Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“D” Quotations



  • Dancing is What Music was Created For. Advertising Slogan, for Arthur Murray dance studios
  • Dancing is a sweat job. You can’t just sit down and do it, you have to get up on your feet. Fred Astaire, in 1965 Life magazine interview, quoted in his New York Times obituary (June 23, 1987)
  • Dancing is the body made poetic. Ernst Bacon, in Notes on the Piano (1963)
  • There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)
  • Dancing is a primal urge coming to life at the first moment we need to express joy. James Cagney, in Cagney by Cagney (1976)
  • Dancing, if done consistently and as part of a measured regimen is a form of life insurance. James Cagney, in Cagney by Cagney (1976)
  • There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. Edwin Denby, from 1954 lecture at the Julliard School; reprinted in Dance Writings and Poetry (1998; Robert Cornfield, ed.)
  • The poetry of the foot. John Dryden, the character Don Manuel’s description of dancing, in The Rival Ladies (1664)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet quotation sites mistakenly present this is as: “Dancing is the poetry of the foot.”

  • Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)
  • To learn to dance is the most austere of disciplines. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)

Ellis preceded the observation by writing: “For the artist life is always a discipline, and no discipline can be without pain. That is so even of dancing, which of all the arts is most associated in the popular mind with pleasure.”

  • Dancing begets warmth, which is the parent of wantonness. It is, Sir, the great grandfather of cuckoldom. Henry Fielding, the character Sir Positive Trap speaking, in Love in Several Masques (1726)
  • Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body. And it’s partly the language that we don’t want to show. Martha Graham, “Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance,” in New York Times (March 31, 1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Most quotation anthologies present only the first portion of the observation: Dance is the hidden language of the soul. Graham preceded the thought by writing: “I believe that dance was the first art. A philosopher has said that dance and architecture were the two first arts. I believe that dance was first because it’s gesture, it’s communication. That doesn’t mean that it’s telling a story, but it means it’s communicating a feeling, a sensation to people.”

  • Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery. Martha Graham, “Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance,” in New York Times (March 31, 1985)
  • Every dance is a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory (1991)
  • I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)
  • The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word. Mata Hari, in Scrapbook (1905)
  • We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. D. H. Lawrence, in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation (1980)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented as if it read that we might be alive.

QUOTE NOTE: This was Lawrence’s way of describing the importance of living fully in the present moment. He began by writing: “For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time.”

  • Dancing is a contact sport. Vince Lombardi, quoted in James Michener, Sports in America (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation came as the conclusion to a fuller remark that began: “Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport.”

  • You can’t lie when you dance. It’s so direct. You do what is in you. You can’t dance out of the side of your mouth. Shirley MacLaine, quoted in James Spada, Shirley & Warren (1985)
  • Dancing is wonderful training for girls, it’s the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it. Christopher Morley, in Kitty Foyle (1939)
  • A perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire. George Bernard Shaw, on dancing, quoted in New Statesman (March 23, 1962)
  • Dancing has been a way of lifting the human spirit since the beginning of time. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution from Within (1992)
  • Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made. Ted Shawn, quoted in Time magazine (July 25, 1955)
  • Dancing is like bank robbery. It takes split-second timing. Twyla Tharp, in Ms. Magazine (1976)



  • Dancers are both athletes and artists. Margot Fonteyn, in A Dancer’s World (1979)
  • “Jumping for joy” is a very basic human reaction, and a child skipping down the street is simply an untrained dancer. Margot Fonteyn, in A Dancer's World (1979)
  • The philosopher’s soul dwells in his head, the poet’s soul is in his heart; the singer’s soul lingers about his throat, but the soul of the dancer abides in all her body. Kahlil Gibran, in The Wanderer (1932)


(see also BALLET and DISCO and FOXTROT and TANGO and WALTZ)

  • The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. Eldridge Cleaver, “Convalescence,” in Soul on Ice (1968)

On the revolutionary impact of the new dance on American culture, Cleaver added: “The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion, and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul what the Supreme Court could only write in the books.”



  • I don’t make love by kissing, I make love by dancing. Fred Astaire, a remark to Henry Ephron, quoted in Ephron’s We Thought We Could Do Anything: The Life of Screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron (1977)
  • To relax is difficult for me. I know it is important to have a sensible schedule and not to exaggerate, but I am like a horse used to pulling a great load. I can't begin to think what would happen if I stopped dancing. Mikhail Baryshnikov, quoted in “Baryshnikov: Gotta Dance,” Time magazine (May 19, 1975)

About no longer dancing, Baryshnikov added: “I have to squelch those thoughts, drive them down. The stage is a form of opium for me—a psychological feeling I must have, I cannot be without.”

  • If everyone knew how physically cruel dancing really is, nobody would watch—only those people who enjoy bull fights. Margot Fonteyn, quoted in Keith Money, The Art of Margot Fonteyn (1965)
  • My dance is a sacred poem in which each movement is a word and whose every word is underlined by music. Mata Hari, quoted in John S. Craig, Peculiar Liaisons: in War, Espionage, the Terrorism in the Twentieth Century (2004)

The legendary dancer/spy added: “The temple in which I dance can be vague or faithfully reproduced, for I am the temple.”

  • I danced with passion to spite the music. Gelsey Kirkland, on dancing the title role in The Firebird, in her autobiography Dancing on My Grave (1989)



  • The trouble with nude dancing is that not everything stops when the music stops. Robert M. Helpmann, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Helpmann, an Australian choreographer, was commenting on the 1969 theatrical review Oh, Calcutta!, which featured totally nude actors—both male and female—in many scenes.



  • Dancing is the body made poetic. Ernst Bacon, in Notes on the Piano (1963)
  • There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)
  • Just do the steps that you've been shown/By everyone you've ever known/Until the dance becomes your very own/No matter how close to yours another's steps have grown/In the end there is one dance you'll do alone. Jackson Browne, from the song “For a Dancer,” on the album Late for the Sky (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Jackson wrote this hauntingly beautiful song in memory of his friend, Adam Saylor, who died in 1968, possibly from a suicide (an earlier song about Saylor, titled “Song For Adam,” contained the lyric, “The story’s told that Adam jumped, but I’ve been thinking that he fell”). Jackson has written many moving songs in his career, and “For a Dancer” may be the very best. It concludes with this verse: “Into a dancer you have grown/ From a seed somebody else has thrown/Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own/And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go/May lie a reason you were alive but you'll never know.” Listen to the song at ”For a Dancer”

ERROR ALERT: Many people mistakenly believe Jackson was inspired to write the song after the suicide of his wife, Phyllis Major, in 1976.

  • Dancing is a primal urge coming to life at the first moment we need to express joy. James Cagney, in Cagney by Cagney (1976)
  • Dancing, if done consistently and as part of a measured regimen is a form of life insurance. James Cagney, in Cagney by Cagney (1976)
  • There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. Edwin Denby, from 1954 lecture at the Julliard School; reprinted in Dance Writings and Poetry (1998; Robert Cornfield, ed.)
  • The poetry of the foot. John Dryden, the character Don Manuel’s description of dancing, in The Rival Ladies (1664)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet quotation sites mistakenly present this is as: “Dancing is the poetry of the foot.”

  • An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun, or can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance with joy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Dancing begets warmth, which is the parent of wantonness. It is, Sir, the great grandfather of cuckoldom. Henry Fielding, the character Sir Positive Trap speaking, in Love in Several Masques (1726)
  • Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body. And it’s partly the language that we don’t want to show. Martha Graham, “Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance,” in New York Times (March 31, 1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Most quotation anthologies present only the first portion of the observation: Dance is the hidden language of the soul. Graham preceded the thought by writing: “I believe that dance was the first art. A philosopher has said that dance and architecture were the two first arts. I believe that dance was first because it’s gesture, it’s communication. That doesn’t mean that it’s telling a story, but it means it’s communicating a feeling, a sensation to people.”

  • Every dance is a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory (1991)
  • The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word. Mata Hari, in Scrapbook (1905)
  • That's how the blues emerged, by the way—/Our spirits needed a way to dance through the heavy mess./The music, a sack that carries the bone of those left alongside/The trail of tears when we were forced/To leave everything we knew by the way. Joy Harjo, “By the Way: For Adrienne Rich,” in The New Yorker (Dec. 5, 2016)

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

  • Ambivalence is a wonderful tune to dance to. It has a rhythm all its own. Erica Jong, in Fear of Flying (1973)
  • Old age on a good day is a dance we don’t know the steps to: we falter. Anne Lamott, “Dear Old Friend,” in Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007)

Lamott added: “We may not be going in the direction we’d anticipated, or have any clue at all about which way to turn next.”

  • We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. D. H. Lawrence, in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation (1980)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented as if it read that we might be alive.

QUOTE NOTE: This was Lawrence’s way of describing the importance of living fully in the present moment. He began by writing: “For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time.”

  • The Dance of Anger. Harriet Lerner, title of 1985 book
  • Dancing is a contact sport. Vince Lombardi, quoted in James Michener, Sports in America (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation came as the conclusion to a fuller remark that began: “Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport.”

  • You can’t lie when you dance. It’s so direct. You do what is in you. You can’t dance out of the side of your mouth. Shirley MacLaine, quoted in James Spada, Shirley & Warren (1985)
  • A perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire. George Bernard Shaw, on dancing, quoted in New Statesman (March 23, 1962)
  • Dancing has been a way of lifting the human spirit since the beginning of time. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution from Within (1992)
  • Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made. Ted Shawn, quoted in Time magazine (July 25, 1955)
  • Dancing is like bank robbery. It takes split-second timing. Twyla Tharp, in Ms. Magazine (1976)
  • True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,/As those move easiest who have learned to dance. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)
  • No art is possible without a dance with death. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in Slaughterhouse Five (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, the narrator credits the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline with the line, although it is more likely a paraphrasing of something the French author wrote. Here’s the full passage: “Céline was a brave French soldier in the First World War-until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn’t sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote.”

  • Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking. John Wain, in a BBC radio broadcast (Jan. 13, 1976)
  • 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)
  • Piano playing, a dance of human fingers. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a 1939-40 notebook entry, in Culture and Value (1980)



  • Everyone, my friend, demands a spice of danger in their lives. Some get it vicariously—as in bullfights. Some read about it. Some find it at the cinema. But I am sure of this—too much safety is abhorrent to the nature of a human being. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in Curtain (1975)

Poirot continued: “Men find danger in many ways—women are reduced to finding their danger mostly in affairs of sex. That is why, perhaps, they welcome the hint of the tiger—the sheathed claws, the treacherous spring. The excellent fellow who will make a good and kind husband—they pass him by.”

  • That fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptation, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Aug. 24, 1751)
  • Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Helen Keller, in Let Us Have Faith (1940)
  • One doesn’t measure friendship by length of time only; depth of time is just as valuable. And danger gives the greatest depths of all. Helen MacInnes, the character Christophorou speaking, in Decision at Delphi (1960)
  • Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety. William Shakespeare, the character Hotspur speaking, in King Henry IV, Part I (1596–97)
  • Don’t play for safety./It’s the most dangerous thing in the world. Hugh Walpole, in the poem Fortitude (1913)
  • If you know from history the danger, then part of the danger is over because it may not take you by surprise as it did your ancestors. Simon Wiesenthal, quoted in Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File (1994)



  • The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow. Marian Anderson, in My Lord, What a Morning (1956)

Anderson introduced the thought by writing: “There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the first move.”

  • Sadly, most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • 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)
  • A vast deal may be done by those who dare to act. Jane Austen, the character Mrs. Elton speaking, in Emma (1816)
  • 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)
  • The path that leadeth on is lighted by one fire—the light of daring, burning in the heart. The more one dares, the more he shall obtain. The more he fears, the more that light shall pale—and that alone can guide. H. P. Blavatsky, in The Voice of the Silence (1909)
  • I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more, as I grow older. Catherine Drinker Bowen, in Family Portrait (1970)
  • Let’s dare to be ourselves, for we do that better than anyone else can. Shirley Ann Briggs, quoted in Sue Patton Thoele, The Courage to Be Yourself (1988)
  • But he that dares not grasp the thorn/Should never crave the rose. Anne Brontë, “The Narrow Way,” in Fraser’s Magazine (Dec., 1848; originally published under the pen name, Acton Bell)
  • Happy are all free peoples, too strong to be dispossessed./But blessed are those among nations who dare to be strong for the rest!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “A Court Lady,” in Poems Before Congress (1860)

  • If I had one wish for my children, it would be that each of you would dare to do the things and reach for goals in your own lives that have meaning for you as individuals, doing as much as you can for everybody, but not worrying if you don’t please everyone. Lillian Carter, in Away From Home: Letters to My Family (1977; with Gloria Carter Spann)
  • To know how to say what others only know how to think, is what makes men poets or sages; and to dare to say what others only dare to think, makes men martyrs or reformers, or both. Elizabeth Charles, in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (1863)
  • There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom. Karl von Clausewitz, in On War (1832–34)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is commonly presented in quotation compilations, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “In war all action is aimed at probable rather than at certain success, and there are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom.”

  • Dare to be yourself. Thomas Couture, quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his “Notes” to the “Success” chapter, in Society and Solitude (1870)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is commonly misattributed to Emerson, but his notes make it clear that he was quoting the 19th century painter Thomas Couture (1815-79). In the 20th century, the French writer André Gide repeated the observation, and the saying is also commonly attributed to him.

  • A single feat of daring can alter the whole conception of what is possible. Graham Greene, the voice of the narrator, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)
  • Deeds of daring dazzle history, and form one of man's guiding lights. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

Hugo preceded the thought by writing: “The onward march of the human race requires that the heights around it constantly blaze with noble lessons of courage.”

  • When moral courage feels that it is in the right, there is no personal daring of which it is incapable. Leigh Hunt, in Table-Talk (1902)
  • 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.”

  • Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. Robert F. Kennedy, in Promises to Keep (1969)
  • In crises the most daring course is often the safest. Henry Kissinger, in Years of Upheaval, 1973-77 (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.”

  • Adventure can be an end in itself. Self-discovery is the secret ingredient that fuels daring. Grace Lichtenstein, in Machisma: Women and Daring (1981)
  • A man with outward courage dares to die, one with inward courage dares to live. Lao-Tzu, in Tao-te Ching (6th c. B.C.); also to be found in Ts Zung Koo, Basic Values in Chinese Culture (1950)
  • Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it. Abraham Lincoln, in address at Cooper Union, New York City (Feb. 27, 1860)
  • When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid. Audre Lorde, in The Cancer Journals (1980)

Lorde preceded the thought by writing: “I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I’ll be sending messages on a ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side”

  • Even in the most bold and daring acts, courage is a matter of the heart. Katherine Martin, in Women of Courage: Inspiring Stories of Courage by the Women Who Lived Them (1999)
  • Birds that cannot even sing—/Dare to come again in spring! Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Doubt No More That Oberon,” in Second April (1921)
  • Whatever there be of progress in life comes not through adaptation but through daring, through obeying the blind urge. Henry Miller, “Reflections on Writing,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)
  • Imagination is the voice of the daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything. Henry Miller, in Sexus (1949)
  • It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “The Invitation” (1999), in Opening The Invitation (2004)
  • Caring is the only daring. Kenneth Patchen, in What shall We Do Without Us? The Voice and Vision of Kenneth Patchen (1984)
  • 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.

  • We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. May Sarton, a reflection of the protagonist Hilary Stevens, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • Elegance is good taste plus a dash of daring. Carmel Snow, in The World of Carmel Snow (1962)
  • All creativity is based on trial and error. Take chances. Extend yourself. Dare. Alexandra Stoddard, in Daring to Be Yourself (1990)
  • Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings, which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • 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.”

  • All serious daring starts from within. Eudora Welty, “Finding a Voice,” in One Writer’s Beginnings (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is commonly presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”



  • Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Francis Bacon, “On Death,” in Essays (1625)
  • He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. The Bible—1 John 2:9 (RSV)
  • Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.” The Bible—John 12:35 (RSV)
  • I'm not frightened of the darkness outside. It's the darkness inside houses I don't like. Shelagh Delaney, the character Jo speaking, in A Taste of Honey (1958)
  • Darkness did not seem so much to fall as it did to rise from a hushed earth to the bright face of the sky. And the sky, at first, strained away—resisting, retreating. But at last the night won—slowly, inexorably, until at last all of earth and sky were cradled in its arms. Loula Grace Erdman, the voice of the narrator, in The Edge of Time (1950)
  • If you know the dark, you find it has a light of its own to let you see. Leslie Ford (pen name of Zenith Brown), in Murder Comes to Eden (1955)
  • If one is willing to adapt, the darkness offers a place to step beyond the known edge and explore, a place of silence and sound, a place both unpopulated and populous, filled with things we may not see by day. Cathy Johnson, in The Nocturnal Naturalist: Exploring the Outdoors at Night (1989)
  • As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)
  • Without darkness there are no dreams. Karla Kuban, in Marchlands (1998)
  • Darkness is only in the mortal eye, that thinks it sees, but sees not. Ursula K. Le Guin, the voice of the narrator, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,/Only a signal shown and a distant voice in darkness;/So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,/Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863-1874)
  • It is so much easier to tell intimate things in the dark. William McFee, in Casuals of the Sea (1916)
  • I like the night. Without the dark, we'd never see the stars. Stephenie Meyer, the protagonist Isabella Swan speaking, in Twilight (2005)
  • We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen. Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: M. Scott Peck was almost certainly influenced by this famous Merton passage when he wrote in The Road Less Traveled (1978): “We are most often in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

  • And I saw darkness for weeks. It never dawned on me that I could come out of it, but you heal. Nature heals you, and you do come out of it. All of a sudden I saw a crack of light/…then all of a sudden I saw another crack of light. Then I saw forms in the light. And I recognized that there was no darkness, that in darkness there’ll always be light. Louise Nevelson, in Dawns + Dusks (1976)
  • The beauty of darkness 
is how it lets you see. Adrienne Rich, in Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (1995)
  • In a dark time, the eye begins to see. Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time,” in The Far Field (1964)
  • To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts—such is the duty of the artist. Robert Schumann, quoted in Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911)
  • I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light. Barbara Brown Taylor, in Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014)

A bit earlier, Brown described what darkness meant to her by writing: “For now, it is enough to say that ‘darkness’ is shorthand for anything that scares me—that I want no part of—either because I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.”

  • Our comfort or discomfort with the outer dark is a good barometer of how we feel about the inner kind. Barbara Brown Taylor, in Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014)

I have seen the sun with a little ray of distant light challenge all the powers of darkness, and without violence and noise, climbing up the hill, hath made night so retire that its memory was lost in the joys and sprightliness of the morning. Jeremy Taylor, “The Faith and Patience of the Saints,” in The Sermons of Jeremy Taylor (1841)

  • Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • 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.


(see also DARKNESS and GOOD & BAD and LIGHT and NIGHT & DAY)

  • As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)
  • Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)

Dr. King continued: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

  • Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it. Terry Pratchett, the voice of the narrator, in Reaper Man (1991)
  • We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. J. K. Rowling, the character Sirius Black speaking to Harry, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)

Black preceded the thought by saying: “The world isn’t split into good people and Death-Eaters.”

  • If it’s dark everywhere, you can become so discouraged. You might doubt whether light still exists. But even if you can’t see the Lord, He sees you and me. Corrie Ten Boom, quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, in Messages of God's Abundance (2002)

Ten Boom continued: “Jesus said, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20). When it’s necessary, He suddenly says, ‘I’m still here!’”



  • The plural of anecdote is not data. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This counter-proverb or anti-proverb began to appear in the early 1980s, clearly inspired by an earlier observation from the American political scientist Raymond Wolfinger: “The plural of anecdote is data” (see the Wolfinger entry below). The original author of the tweaked saying is unknown, even though it is commonly attributed to George Stigler and to Roger Brinner, both American economists (never, however, with any definitive source information). The saying is sometimes also phrased: “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”

  • The more data we have, the more likely we are to drown in it. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010)
  • The plural of anecdote is data. Raymond Wolfinger, quoted in his obituary in The Daily Californian (Feb. 11, 2015)

QUOTE NOTE: First offered in 1969-70, this saying has achieved the status a modern proverb (and also inspired an equally popular counter-proverb, seen above). It was originally offered by professor Wolfinger as a rejoinder to a smart-alecky grad student in one of his classes. Here’s how Wolfinger expressed it in a 2004 e-mail to the Yale Book of Quotations editor Fred R. Shapiro: “I said ‘The plural of anecdote is data’ some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student’s dismissal of a simple factual statement—by another student or me—as a mere anecdote. The quotation was my rejoinder. Since then I have missed few opportunities to quote myself.”

According to The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012), the saying appeared in print for the first time a decade later in Roger C. Noll’s “The Game of Health Care Regulation,” an article in Issues in Health Care Regulation (1980; Richard S. Gordon, ed.). The full passage went this way: “Most of the evidence is anecdotal. Nevertheless, in the words of a leading political scientist, Raymond Wolfinger, the plural of anecdote is data.” It’s extremely rare for a quotation to move from an off-the-cuff classroom rejoinder to a relatively obscure technical article and then on to popular usage, but that appears to be the case with this observation.



  • What is a date, really, but a job interview that lasts all night? Jerry Seinfeld, in SeinLanguage (1993)



  • “Daughter” is not a lifelong assignment. Shirley Abbott, in The Bookmaker’s Daughter: A Memory Unbound (1991)
  • Certain it is, that there is no Kind of Affection so pure and angelic as that of a Father to a Daughter. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Aug., 5, 1712)

Addison went on to add: “In love to our wives there is desire, to our sons there is ambition; but in that to our daughters, there is something which there are no words to express.”

  • Every time it happens, I’m obsessed with the feeling I’m giving a million-dollar Stradivarius to a gorilla. Jim Bishop, on his feelings when each of his four daughters became engaged; quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote (1977)
  • O, my son’s my son till he gets him a wife,/But my daughter’s my daughter all her life. Dinah Mulock Craik, in the poem “Magnus and Morna” (1881)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all reference sources mistakenly identify the poem “Young and Old” as the source of this couplet. Thanks to Fred Shapiro for rectifying this error in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006).

  • To an old father, nothing is more sweet/Than a daughter. Boys are more spirited, but their ways/Are not so tender. Euripides, the character Iphis speaking, in The Suppliant Woman (5th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: The aged Iphis is mourning the loss of his family, especially his daughter Capaneus. He preceded the thought by saying: “What a delight that was, when I had my daughter!/But now she is no more—she who would draw/my cheek to her lips and clasp my head in her hands.”

