archbishop were all men. The vergers were men; the organist was a man; the choir boys, the sidesmen and soloist and church wardens, all were men. The architects who had built the church, the composers of the music, the translators of the psalms, the compilers of the liturgy, all these too, the Nurse pondered, had been men. Winifred Holtby, “Nurse to the Archbishop” (1931), in Truth Is Not Sober (1934)
  • In the South, Sunday morning sex is accompanied by church bells. Florence King, in Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985)
  • There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that time when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)
  • If you ever need to—and I hope you never need to, but a person cannot be sure—if you ever need to sleep, if you are ever so tired that you feel nothing but the animal weight of your bones, and you’re walking along a dark road with no one, and you’re not sure how long you’ve been walking, and you keep looking down at your hands and not recognizing them, and you keep catching a reflection in darkened windows and not recognizing that reflection, and all you know is the desire to sleep, and all you have is no place to sleep, one thing you can do is look for a church. Catherine Lacey, the opening words of Pew (2020)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s not easy to write a compelling opening sentence of 100-plus words (this one has 114), but Lacey demonstrates that it can be done—if you have the talent.

  • Churches are wonderful and beautiful, and they are vehicles for religion, but no Church can have more than a very little of the truth. Rose Macaulay, in The Towers of Trebizond (1956)
  • A church ought to express the joy of religion as well as its majesty. Elizabeth Peters, in Street of the Five Moons (1978)
  • If we go to church we are confronted with a system of begging so complicated and so resolute that all other demands sink into insignificance by its side. Agnes Repplier, quoted in Emma Repplier, Agnes Repplier (1957)
  • The Church will go on being a Royal Academy of Males. Dorothy Miller Richardson, in Pilgrimage: Revolving Lights (1923)
  • The one pleasure that never palls is the pleasure of not going to church. Mary Roberts Rinehart, in The Red Lamp (1925)
  • It is a very rare church indeed that encourages its members to think for themselves in religious matters, or even tolerates this, and in most of them the clergy are quite ready to lay down the law in other fields too. Anne Roe, in The Making of a Scientist (1952)
  • A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. Abigail Van Buren, in a 1970 advice column (specific issue undetermined); quoted in Jonathan Green, Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982)
  • Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God. Alice Walker, the character Celie speaking, in The Color Purple (1982)



  • Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else’s religion practiced on us. John Irving, in My Movie Business (1999)
  • The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Lord, there’s danger in this land/You get witch-hunts and wars/When church and state hold hands. Joni Mitchell, in Both Sides Now (a 1992 illustrated book; art by Alan Baker)
  • Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: “Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” Sandra Day O’Connor, in a concurring opinion, in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005)
  • It is a fact beyond question that there are two kinds of Christian experience, one of which is an experience of bondage, and the other an experience of liberty. Hannah Whitall Smith, in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1870)



  • I want you to have chutzpah. Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Alan Alda, in May, 1980 commencement address at Connecticut College (his own daughter Eve was in the graduating class); reprinted in Things I Overheard While Talking to My Self (2007)
  • In solo climbing the whole enterprise is held together with little more than chutzpah, not the most reliable adhesive. Jon Krakauer, on mountain climbing, in Into the Wild (1996)
  • “Chutzpah” is best defined as a small boy peeing through someone’s letter box, then ringing the doorbell to ask how far it went. Maureen Lipman, in How Was It For You? (1985)
  • Chutzpah is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish (1968)



  • A good cigar is as great a comfort to a man as a good cry to a woman. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the character Mainwaring speaking, in Darnley (1877)
  • If I had taken my doctor’s advice and quit smoking when he advised me to, I wouldn’t have lived to go to his funeral. George Burns, on smoking cigars, quoted in Arthur Marx, “The Ultimate Cigar Aficionado,” Cigar Aficionado magazine (Winter, 1994–95)



  • No such thing as a literary film or a figurative film exists. There exists only cinema, which incorporates the experience of all the other arts. Michelangelo Antonioni, in interview in Film Culture magazine (Spring, 1962)
  • The cinema, a somewhat dubious Muse…incapable of waiting, whilst all the other Muses wait, and should be painted and sculpted in waiting poses. Jean Cocteau, in Cocteau on the Film: A Conversation with André Fraigneau (1954)
  • The cinema, having replaced the public executions and bare-knuckle fights of earlier ages, is the modern arena of peril, sadism, and death. David Denby, in “The Moviegoers” column, The New Yorker (April 6, 1998)
  • Photography is truth. The cinema is truth 24 times per second. Jean-Luc Godard, in the film Le Petit Soldat (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: The reference here is to the traditional speed at which motion picture film moves through a projector.

  • Cinema is halfway between life and art. Jean-Luc Godard, a 1965 remark, quoted in Jonathan Green, Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982)
  • Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world. Jean-Luc Godard, in the film Le Grand Escroc (1964; in English “The Great Swindler”)
  • There are two cinemas: the films we have actually seen and the memories we have of them. The gap between the two widens over the years. Molly Haskell, in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, 3rd ed. (2016; orig. pub. in 1973)
  • The cinema…is a total environment medium, and the woder the screen and the louder the sound, the more sense one has of being swallowed up in it. I. C. Jarvie, in Movies and Society (1970)
  • Cinema resembles so many other arts. If cinema has very literary characteristics, it also has theatrical qualities, a philosophical side, attributes of painting and sculpture, and musical elements. But cinema is, in the final analysis, cinema. Akira Kurosawa, in Something Like an Autobiography (1982)
  • Cinema is like dream. Susanne K. Langer, in Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key (1953)
  • Cinema is a kind of pan-art. It can use, incorporate, engulf virtually any other art: the novel, poetry, theater, painting, sculpture, dance, music, architecture. Unlike opera, which is a (virtually) frozen art form, the cinema is and has been a fruitfully conservative medium of ideas and styles of emotions. Susan Sontag, “A Note on Novels and Films,” in Against Interpretation (1966)


  • Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance. Bruce Barton, in The Man and the Book Nobody Knows (rev. ed.; 1956)
  • Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)


(see also COUNTRY [as in RURAL] and TOWNS & VILLAGES and URBAN)

  • In the big city nobody has time to make friends. The big city is a big solitude. Vicki Baum, the voice of the narrator, in Written on Water: A Novel (1956)
  • We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation. John F. Kennedy, in speech to Congress (Jan. 30, 1962)




  • This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish. Joy Harjo, “Anchorage,” in Joseph Bruchac, Songs From This Earth on Turtle’s Back (1983)


  • We asked a passenger who belonged there what sort of place it was. “Well,” said he, after considering, and with the air of one who wishes to take time and be accurate, “It’s a hell of a place.” A description which was photographic for exactness. Mark Twain, in Life on the Mississippi (1883)


  • I heard it said that the “architecture” of Atlanta is rococola. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)


  • It reminds one somewhat of Washington; Washington en petit, seen through a reversed glass. Frederick Law Olmstead, on Austin, Texas, in A Journey Through Texas (1857)


  • If you live in Beverly Hills they don’t put blinkers in your car. They figure if you’re that rich you don’t have to tell people where you’re going. Bette Midler, in A View from a Broad (1980)


  • Billings is some lively town. It supports about fifteen hundred toughs. These are hectic days—like hell let out for noon. Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary), in an 1893 letter, quoted in Karen Payne, Between Ourselves (1983)


  • Birmingham is a new city in an old land. Carl Carmer, in Stars Fell on Alabama (1934)

Carmer introduced the thought by writing: “Birmingham is not like the rest of the state. It is an industrial monster sprung up in the midst of a slow-moving pastoral. It does not belong.”



  • Butte, “a mile high, a mile deep,” built on the “richest hill on earth.” and generally described as the greatest mining camp ever known…has a certain inferno-like magnificence, with lights appropriately copper-colored—I heard it called “the only electric-lit cemetery in the United States.” John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)

In his book, Gunther also described Butte as “the toughest, bawdiest town in America, with the possible exception of Amarillo, Texas.”


  • Charleston is a beautiful memory, a corpse whose lower limbs have been resuscitated. Savannah is a living tomb about which there still clings a sensuous aura as in old Corinth. Henry Miller, describing two classic Southern cities, in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)


  • Charlotte is a poster child for multiple personality disorder, the Sybil of cities. Kathy Reichs, the protagonist Dr. Temperance Brown speaking, in Fatal Voyage (2001)

Brown went on to describe Charlotte as a shining “New South” city that “remains nostalgic for the Old South.”



  • It seems hardly fair to quarrel with a place because its staple commodity is not pretty, but I am sure I should have liked Cincinnati much better if the people had not dealt so very largely in hogs. Frances Trollope, in Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)


  • Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has. James Thurber, “More Alarms at Night.” in My Life and Hard Times (1933


  • The biggest little place in America. Henry James, on Concord, Massachusetts, in The American Scene (1907)


  • In Des Moines, a man’s eyes will light up at the mere mention of the word “corn.” Philip Hamburger, in An American Notebook (1965)


  • The capital of the new planet—the one, I mean, which will kill itself off—is of course Detroit. Henry Miller, in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)
  • Detroit is really the most perfectly laid out city one could imagine, and such an enchanting park and lake—infinitely better than any town I know in Europe. It ought to be a paradise in about fifty years when it has all matured. Elinor Glyn, in Elizabeth Visits America (1909)


  • The city of the four C’s—Climate, Cotton, Cattle, Copper. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)




  • In Houston the air was warm and rich and suggestive of fossil fuel. Joan Didion, in The White Album (1979)
  • In Houston the air was warm and rich and suggestive of fossil fuel. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)


  • Key West—a town of people passing through, looking around, waiting, hoping for something special to happen, then not having a clue what was going on when it did. Laurence Shames, the voice of the narrator, in Florida Straits (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Florida Straits is the first of seventeen novels that Shames set in Key West, Florida. Some of the later novels also contained memorable observations of Key West:

“There are towns, you know, for making money. Towns to start a career. Towns to go to college. Towns to raise a family. Key West is no damn good for any of that. Key West is to feel good and be happy. That’s all.” Scavenger Reef (1994)

“One of the things Key West teaches is that disappointment and contentment can go together more easily than you would probably imagine.” The Naked Detective (2000)


  • Lancaster, California…that promised land sometimes called “the west coast of Iowa.” Joan Didion, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)






  • Miami Beach is where neon goes to die. Lenny Bruce, quoted by Barbara Gordon, in Saturday Review (May 20, 1972)
  • In Miami Beach the air conditioning is pushed to that icy point where women may wear fur coats over their diamonds in the tropics. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)


  • The corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucency of platinum or old pewter. John Steinbeck, in Cannery Row (1945)




  • One hundred years after the declaration that “all men are created equal,” there began to gather in Newport a colony of the rich, determined to show that some Americans were conspicuously more equal than others. Alistair Cooke, in America 1973)
  • Newport, Rhode Island, that breeding place—that stud farm, so to speak—of aristocracy; aristocracy of the American type; that auction mart where English nobilities come to trade hereditary titles for American girls and cash. Mark Twain, a diary entry (Feb. 4, 1907), in The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959; Charles Neider, ed.)
  • Where idleness ranks among the virtues. Oscar Wilde, on Newport, Rhode Island, in letter to Charles Eliot Norton (July, 1882)




  • There is no there there. Gertrude Stein, on Oakland, California, in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the saying has passed into popular culture, but it was originally the concluding portion of a longer passage, written in Stein’s inimitable style: “What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.”


  • I've never known a Philadelphian who wasn't a downright “character”; possibly a defense mechanism resulting from the dullness of their native habitat. Anita Loos, in Kiss Hollywood Good-by (1974)
  • They talk in New York of a man who lost both his sons—“One died and the other went to live in Philadelphia.” Ellen Terry, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • The sky through the window was freshly laundered and glowing. Someone should write a song about great days in Philadelphia. Three songs. One for each of them. Gillian Roberts, in Caught Dead in Philadelphia (1987)
  • I never walked through the streets of any city with as much satisfaction as those of Philadelphia. The neatness and cleanliness of all animate and inanimate things, houses, pavements, and citizens, is not to be surpassed. Frances Wright, in Views of Society and Manners in America (1821)


  • For all the insularity of the old guard, Pittsburgh was always an open and democratic town. Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood (1987)

In her memoir, Dillard also wrote: “Pittsburgh wasn’t really Andrew Carnegie’s town. We just thought it was. Steel wasn’t the only major industry in Pittsburgh. We just had to think to recall the others.”


  • Reno with its brilliant, sordid truths fascinated me far more than the artificial casino by which I recalled its name. I had some difficulty in going to bed in this town where hope and despair never sleep. Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day (1948)
  • In Reno, there is always a bull market, never a bear market, for the stocks and bonds of happiness. Virgilia Peterson, in A Matter of Life and Death (1961)
  • Reno! The land of the free and the grave of the home! Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)




  • The land around San Juan Capistrano is the pocket where the Creator keeps all his treasures. Anything will go there. Frances Marion, in Westward the Dream (1948


  • Savannah is a living tomb about which there still clings a sensuous aura as in old Corinth. Henry Miller, in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)


  • Seattle is a comparatively new-looking city that covers an old frontier like frosting on a cake. Winthrop Sargent, “The Ring’s the Thing,” in The New Yorker magazine (June 26, 1978)


  • Tulsa, “oil capital of the world,” as it calls itself, is a tough, get-rich-quick heady town about as sensitive as corduroy. Edna Ferber, in Cimarron (1930)


  • On Venice Beach…I once saw a man blowing truly spectacular soap bubbles the size of watermelons—still the symbol for me of the tendency of people in Southern California to become awfully good at something that isn’t terribly important. Calvin Trillin, in Travels with Alice (1989)





  • Acapulco in the sunset seems like a balm; it enters the blood like a drug after one inhalation of the scent of flowers, one glimpse of the bay iridescent like silk, the sunset like the inside of a shell, so much like the flesh of Venus. Anaïs Nin, a 1954 entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)


  • Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts/And eloquence. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)


  • Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine. Henry James, in letter to Henry James, Sr. (Oct. 26, 1869)
  • This is the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit. Mark Twain, an 1892 observation about Florence, Italy, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924)

Twain continued: “To see the sun sink down, drowned in his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.”


  • Moscow is the city where if Marilyn Monroe should walk down the street with nothing on but shoes, people would stare at her feet first. John Gunther, in Inside Russia Today (1958)


(see PARIS)


  • Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go. Truman Capote, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 26, 1961)
  • It is not surprising that Venice is known above all for mirrors and glass since Venice is the most narcissistic city in the world, the city that celebrates self-mirroring. Erica Jong, in Serenissima (1987)


  • Lord, if there is a heartache Vienna cannot cure I hope never to feel it. I came home cured of everything except Vienna. Storm Jameson, in Women Against Men (1933)



  • Congratulation, n. The civility of envy. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)
  • Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. George W. Bush, in First Inaugural Address (Jan 20, 2001)
  • 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.”

  • Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. P. M. Forni, quoted in David Sable, “Einstein was a Mensch,” in Huffington Post (Oct. 21, 2013)

According to Sable, Forni continued: “Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.”

QUOTE NOTE: P. M. Forni is the author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct (2002). The passage above does not appear in the book.

  • Civility does not mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. Mohandas Gandhi, quoted in Sarvepali Radhakrishnan, Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work (1939)
  • Civilization will cease without civility. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life (1987; with Marion Glasserow Gladney)
  • Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms…but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. Robert A. Heinlein, from a character in Friday (1982)

The character continued: “A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

  • After our ages-long journey from savagery to civility, let’s hope we haven’t bought a round-trip ticket. Cullen Hightower, quoted in a 1993 issue of Forbes magazine
  • Nice is a pallid virtue. Not like honesty or courage or perseverance. On the other hand, in a nation frequently lacking in civility, there is much to be said for nice. Molly Ivins, in Fort Worth Star-Telegram (May 15, 1994)
  • When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Sep. 25, 1750)
  • Wisdom and virtue are by no means sufficient, without the supplemental laws of good-breeding, to secure freedom from degenerating [in]to rudeness, or self-esteem from swelling into insolence. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Feb. 23, 1751)

Johnson continued: “A thousand incivilities may be committed, and a thousand offices neglected. without any remorse of conscience, or reproach from reason.”

  • Civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization. Van Jones, in interview with Clara Jeffery, Mother Jones magazine (Nov. 14, 2016)
  • Incivility is contagious—often spreading by way of righteous indignation until even those without legitimate grievance have come down with symptoms and taken sides. Diane Kalen-Sukra, in Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What to Do about It (2019)
  • Civility is not a sign of weakness. John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address (January 20, 1961)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a snippet from a very famous passage: “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

  • Incivility is not a vice of the soul, but the effect of several vices; of vanity, ignorance of duty, laziness, stupidity, distraction, contempt of others, and jealousy. Jean de La Bruyère, in The Characters, or Manners of the Present Age (1688)
  • The whole country wants civility. Why don’t we have it? It doesn’t cost anything. No federal funding, no legislation is involved. One answer is the unwillingness to restrain oneself. Everybody wants other people to be polite to them, but they want the freedom of not having to be polite to others. Judith Martin (Miss Manners), in Hara Estroff Marano, “Polite Company: A Chat with Judith Martin About Etiquette,” Psychology Today (March 1, 1998)
  • Civility costs nothing, and buys everything. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, from a 1756 letter, in The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1965; Robert Halsband, ed.)
  • Unfortunately civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Sandra Day O’Connor, in a speech at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC (April 3, 1993); reported in “Justice O'Connor Criticizes Lawyers for ‘Rambo’ Tactics,” The Washington Post (April 4, 1993)
  • I know no religion that destroys courtesy, civility, and kindness. William Penn, quoted in W. H. Dixon, William Penn, a Historical Biography (1851)
  • Good rule to follow: never reward someone’s incivility by giving them the headline they seek. Joe Scarborough, in a Twitter post (Nov 29, 2011)
  • It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)



  • Civilization is a method of living, an attitude of equal respect for all men. Jane Addams, in Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922)
  • Civilization makes us all as alike as peas in a pod, and it is the very uncouth—uncivilized, if you will—element which individualizes nations. Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, in Sunny Sicily (1904)
  • No country can reach a high stage of civilization without a leisure class. Gertrude Atherton, in Can Women Be Gentlemen? (1938)
  • 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.”

  • Somehow our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members. Pearl S. Buck, in My Several Worlds (1954)
  • The three great elements of modern civilization: Gunpowder, Printing, and the Protestant Religion. Thomas Carlyle, “The State of German Literature,” in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1838)
  • Civilization is only the advance from shoeless toes to toeless shoes. Marcelene Cox, in a 1942 Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined; also a neat example of chiasmus)
  • All great civilizations, in their early stages, are based on success in war. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization: A Personal View (1969)
  • It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilization. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization: A Personal View (1969)
  • 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)
  • Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Will Durant, quoted in Jim Hicks, “Spry Old Team Does It Again,” Life magazine (Oct. 18, 1963)

QUOTE NOTE: When he was once challenged to sum up civilization in a half hour, Durant said about the foregoing observation: “I did it in less than a minute, this way.” He concluded the thought by saying: “Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.” The full article may be seen at Life magazine.

  • All civilization has from time to time become a thin crust over a volcano of revolution. Havelock Ellis, in Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)
  • Civilization: if it is not in man’s heart—well, then, it is nowhere. Georges Duhamel, in Civilization (1918)
  • The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization’s longest winters. John Fowles, the voice of the narrator, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
  • Civilization is the encouragement of differences. Mohandas K. Gandhi, widely attributed but not verified
  • Civilization, a much abused word, stands for a high matter quite apart from telephones and electric lights. It is a matter of imponderables, of delight in the things of the mind, of love of beauty, of honor, grace, courtesy, delicate feeling. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)

Hamilton continued: “Where imponderables are the things of first importance, there is the height of civilization, and, if at the same time, the power to act exists unimpaired, human life has reached a level seldom attained and very seldom surpassed.”

  • Civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. Paul Hawken, in commencement address, University of Portland (May 3, 2009)
  • Civilization is a disease which is almost invariably fatal. W. R. Inge, in The Idea of Progress (1920)
  • After all, the true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself. Robert G. Ingersoll, in interview in The Washington Post (Nov. 14, 1880)
  • A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. Samuel Johnson, a 1770 remark, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • It is not possible for civilization to flow backward while there is youth in the world. Helen Keller, in Midstream (1930)
  • Primitiveness and civilization are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both. Ursula K. Le Guin, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • We must realize that man’s nature will remain the same so long as he remains man; that civilization is but a slight coverlet beneath which the dominant beast sleeps lightly and ever ready to awake. H. P. Lovecraft, “At the Root.” in The United Amateur (July, 1918); reprinted in Complete Works of H. P Lovecraft (2103)
  • Civilization is a perishable commodity. Helen MacInnes, the character Fenner speaking, in The Venetian Affair (1963)
  • Certainly none of the advances made in civilization has been due to counterrevolutionaries and advocates of the status quo. Bill Mauldin, in Back Home (1947)
  • Civilization is a fiction which becomes a fact only as long as everyone can believe in it. It is the cynic, rather than the rebel, who pulls down the whole flimsy structure periodically throughout history. Helen McCloy, in A Question of Time (1971)
  • If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae (1990)
  • For the first time ever in the history of mankind, the wilderness is safer than civilization. Faith Popcorn, in The Popcorn Report: Faith Popcorn on the Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life (1991)
  • Civilization, let me tell you what it is. First the soldier, then the merchant, then the priest, then the lawyer. The merchant hires the soldier and priest to conquer the country for him. First the soldier, he is a murderer; then the priest, he is a liar; then the merchant, he is a thief; and they all bring in the lawyer to make their laws and defend their deeds, and there you have your civilization! Katherine Anne Porter, in Ship of Fools (1962)
  • Our shouting is louder than our actions,/Our swords are taller than us,/This is our tragedy./In short /We wear the cape of civilization/But our souls live in the stone age. Nizar Qabbani, in “Footnotes to the Book of Setback” (1967); reprinted in Modern Poetry of the Arab World (1986; Adbullah al-Udhari, trans. & ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This poem, from the beloved Syrian poet and diplomat, was written immediately after the Israeli defeat of Arab military forces in the 1967 Six-Day War (and commonly described in Arabic as an-Naksah, or “The Setback”). The poem took the Arab world by storm. Egypt immediately responded by banning all of Qabbani’s works and pulling his visa to enter the country. After the poet appealed directly to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, all restrictions were lifted.

  • Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. Ayn Rand, the character Howard Roark speaking, in The Fountainhead (1943)
  • To be civilized is to be incapable of giving unnecessary offense, it is to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our path. Agnes Repplier, “A Question of Politeness,” in Americans and Others (1912)
  • I miss civilization and I want it back. Marilynne Robinson, in Introduction to The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998; rev. 2005)

QUOTE NOTE: In the Introduction to her book, Robinson complained that “contemporary discourse feels to me empty and false,” and a good deal less meaningful and satisfying than she expected when she was younger. She introduced the thought by writing: “I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it.”

  • A civilization which develops only on its material side, and not in corresponding measure on its mental and spiritual side, is like a vessel with a defective steering gear, which gets out of control at a constantly accelerating pace, and drifts toward catastrophe. Albert Schweitzer, in The Decay and Restoration of Civilization (1923; 2nd ed., 1955)
  • Civilization is hideously fragile, you know that; there’s not much between us and the horrors underneath. Just about a coat of varnish, wouldn’t you say? C. P. Snow, the character Alec Luria speaking, in A Coat of Varnish (1979)
  • One can judge a civilization by the way it treats its women. Helen Foster Snow, “Bound Feet and Straw Sandals,” in Women in Modern China (1967)
  • 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)
  • Civilizations in decline are consistently characterised by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity. Arnold Toynbee, in Change and Habit: The Challenge of Our Time (1966)

In the book, Toynbee went on to add: “During the growth stage of civilization the tendency is toward differentiation and diversity”

  • Now civilizations, I believe, come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them which they fail to meet. Arnold J. Toynbee, in Civilization on Trial (1948)
  • Civilization, as we know it, is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor. No known civilization has ever reached the goal of civilization itself. Arnold J. Toynbee, in Civilization on Trial (1948)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites abridge the beginning of the quotation to Civilization is a movement….

  • In the last analysis civilization itself is measured by the way in which children will live and what chance they will have in the world. Mary Heaton Vorse, in A Footnote to Folly: Reminiscences of Mary Heaton Vorse (1935)
  • The glossy surface of our civilization hides a real intellectual decadence. Simone Weil, “The Power of Words,” in The Simone Weil Reader (1977)
  • Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them. Alfred North Whitehead, in An Introduction to Mathematics (1911)



  • Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see. Douglas Adams, the title character speaking, in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams might have been influenced by an observation Aldous Huxley made in the title essay of his 1930 collection of essays, Vulgarity in Literature: “Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.”

  • It was Sophie who, by the example of her work and her life, both of them bathed in clarity, showed me the right way. Jean Arp, on his wife Sophie Tauber-Arp, quoted in Serge Fauchereau, Arp (1988)

Arp continued: “In her world, the high and the low, the light and the dark, the eternal and the ephemeral, are balanced in perfect equilibrium.”

  • Poetry…shows with a sudden intense clarity what is already there. Helen Bevington, in When Found, Make a Verse of (1961)
  • Every loss recapitulates earlier losses, but every affirmation of identity echoes earlier moments of clarity. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life (1989)
  • Dazzle me with clarity. Cathy Smith Bowers, a favorite challenge to her writing students, quoted in Rebecca McClanahan, Word Painting (1999)

QUOTE NOTE; About the challenge from professor Bowers, McLanahan wrote: “She’s asking for a lot. It’s easy to merely dazzle, to fill our poems and stories with figures of speech that leave the reader stunned, yet confused.”

  • This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. Albert Camus, from the title essay, in The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1942; first Eng. trans., 1955)
  • Clearness is the ornament of deep thought. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • My definition of elegance is the achievement of a given functionality with a minimum of mechanism and a maximum of clarity. Fernando J. Corbató, “On Building Systems That Will Fail” 9the 1990 Turing Award lecture); reprinted in Communications of the ACM (Sep. 1991)
  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Carl von Clausewitz, in On War (pub. posthumously in 1832)

Clausewitz continued: “It prefers to day-dream in the realms of chance and luck rather than accompany the intellect on its narrow and tortuous path of philosophical inquiry and logical deduction.”

  • It’s amazing the clarity that comes with psychotic jealousy. Rupert Everett, as the character George Downes, in the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding (screenplay by Robert Bass)
  • The greatest clarity has always been for me the greatest beauty. G. E. Lessing, in “The Testament of John” (1777)
  • Clarity of language is the first casualty of authoritarianism. Robin Morgan, “Saving the World,” in Ms magazine (Summer, 2003)
  • Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Being Deep and Appearing Deep,” in The Gay Science (1882)

Nietzsche continued: “For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom; the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.” The foregoing thought translated this way: “Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep strive for obscurity.”

  • Our hearts and minds desire clarity. We like to have a clear picture of a situation, a clear view of how things fit together, and a clear insight into our own and the world’s problems. Henri Nouwen, in Bread for the Journey (1997)

Nouwen continued: “But just as in nature, colors and shapes mingle without clear-cut distinctions, human life doesn’t offer the clarity we are looking for. The borders between love and hate, evil and good, beauty and ugliness, heroism and cowardice, care and neglect, guilt and blameworthiness are mostly vague, ambiguous, and hard to discern.”

  • Today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality. Conan O’Brien, in commencement address at Dartmouth College (June 12, 2011)

QUOTE NOTE: O’Brien was referring to the greatest disappointment of his life, being bumped as the host of The Tonight Show by NBC officials in 2010, several months after taking over the reins from Jay Leno (more here). O’Brien’s full address may be seen at O’Brien Commencement Address.

  • I have not and never did have any motive of poetry/But to achieve clarity. George Oppen, from the poem “Route,” in Of Being Numerous (1968)
  • It took me forty years on earth/To reach this sure conclusion:/There is no Heaven but clarity,/No Hell except confusion. Jan Struther, “All Clear” (1940), in A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946)
  • Since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. E. B. White, in William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White, The Elements of Style (3rd ed., 1979)



  • It is a/profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish. Aeschylus, in Prometheus Bound (5th c. B.C.)
  • If you cannot be clever, be careful. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Illusions (1901)
  • He’s very clever, but sometimes his brains go to his head. Margot Asquith, on Lord Birkenhead, in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith (1936)
  • Having lots of ideas doesn’t mean you’re clever, any more than having lots of soldiers means you’re a good general. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)

QUOTE NOTE: The quotation has also been translated this way: “A man is not necessarily intelligent because he has plenty of ideas, any more than he is a good general because he has plenty of soldiers.”

  • Little is gained by cleverness. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • All worthwhile conversation is based upon equality. Only those of poor taste and judgment try to prove themselves wittier or cleverer than others. Lillian Eichler, in The Book of Conversation, Vol. 1 (1927)
  • It always seemed to me a sort of clever stupidity only to have one sort of talent—like a carrier-pigeon. George Eliot, the character Maggie speaking, in The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • The bold are helpless without cleverness. Euripides, in Helen (5th c. B.C.)
  • I tell you, Charis, cleverness is a disease. Rumer Godden, the character Mr. van Loomis speaking, in A Breath of Air (1950)
  • When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Abraham Joshua Heschel, quoted in Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (1986)
  • Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever woman to manage a fool. Rudyard Kipling, in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)
  • The desire of appearing clever often prevents our appearing so. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Capable people do not understand incapacity; clever people do not understand stupidity. Doris Lessing, in Under My Skin: My Autobiography to 1949 (1994)
  • A professor can never better distinguish himself in his work than by encouraging a clever pupil, for the true discoverers are among them, as comets amongst the stars. Carl Linnaeus, in B. D. Jackson, Linnaeus: The Story of His Life (1923; adapted from Swedish biography by T. M. Fries)
  • There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst. Thomas Mann, the character Hans Castorp speaking, in The Magic Mountain (1924)
  • Here’s a good rule of thumb:/Too clever is dumb. Ogden Nash, “Reflection on Ingenuity,” in Verses From 1929 On (1959)
  • The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote some one who is. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)
  • All clever men are birds of prey. Proverb (English)
  • Man is a clever animal, who behaves like an imbecile. Albert Schweitzer, quoted by Jane Goodall, in “Reason for Hope,” address at Quinnipiac University (Oct., 2005); reprinted in Reverence for Life Revisited (2007; D. Ives & D. A. Valone, eds.)
  • If you aren’t cute, you may as well be clever. David Sedaris, “Remembering You Again Yesterday,” in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
  • If I ever felt inclined to be scared going into a room full of people I would say to myself, “You’re the cleverest member of one of the cleverest families in the cleverest class of the cleverest nation of the world, so what have you got to be frightened of?” Beatrice Webb, quoted in David A. Shannon, Beatrice Webb’s American Diary (1963)
  • If all the good people were clever,/And all clever people were good,/The world would be nicer than ever/We thought that it possibly could./But somehow ’tis seldom or never/The two hit it off as they should,/The good are so harsh to the clever,/The clever, so rude to the good! Elizabeth Wordsworth, “Good and Clever” (1890), in Poems and Plays (1931)
  • Today we frankly recognize that democracy can be no more than aspiration, and have rule not so much by the people as by the cleverest people; not an aristocracy of birth, not a plutocracy of wealth, but a true meritocracy of talent. Michael Young, in The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Young, an English sociologist, coined the term meritocracy and formally introduced it in this book.