  • Being a daughter is only half the equation; bearing one is the other. Erica Jong, in Parachutes & Kisses (1984
  • The father of a daughter…is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, “Daddy, I need to ask you something,” he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan. Garrison Keillor, in The Book of Guys (1993)
  • He who has daughters is always a shepherd. Proverb (Spanish)
  • A daughter is a mother’s gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters’ role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships. Victoria Secunda, in Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life (1992)
  • I love my daughter. She and I have shared my body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. Amy Tan, a reflection of the character Ying-Ying, in The Joy Luck Club (1989)


(see also MONTH and WEEK and YEAR)

  • The day will happen whether or not you get up. John Ciardi, in 1966 Saturday Review column (specific issue undetermined)
  • When one has a great deal to put into it, a day has a hundred pockets. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • With Pleasure own your Errors past,/And make each day a Critic on the last. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)


(see also ASPIRATION and DREAMS [Aspirational & Escapist] and DREAMS [Nocturnal] and FANTASY and GOALS and HOPE and IMAGINATION and WISHES)

  • A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)



  • I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by. Douglas Adams, quoted in Guardian (London, June 3, 2000)

QUOTE NOTE: A deadline now means a specific time or date at which something must be completed, but the term originated in the Civil War, when guards in Union POW camps herded Confederate soldiers into small groups and then drew a “do not cross” boundary line on the ground around them—a line which would result in death if crossed. The POWs were often warned, “If you cross the line, you are dead.” For more, go to: Online Etymology Dictionary.

  • A goal is a dream with a deadline. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This saying—so popular it might even be considered a modern proverb—is commonly attributed to the success guru Napoleon Hill, but there is no evidence he said or wrote anything like it. A similar saying (“Goals are dreams with deadlines”) is also commonly attributed to time-management writer Diana Scharf-Hunt, but never with conclusive documentation. Quotation sleuth Barry Popick has also weighed in on this and similar sayings. See his 2012 post at The Big Apple.

  • A deadline spurs action. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, the saying Deadlines Spur Action first appeared in a headline in a California newspaper in 1947. The phrase is now commonly used in business and sports settings to refer to the importance of a deadline in moving a negotiation to completion.

  • A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)
  • Death is the ultimate deadline. And nobody likes to be rushed. Mary Burton, the character Vega speaking, in Dying Scream (2009)
  • A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large. Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby, in Procrastinator’s Success Kit: How To Get Yourself to Do Almost Anything (1986)
  • I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline. Duke Ellington, quoted in Ken Vail, Duke’s Diary: The Life of Duke Ellington, 1950–1974 (2002)
  • The ultimate inspiration is the deadline. That’s when you have to do what needs to be done. Steve Karmen, quoted in Roger Von Oech, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants (1986)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

  • Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It’s no coincidence we call them “deadlines.” Tom Robbins, the character Larry speaking, in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994)
  • One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines. Émile Zola, in Le Figaro (1881)



  • The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than the problems of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. Helen Keller, in a 1910 letter to Dr. J. Kerr Love, quoted in Brian Grant, The Quiet Ear (1987)
  • In the end, words, volumes of words, all signed, were the eloquent metaphor of my life. It was the language born of hands that was my beginning. Ruth Sidransky, In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World (1990)



  • The end of a man’s life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (April 10, 1712)
  • At death we put the signature to our life’s portrait. The paint dries. The portrait’s done. Ready or not. Randy Alcorn, in The Law of Rewards (2003)
  • It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen, the character Kleinman speaking, in the one-act play Death (1975)
  • A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist. Stewart Alsop, in Stay of Execution (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: Alsop was in the final stages of leukemia when he wrote this, and it is clear from the passage that he was ready to let go. A moment earlier, he wrote the following in response to a physician’s comment that he’d been living a normal life:

“It is not normal to wake up every night just before dawn with a fever of 101 or so, take a couple of pills, and settle down to sweat like a hog for four or five hours. It is not normal to feel so weak you can’t play tennis or go trout fishing. And it is not normal either to feel a sort of creeping weariness and a sense of being terribly dependent, like a vampire, on the blood of others [he is referring here to the frequent platelet transfusions]. After eight weeks of this kind of “normal” life, the thought of death loses some of its terror.”

  • Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind towards some resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds. Robert Anderson, the character Gene speaking, in I Never Sang For My Father (1968)
  • Death not merely ends life, it also bestows upon it a silent completeness, snatched from the hazardous flux to which all things human are subject. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Your lost friends are not dead, but gone before, advanced a stage or two upon that road which you must travel in the steps they trod. Aristophanes, a fragment; quoted in Kate Louise Roberts, Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922)
  • Truth sits upon the lips of dying men. Matthew Arnold, in Sohrab and Rustum: An Episode (1853)
  • It is not dying, but living, that is a preparation for Death. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • The difference between being and non-being is both so abrupt and so vast that it remains shocking even though it happens to every living thing that is, was, or ever will be. Diana Athill, in Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir (2008)
  • No matter how much you’ve been warned, Death always comes without knocking. Why now? is the cry. Why so soon? It’s the cry of a child being called home at dusk, it’s the universal protest against Time. Margaret Atwood, the character Toby recalling the words of Adam One, in The Year of the Flood: A Novel (2009)
  • Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic. W. H. Auden, in The Dyer’s Hand (1968)
  • Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Francis Bacon, “On Death,” in Essays (1625)
  • Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home. Francis Bacon, attributed as appearing in “An Essay on Death” in The Remaines of the Right Honourable Francis Lord Verulam (1648)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The Remaines book cited above appeared twenty-two years after Bacon’s death, and its authenticity has been question by most Bacon scholars.

  • Death pays all debts. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • To die will be an awfully big adventure. J. M. Barrie, a thought coming from deep inside the title character, in Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (1904)
  • The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it. Mary Catherine Bateson, in With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (1984)
  • Curious, how each one of us secretly carries his private cemetery around with him and watches it filling up with ever new graves. The last one to be our own. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)
  • Death hath so many doors to let out life. John Beaumont and Philip Massinger, the character Zenoica speaking, in The Custom of the Country (1647)
  • Death cancels all engagements. Max Beerbohm, the Duke of Dorset speaking, in Zuleika Dobson (1911)
  • One by one, our comrades depart, deprive us of their shade. Candice Bergen, in A Fine Romance (2016)
  • In literature and in art, alike, this gloomy fashion of regarding Death has been characteristic of Christianity. Death has been painted as a skeleton grasping a scythe, a grinning skull, a threatening figure with terrible face and uplifted dart, a bony scarecrow shaking an hour-glass—all that could alarm and repel has been gathered round this rightly-named King of Terrors. Annie Besant, in Death—And After (1906)
  • Every tiny part of us cries out against the idea of dying, and hopes to live forever. Ugo Betti, in Struggle Till Dawn (1949)
  • The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. The Bible—1 Corinthians 15:26
  • I cannot consider death as anything but a removing from one room to another. William Blake, a Dec. 7, 1826 remark to Henry Crabb Robinson, made shortly before his death; quoted in Robinson's Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence (1869)
  • Death comes for us all; even at our birth—even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh. Robert Bolt, Sir Thomas More speaking, in the play A Man for All Seasons (1962)
  • Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Miscellaneous Thoughts,” in Letters and Papers From Prison (1953)
  • Just do the steps that you’ve been shown/By everyone you’ve ever known/Until the dance becomes your very own/No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown/In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone. Jackson Browne, from the song “For a Dancer,” on the album Late for the Sky (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Jackson wrote this hauntingly beautiful song in memory of his friend, Adam Saylor, who died in 1968, possibly from a suicide (an earlier song about Saylor, titled “Song For Adam,” contained the lyric, “The story’s told that Adam jumped, but I’ve been thinking that he fell”). Jackson has written many moving songs in his career, and “For a Dancer” may be the very best. It concludes with this verse: “Into a dancer you have grown/ From a seed somebody else has thrown/Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own/And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go/May lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know.” Listen to the song at ”For a Dancer”.

ERROR ALERT: Many people mistakenly believe Jackson was inspired to write the song after the suicide of his wife, Phyllis Major, in 1976.

  • Death is the cure of all diseases. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Though it be in the power of the weakest arm to take away life, it is not in the strongest to deprive us from death. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death. When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile. Julie Burchill, quoted in The Independent (London; Dec. 5, 1989)
  • Death comes along like a gas bill one can’t pay. Anthony Burgess, in Playboy magazine interview (Sep., 1974)
  • Death is the ultimate deadline. And nobody likes to be rushed. Mary Burton, the character Vega speaking, in Dying Scream (2009)
  • Death is only a larger kind of going abroad. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Our cultural tendency is to avoid serious conversations about the end of life. Pain, pus, puking, being at the mercy of doctors, the astronomical expenses, the utter disruption of life. Who wants to think about any of that? Ira Byock, in The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care through the End of Life (2012)

Dr. Byock introduced the thought by writing: “The subject of how we die is depressing.” In his book, Byock offered other quotable observations on the theme, including these:

“There are worse things than having someone you love die…there is having the person you love die badly, suffering as they die. Worse still is realizing later that much of their suffering was unnecessary.”

  • To live in hearts we leave behind/Is not to die. Thomas Campbell, from the poem “Hallowed Ground” (1825), in The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell (1827)
  • The Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler, title of 1939 book, later adapted into a 1946 film and a 1978 film

QUOTE NOTE: Observations likening sleep to death have been around since antiquity (in the 8th c. B.C., Homer wrote in the Illiad about “Sleep and his twin brother Death”), but Chandler’s novel introduced what many regard as history’s single best metaphor on the subject. The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first novel to feature the fictional detective Philip Marlow and the metaphor appears for the very first time in the book’s final passage. Marlowe, in a reflective mood, thinks: “What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, and were not bothered by things like that.” In 1946, Chandler’s novel was adapted into a film with Humphrey Bogart in the starring role (a later 1978 film adaptation starred Robert Mitchum).

  • Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying. Jean Cocteau, “Postambule,” in La Fin du Potomac (1939); reprinted in Collected Works, Vol. 2 (1947)
  • You’ve never seen death? Look in the mirror every day and you will see it like bees working in a glass hive. Jean Cocteau, quoted by Ned Rorem, “The Dick Cavett Show” (PBS, Oct. 6, 1981)
  • Death but supplies the oil for the inextinguishable lamp of everlasting life. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Omniana (1812)
  • To see life through the lens of death is to approach the condition of gratitude for the gift (or simply the fact) of our existence. Billy Collins, in online interview with Farideh Hassanzadeh, Kritya: A Journal of Poetry (specific date undetermined)
  • I can imagine myself on my death-bed, spent utterly with lust to touch the next world, like a boy asking for his first kiss from a woman. Aleister Crowley, in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929)
  • We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Richard Dawkins, in Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998)

Dawkins continued: “Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

  • We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love. Germaine de Staël, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Pearls of Thought (1882)
  • Death—a passage outside the range of imagination, but within the range of experience. Isak Dinesen, in Out of Africa (1937)
  • No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. John Donne, in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)
  • Anyone’s death is Death in its entirety. Marguerite Duras, in Writing (1993)
  • 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 began by writing: “And what the dead had no speech for, when living,/They can tell you, being dead.”

  • Death is my neighbor now. Dame Edith Evans, in BBC radio interview a week before her death at age 88 on Oct. 14, 1976
  • Our final experience, like our first, is conjectural. We move between two darknesses. E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927)
  • Love and memory last, and will so endure till the game is called because of darkness. Gene Fowler, in Skyline: A Reporter’s Reminiscence of the 1920s (1961)
  • For me, the thought of my own death has never been a distressing subject. We live, we love, we yield the stage to our children. I hoped that when the time arrived, I would have the chance for farewells. If that wish were granted, I could with total content ride the train to my final destination. It never occurred to me that one of my children might board the train first, pulling away as her parents wept on the platform. David Frum, “Miranda’s Last Gift,” in The Atlantic (March 21, 2024)
  • It’s never been my experience that men part with life any more readily at eighty than they do at eighteen. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), in The Mouse Who Wouldn’t Play Ball (1943)
  • Death is the ultimate disappearing act. Kate Green, in Night Angel (1989)
  • 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)
  • Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you. Especially do all stories of monogamy end in death, and your man who is monogamous while he often lives most happily, dies in the most lonely fashion. There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it. Ernest Hemingway, in Death in the Afternoon (1932)

This is one of Hemingway’s most famous passages, a somber reminder about the ultimate fate of even the happiest and most blissful love affairs.

  • Death is a delightful hiding place for weary men. Herodotus, in The Histories (5th c. B.C.)
  • When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do. Hermann Hesse, the voice of the narrator, in Narcissus and Goldmund: A Novel (1930)

The narrator preceded the thought by writing about Goldmund: “He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in out hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear.”

  • It will happen to all of us that at some point you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party is over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you. Christopher Hitchens, in “Is there an Afterlife?” a televised debate on the Jewish Television Network (Feb. 15, 2011)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Hitchens cleverly tweaks the popular euphemism for death: The party’s over. His remark came in a televised debate in which atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris squared off against rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Shavit Artson. A full transcription of the “The Afterlife Debate,” as it has come to be known, has been made available by Catherine O’Brien. The full debate can also be seen on YouTube (Hitchens remark at 12:55).

  • Many persons have died before they expire—died to all earthly longings, so that the last breath is only, as it were, the locking of the doors of the already deserted mansion. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • Death tugs at my ear and says, “Live, I am coming.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in a widely quoted saying I've not yet been able to verify
  • Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  • 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.

  • Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)

Jobs continued: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

  • No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)

Continuing with his thoughts about the value of death, Jobs said: “It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)
  • From the middle of life onward, only he remains vitally alive who is ready to die with life. Carl Jung, in The Soul and Death (1955; orig. pub. in Europäische Revue, April, 1934); reprinted in Collected Works
  • The death I should prefer would be to break my neck off the back of a good horse at a full gallop on a fine day. Fanny Kemble, quoted in Margaret Armstrong, Fanny Kemble: A Passionate Victorian (1938)
  • This is the road we all must travel—over the Bridge of Sighs into the peace of eternity. Søren Kierkegaard, journal entry (1837; undated)
  • If one drops dead in the street, friends and loved ones are shocked, stricken, but a long lingering death loses all nobility and drama, while relatives and friends await the inevitable end in a succession of weary anti-climaxes. Alanna Knight, in This Outward Angel (1972)
  • Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in On Death and Dying (1969)
  • It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar. In spite of the fact that it happens all the time, we never see it. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975)
  • Dying is something we human beings do continuously, not just at the end of our physical lives on this earth. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975)
  • Death is a transition into a higher state of consciousness. It’s like putting away your winter coat because you don't need it anymore. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, quoted in Derek Gill, Quest: The life of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1982)
  • Death is the great transition. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in On Children and Death (1983)
  • If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Mankind,” in Characters (1688)
  • The fear of death is that you are dying too soon. Nobody wants to, but at the point that you die you can pray that you are no longer the same person. I pray that when I am about to die I will not be the same person that I am now. Audre Lorde, quoted in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse (1978)
  • Death is the monster we all fear, yet with each day, we walk toward it, and can’t help doing so; we can’t help but walk toward the one thing we’re most trying to avoid. Bill Maher, “On Being Over 50,” in Huffington Post (Oct. 3, 2011)

Maher preceded the observation by writing: “The thing about your fifties is, you’re not nearly over…but it is the first time in your life that you can see over the crest of the mountain and down into the Valley below—you know, Death.“

  • Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reaching to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life. Thomas Merton, in The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)
  • The perpetual work of your life is but to lay the foundation of death. Michel de Montaigne, “That to Study Philosophy is To Learn To Die,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • There is only one way to be prepared for death: to be sated. In the soul, in the heart, in the spirit, in the flesh. To the brim. Henry de Montherlant, in Mors et Vita (1932)
  • People living deeply have no fear of death. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (Aug., 1935), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934–1939, Vol. 2 (1967)

Nin preceded the thought by writing: “By being alive, I mean living out of all ther cells, all the parts of one’s self. The cells which are denied become atrophied, like a dead arm, and infect the rest of the body.”

  • Death persecutes before it executes. Cynthia Ozick, a maxim from the character Adam Gruenhorn, in Trust: A Novel (1966)
  • The last act is bloody, however delightful the rest of the play may be. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • From movies and television, we have become accustomed to seeing death as fast, simple, and pain-free. This is quite misleading. Death is frequently slow, disturbing, smelly, disagreeable, and noisy. Chris Palmer, in Achieving a Good Death: A Practical Guide to the End of Life (2024)

Palmer went on to add: “In real life, dying is an intense, emotional experience as we face physical extinction and the loss of consciousness. But it’s also an experience marked by tedium, monotony, a shrinking world, and dull routines as our vitality ebbs away.”

Palmer’s book, one of literary history's most impressive examinations of the subject, is filled with quotable observations, including these:

“Dying is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing is when dying robs us of what it means to be human, such as being able to cherish our friends and loved ones.”

  • We are all under sentence of death, but with a sort of indefinite reprieve. Walter Pater, in Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873)
  • A physician can sometimes parry the scythe of death, but has no power over the sand in the hour-glass. Hester Lynch Piozzi, in a 1781 letter to Fanny Burney, in The Letters of Mrs. Thrale (1926; R. Brimley Johnson, ed.)
  • Thinking and talking about death need not be morbid; they may be quite the opposite. Ignorance and fear of death overshadow life, while knowing and accepting death erases this shadow. Lily Pincus, in Death and the Family: The Importance of Mourning (1976)
  • When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. Proverb (African)
  • Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down. Proverb (American)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s often difficult to trace the origin of proverbial sayings, but this one can be identified with precision. The “Brainstorms” feature of the April 25, 1960 issue of Newsweek contained the following: “Madison Avenue’s latest definition of death, bouncing around New York last week, will hardly tempt the conservative editor’s of Stedman’s Dictionary [a medical dictionary]: ‘It’s nature’s way of telling you to slow down’.” The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (Doyle, Mieder, & Shapiro; 2012) suggests that it was a “jocular anti-proverb” based on an earlier saying: “Pain is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.”

  • Death does not blow a trumpet. Proverb (Danish)
  • Death always comes too early or too late. Proverb (English)
  • The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you. Mary Roach, in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: Science writers are not noted for a sense of humor, but in her debut book, Roach proved from the outset that it’s possible to write a serious science book that is also world-class quirky and laugh-out-loud funny. In the book’s Introduction, Roach went on to describe how cadavers have played an integral, even essential, role in human history—albeit in their own deathly quiet way.

Roach's book is filled with quotable observations on death, dying, and dead bodies, including the following: “The point is that no matter what you choose to do with your body when you die, it won’t, ultimately, be very appealing. If you are inclined to donate yourself to science, you should not let images of dissection or dismemberment put you off. They are no more or less gruesome, in my opinion, than ordinary decay or the sewing shut of your jaws via your nostrils for a funeral viewing.”

  • Death is just a distant rumor to the young. Andy Rooney

QUOTATION CAUTION: After appearing in Robert Byrne’s The Third and Possibly the Best 637 Things Anybody Every Said (1987), this quotation became extremely popular (sometimes phrased: “Death is a distant rumor to the young”). To my knowledge, no one has ever sourced the quotation, and I have been unable to find an original citation in my research.

  • I shall have more to say when I am dead. Edwin Arlington Robinson, in the poem “John Brown” (1920)
  • We call that person who has lost his father, an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1866)
  • There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. George Santayana, in Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)
  • Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. William Saroyan, in a statement to The Associated Press, five days before his death at age 72 on May 18, 1981; quoted in his New York Times obituary (May 19, 1981)
  • Death ends a life, not a relationship. Morrie Schwartz, quoted in Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a beautiful sentiment, but the original idea was expressed a few decades earlier in I Never Sang For My Father, a 1968 play by Robert Anderson (see his entry above)

  • Death sits with his key in my lock./Not one day is taken for granted. Anne Sexton, in Words for Dr Y.: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories (Linda Gray Sexton, ed., 1978)
  • Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean. David Searls, quoted in S. Safransky, Sunbeams: A Book of Quotations (1990)
  • I believe that when death closes our eyes we shall awaken to a light, of which our sunlight is but the shadow. Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted by William M. Salter, in Harvard Theological Review (July, 1911)
  • The grave the last sleep? No; it is the last and final awakening. Sir Walter Scott, 1827 journal entry, in Memoirs of the Life of Sir William Scott, Vol. 5 (1901)
  • The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns. William Shakespeare, the title character, reflecting on death, in Hamlet (1601)
  • I can’t forgive my friends for dying; I don’t find these vanishing acts of theirs at all amusing. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Age and Death,” in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because dawn has come. Rabindranath Tagore, quoted in Vedanta Monthly: Message of the East (1947, Vol. 36)
  • I expect this is what death is like when you meet it. Sort of wildly unfair but inevitable. Josephine Tey, the character Robert Tisdall speaking, in A Shilling for Candles (1936)
  • Death is an endless night so awful to contemplate that it can make us love life and value it with such passion that it may be the ultimate cause of all joy and all art. Paul Theroux, “D is for Death,” in David Hockney & Stephen Spender, Hockney’s Alphabet (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: The book, published by Random House as a fundraiser in association with the American Friends of AIDS Crisis Trust, featured 26 short pieces written by contemporary literary figures, all written to accompany 26 letters of the alphabet drawn by artist David Hockney.

  • Do not go gentle into that good night,/Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas, in “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” (1952)

This is the most famous portion of one of Thomas’s most famous poems. You can hear the author reciting the entire poem on YouTube.

  • I am not going to die. I’m going home like a shooting star. Sojourner Truth, quoted in Venice Johnson, Voice of the Dream: African American Women Speak (1995)
  • Death is like a fisherman who has caught a fish in his net and leaves it for a time in the water: the fish still swims about, but the net surrounds it, and the fisherman will take it when he wishes. Ivan Turgenev, the voice of the narrator, in On the Eve: A Novel (1860)
  • Everyman has his back to his death, like the talker leaning against the mantelpiece. Paul Valéry, “Odds and Ends,” in Poems in the Rough: Collected Works of Paul Valéry, Vol. 2 (1969)
  • When death threatens, when a good-bye is faced, how one searches the past for images, begins to shoal up the past for future use. Jessamyn West, in The Woman Said Yes: Encounters with Life and Death (1976)
  • Each of us was carrying around his own death certificate, from which only the date was missing. Simon Wiesenthal, on concentration camp prisoners, in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (1969)
  • Some lives would seem to be scarcely complete without death; it comes as such a beautiful, harmonious rounding off; with others of us it is a horrible discord, the sudden snap of a tiger’s tooth. Sarah Williams, “Memoir,” in Twilight Hours: A Legacy of Verse (1868)
  • Death is the enemy. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! Virginia Woolf, the inscription on a plaque beneath her sculpture in a memorial garden of their home in Rodwell, Sussex, England

QUOTE NOTE: The words of the inscription, chosen by Woolf’s husband Leonard after her death by suicide in 1941, were selected from the final paragraph of The Waves (1931), often described as her masterpiece. For a fascinating piece on what the completion of the novel meant to Woolf, written in her journal fifteen minutes after she composed the final lines, see this Today in Literature post by Steve King. King’s TinLit post very helpfully provides the entire final paragraph of the novel, which—sadly—is now less well known than the briefer inscription on her memorial statue.

  • Adults who are racked with death anxiety are not odd birds who have contracted some exotic disease, but men and women whose family and culture have failed to knit the proper protective clothing for them to withstand the icy chill of mortality. Irvin D. Yalom, in Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (2008)
  • In any man who dies there dies with him/his first snow and kiss and fight./It goes with him./They are left books and bridges/ and painted canvas and machinery./Whose fate is to survive./But what has gone is also not nothing:/by the rule of the game something has gone./Not people die but worlds die in them. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “People,” in Selected Poems: Yevtushenko (1962)



  • Every now and then, in the course of great events, the elements of tradition and innovation ally themselves and each other’s weakness supplements the other and together they achieve the perfect debacle. Murray Kempton, “The Genius of Mussolini,” in The New York Review of Books (Oct. 7, 1982)



  • In all debates let truth be thy aim; not victory or an unjust interest; and endeavor to gain rather than to expose thy antagonist. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)



  • Debt is the sort of Bedfellow who is forever pulling all the Covers his way. Minna Antrim, in Don’ts for Bachelors and Old Maids (1908)
  • You’re nothing in America if you don’t have debt. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • Let us run up debts. One is nobody without debts. Muriel Spark, “The Fathers’ Daughters,” in Voices at Play (1961)
  • Nothing so breaks the spirit as a load of debt. Julia McNair Wright, in The Complete Home (1879)


(see also DAYS and ERAS and MONTHS and TIME and YEARS)

  • Decades have a delusive edge to them. They are not, of course, really periods at all, except as any other ten years may be. But we, looking at them, are caught by the different name each bears, and give them different attributes, and tie labels on them, as if they were flowers in a border. Rose Macaulay, in Told By an Idiot (1923)



  • God is not averse to deceit in a holy cause. Aeschylus, a fragment, quoted in George Seldes, The Great Thoughts (1985)
  • This is the first rule of deception: repeated often enough, almost any statement, story, or smear can start to sound plausible. The Internet should be an ally of freedom and a gateway to knowledge; in some cases, it is neither. Madeleine Albright, in Fascism: A Warning (2018)
  • The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. Hannah Arendt, in Crises of the Republic (1972)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? The Bible―Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)
  • Deceit and violence—these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings. Sissela Bok, in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Cary’s entire poem was a parody of John Greenleaf’s Whittier’s poem “Maud Muller” (1856), and this couplet in particular piggybacked on his immortal words, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen,/The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”

ERROR ALERT: These days, the final line of the Cary couplet is almost always mistakenly presented as “The hardest is being taken in.” The problem goes back to at least the thirteenth edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1955), which not only presented the wrong phrasing, nut also mistakenly spelled the poem Kate Ketcham. The phrasing problem has continued ever since.

  • Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her. Agatha Christie, the character Sir Wilfrid speaking, in Witness for the Prosecution: A Play in Three Acts (1953)
  • There are some frauds so well conducted that it would be stupidity not to be deceived by them. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • No one is ever warmed by wool pulled over his eyes. Marcelene Cox, in a 1948 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • There is no killing the suspicion that deceit has once begotten. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Romola (1863)
  • We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Maxims and Reflections (1883)
  • O Memory! Thou fond deceiver. Oliver Goldsmith, “Song,” in The Captivity: An Oratorio (1764)
  • To deceive gracefully is the very essence of social life. Elspeth Huxley, in The Mottled Lizard (1962)

Huxley continued: “One must start by deceiving oneself, and make a lifelong practice of deceiving others; if one does it well enough, in time one might even become an artist, the greatest illusionists of all.”

  • He would withhold information and even allow a listener to be misled—which comes close to the definition of deceit. Walter Isaacson, on Henry Kissinger, in Kissinger: A Biography (1992)

Isaacson added: “But he seldom resorted to unadorned lying in his negotiating efforts.” He went on to quote Kissinger as saying, “I may have kept things secret, but that’s not the same thing as being deceitful.”

  • “Spin” is a polite word for deception. Spinners mislead by means that range from subtle omissions to outright lies. Spin paints a false picture of reality by bending facts, mischaracterizing the words of others, ignoring or denying crucial evidence, or just “spinning a yarn” — by making things up. Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in Introduction to UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007)
  • We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know, because they have never deceived us. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Oct. 27, 1759)
  • The surest way to be deceived is to think one’s self cleverer than one’s neighbor. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • It is as easy to deceive ourselves without noticing as it is hard to deceive others without their noticing. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Men would not live long in social contact unless they were deceived by one another. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: This aphorism has also been translated this way: “Social life would not last long if men were not taken in by each other.”

  • Deception and “con games” are a way of life in all species and throughout nature. Organisms that do not improve their ability to deceive—and to detect deception—are less apt to survive. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Deception (1993)
  • Man is the yokel par excellence, the booby unmatchable, the king dupe of the cosmos. He is chronically and unescapably deceived, not only by the other animals and by the delusive face of nature herself,but also and more particularly by himself—by his incomparable talent for searching out and embracing what is false, and for overlooking and denying what is true. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices: Third Series (1922)
  • People can be induced to swallow anything, provided it is sufficiently seasoned with praise. Molière, the character Valère speaking, in The Miser (1668)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a modern translation, from John Wood in 1959. Traditional translations presented the passage this way: “However gross the flattery, the most cunning are easily duped; there is nothing so impertinent or ridiculous which they will not believe, provided it be seasoned with praise.”

  • Deceit is a kind of garment that conceals the soul. It might even be compared to a whole wardrobe, so many are its guises. Maria Montessori, in The Secret of Childhood (1936)
  • It is easier to deceive than to undeceive. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in In the Words of Napoleon (1977; Daniel Savage Gray, ed. & trans.)
  • It is amazing how people deceive themselves and others when it is in their interest to do so. Jawaharlal Nehru, in letter to daughter Indira (Sep. 27, 1932); reprinted in Glimpses of World History (1934)
  • Everything that deceives may be said to enchant. Plato, quoting Socrates, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.)
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the world with evil. Plato, in Phaedo (4th c. B.C.)
  • Deceit, the natural disease of lovers and the ambitious. Francisco de Quevedo, quoted in James Geary, Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists (2007)
  • Oh, what a tangled web we weave,/When first we practice to deceive! Sir Walter Scott, in Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808)
  • The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. William Shakespeare, the character Antonio speaking, alluding to Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

Antonio continued: “An evil soul producing holy witness/Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,/A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath.”

  • All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things. Robert South, “A Sermon Preached on Isaiah” (May 9, 1686), in Twelve Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions, Vol. II (1727)
  • I set it down that/That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Hamlet (1601)
  • All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things. Robert South, “A Sermon Preached on Isaiah” (May 9, 1686), in Twelve Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions, Vol. II (1727)
  • It is not difficult to deceive the first time, for the deceived possesses no antibodies; unvaccinated by suspicion, she overlooks latenesses, accepts absurd excuses, permits the flimsiest patchings to repair great rents in the quotidian. John Updike, the voice of the narrator, in Couples: A Novel (1968)
  • People always overdo the matter when they attempt deception. Charles Dudley Warner, “Tenth Week,” in My Summer in a Garden (1871)
  • When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry speaking to the title character, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: In A Woman of No Importance (1893), the same words were spoken by Lord Illingworth.



  • When a decision has been made and the die is cast, then murder the alternatives. Mrs. Emory S. Adams, Jr., quoted in Dorothy Sarnoff, Speech Can Change Your Life (1970)
  • The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Dec. 17, 1856)
  • A peacefulness follows any decision, even the wrong one. Rita Mae Brown, the voice of the narrator, in Sudden Death (1983)
  • All decisions are based on insufficient evidence. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Nicole Smith, in Bingo (1988)
  • If decisions were a choice between alternatives, decisions would come easy. Decision is the selection and formulation of alternatives. Kenneth Burke, in Towards a Better Life: Being a Series of Epistles or Declamations (1932)
  • Every decision is liberating, even if it leads to disaster. Otherwise, why do so many people walk upright and with open eyes into their misfortune? Elias Canetti, “1980,” in The Secret Heart Of The Clock: Notes, Aphorisms, Fragments, 1973-1985 (1991)
  • Our most important decisions are made while we are thinking about something else. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms (1985)
  • Somewhere deep down we know that in the final analysis we do decide things and that even our decisions to let someone else decide are really our decisions, however pusillanimous. Harvey Cox, in On Not Leaving It to the Snake (1967)
  • Every decision you make is a mistake. Edward Dahlberg, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book: An Irreverent Companion to Social History (1976)
  • Every decision is like a murder, and our march forward is over the stillborn bodies of all our possible selves that we’ll never be. René Dubos, in Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science (1950)
  • A wrong decision isn’t forever; it can always be reversed. The losses from a delayed decision are forever; they can never be retrieved. John Kenneth Galbraith, in A Life in Our Times (1981)René Dubos, in Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science (1950)
  • The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)

In the book, Gladwell also wrote: “Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”

  • 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)
  • It is better to stir up a question without deciding it, than to decide it without stirring it up. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • It’s better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late. Marilyn Moats Kennedy, “The Case Against Performance Appraisals,” in Across the Board (Jan., 1999)
  • Every success is usually an admission ticket to a new set of decisions. Henry Kissinger, in Years of Renewal (1999)
  • Decide not rashly. The decision made/Can never be recalled. The Gods implore not,/Plead not, solicit not; they only offer/Choice and occasion, which once being passed/Return no more. Dost thou accept the gift?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the character Hermes speaking, in “The Masque of Pandora,” in The Masque of Pandora and Other Poems (1875)

  • Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,/In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side. James Russell Lowell, in “The Present Crisis” (1844)
  • Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clear and straight and lays bare the fat and the lean; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it. George Horace Lorimer, the title character writing in a letter to his son, in Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)

ERROR ALERT: For more than eighty years, variations of this observation have been mistakenly attributed to Gordon Graham (along with the suggestion that he is a real person). More recently, an abridged version of the quotation has been mistakenly attributed to Jan McKeithan (the culprit in this case seems to be an erroneous attribution in a 1982 issue of the journal Veterinary and Human Toxicology). Lorimer’s fictional character, the proprietor of a meatpacking house in Chicago, was formally named John Graham, but was known among his peers on the meat exchange as Old Gorgon Graham. His letters to his son, an overly-ambitious scion of a family business, cautioned him about advancing before he was ready and prematurely taking the helm. The original quotation may be seen at ”Decision is a sharp knife”.

  • If someone tells you he is going to make a “realistic decision,” you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad. Mary McCarthy, “American Realist Playwrights,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon’s War Maxims: With His Social and Political Thoughts (1899)
  • Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them. Laurence J. Peter, in Peter’s Almanac (1982)
  • All decision making is nothing but values clarification. Anthony Robbins, in Giant Steps: Small Changes to Make a Big Difference (1994)
  • Every time we make a real decision, we find out who we really are, because we make use of our own priorities and values. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Overcoming Indecisiveness (1985)
  • Knowledge may be enjoyed as a speculative diversion, but it is needed for decision making. Thomas Sowell, in Knowledge and Decisions (1980; rev. 1996)
  • If only men could be depended upon to base their decisions on reason. Alas, there are only three or four of us in the world, and even we will bear watching. Rex Stout, the character Nero Wolfe speaking, in The League of Frightened Men(1935)
  • All my important decisions are made for me by my subconscious. My frontal lobes are just kidding themselves that they decide anything at all. All they do is think up reasons for the decisions that are already made. Rex Stout, “Author Rex Stout vs. the FBI,” in Life magazine (10 Dec. 10, 1965)
  • The quality of a decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. Sun-Tzu, in The Art of War (c. 490 B.C.)
  • When people ask for time, it’s always for time to say no. Yes has one more letter in it, but it doesn’t take half as long to say. Edith Wharton, the character Judith speaking, in The Children (1928)
  • Life puts no greater burdens upon a man than the necessity of making decisions. Frank Yerby, the voice of the narrator and protagonist Nathan (the Thirteenth Disciple), in Judas, My Brother (1967)




  • If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile. Samuel Eliot Morison, in The Oxford History of the American People (1965)



  • We all run the risk of declining, if somebody does not rise to tell us that life is on the heights, and not in the cesspools. George Sand, in letter to M. Charles Edmond (Jan. 9, 1858); reprinted in Letters of George Sand, Vol II (2009; R. L. De Beaufort, ed.)



  • No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in Living Under Tension: Sermons on Christianity Today (1941)



  • To all those who lead monotonous lives, in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure. Agatha Christie, the dedication to The Secret Adversary (1922)

QUOTE NOTE: This somewhat whimsical dedication was the first of only two that Christie wrote directly to her readers. The second was the dedication to By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968), in which she wrote:

“This book is dedicated to the many readers in this and other countries who write to me asking: ‘What has happened to Tommy and Tuppence? What are they doing now?’ My best wished to you all, and I hope you will enjoy meeting Tommy and Tuppence again, years older, but with spirit unquenched!”

  • You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not to you. Not this time. Because we haven’t yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven’t seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other! This one’s for you. With you know what, and you probably know why. Neil Gaiman, the dedication to Anansi Boys (2005)
  • To my mother, Belzie. I would have made a terrible doctor, mom. People would have died. Ben Philippe, the dedication to The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (2019)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the only book dedication I’m aware of that has ever gone viral. In the days after the book was published, tens of thousands of readers all around the world were sharing it with each other. For the complete story, go here.

  • To Edith,/Through the long years/I sought peace,/I found ecstasy, I found anguish,/I found madness,/I found loneliness,/I found the solitary pain that gnaws the heart,/But peace I did not find./Now, old & near my end,/I have known you,/And, knowing you,/I have found both ecstasy & peace,/I know rest,/After so many lonely years./I know what life & love may be,/Now, if I sleep,/I shall sleep fulfilled. Bertrand Russell, the dedication to wife Edith Russell, in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1872-1914, Vol. 1, (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of literary history's most memorable dedications, achieving an almost legendary status soon after the first volume of the autobiography was published in 1967. In the book, the dedication was written in Russell's own hand, rather than presented in typeface. To see it, go here.

  • In the vastness of space and immensity of time, it is my joy to spend a planet and an epoch with Annie. Carl Sagan, the dedication to wife Annie, in Cosmos (1980)
  • This book is dedicated to Dr. John Sharpe of London, who in 1957, a decade before physicians in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a twenty-two-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, “You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you. Gloria Steinem, the dedication to My Life on the Road (2015)

QUOTE NOTE: While Steinem had been open about her 1957 abortion to close friends, it was not widely known, making it a news story in its own right when most people first learned about it in the dedication to her 2015 book.

  • To my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time. P. G. Wodehouse, in his book Heart of a Goof (1926)



  • We want more men of deeds, and fewer of words. Abigail Adams, in a 1797 letter; in The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009; John P. Kaminski, ed.)
  • By their fruits ye shall know them. The Bible—Matthew 7:20
  • All great human deeds both consume and transform their doers. Consider an athlete, or a scientist, or an artist, or an independent business creator. In service of their goals they lay down time and energy and many other choices and pleasures; in return, they become most truly themselves. Lois McMaster Bujold, in “Author’s Afterward” to Cordelia’s Honor, Vol 2 (1999)
  • Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds. George Eliot, a lovely example of chiasmus, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. George Eliot, in Romola (1863)
  • Our deeds still travel with us from afar,/And what we have been makes us what we are. George Eliot, epigraph to Ch. LXX, Middlemarch (1871)
  • But I do believe it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one’s inner life. And that too is a deed. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life 1983)
  • Her good deeds smoothed her pillow. Winifred Holtby, the voice of the narrator, describing the character Mrs. Beddows, in South Riding (1935)

The narrator preceded the thought with these words: “But hers was the pleasant fatigue that comes of work well done. When at night in bed she went over the events of the day, it was with a modest yet certain satisfaction at this misunderstanding disentangled, that problem solved, some other help given in time of need.”

  • The smallest deed is greater than the grandest intention. Patti LaBelle, in Patti’s Pearls (2001; with Laura Randolph Lancaster)
  • Today’s deeds are tomorrow’s destiny. Randall S. Moore, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 2, 2021)
  • Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression. Dodie Smith, a reflection of protagonist Cassandra Mortmain, in I Capture the Castle (1948)



  • Only a man who knows what it is to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even. Muhammad Ali, in The Greatest: My Own Story (1975; with Richard Durham)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come as Ali reflects on his attempt to take the heavyweight championship crown from George Foreman in their legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire on Oct. 30, 1974. Describing the situation at the beginning of the eighth round, Ali continued: “I know George wants to keep The Champion’s crown. He wants the crown, but is he willing to pay the price? Would he lay out his life? It’s time to go all out.” Ali won the fight by a knockout in the closing seconds of round eight. In the moments after the victory, a reporter clawed his way through the crowd to ask the champ how he did it. Ali described the moment this way:

“I shake my head. I want to go to my dressing room. I don’t want to tell him what George has taught me. That too many victories weaken you. That the defeated can rise up stronger than the victor. But I take nothing away from George. He can still beat any man in the world. Except me.”

  • One of the first things that a young person must internalize, deep down in the blood and bones, is the understanding that he may encounter many defeats, but he must not be defeated. Maya Angelou,

“Maya Angelou Raps,” interview with Jeffrey M. Elliot, Sepia magazine (October 1977)

Angelou continued: “If life teaches us anything, it may be that it’s even necessary to suffer some defeats. When we look at a diamond, a diamond is the result of extreme pressure. Less pressure, it is crystal; less than that, it is coal; and less than that, it is fossilized leaves or just plain dirt. It is necessary, therefore, to be tough enough to bite the bullet as it is in fact shot into one’s mouth, to bite it and stop it before it tears a hole in one’s throat.”

  • There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Maya Angelou, in Paris Review interview (Fall, 1990)

This was Angelou’s reply to interviewer George Plimpton, who had asked if there was “a thread one can see through the five autobiographies” she had written. A moment later, she went on to add: “In all my work…I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it's imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be.”

  • I’ve encountered many defeats. Without defeats, how do you really know who the hell you are? If you never had to stand up to something—to get up, to be knocked down, and to get up again—life can walk over you wearing football cleats. Maya Angelou, in Modern Maturity (Sep.–Oct., 2001)

Angelou continued: “But each time you do get up, you’re bigger, taller, finer, more beautiful, more kind, more understanding, more loving. Each time you get up, you’re more inclusive. More people can stand under your umbrella.”

  • Always have the situation under control, even if losing. Never betray an inward sense of defeat. Arthur Ashe, on his tennis court demeanor, in Arthur Ashe on Tennis (1995; with Alexander McNab)
  • History to the defeated /May say Alas but cannot help or pardon. W. H. Auden, in “Spain 1937” (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Despite the beauty of these words—not to mention the truth contained in them—Auden later renounced this passage as he transitioned from Youthful Revolutionary to Establishment Conservative. As an older man, Auden grew uncomfortable with the suggestion that history is only an ineffectual bystander standing with the Victors, writing in the Foreword to his Collected Shorter Poems (1966): “To say this is to equate goodness with success [to value only powerful and victorious historical forces]. It would have been bad enough if I had ever held this wicked doctrine, but that I should have stated it simply because it sounded to me rhetorically effective is quite inexcusable.”

  • Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: Most internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to Bill Musselman (1940–2000), an American basketball coach known for his fierce sense of competitiveness. Musselman had the saying posted in the locker room of his University of Minnesota basketball team as early as 1972. The respected quotation sleuth Barry Popik described the saying as being of unknown authorship and reported that it first appeared at a Texas Tech football game in Lubbock, Texas in 1967.

  • It is defeat that turns bone to flint, gristle to muscle, and makes men invincible. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Defeat is a school in which truth always grows strong. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Victory fades so quickly that is is scarcely apparent and it is always the face of defeat that we are able to see. Jane Bowles, in Two Serious Ladies (1943)

This was protagonist Christina Goering’s reply to another character, who had just said: “I am just showing the results of the terrific fight that I have waged inside of myself, and you know that the face of victory often resembles the face of defeat.”

  • O in success there often lurks a failure/That feeds upon the soul in hidden shame,/And in defeat there sometimes rests a triumph/Greater than fame. Eliza Boyle O’Reilly, “Henri de la Rochejacquelein,” in My Candles (1903)
  • The taste of defeat has a richness of experience all its own. Bill Bradley, in Life on the Run (1976)

Bradley preceded the thought by writing: “Victory is fraught with as much danger as glory. Victory has very narrow meanings and, if exaggerated or misused, can become a destructive force.”

  • It is not in my nature to admit defeat. Alexandra David-Neel, in My Journey to Lhasa (1927)
  • If one lives long enough, one sees that every victory sooner or later turns to defeat. Simone de Beauvoir, in All Men Are Mortal (1955)
  • A defeat borne with pride is also a victory. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • 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)
  • Life is to be lived, not controlled; humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Ralph Ellison, a reflection of the unnamed narrator and protagonist, in Invisible Man (1952)
  • Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat. Malcolm Forbes, quoted in a 1990 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • To cease to love—that is defeat. Susan Glaspell, the voice of the narrator, in The Morning Is Near Us: A Novel (1939)
  • The fullness of life is in the hazards of life. And, at the worst, there is that in us which can turn defeat into victory. Edith Hamilton, in The Great Age of Greek Literature (1942)
  • “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway, the protagonist Santiago speaking, in The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
  • When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal. Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich (1937)

Hill continued: “If you give up before your goal has been reached, you are a ‘quitter.’”