  • In every election in American history both parties have their clichés. The party that has the clichés that ring true wins. Newt Gingrich, quoted in the International Herald Tribune (Aug. 1, 1988)
  • The truths of the past are the clichés of the present. Ned Rorem, “Listening and Hearing,” in Music from Inside Out (1967)



  • I like weather better than climate. The dry season is a gold vacuum; but the rainy season has change, which is weather. And while climate may create a race, weather creates the temper and sensibility of the individual. Gertrude Diamant, in The Days of Ofelia (1942)
  • Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry from “More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)


(see also COAT and [Fashion] DESIGN and DRESS and FASHION and GARMENTS and HATS and SHIRTS and SUITS and [Bathing] SUITS and SWEATERS and WARDROBE)

  • There are two times in a woman’s life when clothes are important: when she is young and when she is old. Marcelene Cox, in a 1944 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Life is competitive; clothes gird us for the competition. Edith Head, in The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z (1959)

Head’s book also contained these other thoughts:

“Don’t wear your clothes too tight. A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.”

“The cardinal sin is not being badly dressed, but wearing the right thing in the wrong place.”

  • Her clothes were beautifully made but so dateless that they were never actually in fashion. P. D. James, the narrator describing Cordelia Gray, in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)
  • While clothes with pictures and/or writing on them are not entirely an invention of the modern age, they are an unpleasant indication of the general state of things. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)

A moment later, Lebowitz continued: “I mean, be realistic. If people don’t want to listen to you, what makes you think they want to hear from your sweater?”

  • Designer clothes worn by children are like snowsuits worn by adults. Few can carry it off successfully. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • You mean those clothes of hers are intentional? My heavens, I always thought she was on her way out of a burning building. Dorothy Parker, “Just a Little One,” in The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker (1942)



  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: I’m still researching the matter, but I believe this may be the origin of the proverb: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

  • We were like a lot of clocks, he thought, all striking different hours, all convinced we were telling the right time. Susan Ertz, a reflection of the title character, in The Story of Julian (1931)
  • The perfection of a clock is not to go fast, but to be accurate. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • I have ferreted out the alarm clock, plugged it in, and set it, musing on the word “alarm” and why the world must be wakened daily to cries of panic and danger. Barbara Holland, in Coming From Away (1997)
  • Disturbers are never popular—nobody ever really loved an alarm clock in action, no matter how grateful he may have been afterwards for its kind services! Nellie McClung, in In Times Like These (1915)
  • I must govern the clock, not be governed by it. Golda Meir, quoted in Oriana Fallaci, L’Europeo (1973)
  • Time is a wealth of change, but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)
  • I keep my clocks a little fast/so time won’t take me by surprise. Ruth Whitman, “Round,” in Laughing Gas (1991)


(see also RAIN and SKY and STORMS and SUN and SUNSHINE and WEATHER)

  • A cloudy day, or a little sunshine, have as great an influence on the constitutions as the most real blessings or misfortunes. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Sep. 5, 1711)
  • He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regarded the clouds shall not reap. The Bible—Ecclesiastes 11:4
  • One cloud is enough to eclipse all the sun. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Spring and autumn are inconsiderable events in a landscape compared with the shadows of a cloud. Alice Meynell, “Cloud,” in Essays (1914)
  • Every cloud engenders not a storm. William Shakespeare, the Duke of Clarence speaking, in Henry VI, Part III (1591)



  • They call it coaching, but it is teaching. Vince Lombardi, in Coaching for Teamwork (1995)

In My Losing Season: A Memoir (2002), novelist Pat Conroy recalled some valuable advice he got from his basketball coach at The Citadel and said pretty much the same thing: “Good coaching is good teaching and nothing else.”



  • My definition of a codependent: A codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior. Melody Beattie, in Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself (1987)

Beattie preceded the observation by writing: “There are almost as many definitions of codependency as there are experiences that represent it.”

  • In all codependent relationships, the rescuer needs the victim as much as the victim needs the rescuer. Barbara De Angelis, in Ask Barbara: The 100 Most-Asked Questions About Love, Sex and Relationships (1997)
  • Co-dependence (basically, taking someone else’s temperature to see how you feel). Linda Ellerbee, in Move On (1991)
  • Your whole being is involved in taking care of someone else, worrying about what they think of you, how they treat you, how you can make them treat you better. Right now everyone in the world seems to think that they are codependent and that they come from dysfunctional families. They call it codependency. I call it the human condition. Cynthia Heimel, in If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? (1991)
  • There are only two states of being in the world of codependency—recovery and denial. Wendy Kaminer, in I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional (1992)
  • This term [codependency] is often used to make women feel responsible for the behaviors of the people they love. It’s a way of blaming the victim. Patricia Roehling, quoted in Carol Gentry, “Does ‘Codependency’ Exist?” in a 1994 issue of the St. Petersburg Times (specific issue undetermined)


(includes CAFFEINE; see also BREAKFAST and DRINK and PASTRIES and TEA and THIRST)

  • The coffee was strong enough to trot a mouse across. Diane Ackerman, in The Moon by Whale Light: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales (1991)
  • Wake up and smell the coffee. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying is commonly associated with Ann Landers, who used it in a 1955 syndicated column. In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro reports the earliest appearance in a Jan. 18, 1943 issue of The Chicago Daily Tribune.

  • Retirement: the world’s longest coffee break. Author Unknown
  • It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down! (2000)
  • Never drink black coffee at lunch; it will keep you awake in the afternoon. Jilly Cooper, in How to Survive From Nine to Five (1970)
  • Office civilization could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol. Alain de Botton, in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)
  • There was a tiny range within which coffee was effective, short of which it was useless, and beyond which, fatal. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the word of the Lord is to the soul. Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), “The Supper at Elsinore,” in Seven Gothic Tales (1934)
  • I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. T. S. Eliot, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“ (1917)
  • What hashish was to Baudelaire, opium to Coleridge, cocaine to Robert Louis Stevenson, nitrous oxide to Robert Southey, mescaline to Aldous Huxley, and Benzedrine to Jack Kerouac, caffeine was to Balzac. Anne Fadiman, in At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: Balzac, who often worked up to eighteen hours a day, drank forty to fifty cups of coffee a day. Over time, he gradually reduced the amount of water used in order to concentrate the caffeine dosage. Near the end of his life, he eliminated the water entirely, simply eating dry coffee grounds (many believe he ultimately died of caffeine poisoning). Balzac was the prototype of a person who carries things to excess. In The Literary Life and Other Curiosities (1981), Robert Hendrickson called him the world's greatest literary glutton, writing: “A typical meal for the French novelist consisted of a hundred oysters for starters; twelve lamb cutlets; a duckling with turnips; two roast partridges; sole a la Normandy; various fruits; and wines, coffee, and liqueurs to wash it all down.”

  • The urban workaday economy would be unthinkable without coffee. Irene Fizer, quoted in Mark Schapiro, “Muddy Waters,” The Utne Reader (Nov./Dec., 1994)
  • Coffee: We can get it anywhere, and get as loaded as we like on it, until such teeth-chattering, eye-bulging, nonsense-gibbering time as we may be classified unable to operate heavy machinery. Joan Frank, “Achieving Legal Liftoff,” in a 1991 issue of The San Francisco Examiner (specific issue undetermined)

In the same article, Frank also wrote about coffee: “For a writer, it’s more essential than food. Great American novel? Coming right up. We’re talking second only to cocaine here, and hoarded as covetously.”

  • To many people, decaffeinated coffee is like a car without an engine—it might look good on the surface, but it won’t get you where you want to go. Susan Gilbert, in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting And Running A Coffeebar (2005; with W. Eric Martin, and Linda Formichelli)
  • The voodoo priest and all his powers were as nothing compared to espresso, cappuccino, and mocha, which are stronger than all the religions of the world combined, and perhaps stronger than the human soul itself. Mark Helprin, a reflection of the elderly unnamed narrator, in Memoir from Antproof Case (1995)
  • The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • Coffee is far more than a beverage. It is an invitation to life, disguised as a cup of warm liquid. It’s a trumpet wakeup call or a gentle rousing hand on your shoulder. Nicole Johnson, in Fresh-Brewed Life (rev. & expanded 2011 edition; orig. pub. in 1999)

Johnson’s book contained these other memorable observations on the subject:

“Coffee brings warmth and comfort to my life. Part ritual, part relationship, part hope, having a cup in my hand feels as natural as holding a pencil.”

“Coffee is an invitation. When someone invites you to get coffee, it isn’t because he or she is thirsty; more likely, that person just want to spend some time with you. Coffee calls us out of hiding.”

“My favorite characteristic of coffee is the deep metaphor it holds for life. The process of making a cup of fresh-brewed coffee has given me words and insight as to what has made a fresh-brewed life for me, and what can make a fresh-brewed life for anyone.”

  • I don’t know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple cups of coffee into me and weird things just start to happen. Gary Larson, in The Prehistory of the Far Side (1989)
  • Only Irish Coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fat. 
Alex Levine, quoted by Herb Caen in The San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 13, 1984)
  • Coffee, which makes the politician wise,/And see thro' all things with his half-shut eyes. Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock (1712)
  • Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death, and sweet as love. Proverb (Turkish)
  • I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community. Howard Schultz, in the Introduction to Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul (2011; with Joanne Gordon)

A bit later, Schultz went on to write: “Coffee doesn’t lie. It can’t. Every sip is proof of the artistry—technical as well as human—that went into its creation.”



  • A genuine coincidence always means bad luck for me; it’s my only superstition. Margery Allingham, Inspector Oates speaking, in Police at the Funeral (1931)
  • Coincidence means only a connection that’s not seen. Roots meet underground. Charlotte Armstrong, the character John Paul Marcus speaking, in The Dream Walker (1955)
  • People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. Isaac Asimov, “The Planet that Wasn’t,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1975)

Asimov continued: “I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.”

  • When the mind is full of any one subject, that subject seems to recur with extraordinary frequency—it appears to pursue or to meet us at every turn: in every conversation that we hear in every book we open, in every newspaper we take up, the reigning idea recurs; and then we are surprised, and exclaim at these wonderful coincidences. Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in Harrington (1833)

The narrator continued: “Probably such happen every day, but pass unobserved when the mind is not intent upon similar ideas, or wakened by any strong analogous feeling.”

  • I know coincidence has a long arm, but it’s not an octopus. Anthony Gilbert, in The Wrong Body (1950)
  • In a world that operates largely at random, coincidences are to be expected, but any one of them must always be mistrusted. Rex Stout, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in Champagne for One (1958)
  • There are no coincidences. Just miracles by the boatload. Clare Vanderpool, the character Elaine Baker speaking, in Navigating Early (2013)
  • Coincidence is a messenger sent by truth. Jacqueline Winspear, a reflection of protagonist Maisie Dobbs, in Pardonable Lies (2005)



  • It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Author Unknown (widely misattributed to Charles Darwin)
  • Gardens are the result of a collaboration between art and nature. Penelope Hobhouse, in Garden Style (1988)
  • Competition increases performance, but collaboration increases learning. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)



  • 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)




  • Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Woody Allen, quoted in Graham McCann, Woody Allen: New Yorker (1990)
  • There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die. Mel Brooks, in his routine on “The 2,000 Year Old Man” (1961)
  • Comedy is a weird but very beautiful thing. Even though it seems foolish and silly and crazy, comedy has the most to say about the human condition. Because if you can laugh, you can get by. You can survive when things are bad when you have a sense of humor. Mel Brooks, in All About Me! (2021)
  • In comedy we fall afoul of one another. Comedy depends on social life, on our behavior in groups. In tragedy you can observe one human against the gods. In comedy it’s one human versus other humans and often one man (or woman if I’m writing it) against her own worst impulses. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can’t fake it. Lenny Bruce, in “Performing and the Art of Comedy,” in The Essential Lenny Bruce (1967; John Cohen, ed.)

A moment later, Bruce added: “Try to fake three laughs in an hour—ha ha ha ha ha—they’ll take you away, man. You can’t.”

  • Today's comedian has a cross to bear that he built himself. A comedian of the older generation did an “act” and he told the audience, “This is my act.” Today’s comic is not doing an act. The audience assumes he’s telling the truth. Lenny Bruce, in “Performing and the Art of Comedy,” in The Essential Lenny Bruce (1967; John Cohen, ed.)
  • Comedy is tragedy plus time. Carol Burnett, in One More Time: A Memoir (1986)
  • Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people. Angela Carter, in Wise Children (1991)
  • The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays the part. Miguel de Cervantes, quoted in Alan Watts, The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity (1969)
  • All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl. Charlie Chaplin, in My Autobiography (1964)
  • Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. Charlie Chaplin in his obituary in The Guardian (Dec. 28, 1977)
  • Comedy was all I ever wanted. Margaret Cho, in I’m the One That I Want (2001)
  • And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time—of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid. Stephen Colbert, in Parade magazine interview with James Kaplan (Sep. 23 2007)

Colbert preceded the thought by saying: “Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much.”

  • Comedy is tragedy revisited or hostility. It is mock hostility, of course, or it would be ugly; we would have a war. Phyllis Diller, quoted in Denise Collier and Kathleen Beckett, Spare Ribs: Women in the Humor Biz (1980)
  • Sex is identical to comedy in that it involves timing. Phyllis Diller, in Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy (2005; with Richard Buskin)
  • Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act. Marty Feldman, quoted in The Times (June 9, 1969)
  • Comedy is an escape, not from the truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. Christopher Fry, quoted in Time magazine (Nov. 20, 1950)
  • At least one way of measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted, and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive, so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it must obviously deal with these taboo areas. Eric Idle, quoted in Clarke Rountree, Venomous Speech: Problems with American Political Discourse (2013)

Idle continued: “This is part of the responsibility we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light of comedy. If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.”

  • Life is a comedy far darker than drama. It just takes time to learn what to smile at. Robin Morgan, in Saturday’s Child: A Memoir (2001)
  • If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment. Susan Sontag, “Notes on 'Camp,” (1964), in Against Interpretation (1966)
  • Every time is a time for comedy in a world of tension that would languish without it. James Thurber, in Preface to Lanterns & Lances (1961)

Thurber preceded the observation by writing: “Humor in a living culture must not be put away in the attic with the flag, but should be flaunted, like the flag, bravely.”

  • I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel. Horace Walpole, in a letter to Horace Mann (Dec. 31 1769)
  • Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma. Robin Williams, quoted in “Robin Williams on Returning to TV, Getting Sober, and Downsizing in His 60s,” Parade magazine (Sep. 12 2013)
  • To say he talked with his hands seems insufficient. His whole body never shut up. Jason Zinoman, “With Richard Lewis, Kvetching Was Charismatic,” in The New York Times (Feb. 29, 2024)

Zinoman preceded the thought by writing: “Lewis eventually developed a frenetic, jazzy style that also owed something to chaos agents like Mel Brooks and Robin Williams. His jokes were delivered with rollicking energy, making misery a full-body exercise, slumping, pacing and, most of all, gesticulating. His comedy had choreography, a visual language of pointing, air-sawing and face clasps.”



  • Comedy is tragedy plus time. Carol Burnett, in One More Time: A Memoir (1986)
  • Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people. Angela Carter, in Wise Children (1991)
  • There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die. Mel Brooks, in his routine on “The 2,000 Year Old Man” (1961)
  • Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. Charlie Chaplin in his obituary in The Guardian (Dec. 28, 1977)
  • Comedy is tragedy revisited or hostility. It is mock hostility, of course, or it would be ugly; we would have a war. Phyllis Diller, quoted in Denise Collier and Kathleen Beckett, Spare Ribs: Women in the Humor Biz (1980)
  • If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment. Susan Sontag, “Notes on 'Camp,” (1964), in Against Interpretation (1966)
  • I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel. Horace Walpole, in a letter to Horace Mann (Dec. 31 1769)



  • There was something immensely comforting, I found, about a crumpet—so comforting that I’ve never forgotten about them and have even learned to make them myself against those times when I have no other source of supply. Peg Bracken, in A Window Over the Sink (1981)
  • The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master. Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)
  • One sits uncomfortably on a too comfortable cushion. Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976)
  • Those who turn to God for comfort may find comfort but I do not think they will find God. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Words of comfort, skillfully administered, are the oldest therapy known to man. Louis Nizer, in My Life in Court (1961)
  • Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)



  • The power to command frequently causes failure to think. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is commonly presented, but it is even more interesting when one considers the words that immediately preceded it. Here is the fuller thought, which is less about command than it is power: “Folly is a child of power. We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton’s dictum, that power corrupts. We are less less aware that it breeds folly: that the power to command frequently causes failure to think.”




  • To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook,” in The Fire Next Time (1962)
  • A toe shoe is as eccentric as the ballerina who wears it: their marriage is a commitment. Toni Bentley, “The Heart and Sole of a Ballerina’s Art: Her Toe Shoes,” in Smithsonian magazine (June, 1984)
  • Honor your commitments with integrity. Les Brown, quoted in a 2006 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The uncommitted life is not worth living. We either believe in something or we don’t. William G. Saltonstall, quoted in a 1963 issue of Odyssey: The Journal of the Experiment in International Living (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Dr. Saltonstall, former principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, offered this thought in a talk (titled “Commitment—To What? Why“) to parents who were hosting foreign students. He continued:

“Commitment is willingness to stand up and be counted. It is a human must—for young and old, for black and white, for Christian, Moslem and Buddhist. It is skill plus good will. It is a thoughtful decision on the part of an individual to participate passionately in the events of his time. It is the dogged staying-power coupled with the sensible idealism that makes the word go ’round.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute the quotation to Pearl S. Buck.

  • Something must happen—and that explains most human commitments. Albert Camus, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall (1956)
  • The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable, and nobody is qualified to say that he or she knows exactly what it is. As a matter of fact, with a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before. Protestantism itself is proof of that. Margaret Halsey, in No Laughing Matter (1977)
  • Children hold us hostage; they represent our commitment to the future. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Italian Days (1989)
  • The beauty of a strong, lasting commitment is often best understood by a man incapable of it. Murray Kempton, “O’er Moor and Fen,” in Part of Our Time (1955)
  • Blind commitment to a theory is not an intellectual virtue; it is an intellectual crime. Imre Lakatos, in Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (1978)
  • Intimacy without commitment is like icing with no cake. It’s going to make you sick, sooner or later. Dandi Daley Mackall, the character Mattie, quoting her best friend Emma, in Love Rules (2005)
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Margaret Mead, a signature saying

QUOTE NOTE: This may very well be the most famous quotation from one of history’s most famous women. The saying is so intimately associated with Mead that it has been registered to protect its use. The trademark is currently held by Mead’s granddaughter, Sevanne Kassarjian, who graciously permitted me to include the quotation in my 2011 book of Neverisms. Mead’s legendary saying is often followed by the words, “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” but that portion has not been trademarked.

The Institute for Intercultural Studies, which Mead founded in 1944, prominently features the saying on its website. An original source has never been found, but the Institute does provide this statement on its origin: “We believe it probably came into circulation through a newspaper report of something said spontaneously and informally. We know, however, that it was firmly rooted in her professional work and that it reflected a conviction that she expressed often, in different contexts and phrasings.”

ERROR ALERT: On a number of internet sites, Mead’s famous observation is erroneously presented in this way: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  • The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. Colin Murray Parkes, in Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life (1972)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present an abridged version of the thought: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

  • Commitment is different in males and females. In females it is a desire to get married and raise a family. In males it means not picking up other women while out with one’s girlfriend. Rita Rudner, quoted in Des MacHale, in Ready Wit (2006)
  • In essence, leaders are people who “walk ahead,” people genuinely committed to deep changes, in themselves and in their organizations. Peter M. Senge, in The Dance of Change (1999)
  • I’m not sure there can be loving without commitment, although commitment takes all kinds of forms, and there can be commitment for the moment as well as commitment for all time. Merle Shain, in Some Men Are More Perfect Than Others (1973)

Shain continued: “The kind that is essential for loving marriages—and love affairs, as well—is a commitment to preserving the essential quality of your partner's soul, adding to them as a person rather than taking away.”

  • A cat devotes most of his life to gratifying his basic needs and thereby making himself happy. You may have noticed that a cat’s first commitment is to himself. Carole C. Wilbourn, in Cat Talk (1979)



  • The commitment problem has caused many women to mistakenly conclude that men, as a group, have the emotional maturity of hamsters. Dave Barry, in “The Greatest Invention in the History of Mankind is Beer” (2001)

Barry continued: “This is not the case, A hamster is much more capable of making a lasting commitment to a woman, especially if she gives it those little food pellets. Whereas a guy, in a relationship, will consume the pellets of companionship, and he will run on the exercise wheel of lust, but as soon as he senses the door of commitment is about to close and trap him in the wire cage of true intimacy, he’ll squirm out, scamper across the kitchen floor of uncertainty, and hide under the refrigerator pf non readiness.”

  • That common cold of the male psyche, fear of commitment. Richard Schickel, quoted in Wayne Meisel and John Beilenson, Men About Men: A Guide for Women and Men (1992)



  • Committee—A group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done. Fred Allen, attributed without source information in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (5th ed.; 1999)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, thanks to the entry in the respected Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Allen likely offered the thought in a variety of slightly different ways over the years, but it looks like he originally expressed the sentiment about conferences and not committees. In a Jan. 25, 1940 letter to New York Stock Exchange president W. M. Martin, he wrote: “A conference is a gathering of important people who, singly, can do nothing but together can decide that nothing can be done.”

  • A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: The original author of this popular saying will likely never be known, but similar sayings began to emerge in the early 1950s—some involving giraffes instead of camels—before they evolved into this version by 1956. For a brief history, see this 2010 post by quotation researcher Barry Popick

  • A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. Milton Berle, quoted in news summaries (July 1, 1954)
  • The only good thing ever done by a committee was the King James Version. Rita Mae Brown, the voice of narrator and protagonist NIcole Smith, in Bingo (1999)
  • Committee: A cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, and then quietly strangled. Sir Barnett Cocks, quoted in Tom Dalyell, “Following the Queen,” New Scientist (Nov. 8, 1973)

ERROR ALERT: Cocks served as Clerk of the House of Commons (not a low-level position, but the chief executive of the parliamentary body) from 1962–74. The observation is often mistakenly presented as if it began: “A committee is a cul-de sac . . . .” Here’s how Dalyell described Cocks and his famous observation in the original article: “He is a man of sardonic humour. For instance, his definition of a Committee: ‘A cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, and then quietly strangled.’”

  • To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent. Robert Copeland, quoted in Fred Metcalf, Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (2001)
  • The psychology of committees is a special case of the psychology of mobs. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
  • What is a committee? A group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary. Richard Harkness, quoted in The New York Herald Tribune (June 15, 1960)
  • If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Printer’s Ink magazine (Aug. 13, 1931)
  • Committees are consumers and sometimes sterilizers of ideas, rarely creators of them. Henry Kissinger, in The Necessity for Choice (1961)
  • A committee is an animal with four back legs. John le Carré, the character Smiley talking, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
  • A committee is organic rather than mechanical in its nature: it is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts, and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom in their turn. C. Northcote Parkinson, “Directors and Councils,” in Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress (1958)
  • Outside of traffic, there is nothing that has held this country back as much as committees. Will Rogers, quoted in Richard M. Ketchum, Will Rogers, His Life and Times (1973)
  • Muddle is the extra unknown personality in any committee. Anthony Sampson, in Anatomy of Britain Today (1965)
  • It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it. John Steinbeck, the voice of the narrator, in Sweet Thursday (1954)
  • When committees gather, each member is necessarily an actor, uncontrollably acting out the part of himself, reading the lines that identify him, asserting his identity. Lewis Thomas, “On Committees,” in The Medusa and the Snail (1979)
  • Any committee that is the slightest use is a committee of people who are too busy to want to sit on it for a second longer than they have to. Katharine Whitehorn, “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” in Observations (1970)
  • Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings. George F. Will, quoted in International Herald Tribune (Paris; May 7, 1990)


(see also COMMON and UNCOMMON)

  • Most of us swim in the ocean of the commonplace. Pio Baroja, in The Restlessness of Shanti Andía (1959)



  • The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79. Douglas Adams, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Arthur Dent, in Mostly Harmless (1992)
  • Common sense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Dec. 26, 1852)

  • The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next. Matthew Arnold, in God and the Bible (1875)

QUOTE NOTE: It is likely that Arnold was inspired by an 1858 observation from Henry Ward Beecher (to be seen below)

  • When it comes to your health, I recommend frequent doses of that rare commodity among Americans—common sense. Dr. Vincent Askey, in speech in Bakersfield, California (Oct. 20, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: At the time, Dr. Askew was president of the American Medical Association

  • Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: For more than a century, this observation has been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. It has never been found in any of his works, however, and should be considered apocryphal.

  • Common sense is not a gift, it’s a punishment. Because you have to deal with everyone who doesn’t have it. Author Unknown, but often mistakenly attributed to George Bernard Shaw
  • As Einstein has pointed out, common sense is actually nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen. Lincoln Barnett, in The Universe and Dr. Einstein (1950)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is the original appearance of an observation that has resulted in a supposed Einstein “quotation” most commonly phrased this way: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen” (this is the version in the popular Bite-Size Einstein book, published in 2003). There is no evidence Einstein ever said such a thing, however, and noted Einstein scholar Alice Calaprice concludes that the quotation is “probably not by Einstein” in The New Quotable Einstein (2005)

  • The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • Genius ain’t anything more than elegant common sense. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam’s Uncle Josh: Or, Josh Billings on Practically Everything (1953)
  • Many quite nefarious ideologies pass for common sense. For decades of American history, it was common sense in some quarters for white people to own slaves and for women not to vote. Judith Butler, “A ‘Bad Writer’ Bites Back,” The New York Times (March 20, 1999)

Butler went on to write: “If common sense sometimes preserves the social status quo, and that status quo sometimes treats unjust social hierarchies as natural, it makes good sense on such occasions to find ways of challenging common sense.”

  • It has been said that there is nothing more uncommon than common sense. Thomas Chalmers, in Natural Theology (1836)

QUOTE NOTE: Chalmers was likely thinking about Voltaire when he made his observation (see the Voltaire entry below).

  • Common sense is that which tells us the world is flat. Stuart Chase, quoted in S. I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action (1952)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation has been commonly misattributed to Hayakawa.

  • Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Notes in Hackett,” in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1838: Henry N. Coleridge, ed.)
  • Pedantry prides herself on being wrong by rules; while common sense is contented to be right without them. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1825)
  • Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more. René Descartes, in Discourse on Method (1637)
  • Unless the materials involved can be traced back to the material of common sense concern there is nothing whatever for scientific concern to be concerned with. John Dewey, “Common Sense and Science,” in The Journal of Philosophy (April 18, 1948); reprinted in John Dewey: The Later Works, Vol. 16: 1949–1952 (1989; Jo Ann Boydston, ed.)
  • Common sense is almost as omniscient as God. Emily Dickinson, Prose Fragment 68, quoted in Thomas H. Johnson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Vol. 3 (1894)
  • Common sense often makes a good law. William O. Douglas, opinion in Peak v. United States (March 25, 1957)
  • Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Common sense is as rare as genius. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Celebration of Intellect”, address at Tufts College, Medford, Mass. (July 10, 1861)
  • The people people have for friends/Your common sense appall,/But the people people marry/Are the queerest folk of all. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Queer People,” in In This Our World (1893)
  • Common sense is the genius of humanity. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Maxims and Reflections (1883)
  • There is no greater panacea for every kind of folly than common sense. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • The phrase is self-contradictory; “sense” is never “common.” Robert A. Heinlein, “Prelude II,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man’s upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Poet at the Breakfast-Table 1872)
  • What is common sense? That which attracts the least opposition: that which brings most agreeable and worthy results. E. W. Howe, in Sinner Sermons: A Selection of the Best Paragraphs of E. W. Howe (1926)
  • Common sense is compelled to make its way without the enthusiasm of anyone; all admit it grudgingly. E. W. Howe, in The Indignations of E. W. Howe (1933)
  • Science, is I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only so far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields a club. T. H. Huxley, “On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences” (1854), reprinted in Collected Essays, Vol 3 (1894)
  • It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without the sense. Robert G. Ingersoll, quoted in J. B. McClure, Wit, Wisdom and Eloquence of Col. R. G. Ingersoll (1894)

ERROR ALERT: This is the exact phrasing of the quotation in McClure’s anthology, but later anthologies and almost all internet sites present it if it ended: “education without common sense.”

  • Common sense and a sense of humor are the same things, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Clive James, quoted in Robert Giddings, J. R. R. Tolkien: This Far Land (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: While I have yet to find an original source for this quotation, I do not question its authenticity. The remark goes back to at least the 1970s. In a December, 1979 issue of The New Scientist magazine, Roy Herbert wrote: “A sense of humor, Clive James said in a remark I envy, is common sense moving at a different speed.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites erroneously attribute this common sense dancing observation to the American philosopher William James. Even some otherwise respected quotation anthologies, like Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists (2007), have made this mistake.