  • There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose. Elbert Hubbard, in The Far: A Journal of Affirmation (May, 1915)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is commonly presented in quotation anthologies and ON web sites, but it was originally the conclusion to a larger passage that began this way: “Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it: so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience, would have achieved success. As the tide goes clear out, so it comes clear in. In business, sometimes, prospects may seem darkest when really they are on the turn. A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”

  • I have been disappointed many times, but never defeated. Glenda Jackson, quoted in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse (1978)
  • Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity, and stumble from defeat to defeat. Ryszard Kapuscinski, “A Warsaw Diary,” in Granta magazine (No. 15; 1985)
  • Defeat is simply a signal to press onward. Helen Keller, “Faith Arms the Soul,” in Let Us Have Faith (1940)
  • There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. John F. Kennedy, in a press conference (April 21, 1961)

QUOTE NOTE: In a press conference held three months after his inauguration as president, JFK said this about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (over the years, he employed variations of the saying, sometimes replacing victory/defeat with success/failure). If JFK had known more, he might have chosen not to use the metaphor, for it was a popular saying with Italian and German military officers in WWII. The inspiration for the sentiment came from Mussolini’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who had written in a 1942 diary entry: “Victory has a hundred fathers, but no one wants to recognize defeat as his own.”

  • A man able to think isn’t defeated—even when he is defeated. Milan Kundera, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; May 20, 1984)
  • A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat. Louis L’Amour, the character Mathurin Kerbouchard speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • There could be no honor in a sure success but much might be wrested from a sure defeat. T. E. Lawrence, in Revolt in the Desert (1927)
  • Defeats and failures are great developers of character. They have made the giants of our race by giving Titanic muscles, brawny sinews, and far-reaching intellects. Orison Swett Marden, in Rising in the World, or Architects of Fate (1895)
  • There is something in defeat which puts new determination into a man of mettle. Orison Swett Marden, in The Optimistic Life (1907)

Marden continued: “He, perhaps, would be content to go along in comparative mediocrity but for the stimulus of failure. This rouses him to do his best. He comes to himself after some stinging defeat, and perhaps for the first time feels his real power.”

  • In retrospect, our triumphs could as easily have happened to someone else; but our defeats are uniquely our own. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The deepest personal defeat suffered by human beings is constituted by the difference between what one was capable of becoming and what one has in fact become. Ashley Montagu, in The Cultured Man (1958)
  • There are defeats more triumphant than victories. Michel de Montaigne, “On Cannibals,” in Essays (1580–88) Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • A faint endeavor ends in a sure defeat. Hannah More, “On Habits,” in Christian Morals (1812)
  • Defeat doesn’t finish a man—quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits. Richard Nixon, quoted in William Safire, Before the Fall (1975)
  • Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. George Orwell, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Savador Dali,” in The Saturday Book for 1944 (1944); reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell (1968)
  • What is defeat? Nothing but education—nothing but the first step to something better. Wendell Phillips, “Harper’s Ferry,” an address in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, NY (Nov. 1, 1859)
  • I learned a lot more from defeat than I ever learned from winning—something that has held true for the best part of 75 years. Grantland Rice, in The Tumult and the Shouting: My Life in Sport (1954)
  • More people are ruined by victory, I imagine, than by defeat. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • 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)
  • Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday. Wilma Rudolph, in Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph (1977)
  • You can’t defeat a praying man. He finds his answers everywhere he looks. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in A Hungry Man Dreams (1952)
  • The injustice of defeat lies in the fact that its most innocent victims are made to look like heartless accomplices. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Flight to Arras (1942)

Saint-Exupéry continued: “It is impossible to see behind defeat, the sacrifices, the austere performance of duty, the self-discipline and the vigilance that are there—these things the god of battle does not take account of.”

  • Back of every mistaken venture and defeat is the laughter of wisdom, if you listen. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us. Carl Sandburg, in Incidentals (1904; orig. published under the name Charles Sandburg)
  • It has been said that genius is only the power of making continuous effort. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it. We are told that there is no failure, except in no longer trying—no defeat, except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own weakness of purpose. Kate Smith, in Living in a Great Big Way (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: Smith’s full observation borrowed heavily from Elbert Hubbard original words on the subject (see his thought above).

  • Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. Marilyn vos Savant, quoted in a 1995 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • What is important is not that you have a defeat but how you react to it. There is always the possibility to transform a defeat into something else, something new, something strong. All the good stories, all the people we remember are the ones who do this, who make victories out of their failures. Lina Wertmuller, quoted in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse: Remarkable Women Speak on Creativity and Power (1978)

Wertmuller concluded: “Because the victories teach nothing. The victories are not useful. They are often dangerous.”



  • Ah that blessed degree that stamps us for life as creatures of guaranteed intellectual worth. Robertson Davies, the character John Parlabane speaking about a Ph.D. degree, in The Rebel Angels (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: Parlabane’s quip came in response to another character, who had said: “I’m getting on with the work that will eventually make me a Doctor of Philosophy.”

  • Socrates gave no diplomas or degrees, and would have subjected any disciple who demanded one to a disconcerting catechism on the nature of true knowledge. George Macaulay Trevelyan, in History of England, Vol. 1 (1926)



  • Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. We should not be pleased if old friends were to lay aside certain peculiarities. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Elective Affinities (1809)



  • A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • A definition is as convention-bound as a sonnet and usually more compact. Writing one is considered, at least by anyone who has ever tried it, something of an art. Erin McKean, “Redefining Definition”, in The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 17, 2009)

McKean preceded the thought by writing, “The traditional dictionary definition, although it bears all the trappings of authority, is in fact a highly stylized, overly compressed and often tentative stab at capturing the consensus on what a particular word ‘means’.”

  • If we stop pretending definitions are science, we can enjoy them as a kind of literature—think of them as extremely nerdy poems—without burdening them with tasks for which they are unsuited. Erin McKean, the concluding line of “Redefining Definition”, in The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 17, 2009)
  • A good definition is like a good poem: beautiful and worthwhile in itself. Erin McKean, in TermCoord interview with Maria Pia Montoro (Dec. 12, 2012) of the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament

McKean added: “But not every subject gets a poem, and not every word needs a definition. Definitions are still helpful when space is limited, but when you limit your knowledge of a word to just the definition, you limit your understanding as well.”



QUOTE NOTE: A dehortation is the opposite of an exhortation. Exhortations often begin with the word always (“Always do what you are afraid to do” Emerson), and dehortations with never (“Never judge a book by its cover”). I invented a term for dehortations and wrote an entire book on the subject: Neverisms.

  • Never be blunt with a woman who has an ax to grind. Richard Armour, in It All Started with Eve (1956)
  • Never blurb a book you’ve read and never read a book you’ve blurbed. Author Unknown, an example of chiasmus.

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

  • Never ruin an apology with an excuse. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites attribute this saying to Kimberly Johnson or Ann Landers (some even cite Benjamin Franklin). According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, the saying first emerged as an anonymous saying in 1996, and only later began to be attributed to others. There is a respected American poet and critic by the name of Kimberly Johnson, but she has disavowed authorship of the saying.

  • Never dull your shine for somebody else. Tyra Banks, remark on broadcast of America’s Next Top Model (Oct. 17, 2007)
  • Never forget what a man has said to you when he was angry. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • Never apologize for showing feeling, my friend. Remember that when you do so, you apologize for truth. Benjamin Disraeli, the title character speaking, in Contarini Fleming (1832)
  • Never buy a bagel in a donut shop. Cathrine Holdeman, in a personal communication to the compiler (2010)
  • Never put off till to-morrow the book you can read to-day. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)
  • Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream. Malcolm Muggeridge, quoting an unnamed source, in Radio Times (July 9, 1964); reprinted in London à la Mode (1966)
  • Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be. Clementine Paddleford, quoting her mother, Jenny Paddleford, in A Flower for My Mother (1958)
  • Never ask of him who has, but of him who wishes you well. Proverb (Spanish)
  • Never trust a husband too far, nor a bachelor too near. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain. J. K Rowling, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999)
  • Men of all degrees should form this prudent habit: never serve a rabbit stew before you catch the rabbit. James Thurber, moral to “Ivory, Apes, and People,” in Further Fables for our Time (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Thurber’s updated version of “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” first recorded by Aesop in the fable “The Milkmaid and Her Pail” (6th cent. B.C.)




  • All delays are dangerous in war. John Dryden, the character Maximin speaking, in Tyrannic Love (1669)

QUOTE NOTE: This popular quotation was originally embedded in this larger passage: “Since all delays are dangerous in war,/Your men, Albinus, for assault prepare,”

  • Delay is preferable to error. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to George Washington (16 May 16, 1792)
  • Delay is the deadliest form of denial. C. Northcote Parkinson, in The Law of Delay (1971)
  • Our Law says well, “To delay justice, is injustice.” William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1693)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original expression of a sentiment that inspired William E. Gladstone to say in a House of Commons speech (March 18, 1868): “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Gladstone’s phrasing of the thought evolved into a modern proverb.

  • Delay is itself a decision. Theodore Sorenson, in Decision-Making in the White House (1963)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “In the White House, the future rapidly becomes the past, and delay is itself a decision.”



  • There is no delusion more fatal, no folly more profound, than a man’s belief that he can kick and gouge and scheme his way to the top—and then afford the luxury of being a good person; for no consequence is more certain than that we become what we do. Sydney J. Harris, in Last Things First (1961)
  • Delusions are often functional. mother’s opinions about her children’s beauty, intelligence, goodness, et cetera ad nauseam, keep her from drowning them at birth. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)
  • On the throne of the world, any delusion can become fact. Gore Vidal, a reflection of the title character, in Julian: A Novel (1964)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present this quotation as if it ended “any delusion becomes fact.”



  • Demagogue, n. A political opponent. Ambrose Bierce, in the Wasp (Jan. 20, 1882)
  • Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • The secret of the demagogue is to appear as dumb as his audience so that these people canbelieve themselves as smart as he. Karl Kraus, in Half-Truths and One-and-A-Half-Truths (1976)
  • In every age the vilest specimens of human nature are to be found among demagogues. Thomas Babington Macaulay, in History of England (1849)
  • A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage this country. Don Marquis, quoted in E. Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis (1962)
  • The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. H. L. Mencken, in In Defense of Women (1923)
  • The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. H. L. Mencken, in Notes on Democracy (1926)



  • Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet, that did not commit suicide. John Adams, in letter to John Taylor (Dec. 17, 1814)

In the letter, Adams continued: “It is in vain to Say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and nowhere appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud Violence and Cruelty.”

  • The cure for the ills of Democracy is more democracy. Jane Addams, in the Introduction to Democracy and Social Ethics (1902)
  • Democracy is not only a form of state, it is not just something that is embodied in a constitution; democracy is a view of life, it requires a belief in human beings, in humanity. Madeleine Albright, in Fascism: A Warning (2018)

Albright went on to add: “I have already said that democracy is a discussion. But the real discussion is possible only if people trust each other and if they try fairly to find the truth.”

  • A monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but then your feet are always in water. Fisher Ames, quoted in Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Politics,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, Ames is mistakenly quoted as saying “Democracy is like a raft.”

  • Democracy is the form of government in which the free are rulers. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Democracy means government by discussion but it is only effective if you can stop people talking. Clement Atlee, in Anatomy of Britain (1962)
  • The fabric of democracy is always fragile everywhere because it depends on the will of citizens to protect it, and when they become scared, when it becomes dangerous for them to defend it, it can go very quickly. Margaret Atwood, in Matthew Rothschild, “Margaret Atwood Interview” The Progressive (Dec. 2, 2010)
  • Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Aharon Barak, from majority opinion in Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. Israel, a 1999 Israeli Supreme Court Decision.
  • Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. James Bovard, in Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994)

Bovard, a prominent libertarian author, offered an earlier version of the sentiment in a 1990 Usenet post (April 23, 1990): “A democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Winston Churchill wasn’t necessarily making a compliment when he said that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the rest. Democracy has no more claim to legitimacy than totalitarian dictatorship.”

  • The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest. Edward L. Bernays, “The Engineering of Consent,” in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (March, 1947); reprinted in Edward L. Bernays (ed.), The Engineering of Consent (1955)
  • Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. William Beveridge, in Full Employment in a Free Society (1944)
  • An article of the democratic faith is that greatness lies in each person. Bill Bradley, in commencement address at Middlebury College (Middlebury, CT; May, 1989)
  • When we define democracy now it must still be as a thing hoped for but not seen. Pearl S. Buck, in address at annual convention of the National Women’s Party (Dec. 7, 1940)
  • At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons speech (Oct. 31, 1944)
  • Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons speech (Nov. 11, 1947)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is generally presented in anthologies and on internet sites, but Churchill’s complete remark indicates that the thought was not originally his, as he formally suggested in his original speech: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said [italics mine] that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

  • Democracy, that festival of mediocrity. E. M. Cioran, in History and Utopia (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “Democracy is a festival of mediocrity.”

  • It is the besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny. James Fenimore Cooper, “On the Disadvantages of Democracy,” in The American Democrat (1838)

In that same essay, Cooper also wrote: “The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity.”

  • The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections. John Dalberg (Lord Acton), in review of Thomas Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe (1877); in The Quarterly Review (Jan. 1878)
  • Democracy does not give the people the most skillful government, but it produces what the ablest governments are frequently unable to create: namely, an all-pervading and restless activity, a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it and which may, however unfavorable circumstances may be, produce wonders. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America (1835)
  • The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America (1835)

In his classic work, de Tocqueville also wrote: “Americans rightly think their patriotism is a sort of religion strengthened by practical service.”

  • 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)
  • The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience. W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Negro in the United States,” in The Negro (1915)
  • Democracy is not a spectator sport. Marian Wright Edelman, in Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change (1987)
  • My political ideal is that of democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. Albert Einstein, in The World As I See It (1949)

Einstein continued: “It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own.”

  • To define democracy in one word, we must use the word ‘cooperation.’” Dwight D. Eisenhower, in speech in Abilene, Kansas (June, 1945)
  • Democracy is, or should be, the most disinterested form of love. Ralph Ellison, in a letter to Albert Murray (April 4, 1957); presented in Albert Murray and John F. Callahan, Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (2000)
  • Democracy no longer works for the poor if politicians treat them as a separate race. Frank Field, quoted in the Independent (London; Oct. 29, 1994)
  • Democracy is not a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization. E. M. Forster, “What I Believe,” in The Nation (July 16, 1938)

Forster went on to add: “The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere. They found religions, great or small, or they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called ‘ordinary people’, who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbors. All these people need to express themselves; they cannot do so unless society allows them liberty to do so, and the society which allows them most liberty is a democracy.”

In his “What I Believe” essay, Forster also wrote: “Whether Parliament is either a representative body or an efficient one is questionable, but I value it because it criticizes and talks, and because its chatter gets widely reported. So two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.”

  • Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. Harry Emerson Fosdick, quoted in B. E. Stevenson, The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (1937)
  • Despotism subjects a nation to one tyrant; democracy, to many. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • In an autocracy, one person has his way; in an aristocracy a few people have their way; in a democracy, no one has his way. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
  • I shall ask no more than that you agree with Dean Inge that even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern, at least it beats breaking them. Learned Hand, in “Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities” (1932)
  • Democracy produces both heroes and villains, but it differs from a fascist state in that it does not produce a hero who is a villain. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)

In her book, Halsey also wrote: “Democracy makes many taxing demands on its practitioners, but suspension of the intelligence is not one of them.”

  • Democracy begins with you, get out there, get active! Tag, you’re it. Thom Hartmann, in Cracking the Code (2007)
  • Democracy is a poor system, the only thing that can be said for it is that it’s eight times as good as any other method. Its worst fault is that its leaders reflect their constituents. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Jubal speaking, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  • I swear to the Lord/I still can’t see/Why Democracy means/Everybody but me. Langston Hughes, “The Black Man Speaks,” in Jim Crow’s Last Stand (1943)
  • I am crazy about the idea of democracy. I want to see how it feels. Zora Neale Hurston, “Crazy for This Democracy,” in Negro Digest (Dec. 1945)

Hurston preceded the thought by writing: “I accept this idea of democracy. I am all for trying it out. It must be a good thing if everybody praises it like that. If our government has been willing to go to war and sacrifice billions of dollars and millions of men for the idea I think that I ought to give the thing a trial. The only thing that keeps me from pitching head long into this thing is the presence of numerous Jim Crow laws on the statute books of the nation.”

  • The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. Robert M. Hutchins, in Great Books: The Foundation of a Liberal Education (1954)
  • The democracy is a ready victim to shibboleths and catchwords, as all demagogues know too well. William Ralph Inge, “Our Present Discontents,” in Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
  • The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion. Molly Ivins, in Fort Worth Star-Telegram (July 3, 1997); reprinted in You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You (1998)
  • 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)
  • Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)
  • Democracy is an interesting, even laudable, notion and there is no question but that when compared to Communism, which is too dull, or Fascism, which is too exciting, it emerges as the most palatable form of government. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • The taste of democracy becomes a bitter taste when the fullness of democracy is denied. Max Lerner, “The Negroes and the Draft,” in Actions and Passions (1949)
  • Democracy is not a state. It is an act. John Lewis, in speech at the Democratic National Convention (August 27, 2008)

Lewis concluded: “It is a series of actions we must take to build what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the beloved community—a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.”

  • As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy. Abraham Lincoln, “Definition of Democracy,” (circa August 1858)
  • Democ’acy gives every man/A right to be his own oppressor. James Russell Lowell, in The Biglow Papers: Series II (1866)
  • Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr, in Foreword to The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)
  • Like playing the slots in Vegas, there is just enough of a payoff in democracy to keep us coming back for more. Anna Quindlen, in a 2008 its ue of Newsweek magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Quindlen continued: “People have struggled, suffered, even died for this right, to push into stuffy cafeterias and become one note in the voxpop-uli.”

  • Democracy forever teases us with the contrast between its ideals and its realities, between its heroic possibilities and its sorry achievements. Agnes Repplier, “Americanism,” in Counter-Currents (1916)
  • A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over a long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Let Us Have Faith in Democracy,” in Land Policy Review (a 1942 publication of the U. S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Democracy cannot be static. Whatever is static is dead. Eleanor Roosevelt, “Let Us Have Faith in Democracy,” in Land Policy Review (a 1942 publication of the U. S. Department of Agriculture)
  • One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
  • The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and Senators and Congressmen and Government officials but the voters of this country. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in speech in Marietta, Ohio (July 8,1938)

President Roosevelt introduced the thought by saying: “Let us not be afraid to help each other—let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”

  • We must be the great arsenal of democracy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a radio broadcast (Dec. 29, 1940)

QUOTE NOTE: The phrase was not original to FDR. In a 1918 article on preventing future wars, American publisher Herbert S. Houston described American business as “the protector of democracy” and the American press as “one of the most effective weapons in the arsenal of democracy.”

  • The rock of democracy will founder when people in other parts of the country or in other parties begin to see each other as The Other, rather than as common citizens. Theodore Roosevelt, quoted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in National Press Club Luncheon (Nov. 5, 2018)
  • Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions. (But they don’t shoot.) Salman Rushdie, “Defend the Right to Be Offended,” in Open Democracy (Feb. 7, 2005)

Rushdie preceded the thought by writing: “The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not?”

  • What frightens me about America today is that in the large majority there is no active sense of the value of the individual: few citizens feel that they are the Republic, responsible for what happens. And when the individual in a democracy ceases to feel his importance, then there is grave danger that he will give over his freedom, if not to a Fascist State, then to the advertising men or Publicity Agents or to the newspaper he happens to read. May Sarton, in a letter to Arthur Schlesinger (Aug. 14, 1946), May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 (1997; Susan Sherman, ed.)
  • Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • All the blood is drained out of democracy—it dies—when only half the population votes. Hunter S. Thompson, in Salon.com interview with John Glassie (Feb. 3, 2003)
  • Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time. E. B. White, in The New Yorker magazine (July 3, 1943)
  • The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece. Hunter S. Thompson, in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (1973)
  • 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.

DENIAL (not believing)


  • Refusal to believe unless proof is given is a rational position, denial of all outside our own limited experience is absurd. Annie Besant, in Annie Besant: An Autobiography (1893)
  • Nothing good ever comes out of denying the truth about our situation. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity (2010)
  • It takes an enormous amount of energy, creative energy withdrawn from the total economy of the person, to hold a trait underground, and, unfortunately, needs and drives do not go underground alone; they carry with them useful parts of the personality, depriving it of richness and the possibility of a variety of response. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)

In the book, Coudert also wrote: “To live with the terrible truths about ourselves is the only way of not living them out. A need denied has infinitely more power than a need accepted.”

  • He does not think there is anything the matter with him because/one of the things that is/the matter with him/is that he does not think that there is anything the matter with him/therefore/we have to help him realize that,/the fact that he does not think there is anything/the matter with him/is one of the things that is/the matter with him. R. D. Laing, in Knots (1970)
  • I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide/Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied. John Masefield, in the 1902 poem “Sea Fever”
  • Delay is the deadliest form of denial. C. Northcote Parkinson, in The Law of Delay (1971)
  • You can’t have a tin can tied to your tail and go through life pretending it isn’t there. Josephine Tey, in The Franchise Affair (1948)

DENIAL (saying no)


  • For myself, I would rather live with sins of excess than sins of denial. Jeanette Winterson, in Sexing the Cherry (1989)



  • There is something always melancholy in the idea of leaving a place for the last time. It is like burying a friend. Abigail Adams, in letter to Mary Cranch (Feb. 27, 1800); reprinted in New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788-1801 (1973)
  • 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)



  • 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 introduced the thought by writing: “There are almost as many definitions of codependency as there are experiences that represent it.”

  • In all the world there are no people so piteous and forlorn as those who are forced to eat the bitter bread of dependence in their old age, and find how steep are the stairs of another man’s house. Dorothy Dix, in Dorothy Dix—Her Book: Every-Day Help for Every-Day People (1926)
  • Co-dependence…taking someone else’s temperature to see how you feel. Linda Ellerbee, in Move On (1991)
  • Oh, the bitter, bitter bread of dependence! Fanny Fern, in Fern Leaves, 2nd series (1853)
  • There is no power greater than the power of passive dependency. Marilyn French, in The Bleeding Heart (1980)
  • 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)
  • When we lose ourselves in…a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to bully, lie, torture, murder, and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • All forms of slavery had their inception in some kind of economic dependence, but the slavery often exists long after the dependent condition has passed away. Lizzie M. Holmes, “Woman’s Future Position in the World,” in The Arena (1898)

Holmes continued: “A thing, once established, once made an institution, is very apt to outlast the economic phase which determined its existence, and become a very troublesome matter.”

  • 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)
  • Bonding through dependence never works, whereas bonding through freedom always does. Shirley MacLaine, in Dance While You Can (1991)
  • Our love relationships have been based on the pathological model that two persons who pair will become one. Because this model does not allow for separateness in relationships, it has fostered dependency. Marilyn J. Mason, in Co-Dependency (1984)
  • The economic dependence of women is perhaps the greatest injustice that has been done to us, and has worked the greatest injury to the race. Nellie McClung, in In Times Like These (1915)
  • Dependence upon material possessions inevitably results in the destruction of human character. Agnes E. Meyer, in Out of These Roots: The Autobiography of an American Woman (1953)
  • 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?” St. Petersburg Times (1994)
  • Dependency invites encroachment. Patricia Meyer Sparks, in The Female Imagination (1975)
  • You may know the pain of possessing and dependency, reducing persons to objects, but this is not love. Love doesn’t attempt to bind, ensnare, capture. It is light, free of the burden of attachments. Love asks nothing, is fulfilled in itself. When love is there, nothing remains to be done. Vimala Thakar, in The Eloquence of Living (1989)
  • How I regret now that my perpetual emotional dependence on the man I love has killed all my other talents—my energy too: and I had such a lot of that once. Sophia Tolstoy, an 1890 diary entry, in The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy (1985; O. A. Golinenko et. al., eds.)



  • A suicidal depression is a kind of spiritual winter, frozen, sterile, unmoving. Al Avarez, in The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (1971)
  • Depression—though that seemed a limp word for the storm of black panic and half-demented malfunction—had over the years worked itself out in Charlotte’s life in a curious pattern. Sebastian Faulks, the narrator describing the title character, in Charlotte Gray: A Novel (1999)

The narrator continued: “Its onset was often imperceptible: like an assiduous housekeeper locking up a rambling mansion, it noiselessly went about and turned off, one by one, the mind’s thousand small accesses to pleasure.”

  • Depression is a natural condition. It is a natural formation. Better yet, depression is a natural resource. The list of implications of the cave metaphor can provide strategies to deal with depression. Owen Kaminoff, the opening lines of “Depression is a Cave,” a personal communication to the compiler

Kaminoff continued: “Every cave is unique. The forces in nature (erosion, stress, upheaval) that form caves have emotional equivalence. Trying to figure out exactly how a cave was formed doesn’t change the cave. The ENTRANCE to a cave also serves as the EXIT. Caves are better for temporary shelter rather than long-term residence. Caves can be fascinating, comforting, and starkly beautiful but at the same time, very dangerous. Going too deep and getting lost in a cave may require help in returning to the ENTRANCE/EXIT. Caves are useful for storage. Unwanted, unneeded, painful and harmful memories can be consigned or stored in deep pits. Treasured memories and precious thoughts are best stored near the ENTRANCE/EXIT. Attempting to fill in a cave creates a depression or hole somewhere else. Remember the adage: In a cave or any dark place it is much better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

  • Sadness is more or less like a head cold—with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer. Barbara Kingsolver, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, Taylor Greer, in The Bean Trees (1989)

Greer preceded the observation by saying: “There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’”

  • Depression can be usefully seen, from one point of view, as the inability to see or construct a future. Rollo May, in Love and Will (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the sentiment was formally expressed in May’s 1969 book, but in his lectures and talks he often expressed the idea more succinctly: “Depression is the inability to construct a future.” This pithier version is the one that appears on almost all internet sites.

  • Depression is the common cold of psychopathology and has touched the lives of us all, yet it is probably the most dimly understood and most inadequately investigated of all the major forms of psychopathology.. Martin P. Seligman, in Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death (1975)
  • Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. Andrew Solomon, the opening lines of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001)

Solomon, whose interest in depression grew out of his own lifelong struggles with it, continued: “When it comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself.”

  • If one imagines a soul of iron that weathers with grief and rusts with mild depression, then major depression is the startling collapse of the whole structure. Andrew Solomon, in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001)
  • Depression is melancholy minus its charms. Susan Sontag, in Illness as Metaphor (1978)
  • Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from natural experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. William Styron, in Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990)



  • Description is, in effect, word painting. Rebecca McClanahan, in Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively (1999)

McClanahan preceded the observation by writing: “Description is an attempt to present as directly as possible the qualities of a person, place, object or event. When we describe, we make impressions, attempting through language to represent reality.”



  • They are as subtle as the crashing cymbals of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ian Crouch, on the 2014 Olympic uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren, in “Made in America (At Least)”, in The New Yorker (Jan. 23, 2014)

Crouch began his highly critical assessment of the Olympic uniforms by writing: “The holiday season is over, but the Christmas sweater, like the quarter-full carton of eggnog lurking in the back of your fridge, lives on well past the expiration date…thanks to the designers at Ralph Lauren.”



  • Her face fell apart like a bride’s pie crust. Raymond Chandler, protagonist Philip Marlowe describing the disheveled appearance and distressed demeanor of the character Carmen Sternwood, in The Big Sleep (1939)
  • It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe describing a woman he sees in a photograph he has been given, in Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
  • Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food. Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe describing the loudly-dressed Moose Malloy, in Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
  • She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens. Raymond Chandler, Marlowe describing a “neat little blonde” working in an office, in The Lady in the Lake (1943)
  • When she raises her eyelids it’s as if she were taking off her clothes. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), the character Renaud describing the character Annie, in Claudine and Annie (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: This marvelous description comes in a conversation Renaud is having with Claudine. He offers it in response to her saying: “What marvelous eyes Annie’s got, hasn’t she Renaud dear? Wild chicory flowers, growing out of brown sand…”

  • He was like a cock, who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow. George Eliot, in Adam Bede (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is usually presented but the full passage in which it originally appeared is even more interesting. As Mr. and Mrs. Irwine discuss Mrs. Poyser, he says with admiration: “Her tongue is like a new-set razor. She’s quite original in her talk, too; one of those untaught wits that help to stock a country with proverbs. I told you the capital thing I heard her say about Craig—that he was like a cock, who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow. Now, that’s an Aesop’s fable in a sentence.”

  • It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the narrator Nick Carraway describing the “low, thrilling voice” of Daisy Buchanan, in The Great Gatsby (1925)

Buchanan continued: “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen’.”

  • She snatched off her dress and tore at the thin laces of her corsets, which whistled down over her hips like a slithering adder. Gustave Flaubert, the narrator describing the title character, in Madame Bovary (1857)

QUOTE NOTE: It was lines like this that led to Flaubert’s arrest for obscenity after Madame Bovary began to be serialized in the fall of 1856. In the proceedings, the prosecutor said about the defendant: “In his works, no gauze, no veils, what you have is nature fully naked and absolutely crude.” The trial, which ended in an acquittal, generated so much publicity that the novel became an immediate bestseller when it was published in April, 1857. Thanks to Steve King of Today in Literature for the backstory.

  • The world was in her heart already, like the small spot of decay in a fruit. Graham Greene, the main character, an unnamed “whiskey priest,” describing his daughter Brigida, in The Power and the Glory (1940)
  • She poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of his spirit. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator describing Georgiana’s singing to her husband Aylmer, in “The Birth-Mark,” a short story originally published in The Pioneer (March, 1843); reprinted in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846)
  • The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous, and likable. In three days, no one could stand him. Joseph Heller, the narrator describing a character known only as The Texan, in Catch-22 (1961). An example of Oxymoronica.
  • He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive. Joseph Heller, the narrator describing Frank Yossarian, in Catch-22 (1961). Another example of Oxymoronica.
  • She is pale but affectionate, clinging to his arm—always clinging to his arm. Any one can see that she is a peach and of the cling variety. O. Henry, “A Tempered Wind,” in McLure’s Magazine (Aug., 1904); reprinted in The Gentle Grafter (1908)
  • Griffin looked at me like I was a side dish that he hadn’t ordered. Ring Lardner, the narrator and protagonist Tom Finch speaking, in The Big Town (1920)

ERROR ALERT: In almost all quotation collections, this line is erroneously presented as: “He looked at me as if I was a side dish he hadn’t ordered.” Lardner was a master at describing the looks people give one another and, just like the side dish observation above, mistaken versions are now more popular than the original quotations.

A bit later in The Big Town, Lardner has Finch say in his fashion: “And he give her a look that you could pour on a waffle.” This is now mistakenly presented in most quotation anthologies as: “He gave her a look that you could have poured on a waffle.” It’s only a slight change in wording, true, but it is still a modification of the original phrasing.

A few pages later in The Big Town, Lardner wrote: “Kate and Mercer gave each other a smile with a future in it.” This line has also been tweaked to make it more “quotable,” and is now typically presented this way: “They gave each other a smile with a future in it.”

  • The face that launch’d a thousand ships. Christopher Marlowe, the character Faustus describing Helen of Troy, in The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1604)

QUOTE NOTE: The line occurs in a memorable scene in which Faustus looks in a mirror, attempting to summon the spirit of Helen from the underworld. Here’s the beginning of the fuller passage: “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burned the topless towers/of Ilium?/Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss./[He kisses the mirror]/Her lips suck forth my soul; See, where it flies!
/Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again./Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips.”

  • She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious. W. Somerset Maugham, a 1919 entry, in A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the entirety of a working entry in Maugham’s notebook, most likely about a character he was considering for a novel or play. The line never made it into any of his published works.

  • All his life Toselli’s smile had been stretched across his rage, like a tight-rope spanning a chasm. Josephine Tey (pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh), the narrator describing the character Mr. Toselli, in A Shilling for Candles (1936)
  • Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as though it were dangerous to meet alone. To this end she had founded the Lunch Club, an association composed of herself and several other indomitable huntresses of erudition. Edith Wharton, the opening lines of the short story “Xingu,” in Xingu and Other Stories (1916)
  • She fitted into my biggest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season. P. G. Wodehouse, on Lady Malvern, in “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,” My Man Jeeves (1919)
  • She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel. P. G. Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster describing Honoraria, in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923)
  • The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked like he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say “When.” P. G. Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster describing The Right Hon. A. B. Filmer, “Jeeves and the Impending Doom,” in Very Good, Jeeves! (1930)

ERROR ALERT: This is the accurate form of the quotation, but a mistaken version—one featuring an unnamed woman—is presented on almost all internet sites: “She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’”

  • The door opened and his head emerged cautiously, like that of a snail taking a look around after a thunderstorm. P. G. Wodehouse, in The Code of the Woosters (1938)
  • She had hair the color of ripe wheat and eyes of cornflower blue. Add a tiptilted nose and a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway, and it will not strike you as strange that Stilton . . . should have stood gaping at her dumbly. P. G. Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster speaking, in Bertie Wooster Sees It Through (1955, U.S.; published in England the year before as Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous quotation compilations—and even a few Wodehouse fan sites—mistakenly offer the following as a Bertie Wooster observation: “She had more curves than a scenic railway.” This line has never appeared in any of Wodehouse’s writings, though, and appears to be nothing more than an adaptation of the passage above.



  • A paté is nothing more than a French meat loaf that’s had a couple of cocktails. Carol Cutler, in Paté: The New Main Course for the 80’s (1983)



  • He smiled with the spontaneity of a mechanical tiger. Dean Acheson, on Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov, in Sketches from Life (1961)
  • He struck me as looking like a pear on top of two toothpicks. Dean Acheson, on Charles de Gaulle, in 1962, quoted in David S. McLellan & David C. Acheson, Among Friends: Personal Letters of Dean Acheson (1980)
  • Physically, [H. Allen] Smith is a waste of skin. He weighs about one hundred and ten pounds with his bridgework in and the complete works of Dale Carnegie under each arm. There isn’t enough meat on him to glut a baby buzzard. At a cannibals’ buffet Smith would be hors d’ouvre. Jo Davison could sculpt Smith in a pebble and have enough stone left over to gravel the bottom of a bird cage. Fred Allen, describing H. Allen Smith, in Introduction to Smith’s Low Man on the Totem Pole (1941)
  • If often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,/to us he is no more a person/now but a whole climate of opinion. W. H. Auden, in the poem “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” (1940
  • Lord Byron’s hair was curly,/His profile like a god’s,/And plainer men grew surly/To face such frightful odds. Richard Armour, “Portrait of Lord Byron,” in Nights with Armour: Lighthearted Light Verse (1958)
  • She tells enough white lies to ice a wedding cake. Margot Asquith, on Ethel “Ettie” Grenfell (Lady Desborough); quoted in The Listener (London; June 11, 1953)
  • His mind resembled the vast amphitheatre, the Coliseum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgment, which like a mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the arena, were all around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. James Boswell, on Samuel Johnson, an October, 1769 entry, in Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Boswell continued: “After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens.”

  • I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table, but, as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale. James Boswell, on William Wilberforce, after hearing him deliver a speech at York Castle (March 25, 1784); quoted in P. C. Fitzgerald, Life of James Boswell (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilberforce, of course, is famous for leading the charge to abolish England’s enormously lucrative slave trade. A smallish man with an eloquent manner, he was regarded as one of the leading orators of his era. Prior to hearing Wilberforce speak, Boswell’s assessment of him had been tepid, as his shrimp metaphor suggests, but he walked away with a completely different view of the man.

  • Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett—the nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett—has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, “Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle,” in The New York Times (Feb. 8, 2018)
  • He looks like a man who has just swallowed an entire human being. Truman Capote, on CBS boss William S. Paley, quoted in David Halberstam, The Powers that Be (1979)
  • I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot. Winston Churchill, on Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in The Gathering Storm (1948)
  • A hard-boiled egg of a man. Winston Churchill, on Joseph Stalin, quoted in Piers Brendon, Winston Churchill (1984)
  • He is the only bull who brings his own china shop with him. Winston Churchill, on Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, quoted in William Manchester, The Last Lion (1983)
  • A hard dog to keep on the porch. Hillary Clinton, on Bill Clinton, quoted in The Guardian (London; Aug. 2, 1999)

See also the David Gergen entry below.

  • The Princess of Wales was the queen of surfaces, ruling over a kingdom where fame was the highest value and glamour the most cherished attribute. Maureen Dowd, on Princess Diana, in “Death And the Maiden”, The New York Times (Sep. 3, 1997)
  • A stiletto-heeled, stiletto-tongued persona who might well have been the spawn of a ménage à quatre involving Oscar Wilde, Salvador Dalí, Auntie Mame and Miss Piggy, Dame Edna was not so much a character as a cultural phenomenon, a force of nature trafficking in wicked, sequined commentary on the nature of fame. Margalit Fox in New York Times obituary of Barrie Humphries, the creator of the character Dame Edna Everage (April 22, 2023)
  • The charm which Henry T uses for bird and frog and mink, is patience. They will not come to him, or show him aright, until he becomes a log among logs, sitting still for hours in the same place; then they come around him and to him, and show themselves at home. Ralph Waldo Emerson, on Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (May 11, 1858)
  • I believe that Willy Nelson is the hillbilly Dalai Lama. Kinky Friedman, in Cowboy Logic (2006)
  • As they say down South, he was a hard dog to keep on the porch. David Gergen, on philandering rumors about Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, in Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton (2000)

Gergen, who went on to serve as a senior advisor to President Clinton, said the womanizing talk didn’t bother him. He wrote: “I didn’t know any saints from the sixties generation, and I was not one myself. More to the point, I figured that if he ever ran for the White House, he would chain up his sexual appetites, just as Teddy Kennedy did when he ran against Carter. Clinton seemed too ambitious to trip himself up over a dalliance.” Sadly, Gergen couldn't have been more wrong.

See also the Hillary Clinton entry above.

  • Las Vegas without Wayne Newton is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse. Merv Griffin, quoted in Earl Blackwell, Earl Blackwell’s Celebrity Register (1986)
  • The most beautiful fighting machine I have ever seen. Ernest Hemingway, on Joe Louis, “Million Dollar Fright: A New York Letter,” in Esquire magazine (Dec., 1935)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it originally appeared in the following fuller tribute, which appeared after the 21-year-old Louis’s victory over former heavyweight champion Max Baer on Sep. 24, 1935: “We who have seen him now, light on his feet, smooth moving as a leopard, a young man with an old man’s science, the most beautiful fighting machine I have ever seen, may live to see him fat, slow, old, and bald taking a beating from a younger man. But I would like to hazard a prediction that whoever beats Joe Louis in an honest fight in the next fifteen years will have to get up off the floor to do it.”

  • The place was set on fire by the most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will. Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles. Ernest Hemingway, on seeing Josephine Baker for the first time at Paris’s Le Jockey night club, quoted in A. E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir (1966)

Hemingway continued in his inimitable fashion, transforming a single anecdote into a short story: “Very hot night but she was wearing a coat of black fur, her breasts handling the fur like it was silk. She turned her eyes on me—she was dancing with the big British gunner subaltern who had brought her—but I responded to the eyes like a hypnotic and cut in on them. The subaltern tried to shoulder me out but the girl slid off him and onto me. I introduced myself and asked her name. ‘Josephine Baker,’ she said. We danced nonstop for the rest of the night. She never took off her fur coat. Wasn’t until the joint closed she told me she had nothing on underneath.”

  • She had rouged her cheeks to a color otherwise seen only on specially ordered Pontiac Firebirds, and in her ears she wore two feathered appliances resembling surfcasting jigs especially appetizing to striped bass. George V. Higgins, on Diana Vreeland, in Wall Street Journal (July 9, 1984)
  • 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)
  • She was a college classmate of mine who became a caterer who became a conglomerate and who was famous in Connecticut for treating her employees like disposable paper plates. Erica Jong, in Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life (2006)
  • He had a wonderful talent for packing thought close, and rendering it portable. Thomas Babington Macaulay, on Francis Bacon, in “Lord Bacon,” in Edinburgh Review (July, 1837)

Macaulay continued: “In wit, if by wit be meant the power of perceiving analogies between things which appear to have nothing in common, he never had an equal.”

  • She proceeded to dip her little fountain-pen filler into pots of oily venom and to squirt this mixture at all her friends. Harold Nicolson, on the gossip-mongering society hostess Mrs. Ronnie Greville, in a diary entry (July 20, 1937)
  • What Galileo and Newton were to the seventeenth century, Darwin was to the nineteenth. Bertrand Russell, on Charles Darwin, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945)
  • As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he’s a great military man. Norman Schwarzkopf, in Gulf War press briefing (Feb 28, 1991)
  • A tiny terror who wore brass knuckles on his tongue, he frequently retaliated with knockout assessments of those he judged disloyal or simply disliked. Lloyd Shearer, on Truman Capote, in “Truman Capote—Voice From the Dead,” from Shearer’s syndicated column “Parade’s Special Intelligence Report” (Oct. 6, 1985)
  • Where the last stand was made, the Long Hair stood like a sheaf of corn with all the ears fallen around him. Sitting Bull, on Gen. George Custer, in 1877 New York Herald interview; reprinted in Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (1996)
  • She had accomplished what according to builders is only possible to wood and stone of the very finest grain; she had weathered, as they call it, with beauty. Ethel Smyth, a 1920 remark about Empress Eugénie (wife and consort of Napoleon III), who had recently died at age 95; quoted in Christopher St. John, Ethel Smyth (1959)
  • I felt that there was no weight to her—neither physically nor emotionally nor intellectually. She was like a glass of champagne without the gaiety of bubbles. It wasn’t that the champagne had gone flat. It seemed, instead, as if the bubbles had just never been there. Susan Stamberg, on First Lady Nancy Reagan, in Talk (1993)
  • I forged the thunderbolts. She fired them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on Susan B. Anthony; quoted in Elisabeth Gilbert, In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1984)
  • He reminded me of an army scout riding at the head of a troop of cavalry who suddenly raises his hand in a green and silent valley and says, “Indians,” although to the ordinary eye and ear there is no faintest sign or sound of anything alarming. James Thurber, on Harold Ross, in The Years With Ross (1959)

Thurber began by writing about the New Yorker magazine founder: “He had a sound sense, a unique, almost intuitive perception of what was wrong with something, incomplete or out of balance, understated or over-emphasized.”

  • Hélène is a harmony of delightful imperfections, which is the most flattering thing I could say about anyone. Peter Ustinov, on his wife Hélène du Lau d’Allemans, in Dear Me (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Ustinov began with this lovely example of oxymoronica and ended with an equally impressive example of chiasmus: “I only hope my imperfections seem half as delightful to her. It is so easy to give if there is someone willing to take; it is so easy to take if there is someone with so much to give.”

  • He made radio interesting; not like a seminar is interesting, but like a bank robbery is interesting. Like emergency surgery is interesting. Like climbing a cliff with no rope is interesting. David Von Drehle, on the recently-deceased Don Imus, “Don Imus, the Man Who Was Always Willing to go Too far,” in The Washington Post (Dec. 31, 2019)
  • About two-thirds of the face of Marx is beard, a vast solemn wooly uneventful beard that must have made all normal exercise impossible. It is not the sort of beard that happens to a man, it is a beard cultivated, cherished, and thrust patriarchally upon the world. H. G. Wells, in Russia in the Shadows (1920)

Wells continued: “It is exactly like Das Kapital in its inane abundance, and the human part of the face looks over it owlishly as if it looked to see how the growth impressed mankind.” Thanks to Steve King of Today in Literature for alerting me to this quotation.

  • She is so odd a blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth. Alexander Woollcott, on Dorothy Parker, “Our Mrs Parker,” in While Rome Burns (1934)

Woollcott added: “It is not so much the familiar phenomenon of steel in a velvet glove as a lacy sleeve with a bottle of vitriol concealed in its folds.” The critic John Mason Brown offered a similar, and equally memorable, description about Dorothy Parker: “To those she did not like, she was a stiletto made of sugar.” Playwright Howard Teichmann also described Mrs. Parker in a memorable way: “Petite, pretty, and deadly as an asp.”