  • Common sense is not a gift, not a natural endowment, but an acquisition, a consequence of instinct acting with reason and enforcing its decisions. Thomas Jarrold, in Instinct and Reason (1836)
  • Common-sense knowledge is prompt, categorical, and inexact. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key (1942)
  • Common sense is a very tricky instrument; it is as deceptive as it is indispensable. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophical Sketches (1962)

Common sense and nature will do a lot to make the pilgrimage of life not too difficult. W. Somerset Maugham (2008). “The Razor's Edge”, p.186, Random House

  • It is a little inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible to any public office of trust or profit in the Republic. H. L. Mencken, quoted in Roger Butterfield, “Mr. Mencken Sounds Off,” Life magazine (Aug. 5, 1946)
  • Common sense is a vastly overrated virtue. I myself prefer the spark of genius. Margaret Millar, in The Invisible Worm (1941)
  • Fine sense and exalted sense are not half so useful as common sense. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)
  • It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in address at Oglethorpe University, Brookhaven, Georgia (May 22, 1932)

  • Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common sense. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • A man of great common sense and good taste—meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage. George Bernard Shaw, “Notes: Julius Caesar,” in Caesar and Cleopatra (1906)
  • Common sense (which, in truth, is very uncommon) is the best sense I know of: abide by it; it will counsel you best. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in a letter to his son (Sep. 27, 1748)
  • Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. Gertrude Stein, “Reflection on the Atomic Bomb,” in Robert A. Goldwin, Readings in World Politics (1959)
  • Common sense always takes a hasty and superficial view. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River (1849)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is commonly presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “A true account of the actual us the rarest poetry, for common sense always takes a hasty and superficial view.”

  • Common Sense is not so common. Voltaire, “Common Sense,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • Success is more a function of consistent common sense than it is of genius. An Wang, quoted in Boston magazine (Dec. 1986)
  • Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)



  • To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (May 27, 1849)
  • The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Author Unidentified

ERROR ALERT: In hundreds of books and internet sites, this quotation—or slight variations of it—is mistakenly attributed to George Bernard Shaw. Shaw had many good things to say on the subject of communication, but this was not one of them. Quotation researcher Garson O’Toole, better known as the Quote Investigator has tracked down a 1950 observation that appears to be the original illusion of communication thought (see the William H. Whyte entry below)

  • This communicating of a man’s self to his friend works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in half. Francis Bacon, “Of Friendship,” in Essays (1625)
  • Sometimes there is greater lack of communication in facile talking than in silence. Faith Baldwin, “Communication,” in Face Toward the Spring (1956)
  • Self-expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment. Pearl S. Buck, in “In Search of Readers,” in Helen Hull, The Writer’s Book (1950)

Buck preceded the thought by writing: “A certain number of novels, perhaps, were written, or their authors say they were written, for the satisfaction of self-expression. Perhaps all novels are partly written for this reason. Yet it is doubtful whether even the necessity for self-expression is wholly satisfied if readers are lacking.”

  • Men and women belong to different species, and communication between them is a science still in its infancy. Bill Cosby, in Love and Marriage (1989)
  • In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently and persuasively than what we say or even anything we do. Stephen R. Covey, in Principle-Centered Leadership (1992)
  • Communicating is a contact sport. Your ability to communicate is the single most important skill determining your success in every aspect of your life. Bert Decker, in You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard (2008)

Decker continued: “You dare not make the mistake of thinking that communication is nothing but dumping information on another person.”

  • To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. John Dewey'', in Democracy and Education (1916)

Dewey continued: “One shares in what another has thought and felt and in so far, meagerly or amply, has his own attitude modified.”

  • You must possess at the same time the habit of communicating and the habit of listening. The union is rather rare, but irresistible. Benjamin Disraeli, the voice of the narrator, in Coningsby, or, The New Generation (1844)
  • Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in “Critical Articles: Introduction,” in Complete Collected Works (1895)
  • The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. Peter F. Drucker, remark in interview with Bill Moyers; in Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas (1989)
  • The communication/Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” in Four Quartets (1942)

Eliot preceded this by writing: “And what the dead had no speech for, when living,/They can tell you, being dead.”

  • Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The 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)

QUOTE NOTE: Despite its extreme brevity and fleeting nature, the glance is a powerful mode of communication (see more at BODY LANGUAGE). 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.”

  • Art is partly communication but only partly. The rest is discovery. William Golding, the protagonist Samuel Mountjoy speaking, in Free Fall (1959)

Mountjoy concluded: “I have always been the creature of discovery.”

  • Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much. Robert Greenleaf, in Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (1977)
  • Man does not live on bread alone; his other necessity is communication. Charles F. Hockett, in A Course in Modern Linguistics (1958)
  • Take the two popular words today, “information” and “communication.” They are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. Sydney J. Harris, in his syndicated column; reprinted in For the Time Being (1972)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites and in numerous quotation anthologies, this observation is mistakenly worded this way: “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

  • Banality is a symptom of non-communication. Men hide behind their clichés. Eugène Ionesco, “Further Notes, 1960,” in Notes and Counter-Notes (1962)
  • Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible. Carl G. Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)
  • It was hard to communicate with you. You were always communicating with yourself. The line was busy. Jean Kerr, the character Mary speaking to ex-husband Bob about their marital relationship, in Mary, Mary (1961)
  • The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them. Stephen King, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “The Body,” in Different Seasons (1982)
  • We are all so clumsy, my dear, and words are all we have, poor signals like bonfires and flags trying to express what shipwreck is. Rose Wilder Lane, in 1927 letter to Dorothy Thompson; quoted in William Holtz, Dorothy Thompson and Rose Wilder Lane: Forty Years of Friendship (1991)
  • I feel that if a person can’t communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up. Tom Lehrer, in afterword to the song “Alma,” on the album That Was the Year That Was (1965)

Lehrer preceded the observation by saying: “Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days, in books and plays and movies, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love: husbands and wives who can’t communicate, children who can’t communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on, and in real life, I might add, spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can’t communicate.”

  • Good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all quotation compilations mistakenly present the quotation as if it read as stimulating as or sometimes just as stimulating as.

  • Let us make a special effort to learn to stop communicating with one another, so that we can have some conversation. Judith Martin (Miss Manners), “Stop ‘Communicating’ and Start Conversing,” a syndicated column (Sep. 1, 1979)
  • What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Strother Martin, in the role of the prison warden known simply as The Captain, in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke (screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, an adaptation of Donn Pearce’s 1965 novel of the same title)

QUOTE NOTE: In a personal communication, quotation maven Dave Hill (https://wist.info) writes: “This legendary line actually shows up in the movie twice. Just before he’s shot in the final moments of the movie, Paul Newman’s Luke uses it to mock the Captain (although he says ‘What we got here is a failure to communicate’).” (https://youtu.be/VE-cB1rl1_Y?t=199).

  • Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. W. Somerset Maugham, the voice of the narrator, in The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: This remarkable passage comes after the novel’s narrator has met painter George Strickland (loosely based on Paul Gauguin) and has experienced great difficulty grasping the meaning of his paintings. He continued: “We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house.”

  • Whether clear or garbled, tumultuous or silent, deliberate or fatally inadvertent, communication is the ground of meeting and the foundation of community. It is, in short, the essential human connection. Ashley Montagu, in The Human Connection (1979; with Floyd W. Matson)
  • There is no pleasure to me without communication; there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind but I grieve that I have no one to tell it to. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Vanity,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue. Edward R. Murrow, in speech accepting the Family of Man Award (Oct, 1964); reprinted in Alexander Kendrick, Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow (1969)

Murrow continued: “The most sophisticated satellite has no conscience. The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem of what to say and how to say it.”

  • The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate. J. B. Priestley, “Televiewing,” in Thoughts in the Wilderness (1957)
  • Reading…that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude. Marcel Proust, in Preface to his 1904 translation of John Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens (1885)
  • My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets—no, they're little gifts, containing meanings! Philip Roth, the title character speaking, in Portnoy’s Complaint (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Alex Portnoy, a Jewish college student from New York City, is having an epiphany of sorts as he reflects on the nature of the interactions he’s been having with the family of his Christian girl friend when he travels to her Iowa home over the Christmas vacation. He surprises himself by abandoning his typically crabby disposition cheerfully saying things like “Good Morning!” (about this, he writes: “Suddenly, here in Iowa, in imitation of the local inhabitants, I am transformed into a veritable geyser of good mornings”). He is further surprised when people ask him how he has slept and “for the first time in my life I experience the full force of a simile” when his girlfriend’s father announces that he has slept like a log.

  • If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself, we all do. But if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. William Safire, in commencement address at Syracuse University (May 13, 1978); reprinted in his book On Language (1980)

Safire added: “The secret way to do this is to write it down, and then cut out out the confusing parts.”

  • I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world (italics in original). Virginia Satir, in The New Peoplemaking (1988)
  • Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence. Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand (1990)

Tannen continued: “To survive in the world, we have to act in concert with others, but to survive as ourselves, rather than simply as cogs in a wheel, we have to act alone.”

  • Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false, or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act. James Thurber, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ear Muffs,” in Lanterns and Lances (1961)
  • The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened. And by not listening we have failed to concede the immense complexity of our society–and thus the great gaps between ourselves and those with whom we seek understanding. William H. Whyte, “Is Anybody Listening?” in Forbes magazine (Sep., 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the earliest appearance of a thought that is commonly misattributed to George Bernard Shaw (see the quotation above under AUTHOR UNIDENTIFIED). For more, see this 2014 post by Garson O’Toole, also known as the Quote Investigator

  • Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people. William Butler Yeats, in letter to Dorothy Wellesley (Dec. 21, 1935); reprinted in Letters on Poetry from W. B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley (1940)



  • Russian Communism is the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great. Clement Atlee, in speech at Aarhus University (April 11, 1956)
  • Communism doesn’t work. It’s against a basic law of nature: PEOPLE WANT TO OWN STUFF. Frank Zappa, in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989; with Peter Occhiogrosso)



  • Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist. Paula Gunn Allen, in Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman’s Sourcebook (1991)
  • A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves. Wendell Berry, “The Loss of the Future,” in The Long-Legged House (1969)
  • “As a good gardener prepares the soil, so a wise leader creates an environment that promotes community. Diane Dreher, in The Tao of Personal Leadership (1996)

Dreher went on to add: “Community involves a common place, a common time, and a common purpose. Just getting people in the same place at the same time does not produce a team. Community requires a common vision.”

  • The classroom in the modern city child’s life is the only equivalent for what used to be “his community.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Vermont Tradition (1935)
  • Whenever a rich variety exists within a biological community, the community has a good chance of remaining stable. Beatrice Trum Hunter, in Gardening Without Poisons (1964)
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. Henrik Ibsen, the character Billing speaking, in An Enemy of the People (1882)
  • My object is to live in a place that does not call itself “the community with a heart.” I want one of those godforsaken towns where all the young people leave and the rest sit on the porch with a rifle across their knees. Florence King, in With Charity Toward None (1992)
  • Community can be defined simply as a group in which free conversation can take place. Community is where I can share my innermost thoughts, bring out the depths of my own feelings, and know they will be understood. Rollo May, “Toward New Community,” in Power and Innocence (1972)
  • The brotherhood of the community is indeed the ground in which the individual is ethically realized. But the community is the frustration as well as the realization of individual life. Its collective egotism is an offense to his conscience; its institutional injustices negate the ideal of justice; and such brotherhood as it achieves is limited by ethnic and geographic boundaries. Reinhold Niebuhr, in The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (1941)
  • A community can never be created: not through hard work or in any other way. It must simply be recognized and respected. Sigrid Nielsen, “Strange Days,” in Christian McEwen and Sue O’Sullivan, Out the Other Side (1988)
  • No rural community, no suburban community, can ever possess the distinctive qualities that city dwellers have for centuries given to the world. Agnes Repplier, “Town and Suburb,” in Times and Tendencies (1931)
  • You cannot do good work if you take your mind off the work to see how the community is taking it. Dorothy L. Sayers, “Why Work?” in Creed or Chaos? (1949)
  • A ship-building, a ship-sailing community has an unconscious poetry ever underlying its existence. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862)



  • Accident accounts for much in companionship as in marriage. Henry Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • The illusion of companionship sits waiting in the television set. We keep our televisions on more than we watch them—an average of more than seven hours a day. For background. For company. Louise Bernikow, IN Alone in America (1986)
  • If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder(1965)
  • The companionship of a secret is often corruptive to good habits, such as sleep and appetite. Marjorie Benton Cooke, the voice of the narrator, in Bambi (1914)
  • When you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of a dog that you get from no other source. Doris Day, quoted in A. E. Hotchner, Doris Day: Her Own Story (1975)
  • A voyage without companionship, that is to say without conversation, is one of the saddest pleasures of life. Germaine de Staël, quoted in Margaret Goldsmith, Madame de Staël (1938)
  • Among all the many kinds of first love, that which begins in childish companionship is the strongest and most enduring. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, from “Mr Gilfil’s Love Story,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • It contributes greatly towards a man’s moral and intellectual health to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate. Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom House. Introductory,” in The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • In the end, for congenial sympathy, for poetry, for work, for original feeling and expression, for perfect companionship with one’s friends—give me the country. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to Louis Burrows (Feb. 28, 1909); in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence (1979; James T. Boulton, ed.)
  • A long-term marriage has to move beyond chemistry to compatibility, to friendship, to companionship. It is certainly not that passion disappears, but that it is conjoined with other ways of love. Madeleine L’Engle, in Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988)
  • Too often when I am with other people I hand over my freedom and values as if they are the price of admission to companionship. Patricia McCairen, in Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through the Grand Canyon (1998)

McCairen continued: “I expect others to be as harsh with me as the critic living in my mind—the critic with my mother’s voice.”

  • The pleasures of intimacy in friendship depend far more on external circumstances than people of a sentimental turn of mind are willing to concede; and when constant companionship ceases to suit the convenience of both parties, the chances are that it will be dropped on the first favorable opportunity. Hester Lynch Piozzi, an April, 1783 diary entry, quoted in A. Hayward,, Autobiography, Letters, and Literary Remains of Mrs. Piozzi (Thrale), Vol. 1 (1861)
  • Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or friendship, is conversation. Oscar Wilde, “Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis,” in De Profundis (1897)



  • There is hardly a company that will not tire of the sustained discussion of one subject, no matter how interesting it may be. Lillian Eichler, in The Book of Conversation, Vol. 1 (1927)
  • Just so sure as one puts on any old rag, and thinks nobody will come, company is sure to call. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the character Miss Emily speaking, in The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1861)

[Good & Bad] COMPANY


  • “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” Jane Austen, the protagonist Anne Elliot speaking to her father, in Persuasion (1818)

The interaction continues this way: “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best.”

  • Just as it is important to avoid trivial conversation, it is important to avoid bad company. By bad company I do not refer only to people who are vicious and destructive; one should avoid their company because their orbit is poisonous and depressing. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1974)

Fromm continued: “I mean also the company of zombies, of people whose soul is dead, although their body is alive, of people whose thoughts and conversation are trivial; who chatter instead of talk, and who assert cliché opinions instead of thinking.”



  • Half the misery of human life might be extinguished, would men alleviate the general curse they lie under, by mutual offices of compassion, benevolence, and humanity. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (London; Sep. 13, 1711)
  • If it is not tempered by compassion, and empathy, reason can lead men and women into a moral void. Karen Armstrong, “Empathy,” in Twelve Steps To a Compassionate Life (2010)
  • We should not be ashamed about talking about loving kindness and compassion in political terms. Values like love and compassion should be part of politics because justice must always be tempered by mercy. Aung San Suu Kyi, quoted in Whitney Stewart, Aung San Suu Kyi: Fearless Voice of Burma (1997)

Aung San Suu Kyi (whose name is pronounced Ahn Sahn SOO Chee), added: “We prefer the word ‘compassion.’ That is warmer and more tender then ‘mercy.’”

  • With compassion, we see benevolently our own human condition and the condition of our fellow beings. We drop prejudice. We withhold judgment. Christina Baldwin, in Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest (1990)
  • Can I see another’s woe,/And not be in sorrow too?/Can I see another’s grief/and not seek for kind relief? William Blake, “On Another’s Sorrow,” in Songs of Innocence (1789)
  • Every act of kindness and compassion toward others gets multiplied when they, in turn, pass it on. One by one the world becomes a better place. Joan Borysenko, in A Woman’s Book of Life (1994)

Borysenko added: “Service is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.”

  • Better to be without logic than without feeling. Charlotte Brontë, the character Frances Evans Henri speaking, in The Professor (written 1846; published posthumously 1857)
  • By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1642)
  • I learned compassion from being discriminated against. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion. Ellen DeGeneres, in remark to Oprah Winfrey on a Nov. 9, 2009 broadcast of her TV show.
  • Pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compassion. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)
  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? George Eliot, the character Dorothea Brooke speaking about Dr. Lydgate, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)

Dorothea continued: “I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many reputable quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended “less difficult for each other.”

  • True compassion is not forged at a distance from pain but in its fires. Christina Feldman, in Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World (2005)
  • The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion. Richard P. Feynman, in “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”: Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988)
  • “Honesty” without compassion and understanding is not honesty, but subtle hostility. Rose N. Franzblau, quoted in a 1966 issue of the New York Post (specific date undetermined)
  • It’s compassion that makes gods of us. Dorothy Gilman, a reflection of protagonist Amelia Jones, in The Tightrope Walker: A Novel (1979)
  • Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman continued: “But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.”

  • Empathy is the essential building block for compassion. Daniel Goleman, in a Tweet (April 12, 2012)
  • Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source of both inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, quoted in The Times (London; June, 1999)
  • Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in Words Of Wisdom: Selected Quotes by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2001; Margaret Gee, ed.)
  • The most powerful way to change the world is to secretly commit little acts of compassion. You must behave as if your every act, even the smallest, impacted a thousand people for a hundred generations. Because it does. Thom Hartmann, in The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now (1998; rev. ed. 2004)
  • A religious man is a person…whose greatest passion is compassion. Abraham Joshua Heschel, quoted in New York Journal-American (April 5, 1963)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation usually appears (and often without the ellipsis), but it was originally part of a larger observation from a 1963 essay (“What Ecumenism Is”) that was eventually reprinted in Heschel’s Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (1996). Here’s the full thought: “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”

  • In its sentimental mode, compassion is an exercise in moral indignation, in feeling good rather than doing good. Gertrude Himmelfard, in Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: Himmelfard was contrasting sentimental with unsentimental compassion, about which she wrote: “In its unsentimental mode, compassion seeks above all to do good.”

  • Compassion is the most necessary ingredient in all relationships. Everything depends on it. Jane Stanton Hitchcock, The character Mrs. Griffin speaking, in Trick of the Eye (1992)
  • Compassion is probably the only antitoxin of the soul. Where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Hoffer continued, “Where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless. One would rather see the world run by men who set their hearts on toys but are accessible to pity, than by men animated by lofty ideals whose dedication makes them ruthless. In the chemistry of man’s soul, almost all noble attributes—courage, honor, hope, faith, duty, loyalty, etc.—can be transmuted into ruthlessness. Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.”

  • It is compassion rather than the principle of justice which can guard us against being unjust to our fellow men. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955)
  • True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967 Riverside Church sermon; reprinted in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1986)
  • There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes. Milan Kundera, a reflection of the protagonist Tomáš, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

Earlier in the novel, Kundera wrote: “In languages that derive from Latin, “compassion” means: we cannot look on cooly as others suffer; or, we sympathize with those who suffer.”

  • The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. Thomas Merton, in final address at an East-West monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand, delivered just two hours before his death (Dec. 10, 1968); quoted in Religious Education, Vol. 73 (1978)
  • Compassion for our parents is the true sign of maturity. Anaïs Nin, journal entry (Summer, 1954), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Nin’s fuller set of reflections on the topic go a long way to explaining why many adult children lack compassion for aging parents. Here’s her full thought: “What blocks compassion often is an overestimation of the other’s power. Power does not inspire sympathy. But often this power is imagined, such as the power we imagine held by our parents. True, at one time they had power over us, power of life or death, but this does not mean that they themselves did not have fears, doubts, pains, troubles, tragedies, and that at any moment they might need us desperately. Their strength was relative to our childish helplessness, but later they had a claim to our acceptance of their human fallibilities. In fact, I would say that compassion for our parents is the true sign of maturity.”

  • Sentimentality is superficial, easy listening that does nothing to expand our understanding. Compassion is quite different. Risky and exigent, it puts you inside someone else. This is one of literature’s greatest strengths. Roxana Robinson, “The Writer’s Life”, in The Author’s Guild Bulletin (April 8, 2015)

QUOTE NOTE: Robinson, the Author’s Guild president at the time of the article, began the article by suggesting that compassion is often confused with sentimentality, and, as a result, has become somewhat unfashionable. She introduced the thought by writing: “Sentimentality is emotion without responsibility; compassion is the recognition of shared humanity. Chalk and cheese.”

  • Compassion is the strongest human therapeutic agent in existence. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Compassion and Self-Hate (1986)

Rubin continued: “Its potential for constructive growth and human creative possibility is almost limitless.”

  • What value has compassion that does not take its object in its arms? Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in The Wisdom of the Sands (pub. posthumously in 1948)
  • Compassion is the basis of all morality. Arthur Schopenhauer, in On the Basis of Morality (1840)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the economical version of a quotation that has also been translated in this way: “Boundless compassion for all living beings is the surest and most certain guarantee of pure moral conduct.”

  • Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace. Albert Schweitzer, in Kulturphilosophie (1923); published in English in 1949 as Philosophy of Civilization
  • Compassion is the thing that leads you gently back to yourself. Merle Shain, in Hearts That We Broke Long Ago (1983)
  • A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in A Defense of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840)
  • Compassion is the desire that moves the individual self to widen the scope of its self-concern to embrace the whole of the universal self. Arnold J. Toynbee, in The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue: Man Himself Must Choose (1976)
  • The knowledge of personal failure…is the invaluable predicate of all honest compassion. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journal of an Artist (1996)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the highly quotable portion of Webster’s fuller definition of compassion in his famous dictionary. It was preceded by these words: “A suffering with another; painful sympathy; a sensation of sorrow excited by the distress or misfortunes of another.”

  • The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)



  • Stories told around the water-cooler as well as statistics confirm that a man’s competence is more likely to be presupposed, a woman’s questioned. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership (1995)
  • Success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, in The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance (2014)

The authors continued: “Yes, there is evidence that confidence is more important than ability when it comes to getting ahead. This came as particularly unsettling news to us, having spent our own lives striving toward competence.”

  • I simply can’t imagine competence as anything save admirable, for it is very rare in this world, and especially in this great Republic, and those who have it in some measure, in any art or craft from adultery or zoology, are the only human beings I can think of who will be worth the oil it will take to fry them in Hell. H. L. Mencken, in Preface to Heathen Days, 1890-1936 (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: There are a number of variations of this observation, and it is likely that Mencken recycled the sentiment from time to time. In Memories of the Great & the Good (1999), Alistair Cooke recalled this version: “The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.”

  • Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. Laurence J. Peter, in The Peter Principle (1969)
  • Competence is a great creator of confidence. Mary Jo Putney, the protagonist Kate Corsi speaking, in The Burning Point (2000)
  • The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard. Ayn Rand, the character Francisco speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from Francisco d’anconio, an Argentine billionaire and owner of the world’s largest copper mining company. He is speaking to the novel’s protagonist Dagny Taggart, his childhood friend and former lover. He preceded the thought by saying: “Dagny, there’s nothing of any importance in life—except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues.”

  • Ambition is destruction, only competence matters. Jill Schary Robinson, in Bed/Time/Story (1974)
  • To know one’s own limitations is the hallmark of competence. Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh, the character Gaston Chapparelle speaking, in Thrones, Dominations (1998)

QUOTE NOTE: When Sayers died suddenly (of a coronary thrombosis) at age 64 in 1957, she left behind only fragments and notes for her final Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane novel. Ultimately, Jill Paton Walsh, an English writer known primarily as a children’s author, stepped in to finish the work.

  • All conversation, in addition to whatever else it does, displays, and asks for recognition of, our competence. Deborah Tannen, in That’s Not What I Mean (1986)
  • Confidence is a feeling we acquire after trying a task and succeeding at it. It is not a quality we can have before we try the task. Viki King, in How to Write a Movie in 21 Days (1988)

King continued: “Just because you lack confidence doesn’t mean you lack competence. If you don't know what you’re doing—do it. It's the best way to find out how to do it.”

  • In a democracy…good will without competence and competence without good will, are both equivalent formulas for political disaster. Theodore H. White, in In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978). Also an example of chiasmus.



  • Thou shalt not covet, but tradition/Approves all forms of competition. Arthur Hugh Clough, “The Latest Decalogue” (1862), in The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough (1869)
  • The crucial disadvantage of aggression, competitiveness, and skepticism as national characteristics is that these qualities cannot be turned off at five o’clock. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)

In her book, Halsey also wrote: “The great disadvantage of being in a rat race is that it is humiliating. The competitors in a rat race are, by definition, rodents.”

  • Competition provides spice in life as well as in sports; it’s only when the spice becomes the entire diet that the player gets sick. George Leonard, in Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (1991)
  • Competition increases performance, but collaboration increases learning. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • Competition among humans is less for survival than for stimulation. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)
  • Competition is a tough weed, not a delicate flower. George J. Stigler, in Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist (1988)

ERROR ALERT: In a 2006 issue, Forbes magazine conflated this Stigler observation with a popular Milton Friedman quotation (“Freedom is a rare and delicate plant”) to produce the following: “Competition is a tough weed, but freedom is a rare and delicate flower.” This hybrid observation is not to be found in the separate works of either Friedman or Stigler (see the full Friedman observation in FREEDOM).



  • A fool bolts pleasure, then complains of moral indigestion. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
  • Those who do not complain are never pitied. Jane Austen, the character Mrs. Bennett speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain—and most fools do. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • Never complain and never explain. Benjamin Disraeli, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (1903)
  • Don’t complain. The people who will listen can’t do anything about it, while the people who can do something about it won’t listen. John M. Hebert, quoted in Paul Dixon, “Getting a Handle on Life’s Slippery Truths,” The San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 24, 1992)

QUOTE NOTE: In the article, Dixon referred to the observation as: “Hebert’s First and Only Law of Complaints.”

  • Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity. Jean de La Bruyère, in Characters (1688)
  • A complaint that’s not looking for a solution is a disease not looking for a cure. Dennis Lehane, the character Brian Delacroix speaking, in Since We Fell (2017)
  • Only he has a right to complain of undeserved misfortune, that is unwilling to accept undeserved good fortune. Ivan Panin, in Thoughts (1886)
  • I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain. Jane Wagner, in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1985; line delivered by Lily Tomlin in the Broadway play)



  • A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Author Unknown, a paraphrase of a classic Samuel Butler passage (see his entry below) that went on to become a modern proverb.
  • He that complies against his will/Is of his own opinion still. Samuel Butler (1612-80), in Hudibras (1663)

QUOTE NOTE: In the later decades of the 19th century, this passage from Butler's 17th century classic was brought up to date (see the Author Unknown entry above).



  • There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity. Paul Bourget, an enigmatical word of warning contained in an anonymous letter sent to the Countess Steno, in Cosmopolis (1892)
  • Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility. P. D. James, quoted by Molly Ivins in a Dallas Times Herald column ( May 3, 1992); reprinted in Molly Ivins, Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead (1993)



  • You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity. O. A. Battista, in Quotoons: A Speaker’s Dictionary (1981)

ERROR ALERT: This observation has been commonly misattributed to Thomas Wolfe. For more on the quotation, see this 2011 QUOTE INVESTIGATOR post.

  • Compliment is taken literally only by the savage. The accuracy of compliment is not that of algebra. W. C. Brownell, in French Traits (1889)
  • There is no effect more disproportionate to its cause than the happiness bestowed by a small compliment. Robert Brault, originally written in the 1980s for The National Enquirer; later published in Brault’s The Second Collection (2015)
  • All compliments exceed the truth. Margaret Cavendish (Duchess of Newcastle), in Sociable Letters (1664; James Fitzmaurke, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: In the original edition of the book, Lady Margaret originally spelled the word complements.

  • Guard against that vanity which courts a compliment, or is fed by it. Thomas Chalmers, journal entry (May 10 1810); reprinted in Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers, Vol. I (1867; W. Hanna, ed.)
  • Compliments cost nothing, yet many pay dear for them. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Nothing is so silly as the expression of a man who is being complimented. André Gide, journal entry (Feb 13, 1906)
  • A compliment is a gift, not to be thrown away carelessly unless you want to hurt the giver. Eleanor Hamilton, quoted in a 1962 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Some folks pay a compliment like they expected a receipt. Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, in “Abe Martin” column, The San Francisco Call (Feb. 7, 1912)

QUOTE NOTE: Hubbard, through his fictional mouthpiece Abe Martin, expressed the thought in a variety of slightly different ways over the years. He was not the original author of the sentiment, though. See this 2014 post by quotation researcher Barry Popick for earlier anonymous-authored observations on the subject.

  • A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • Never let an opportunity pass to give a well-deserved compliment. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved. George MacDonald, in The Marquis of Lossie (1877)
  • Recently, while criticizing my husband for something flawed in his person, like how he laces his boots or something, I was struck by a realization. Either I am perfect or my husband enjoys the relative peace that reigns when we both pretend I am. Ammi Midstokke, a reflection after being complimented by her husband, “How to Build a Pedestal,” in Spokane, Washington’s The Spokesman-Review (Feb. 22, 2024)

QUOTE NOTE: In the article, Midstokke was talking about the importance of compliments, praise, acknowledgments, and other affirmations of our personal worth. Later in the column, she wrote:

“Which brings me to the importance of the pedestal. I am told they are topple-tippy things, a precarious risk to be stood upon. Once placed up there, the only place we can go is down. I disagree. We should be put on pedestals all the time, preferably for the most mundane things. I know this because my husband has healed a thousands wounds of my inner child by doing just that. He literally told me he was proud of me for taking a nap the other day. This is brilliant because I’m really good at taking naps. What I’m learning is that it is often these nearly microscopic acknowledgements, the tiny affirmations of our choices, the nods of empathy when we wrestle with our mistakes, that give us our sense of place, belonging, worth.”

  • This was really a compliment to be pleased with—a nice little handsome pat of butter made up by a neat-handed…dairy-maid instead of the grease fit only for cartwheels which one is dosed with by the pound. Sir Walter Scott, a diary entry (Nov. 18, 1826), referring to a compliment he had received from Fanny Burney
  • The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer. Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle,” in The Atlantic Monthly (Oct., 1863)

Thoreau continued: “I am surprised, as well as delighted, when this happens, it is such a rare use he would make of me, as if he were acquainted with the tool.” The article, which appeared after Thoreau’s death in 1862, was based on a series of lectures (titled “What Shall It Profit?”) Thoreau had delivered in previous years.

  • I can live for two months on a good compliment. Mark Twain, quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography, Vol. IV (1912; full text of Volume IV available here)

QUOTE NOTE: There is some evidence to suggest that Twain liked the metaphor, and used it on multiple occasions. For example, in a March 2, 1906 letter to sixteen-year-old Gertrude Natkin, Twain wrote: “Compliments make me vain: & when I am vain, I am insolent & overbearing. It is a pity, too, because I love compliments. I love them even when they are not so. My child, I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.”

  • Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise, and nothing is more lame than a cookie-cutter compliment. Bill Walsh, “The Case for Kudos,” in Forbes ASAP (Oct. 10, 1994)
  • Women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are. That is the difference between the two sexes. Oscar Wilde, the character Mrs. Cheveley speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)



  • The completely selfish pleasure of composition…for me surpasses the trumped-up pleasures of eating, drinking, and sex. Since I do not write to teach anybody anything, it’s a completely selfish act, but it gives me a sense of equilibrium and a reason for existence. Nothing gives me as much pleasure, when I’m doing it well, as writing. Henri Cole, answering the question “Why Write?” in Paris Review interview (Summer 2014)
  • Mornings belong to whatever is new; the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (2000)
  • Once one has achieved a relative mastery over one’s craft, the pleasures of composition are like few others: certainly none that I have known. Constructing well-made sentences, in which words and thought appear to make a seamless fit, causing the small but intense light of insight to click on, can only be compared, I should imagine, to the delight of dancing faultlessly to one’s own choreography. Joseph Epstein, “Writing on the Brain,” in Commentary magazine (April, 2004)
  • An old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: “Read over your compositions and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Samuel Johnson, an April 30, 1773 remark, quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE: Even though Johnson clearly indicated that he was passing along advice from an unnamed educator in his past, this observation is often mistakenly attributed directly to him. See the Quiller-Couch entry below for an observation that was almost certainly inspired by this 1773 remark.

  • The life of a writer, whatever he might fancy to the contrary, was not so much a state of composition, as a state of warfare. Laurence Sterne, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)
  • Make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)



  • Habit is a compromise effected between an individual and his environment. Samuel Beckett, in Proust (1931)
  • No society, certainly not a large and heterogeneous one, can fail in time to explode if it is deprived of the arts of compromise, if it knows no way of muddling through. Alexander M. Bickel, in The Least Dangerous Branch (1962)

Bickel continued: “No good society can be unprincipled; and no viable society can be principle-ridden.”

  • Compromise is the work of mature people. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. We balance inconveniences; we give and take; we remit some rights, that we may enjoy others. Edmund Burke, in speech on “Conciliation with America” (March 22, 1775)

Burke went to add: “But in all fair dealings, the thing bought must bear some proportion to the purchase paid. None will barter away the immediate jewel of his soul.”

  • Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf. G. K. Chesterton, in What’s Wrong with the World? (1910)
  • I’ve a theory that one can always get anything one wants if one will pay the price. And do you know what the price is, nine times out of ten? Compromise. Agatha Christie, the character Anthony Cade speaking, in The Secret of Chimneys (1925)

Cade went on: “A beastly thing, compromise, but it steals upon you as you near middle age. It’s stealing upon me now. To get the woman I want I’d—I’d even take up regular work.”

  • It’s the little compromises that add up to a giant bucket of suck. Lee Clow, a tweet (May 22, 2009), quoted in J. Fox, leeclowsbeard (2012)
  • Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters. Dwight Eisenhower, a 1963 remark, quoted in William Safire, Safire’s New Political Dictionary (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: The former president, three years out of office, began by saying: “People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems, excepting morals, come into the gray areas.”

  • A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has got the biggest piece. Ludwig Erhard, quoted in a 1959 issue of Look magazine (Vol. 23; specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Erhard, the former Chancellor of West Germany, may have been passing along a saying that had recently become popular.

  • I believe in friendly compromise. I said over in the Senate hearings that truth is the glue that holds government together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go. Gerald Ford, in remarks before the House Committee on the Judiciary (November 15, 1973)

QUOTE NOTE: After Vice President Spiro Agnew ignominiously resigned his office on Oct. 10, 1973, President Richard Nixon selected congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan) to succeed him. Ford’s observation came during the Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the nomination.

  • Maybe love shouldn’t be built on a foundation of compromises, but maybe it can’t exist without them either. Emily Henry, a reflection of protagonist Nora Stephens, in Book Lovers (2022)

Nora continued: “Not the kind that forces two people into shapes they don’t fit in, but the kind that loosens their grips, always leaves room to grow. Compromises that say, there will be a you-shaped space in my heart, and if your shape changes, I will adapt. No matter where we go, our love will stretch out to hold us, and that makes me feel like…like everything will be okay.”

  • A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit. George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum (1651)
  • Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. Phyllis McGinley, “Suburbia: Of Thee I Sing,” in Harper’s magazine (Dec., 1949)
  • Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof. James Russell Lowell, in speech in Birmingham, England (Oct. 6, 1884); reprinted in Democracy and Other Addresses (1886)

Lowell added: “It is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

  • Can compromise be an art?—yes, but a minor art. Joyce Carol Oates, the voice of narrator and protagonist Kelly Kelleher, in Black Water (1992)

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the thought appears in the novel. On almost all internet sites, though, it is mistakenly presented as: “Can compromise be an art? Yes—but a minor art.”

  • A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence. Or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, “Huh. It works. It makes sense.” Barack Obama, quoted in William Finnegan, “The Candidate,” The New Yorker (May 31, 2004)

QUOTE NOTE: Obama, then an Illinois state senator, concluded by saying about the political world: “That doesn’t happen often, of course, but it happens.”

  • It is never right to compromise with dishonesty. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a 1952 remark, quoted in R. N. Smith, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times (1982)



  • A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about. Douglas Adams, the voice of the narrator, in Mostly Harmless (1992)
  • Computers are like men because they have a lot of data but are still clueless. Author Unknown
  • Computers are like women because once you acquire one you spend all your money on accessories. Author Unknown
  • Buying the right computer and getting it to work properly is no more complicated than building a nuclear reactor from wristwatch parts in a darkened room using only your teeth. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry in Cyberspace (1996)
  • A computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a dangerously perfect match. Bill Bryson, in Notes From a Big Country (1998)
  • I have bought this wonderful machine—a computer. Now I am rather an authority on gods, so I identified the machine—it seems to me to be an Old Testament god with a lot of rules and no mercy. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988)

ERROR ALERT: On most internet sites, the observation is mistakenly presented as: “Computers are like the Old Testament God, lots of rules and no mercy.”

  • If the automobile had followed the same development cycle as the computer, a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100, get a million miles per gallon, and explode once a year, killing everyone inside. Robert X. Cringely, “Notes From the Field,” in InfoWorld magazine (March 6, 1989)
  • 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.)

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

  • We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on. Steve Jobs, interview in Macworld magazine (Feb., 2004)
  • The PC is the LSD of the ’90s. Timothy Leary, remark made in the early 1990s; quoted in The Guardian (London; June 1, 1996)
  • The computer is by all odds the most extraordinary of all the technological clothing ever devised by man, since it is the extension of our central nervous system. Beside it, the wheel is a mere hula-hoop, though that is not to be dismissed entirely. Marshall McLuhan, in War and Peace in the Global Village (1968; photographs by Quentin Fiore)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites present the following mistaken version of the quotation: “The computer is the most extraordinary of man’s technological clothing; it's an extension of our central nervous system.”

  • Your computer is a backup of your soul, a multilayered, menu-driven representation of who you are, who you care about, and how you sin. Michael Marshall, the protagonist Ward Hopkins reflecting on man’s relationship with computers, in The Upright Man (2004)
  • They are useless. They can only give you answers. Pablo Picasso, on computers, quoted in William Fifield, In Search of Genius (1982)

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the quotation appeared in Fifield’s book, but almost all internet sites present it this way: “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”

  • A computer repair guy is like an obstetrician: You don’t need one very often but when you need him, you really need him. Deborah Salomon, “Monitoring the Situation: PC Need TLC? Shockey Fills the Bill,” in The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC; Dec. 6, 2019)
  • With the internet, a computer is a door rather than a box. Clay Shirkey, “Clay Shirky Explains Internet Evolution,” in Slashdot.org interview (March, 13, 2001)

Shirky continued: “And the worlds it is a door into…have to do with the will and interests of the individuals using it, not with the material aspects of the object itself. We are increasingly less bounded by the choices the material culture is offering us, and increasingly expressing our humanity through immaterial choices instead.”

  • Terrified of being alone, yet afraid of intimacy, we experience widespread feelings of emptiness, of disconnection, of the unreality of self. And here the computer, a companion without emotional demands, offers a compromise. You can be a loner, but never alone. You can interact, but need never feel vulnerable to another person. Sherry Turkle, in The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984)



  • The smaller the mind, the greater the conceit. Aesop, “The Gnat and the Bull,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Never worry about what you say to a man. They're so conceited that they never believe you mean it if it's unflattering. Agatha Christie, the character Caroline Sheppard speaking, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
  • I've never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them. /George Eliot, the character Maggie Tulliver speaking, in The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Fortunate are those who recognize the divine importance of youth’s cocksureness and conceit, and yet know how, gently and appreciatively, to temper it with the riper judgment of added years. Bruce Barton, in More Power to You (1917)
  • Little men would be discouraged if they could see themselves in their true light. So conceit was sent into the world—God’s great gift to little men. Bruce Barton, in “The Gift to Little Men” (1926)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how Barton originally expressed the thought, but in a September 1958 issue of Coronet magazine, he was quoted as simply saying, “Conceit is God’s gift to little men.” This slightly altered version is how the observation is generally remembered today.



  • Heroism is the dazzling and glorious concentration of courage. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (Oct. 1, 1849)
  • If I wanted to write, I had to be willing to develop a kind of concentration found mostly in people awaiting execution. Maya Angelou, in The Heart of a Woman (1981)
  • There is no great success without concentration. Bruce Barton, in More Power to You (1917)
  • Anyone who has achieved excellence in any form knows that it comes as a result of ceaseless concentration. Louise Brooks, “The Other Face of W. C. Fields,” in Lulu in Hollywood (1982)
  • The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something. The strongest, by dispensing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind. Thomas Carlyle, in Live of Friedrich Schiller (1825)
  • Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short, in all management of human affairs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Power” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet (1972)

L’Engle preceded the thought by writing: “The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.”

  • The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline. In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet (1972)
  • Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety. Jack Nicklaus, quoted in George Allen, Strategies for Winning (1990)
  • Prayer is a concentration of positive thoughts. Peace Pilgrim, in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words (1991)
  • Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe. Adrienne Rich, quoted in Judy Grahn, The Work of a Common Woman (1978)
  • Know your aim, and live for that one thing. We have only one life. The secret of success is concentration; wherever there has been a great life, or a great work, that [concentration] has gone before. Taste everything a little, look at everything a little; but live for one thing. Olive Schreiner, the character Lyndal speaking to her friend Waldo, in The Story of an African Farm (1883; orig. published under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • Every great religion is, in truth, a concentration of great ideas, capable, as all ideas are, of infinite expansion and adaptation. Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the title character speaking, in Robert Elsmere (1888)
  • Sex gives us a glimpse or a concentration of the mind that would make us godlike if we could command it in other spheres. Colin Wilson, in The Hedonists (1970; pub. in England under the title The God of the Labyrinth)

QUOTE: This observation comes from the novel’s protagonist, who goes on to explain that human beings are like grandfather clocks that are driven by springs better suited to wrist-watches. He explains: “The body is too heavy for the tiny spring of will-power. Only in sex do we seem to develop a spring powerful enough for a grandfather clock.”


(see also CARE & CARING and FEAR and WORRY)

  • To be concerned is so much more constructive than to be worried. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)



  • There is something which makes it more agreeable to condemn ourselves than to be condemned by others. Abigail Adams, in 1764 letter to husband John
  • Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less. John Major, in an interview with Mail of Saturday (Feb. 21, 1993)
  • I am condemned to be free. Jean-Paul Sartre, in Being and Nothingness (1943)



  • Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank. Carl Friedrich Gauss, quoted in Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen, Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856)
  • To me, condescension is the most unattractive quality I know in a person. I can only look down on such people. Margaret Kendall, a lovely example of oxymoronic phrasing, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 29, 2021)
  • If…we meet a man of acknowledged mental superiority, whether generally or in his special department, it is our social duty by intelligent questioning, by an anxiety to learn from him, to force him to condescend to our ignorance, or join in our fun, till his broader sympathies are awakened, and he plays with us as if we were children. John Pentland Mahaffy, in Conversation (1896)

Mahaffy continued: “Indeed this very metaphor points out one of the very remarkable instances of social equality asserted by an inferior—I mean the outspoken freedom of the child—which possesses a peculiar charm, and often thaws the dignity or dissipates the reserve of the great man and woman whose superiority is a perpetual obstacle to them in ordinary society.”

  • I love both the way a dog looks up to me and a cat condescends to me. Gladys Taber, in Stillmeadow Daybook (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: In her 1960 novel Case Pending, Dell Shannon might have been inspired by this Taber observation when she wrote: “Nobody keeps a cat. They condescend to live with you is all.”

  • Flattery's the food of fools;/Yet now and then your men of wit/Will condescend to take a bit. Jonathan Swift, in Cadenus and Vanessa (1713)
  • Some cynical Frenchman has said that there are two parties to a love-transaction: the one who loves and the other who condescends to be so treated. William Makepeace Thackeray, the voice of the narrator, in Vanity Fair (1847-48)



  • One of the best pairings in condiment history is of pickle and egg. The aggression of the pickle and self-possession of the egg are a perfect match. Tamar Adler, in An Everlasting Meal (2011)
  • Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. Truman Capote, “Self Portrait,” in The Dogs Bark (1973)
  • Condiments are like old friends—highly thought of, but often taken for granted. Marilyn Kaytor, “Condiments: The Tastemakers,” in Look magazine (Jan. 29, 1963)
  • Even the choicest literature should be taken as the condiment, and not as the sustenance of life. It should be neither the warp nor the woof of existence, but only the flowery edging upon its borders. Horace Mann, in Thoughts: Selected From the Writings of Horace Mann (1867)
  • Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish. Henry Miller, in The Intimate Henry Miller (1939)



  • Condolence is the art of giving courage. Monica Lehner-Kahn, quoted in Leonard M. Zunin and Hilary Stanton Zunin, The Art of Condolence (1991)



  • Looks might enhance your sense of entitlement, but they do nothing to build your confidence in your ability to rule the realm. Candice Bergen, in Knock Wood (1984)
  • It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilization. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization (1969)
  • Danger breeds best on too much confidence. Pierre Corneille, in Le Cid (1636)
  • Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained. Marie Curie, quoted in Kathleen Krull, Marie Curie (2009)
  • To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • He was just naturally infectious. You could not help catching confidence off him, like a cold. Antonia Fraser, the narrator and protagonist Jemima Shore referring to her former boss, Cy Fredericks, in Quiet As a Nun (1977)
  • I think confidence comes from doing something well, working at it hard, and you build it up. It's not something you're born with. You have to build the confidence as you go along. Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Lessons of Presidential Leadership,” Academy of Achievement Interview, www.achievement.org (June 28, 1996)
  • Confidence gives a fool the advantage over a wise man. William Hazlitt, “On Manner,” in The Round Table (1817)
  • Skill and confidence are an unconquered army. George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum (1651)
  • If one burdens the future with one’s worries, it cannot grow organically. I am filled with confidence, not that I shall succeed in worldly things, but that even when things go badly for me I shall still find life good and worth living. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • Confidence is a performance enhancing drug—beneficial when warranted, potentially an extremely dangerous conceit when not. Mark Holmboe, “Letter to the Editor,” in The Rockford [Illinois] Register Star (June 19, 2016)
  • Success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, in The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance (2014)

The authors continued: “Yes, there is evidence that confidence is more important than ability when it comes to getting ahead. This came as particularly unsettling news to us, having spent our own lives striving toward competence.”

  • Whatever a man’s confidence, that's his capacity. M. E. Kerr, in Gentlehands (1978)
  • Confidence is a feeling we acquire after trying a task and succeeding at it. It is not a quality we can have before we try the task. Viki King, in How to Write a Movie in 21 Days (1988)

King continued: “Just because you lack confidence doesn’t mean you lack competence. If you don't know what you’re doing—do it. It's the best way to find out how to do it.”

  • Confidence is its own security. L. E. Landon, a reflection of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Confidence is a plant of slow growth; but how slow must its revival have been in the place whence it has once been torn up by the roots! Anna Harriette Leonowens, the voice of the narrator, in The Romance of the Harem (1872)

QUOTE NOTE: More than a century earlier, William Pitt used the same wording in his confidence metaphor, but he was writing in a different context (see his entry below). The plant of slow growth metaphor has also been applied to other concepts over the years (see George Washington in FRIENDSHIP and Thomas Cooper in KNOWLEDGE).

  • Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence. Vince Lombardi, in Coaching for Teamwork (1995)
  • Success breeds confidence. Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)
  • Competence is a great creator of confidence. Mary Jo Putney, the protagonist Kate Corsi speaking, in The Burning Point (2000)
  • No man is defeated without until he has first been defeated within. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)
  • Whatever you want to do, just do it. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself. Making a fool of yourself is absolutely essential. Gloria Steinem, in a 1987 commencement address, Tufts University
  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. Mark Twain, in letter to Mrs. Foote (Dec. 2, 1887)



  • I think it’s because good cons are all based on the victim’s need, and the successful con artist is the one, I guess, who can exploit that. I remember reading something about this, that one of the great traits of confidence tricksters is the level that they flatter their victim. Alfred Molina, in interview with Sam Adams, The A.V.Club (Oct. 29, 2009)
  • You have to keep this con even after you take his money. He can’t know you took him. Paul Newman, as the character Henry “Shaw” Gondorff, in the 1973 film The Sting (screenplay by David S. Ward)



  • Problems rarely exist at the level at which they are expressed. If you are arguing for more than ten minutes then you are probably not discussing the real conflict. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)
  • Cooperation isn’t the absence of conflict but a means of managing conflict. Deborah Tannen, in The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words (1998)



  • 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.)
  • My inner self was a house divided against itself. St. Augustine, in Confessions (5th c. A.D.)
  • No man was ever ruined from without; the final ruin comes from within, when you turn hopeless and lose courage. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913)
  • And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. The Bible—Mark 3:25 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: In an 1858 speech just before his nomination to become a U. S. Senate candidate, Abraham Lincoln famously presented the biblical passage this way: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

  • So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. The Bible—Romans 7:21-25 (NIV)
  • The adventurer is within us, and he contests for our favor with the social man we are obliged to be. These two sorts of life are incompatible; one we hanker after, the other we are obliged to. There is no other conflict so deep and bitter as this. William Bolitho, in Introduction to Twelve Against the Gods (1929)

A bit later, Bolitho wrote on the subject: “An adventure differs from a mere feat in that it is tied to the eternally unattainable. Only one end of the rope is in the hand, the other is not visible, and neither prayers, not daring, nor reason can shake it free.”

  • Some of the greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself. Garth Brooks, quoted in Ed Morris, Garth Brooks: Platinum Cowboy (1993)

Garth was thinking about his father when he made this observation. He preceded it by describing his father in a memorable oxymoronic way: “If I could wrap my Dad up in two words, it would be thundering tenderness. He’s a man with the shortest temper I ever saw, and at the same time he’s got the biggest heart.”

  • The fundamental conflict of life is The Self versus the Self. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual (1988)

Brown preceded the thought by writing: “For 99 percent of all novels, conflict is the core of the plot. Without it there is no tension and there’s no reason to turn the page. Essays are the place for gentle reflection. Novels are not.”

  • I have one head that wants to be good,/And one that wants to be bad./And always, as soon as I get up,/One of my heads is sad. John Ciardi, in the poem “Sometimes I Feel This Way,” in Vince Clemente, John Ciardi: Measure of the Man (1987)
  • When you put yourself wholeheartedly into something, energy grows. It seems inexhaustible. If, on the other hand, you are divided and conflicted about what you are doing, you create anxiety. And the amount of physical and emotional energy consumed by anxiety is exorbitant. Helen De Rosis, quoted in Joyce Brothers, The Successful Woman (1988)
  • Great art is the expression of a solution of the conflict between the demands of the world without and that within. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)
  • It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Sir Edmund Hillary,

quoted in Michael Gill, Edmund Hillary: A Biography (2019)

  • Conflicts within ourselves are an integral part of human life. Karen Horney, in Our Inner Conflicts: A Constructive Theory of Neurosis (1945)

Horney introduced the thought by writing: “Let me say to begin with: It is not neurotic to have conflict.”

  • All of the significant battles are waged within the self. Sheldon Kopp, in Even a Stone Can Be a Teacher: Learning and Growing from the Experiences of Everyday Life (1985)
  • It is well to remind ourselves that anxiety signifies a conflict, and so long as a conflict is going on, a constructive solution is possible. Rollo May, in Man’s Search for Himself (1950)
  • The most dramatic conflicts are perhaps, those that take place not between men but between a man and himself—where the arena of conflict is a solitary mind. Clark E. Moustakas, widely attributed, but so far I've been unable to find a source
  • The self holds both a hell and a heaven. Lewis Mumford, in The Conduct of Life (1951)
  • If any part of your uncertainty is a conflict between your heart and your mind—follow your mind. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • 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 human soul is hospitable, and will entertain conflicting sentiments and contradictory opinions with much impartiality. George Sand, in Romola (1862)
  • When conflicted between two choices, take neither. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010)
  • He was dizzy with conflict; he had two souls, and not to save them both could he have disentangled the soul of light from the soul of shadow. Elinor Wylie, the narrator describing Mr. Bumbolow, in The Orphan Angel (1926)



  • The price of group membership is conformity to prevailing norms. James MacGregor Burns, in Leadership (1978)
  • I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself. Rita Mae Brown, the protagonist Nicole “Nickel” Smith speaking, in Bingo (1988)
  • A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (March 22, 1839)
  • Conformity is the ape of harmony. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (May 10, 1840)
  • I would rather go to hell by choice than to stumble into Heaven by following the crowd. Benjamin E. Mays, in Born to Rebel (1971)
  • Every society honors its live conformists, and its dead troublemakers. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The suppression of inner patterns in favor of patterns created by society is dangerous to us. Anaïs Nin, a 1950 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)
  • Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. Virginia Woolf, “Montaigne,” in The Common Reader, 1st Series (1925)



  • In the greatest confusion there is still an open channel to the soul. Saul Bellow, in Foreword to Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987)

Bellow continued: “It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown, and some of the wildest thickets that surround it grow out of what we describe as our education. But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest part of ourselves.”

  • An inaccurate use of words produces such a strange confusion in all reasoning that in the heat of debate, the combatants, unable to distinguish their friends from their foes, fall promiscuously on both. Maria Edgeworth, in letter from Caroline to Julia, in Letters of Julia and Caroline (1795)

Caroline continued: “A skillful disputant knows well how to take advantage of this confusion, and sometimes endeavors to create it.”

  • Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood. Henry Miller, “On the Ovarian Trolley: An Interlude,” in Tropic of Capricorn (1939)
  • Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds. George Santayana, in Dominations and Powers (1951)
  • We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for what’s new. Margaret J. Wheatley, “Willing to Be Disturbed,” in Turning to One Another (2002)

Wheatley continued: “Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly”



  • Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. This is what it’s all about. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” a TED Talk (Jan. 3, 2011 )

Brown continued: “It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health, and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected is, neurobiologically, that’s how we’re wired, it’s why we’re here.”



  • Conquer, but never triumph. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)




  • 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)



  • A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body; it preserves constant ease and serenity within us; and more than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can befall us from without. Joseph Addison, in The Guardian (London; Aug. 15, 1713)
  • Conscience is the anticipation of the fellow who awaits you if and when you come home. Hannah Arendt, in Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully. Richard Bach, in Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977)
  • A psychologist once said that we know little about the conscience except that it is soluble in alcohol. Thomas Blackburn, opening line of “The Contemporary Dream,” in The London Review (Jan, 1959)

QUOTE NOTE: Blackburn offered the thought in an essay on the critical assessment of poetry and other artistic creations. He continued: “It is certainly true to say that we know little about the judgment of contemporary poetry except that it is highly soluble in time. There may be absolute external standards to judge the quality of petrol or detergent, but for art we have only the solitary communion of the of the individual with a particular work and its capacity to endure the acid test of time.”‬

ERROR ALERT: On many internet sites, a similar observation is mistakenly attributed to English critic and writer John Mortimer: ‬”We don’t know much about the human conscience, except that it is soluble in alcohol.”

  • Conscience is thoroughly well-bred and soon leaves off talking to those who do not wish to hear it. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping. Nicolas Caussin, quoted in Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)

QUOTE NOTE: Caussin, a French Jesuit scholar, was the author of a five-volume collection of religious stories and moral lessons titled The Holy Court (c. 1620-40), many portions of which were translated into English and presented in English folios in the 1640s.

  • Conscience is a dog that does not stop us from passing but that we cannot prevent from barking. Nicolas de Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • Conscience is the most changeable of guides. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)

A moment later, Vauvenargues wrote: “Conscience is imperious in the strong, timid in the weak and the unhappy, restless in the undecided. It is a faculty which obeys our dominant feelings and ruling opinions.”

  • 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)
  • O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter a sting to thee is a little fault! Dante Alighieri, “Purgatory,” in The Divine Comedy (1310–21)
  • In many walks of life, a conscience is a more expensive encumbrance than a wife or a carriage. Thomas de Quincey, “Preliminary Confessions,” in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822)
  • The fact that human conscience remains partially infantile throughout life is the core of human tragedy. Erik H. Erikson, in Childhood and Society (1950)
  • The paradoxical—and tragic—situation of man is that his conscience is weakest when he needs it most. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself (1947)
  • A poor man defended himself when charged with stealing food to appease the cravings of hunger, saying, the cries of the stomach silenced those of the conscience. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions. Lillian Hellman, in letter to John S. Wood (May 19, 1952), quoted in The Nation (May 31, 1952)

QUOTE NOTE: At the time, congressman Wood was chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Hellman’s letter was a formal refusal to testify against colleagues who had been accused of affiliations with the Communist Party. Hellman preceded her famous conscience-cutting remark with the words: “To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable.”

  • Conscience is God present in man. Victor Hugo, in Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (1907; Lorenzo O’Rourke, trans. & ed.)
  • The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Conscience: self-esteem with a halo. Irving Layton, “Aphs,” in The Whole Bloody Bird (1969)
  • Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. Harper Lee, Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. H. L. Mencken, “Sententiae,” in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1914)
  • It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball,/And that is to have either a clear conscience, or none at all. Ogden Nash, “Inter-Office Memorandum,” in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1938)
  • Each man’s soul is a menagerie where Conscience, the animal-tamer, lives with a collection of wild beasts. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Men never do evil so fully and cheerfully as when we do it out of conscience. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • There comes a point when a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his own conscience. Hartley Shawcross, in opening remarks at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal (Nov. 19, 1945)

QUOTE NOTE: Shawcross was the lead British prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

  • The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake. Germaine de Staël, in De L’Allemagne (1813)
  • Trust that man in nothing who has not a conscience in everything. Laurence Sterne, a reflection of the title character, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)
  • Conscience is a man’s compass, and though the needle sometimes deviates, though one often perceives irregularities in directing one’s course after it, still one must try to follow its direction. Vincent van Gogh, in letter to brother Theo (specific date not determined); in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh to His Brother, 1872–1886 (1927; Vincent Willem Gogh, ed.)
  • Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. George Washington, a “Rule of Civility” that guided his life; quoted in Charles Moore, George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation (1926).

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation should be properly attributed to “Author Unknown,” but it is because of Washington that we are aware of its existence. Sometime before his sixteenth birthday, Virginia schoolboy George Washington completed a penmanship exercise in which he hand copied a list of 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” The list was originally prepared by French Jesuits around 1595 and first published in English in 1640. The Rules, which became popular in the education of young aristocrats, found their way to America in the early 1700s, and ultimately into the hands of Washington’s schoolmaster. For more, including a view of the 110 maxims in Washington’s original teenage handwriting, see Washington’s “Rules of Civility”.

  • A conscience which has been bought once will be bought twice. Norman Wiener, in The Human Use of Human Beings (1954)
  • A guilty conscience is the mother of invention. Carolyn Wells, altering the proverbial saying about necessity, in “Maxioms,” Folly for the Wise (1904)



  • Neither knowledge nor diligence can create a great chef. Of what use is conscientiousness as a substitute for inspiration? Colette, in Prisons et paradis (1932)
  • Sincerity is the indispensable ground of all conscientiousness, and, by natural consequence, of all heartfelt religion. Immanuel Kant, quoted in Edwin Davis, Holy Thoughts on Holy Things (1882)
  • Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Modesty and conscientiousness receive their reward only in novels. In life they are exploited and then shoved aside. Erich Maria Remarque, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Robert Lohkamp, in Three Comrades: A Novel (1936)



  • War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. John F. Kennedy, quoted in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1979)



  • Consensus is the negation of leadership. Margaret Thatcher, quoted in Reader’s Digest (Jan., 1995); originally reported in a 1993 issue of The Globe (London)

QUOTE NOTE: In his 2005 biography Margaret Thatcher, Iain Dale quoted Thatcher as saying about herself: “I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician.”