  • He hath been as a star at which the world hath gazed; but stars may fall, nay, they must fall when they trouble the sphere wherein they abide. Henry Yelverton, on Sir Walter Raleigh, in writ of habeus corpus (issued Oct. 28, 1618); quoted in George L. Craik, The Pictorial History of England (1740)

QUOTE NOTE: This is almost certainly the earliest formal legal description of a famous person as a star. Yelverton, Attorney General for King James, was reading from a writ ordering the immediate execution of Raleigh, who was beheaded the following day. For more from that original proceeding, go to Walter Raleigh




  • Miami Beach is where neon goes to die. Lenny Bruce, quoted by Barbara Gordon, in Saturday Review (May 20, 1972)
  • Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go. Truman Capote, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 26, 1961)
  • We say the cows laid out Boston. Well, there are worse surveyors. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • 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)
  • In Houston the air was warm and rich and suggestive of fossil fuel. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • Boston State-house is the hub of the solar system. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts/And eloquence. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)
  • 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)
  • Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it’s the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it’s just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. Terry Pratchett, the voice of the narrator, in Mort (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: Ankh-Morpork is a city-state in Discworld, a fantasy world created by Pratchett and featured in more than forty novels. The narrator continued: “So let’s just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colorful as a bruise, and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.”

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

  • Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception. Carnegie Hall enhances the music. Isaac Stern, quoted in John Rockwell, “Carnegie Hall to Close for 7 Months Next Year,” The New York Times (May 17. 1985). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • 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.)



  • “Six inches of snow on twenty feet of lava” has been said of me, and not without reason. Marie d’Agoult, quoted in Charlotte Haldane, The Galley Slaves of Love: The Story of Marie d’Agoult and Franz Liszt (1957)
  • My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain. W. H. Auden, quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, W. H. Auden (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: Auden’s heavily-wrinkled face was the subject of much discussion, and the inspiration for numerous comments. “Were a fly to attempt to cross it,” said British academic David Cecil of Auden’s face, “it would break its leg.” Fellow poet Philip Larkin said: “Behind it all, the tow-haired moled impassive face weathers slowly to that last incredible relief map, webbed with a thousand ironies.” And best of all, after completing a drawing of Auden, artist David Hockney was said to have quipped: “I kept thinking, if his face was that wrinkled, what did his balls look like?”

  • I’ve found two gray hairs in my head the week before last, and an impertinent crow has planted a delicate impression of his foot under my right eye. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the character Robert Audley speaking, in Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)
  • I am prone to envy. It is one of my three default emotions, the others being greed and rage. I have also experienced compassion and generosity, but only fleetingly and usually while drunk, so I have little memory. Augusten Burroughs, in Possible Side Effects (2006)
  • I was kind of a Hershey Bar whore—there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do for a nickel’s worth of chocolate. Truman Capote, the novel’s protagonist P. B. Jones describing himself, in Answered Prayers (1986)
  • I am one of the people who love the why of things. Catherine II, in a letter to Baron F. M. Grimm (Jan. 2, 1776); reprinted in Correspondence avec le Baron F. M. Grimm (1878)
  • We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm. Winston Churchill, quoted in Violet Bonham-Carter, Winston Churchill as I Knew Him (1965)
  • I am a pear that has survived a hailstorm: when it does not rot, it becomes better and sweeter than the others, in spite of its little scars. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in a 1912 letter, reprinted in Letters From Colette (1980; Robert Phelps, ed.)
  • I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix. Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes speaking, “The Adventure of the Mazarin,” in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
  • A hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant, whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning. Samuel Johnson, describing himself, in The Literary Magazine (1757, Vol. II, No. XIII)
  • My specialty is detached malevolence. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, quoted in a 1966 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a remark just after JFK’s inauguration in early 1961, quoted in Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Kennedys (1984)
  • I am a farmer of thoughts, and all the crops I raise I give away. Thomas Paine, in letter to Henry Laurens (spring, 1778)
  • My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1792)
  • My life seems like one long obstacle course, with me as the chief obstacle. Jack Paar, quoted in Leo Buscaglia, Living, Loving, & Learning (1982)
  • I describe my look as a blend of Mother Goose, Cinderella, and the local hooker. Dolly Parton, in Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You (2012)
  • A doormat in a world of boots. Jean Rhys, describing herself, quoted in The Guardian (London; Dec. 6, 1990)
  • I forged the thunderbolts. She fired them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on Susan B. Anthony; quoted in Elisabeth Gilbert, In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1984)
  • I always say I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. Mother Teresa, in The Joy in Living: A Guide to Daily Living (1996; compiled by J. Chalika & E. Le Joly)

Mother Teresa continued with the pencil metaphor by writing: “He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a bit.” In an even more quotable version of the sentiment, found in Gwen Costello’s Spiritual Gems from Mother Teresa (2008), the Albanian-born nun said: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”



  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof was to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. Douglas Adams, the character Ford Prefect reflecting on a key aspect of the human condition, in Mostly Harmless (1992)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly contain the phrase is to underestimate.

  • Perhaps believing in good design is like believing in God, it makes you an optimist. Terence Conran, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (London; June 12, 1989)
  • Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus. David Hockney, quoted in The Guardian (London; Oct. 26, 1988)
  • Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. Steve Jobs, quoted in Wired magazine (Feb., 1996)

QUOTE NOTE: Jobs repeated this notion many times over the years. A Nov., 2003 piece in The New York Times has him saying it this way: “People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

  • In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human made creation. Steve Jobs, quoted in Fortune magazine (Jan., 2000)
  • If the basic lines of the automobile are static, if the car looks ‘stopped,’ it means just one thing to me: the design is no good. Raymond Loewy, in Never Leave Well Enough Alone (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: Loewy, often described as the father of modern industrial design, created streamlined designs for hundreds of iconic American products, including Lucky Strike cigarette packages, Greyhound buses, and Coca-Cola soda dispensers. In 1990, Life magazine named him one of “The 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.” He added to the foregoing thought: “No amount of chrome gadgets, trimmings, schmaltz, and spinach will give life to such a body design. This car is a dead pigeon. Conversely, the automobile that makes the best instant impression is one that looks alive as a leaping greyhound, charged with speed and motion even at rest. This car is a success.”

  • Design is not for philosophy—it’s for life. Issey Miyake, quoted in International Herald Tribune (Paris; March 23, 1992)
  • Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan. Eliel Saarinen, quoted in Time magazine (July 2, 1956)
  • A hen’s egg is, quite simply, a work of art, a masterpiece of design and construction with, it has to be said, brilliant packaging. Delia Smith, in How to Cook (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.)
  • The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews. W. H. Auden, “Death’s Echo” (1936) in Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944 (1950)
  • Desires are given not chosen. W. H. Auden, in Squares and Oblongs (1948)
  • The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing—desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little. Willa Cather, Professor Wunsch speaking to Thea Kronborg, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • Woe to those who get what they desire. Fulfillment leaves an empty space where your old self used to be, the self that pines and broods and reflects. Laurie Colwin, the narrator and protagonist Polly Rice speaking, “The Lone Pilgrim,” in The New Yorker (April 12, 1976); reprinted in The Lone Pilgrim: Stories by Laurie Colwin (1981)

Polly continued: “You furnish a dream house in your imagination, but how startling and final when that dream house is your own address. What is left to you? Surrounded by what you wanted, you feel a sense of amputation. The feelings you were used to abiding with are useless. The conditions you established for your happiness are met. That youthful light-headed feeling whose sharp side is much like hunger is of no more use to you.”

ERROR ALERT: The quotation is often mistakenly presented as: “Fulfillment leaves an empty space where longing used to be.” Even though the phrasing is beautiful, and captures the essence of Colwin’s original thought, this version should be regarded as a misquotation. The problem appears to have originated with an erroneous post on Goodreads.com a few years ago.

  • Whenever we confront an unbridled desire we are surely in the presence of a tragedy-in-the-making. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven (1984)
  • 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].”

  • A life directed chiefly toward the fulfillment of personal desires will sooner or later always lead to bitter disappointment. Albert Einstein, from letter to T. Lee (Jan. 16, 1954), in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire. Epictetus, in Discourses (2nd c. A.D.)
  • What is desire but a wildness of the soul? Louise Erdrich, in The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: The full passage from which this snippet was taken was: “So what is wild? What is wilderness? What are dreams but an internal wilderness and what is desire but a wildness of the soul?” When Erdrich’s book—her first work of non-fiction—was later released in paperback, the subtitle was changed to A Memoir of Early Motherhood.

  • From the satisfaction of desire there may arise, accompanying joy and as it were sheltering behind it, something not unlike despair. André Gide, the voice of the narrator, in The Counterfeitors (1925)
  • Whatever it is that you do, if you have that passion and desire for it, that’s the most important thing. Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Lessons of Presidential Leadership,” Academy of Achievement Interview, www.achievement.org (June 28, 1996)
  • It would not be better for mankind if they were given their desires. Heraclitus, quoted in Theodor Gomperz, Greek Thinkers: A History of Ancient Philosophy (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: The 6th century fragment from Heraclitus has also been translated in the following way: “It would not be better if things happened to men just as they wish.”

  • Any deeply rooted desire saturates the entire body and mind with the nature of the desire and literally transforms the mind into a powerful magnet that will attract the object of the desire, if it be within reason. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success (1928)

In the same discussion, Hill wrote: “I believe it is not unreasonable to suggest that to be sure of successful achievement, one’s definite chief aim in life should be backed up with a burning desire for its achievement.”

  • The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desires bring weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat. Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich (1937)

Hill Continued: “If you find yourself lacking in persistence, this weakness may be remedied by building a stronger fire under your desires.”

  • We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • The voice of the intelligence is soft and weak, said Freud. It is drowned out by the roar of fear. It is ignored by the voice of desire. Karl A. Menninger, in The Progressive (Oct., 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Dr. Menninger used his paraphrase of Freud’s thinking as a springboard for his own thoughts on the fragility of human intelligence. He continued: “It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is hissed away by hate, and extinguished by anger. Most of all it is silenced by ignorance.”

  • 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)
  • What’s an old man to do,/But reshape/The landscape of desire. Louis Phillips, “What’s An Old Man To Do,” in Sunlight Falling to the Lake (2020)
  • Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade. Marcel Proust, in Pleasures and Days (1896)
  • Slave to desire, my heart yearns. Sappho, a fragment (7th c. B.C)
  • Desire is the very essence of man. Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)
  • When natural inclination develops into a passionate desire, one advances towards his goal in seven-league boots. Nikola Tesla, in My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (1983); first published as as “My Inventions,” in several issues of Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)



  • A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world. John Le Carré, the narrator describing a thought of the protagonist George Smiley, in The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve always loved this quotation and have wondered many times if Le Carré was familiar with a 1956 observation President Eisenhower made about government bureaucrats making farm policy from behind their desks in Washington, DC: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”



  • Despair, in short, seeks its own environment as surely as water finds its own level. Al Alvarez, in The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (1971)
  • You may not know it, but at the far end of despair, there is a white clearing where one is almost happy. Jean Anouilh, the character Thérèse speaking, in La Sauvage (1938; published in English as The Restless Heart)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to Joan Baez.

  • Despair is better treated with hope not dope. Richard Asher, in a 1958 issue of The Lancet (precise date not determined)
  • Action is the antidote to despair. Joan Baez, in Kurt Loder, “Joan Baez: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone magazine (April 14, 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the conclusion to Baez’s answer to a question about whether she ever became discouraged in her pursuit of world peace. She preceded the thought by saying: “One suffers under a marvelous illusion that as long as you’re working, something’s still happening. Although I joke about having no illusions, that may be the one I hang on to…. I don’t deny the possibility of hope.”

  • Despair is nearly always a still shot taken from a movie that is not over. Robert Brault, in The Second Collection (2015)
  • From the satisfaction of desire there may arise, accompanying joy and as it were sheltering behind it, something not unlike despair. André Gide, the voice of the narrator, in The Counterfeitors (1925)
  • In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. Graham Greene, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)

The narrator of the novel continued: “It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practices. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing-point of knowing absolute failure. Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation.”

  • Writing and the hope of writing pulls me back from the edges of despair. I believe insanity and despair are at times one and the same. Bell Hooks, “Writing From the Darkness” Triquarterly magazine (Spring-Summer, 1989); reprinted in Wendy Martin, The Beacon Book of Essays by Contemporary American Women (1996)
  • I tell you there is no despair like the despair of the man who has everything. Jean Kerr, the character Sydney speaking, in Poor Richard (1965)

Sydney preceded the thought by saying: “You don’t seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help.”

QUOTE NOTE: In crafting this final portion of the observation, Kerr was almost certainly inspired by Sydney J. Harris, who offered a thought with strikingly similar phrasing in Majority of One (1957): “The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy; for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that money would solve their problems—but the rich know better.”

  • Despair is vinegar from the wine of hope. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that O’Malley was inspired by a line from a George Bernard Shaw play, to be seen below.

  • Despair itself, if it goes on long enough, can become a kind of sanctuary in which one settles down and feels at ease. Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, in The Life, Poems, and Thoughts of Joseph Delorme (1829)
  • He who has never hoped can never despair. George Bernard Shaw, the character Caesar speaking, in Caesar and Cleopatra (written 1898; first staged in 1901)
  • Given the ethnic and racial hierarchies of American life, there are those who dish it out and those who have to take it. Some get to dish it out without ever having to take it, some take it from those above and dish it out to those below, and some find themselves in the position of always having to take it. Elizabeth Stone, in Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins (1988)

Stone continued: “Such a position is, psychologically and emotionally speaking, almost unbearable. Rage and despair accumulate with no place to go.”



  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: In the lesser known conclusion to this famous thought, Thoreau added: “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”



  • Despotism subjects a nation to one tyrant; democracy, to many. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism. Angelina Grimké, in Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)
  • Creativity doesn’t flourish in an atmosphere of despotism, coercion, and fear. P. D. James, a comment on the poor management practices of the BBC, in the Sunday Times (London; March 7, 1999)
  • A country governed by a despot is an inverted cone. Samuel Johnson, an April 14, 1778 remark, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)

Mill preceded the thought by writing: “Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as Individuality exists under it.”

  • The more complete the despotism, the more smoothly all things move on the surface. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in Introduction to History of Women’s Suffrage, Vol. 1 (1881; E. C. Stanton, S. B. Anthony, & M. J. Gage, eds.)



  • Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Ray Bradbury, the title essay, in Zen in the Art of Writing (1990)

Bradbury added: “Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through.”

  • Every great turn of history’s wheel takes us in a new direction, but the destination is not easily discernible because the lessons of history are not fixed and immutable. Tom Brokaw, “Into an Unknowable Future,” in The New York Times (Sep. 28, 2001)
  • All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. Martin Buber, “The Life of the Hasidim,” in The Legend of the Baal-Shem (1908; translated by Maurice Friedman in 1955 English edition)
  • I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere. Carrie Fisher, in Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • Transformation is a journey without a final destination. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • A metaphor is both detour and destination, a digression that gets to the point. James Geary, in I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor (2011)

Geary introduced the point by writing: “Understanding a metaphor…is a seemingly random walk through a deep, dark forest of associations. The path is full of unexpected twists and turns, veering wildly off into the underbrush one minute and abruptly disappearing down a rabbit hole the next. Signposts spin like weather vanes. You can’t see the wood for the trees. Then, suddenly, you step into the clearing.”

  • No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. Steve Jobs, commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)

Continuing with his thoughts about the value of death, Jobs said: “It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

  • Excellence is not a destination you arrive at…It is the benchmark for your journey. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, in The Most Important Thing I Know (1997; Lorne A. Adrain, comp.)
  • The trouble with our age is that it is all signposts and no destination. Louis Kronenberger, “The Spirit of our Age,” in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)
  • The first goal need not be the final one, for a sailing ship sails first by one wind, then another. The point is that it is always going somewhere, proceeding toward a final destination. Louis L’Amour, the protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home. Anna Quindlen, in How Reading Changed My Life (1998)

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

  • What you get by reaching your destination isn’t nearly as important as what you become by reaching that destination. Zig Ziglar, in Great Quotes from Zig Ziglar (2005)

QUOTE NOTE: In her 2000 book Secrets of Superstar Speakers, Lilly Walters presented a variant phrasing of this thought that has gone on to surpass it in popularity: “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”


(see also CHANCE and FATE and FORTUNE and GODS and PROVIDENCE)

  • The detour often turns out to be one's true destiny. Sandra Cisneros, the voice of the narrator, in Caramelo (2002)

The book also includes this observation on the subject: “Imagine the unimaginable. Think of the most unbelievable thing that could happen and, believe me, Destiny will outdo you and come up with something even more unbelievable. Life's like that.”

  • It is old age, rather than death, that is to be contrasted with life. Old age is life’s parody, whereas death transforms life into a destiny. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Coming of Age (1970)
  • A person often meets his destiny on a road he took to avoid it. Jean de la Fontaine, “The Horoscope,” in Fables, Book 8 (1678–79)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation has also been commonly translated in the following way: “Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.”

  • I believe that happiness consists in having a destiny in keeping with our abilities. Our desires are things of the moment, often harmful even to ourselves; but our abilities are permanent, and their demands never cease. Germaine de Staël, in Reflections on Suicide (1813)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been translated in the following way: “It appears to me, that happiness consists in the possession of a destiny with our moral faculties. Our desires are fugitive and often fatal to our repose. But our faculties are as permanent as their necessities are unappeasable.”

  • The efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is presented on almost all Internet sites and in most published quotation anthologies. Emerson was not expressing his own thought, however, but merely summarizing the essence of an “old belief” that can be traced to the writings of the French aphorist Jean de la Fontaine (see his entry above). Here’s is Emerson’s full original thought: “The tendency of every man to enact all that is in his constitution is expressed in the old belief, that the efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it.”

  • The thirst for adventure is the vent which Destiny offers; a war, a crusade, a gold mine, a new country, speak to the imagination and offer swing and play to the confined powers. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Boston,” in Natural History of the Intellect (1893)
  • Time pours into us and then pours out again. In between the two pourings we live our destiny. Louise Erdrich, in Four Souls (2004)

In the novel, the observation was introduced this way: “Time is the water in which we live, and we breathe it like fish.”

  • Anatomy is destiny. Sigmund Freud, in “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love” (1912); quoted in Social Science Quotations (2000; David L. Sills & Robert K. Merton, eds.).

QUOTE NOTE: In their extensive compilation of social science quotations, Sills and Merton point out that Freud’s famous—or to some, infamous—assertion was inspired by an 1808 comment that Napoleon made to Goethe: “Politics is fate.” See also the Hardwick entry below.

  • She felt again that small shiver that occurred to her when events hinted at a destiny being played out, of unseen forces intervening. Dorothy Gilman, the voice of the narrator, in Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish (1990)
  • A person who neglects his destiny, whose life ticks on without enthusiasm and a staunch appetite for living, who has never been enchanted by his own passions and desires, is cut from defective cloth. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • I think that the human race does command its own destiny and that that destiny can eventually embrace the stars. Lorraine Hansberry, in The New York Times Theater Reviews (1971)
  • Biology is destiny only for girls. Elizabeth Hardwick, in the title essay of Seduction and Betrayal (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Hardwick’s observation was clearly inspired by Freud’s thought on the subject, seen above.

  • Ask how you’d live your life differently if you knew you were going to die soon, then ask yourself who those people you admire are and why you admire them, and then ask yourself what was the most fun time in your life. The answers to these questions, when seen, heard, and felt, provide us with an open doorway into our mission, our destiny, our purpose. Thom Hartmann, in The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now (1998; rev. ed. 2004)
  • Loneliness is the way by which destiny endeavors to lead man to himself. Hermann Hesse, in Reflections (1974; Volker Michels, ed.)
  • How rash to assert that man shapes his own destiny. All he can do is determine his inner responses. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • Men heap together the mistakes of their lives, and create a monster which they call Destiny. John Oliver Hobbes (pen name of Pearl Richards Craigie), the voice of the narrator, in The Sinner’s Comedy (1892)
  • The people who have control of your stories, control of your voice, also have control of your destiny, your culture. Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, quoted in Hartmut Lutz, Contemporary Challenges: Conversations With Canadian Native Authors (1991)
  • Every man is working out his destiny in his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous, and patient. Henry Miller, “My First Book—Tropic of Capricorn,” in Henry Miller on Writing (1964)

Miller preceded the thought by writing: “There are no ‘facts’—there is only the fact that man, every man somewhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the long route and some take the short route.”

  • Today’s deeds are tomorrow’s destiny. Randall S. Moore, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 2, 2021)
  • I don’t know what your destiny will be. Some of you will perhaps occupy remarkable positions. Perhaps some of you will become famous by your pens, or as artists. But I know one thing: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer, in “The Meaning of Ideals in Life,” an address to students at Silcoates School, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England (Dec. 3, 1935); full text of speech in The Silcoatian (Dec. 1935)

This is one of Dr. Schweitzer’s most famous quotations. He preceded the observation by saying: “Learn to serve; and then only will you begin to find true happiness.”

  • Parking in Washington sometimes feels like destiny. In our family we shop where we park and choose our restaurants that way. Maria Thomas, “Ethiopia,” in African Visas (1991)
  • Timing. We give it many names: Destiny, Fate, Kismet, the will of God. Whatever we call it, lives are changed and molded by it, in small or drastic ways beyond our control. The precise, exquisite influence of timing moves people into new positions as surely as a spring flood rearranges the landscape. It is as unavoidable as life. Helen Van Slyke, in No Love Lost (1980)
  • Everyone has a Destiny who knows what kind of destiny he has. Rahel Varnhagen, an 1810 remark, quoted in Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen (1957)
  • There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,/Can circumvent or hinder or control/The firm resolve of a determined soul. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the opening lines of the poem “Will,”; in Maurine: And Other Poems (1888)
  • A touch of madness is, I think, almost always necessary for constructing a destiny. Marguerite Yourcenar, in With Open Eyes: Conversations With Matthieu Galey (1980)



  • Art is born in attention. Its midwife is detail. Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992)
  • Details are of no importance in life, but in art details are vital. Oscar Wilde, an 1892 remark to Sir George Alexander as they were preparing to stage Lady Windermere’s Fan; quoted in Peter Raby, The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde (1997)



  • After all, what is the modern detective story but an extension of the mediaeval morality play? Catherine Aird, “The Devout Benefit of Clergy,” in Dilyn Winn, Murder Ink (1977)
  • Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective. John Buchan, a reflection of narrator Edward Leithen, in The Power-House (1916)
  • The detective’s highest talent lay in the gentle art of seeking favors under the guise of conferring them! Agatha Christie, “The Affair at the Victory Ball,” in Poirot Investigates (1925)
  • There is no finer form of fiction than the mystery. It has structure, a story line and a sense of place and pace. It is the one genre where the reader and the writer are pitted against each other. Sue Grafton, in Writer’s Digest (Jan. 1991)

Grafton Continued: “Readers don’t want to guess the ending, but they don’t want to be so baffled that annoys them. Reading mysteries is a way for people to deal with the crime they see in their newspapers, or television or in their daily lives, in a safe impersonal way.”

  • The detective-story is the normal recreation of noble minds. Philip Guedella, quoted in Dorothy L. Sayers The Omnibus of Crime (1929)
  • What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order. P. D. James, quoted in Face magazine (Dec. 1986)

QUOTE NOTE: James returned to the theme in the 2009 book Talking About Detective Fiction, in which she wrote: “Detective fiction is in the tradition of the English novel, which sees crime, violence, and social chaos as an aberration, virtue and good order as the norm for which all people strive, and which confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe.”

  • Detective fiction…confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe. P. D. James, in Talking About Detective Fiction (2009)
  • Ah, there’s nothing like tea in the afternoon. When the British Empire collapses, historians will find that it had made but two invaluable contributions to civilization—this tea ritual and the detective novel. Ayn Rand, the character Ellsworth Toohey speaking, The Fountainhead (1943)
  • The detective and his criminal wear versions of the same mask. Jane Roberts, in The Nature of Personal Reality (1974)
  • Make no mistake about it, the detective-story is part of the literature of escape, and not of expression. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Omnibus of Crime (1929)
  • Where there’s a will there’s a detective story. Carolyn Wells, “The Turnings of a Bookworm,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)



  • In the sustained determination to accomplish there is an invincible power which swallows up all inferior considerations and marches direct to victory. James Allen, in The Master of Destiny (1909)

Allen preceded the thought by writing: “Purpose is the keystone in the temple of achievement. It binds and holds together in a complete whole that which would otherwise lie scattered and useless. Empty whims, ephemeral fancies, vague desires, and half-hearted resolutions have no place in purpose.”

  • A failure establishes only this, that our determination to succeed was not strong enough. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)
  • Great things will occur when you get up [after failure and defeat], dust yourself off, and go after life with determination and courage. Les Brown, in It’s Not Over Until You Win (1997)
  • Everything considered, a determined soul will always manage. Albert Camus, “An Absurd Reasoning,” in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
  • Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination Karl Von Clausewitz, in On War (1832–34)

QUOTE NOTE: Clausewitz introduced this saying by describing it as “a maxim which should take first place among all causes of victory in the modern art of war.”

  • I might have been born in a hovel but I determined to travel with the wind and the stars. Jacqueline Cochron, in The Stars at Noon (1954)
  • Nothing great will ever be achieved without great men, and men are great only if they are determined to be so. Charles de Gaulle, in The Edge of the Sword (1960)
  • If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in address at the 4th Annual Republican Women’s National Conference, Washington, D.C. (March, 6, 1956)
  • I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to “succeed”—and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” in Esquire magazine (Feb, 1936); reprinted in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • A strong will, a settled purpose, an invincible determination can accomplish almost anything; and in this lies the distinction between great men and little men. Thomas Fuller, quoted in Tryon Edwards, The World’s Laconics: Or, The Best Thoughts of the Best Authors (1853)
  • I believe that the struggle against death, the unconditional and self-willed determination to live is the motive power behind the lives and activities of all outstanding men. Hermann Hesse, the narrator and protagonist Harry Haller quoting Goethe, in Steppenwolf (1927)
  • A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey-wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop. Robert Hughes, quoted in The Spectator (New York; Jan. 27, 1916)
  • Oh, how desperately bored, in spite of their grim determination to have a Good Time, the majority of pleasure-seekers really are! Aldous Huxley, “Holy Face,” in Do What You Will (1929)
  • It is not tears but determination that makes pain bearable. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, quoted in Cleveland Amory, “When Faith is Triumphant: A Portrait of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy,” Parade magazine (July 3, 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the concluding portion of a wish that Mrs. Kennedy had for her grandchildren. The full passage is as follows: “I hope they will have the strength to bear the inevitable difficulties and disappointments and griefs of life. Bear them with dignity and without self-pity. Knowing that tragedies befall everyone, and that, although one may seem singled out for special sorrows, worse things have happened many times to others in the world, and it is not tears but determination that makes pain bearable.”

  • A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination. Louis L’Amour, in Education of a Wandering Man (1989)
  • If a woman is sufficiently ambitious, determined and gifted—there is practically nothing she can’t do. Helen Lawrenson, in a 1971 Esquire article (specific issue undetermined)
  • If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. Abraham Lincoln, in letter to Isham Reavis (Nov. 5, 1855)

QUOTE NOTE: Reavis, a young man who aspired to become a lawyer, had asked if he might “read Law” [a term similar to apprenticing] with Lincoln. Lincoln sensitively declined the request, saying “I did not read with anyone,” and urging him to forge ahead on his own, if it came to that. In the letter, Lincoln also offered one of his most famous observations: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”

  • You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to go to bed with satisfaction. 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)
  • There is something in defeat which puts new determination into a man of mettle. Orison Swett Marden, in The Optimistic Life (1907)

Marden continued: “He, perhaps, would be content to go along in comparative mediocrity but for the stimulus of failure. This rouses him to do his best. He comes to himself after some stinging defeat, and perhaps for the first time feels his real power, like some horse who takes the bit in his mouth and runs away for the first time when he had previously thought he was a slave of his master.”

  • The most essential factor is persistence—the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come. James Whitcomb Riley, quoted in Orison Swett Marden, in How They Succeeded: Life Stories of successful Men Told by Themselves (1901)

Riley continued: “I believe that he is richer for the battle with the world, in any vocation, who has great determination and little talent, rather than his seemingly more fortunate brother with great talent, perhaps, but with little determination.”

  • Determination is the wake-up call to the human will. Anthony Robbins, in Awaken the Giant Within (1991)
  • Determination is power. If the prospect be dark, kindle up the fire of resolution that nothing but death can extinguish. Charles Simmons, in A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker (1852)
  • There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,/Can circumvent or hinder or control/The firm resolve of a determined soul. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the opening lines of the poem “Will,”; in Maurine: And Other Poems (1888)


(see also FREE WILL)

  • Determinism is like the cards that are dealt you. Free will is how you play them. The interaction between the two determines what you are as a person—or even a nation. Jawaharlal Nehru, quoted by Norman Cousins, In Present Tense An American Editor’s Odyssey (1967),

QUOTE NOTE: in Saturday Review (November 4, 1967), Cousins quoted Nehru in a slightly different way: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play it is free will.”



  • The Devil is always easier raisd [sic] than laid. Abigail Adams, in a 1794 letter; quoted in John P. Kaminski, The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009)
  • The devil’s most devilish when respectable. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • An apology for the Devil: It must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books. .Samuel Butler (1835-1902), in The Notebooks of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • I don’t know if I believe in God, but I know I believe in the devil. I have met him. Rumer Godden, in Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (1979)
  • We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. W. R. Inge, “The Idea of Progress,” in Outspoken Essays (1922)
  • The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  • What would become of the world without the Devil? Under all the different systems of religion that have guided or misguided the world for the last six thousand years, the Devil has been the grand scapegoat. Geraldine Jewsbury, the voice of the narrator, in Zoë, Vol. 2 (1845)

The narrator continued: “He has had to bear the blame of every thing that has gone wrong. All the evil that gets committed is laid to his door, and he has, besides, the credit of hindering all the good that has never got done at all. If mankind were not thus one and all victims to the Devil, what an irredeemable set of scoundrels they would be obliged to confess themselves!”

  • It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • All that the Devil asks is acquiescence. Suzanne Massie, in Robert and Suzanne Massie, Journey (1975)
  • The devil laughed till his sides ached, for he knew the evil men would commit in the name of their redeemer. W. Somerset Maugham, the narrator and protagonist Larry Darrell speaking, in The Razor’s Edge (1944)
  • Without Satan, no Christ. Dorothy Norman, in The Hero: Myth/Image/Symbol (1969)



  • Why has my motley diary no jokes? Because it is a soliloquy & every man is grave alone. Ralph Waldo Emerson, diary entry (July-August 1824); quoted in Joel Porte, Emerson in His Journals (1984)
  • Diaries are written for various reasons. Sometimes they are meant to be a terse record od one’s daily waking hours. Sometimes they are an unconscious relief from the day’s tensions. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic: An Autobiography (1963)

Ferber continued: “There it is on paper, you say, plainly to be read, so it couldn’t have been so unendurable.”

  • Yes, there is no doubt that paper is patient and as I don’t intend to show this cardboard-covered notebook, bearing the proud name of “diary,” to anyone, unless I find a real friend, boy or girl, probably nobody cares. And now I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary: it is that I have no such real friend. Anne Frank, diary entry (June 15, 1942), in The Diary of a Young Girl (1952)
  • Hold fast to the diary from today on! Write regularly! Don’t surrender! Even if no salvation should come, I want to be worthy of it every moment. Franz Kafka, diary entry (Feb. 25, 1912), in The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1913 (1965)
  • What a half-truth a diary presents. Käthe Kollwitz, a 1925 diary entry, in The Diaries and Letters of Käthe Kollwitz (1955; Hans Kollwitz, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the conclusion to the following larger passage: “Recently I began reading my old diaries. Back to before the war. Gradually I became very depressed. The reason for that is probably that I wrote only when there were obstacles and halts to the flow of life, seldom when everything was smooth and even. So there were at most brief notes when things went well with Hans [her son], but long pages when he lost his balance. And I wrote nothing when Karl [her husband] and I felt that we belonged intimately to one another and made each other happy, but long pages when we did not harmonize. As I read I distinctly felt what a half-truth a diary presents.”

  • Writing in a diary is my tool for the development of awareness. It is the crucible through which the rough material of life must pass before I can use it in art. I am always complaining that there is no ‘craft’ to writing, no brush technique, no finger exercises, no going back to the model in clay. But perhaps—for me—writing in a diary is my ‘craft,’ a warming-up process for writing. I must do it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in War Within and War Without (1980)

Lindbergh preceded the thought by writing: “Writing comes out of life; life must come first. And yet my life does not go well without writing. It is my flywheel, my cloister, my communication with myself and God. It is my eyes to the world, my window for awareness, without which I cannot see anything or walk straight.”

  • I suspect that a good many diaries record adventures of the mind and soul for lack of stirring adventures to the body. If they cannot say, “Attacked by a lion in Bond Street today,” they can at least say, “Attacked by doubt in St. Paul’s Cathedral.” A. A. Milne, in Not That It Matters (1919)
  • My diary. Isn’t it a mirror that will retell to oblivion the true story of a dreamer who, a long, long time ago, went through life the way one reads a book. Anaïs Nin, a diary entry (March, 1916), in Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1914-1920 (1978)
  • My diary seems to keep me whole. Anaïs Nin, a 1936 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 (1967)
  • One’s work is a way of keeping a diary. Pablo Picasso, in interview with Estafos Tériade, in L’Intransigeant (June 15, 1932); reported in John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932 (2007)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and a number of popular quotation anthologies—mistakenly present this observations as if it were phrased: “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

  • A diary helps build up the muscles of your personality. Alexandra Stoddard, in Living a Beautiful Life (1986)
  • One need not write in a diary what one is to remember for ever. Sylvia Townsend Warner, a 1930 diary entry, in The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995; Claire Harman, ed.)
  • None but the lonely heart, they say, keeps a diary. None but a lonelier heart, perhaps, reads one. The diary keeper has no one to speak to; the diary reader has no one who speaks to him. The diary writer is at least talking to himself. The diary reader is listening to a man talking to himself. Jessamyn West, in A Matter of Time (1966)
  • I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you. May West, in the role of Peaches O’Day in the 1937 film Every Day’s a Holiday (1937)



  • Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. William Beveridge, in Full Employment in a Free Society (1944)
  • Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry. Winston Churchill, “Armistice—Or Peace?” in the Evening Standard (London; Nov. 11, 1937); reprinted in Step by Step (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: The allusion here is to a Chinese proverb (“He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount”) first reported in William Scarborough’s Chinese Proverbs (1875)

  • There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule—executions without trial or with a mock trial for political offenses—the nationalization or expropriation of private property—and censorship. Ayn Rand, “Collectivized Rights,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964; with Nathaniel Branden)

Rand continued: “A country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives, any claim to national rights or sovereignty, and becomes an outlaw.”



  • Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

About his own work, Bierce added: “This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”

  • A word in a dictionary is very much like a car in a mammoth motorshow—full of potential, but temporarily inactive. Anthony Burgess, in A Mouthful of Air (1992)
  • Words fascinate me. They always have. For me, browsing in a dictionary is like being turned loose in a bank. Eddie Cantor, in The Way I See It (1959; Phyllis I. Rosenteur, ed.)
  • Well, a friend of mine says the trouble with the dictionary is that you have to know how a word is spelled before you can look it up to see how it is spelled. Will Cuppy, in How to Get From January to December (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: Most internet sites omit the initial Well, a friend of mine says portion of the observation. Cuppy continued: “Sometimes I think there’s a weak link in his argument, if one could only find it. At other times I think he may have hit upon a self-evident truth.”

  • A dictionary…is full of suggestions—the raw material of possible poems and histories. Nothing is wanting but a little shuffling, sorting, ligature, and cartilage. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books,” in Society and Solitude (1870)

ERROR ALERT: The title of the essay is often mistakenly presented as “In Praise of Books.” In a second common error, many respected reference works have mistakenly reported that the essay appeared in Emerson’s earlier work The Conduct of Life (1860)

  • Here’s a book full of words; one can choose as he fancies,/As a painter his tint, as a workman his tool;/Just think! all the poems and plays and romances/Were drawn out of this, like the fish from a pool! Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., an allusion to a dictionary, in “A Familiar Letter to Several Correspondents” (1876); see the complete poem at A Familiar Letter
  • Modern dictionaries are pusillanimous works, preferring to record what has been done than to say what ought to be done. A. P. Herbert, advancing an argument that came to be known as prescriptivism, in What a Word! (1935)
  • Lexicographer—A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge. Samuel Johnson, in Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  • It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward. Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries. Samuel Johnson, in Preface to Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  • Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. Dr. Samuel Johnson, in letter to Francesco Sastres (Aug. 21, 1784)
  • I like to say that dictionaries are the vodka of literature. We take the wheat and the rye and the potatoes—we take really meaty things—and we make it into something that’s odorless, colorless, tasteless, but really powerful. Erin McKean, in talk at Pop!Tech Conference (Camden, ME; Oct. 18–22, 2006)

QUOTE NOTE: To see McKean—a witty and charming celebrity in the otherwise staid world of lexicography—deliver this marvelous metaphor, scroll to eight minutes and fifteen seconds into her talk at McKean Pop!Tech Presentation

  • A dictionary without quotations is like a table of contents without a book. James Sledd, “The Lexicographer’s Uneasy Chair,” in College English (1962)
  • The process of creating a dictionary is magical, frustrating, brain wrenching, mundane, transcendent. It is ultimately a show of love for a language that has been called unlovely and unlovable. Kory Stamper, in Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (2017)

Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, preceded the thought by writing: “Every day, lexicographers plunge into the roiling mess of English, up to the elbows, to fumble and grasp at the right words to describe ennui, love, or chairs. They rassle with them, haul them out of the muck, and slap them flopping on the page, exhausted and exhilarated by the effort, then do it again. They do this work for no fame, because all their work is published anonymously under a company rubric, and certainly not for fortune, because the profit margins in lexicography are so narrow they’re measured in cents.”

  • A Dictionary is an historical monument, the history of a nation. Richard Chenevix Trench, in “On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries,” a paper read to The Philological Society (London; Nov. 5, 1857)

QUOTE NOTE: Trench was an Anglican cleric and word lover who wrote The Study of Words (1851) and other respected works on philology. In his talk, he laid out a detailed plan for a new and comprehensive dictionary of the English language. It would be three decades before the first volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary would begin to be published (originally under the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles), but Trench’s talk provided the initial impetus for the monumental work. John Simpson, the second editor of the OED said of Trench’s 1857 paper: “If this was not a lexicographical Bill of Rights, it was at least a manifesto for dictionary-makers.”



  • Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in The Physiology of Taste (1825)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation from one of culinary history’s most famous figures inspired the stock phrase tell me (fill in the blank) and I will tell you what you are. It also served as the basis for the popular modern saying you are what you eat.

  • The one way to get thin is to re-establish a purpose in life. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • At the end of every diet, the path curves back toward the trough. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 4th Selection (1985)
  • To safeguard one’s health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness indeed. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Men are so imprudent that they take up a diet which, though it tastes sweet, is poisonous. Niccolo Machiavelli, in The Prince (1532)

QUOTE NOTE: Over the centuries, this passage has been translated in a variety of slightly varying ways:

“But men are so imprudent that they take up a diet which, as it tastes good to start with, they do not realize is poisonous.”

“But lack of prudence in men begins something in which, because it tastes good then, they do not perceive the poison that lies underneath.”

“The scanty wisdom of man, on entering into an affair which looks well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden in it.”

“But men have so little judgment and foresight that they initiate policies that seem attractive, without noticing any poison that is concealed.”

  • The downfall of most diets is that they restrict your intake of food. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner,/And take to light claret instead of pale ale;/Look down with an utter contempt upon butter,/And never touch bread till it’s toasted—or stale. H. S. Leigh, “On Corpulence,” in Carols of Cockayne (1869)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the source of the popular saying If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner. Leigh’s poem continued: “You must sacrifice gaily six hours or so daily/To muscular exercise, outdoor and in;/While a very small number devoted to slumber/Will make a man healthy, and wealthy, and thin!”



  • Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary-line and adding to one's liberty. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime
  • In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: The notion that difficult times present great opportunities goes back to antiquity, but this pithy version of the sentiment didn’t fully emerge as a proverbial saying until the 1970s. It is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but his longtime editor Alice Calaprice (The New Quotable Einstein) says he is not the original author. The Einstein attribution almost certainly originated in a March 12, 1979 Newsweek article (“The Outsider”) in which Einstein’s longtime friend John Archibald Wheeler summarized lessons to be learned from Einstein. Wheeler wrote: “There are three additional rules of Einstein’s work that stand out for use in our science, our problems, our times. First, out of clutter find simplicity. Second, from discord make harmony. Third, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

  • Difficulty, my brethren, is the nurse of greatness—a harsh nurse, who roughly rocks her foster-children into strength and athletic proportion. William Cullen Bryant, in Dec. 15, 1851 speech
  • Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. Frédéric Chopin, quoted in Musical Courier (Jan. 20, 1916)
  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the exact phrasing in the original English edition of the book, but almost all quotation anthologies and internet sites now employ the straightforward phrase a special attractiveness in difficulty. The passage has also been translated this way: “Difficulty attracts the man of character because it is in embracing it that he realizes himself.”

  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? George Eliot, the character Dorothea Brooke speaking, in Middlemarch (1871–82)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking about Mr. Lydgate, who had once helped her, 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 major internet quotation sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” [italics mine]

  • What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Franz Xaver Kappus (Aug. 12, 1904); published posthumously in Letters to a Young Poet (1929)

Rilke continued: “Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there, against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.”

I’ve also seen the passage translated this way: “If only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.”

  • Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings, which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • When you are face to face with a difficulty, you are up against a discovery. William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), quoted in The Western Osteopath (Aug., 1921)



  • Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance. Abigail Adams, in letter to husband John (Nov. 27, 1775)
  • 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.”

  • Difficulties are opportunities to better things; they are stepping stones to greater experience. Perhaps someday you will be thankful for some temporary failure in a particular direction. Brian Adams, in How to Succeed (1985)

Adams continued: “When one door closes, another always opens; as a natural law, it has to, to balance.”

  • All successful men are men of purpose. They hold fast to an idea, a project, a plan, and will not let it go; they cherish it, brood upon it, tend and develop it; and when assailed by difficulties, they refuse to be beguiled into surrender; indeed, the intensity of the purpose increases with the growing magnitude of the obstacles encountered.  James Allen, in The Master of Destiny (1909)
  • Serious difficulties don't vanish by themselves, they are standing around your bed when you open your eyes the next morning. Vicki Baum, in It Was All Quite Different: The Memoirs of Vicki Baum (1964)

ERROR ALERT: The quotation is commonly presented with the mistaken phrasing “when you open the eyes.”

  • Difficulties are God’s errands. And when we are sent upon them we should esteem it as a proof of God’s confidence—as a compliment from God. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it. Niels Bohr, a favorite saying, according to Victor Weisskopf, in The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist (1991)
  • Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict! William Ellery Channing, in Self Culture (1838)

Channing had earlier written: “It is monstrous, it approaches impiety, to suppose that God has placed insuperable barriers to the expansion of the free, illimitable soul. True, there are obstructions in the way of improvement. But in this country, the chief obstruction lies, not in our lot, but in ourselves.”

  • We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them. Alain de Botton, “Consolation for Difficulties,” in The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)

De Botton preceded the thought by writing: “To cut out every negative root would simultaneously mean choking off positive elements that might arise from it further up the stem of the plant.”

  • It is difficulties that show what men are. Epictetus, in Discourses (2nd c. A.D.)
  • Life’s difficulties are merely necessary roughage. Milton H. Erickson, a signature saying, in Ronald A. Havens, The Wisdom of Milton H. Erikson (1996)
  • That fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptation, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Aug. 24, 1751)
  • Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health. Carl Jung, in The Transcendent Function (1916)
  • It is not possible to refer a complex difficulty to a single cause. Helen Keller, in Out of the Dark (1914)
  • Difficulties flee before absolute fearlessness, though they are very real and formidable to the timid and hesitating, and grow larger and larger and more formidable with vacillating contemplation. Orison Swett Marden, in The Optimistic Life (1907)
  • The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it; and difficulties are but the maids of honor to set off the virtue. Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin), the character Mascarille speaking, in The Blunderer (1655)
  • The difficulties which I meet with in order to realize my existence are precisely what awaken and mobilize my activities, my capacities. José Ortega y Gasset, in The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

Ortega y Gasset introduced the thought by writing: “All life is the struggle, the effort to be itself.”

  • To overcome difficulties is to experience the full delight of existence, no matter where the obstacles are encountered. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Our Relation to Ourselves,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

Schopenhauer added: “Whether in the affairs of life, in commerce or business; or in mental effort—the spirit of inquiry that tries to master its subject. There is always something pleasurable in the struggle and the victory. And if a man has no opportunity to excite himself, he will do what he can to create one, and according to his individual bent.”