  • To me consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. Margaret Thatcher, reprising a line from a 1981 speech at Monach University, in Downing Street Years (1993)

Thatcher continued: “What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?”



  • Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)
  • Their mothers had finally caught up to them and been proven right. There were consequences after all; but they were the consequences to things you didn’t even know you’d done. Margaret Atwood, “The Age of Lead,” in Wilderness Tips (1991)
  • Oh, if at every moment of our lives we could know the consequences of some of the utterings, thoughts and deeds that seem so trivial and unimportant at the time! And should we not conclude from such examples that there is no such thing in life as unimportant moments devoid of meaning for the future? Isabelle Eberhardt, a 1901 diary entry, in The Passionate Nomad: The Diary of Isabelle Eberhardt (1988; Nina de Voogd, trans.)
  • Consequences are unpitying. George Eliot, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • There is a law of retribution in all things, direct or indirect, visible or invisible. Miles Franklin, in Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909)
  • You must make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation. T. H. Huxley, in letter to Anton Dohrn (Oct. 17, 1873)
  • We must do more thinking up front if we are not to be…surprised and shocked by the consequences of our inventions. William N. “Bill” Joy, in “Why the Future Doesn't Need Us,” in Wired magazine April, 2000)
  • The only thing one can learn from history is that actions have consequences and that certain actions and certain choices once made are irretrievable. Gerda Lerner, in Why History Matters: Life and Thought (1997)
  • Life has a strange way of making us pay for our blunders in the exact coinage we misspent. Kathleen T. Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • There’s only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. P. J. O’Rourke, “The Liberty Manifesto,” a speech delivered at the opening of The Cato Institute’s new Washington, DC headquarters (May 6, 1993)
  • Death cancels our engagements, but it does not affect the consequences of our acts in life. Katherine Anne Porter, a 1932 observation, quoted in Isabel Bayley, Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990)
  • One of the persistent ironies of reform is the impossibility of predicting the full consequences of change. Diane Ravitch, in The Great School Wars (1974)
  • If people will bring dynamite into a powder factory, they must expect explosions. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Gaudy Night (1935)
  • Parenting is an exercise in unintended consequences. Stacy Schiff, quoted in a 2011 issue of Newsweek (specific issue undetermined)
  • The ends and means are a seamless web. Gloria Steinem, in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • It must be the ultimate punishment, don't you think, to finally gain wisdom, only to realize that the consequences of your actions are irrevocable? Lisa Unger, in Beautiful Lies (2006)
  • I think that’s the moment when we all grow up, when we stop blaming our parents for the messes we’ve made out of our lives and start owning the consequences of our actions. Lisa Unger, in Sliver of Truth (2007)
  • We must love all facts, not for their consequences, but because in each fact God is there present. Simone Weil, in The Notebooks of Simone Weil (1951)
  • Too great a preoccupation with motives (especially one’s own motives) is liable to lead to too little concern for consequences. Katharine Whitehorn, in Roundabout (1962)
  • With every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in “You Never Can Tell,” in Custer (1896)



  • Nature is a tenacious recycler, every dung heap and fallen redwood tree a bustling community of saprophytes wresting life from the dead and discarded, as though intuitively aware that there is nothing new under the sun. Throughout the physical world, from the cosmic to the subatomic, the same refrain resounds. Conservation: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. Natalie Angier, in The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (2007)
  • The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth—soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics. Rachel Carson, in 1953 letter to the Washington Post; reprinted in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson (1999; Linda Lear, ed.)
  • Conservation means that you have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is vital not only for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself—a point that seems to escape many people. Gerald Durrell, in Two in the Bush (1966)

Durrell preceded the thought by writing: “You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it.”

  • Strange to say, conservation of land and conservation of people frequently go hand in hand. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Day, Vol. 1 (1989)



  • It is well known that the most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution. Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience,” in Crises of the Republic (1972)
  • There is a strong conservative instinct in the average man or woman, born of the hereditary fear of life, that prompts them to cling to old standards, or, if too intelligent to look inhospitably upon progress, to move very slowly. Gertrude Atherton, in The Living Present (1917)

Atherton continued: “Both types are the brakes and wheelhorses necessary to a stable civilization, but history, even current history in the newspapers, would be dull reading if there were no adventurous spirits willing to do battle for new ideas.”

  • A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying, which has been around since the 1960s, was soon followed by a counter-observation: “A liberal is a conservative who's been arrested.”

  • When a nation’s young men are conservatives, its funeral bell is already rung. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Big government is not the answer, but the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference. It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism. George H. W. Bush, in speech at Republican National Convention (Aug. 8, 2000)
  • Most conservatives also believe in the death penalty, but not abortion, which proves they like to procrastinate. Margaret Cho, in I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight (2005)
  • A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy. Benjamin Disraeli, in “Agricultural Distress” speech (March 17, 1845)
  • The conservatives nearly always tolerate the demagogues while he is destroying liberals. Harry Golden, in Only in America (1958)
  • If repetition and rigidity are the dark side of the conservative coin, loyalty and stability are its bright side. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)

Groch introduced the thought by writing: “The development of society and culture depends upon a changing balance, maintained between those who innovate and those who conserve the status quo. Relentless, unchecked, and untested innovation would be a nightmare.”

  • Thinking about profound social change, conservatives always expect disaster, while revolutionaries confidently anticipate utopia. Both are wrong. Carolyn Heilbrun, in Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1973)
  • What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried. Abraham Lincoln, in a speech (Feb. 27, 1860)
  • Conservatives are always with us, they have been opposing change ever since the days of the cave-man. But, fortunately for mankind, they agitate in vain. Amy Lowell, in Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1917)
  • Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in the society is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)

“Nothing gets conservatives more excited or frothing at the mouth quicker than what's going on in other folks' bedrooms.”

  • A conservative is a man who has plenty of money and doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t always have plenty of money. Will Rogers, quoted in Alex Ayres, The Wit and Wisdom of Will Rogers (1993)

About people on the other side of the American political spectrum, Rogers went on to add: “A Democrat is a fellow who never had any money but doesn’t see why he shouldn’t have some money.”

  • A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a radio address (Oct. 26, 1939)
  • Conservative: One who admires radicals a century after they’re dead. Leo C. Rosten, quoted in Ralph Louis Woods, The Modern Handbook of Humor (1967)
  • Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in The Woman’s Bible (1895)
  • Women tend to be conservative in youth and get more radical as they get older because they lose power with age. So, if a young woman is not a feminist, I say, just wait. Gloria Steinem, quoted in a 2004 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific date undetermined)



  • Real strength entails being considerate and supportive of people’s feelings. Mary Kay Ash, in You Can Have It All (1995)
  • It is the function of justice not to do wrong to one’s fellow men; of considerateness, not to wound their feelings. Marcus Tulles Cicero in De Offices (1st c. B.C.)
  • To be civilized is to be incapable of giving unnecessary offense, it is to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our path. Agnes Repplier, “A Question of Politeness,” in Americans and Others (1912)


(see also CHANGE and STABILITY)

  • The dense and godly wear consistency as a flower, the imaginative fling it joyfully behind them. Stella Benson, in I Pose (1915)
  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers, and divines. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)



  • The arc of conspiracy is short and bends toward the Jews. Yair Rosenberg, “The Most Shocking Aspect of RFK Jr.’s Anti-Semitism,” in The Atlantic (July 16, 2023)

Here, Rosenberg cleverly tweaks Theodore Parker's famous observation about “the arc of the moral universe” to suggest that conspiracy theories are commonly based in or closely associated with anti-semitism. His full observation was: “Kennedy is a conspiracy theorist, and the arc of conspiracy is short and bends toward the Jews.”



  • I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag. Craig Washington, quoted by Molly Ivins in her regular column in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram (June 29, 1997)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Ivins, Washington was a Texas state representative who made the remark on the floor of the Texas Senate (no date was provided). Many internet sites mistakenly cite Ivins as the author of the sentiment.



  • Consumerism is what physical lust is really about. Carole Stewart McDonnell, “Oreo Blues,” an essay in Patricia Bell-Scott (ed.), Life Notes: Personal Writings by Contemporary Black Women (1994)



  • There are two kinds of reading, reading which is contemplation—even a kind of vision & reading for information. Mary Butts, a 1921 entry, in The Journals of Mary Butts (2002; Nathalie Blondel, ed.)

In her entry, Butts continued: “For the first only the best will do, for the rest—then one can let in anything one would like to read in the world.”

  • Contemplation, you see, is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us as well face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done. Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (2006)
  • There is nothing so depressing as a constant contemplation of one’s self, and the greatest moral cowardice in the world’s opinion comes from consulting one’s own personal convenience. Marie Corelli, quoted in T. F.G. Coates and R.S. W Bell, Marie Corelli (1903)
  • Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing. Dodie Smith, in I Capture the Castle (1948)
  • One way to confront the self is through analysis. One way to approach God is through prayerful contemplation. I am not so sure that in their essentials these two ways are so fundamentally different. June Singer, in Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology (1972)
  • God deliver me from people who are so spiritual that they want to turn everything into perfect contemplation, come what may. St. Teresa of Avila, “Judgment” (1577); in E. Allison Peers, The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Jesus (1946)
  • The feeding of those that are hungry is a form of contemplation. Simone Weil, in The Notebooks of Simone Weil (1951)



  • Contented creatures don’t feel driven to change their lives, as they often must to survive in a changing environment. Diane Ackerman, in A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis (1997)
  • Better is a little with contentment than great Treasure; and trouble therewith. Abigail Adams, in a 1790 letter to Mary Smith Cranch; reprinted in New Letters of Abigail Adams: 1788-1801 (1973; Mary Smith Cranch, ed.)
  • 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)
  • Happy the man, of mortals happiest he,/Whose quiet mind from vain desires is free;/Whom neither hopes deceive, nor fears torment,/But lives at peace, within himself content;/In thought, or act, accountable to none/ But to himself, and to the gods alone. George Granville, in Epistle to Mrs. Higgons (1690)
  • Contentment is, after all, simply refined indolence. Thomas Chandler Haliburton, widely quoted, but not yet verified or authenticated
  • If you are foolish enough to be contented, don’t show it, but grumble with the rest. Jerome K. Jerome, “On Getting On In the World,” in The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1889)
  • He who is content with what has been done is an obstacle in the path of progress. Helen Keller, “Our Duties to the Blind,” a 1904 speech in Boston; reprinted in Out of the Dark: Essays, Lectures, and Addresses (1907)
  • Total contentment is only for cows. Bette Midler, in The Saga of Baby Divine (1983)
  • If thou covetest riches, ask not but for contentment, which is an immense treasure. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • All fortune belongs to him who has a contented mind. The Panchatantra (5th c. B.C.)
  • If you are content, you have enough to live comfortably. Titus Maccius Plautus, in Aulularia (3rd c. B.C.)
  • He that commends me to mine own content/Commends me to the thing I cannot get. William Shakespeare, the character Antipholus of Syracuse speaking, in The Comedy of Errors (c. 1595)
  • For mine own part, I could be well content/To entertain the lag-end of my life/With quiet hours. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597)
  • Poor and content is rich, and rich enough. William Shakespeare, Iago, speaking to Othello, in Othello (1602–04)
  • Our content/Is our best having. William Shakespeare, in Henry VIII (c. 1613)
  • The noblest mind the best contentment has. Edmund Spenser, in The Faerie Queene (1589-96)
  • An elegant Sufficiency, Content,/Retirement, rural Quiet, Friendship, Books,/Ease and alternate Labor, useful Life,/Progressive Virtue, and approving Heaven! James Thomson, in The Seasons, Spring (1728)
  • Contentment is the result of a limited imagination. Carolyn Wells, “Wiseacreage,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • Content is not the pathway to great deeds. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Choosing of Esther,” in Poems of Progress (1909)
  • Contentment comes when sought,/While Happiness pursued was never caught. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Content and Happiness,” in Yesterdays (1910)



  • I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worthwhile. George Bernard Shaw, the character Lubin speaking, in Back to Methuselah (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is almost always presented, but it was originally the conclusion of a larger remark Lubin made to another character: “Life is a disease; and the only difference between one man and another is the stage of the disease at which he lives. You are always at the crisis; I am always in the convalescent stage. I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.”



  • Love and the union of love is impossible without conversation. Mortimer J. Adler, “How to Think About Love” (interview with Lloyd Luckman), in How to Think About the Great Ideas, Vol. I (2000; Max Eastman, ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present an abridged version of the thought: “Love without conversation is impossible.”

Adler continued: “Each of us is alone. Each of us is quite lonely. Without the communication of love, without the conversations, the heart-to-heart talks, which are love’s way of achieving union, each of us would be as isolated, as shut out from one another as animals are, even when they are herding together physically, most closely. Only the communion of love produced by the conversations of lovers overcomes our human aloneness or loneliness.”

  • Debate is masculine; conversation is feminine. A. Bronson Alcott, “Conversation,” in Concord Days (1872)
  • Someone has said that conversation is sex for the soul. Isabel Allende, in Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998)
  • 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.

  • Editing is a conversation, not a monologue. Susan Bell, in The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself (2007)
  • He never spares himself in conversation. He gives himself so generously that hardly anybody else is permitted to give anything in his presence. Aneurin Bevan, on Winston Churchill, quoted in L. M. Shilling & L. K. Fuller, Dictionary of Quotations in Communications (1997)
  • Conversation, n. A fair for the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A self-taught conversationalist, his style with new acquaintances had the immediate warmth of an investigative journalist tracking down discrepancies in a municipal budget. Mary Kay Blakely, in Wake Me When It’s Over (1989)
  • A good conversationalist is not one who remembers what was said, but says what someone wants to remember. John Mason Brown, quoted in a 1984 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, in The Student (1835)
  • Conversations are like those trips we take on the water; we set sail almost without noticing it, and we do not realize that we have left the land until we are already far from it. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • Conversation is the music of the mind, an intellectual orchestra, where all the instruments should bear a part, but where none should play together. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

Colton added: “Each of the performers should have a just appreciation of his own powers, otherwise an unskillful novice, who might usurp the first fiddle, would infallibly get into a scrape. To prevent these mistakes, a good master of the band will be very particular in the assortment of the performers, if too dissimilar, there will be no harmony, if too few, there will be no variety, and if too numerous, there will be no order.”

  • Conversation…is the art of never appearing a bore, of knowing how to say everything interestingly, to entertain with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all. Guy de Maupassant, in Sur l’Eau (On the Water) (1888)
  • A voyage without companionship, that is to say without conversation, is one of the saddest pleasures of life. Germaine de Staël, quoted in Margaret Goldsmith, Madame de Staël (1938)
  • Content isn’t king. Conversation is. Cory Doctorow, in Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (2014)
  • At its scintillating best, conversation is a social game in which all can join, and at which all can score. It is a game that requires neither courts, links, nor other equipment. It is always in season, and will be popular as long as civilization itself endures. Lillian Eichler, in The Book of Conversation, Vol. 1 (1927)

In her book, Eichler also offered a number of other memorable observations on the subject:

“There is no reason why any one of us cannot become a good conversationalist.”

“All worthwhile conversation is based upon equality. Only those of poor taste and judgment try to prove themselves wittier or cleverer than others.”

“No one can become a good conversationalist without tact. It is the sensitive touch that recognizes when a subject has become distasteful, which sees the eagerness of someone else to say something, which notes the slightest cloud of expression crossing another's face.”

  • It is almost axiomatic that the best conversationalist is really the best listener. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • There is no arena in which vanity displays itself under such a variety of forms as in conversation. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Conversation is like a dance, taking turns, following and leading. Loren Ekroth, “Four Secrets of Learning Masterful Conversation,” in Better Conversations e-newsletter (March 27, 2013)
  • The art of conversation, or the qualifications for a good companion, is a certain self-control, which now holds the subject, now lets it go, with a respect for the emergencies of the moment. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1854 journal entry, in Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820–1872, Vol III (1876)
  • Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for his competitors, for it is that which they are practicing every day while they live. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • The best of life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • How time flies when you’s doin’ all the talking. Harvey Fierstein, a reflection of protagonist Arnold Beckoff, in Torch Song Trilogy (1979)
  • In conversation and prayer, say less and listen more. Leonard Roy Frank, a Tweet (Nov. 17, 2012)
  • Conversation is the legs on which thought walks; and writing, the wings by which it flies. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • One is always wrong to open a conversation with the devil, for, however he goes about it, he always insists upon having the last word. André Gide, journal entry (March 12, 1917); in Journals, 1914–17 (1948)
  • In conversation, discretion is more importance than eloquence. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • She had the habit into which your poor conversationalists usually fall, namely, asking questions. I know nothing more disagreeable that does not absolutely shock one's principles, than to be subjected to the society of a questioner. Sarah Josepha Hale, in Sketches of American Character (1829)
  • Silence is one great art of conversation. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)

QUOTE NOTE: Hazlitt, who was clearly inspired by an observation made a half century earlier by Hannah More (see below), continued: “He is not a fool who knows when to hold his tongue; and a person may gain credit for sense, eloquence, wit, who merely says nothing.”

  • The soul of conversation is sympathy. William Hazlitt, “On the Conversation of Authors,” in The Plain Speaker (1826)
  • Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence. O. Henry, “The Complete Life of John Hopkins,” in The Voice of the City: Further Voices of the Four Million (1908)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation appears in almost all collections, and it is technically okay to present it this way. But in Henry’s short story, the narrator presented it not as a conversation recommendation, but as a description of the title character: “John Hopkins sought to inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.”

  • The perfection of conversational intercourse is when the breeding of high life is animated by the fervor of genius. Leigh Hunt, in Table-Talk (1851)
  • If you are ever at a loss to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating. Leigh Hunt, in Table-Talk (1851)
  • A gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself. Lisa Kirk, quoted in a 1954 issue of The New York Journal-American (specific issue undetermined)
  • Mrs. Litcher conducted a monologue with the skill of a veteran conversationalist ably equipped to anticipate and fend off all interruptions. Josephine Lawrence, the voice of the narrator, in Let Us Consider One Another (1945)
  • polite conversation is rarely either. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • The conversational overachiever is someone whose grasp exceeds his reach. This is possible but not attractive. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz, “People,” in Social Studies (1981)
  • Conversation is like a dear little baby that is brought in to be handed around. You must rock it, nurse it, keep it on the move if you want to keep smiling. Katherine Mansfield, the voice of the narrator, from the title story, in The Dove’s Nest (1923)
  • Life is a conversation. Interestingly, the most influential person we talk with all day is ourself, and what we tell ourself has a direct bearing on our behavior, our performance, and our influence on others. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, Rewards (rev. ed. 2012)
  • In married conversation, as in surgery, the knife must be used with care. André Maurois, quoted in “Quotable Quotes,” Reader’s Digest (April, 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Reader’s Digest said the attribution to Maurois appeared in an article by Frances Rodman in The New York Times magazine, but provided no specific citation. I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the observation, but have so far been unable to find it in any of Maurois’s published works.

  • Have you ever noticed that most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness? Margaret Millar, from a character in The Weak-Eyed Bat (1942)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly attribute a very similar observation to Mark Twain, but he never said or wrote anything like it. For a metaphorical observation he did make on the subject, see the Twain entry below.

  • There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in a 1747 letter, reprinted in The Best Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1901; Octave Thanet, ed.)
  • Silence is one of the great arts of conversation. Hannah More, “Thoughts on Conversation,” in Essays on Various Subjects (1777)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering her thought, More was inspired by an observation from Cicero. Here’s her complete observation: “That silence is one of the great arts of conversation, is allowed by Cicero himself, who says, there is not only an art but an eloquence in it.” For a thought that was clearly inspired by More, see the William Hazlitt entry above.

  • The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. Dorothy Nevill, in Under Five Reigns (1910)
  • Question and answer is not a civilized form of conversation. Patrick O’Brian, the character Dr. Maturin speaking, in Clarissa Oakes (1992; published in America as The Truelove)
  • The more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation. Plato, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.)
  • Wit in conversation is only a readiness of thought and a facility of expression, or (in the midwives’ phrase) a quick conception, and an easy delivery. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)
  • Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory. Emily Post, in Etiquette (1922)
  • Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food, and few things in the world are more wearying than a sarcastic attitude towards life. Agnes Repplier, “Wit and Humor,” in Essays in Idleness (1893)
  • It is not what we learn in conversation that enriches us. It is the elation that comes of swift contact with the tingling currents of thought. Agnes Repplier, “The Luxury of Conversation,” in Compromises (1904)

Repplier continued: “It is the opening of our mental pores, and the stimulus of marshaling our ideas in words, of setting them forth as gallantly and as graciously as we can.”

  • Good listeners are perceived as good conversationalists. Susan RoAne, in What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success (1997)
  • Whoever interrupts the conversation of others to make a display of his own fund of knowledge, makes notorious his own stock of ignorance. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes. Robert Louis Stevenson, in “Talk and Talkers” (1882); reprinted in Memories and Portraits (1887)
  • Argument, as usually managed, is the worst sort of conversation; as it is generally in books the worst sort of reading. Jonathan Swift, “Hints on Good Manners,” in A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding (1754; published posthumously)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, the first portion of this observation is mistakenly presented: “Argument is the worst sort of conversation.”

  • Each person’s life is lived as a series of conversations. Deborah Tannen, the opening line of You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation (1990)
  • All conversations are but debates. Mark Twain, in letter to Clara Spalding (Aug. 20, 1886)
  • Sex is a conversation carried out by other means. Peter Ustinov, quoted in Wendy Leigh, Speaking Frankly (1978)

Ustinov added: “If you get on well out of bed, half the problems of bed are solved.” The by other means portion of the remark is an allusion to a famous observation from the legendary Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz, which may be found in WAR.

  • Modest egotism is the salt of conversation; you do not want too much of it, but if it is altogether omitted, everything tastes flat. Henry Van Dyke, quoted in Edwin Mims, The Van Dyke Book (1905)
  • Lettuce is like conversation: it must be fresh and crisp, and so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it. Charles Dudley Warner, in My Summer in a Garden (1870)
  • Conversation should be like juggling; up go the balls and the plates, up and over, in and out, good solid objects that glitter in the footlights and fall with a bang if you miss them. Evelyn Waugh, the character Anthony Blanche speaking, in Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  • There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all. Rebecca West, the voice of the narrator in “There is No Conversation,” a novella in The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels (1935)
  • She wanted to get away from herself, and conversation was the only means of escape that she knew. Edith Wharton, the narrator describing the character Lily Bart, in The House of Mirth (1905)
  • Ah, good conversation—there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing. Edith Wharton, the character Newland Archer speaking, in The Age of Innocence (1920)
  • Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change—personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. Margaret J. Wheatley, in Turning to One Another (2002)

Wheatley continued: “If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive. We share what we see, what we feel, and we listen to what others see and feel.”

  • Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or friendship, is conversation. Oscar Wilde, “Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis,” in De Profundis (1897)
  • After all, the only proper intoxication is conversation. Oscar Wilde, in letter to Robert Ross (May, 1898)
  • CONVERSATION is the vehicle for change. We test our ideas. We hear our own voice in concert with another. And inside those pauses of listening, we approach new territories of thought. Terry Tempest Williams, in When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice (2012)



  • A conversion is a lonely experience. Dorothy Day, in From Union Square to Rome (1938)
  • We should not think of conversion as the acceptance of a particular creed, but as a change of heart. Helen Keller, in My Religion (1927)
  • Conversion for me was not a Damascus road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition had always known. Madeleine L’Engle, from 1978 interview with Cheryl Forbes, in Christianity Today (June 1979); reprinted in Jackie C. Horne, Conversations with Madeleine L’Engle (2018)
  • Falling in love is like religious conversion. It goes on for a long time below the threshold before it reaches consciousness.

Helen McCloy, the character susan speaking, in A Question of Time (1971)

  • You have not converted a man because you have silenced him. John Morley, “Realization of Opinion,” in On Compromise (1874)
  • A great novel is a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed. Katherine Paterson, in Gates of Excellence (1981)
  • Once divested of missionary virus, the cult of our gods gives no offense. It would be a peaceful age if this were recognized, and religion, Christian, communist or any other, were to rely on practice and not on conversion for her growth.

Freya Stark, in Ionia: A Quest (1954)



  • Convictions no doubt have to be modified or expanded to meet changing conditions but…to be a reliable political leader sooner or later your anchors must hold fast where other men’s drag. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously. Nicholas Murray Butler, quoted in Laurence J. Peter, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time (1977)
  • Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Winston Churchill, in speech at Harrow School, Harrow, England (Oct. 29, 1941)
  • It is easy enough to praise men for the courage of their convictions. I wish I could teach the sad young of this mealy generation the courage of their confusions. John Ciardi, in Saturday Review (June 2, 1962)
  • He who believes is strong. he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions. James Freeman Clarke, “Salvation by Faith,” in Common-Sense in Religion: A Series of Essays (1875)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly attributed to Louisa May Alcott:

QUOTE NOTE: Clarke was a prominent Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and early exponent of what went on to be called the Social Gospel. He continued: “The man strongly possessed of an idea is the master of all who are uncertain and wavering. Clear, deep, living convictions rule the world.”

  • Men who have lost their conviction of what is good and what is bad find themselves without a sextant to check their position by. John Dos Passos, in The Prospect Before Us (1950)

Dos Passos added: “We are in the position of a man with an elaborate camping kit who finds himself lost in the woods without his matches; to kindle a fire he has to resort to the stratagems of the caveman. We fall back through generations into the oldest terrors and confusions of the race.”

  • It is your own conviction which compels you; that is, choice compels choice. Epictetus, in Discourses (2nd c. B.C.)
  • At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” in The Saturday Evening Post (May, 1920); reprinted in Flappers and Philosophers (1920)
  • People in those old times had convictions; we moderns only have opinions. And it needs more than a mere opinion to erect a Gothic cathedral. Heinrich Heine, in The French Stage (1837)
  • Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty. Nelson Mandela, in Long Walk to Freedom (1994)

Mandela preceded the observation by writing: “The human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one’s spirits strong even when one’s body is being tested.”

  • Ah, snug lies those that slumber/Beneath Conviction’s roof. Phyllis McGinley, “Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint,” in A Pocketful of Wry (1940)

McGinley’s poem continued: “Their floors are sturdy lumber,/Their windows weatherproof./But I sleep cold forever/And cold sleep all my kind,/For I was born to shiver/In the draft of an open mind.”

  • Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human, Vol. I (1878)
  • Mix a conviction with a man and something happens. Adam Clayton Powell, in Keep the Faith, Baby (1967)
  • Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. Thomas Szasz, “Mental Illness,” in The Second Sin (1973)

Szasz continued: “The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.”

  • A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures. Daniel Webster, quoted in The Banker’s Magazine (Nov., 1887)

QUOTATION CAUTION: An original source for this quotation has not been found. William Graham Sumner popularized the observation in a 1921 book, The Challenge of Facts (1921), asserting that the observation came early in Webster’s career.

  • 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.



  • I have always felt cookbooks were fiction and the most beautiful words in the English language were “room service.” Erma Bombeck, in The Best of Bombeck (1967)
  • I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself “Well, that’s not going to happen.” Rita Rudner, from her stand-up routine



  • When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do. Tamar Adler, in An Everlasting Meal (2011)

Adler went on to say: “We feel, when we exert tiny bits of our human preference in the universe, more alive.”

  • Cooking can be like foreplay. Isabel Allende, in a 1999 issue of Writer’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Cooking is an art and its appreciation, therefore, is governed by the law which applies to all artistic appreciation. Those who have been subjected too long and too exclusively to bad cooking become incapable of recognizing good cooking if and when they encounter it. W. H. Auden, in Introduction to M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating (1963)
  • The very common error of young or unconfident cooks is to keep putting more of their own personal ideology into a plate until there’s so much noise that you really can’t even hear a tune. You can say more in an empty space than you can in a crowded one. Mario Batali, “Life's Work,” in Harvard Business Review (May 2010)
  • I have always felt cookbooks were fiction and the most beautiful words in the English language were “room service.” Erma Bombeck, in The Best of Bombeck (1967)
  • The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in The Physiology of Taste (1825)
  • Cooking should never be frantic or angry or rushed because the most important ingredient is the spirit. Alice May Brock, in Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook (1969)
  • I adore to cook. It makes me feel so mindless in a worthwhile way. Truman Capote, the character Grady McNeil speaking, in Summer Crossing: A Novel (begun in 1943 and worked on for more than a decade before it was set aside; posthumously published in 2005)
  • Not on morality, but on cookery, let us build our stronghold: there, brandishing our frying-pan…let us offer sweet incense to the devil, and live at ease on the fat things he has provided for his elect! Thomas Carlyle, the character Teufelsdrockh speaking, in Sartor Resartus (1833-34)
  • Certainly one of the important requirements for learning how to cook is that you also learn how to eat. Julia Child, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961)
  • Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet. Julia Child, in Julia Child & More Company (1979)

QUOTE NOTE: This was something of a signature saying for Child, and she had been offering variations of it for many years in interviews before she finally put this version into her 1979 book.

  • In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport. Julia Child, quoted in The New York Times (Nov. 26, 1986)
  • Cooking may be a creative art, but it’s also a wonderful full-time hobby. Julia Child, quoted in Cork Millner, Portraits (1994)

In the profile, Millner also quoted Child as saying:

“Remember, you are all alone in the kitchen and no one can see you.”

“The more experience you have, the more interesting cooking is because you know what can happen to the food. In the beginning you can look at a chicken and it doesn’t mean much, but once you have done some cooking you can see in that chicken a parade of things you will be able to create.”

  • Neither knowledge nor diligence can create a great chef. Of what use is conscientiousness as a substitute for inspiration? Colette, in Prisons et paradis (1932)
  • No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers. Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking (1988)
  • Cookbooks, I found, are intended for people with time to cook—and, surprisingly often, for people who already know how to cook. Jo Coudert, in The I Never Cooked Before Cookbook (1963)
  • Piecrust is like a wild animal; when it sees fear in the eyes of its tamer it goes out of control. Marcelene Cox, in a 1947 article in Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Cooking is revelation and creation; and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake or a flaky pastry, for not every one can do it: one must have the gift. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • Cooking is like poetry, a combination of ingredients, ideas and concepts in no particular order. If your creativity is influenced by what you’ve read, eaten or seen cooked, then it’s a good thing, something to be applauded. Philip Dundas, in Cooking Without Recipes (2011)
  • You know why you cook? Because/you like control. A person who cooks is a person who likes/to create debt. Louise Glück, “Void,” in Meadowlands (1996)
  • To cook, and to do it well, every talent must be used; the strength of a prize-fighter, the imagination of a poet, the brain of an empire builder, the patience of Job, the eye and the touch of an artist, and, to turn your mistakes into edible assets, the cleverness of a politician. Anne Ellis, IN Plain Anne Ellis (1931)
  • Cooking may be as much a means of self-expression as any of the arts. Fannie Farmer, in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896)
  • Cooks must feed their egos as well as their customers. M. F. K. Fisher, in a letter to Julia Child (Oct. 4, 1968); reprinted in M .F. K. Fisher: A Life in Letters (1997; N. Barr, M. Moran, and P. Moran, eds.)
  • A chef without an ego is like a soufflé without air. It will never rise to the occasion. Christiane Heggan, the protagonist Abbie DiAngelo speaking, in Deadly Intent (2003)
  • Cooking is not about convenience and it’s not about shortcuts. Our hunger for the twenty-minute gourmet meal, for one-pot ease and prewashed, precut ingredients has severed our lifeline to the satisfactions of cooking. Take your time. Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention. Thomas Keller, in The French Laundry Cookbook (1999)
  • A good cook is the peculiar gift of the gods. He must be a perfect creature from the brain to the palate, from the palate to the finger’s end. Walter Savage Landor. the character Polycrates speaking, “Anacreon and Polycrates,” in Imaginary Conversations, First Series (1824)
  • People have been cooking and eating for thousands of years, so if you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes try to understand that there must be a reason for this. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • Once learnt, this business of cooking was to prove an ever growing burden. It scarcely bears thinking about, the time and labor that man and womankind have devoted to the preparation of dishes that are to melt and vanish in a moment like smoke or a dream, like a shadow, and as a post that hastes by, and the air closes behind them, and afterwards no sign where they went is to be found. Rose Macaulay, IN Personal Pleasures (1936)
  • Kissing don’t last: cookery do! George Meredith, the character Mrs. Berry speaking, in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859)
  • We may live without poetry, music, and art;/We may live without conscience, and live without heart;/We may live without friends; we may live without books;/But civilized man cannot live without cooks. Owen Meredith (pen name of Robert Bulwer-Lytton), in Lucile (1860)

Meredith continued: “He may live without books—what is knowledge but grieving?/He may live without hope—what is hope but deceiving?/He may live without love—what is passion but pining?/But where is the man that can live without dining?”

  • 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)

In his book, O’Rourke also wrote: “There’s only one secret to bachelor cooking—not caring how it tastes.”

  • To the old saying that man built the house but woman made it a “home” might be added the modern supplement that woman accepted cooking as a chore but man has made of it a recreation. Emily Post, in Etiquette (1922)
  • Sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination—but at the end of the day they’d settle quite happily for egg and chips. If it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato. Terry Pratchett, the narrator describing a reflection of protagonist Samuel Vines, in The Fifth Elephant (2000)
  • Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories. I cannot conceive of cooking for friends or family, under reasonable conditions, as being a chore. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek Cookery (1942)
  • A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness. Elsa Schiaparelli, in Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli (1954)
  • ’Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers. William Shakespeare, the character Servingman speaking, in Romeo and Juliet (1595)
  • Cooking like everything else in France is logic and fashion. Gertrude Stein, in Paris France (1940)
  • The science of cookery is the science of civilization; and considering the effect which the material, raw or cooked, has upon the digestion, and the digestion on the brain, it is a science of quite as much importance, as any other in the great scale of utility and consideration. Sydney, Lady Morgan, in The Book of the Boudoir, Vol. 2 (1829)
  • Cooking requires confident guesswork and improvisation– experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way. Paul Theroux, in Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents (1998)
  • Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. Harriett Van Horne, in Vogue magazine (Oct. 15, 1956)
  • Cooking is the most succulent of human pleasures. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in Scenes of Childhood (1981)
  • The French use cooking as a means of self-expression, and this meal perfectly represented the personality of a cook who had spent the morning resting her unwashed chin on the edge of a tureen, pondering whether she should end her life immediately by plunging her head into her abominable soup. Rebecca West, “Increase and Multiply,” in Ending in Earnest (1931)
  • To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist—the problem is entirely the same in most cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one’s vinegar. Oscar Wilde, in Vera, or The Nihilists (1880)
  • There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves. Thomas Wolfe, in The Web and the Rock (1939)



  • Hard as it may be to believe in these days of infectious greed and sabers unsheathed, scientists have discovered that the small brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy. Natalie Angier, “Why We’re So Nice: We’re Wired to Cooperate,” The New York Times (July 23, 2002)

Angier preceded the observation by writing in the opening words of the essay: “What feels as good as chocolate on the tongue or money in the bank but won’t make you fat or risk a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission?”

  • We must be willing to learn the lesson that cooperation may imply compromise, but if it brings a world advance it is a gain for each individual nation. Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted in Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972)
  • Cooperation isn’t the absence of conflict but a means of managing conflict. Deborah Tannen, in The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words (1998)
  • Cooperation is an intelligent functioning of the concept of laissez faire—a thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there. Virginia Burden Tower, in The Process of Intuition (1975)




  • Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate. Dave Barry, in Turning 40 (1991)
  • A corporation does seem like a family. Not necessarily that one big happy family they like to boast about when they’re hiring you, but, just like every family, a hotbed of passion, rivalry, and dreams that build or destroy careers. (Especially in the home office.) Paula Bernstein, in Family Ties, Corporate Bonds (1985)
  • Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Corporations sell their manufactured wants, trying to convince us that they are our existential needs. Dan Brooks, in Brook’s Book (2017)
  • The problem with addicted people, communities, corporations, or countries is that they tend to lie, cheat, or steal to get their “fix.” Corporations are addicted to profit and governments to power. Helen Caldicott, in If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Save the Earth (1992)
  • Corporations cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed, or excommunicated, for they have no souls. Sir Edward Coke, in Case of Sutton’s Hospital (1612)
  • When a corporation goes into the marketplace to buy back its own stock, it means management thinks the stock is undervalued. This is a smart time to buy. Nancy Dunnan, in Never Call Your Broker on Monday (1997)
  • Humans must breathe, but corporations must make money. Alice Embree, “Media Images I: Madison Avenue Brainwashing–the Facts,“ quoted in Robin Morgan, Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970)
  • A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed it’s skin Andy Grove, quoted in Michael Dell, Play Nice But Win (2021)

Grove continued: “Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.”

  • Here was a corporation behaving like a monster though the individuals who owned its stock were human cultivated men. A corporation has no soul. Margaret Case Harriman, in From Pinafores to Politics (1923)
  • The corporations don’t have to lobby the government anymore. They are the government. Jim Hightower quoted in Greg Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (2002)
  • The world is no longer run by governments, it’s run by corporations. Barbara Paul, in In-Laws and Outlaws (1992)
  • With fewer and fewer corporations controlling more and more of the world’s trade, there is an ever greater need to know more about the practices of these large faceless organizations. Anita Roddick, in Business As Unusual (2000)
  • Corporations are people, my friend…[of] course they are! Mitt Romney, remark made during an August 2011 speech in Iowa; quoted in “‘Corporations Are People,’ Romney Tells Iowa Hecklers Angry Over His Tax Policy,” The New York Times (Aug. 8, 2011)
  • I have often thought that less is expected of the president of a great corporation than of an American wife. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book Of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • The biggest corporation, like the humblest private citizen, must be held to strict compliance with the will of the people. Theodore Roosevelt, in a 1902 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly. Theodore Roosevelt, in Sixth Annual Message to Congress (Dec. 3, 1906)
  • Corporations, being only human, make mistakes. Sometimes you may end up working for one of those mistakes. Lois Wyse, in Company Manners (1987)



  • Money is power. I would expand the Biblical aphorism, therefore, in this fashion: the root of all evil is the love of power. And power attracts the worst and corrupts the best among men. Edward Abbey, in One Life at a Time, Please (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: The biblical aphorism, of course, is from 1 Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

  • Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life. Saul Alinsky, “Of Means and Ends,” in Rules for Radicals (1971
  • It’s said that ‘power corrupts,’ but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. David Brin, Benjamin Franklin speaking, in a dream of protagonist Gordon Krantz, in The Postman (1985)

In the dream, Franklin continued: “When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.”

  • Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. John Dalberg (Lord Acton), in letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton (April 3, 1887); reprinted in Acton’s Life of Mandell Creighton, Vol I (1904)

QUOTE NOTE: Lord Acton continued: “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” Lord Action’s dictum, as it is called, may be history’s most famous observation on the subject of power, but it’s not the first one on the power corrupts theme (see the William Pitt entry below). The full text of Acton’s letter may be seen at Lord Acton 1887 Letter.

Regarding Acton’s legendary saying, my friend John Hudson recently told me an engaging story about the long-serving Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. In an appearance on the CBC-Radio program “As It Happens,” interviewer Barbara Frum (mother of political analyst David Frum), asked Drapeau for his opinion about Lord Acton’s famous dictum. He replied: “It’s true Barbara, but it’s not absolutely true!”

  • Too much virtue has a corrupting effect. Sue Grafton, in “A” Is for Alibi (1982)
  • All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Frank Herbert, epigraph containing a passage from the Missionaria Protectiva, in Chapterhouse: Dune (1985; Book Six of the Dune chronicles)

The passage continued: “Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.”

  • Our political system has been thoroughly corrupted, and by the usual suspect—money, what else? The corruption is open, obscene, and unmistakable. Molly Ivins, in You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You (1998)

Ivins continued: “The way campaigns are financed is a system of legalized bribery. 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.”

  • If all power corrupts, then a doctor, who literally holds life and death in his hands, must be at particular risk. P. D. James, “A Fictional Prognosis,” quoted in Dilys Winn, Murder Ink (1977)
  • “If there’s anything to learn from the history of movies, it’s that corruption leads to further corruption, not to innocence. Pauline Kael, in Reeling (1976)
  • The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference. Bess Myerson, quoted in Claire Safran, “Impeachment?” Redbook magazine (April 1974)
  • Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it. William Pitt (Lord Chatham), in House of Commons speech (Jan. 9, 1770)
  • In the very long run any success devours—and perhaps also corrupts. May Sarton, quoted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Among the Usual Days (1993)
  • Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power. George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Stephen Winsten, Days with Bernard Shaw (1949)
  • There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • There is a nobler character than that which is merely incorruptible. It is the character which acts as an antidote and preventive of corruption. Henry van Dyke, “Salt,” in Counsels by the Way (1921 rev. ed.)

Van Dyke preceded the though by writing: “There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.”



  • The history of cosmetics is as old as the history of mankind. The impulse to self-decoration has been present in all human societies. Margaret Allen, in Selling Dreams: Inside the Beauty Business (1981)
  • Cosmetics today are big business—very big business…based on the simple premise that if it’s a question of being attractive and fashionable, you can sell people anything. Margaret Allen, in Selling Dreams: Inside the Beauty Business (1981)
  • The best cosmetic in the world is an active mind that is always finding something new. Mary Meek Atkeson, in a 1935 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Most women are not so young as they are painted. Max Beerbohm, “In Defense of Cosmetics,” in The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, Vol. I (April, 1894)
  • Happiness is the secret of beauty. But who knows the secret of happiness? The wise woman keeps her cosmetics at hand. Coco Chanel, in a 1968 issue of McCall’s magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I sometimes think that the prevalent use of external cosmetics eats out the internal brain if persisted in long enough. Elisabeth Marbury, in My Crystal Ball: Reminiscences (1923)
  • In the factory, we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope. Charles H. Revson, quoted in Andrew P. Tobias, Fire and Ice (1976)
  • Taking joy in life is a woman’s best cosmetic. Rosalind Russell, in a 1924 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking to Ophelia, in Hamlet (1601)
  • I can’t see how any woman can find time to do to herself all the things that must apparently be done to make herself beautiful and, having once done them, how anyone without the strength of mind of a foreign missionary can keep up such a regime. Cornelia Otis Skinner, “The Skin-Game,” in Dithers and Jitters (1937)


(see also EXPENSE and MONEY and PRICE and VALUE)

  • The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden (1854)


(see ADVICE)



  • Certainly none of the advances made in civilization has been due to counterrevolutionaries and advocates of the status quo. Bill Mauldin, in Back Home (1947)



  • It is only in the country that we can get to know a person or a book. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1945)
  • God made the country, and man made the town. William Cowper, “The Sofa,” in The Task (1785)
  • The city has a face, the country a soul. Jacques de Lacretelle, “Les Paysages Hérités,” in Idées dans un chapeay (1946)
  • There is nothing good to be had in the country, or if there is, they will not let you have it. William Hazlitt, in The Round Table (1817)
  • A damp sort of place where all sorts of birds fly about uncooked. Joseph Wood Krutch, on the country, in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • I have no relish for the country; it is a kind of healthy grave. Sydney Smith, in an 1838 letter to Miss G. Harcourt
  • Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but Lord Henry continued with this fascinating discourse on civilization: “That is the reason why people who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized. Civilization is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured, the other by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity of being either, so they stagnate.”



  • Courage is caution overcome. Lyman Abbott, in The Theology of an Evolutionist (1897)
  • He who says, “I know no fear,” is no hero. No man knows courage unless he does know fear, and has that in him which is superior to fear, and conquers it. Lyman Abbott, in The Theology of an Evolutionist (1897)
  • Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. John Quincy Adams, in speech at Plymouth, Massachusetts (Dec. 22, 1802)
  • Courage makes a man more than himself; for he is then himself plus his valor. William R. Alger, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Alger was a nineteenth-century Unitarian clergyman, a lesser-known member of Emerson’s “Concord Circle,” an outspoken abolitionist, and the cousin of Horatio Alger. This quotation is widely attributed to him, but an original source has never been found.

  • Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. Maya Angelou, quoted in USA Today (March 5, 1988)
  • Until the day of his death, no man can be sure of his courage. Jean Anouilh, the character Thomas à Becket speaking, in Becket (1959)
  • Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision. John Antal, in 7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day (2017)
  • There is nothing to compare with the courage of ordinary people whose names are unknown and whose sacrifices pass unnoticed. The courage that dares without recognition, without the protection of media attention, is a courage that humbles and inspires and reaffirms our faith in humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi, in Letters From Burma (1996)
  • Courage is Fear/That has said its prayers. Karle Wilson Baker, “Courage,” in Burning Bush (1922)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the popular prose saying: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Baker’s full poem is as follows: “Courage is armor/A blind man wears;/The calloused scar/Of outlived despairs:/Courage is Fear/That has said its prayers.”

  • Courage is the thing. All goes if courage goes. J. M. Barrie, in rectorial address at St. Andrews University (May 3, 1922)
  • True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty. L. Frank Baum, the character Oz speaking, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the Wizard’s reply to the Lion, who had asked Oz, “But how about my courage?” Oz began by telling the Lion that he had “plenty of courage,” adding: “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.”

ERROR ALERT: Many respected quotation anthologies and most internet sites mistakenly omit the in in the first portion of the remark, presenting it as: “True courage is facing danger when you are afraid.”

  • This is what I know about courage: You don’t have to think about courage to have it. You don’t have to feel courageous to be courageous. You don’t sit down and say you’re going to be courageous. At the moment of action, you don’t see it as a courageous act. Unita Blackwell, in Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom (2006)

Blackwell continued: “Courage is the most hidden thing from your eye or mind until after it’s done. There’s some inner something that tells you what’s right. You know you have to do it to survive as a human being. You have no choice.”

  • The weak in courage is strong in cunning. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • With courage a human being is safe enough. And without it—he is never for one instant safe! Phyllis Bottome, the father of protagonist Freya Roth speaking, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • It’s still easier to take a blow from outside than it is to be disgusted with myself for not taking a stand. I don’t know how people can live and not fight back but apparently millions do. They must hate themselves. Rita Mae Brown, in Poems (1987)
  • But how cool, how quiet is true courage! Fanny Burney, the voice of the narrator, in Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)
  • Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. G. K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy (1909)
  • The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it. G. K. Chesterton, “The Methuselahite,” in All Things Considered (1908)
  • Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others. Winston Churchill, “Alfonso the Unlucky,” in Strand magazine (July, 1931)l reprinted in Great Contemporaries (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Churchill’s most popular quotations, often with the “as has been said” portion omitted (that particular phrasing indicates that Churchill was not claiming the sentiment as his own). Churchill was almost certainly thinking about a remark that Dr. Samuel Johnson made to James Boswell (an April 5, 1775): “Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.”

  • Like gaining confidence, finding one’s courage is gradual rather than all at once. Barbara Barksdale Clowse, in More (2006)
  • Courage takes many forms. There is physical courage, there is moral courage. Then there is a still higher type of courage–the courage to brave pain, to live with it, to never let others know of it and to still find joy in life; to wake up in the morning with an enthusiasm for the day ahead. Howard Cosell, in Like It Is (1974)
  • The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane, title of 1895 book.

QUOTE NOTE: Since the publication of Crane’s novel, a wartime wound or injury has been described as a red badge of courage. The novel’s protagonist is Henry Fielding, a Union soldier who feels deep shame after fleeing from a Civil War battle. The protagonist says of Fielding: “At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.”

  • To be afraid and to be brave is the best kind of courage of all. Alice Dalgliesh, the father of the title character speaking, in The Courage of Sarah Noble (1954)
  • Courage is like—it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging. Mary Daly, quoted in Catherine Madsen, “The Thin Thread of Conversation: An Interview with Mary Daly,” Cross Currents magazine (Fall 2000)
  • Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is the bullring. Marlene Dietrich, “Matador,” in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • 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)
  • Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace./The soul that knows it not, knows no release/From little things/Knows not the livid loneliness of fear. Amelia Earhart, from the poem “Courage” (1927), quoted in Mary S. Lovell, The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart (1989)
  • Nothing gives a fearful man more courage than another's fear. Umberto Eco, the voice of the narrator, in The Name of the Rose (1980)
  • It sometimes requires courage to fly from danger. Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Mademoiselle Panache,” originally published in The Parent’s Assistant, Vol. II (1796); later reprinted in Moral Tales (1801)
  • So many of the models of courage we’ve had, ones that are still taught to boys and girls, are about going out to slay the dragon, to kill. It’s a courage that’s born out of fear, anger, and hate. But there’s this other kind of courage. It’s the courage to risk your life, not in war, not in battle, not out of fear…but out of love and a sense of injustice that has to be challenged. Riane Eisler, quoted in Katherine Martin, Women of Courage (1999)

Eisler continued: “It takes far more courage to challenge unjust authority without violence than it takes to kill all the monsters in all the stories told to children about the meaning of bravery.”

  • Any coward can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he’s sure of losing. That’s my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat. George Eliot, the character Robert Dempster speaking, from the short story “Janet’s Repentance” (1857), in Scenes of a Clerical Life (1858)
  • Necessity does the work of courage. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Romola (1863)
  • Grace under pressure. Ernest Hemingway, in interview with Lillian Hellman, The New Yorker (Nov. 30, 1929)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Hemingway’s famous definition of “guts,” an American colloquialism for courage. In the opening words of his 1956 book Profiles in Courage (the winner of a 1957 Pulitzer Prize), John F. Kennedy helped to immortalize the saying: “This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues—courage. ‘Grace under pressure,’ Ernest Hemingway defined it.”

  • This is courage in a man:/to bear unflinchingly what heaven sends. Euripides, in Heracles (5th c. B.C.)
  • Courage calls to courage everywhere, and its voice cannot be denied. Millicent Garrett Fawcett, in The Women’s Victory and After: Personal Reminisicences 1911-1918 (1920)
  • Unless you have courage, a courage within your own heart that keeps you going, always going, no matter what happens, there is no certainty of Success. It is really an endurance race. It is a test in holding out. Henry Ford, in Ford Ideals: Being a Selection of “Mr. Ford’s Page” in The Dearborn Independent (1922)
  • Either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life. E. M. Forster, “The Poetry of C. P. Cavafy,” in Pharos and Pharillon: A Novelist’s Sketchbook of Alexandria Through the Ages (1923)
  • The best heroes in the world are the reluctant ones. Courage isn’t fearlessness—it’s acting in the face of fear. Tess Gerritsen, protagonist Willy Jane Maitland speaking, in Never Say Die (1992)
  • One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. André Gide, the character Edouard speaking, in The Counterfeiters (1925)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but the fuller passage reveals that the character was talking not so much about courage in the traditional sense, but in the willingness of creative people to forge ahead into new and unexplored artistic territory. Here’s the fuller passage: “I have often thought…that in art, and particularly in literature, the only people who count are those who launch out on to unknown seas. One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. But our writers are afraid of the open; they are mere coasters.”

  • There are various forms of courage, namely, the capacity to envisage danger and yet proceed with the course of action that brings the danger on. Erving Goffman, in Interaction Ritual (1967)
  • Life is mostly froth and bubble,/Two things stand like stone,/Kindness in another’s trouble,/Courage in your own. Adam Lindsay Gordon, “Ye Wearie Wayfarer” (1866); in Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)

ERROR ALERT: The revised and enlarged 10th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1919) mistakenly ended the quatrain with the phrase in our own, and the error continues to show up on many internet quotation sites.

  • Courage is very important. Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use. Ruth Gordon, quoted in L’Officiel magazine (Summer, 1980)
  • Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened. Billy Graham, “A Time for Moral Courage,” quoted in Reader’s Digest (July, 1964)
  • The bravest thing to do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly. Corra Harris, in My Son (1921)
  • If a grasshopper tries to fight a lawnmower, one may admire his courage but not his judgment. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Mr. Farnham speaking, in Farnham’s Freehold (1964)
  • Courage has need of reason, but it is not reason’s child; it springs from deeper strata. Hermann Hesse, in Reflections (1974)
  • One man with courage makes a majority. Andrew Jackson, quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in the Foreword to a 1964 re-issue of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage (1956)

ERROR ALERT: This saying became very popular after it was offered—without a source—by RFK (he apparently found the quotation in a notebook kept by older brother John during WWII). Ronald Reagan famously repeated the quotation in the same way when he nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. While an 1860 biography indicated that Jackson might have said, “Desperate courage makes one a majority,” there is no evidence he expressed his thought in the manner quoted above. The phrasing might have been borrowed from a popular quotation long attributed to Scottish clergyman John Knox (1505–72): “A man with God is always in the majority.”

  • Happiness is a form of courage. Holbrook Jackson, “Maxims and Precepts,” in a circa 1920 issue of To-Day magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • My definition of courage is never letting anyone define you. Jenna Jameson, in “What I’ve Learned” in Esquire magazine (Aug. 7, 2008)
  • Always do the things you fear the most; courage is an acquired taste, like caviar. Erica Jong, a reflection of protagonist Isadora Wing, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
  • Courage is the only Magick worth having. Erica Jong, the character Joan speaking, in Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980)
  • Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • There is plenty of courage among us for the abstract but not enough for the concrete. Helen Keller, in Let Us Have Faith (1940)
  • Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men—such as the subjects of this book—have lived. The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. John F. Kennedy, in the introductory chapter of Profiles in Courage (1955)

Kennedy continued: “A man does what he must—in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures—and that is the basis of all human morality.”

  • In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience—the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men—each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. John F. Kennedy, in Profiles in Courage (1955)

Kennedy continued: “The stories of past courage can define that ingredient—they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”

QUOTE NOTE: Kennedy was a sitting U. S. Senator when Profiles in Courage was released on Jan. 1, 1956. It became an immediate best-seller, with more than two million copies sold in the first year alone. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, even though it had not originally been nominated. It is believed that Joseph P. Kennedy, Senator Kennedy’s father, was so incensed that his son’s book was not nominated that he used his considerable influence to get members of the Pulitzer Prize board to select it. While Kennedy was listed as sole author of the book, it was widely believed from the very outset that his speechwriter Theodore Sorenson actually wrote it. For many years, Sorenson steadfastly asserted that JFK was the author and that he was primarily a researcher, but in his 2008 autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, he admitted for the first time that he “did a first draft of most chapters.” He also acknowledged that he might have even “privately boasted or indirectly hinted” that he had written most of the book.

  • We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1964).

Dr. King introduced the subject by writing: “Courage and cowardice are antithetical. Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance.”

  • Courage is a decision. Peter Koestenbaum, in The Heart of Business (1991)

Koestenbaum preceded the thought by writing: “The day we wake up and understand that life cannot be lived without courage—for no one is exempt—is also the day we become mature, the day of our initiation into the fullness of human wisdom.”

  • Complete courage and absolute cowardice are extremes that very few men fall into. The vast middle space contains all the intermediate kinds and degrees of courage; and these differ as much from one another as men’s faces or their humors do. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Perfect courage is to do without witnesses what one would be capable of doing with the world looking on. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. Harper Lee, the character Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation appears in most places, but in Lewis’s classic tale, it is part of a longer passage in which the voice of the Devil (in the form of a Senior Demon named Screwtape) is talking about one of the core beliefs of God (never referred to by name, but only by the pejorative The Enemy). Here’s the fuller passage: “He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

  • It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1973)
  • Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount. Clare Booth Luce, quoted in Reader’s Digest (May, 1979)
  • Courage is like a disobedient dog, once it starts running away it flies all the faster for your attempts to recall it. Katherine Mansfield, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Pension Séguin,” in Something Childish and Other Stories (1924)
  • Courage is not a virtue or value among other personal values like love or fidelity. It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)

May went on to write: “The word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning ‘heart.’ Thus just as one’s heart, by pumping blood to one’s arms, legs, and brain enables all the other physical organs to function, so courage makes possible all the psychological virtues. Without courage other values wither away into mere facsimiles of virtue.”

  • Courage can’t see around corners, but goes around them anyway. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • Courage comes and goes. Hold on for the next supply. Thomas Merton, remark to a monk who was suffering from a chronic illness, quoted in Michael Mott, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (1993)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly attribute this thought to Vicki Baum.

  • Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Maxims (1804-15)
  • Courage cannot be counterfeited. It is one virtue that escapes hypocrisy. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)
  • Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (June, 1941), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1939-1944 (1969)
  • The difference between a mongrel and a thoroughbred, whether brute or man, is not in swiftness, beauty, or endurance, but in courage. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Courage is a kind of salvation. Plato, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.)
  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow. Mary A. Radmacher, in Courage Doesn’t Alway Roar (2009)

QUOTE NOTE: Radmacher’s book also contained these other metaphorical reflections on the subject of Courage.

  • Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Edward V. “Eddie” Rickenbacker, quoted in Peggy Streit, “What Is Courage,” The New York Times Magazine (November 24, 1963)
  • Courage does not always march to airs blown by a bugle. Frances Rodman, “For a Six-Year-Old,” in The New York Times (May 13, 1961)

Rodman added about courage that it “is not always wrought out of the fabric ostentation wears.”

  • You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living (1960)

Mrs. Roosevelt went on to write: “The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

  • 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)
  • Why are we inspired by another person’s courage? Maybe because it gives us the sweet and genuine surprise of discovering some trace, at least, of the same courage in ourselves. Laurence Shames, in a tribute to his friend and colleague, Peter Barton

QUOTE NOTE: After discovering this quotation on an internet site, I had a devil of a time tracking down an original source. Finally, out of desperation, I wrote directly to Shames and was delighted when I received a reply. In a Dec. 3. 2016 note, he provided a wonderful backstory to a beautiful quotation: “Yes, that’s my quote, and yes, I believe it’s correctly worded. It came about in kind of a funny way. In 2003, I co-authored a death-and-dying memoir called Not Fade Away—A Short Life Well Lived, with the late Peter Barton. Around the same time, Starbucks launched a program of putting thought-provoking quotes on coffee cups. I was asked to provide one and, with my then-recent experience of Peter very much in mind, came up with that observation. Howard Schulz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks, became a fan of the book and brought me to Seattle to speak at a lunchtime lecture series; Starbucks then hosted a very nice launch event in Denver, Peter Barton’s adopted home town. Somewhere or other, I still have a few of those coffee cups!”

  • It is courage, courage, courage that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. George Bernard Shaw, the character Cain speaking, in Back to Methuselah (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation typically appears, but it was originally part of this larger passage: “Without danger I cannot be great. That is how I pay for Abel’s blood. Danger and fear follow my steps everywhere. Without them courage would have no sense. And it is courage, courage, courage that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor.”

  • Courage is a word for others to use about us, not something we can seek for ourselves. Lillian Smith, in The Journey (1954)
  • What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree? Logan Pearsall Smith, in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example—for courage is as contagious as fear. But courage, certain kinds of courage, can also isolate the brave. Susan Sontag, “On Courage and Resistance,” in At the Same Time (2007)
  • Courage, the footstool of the Virtues, upon which they stand. Robert Louis Stevenson, the character Mr. Archer, reflecting on his own supply of courage, from the short story “The Bleaching-Green,” in Lay Morals and Other Papers (1911)
  • Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • Courage is the willingness to play even when you know the odds are against you. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: Szasz was contrasting courage with anxiety, about which he had just written: “Anxiety is the unwillingness to play even when you know the odds are for you.”

  • Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always a tomorrow. Dorothy Thompson, in The Courage to Be Happy (1957)
  • There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow. J. R. R. Tolkien, a reflection of protagonist Frodo Baggins, in The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
  • Those who have courage to love should have courage to suffer. Anthony Trollope, in The Claverings (1867)
  • In true courage there is always an element of choice, of an ethical choice, and of anguish, and also of action and deed. There is always a flame of spirit in it, a vision of some necessity higher than oneself. Brenda Ueland, in Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings (1993)
  • ’Tisn’t life that matters! ’Tis the courage you bring to it. Hugh Walpole, the opening words of the book Fortitude (1913)
  • Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)

The entry continued: “Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word.”

  • It is curious—curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940; Bernard DeVoto, ed.)
  • Courage is being scared to death—and saddling up anyway. John Wayne, quoted in a 1986 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific date undetermined)
  • Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives. Charles McMoran Wilson (Lord Moran), in The Anatomy of Courage (1967)
  • Courage is a muscle in your brain, and everyday you exercise it makes it stronger. Jaimal Yogis, quoted in Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, “Conquer Your Fears in the New Year,” The Chicago Tribune (Dec. 23, 2013)

Yogis is the author of The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing…and Love (2013)



  • Cowardice and courage are never without a measure of affectation. Nor is love. Feelings are never true. They play with their mirrors. Jean Baudrillard, in Cool Memories (1987)
  • It is the fear of being called a coward that makes most men courageous in a crisis; but real courage, which is rare, consists in doing what you know is right, regardless of what men may call you. Sydney J. Harris, in Strictly Personal (1953)
  • Courage and cowardice are antithetical. Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1964)
  • Complete courage and absolute cowardice are extremes that very few men fall into. The vast middle space contains all the intermediate kinds and degrees of courage; and these differ as much from one another as men’s faces or their humors do. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Courage is often lack of insight, whereas cowardice in many cases is based on good information. Peter Ustinov, quoted in a 1981 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)



  • The near cousin of optimism is hope: knowing the steps needed to get to a goal and having the energy to pursue those steps. It is a primal motivating force, and its absence is paralyzing. Daniel Goleman, in Working With Emotional Intelligence (1998)
  • We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins. Andy Rooney, in Sincerely, Andy Rooney (1999)
  • Use the right word, not its second cousin. Mark Twain, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” (1895); reprinted in How To Tell a Story: And Other Essays (1897)



  • Within our family there was no such thing as a person who did not matter. Second cousins thrice removed mattered. We knew—and thriftily made use of—everybody's middle name. We knew who was buried where. We all mattered, and the dead most of all. Shirley Abbott, in Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South (1983)
  • I suppose if we could go back far enough we would find we are all cousins. Sheila Richards, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 3, 2020)
  • Christianity nowadays is like a big household where many cousins live under the same roof. They all belong to the same clan, but at times they have very different ideas about how to run their family affairs. Maria Trapp, in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949)


(see ENVY)



  • Cowards are not invariably liars, but liars are invariably cowards. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Knocks: Witty, Wise, and— (1905)
  • Coward, n. One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • It’s still easier to take a blow from outside than it is to be disgusted with myself for not taking a stand. I don’t know how people can live and not fight back but apparently millions do. They must hate themselves. Rita Mae Brown, in Poems (1987)
  • Optimism and self-pity are the positive and negative poles of modern cowardice. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Everything is in a man’s own hands, and if he lets everything slip through his fingers, it is through sheer cowardice. That’s an axiom. Fyodor Dostoevsky, a reflection of protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov, in the opening page of Crime and Punishment (1866)

QUOTE NOTE: Constance Garnett’s classic 1914 translation provided a more streamlined translation: “All is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom.”

  • Nothing makes us more cowardly and unconscionable than the desire to be loved by everyone. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination. Ernest Hemingway, the voice of the narrator, in Men at War (1942)
  • Be sure your kindness is not cowardice. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • The most mortifying infirmity in human nature, to feel in ourselves, or to contemplate in another, is, perhaps, cowardice. Charles Lamb, “Stage Illusion,” in Last Essays of Elia (1833)
  • It was always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily. Cormac McCarthy, a reflection of protagonist John Grady Cole, in All The Pretty Horses (1992)
  • Some people mistake weakness for tact. If they are silent when they ought to speak and so feign an argument they do not feel, they call it being truthful. Cowardice would be a much better name. Frank Medlicott, in Reader’s Digest magazine (July 1958)
  • Cowardice is the mother of cruelty. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580-88)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is presented in most quotation anthologies and almost all internet sites. The fuller passage, however, indicates that Montaigne was simply passing along a saying he admired: “I have often heard it said that cowardice is the mother of cruelty.”

  • Where there is no danger, cowards are bold. Thomas Paine, an open letter to U.S. citizens, in the Philadelphia newspaper Aurora (May 14, 1803); reprinted in Letters to the Citizens of the United States, 1802-03 (2009; Warren Bluhm, ed.)
  • Every right-minded man utterly despises a coward in private life. Cowardice is the unpardonable sin in a man. Theodore Roosevelt, in Fear God and Take Your Own Part (1916)

QUOTE NOTE: Roosevelt, a former president who had been out of office since 1909, wrote these words just prior to America’s involvement in WWI. He was thinking about the American pacifist movement, which he called the “peace-at-any-price people.” He went on to add: “The coward who excuses his cowardice, who tries to cloak it behind lofty words, who perseveres in it, and does not appreciate his own infamy is beyond all hope.”

  • Cynicism is a form of cowardice, a failure of courage to hope. Merle Shain, in Hearts That We Broke Long Ago (1983)
  • Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that one is his cowardice. George Bernard Shaw, the character Don Juan speaking, in Man and Superman (1903)
  • The coward regards himself as cautious, the miser as thrifty. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner. Mark Twain, a Sep. 4, 1907 remark, in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940; Bernard DeVoto, ed.)
  • When we say of people what we would not say to them, we are either liars or cowards. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, an entry in a book of “Impressions” written by protagonist Joy Irving, in An Ambitious Man (1896)




  • Coyness is a rather comically pathetic fault, a miscalculation in which, by trying to veil the ego, we let it appear stark naked; in which—and this is the nub—while hoping to gain approval, we give offense. Louis Kronenberger, in The Cart and the Horse (1964)


(see also ART and CRAFTS and SKILL)

  • Art, at any rate in a novel, must be indissolubly linked with craft. Elizabeth Bowen, in her 1948 Introduction to Antonia White’s Frost in May (orb. pub. in 1933)
  • It is the highest form of culture and craftmanship in art to use local materials. That way you stand a chance of adding to culture. The other way you are in danger of merely imitating it. Miles Franklin ((pen name of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin), in My Career Goes Bung (1946)
  • I love hearing details of writers’ craft, as cannibals eat the brains of clever men to get cleverer. Antonia Fraser, in Must You Go? My Life With Harold Pinter (2011)
  • Mark this well, I told myself, when you come to write the History of your own Life; ne’er forget that ’tis not Fidelity to Fact alone that makes a Story stir the Blood, but Craft and Art! And ’tis perhaps the greatest Craft to seem to have no Craft. Erica Jong, a reflection of the title character, in Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980)
  • One of the things that I try to be conscious about in crafting a song is the concept of bringing it home. I like to bring it somewhere familiar, someplace that people feel it’s resolved, it's settled. Carole King, quoted in Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating (1995)
  • Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else. Katherine Anne Porter, quoted in Granville Hicks, “Literary Horizons: Voyage of Life,” in Saturday Review (March 31, 1962)
  • There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft. Jessamyn West, a contribution to “The Living Novel: A Symposium,” in Saturday Review (Sep. 21, 1957)



  • We might define an eccentric as a man who is a law unto himself, and a crank as one who, having determined what the law is, insists on laying it down to others. Louis Kronenberger, “The One and the Many,” in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)





  • Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity. Chinua Achebe, the character Ikem Osodi speaking, in Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
  • Whatever creativity is, it is in part a solution to a problem. Brian Aldiss, “Apéritif,” in Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith’s (1990)
  • You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. Maya Angelou, quoted in Mary Ardito, Bell Telephone Magazine (1982; Vol. 61, No. 1)

Angelou went on to add: “Too often creativity is smothered rather than stifled. There has to be a climate in which new ways of thinking, perceiving, questioning are encouraged.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet quotation sites mistakenly attribute this observation to Oscar Wilde. Thanks to Barry Popik, better known as the Quote Investigator for providing the original source.

  • The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person. Frank Barron, quoted in Think magazine (Nov./Dec., 1962)
  • A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. Frank Capra, quoted in Mary C. Johnson, The New Scriptwriter’s Journal (2001; rev. ed. of the 1995 Scriptwriter’s Journal)
  • The more you reason, the less you create. Raymond Chandler, in letter to Charles Morton (Oct. 28, 1947)
  • It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God. Mary Daly, in Beyond God the Father (1973)
  • Potentially creative men…build the personal fundament of their work during a self-decreed moratorium, during which they often starve themselves, socially, erotically, and, last but not least, nutritionally in order to let the grosser weeds die out, and make way for the growth of their inner garden. Erik H. Erikson, in Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958)
  • What about the creative state? In it a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences, and out of the mixture he makes a work of art. E. M. Forster, “The Raison d’être of Criticism in the Arts” (1948), in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: All works of art—good or bad—are “compounded” in this way, according to Forster, often leading the artist to wonder how it all came about. Forster concluded: “Such seems to be the creative process. It may employ much technical ingenuity and worldly knowledge, it may profit by critical standards, but mixed up with it is this stuff from the bucket, this subconscious stuff, which is not procurable on demand.”

  • Think before you speak is criticism’s motto; speak before you think creation’s. E. M. Forster, “The Raison d’être of Criticism in the Arts” (1948), in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
  • Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam. A. Whitney Griswold, in Yale University baccalaureate address (June 9, 1957)

Griswold introduced the thought by asking: “Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report?”

  • Creation lives alone in a small temple. Only one may worship at a time. Nancy Hale, the voice of narrator and protagonist Leda March, in The Prodigal Women (1942)
  • Creativity always dies a quick death in rooms that house conference tables. Bruce Herschensohn, “U.S.I.A. U.S.” in The New York Times (April 2, 1975)
  • Creativity doesn’t flourish in an atmosphere of despotism, coercion, and fear. P. D. James, commenting on the poor management practices of the BBC, in The Sunday Times (London; March 7, 1999)
  • Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, quoted in Harvard Business School Bulletin (2001; specific date undetermined)
  • All creativity is an extended form of a joke. Alan Kay, quoted in “An Interview with Alan Kay” (interview by Stuart Feldman), in ACMQueue journal (Dec. 27, 2004; Vol. 2, Issue 9)

This has become my favorite quote on creativity, with the intriguing suggestion that all forms of creativity have all of the elements of a joke, including such things as a long set-up and a highly unexpected punch line. Kay continued: “Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the “Aha.” Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in—the one that we think is reality.”

  • Americans worship creativity the way they worship physical beauty—as a way of enjoying elitism without guilt: God did it. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)
  • Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual. Arthur Koestler, “The Act of Creation,” in Mary A. B. Brazier (ed.), Brain Function, Vol. 2 (1963); reprinted in Drinkers of Infinity: Essays 1955–1967 (1967)

ERROR ALERT: The observation is often mistakenly presented as if it began Creativity is a type of learning process….

  • True creativity often starts where language ends. Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)
  • Every creative act is a sudden cessation of stupidity. Edwin Land, quoted in Forbes magazine (June, 1975)
  • Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. George Lois, in The Art of Advertising: George Lois on Mass Communication (1977; with Bill Pitts)
  • Creative minds are uneven, and the best of fabrics have their dull spots. H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” in R. H. Boyer & K. J. Zahorski, Fantasists on Fantasy: A Collection of Critical Reflections (1984)
  • Creativity itself requires limits, for the creative act rises out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)
  • It’s the ability to see things a new way, and from that insight to produce something that didn’t exist before—something original. It sometimes means piercing the mundane to find the marvelous—or looking beyond the marvelous to find the mundane. Bill Moyers, on creativity, “Sources of Creativity,” in The Writer (April 7, 1983)

ERROR ALERT: Moyers offered this thought in response to the question, “What is creativity?” On almost all internet sites and in most published books, the quotation is mistakenly presented: “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

  • Creation is an effort of the Will,/A stern and studied searching of the heart,/Self-schooling in a hard, demanding drill—/Not for the weak is Poetry as Art. Richard Raymond III, from the poem “Ars Poetibus” (September 1973)
  • Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties. Gail Sheehy, in Pathfinders (1981)
  • Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an afterlife. Arianna Stassinopoulos, in The Female Woman (1973)
  • Creativity is one mode adopted by gifted people of coming to terms with, or finding symbolic solutions for, the internal tensions and disassociations from which all human beings suffer in varying degree. Anthony Storr, in The Dynamics of Creation (1972)
  • Creativity is an act of defiance. You’re challenging the status quo. You’re questioning accepted truths and principles. You’re asking three universal questions that mock conventional wisdom: “Why do I have to obey the rules?” “Why can’t I be different?” “Why can’t I do it my way?” Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit (2003; with Mark Reiter)
  • Being creative without talent is a bit like being a perfectionist and not being able to do anything right. Jane Wagner, the character Chrissy (played by Lily Tomlin in the Broadway play), in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1985)

Chrissy, who had confessed to experiencing “job probs,” began by saying: “I’d do better at something creative, and I feel I am somewhat creative, but somehow I like the talent to go with it.”

  • We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for what’s new. Margaret J. Wheatley, “Willing to Be Disturbed,” in Turning to One Another (2002)

Wheatley continued: “Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly.”


(see GOD)



  • Credit is just the future tense of the language of money. Antonio Banderas, as the character Ramón Fonseca, in the 2019 film The Laundromat (screenplay by Scott Z. Burns; based on Jake Bernstein’s 2017 book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite)

QUOTE NOTE: The quotation does not appear in Bernstein’s book.

[Personal] CREDOS & CREEDS


NOTE TO READER: A credo (in Latin, the word literally means “I believe“) is a succinct summary of core beliefs and guiding principles. Creed is the English word for credo, and has historically been a more familiar term, as we see in “The Apostle's Creed” or “The Nicene Creed.“

Credos and creeds not only capture a set of core beliefs, they are also often posted in prominent places or repeated again and again to guide people when they feel in danger of losing their way. In many ways, they can be likened to a mission statement of an organization, or even to a mantra or affirmation. Personal credo statements became a part of popular culture in the 1950s with the “This I Believe” series, hosted by Edward R. Murrow on CBS Radio. The entire set of nearly 800 essays (including original sound recordings of many of them) are available here.

Autobiographies and biographies are a great source of personal credos, but many memorable ones have also been delivered by fictional characters in world literature. Below you will find a sampling of some personal favorites:

  • I believe, above all else, in reason—in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life. Any calamity visited upon man, either by his own hand or by a more omnipotent nature, could have been avoided or at least mitigated by a measure of thought. To nothing so much as the abandonment of reason does humanity owe its sorrows. Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life, have been the consequence of action without thought. Bernard Baruch, “Thought for Tomorrow,” a 1953 essay for CBS-Radio’s ”This I Believe” Series; reprinted in Raymond Swing, This I Believe 2: The Personal Philosophies of One Hundred Thoughtful Men and Women (1954)
  • To seek understanding before taking action, yet to trust my instincts when action is called for. Never to avoid danger from fear, never to seek out danger for its own sake. Never to conform to fashion from fear of eccentricity, never to be eccentric from fear of conformity. Steven Brust, the character Khaavren speaking, in The Paths of the Dead (2002)

Khaavren is replying to the question posed by the character Daro: “What Are Your Principles?” He continued: “To preserve the honor of my name and House, and to cherish the memory of the Empire. To always care for my horse, my lackey, and my equipage as if they were part of my own body. To hold myself to higher standards of conduct than I hold another. To never strike without cause, and, when there is cause, to strike for the heart. To respect, love, and obey those whom the gods have made my masters, for their sake when deserved, for my sake should my masters be unworthy, and for the sake of duty at all times. To be loyal to my House, my family, my name, and the principles of the Empire.”

  • A little humor can make life worth living. That has always been my credo. Someone once asked me, “What would you like your epitaph to be?” I’ve always said that I’d like it to be: “He left people a little happier than they were when he came into the room.” Bennett Cerf, quoted by Christopher Cerf, in 2002 Introduction to At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf (1977)
  • My scheme of life is so simple…to perform without show or shunning menial services; to live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to have an oratory in my own heart, and present spotless sacrifices of dignified kindness in the temple of humanity; to spread no opinions glaringly out like show-plants, and yet leave the garden gate ever open for the chosen friend and the chance acquaintance; to make no pretenses to greatness; to seek no notoriety; to attempt no wide influence; to have no ambitious projects; to let my writings be the daily bubbling spring flowing…into the full, deep river of wisdom; to listen to stars and buds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never…This is to be my symphony. William Henry Channing, “Symphony,” quoted in O. B. Frothingham, Memoir of William Henry Channing (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the words of a longer passage that is often shortened dramatically (the version above is longer than is typically seen), but which always ends with the words “This is to be my symphony.” The full passage may be seen here.

  • At this point I reveal myself in my true colors, as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization: A Personal View (1969)

Clark offered this summing-up observation near the end of his book, and it becomes a lovely “credo” statement. He continued: “I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people’s feelings by satisfying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature. All living things are our brothers and sisters. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.”

  • Credo—I believe—best translates “I have given my heart to.” William Sloane Coffin, in Credo (2004)
  • This became a credo of mine: Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work. Bette Davis, in Mother Goddamn (1974)
  • I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something. Arthur Conan Doyle, a reflection of the title character, in The Stark Munro Letters (1895)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from J. Stark Munro, the twenty-five-year-old protagonist of a heavily autobiographical novel consisting entirely of twelve lengthy letters written to his friend Herbert Swanborough. The novel is one of Doyle’s lesser-known works, but it is also one of his most interesting, for it provides an intimate look into his own life—and his own thought processes—as a young man. Even though the book was published after Doyle had achieved fame as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, they are based on actual events that occurred when he was in his mid-twenties.

  • Thinking from the end causes me to behave as if all that I’d like to create is already here. My credo is: Imagine myself to be and I shall be, and it’s an image that I keep with me at all times. Wayne W. Dyer, in The Power of Intention (2004)
  • Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. Louise Erdrich, the narrator and protagonist, Faye Travers, offering herself words of advice she wished she would have received from her mother, in The Painted Drum (2005)
  • To bear up under loss—to fight the bitterness of defeat and the weakness of grief—to be victor over anger—to smile when tears are close—to resist evil men and base instincts—to hate hate and to love love—to go on when it would seem good to die—to seek ever after the glory and the dream—to look up with unquenchable faith in something evermore about to be—that is what any man can do, and so be great. Zane Grey, in The North American Almanac (1931)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often described as Grey’s “Recipe for Greatness,” but that phrase does not appear in the 1931 Almanac.

  • Our guiding principles are simple. Do as little harm to others as you can; make any sacrifice for your true friends; be responsible for yourself and ask nothing of others; and grab all the fun you can. Don’t give much thought to yesterday, don’t worry about tomorrow, live in the moment, and trust that your existence has meaning even when the world seems to be all blind chance and chaos. When life lands a hammer blow in your face, do your best to respond to the hammer as if it had been a cream pie. Sometimes black humor is the only kind we can summon, but even dark laughter can sustain. Dean Koontz, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Christopher Snow, in Seize the Night (2012)

Snow introduced the thought—which I view as a kind of modern-day credo statement—this way: “An awareness that life is a cosmic joke is close to the core of the philosophy by which [his friends] Bobby, Sasha, and I live.”

  • This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.

D. H. Lawrence, quoted in A. Alvarez, The Shaping Spirit: Studies in Modern English and American Poets (1958)

Lawrence wrote this around 1920, in an essay in which he contrasts his own credo with Benjamin Franklin’s overall belief system

  • I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. Jack London, quoted in The [San Francisco] Bulletin (Dec. 2, 1916)

QUOTE NOTE: Several weeks before the article appeared, London was interviewed at his ranch by a journalist from The Bulletin. A few weeks later, just before the article appeared, he was found dead in a sleeping porch of his cottage. There were rumors of suicide, but the official cause of death was uremic poisoning, a kidney stone complication. Just prior to his death, London was believed to have been in extreme pain, and some have suggested he may have died from an accidental morphine overdose. 
Shortly after his death, the newspaper published an article based on the interview conducted in the previous month. According to the paper, London offered the remarks above to a group of friends who were visiting the ranch:

  • Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life,” speech at The Hamilton Club, Chicago, Illinois (April 10, 1899); later reprinted, with other writings and speeches in the book The Strenuous Life (1900)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly present the final words as “knows neither victory nor defeat.”

  • It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” speech at the Sorbonne (Paris; April 23, 1910)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most widely quoted portion of Roosevelt’s “in the arena” speech, one of history’s most celebrated pieces of political oratory. As you can see by comparing this entry with the one immediately preceding it, some elements of the Paris address were expressed in Roosevelt’s 1899 “The Strenuous Life” speech.

  • I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Archibald Henderson, George Bernard Shaw: His Life and Works (1911)

According to Henderson, Shaw preceded the thought by saying: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”

  • I don’t mean to say that I’m about to state my credo here on this page, but merely to affirm, sincerely for the first time in my life, my belief in man as an individual and independent entity. Certainly not independence in the everyday sense of the word, but pertaining to a freedom and mobility of thought that few people are able—or even have the courage—to achieve. Hunter S. Thompson, in letter to Joe Bell (Oct. 24, 1957); reprinted in Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (1997)



  • For the poet the credo or doctrine is not the point of arrival but is, on the contrary, the point of departure for the metaphysical journey. Joseph Brodsky, quoted in Cynthia L. Haven, Joseph Brodsky: Conversations (2002)
  • Credo—I believe—best translates “I have given my heart to.” William Sloane Coffin, in Credo (2004)
  • Scepticism is always a back road leading to some credo or other. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms: 4th Selection (1987)
  • This became a credo of mine: Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work. Bette Davis, in Mother Goddamn (1974)
  • It is better to have a religion of deeds rather than a religion of creeds. Voltairine de Cleyre, “Secular Education,” in The Truth Seeker (1887)
  • There lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard for which the worshipper may one day be required to suffer. E. M. Forster, “What I Believe,” in The Nation magazine (July 16, 1938)
  • I know that a creed is the shell of a lie. Amy Lowell, “Evelyn Ray” in What’™s O’™Clock (1925)
  • It is a curious thing that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste. Evelyn Waugh, the character Ambrose speaking, in Put out More Flags (1942)
  • Perhaps the single most important therapeutic credo that I have is that the unexamined life is not worth living. Irvin D. Yalom, in Love’s Executioner: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989)



  • Credulity and the want of foresight are imperfections in the human character that no politician can sufficiently guard against. Abigail Adams, in 1776 letter to husband John; reprinted in The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784 (1975; L.H. Butterfield, et al., eds.)
  • There is apparently only one trait in human nature which is stronger than curiosity. It is credulity. The things people will believe are unbelievable. Louise Baker, in Out On a Limb (1946)
  • Credulity is always a ridiculous, often a dangerous failing: it has made of many a clever man, a fool; and of many a good man, a knave. Frances Wright, in A Few Days in Athens (1822)



  • He’d forgotten just how addictive crime can be. Repeat offenders are motivated more by withdrawal symptoms than necessity. Sue Grafton, the narrator describing the character Jimmy Tate, in “H” Is for Homicide (1991)
  • “There are crimes which the Law cannot reach.” Dorothy L. Sayers, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker,” from Lord Peter Views the Body (1928)
  • Crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity. Tacitus, in The Annals of Tacitus (1st. c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: In a dramatic press conference on Oct. 17, 2019, Donald Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney unexpectedly admitted to a Trump administration quid pro quo with the new president of Ukraine. After self-servingly suggesting that such political arrangements were common in governmental dealing with other countries, he defiantly urged the press to “Get over it!” The next day, Mulvaney walked back his remarks, but the saying became a rallying cry for Trump supporters, and the Trump re-election campaign even began selling t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with the saying. The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni reported that Trump campaign officials even briefly considered using “Get over it” as a campaign slogan in the 2020 presidential election. Bruni suggested that a more appropriate slogan might be the Tacitus observation above.






  • No blare of trumpets announces a modern crisis. Elie Abel, in The Missile Crisis (1966)
  • By definition, a crisis is what impedes the normal flow of someone’s life, and that may be as public as a divorce, as physical as an overdose, or as subtle as a nagging worry. Diane Ackerman, in A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis (1997)

Ackerman continued: “We think of crisis as something gone wrong, as an illness of circumstance or fate. Yet, when we watch wild animals, we see lives storied with crises. For them, crisis is part of the usual fabric of their existence. It is not rare or special.” A moment later, she added, “So crises may be normal, and even liberating, but they are painful and frightening, and we are compassionate creatures.”

  • The great crises of life are not, I think, necessarily those which are in themselves the hardest to bear, but those for which we are least prepared. Mary Adams, in Confessions of a Wife (1902)
  • In every age “the good old days” were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them. Brooks Atkinson, in Once Around the Sun (1951)
  • The power of turning that radically changes the situation never reveals itself outside of crisis. Martin Buber, in “Genuine Dialogue and the Possibilities of Peace,” a 1953 speech accepting the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

QUOTE NOTE: Buber introduced the thought by saying: “This must be said again and again, it is just the depth of the crisis that empowers us to hope.” And when hope is combined with a realistic assessment of what is at risk, he added, there is often a “late healing and salvation in the face of impending ruin.”

  • Cash combined with courage in a time of crisis is priceless. Warren Buffett, quoted in Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: In her entertaining biography, Schroeder explained Buffett’s observation by making the following observation about his successful investment company: “Berkshire’™s best opportunities always came at times of uncertainty, when others lacked the insight, resources, and fortitude to make the right judgments and commit.”

  • All spiritual growth takes place by leaps and bounds, both in the individual and…in the community. The crisis is to be regarded as a new nexus of growth. Jacob Burkhardt, in Force and Freedom: Reflections on History (1943)

Burkhardt continued: “Crises clear the ground…of a host of institutions from which life has long since departed, and which, given their historical privilege, could not have been swept away in any other fashion.”

  • Man is not imprisoned by habit. Great changes in him can be wrought by crisis—once that crisis can be recognized and understood. Norman Cousins, in Who Speaks for Man (1953)
  • Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp on action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own. Charles de Gaulle, quoted in a 1959 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)

De Gaulle went on to add: “Difficulty attracts the man of character because it is in embracing it that he realizes himself.”

  • In my life I had come to realize that when things were going very well indeed it was just the time to anticipate trouble. And, conversely, I learned from pleasant experience that at the most despairing crisis, when all looked sour beyond words, some delightful “break” was apt to lurk just around the corner. Amelia Earhart, in Last Flight (1937)
  • If you would be a leader, you must resist the reactive role that is the easier path. Those who succumb to fire fighting and crisis management will seldom enjoy the pleasures of achievement. Priscilla Elfrey, in The Hidden Agenda (1982)
  • There are men who rise refreshed on hearing a threat; men to whom a crisis which intimidates and paralyzes the majority—demanding not the faculties of prudence and thrift, but comprehension, immovableness, the readiness of sacrifice—comes graceful and beloved as a bride! Ralph Waldo Emerson, in address at Harvard University Divinity School (July 15, 1838)
  • We learn geology the morning after the earthquake. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • It is the critical moment that shows the man. So when the crisis is upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a tough and stalwart antagonist. Epictetus, “Sayings of Epictetus,” in Henry Dwight Sedgwick, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography (1921)

Epictetus continued: “‘To what end?’ you ask. That you may prove a victor at the Great Games. Yet without toil and sweat this may not be!”

  • Only a crisis—real or perceived—produces real change. Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962; 40th Anniv. Ed., 2002)

Friedman continued: “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

  • To have a crisis, and act upon it, is one thing. To dwell in perpetual crisis is another. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Secrets Women Tell Each Other,” in McCall’s magazine (August, 1975)
  • If there is no crisis, there is stagnation, petrification, and death. Eugène Ionesco, “Have I Written Anti-Theater?” in Notes and Counter-Notes (1962)

Ionesco preceded the thought by writing: “All history is nothing but a succession of “crises”—of rupture, repudiation, and resistance.”

  • Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed. William James, in letter to Wincenty Lutoslawski (May 6, 1906)

James preceded the thought by writing: “I have no doubt whatever that most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.”

  • We don’t get offered crises, they arrive. Elizabeth Janeway, in Cross Sections (1982)
  • When is a crisis reached? When questions arise that can’t be answered. Ryszard Kapuscinski, “A Warsaw Diary,” in Granta magazine (No. 15; 1985)
  • Great crises produce great men and great deeds of courage. John F. Kennedy, in Profiles in Courage (1956)
  • When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy, in speech at annual meeting the United Negro College Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana (April 12, 1959)
  • Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis—a good hot cup of coffee. Alexander King, in I Should Have Kissed Her More (1961)
  • Every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
  • In crises the most daring course is often the safest. Henry Kissinger, in Years of Upheaval (1982)

Kissinger continued: “The riskiest course in my experience has been gradual escalation that the opponent matches step by step, inevitably reaching a higher level of violence and often an inextricable stalemate.”

  • A crisis is only a turning point. Anne Lindthorst, quoted in Karen Casey, A Woman’s Spirit (1994)
  • I’ve come to think that in times of crisis human beings don’t have it in them to be rational. Larry McMurtry, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Nellie Courtright, in Telegraph Days: A Novel (2007)

Later in the novel, Nellie returned to the theme with this observation: “One thing I had figured out in my twenty-two years is that in a crisis situation it’s a mistake to stop and think.”

  • Crisis can be an addiction as powerful as any other. Robin Morgan, in Saturday’s Child: A Memoir (2001)
  • Most of us seldom take the trouble to think. It is a troublesome and fatiguing process and often leads to uncomfortable conclusions. But crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think. Jawaharlal Nehru, in The Unity of India : Collected Writings, 1937-1940 (1942)
  • The easiest period in a crisis situation is actually the battle itself. The most difficult is the period of indecision—whether to fight or run away. And the most dangerous period is the aftermath. It is then, with all his resources spent and his guard down, that an individual must watch out for dulled reactions and faulty judgment. Richard M. Nixon, in the Introduction to Six Crises (1962)

Nixon continued: “Crisis can indeed be an agony. But it is the exquisite agony which a man might not want to experience again—yet would not for the world have missed.”

  • Most men are reasonably useful in a crisis. The difficulty lies in convincing them that the situation has reached a critical point. Elizabeth Peters, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Amelia Peabody, in Curse of the Pharaohs (1981)
  • Crises are political only until they are personal. Elaina Plott, “Her Facebook Friends Asked if Anyone Was Actually Sick. She Had an Answer,” in The New York Times (March 19, 2020)

Plott’s article featured Mark and Heaven (yes, Heaven) Frilot, a Louisiana married couple who, as registered Republicans and Donald Trump supporters, pooh-poohed the coronavirus pandemic as nothing more than Democratic fear-mongering—until Mark became the first person in his community to be diagnosed with the condition. When the article was published on March 19, 2020, Mark, a 45-year-old lawyer who “never gets sick,“ was on a ventilator in an ICU unit, unable to breathe on his own. A week later, Frilot was still in intensive care, but finally showing signs of slight improvement, according to his wife.

The entire story brings to mind a compelling quotation from Mark Twain’s 1899 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: “Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.”

  • A crisis, for water, is when it reaches 211 degrees. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Aug. 4, 2018)

QUOTE NOTE: The boiling point for water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Crisis: Opportunity riding on dangerous winds. Proverb (Chinese)
  • The state of emergency is also always a state of emergence. Claudia Rankine, in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
  • Crisis in its simplest terms is defined as an upset in a steady state. The crisis situation confronts the individual with a threat in which the habitual problem solving activities are not adequate and do not lead rapidly to the previously achieved balanced state. Lydia Rapoport, “The State of Crisis: Some Theoretical Considerations.“ in a 1962 issue of The Social Service Review (specific date undetermined)

Rapoport preceded the thought by writing: “The concept of crisis refers to the state of the reacting individual who finds himself in a hazardous situation.”

  • Every crucial experience can be regarded as a setback—or the start of a new kind of development. Mary Roberts Rinehart, quoted in Lillian Watson, Light From Many Lamps (1988)
  • A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Paul M. Romer, remark at a 2004 meeting of venture capitalists in California, quoted in Thomas Friedman, “It’™s a Flat World,” The New York Times (April 2, 2005)
  • Nationwide thinking, nationwide planning, and nationwide action are the three great essentials to prevent nationwide crises for future generations to struggle through. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a New York City speech (April 25, 1936)
  • We must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all, the power of devotion to a lofty ideal. Theodore Roosevelt, the concluding words of his inaugural address (March 4, 1905)
  • The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution. Arundhati Roy, in interview with Arun Gupta, The Guardian (London; Nov. 30, 2011)
  • In time of crisis, we summon up our strength. Then, if we are lucky, we are able to call every resource, every forgotten image that can leap to our quickening, every memory that can make us know our power. Muriel Rukeyser, in Introduction to The Life of Poetry (1949)

Rukeyser went on to write: “In time of the crises of the spirit, we are aware of all of our need, our need for each other and our need for our selves. We call up, with all the strength of summoning we have, our fullness. And then we turn; for it is a turning that we have prepared; and act.”

  • Crises are two-edged; they always create possibilities for both evil and good. Lillian Smith, in Our Faces, Our Words (1964)
  • People tend to become cynical about even the most appalling crisis if it seems to be dragging on, failing to come to term. Susan Sontag, “Approaching Artaud,” in The New Yorker magazine (May 12, 1973)
  • It is exciting to have a real crisis on your hands, when you have spent half your political life dealing with humdrum issues like the environment. Margaret Thatcher, on the Falklands War, quoted in Hugo Young, One of Us: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher (1989)
  • Our molting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives. Henry David Thoreau, “œEconomy,” in Walden (1854)
  • A crisis event explodes the illusions that anchor our lives. Robert L. Veninga, in A Gift of Hope: How We Survive Our Tragedies (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Veninga wisely pointed out that when we wake up in the coronary care unit, we don’t think about the job concerns that preoccupied us yesterday. Or when a child is lying in a hospital bed, we don’t think about last night’s missed curfew. He went on to add: “In the midst of tragedy, we learn what is important, and that is the redemptive legacy of any crisis experience.”


(includes Artistic, Cultural, Literary, Social, and Interpersonal Criticism; see also CENSURE and CRITICISM—LITERARY EXAMPLES and CRITICISM—STAGE & SCREEN EXAMPLES and CRITICS and REVIEWS & REVIEWERS and INSULTS & PUT-DOWNS)

  • Sympathy is the first condition of criticism. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Nov. 7, 1878)
  • I am bound by my own definition of criticism: a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. Matthew Arnold, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,“ in Essays in Criticism, 1st Series (1965)
  • Sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise. Mary Kay Ash, in The Mary Kay Way (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Ash is commonly regarded as the original author of this sentiment, but she was simply passing along a metaphorical saying that was popular at the time. An earlier version was offered in Diane Tracy’s 1989 book The First Book of Common-Sense Management: “A wise man once said that every criticism should be made into a sandwich with the bread of praise on either side.”

  • Criticism should be a casual conversation. W. H. Auden, a 1946 observation, quoted in N. Jenkins, The Table Talk of W. H. Auden (1990)
  • To belittle is to be little. Author Unknown
  • I am not a critic; to me criticism is so often nothing more than the eye garrulously denouncing the shape of the peephole that gives access to hidden treasure. Djuna Barnes, “The Songs of Synge,” quoted in The Morning Telegraph (Feb. 18, 1917)
  • To love without criticism is to be betrayed. Djuna Barnes, in Nightwood (1936)
  • It is from the womb of art that criticism was born. Charles Baudelaire, in Salon of 1846, later published in Art in Paris, 1845-1862 (1965)
  • Somewhere it is written that parents who are critical of other people's children and publicly admit they can do better are asking for it. Erma Bombeck, in Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (1983)
  • In all of history, we have found just one cure for error—a partial antidote against making and repeating grand, foolish mistakes, a remedy against self-deception. That antidote is criticism. David Brin, in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (1998)
  • To many people…dramatic criticism must seem like an attempt to tattoo soap bubbles. John Mason Brown, in Foreword to Broadway in Review (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: In Dramatis Personae (1963), Brown returned to the theme: “Once I likened dramatic criticism to an attempt to tattoo soap bubbles. My contention was that such an attempt was at once the glory and the challenge of the job. My ardent hope is that some of the iridescence of those soap bubbles is caught, however imperfectly, in this passing record now past.”

  • Foolishness and criticism are so apt, do so naturally go together! Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in an 1839 letter, quoted in Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan, Women of Letters (1987)
  • The rule in carving holds good as to criticism—never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon. Charles Buxton, quoted in Martin Ballou, Pearls of Thought (1882)
  • If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism—no matter how certain we are that it is justified. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • Abilities wither under criticism, they blossom under encouragement. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1998 edition)
  • What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but absence of self-criticism. G. K. Chesterton, “On Bright Old Things—And Other Things,” in Sidelights on New London and Newer New York (1932)
  • A great deal of contemporary criticism reads to me like a man saying: “Of course I do not like green cheese; I am very fond of brown sherry.” G. K. Chesterton, in All I Survey (1933)
  • Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. Winston Churchill, in a 1939 interview with Kingsley Martin, reported in “Mr. Churchill on Democracy,” in New Statesman and Nation (Jan. 7, 1939)

QUOTE NOTE: The interview occurred shortly after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had disparaged critics of his government’s policies, saying they were people who “foul their own nest.” Churchill described the remark as “a convenient thesis, if a dangerous one.” About criticism of the government, Churchill added: “If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” Sixteen months later, after Chamberlain’s resignation, Churchill succeeded him as Prime Minister.

  • Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots. Frank A. Clark, in “Quotable Quotes” feature, Reader’s Digest (1974, Vol. 99)
  • Criticism is like champagne, nothing more execrable if bad, nothing more excellent if good. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive. Henry Steele Commager, in Freedom and Order (1966)
  • Fifteen years of unbroken silence…testify sufficiently to my respect for criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the garden of letters. Joseph Conrad, in A Personal Record (1912)
  • Criticism and Bolshevism have one thing in common. They both seek to pull down that which they could never build. Noel Coward, quoted in Graham Payn, My Life with Noel Coward (with Barry Day, 1994)
  • All you’ll get from strangers will be surface pleasantry or indifference. Only someone who loves you will criticize you. Judith Crist, quoting her mother, in Washington Education (Dec., 1971)
  • You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand. Leonardo da Vinci, a circa 1500 notebook entry, in Leonardo da Vinciâ’s Note-Books (1906, Edward MacCurdy, ed.)
  • Criticism should awaken our attention, not inflame our anger. We should listen to, and not flee from those who contradict us. Truth should be our cause, no matter in what manner it comes to us. Madeleine de Souvré (Madame de Sablé), in The Maxims of Madame de Sablé (1678)
  • One of the ancient goals of criticism was called the correction of taste. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)
  • How much easier it is to be critical than correct. Benjamin Disraeli, in House of Commons address (Jan. 24, 1860); quoted in The Sayings of Disraeli (1992; Robert Blake, ed.)
  • Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms. George Eliot, “Mr Gilfil’s Love Story,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring, a south wind, not an east wind. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (June, 1847)
  • The better a work, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linen. Gustave Flaubert, in letter to Louise Colet (June, 1853)
  • The first night is the worst possible time to make a hard and fast criticism: the baby never looks its best on the day it is born. Margot Fonteyn, in Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography (1975)
  • Criticism is, like philosophy and history, a sort of romance designed for those who have sagacious and curious minds, and every romance is, rightly taken, an autobiography. Anatole France, in The Literary Life (1888-1892)
  • The use of criticism, in periodical writing, is to sift, not to stamp a work. Margaret Fuller, “A Short Essay on Critics,“ in Papers on Literature and Art (1846)
  • Belittling Work that Others do/Will gain no Praise nor Prize for you. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Make it your habit not to be critical about small things. Edward Everett Hale, quoted in The Christian Register (Nov. 30, 1899)
  • Criticism is the revenge of the intellect upon art. David J. Hartson, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 3, 2018)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Hartson very cleverly tweaks a signature saying of Susan Sontag, to be seen in INTERPRETATION.

  • He liked the work of his friends which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgment. Ernest Hemingway, writing about Ezra Pound, in A Movable Feast (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: Hemingway was referring to Pound’s inability—or perhaps his unwillingness—to criticize the artistic creations of people he regarded as friends. Hemingway added: “We never argued about these things because I kept my mouth shut about things I did not like. If a man liked his friends’ painting or writing, I thought it was probably like those people who like their families, and it was not polite to criticize them.”

  • If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married. Katherine Hepburn, recalling advice she got from her mother (Katharine H. Hepburn) in 1928; quoted in Anne Edwards, A Remarkable Woman (1985)
  • You don’t have to lay an egg to know if it tastes good. Pauline Kael, on film criticism, in I Lost It at the Movies (1965)
  • If criticism is needed, do it tactfully. Don’t use a sledgehammer when a fly swatter will do the job. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Lander is passing along time-honored advice about ensuring that the tool being used is proportional to the task. See the Chinese Proverb about using a hatchet below.

  • Coughing in the theater is not a respiratory ailment. It is a criticism. Alan Jay Lerner, in The Street Where I Live (1978)
  • The ball of rumor and criticism, once it starts rolling, is difficult to stop. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Flower and the Nettle (1976)
  • Consider carefully before you say a hard word to a man, but never let a chance to say a good one go by. Praise judiciously bestowed is money invested. George Horace Lorimer, the character John Graham writing in a letter to his son, in Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • Criticism is…always a kind of compliment. John Maddox, quoted in The Listener (London, 1979)

QUOTE NOTE: See a similar remark about abuse, made a century and a half earlier by William Hazlitt.

  • Perhaps the greatest rudenesses of our time come not from the callousness of strangers, but from the solicitousness of intimates who believe that their frank criticisms are always welcome, and who feel free to “be themselves” with those they love, which turns out to mean being their worst selves, while saving their best behavior for strangers. Judith Martin (aka “Miss Manners”), Common Courtesy (1985)
  • People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. W. Somerset Maugham, the character Mr. Clutton speaking, in Of Human Bondage (1915)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Clutton is responding to protagonist Philip Carey’s request to have him evaluate one of his paintings. Clutton goes on: “Besides, what’s the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?” When Carey replies, “It matters to me,” Clutton continues:

“No. The only reason that one paints is that one can’t help it. It’s a function like any of the other functions of the body, only comparatively few people have got it. One paints for oneself: otherwise one would commit suicide.”

  • We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly; and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship; for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580-88)
  • No wonder scoundrels find refuge in patriotism; it offers them immunity from criticism. Bill Moyers, in speech to The Society of Professional Journalists (Sep., 11, 2004)
  • Criticism is the art wherewith a critic tries to guess himself into a share of the artist’s fame. George Jean Nathan, in The House of Satan (1926)
  • A writer who has published as many books as I have has developed, of necessity, a hide like a rhino's, while inside there dwells a frail, hopeful butterfly of a spirit. Joyce Carol Oates, on critical reviews, in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter 1978)
  • Criticism often takes from the tree caterpillars and blossoms together. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Titan (1862, orig. published in four German volumes in 1800-03)
  • The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved with criticism. Norman Vincent Peale, quoted in The Indianapolis Star (Sep. 25, 1958)
  • Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead. Proverb (Chinese)
  • It's not that I can't accept criticism. I can accept it, just not with as good grace as I accept, say, jewelry. Bette-Jane Raphael, in Can This Be Love? (1985)
  • People fed on sugared praises cannot be expected to feel an appetite for the black broth of honest criticism. Agnes Repplier, in Books and Men (1888)
  • In an ongoing relationship, each current criticism packs the punches of all the others that have gone before. Deborah Tannen, in That’s Not What I Meant! (1986)
  • Any criticism heard secondhand sounds worse than it would face to face. Words spoken out of our presence strike us as more powerful, just as people we know only by reputation seem larger than life. Deborah Tannen, in That’s Not What I Meant! (1986)
  • Everyone in the world who has done something in life has attracted criticism. Margaret Thatcher, quoted in Penny Junor, Margaret Thatcher (1983)

Thatcher preceded the thought by saying: “I wouldn’t be worth my salt if I weren’t attracting some controversy and criticism.”

  • In my work, you get used to criticisms. Of course you do, because there are a lot of people trying to get you down, but I always cheer up immensely if one is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. Margaret Thatcher, in an interview with Enzo Biagi on the Italian television network RAI (March 18, 1986)

Thatcher continued: “That is why my father always taught me: never worry about anyone who attacks you personally; it means their arguments carry no weight and they know it.”

  • I am sorry to think that you do not get a man’s most effective criticism until you provoke him. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (March 15, 1854)
  • One mustn’t criticize other people on grounds where he can’t stand perpendicular himself. Mark Twain, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Hank Morgan, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
  • Art is parasitic on life, just as criticism is parasitic on art. Kenneth Tynan, in “Ionesco and the Phantom,” in the Observer (London, July 6, 1958)
  • Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea. John Updike, in the Foreword to Hugging the Shore (1984)
  • As far as criticism is concerned, we don’t resent that unless it is absolutely biased, as it is in most cases. John Vorster, Prime Minister of South Africa, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 9, 1969)
  • Criticism is the rationalization of intuitive musical experience. Alan Walker, in An Anatomy of Musical Criticism (1968)
  • A critic is a necessary evil, and criticism is an evil necessity. Carolyn Wells, “More Mixed Maxims,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • Avoid the ecstatic adjectives that occupy such disproportionate space in every critic’s quiver—words like “enthralling” and “luminous.” William Zinsser, on writing criticism, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

Zinsser continued: “Good criticism needs a lean and vivid style to express what you observed and what you think. Florid adjectives smack of the panting prose with which Vogue likes to disclose its latest chichi discovery: ‘We’ve just heard about the most utterly enchanting little beach at Cozumel.’”



  • His writing is sharp, lucid and logical, embodying imagination in the true sense of the word: common sense with wings. Kingsley Amis, on Arthur C. Clarke, in The Spectator (August, 1973)
  • The glittering structure of her cultivation sits on her novels like a rather showy icing that detracts from the cake beneath. Louis Auchincloss, on Edith Wharton, in Edith Wharton (1961)
  • Colette wrote of vegetables as if they were love objects and of sex as if it were an especially delightful department of gardening. Brigid Brophy, on Colette, quoted in A. Stibbs, Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle (1992).
  • As a work of art it has the same status as a long conversation between two not very bright drunks. Clive James, on Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy, in a 1980 issue of the London Review of Books (specific issue undetermined)
  • Corneille is to Shakespeare as a clipped hedge is to a forest. Samuel Johnson, on Pierre Corneille, quoted in Hester Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786)
  • Updike’s style is an exquisite blend of Melville and Austen: reading him is like cutting through whale blubber with embroidery scissors. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)
  • A symptom disguised as a system. Lewis Mumford, on Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1947 book Existentialism, in The Conduct of Life (1951)
  • If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would. George Orwell, on The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942), in a 1944 review reprinted in George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-46 (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: About Dali’s memoir, Orwell added: “Dali is even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine age, it has great value.”

  • Mr. Theodore Dreiser’s A Book About Myself sounds like nothing but a loud human purr. Agnes Repplier, in “The Happiness of Writing an Autobiography,” in The Atlantic Monthly (1924, Vol. 133)
  • A louse in the locks of literature. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, on critic J. Churton Collins, quoted in E. Charteris, Life and Letters of Sire Edmund Gosse (1931)
  • Reading Proust is like bathing in someone else’s water. Alexander Woollcott, on Marcel Proust, quoted in A. Churchill, The Literary Decade (1971)


(see previous section for LITERARY criticism; see also INSULTS & PUT-DOWNS)

  • Toward the end of her life, she looked like a hungry insect magnified a million times—a praying mantis that had forgotten how to pray. Quentin Crisp, on Joan Crawford, in How to Go to the Movies (1989)
  • She was good at playing abstract confusion in the same way that a midget is good at being short. Clive James, on Marilyn Monroe, in Visions Before Midnight (1977).

James added: “Monroe was so minimally gifted as to be unemployable, and anyone who holds to the opinion that she was a great natural comic identifies himself immediately as a dunce.”

  • Mr. Clarke played the King all evening as though under constant fear that someone else was about to play the Ace. Eugene Field, on actor Creston Clarke’s performance of King Lear, in a 1880s Denver Post review; quoted by A. Woollcott in “Capsule Criticisms,” in The Portable Woollcott (1946)
  • She has made an acting style of postnasal drip. Pauline Kael, on Sandy Dennis, quoted in New York Times obituary for Dennis (March 5, 1992)
  • It’s an ugly, stupid instant movie…the aesthetic equivalent of mugging the audience. Pauline Kael, in The New Yorker review of the 1968 film “You Are What You Eat,” reprinted in Going Steady (1969)
  • Frank Rich and John Simon are the syphilis and gonorrhea of the theatre. David Mamet, quoted in W. Cole & L. Phillips, Oh, What an Awful Thing to Say! (1992)
  • The triumph of sugar over diabetes. George Jean Nathan, in J. M. Barrie, in Comedians All (1919)
  • A dying volcano in final spluttering eruption under a Delta moon. Frank Rich, on Charles Durning’s role as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in New York magazine (March 22, 1990)
  • Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses. John Simon, in a 1970 review, recalled by Diana Rigg in her book of devastating reviews, No Turn Unstoned (1982)

QUOTE NOTE: This was how Rigg recalled Simon’s remark, and this is how it appears in almost all quotation anthologies. As it turns out, though, her memory was faulty, for Simon had actually written that she was “built like a brick basilica with inadequate flying buttresses” (New York magazine, May, 1970). Simon was referring to a Rigg nude scene in his review of the 1970 play Abelarde and Heloise, by Ronald Miller. About the review, Rigg wrote: “I remember making my way to the theatre the following day, darting from doorway to doorway and praying I wouldn’t meet anyone I knew. The cast behaved with supreme tact and pretended they hadn’t read the review.”

  • She was like a sinking ship firing on the rescuers. Alexander Woolcott, on Mrs. Patrick Campbell, in While Rome Burns (1934)



  • American critics are like American universities. They both have dull and half-dead faculties. Edward Albee, in remarks to the New York Cultural League (Nov. 5, 1969)
  • Critics are like brushers of noblemen’s clothes. Francis Bacon, quoting Sir Henry Wotton, in Apothegms (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation is commonly misattributed to Bacon, but he was clearly citing Wotten as the author (he introduced the simile by writing “œSir Henry used to say….—). By the way, the title of Bacon’s famous book is now commonly presented as Apothegms, but it was first published with the archaic spelling Apophthegms.

  • A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste. Whitney Balliett, in introductory note to Dinosaurs in the Morning (1962)
  • Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They’™re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’™t do it themselves. Brendan Behan, quoted in Michael Sullivan, Brendan Behan: A Life (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: George Burns has also been attributed with a similar remark “Critics are eunuchs at a gang-bang”), but I have not been able to find an original source.

  • How many of them handled the brush before being reduced to the broom? Hector Berlioz, on critics, in Les Grotesques de la musique (1859); quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)

According to Mencken, Berlioz introduced his observation by writing: “Poor devils! Where do they come from? At what age are they sent to the slaughter-house? What is done with their bones? Where do such animals pasture in the daytime? Do they have females, and young?”

  • A good writer is not per se a good book critic. No more than a good drunk is automatically a good bartender. Jim Bishop, quoted in New York Journal-American (Nov. 26, 1957)
  • Some critics are emotionally desiccated, personally about as attractive as a year-old peach in a single girl’s refrigerator. Mel Brooks, in Playboy interview (Feb., 1975)

In a New York Times interview a few months later (March 30, 1975), Brooks offered another memorable metaphor on the subject: “Critics can™’t even make music by rubbing their back legs together.”

  • And, of course, with the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth—the critic. Mel Brooks, the narrator of the film History of the World, Part I (1981)
  • What critics often ask for is the impossible, though this may be a salutary means of extending the borders of art. Anthony Burgess, in You’ve Had Your Time (1990)
  • Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame. Robert Burns, on critics, in “To Robert Graham, Esq. Of Fintra,” in The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (1819)
  • A man must serve his time to every trade/Save censure—critics all are ready made. George Noel Gordon (Lord Byron), in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809)
  • Critics are like horse-flies which hinder the horses in their plowing of the soil. The horse works, all its muscles drawn tight like the strings on a double-bass, and a fly settles on his flanks and tickles and buzzes Anton Chekhov, quoted in Maxim Gorky et. al., Reminiscence of Anton Chekhov (1921)

Chekhov added: “And what does the fly buzz about? It scarcely knows itself; simply because it is restless and wants to proclaim: ‘Look, I too am living on the earth. See, I can buzz, too, buzz about anything.’”

  • The reader deserves an honest opinion. If he doesn’t deserve it, give it to him anyhow. John Ciardi, on reviewers and critics, from “The Reviewer’s Duty to Damn,” in Saturday Review (Feb. 16, 1957)
  • The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.; Arthur Waley translation)
  • To be a critic, you have to have maybe three percent education, five percent intelligence, two percent style, and ninety percent gall and egomania in equal parts. Judith Crist, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Popcorn in Paradise (1979)
  • The critic roams through culture, looking for prey. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • A critic is someone who never actually goes to the battle, yet who afterwards comes out shooting the wounded. Tyne Daly, quoted in M. Malloy & S. Sorenson, The Quotable Quote Book (1990)

QUOTATION CAUTION: I am quite certain that Daly is not the original author of this observation, but I present it in hopes that some enterprising quotation sleuth will help track down the original author and the exact phrasing of the original saying.

  • You know who the critics are? The men who have failed in literature and art. Benjamin Disraeli, the character Mr. Phoebus speaking, in Lothair (1870)
  • Critics and reviewers can be loosely divided into two camps: Those who never let you forget that they are judge, jury, and if need be, executioner; and those who humble themselves before a poem or novel, waiting for it to reveal its secrets to them. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)
  • A critic is a lug-worm in the liver of literature. Lawrence Durrell, in Monsieur (1974)
  • Listening to critics is like letting Muhammad Ali decide which astronaut goes to the moon. Robert Duvall, quoted in Al Clark, The Film Yearbook, 1984 (1983)
  • Critics…are of two sorts: those who merely relieve themselves against the flower of beauty, and those, less continent, who afterwards scratch it up. William Empson, in Seven Types of Ambiguity (1949)
  • A man is a critic when he cannot be an artist, in the same way that a man becomes an informer when he cannot be a soldier. Gustave Flaubert, in October 1846 letter to Louise Colet
  • Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts. Gene Fowler, quoted in Reader’™s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • The good critic is he who relates the adventures of his soul in the midst of masterpieces. Anatole France, “M. Jules Lemaître,” in The Literary Life (1888—92)
  • Critical lice are like bodily lice, which desert corpses to seek the living. Théophile Gautier, in Mademoiselle de Maupin: A Romance of Love and Passion (1835)
  • They never raised a statue to a critic. Martha Graham, quoted in Agnes de Mille, Dance to the Piper (1952)
  • The Stones that Critics hurl with Harsh Intent/A Man may use to build His Monument. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: Guiterman’s book was subtitled: “Being Mirthful, Sober, and Fanciful Epigrams on the Universe, with Certain Old Irish Proverbs, All in Rhymed Couplets.”

  • Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs. Christopher Hampton, quoted in Sunday Times Magazine (London, Oct. 16, 1977)

QUOTE NOTE: In Time magazine two weeks later (Oct. 31, 1977), British writer John Osborne was credited with a strikingly similar remark: “Critics are a dissembling, dishonest, contemptible race of men. Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.” Did Osborne pinch the observation from Hampton? I don’t know, but while Osborne’s quotation does appear in many respected quotation anthologies, Hampton appears to be the original author.

  • Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1859)
  • A writer must make up his mind to the possible rough treatment of the critics, who swarm like bacteria whenever there is any literary material on which they can feed. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)

Holmes went on to suggest that literary criticism is something of necessary evil, adding: “What the mulberry leaf is to the silk-worm, the author’s book, treatise, essay, poem, is to the critical larva (sic) that feed upon it. It furnishes them with food and clothing. The process may not be agreeable to the mulberry leaf or to the printed page; but without it the leaf would not have become the silk that covers the empresse’s shoulders, and but for the critic the author’s book might never have reached the scholar’s table.”

  • The critic’s hankering to be law-giver rather than servant of literature is irrepressible. Storm Jameson, in Parthian Words (1970)
  • Critics have been amusing themselves for a long time by auscultating fiction for signs of heart failure. Storm Jameson, in Parthian Words (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a wonderful metaphor (and visual image) that is apparent only to those who know what ausculating means. In medicine, ausculation refers to the act of listening for sounds made by internal organs in the diagnosis of ailments and disorders.

  • A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still. Samuel Johnson, on critics and writers, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables. Samuel Johnson, a 1763 remark on literary criticism, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

This was Johnson’s refutation of the common charge that critics were those who turned to criticism because they had failed in the creative arts. Pauline Kael made the same point about film criticism in I Lost it at the Movies (1965): “You don’™t have to lay an egg to know if it tastes good.”

  • While in some quarters it is felt that the critic is just a necessary evil, most serious-minded, decent, talented theater people agree that the critic is an unnecessary evil. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it. D. H. Lawrence, in Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)
  • Critics are sentinels in the grand army of letters, stationed at the corners of newspapers and reviews, to challenge every new author. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the character Mr. Churchill speaking, in Kavanagh (1849)
  • Some critics are like chimney-sweepers; they put out the fire below, or frighten the swallows from their nests above; they scrape a long time in the chimney, cover themselves with soot, and bring nothing away but a bag of cinders, and then sing from the top of the house as if they had built it. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • A good critic is the sorcerer who makes some hidden spring gush forth unexpectedly under our feet. François Mauriac, “A Critique of Criticism,” in Second Thoughts (1961)
  • It is quite cruel that a poet cannot wander through his regions of enchantment without having a critic forever, like the old Man of the Sea, upon his back. Thomas Moore, in Lalla Rookh (1817)
  • Insects sting, not in malice, but because they want to live. It is the same with critics: they desire our blood, not our pain. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human All-Too-Human (1879)
  • For critics, as they are birds of prey, have ever a natural inclination to carrion. Alexander Pope, in letter to William Wycherly (Dec. 26, 1704)
  • I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre—as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to the cotton field. George Sanders, in the 1950 film All About Eve (screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

QUOTE NOTE; This is a legendary line in cinema history, delivered by Sanders in the role of drama critic Addison de Witt (he introduced the line by saying, “œMy native habitat is the theatre”). Based on “The Wisdom of Eve,” a short story by Mary Orr that appeared in a 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, the film was nominated for a record-setting fourteen Oscars (it won six, including Best Picture). The film holds one other major distinction: four Oscar nominations for females in major roles (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress).

  • When he looks back, the critic sees a eunuch’s shadow. Who would be a critic if he could be a writer? George Steiner, in Language and Silence: Essays on language, literature, and the Inhuman (1967)

Steiner continued: “œWho would hammer out the subtlest insight into Dostoevsky if he could weld an inch of the Karamazovs, or argue the poise of Lawrence if he could shape the free gust of life in The Rainbow?

  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car. Kenneth Tynan, in The New York Times (Dec. 1, 1963)
  • Critics are like pigs at the pastry cart. John Updike

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is one of Updike’s most famous quotations, but you will not find a single source where he says it in this exact way. The essential metaphor does come from Updike, though, originating in a Nov. 14, 1971 New York Times Book Review article (“Henry Bech Redux€”). In the piece, Updike is “interviewed” by his popular fictional character, Henry Bech, a Jewish writer who serves as something of an alter-ego to Updike. Responding to a question about reviews, Updike says he finds them humiliating; he than adds about reviewers:

“Even the on-cheering ones have read a different book than the one you wrote. All the little congruences and arabesques you prepared with such anticipatory pleasure are gobbled up as if by pigs at a pastry cart.”

After the article appeared, the modified version began to be widely quoted. In The Other John Updike (1981), biographer Donald J. Greiner wrote: “œThe implication that reviewers with a new book are like pigs at a dessert table became so well known that Updike was asked about it even seven years later when interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show.”

  • Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck. Eli Wallach, quoted in Ned Sherrin, Cutting Edge (1984)
  • A critic is a necessary evil, and criticism is an evil necessity. Carolyn Wells, “More Mixed Maxims,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • The important thing is that you make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)



A lawyer should never ask a witness on cross-examination a question unless in the first case he knew what the answer would be, or in the second place he didn't care. David Grahame, quoted in Frances L. Wellman, The Art of Cross-Examination (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: Grahame’s observation went on to become a legal tenet famously described by Harper Lee in her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird (see the Lee entry below)

  • Never, never, never, on cross examination ask a witness a question you don’t alread