  • The school of life offers some difficult courses, but it is in the difficult class that one learns the most. Corrie ten Boom, in Tramp for the Lord (1974)
  • As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties, the inmost strength of the heart is developed. Vincent van Gogh, in letter to brother Theo (specific date undetermined), in The Letters of Vincent van Gogh to His Brother, 1872–1886 (1927)



  • All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. John Adams, in Thoughts on Government (1776)
  • Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them. Aristotle, quoted in Proverbs: Or, The Manual of Wisdom (1804; 2nd ed.)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has been widely quoted for more than two centuries, but a source has not been provided. I recommend using it with the caveat: “Attributed to Aristotle.”

  • The worst part about prostitution is that you’re obliged not to sell sex only, but your humanity. That’s the worst part of it: that what you’re selling is your human dignity. Not really so much in bed, but in accepting the agreement—in becoming a bought person. Author Unknown, an unnamed prostitute quoted by Kate Millett in “Prostitution: A Quartet for Female Voices,” in Vivian Cornick and Barbara K. Moran, Woman in Sexist Society (1971)
  • By indignities men come to dignities. Francis Bacon, “Of Great Place,” in Essays (1625)
  • Dignity was the first quality to be abandoned when the heart took over the running of human affairs. William Boyd, a reflection of the character Dr. Salvador Carriscant, in The Blue Afternoon, Vol. 1 (1993)
  • The essence of vulgarity seemed to lie in the pretense at being or the attempt to be, something that one really was not, with the resulting lack of ease and dignity and taste. Ann Bridge, the voice of the narrator, in Singing Waters (1946)
  • [George] Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution—that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires. David Brooks, “In Search of Dignity,” in The New York Times (July 7, 2009)

Brooks continued: “The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested—to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent—to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate—to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.”

  • Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. David Brooks, on President Barack Obama, “In Search of Dignity,” in The New York Times (July 7, 2009)

Brooks continued: “The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.”

  • The first thing you lose when you become homeless is your dignity. Cindy Butler, in Street Spirit (2005)
  • It is terrifying to see how easily, in certain people, all dignity collapses. Albert Camus, in Notebooks, 1935–1942 (1952)

Camus continued: “Yet when you think about it, this is quite normal since they only maintain this dignity by constantly striving against their own nature.”

  • Money is a protection, a cloak; it can buy one quiet, and some sort of dignity. Willa Cather, the character Mrs. Henshawe speaking, in My Mortal Enemy (1926)
  • When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights. G. C. Chesterton, “The Poet Laureate of Our Time,” in The Illustrated London News (May 10, 1930)
  • I know of no case where a man added to his dignity by standing on it. Winston Churchill, quoted in William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Vol. 2 (1988)

QUOTATION CAUTION: According to Manchester, this was Churchill’s reply when he was advised by colleagues to “stand on his dignity.” The observation has become very popular, but some Churchill scholars have disputed its accuracy. In his respected Churchill by Himself (2008), Richard Langworth includes the saying in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions”).

  • Where is there dignity unless there is also honesty? Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Ad Atticum (1st. c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated in the following way: “What is dignity without honesty?”

  • By dignity I mean the absence of ludicrous and debasing associations. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Biographia Literaria (1817)
  • Every man has his dignity. I'm willing to forget mine, but at my own discretion and not when someone else tells me to. Denis Diderot, the title character speaking, in Rameau’s Nephew (1762)
  • Originality and a feeling of one’s own dignity are achieved only through work and struggle. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Diary of a Writer (1873)
  • Art . . . is the one orderly product which our middling race has produced. It is the cry of a thousand sentinels, the echo from a thousand labyrinths, it is the lighthouse which cannot be hidden . . . it is the best evidence we can have of our dignity. E. M. Forster, in address to PEN Club Congress, quoted in Huw Weldon, Monitor: An Anthology (1962)
  • Humor is an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of man’s superiority to all that befalls him. Romain Gary, in Promise at Dawn (1961)
  • Dignity is an anachronism. Ellen Glasgow, in In This Our Life (1941)
  • Those who insist on the dignity of their office show they have not deserved it, and that it is too much for them. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • There is no dignity like the dignity of a soul in agony. Edith Hamilton, in The Great Age of Greek Literature (1942)
  • The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others. Dag Hammarskjöld, in Markings (1963)
  • Saying “God within me” brought me an inrush of quietness and sweetness, a feeling inside me of dignity and wholeness which was not me at all, but something greater than I was, against which the horrors were powerless. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith (1942)
  • There is only one terminal dignity—love. And the story of a love is not important—what is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity. Helen Hayes, in Guideposts (Jan., 1960)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented as “Love is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity.”

  • Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not a career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity. Audrey Hepburn, quoted in Diana Maychick, Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait (1993)
  • Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (1967)
  • Official dignity tends to increase in inverse ratio to the importance of the country in which the office is held. Aldous Huxley, “Puerto Barrios,” in Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934)
  • There is a healthful hardiness about real dignity that never dreads contact and communion with others, however humble. Washington Irving, in The Sketch-Book (1820)
  • By a lie a human being throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a human being. Immanuel Kant, “On Lying,” in The Metaphysics of Morals, Part II (1797)

Defining lying as “intentional untruth,” Kant went on to add: “Lying…need not be harmful to others in order to be repudiated; for it would then be a violation of the rights of others. It may be done merely out of frivolity or even good nature, the speaker may even intend to achieve a really good end by it. But his way of pursuing this end is, by its mere form, a crime of a human being against his own person and a worthlessness that must make him contemptible in his own eyes.”

  • All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Only man has dignity; only man, therefore, can be funny. Ronald Knox, in Introduction to Essays in Satire (1928)
  • Perseverance can lend the appearance of dignity and grandeur to many actions, just as silence in company affords wisdom and apparent intelligence to a stupid person. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms (1775–79)
  • If a man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity? André Malraux, in Man’s Fate (1933)
  • No power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity. Nelson Mandela, in a Twitter post (Aug. 10, 2016)
  • One should not be assigned one’s identity in society by the job slot one happens to fill. If we truly believe in the dignity of labor, any task can be performed with equal pride because none can demean the basic dignity of a human being. Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • Euthanasia…is simply to be able to die with dignity at a moment when life is devoid of it. Marya Mannes, in Last Rights: A Case for the Good Death (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Note how the title of the book cleverly plays off the term last rites. Mannes also argued in her landmark work: “The right to choose death when life no longer holds meaning is not only the next liberation but the last human right.”

  • Remember this—that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • A society in which the dignity of the individual is destroyed cannot hope to be a decent society. Golda Meir, quoted in Marie Syrkin, A Land of Our Own (1973)

Meir preceded the thought by saying: “But the individual was not a tool for something. He was the maker of tools. He was the one who must build. Even for the best purpose it is criminal to turn an individual into simply a means for some ultimate end.”

  • For this is the journey that men make: to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn’t matter much what else they find: Money, position, fame, many loves, revenge are all of little consequence, and when the tickets are collected at the end of the ride they are tossed into the bin marked FAILURE. James Michener, the voice of the narrator, in The Fires of Spring: A Novel (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: The Fires of Spring is a heavily autobiographical novel, and I have always regarded this passage as something of a personal credo of the author. The narrator continued: “But if a man happens to find himself—if he knows what he can be depended upon to do, the limits of his courage, the positions from which he will no longer retreat, the degree to which he can surrender his inner life to some woman, the secret reservoirs of his determination, the extent of his dedication, the depth of his feeling for beauty, his honest and unpostured goals—then he has found a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.”

  • Human dignity… is derived from a sense of independence. Maria Montessori, in The Child in the Family (1929)
  • All our dignity consists of thought. It is from there that we must be lifted up and not from space and time, which we could never fill. So let us work on thinking well. That is the principle of morality. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the passage translated this way: “Thought makes the whole dignity of man; therefore endeavor to think well, that is the only morality.”

  • Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011)

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

  • True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and good will, and a constant and earnest striving toward the principles and ideasl on which this country was founded. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book Of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • This I know. This I believe with all my heart. If we want a free and a peaceful world, if we want to make the deserts bloom and man grow to greater dignity as a human being—we can do it! Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
  • When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him. Bayard Rustin, quoted in Joslyn Pine, Book of African-American Quotations (2011)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation has become very popular, appearing on hundreds of internet sites. An original source has never been provided, however, so consider it an “attributed, but not verified” quotation.

  • The dignity of the individual demands that he be not reduced to vassalage by the largess of others. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Flight to Arras (1942)
  • A child motivated by competitive ideals will grow into a man without conscience, shame, or true dignity. George Sand, an 1837 journal entry, in The Intimate Journal of George Sand (1929; Marie Jenney Howe, ed.)
  • Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself. George Santayana, in Introduction to The Ethics of Spinoza (1910)

QUOTE NOTE: What dignity can there be in despising oneself? In this perfect example of oxymoronic phrasing, Santayana is advancing a profound thought. Human beings have a unique capacity to reflect on their behavior. When they behave badly and then despise themselves for their less-than-honorable actions, it does seem appropriate to say they’ve arrived at a moment of dignity.

  • Let none presume/To wear an undeserved dignity. William Shakespeare, the Prince of Arragon speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

QUOTE NOTE: The Prince, arguing the high standing should be based on merit rather than achieved through corrupt or ignoble means, continued: “O that estates, degrees, and offices,/Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor/Were purchased by the merit of the wearer.”

  • My voice had a long, nonstop career. It deserves to be put to bed with quiet and dignity, not yanked out every once in a while to see if it can still do what it used to do. It can't. Beverly Sills, in a 1983 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • To assert dignity is to lose it. Rex Stout,, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in The League of Frightened Men (1935)
  • It is easier to increase in dignity than to acquire it in the first place. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience. Mother Teresa, “Love to Pray,” in A Gift for God (1975)
  • I will never tire of repeating this: What the poor need the most is not pity but love. They need to feel respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being. Mother Teresa, quoted in a 1997 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (specific date undetermined)
  • Sex divorced from love is the thief of personal dignity. Caitlin Thomas, in Not Quite Posthumous Letter to My Daughter (1963)
  • Human Dignity has gleamed only now and then and here and there, in lonely splendor, throughout the ages, a hope of the better men, never an achievement of the majority. James Thurber, “Thinking Ourselves Into Trouble” (1939); in Collecting Himself (1989)
  • No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. Booker T. Washington, in speech at The Atlanta Exposition (Sep. 18, 1895); reprinted in Up From Slavery (1901)
  • It is base and unworthy to live below the dignity of our nature. Benjamin Whichcote, in Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1753)


(see also ASIDES)

  • For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Ray Bradbury, in “Coda” (1979), an afterword to the 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451 (first published in 1953)

Bradbury continued: “Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer—he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”

  • A metaphor is both detour and destination, a digression that gets to the point. James Geary, in I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor (2011)

Geary introduced the point by writing: “Understanding a metaphor…is a seemingly random walk through a deep, dark forest of associations. The path is full of unexpected twists and turns, veering wildly off into the underbrush one minute and abruptly disappearing down a rabbit hole the next. Signposts spin like weather vanes. You can’t see the wood for the trees. Then, suddenly, you step into the clearing.”



  • Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking (1988)
  • The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. Laurie Colwin, in More Home Cooking (2000)
  • Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. Adelle Davis, in Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (1954)
  • Dining partners, regardless of gender, social standing, or the years they’ve lived, should be chosen for their ability to eat—and drink!—with the right mixture of abandon and restraint. They should enjoy food, and look upon its preparation and its degustation as one of the human arts. M. F. K. Fisher, in Serve It Forth (1937)
  • The cold truth is that family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters. M. F. K. Fisher, in An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
  • When does the mind put forth its powers? When are the stores of memory unlocked? When does wit “flash from fluent lips?”—when but after a good dinner? L. E. Landon, the character Mr. Trevulliane speaking, in Romance and Reality (1831)

Mr. Trevulliane continued: “Who will deny its influence on the affections? Half our friends are born of turbots and truffles.”

  • The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium (1989)
  • 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?”



  • Experience is an excellent doctor, though he never has a diploma. Fanny Fern, in Caper-Sauce: A Volume of Chit-Chat (1872)
  • I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. Eartha Kitt, quoted in a 1978 issue of Playbill (specific date undetermined)
  • Socrates gave no diplomas or degrees, and would have subjected any disciple who demanded one to a disconcerting catechism on the nature of true knowledge. George Macaulay Trevelyan, in History of England, Vol. 1 (1926)



  • Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one’s country. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means. Zhou Enlai [formerly rendered as Chou En-lai], in interview with Edgar Snow, The Saturday Evening Post (March 27, 1954)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, the successor to Mao Zedong and first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, plays off the familiar Clausewitz observation about WAR)

  • Diplomacy is to do and say/The nastiest thing in the nicest way. Isaac Goldberg, in The Reflex (Oct., 1927)
  • Keeping as many channels open as possible is the diplomatic imperative. Garry Wills, in Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders (1994)



  • The director of a film is treated by his staff the way a group of passengers would treat a psychotic ship’s captain during a typhoon: namely, with respect and apprehension. Marshall Brickman, quoted in The Guardian (London; Sep. 13, 1980)
  • There are two kinds of directors—allies and judges. John Hurt, quoted in Radio Times (London; 1971)
  • The directing of a picture involves coming out of your individual loneliness and taking a controlling part in putting together a small world. John Huston, quoted in New York Journal (March 31, 1960)
  • The difference between being a director and being an actor is the difference between being the carpenter banging the nails into the wood, and being the piece of wood the nails are being banged into. Sean Penn, quoted in The Guardian (London; Nov. 28, 1991)
  • The film-director is not a creator but a midwife. His business is to deliver the actor of a child that he did not know he had inside him. Jean Renoir, in My Life and Films (1974)

Renoir continued: “The implement which he uses for the purpose is simply his knowledge of the environment and acquiescence in its impact.”

  • When you’re working for a good director, you become subjective and submissive. You become his concubine. All that you seek is his pleasure. Donald Sutherland, quoted in Film Yearbook (1986)



  • No one who looks upon disagreement as an occasion for teaching another should forget that it is also an occasion for being taught. Mortimer J. Adler, in How to Read a Book (1940)

In his book, Adler also offered these thoughts:

“You must be able to say ‘I understand,’ before you can say ‘I agree,’ or ‘I disagree,’ or ‘I suspend judgment.’”  

“To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.”

  • We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist. James Baldwin
  • It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree. Charles Baudelaire, in Intimate Journals (1887)
  • People often silence themselves, or “agree to disagree” without fully exploring the actual nature of the disagreement, for the sake of protecting a relationship and maintaining connection. Brené Brown, in Braving the Wilderness

Brown continued: “But when we avoid certain conversations, and never fully learn how the other person feels about all of the issues, we sometimes end up making assumptions that not only perpetuate but deepen misunderstandings, and that can generate resentment.”

  • Don’t think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It will be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago. James Burgh, in The Dignity of Human Nature (1767)

ERROR ALERT: In 1867, eight years after the death of Horace Mann, his wife issued a book titled Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann. That book provided the exact same quote. I’m not sure how this could have occurred, but I’m guessing that Mann might have quoted Burgh in one of his lectures or writings. There is no doubt that Burgh is the original author of the quotation.

  • We find comfort among those who agree with us - growth among those who don’t. Frank A. Clark
  • The point I wish to make in this. You should have disagreements with your leaders and your colleagues, but if it becomes immediately a question of questioning people’s motives, and if immediately you decide that somebody who sees a whole new situation differently than you must be a bad person and somehow twisted inside, we are not going to get very far in forming a more perfect union. Bill Clinton, in Inaugural Dole Lecture, Univ. of Kansas (May 21, 2004)
  • “Bias” is what somebody has when you disagree with his or her opinion. Hedley Donovan, the editor in-Chief of Life magazine from 1965 to 1979, in Right Time, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism (1989)
  • To be agreeable while disagreeing—that’s an art. Malcolm Forbes, in The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm (1978)
  • Great authors are admirable in this respect: in every generation they make for disagreement. Through them we become aware of our differences. André Gide, in Pretexts: Reflections on Literature and Morality (1959)
  • If you are threatened or offended by people disagreeing, challenging or even ridiculing your faith, your faith can't be that strong. Ricky Gervais, in a Tweet (Sep. 23, 2012)
  • The beginning of thought is in disagreement—not only with others but also with ourselves. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind, aphorism 266, (1955)
  • Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
  • I like disagreement, because it forces both sides to question their own opinions and why they feel that way. Sam Hunt, quoted in Chris Richards, “Another Country: Sam Hunt Maps Out Nashville’s Bold New Future,” in Washington Post (Nov. 4, 2014)
  • It is my melancholy fate to like so many people I profoundly disagree with and often heartily dislike people who agree with me. Mary Kingsley
  • People who disagree on important issues don't agree on the facts. Rachel Maddow
  • The best practice is to be around people who absolutely disagree. Grace in conflict is a study in love. Bryant McGill, in Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life
  • Men…are not agreed about any one thing, not even that heaven is over our heads. Michel de Montaigne, “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • Writers should provoke disagreement. V. S. Naipul, quoted in William Langley, “V. S. Naipul: Grand Old Man of Toxic Letters,” The Telegraph (London; June 4, 2011)
  • He who cannot put his thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of dispute. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • If you must hate a man for the many things about which you disagree, remember that you should also love him for the many things about which you agree. Ivan Panin
  • The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree but hold hands. Alexandra Penney
  • Let us do as mighty adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends. William Shakespeare, the character Triano speaking, in The Taming of the Shrew (1592)
  • Agreement is made more precious by disagreement. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. S. G. Tallentyre, in The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: For many years, this observation was attributed directly to Voltaire (with some sources even citing a 1770 letter), but it is now pretty well understood that Tallentyre was paraphrasing a key belief of Voltaire’s.

  • Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another, and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other. Desmond Tutu in God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Times (2004)
  • There is nothing more likely to start disagreement among people or countries than an agreement. E. B. White, “My Day,” in One Man’s Meat (1942)
  • If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless. Darryl F. Zanuck



  • And now let me ask you, my friend, whether you do not think, that many of our disappointments and much of our unhappiness arise from our forming false notions of things and persons. Abigail Adams, in letter to Mrs. H. Lincoln (Oct. 5, 1761)

Mrs. Adams continued: “We create a fairy land of happiness. Fancy is fruitful and promises fair, but, like the dog in the fable, we catch at a shadow, and when we find the disappointment, we are vexed, not with ourselves…but with the poor, innocent thing or person of whom we have formed such strange ideas.”

  • Blessings may appear under the shape of pains, losses, and disappointments; but let him have patience, and he will see them in their proper figures. Joseph Addison, in The Guardian (London; July 25, 1713)
  • I had a friend, a most intimate friend, who told me in early life that it was a good tip to expect the worst, for thus one would receive no disappointment. Hilaire Belloc, in title essay of A Conversation with an Angel: And Other Essays (1928)

Belloc continued: “I did not follow his advice; but I watched him living by that same doctrine, and I discovered him to be at last abominably disappointed.”

  • See your disappointments as good fortune. One plan’s deflation is another’s inflation. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1988)
  • A life directed chiefly toward the fulfillment of personal desires will sooner or later always lead to bitter disappointment. Albert Einstein, from letter to T. Lee (Jan. 16, 1954), in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinnertime. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • There’s always failure. And there’s always disappointment. And there’s always loss. But the secret is learning from the loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums. Michael J. Fox, in National Public Radio (NPR) interview (April 17, 2010)
  • A good salad may be the prologue to a bad supper. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Memory seldom fails when its office is to show us the tombs of our buried hopes. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Expectations destroy our peace of mind, don’t they? They’re future disappointments, planned out in advance. Elizabeth George, the character Simon St. James speaking, in A Place of Hiding (2003)
  • It is only by knowing how little life has in store for us that we are able to look on the bright side and avoid disappointment. Ellen Glasgow, the character Mrs. Archbald speaking, in The Sheltered Life (1988)
  • Disappointments should be cremated, not embalmed. Henry S. Haskins, in Meditations in Wall Street (1940)
  • Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy—the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectation improperly indulged in must end in disappointment. Samuel Johnson, in a June 8, 1762 letter, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Disappointment, when it involves neither shame nor loss, is as good as success; for it supplies as many images to the mind, and as many topics to the tongue. Samuel Johnson, in letter to Hester Thrale (June 26, 1775)
  • Elizabeth lived by the adage that expectations were disappointments under construction. Anne Lamott, in Imperfect Birds (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: The saying is not original with Lamott; she was simply passing along a popular saying that first originated in twelve-step recovery programs (and anticipated centuries earlier by the Samuel Johnson observation above).

  • Now, there is no disappointment so bitter as that whose cause is in ourselves. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • How Disappointment tracks/The steps of Hope. L. E. Landon, in “A History of the Lyre” (1829); reprinted in The Poetical Works of Miss Landon (1839)
  • “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” That’s a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything. L. M. Montgomery, the title character speaking, in Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  • 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.

  • “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed” was the ninth beatitude which a man of wit…added to the eighth. Alexander Pope, in letter to William Fortescue (Sep. 23, 1725)

QUOTE NOTE: The letter was written in collaboration with playwright John Gay, but the primary author of the sentiment appears to be Pope. Two years later, in an Oct. 16, 1727 letter to Gay, Pope reprised the thought: “I have many years magnify’d in my own mind, and repeated to you a ninth Beatitude, added to the eight in the Scripture: Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

  • How we deal with the big disappointments in life depends a great deal on how the people who loved us helped us deal with smaller disappointments when we were little. Fred Rogers, in You Are Special (1994)
  • If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Sep. 23, 1838)



  • Much of the disapproval we think is directed against us is, in fact, self-inflicted. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life (1987; with Marion Glasserow Gladney)
  • Do you know what it’s like to feel wrong twenty-four hours a day? Do you know what it’s like to be disapproved of, not only for what you do and say and think but for what you are? Joyce Rebeta-Burditt, a reflection of protagonist Cassie Barrett, in The Cracker Factory (1977)
  • It was a cold, disapproving gaze, such as a fastidious luncher who was not fond of caterpillars might have directed at one which he had discovered in his portion of salad. P. G. Wodehouse, the title character describing his manservant Jeeves, in Bertie Wooster Sees it Through (1954)



  • Part of the trouble is that I’ve never properly understood that some disasters accumulate, that they don’t all land like a child out of an apple tree. Janet Burroway, the character Virginia, reflecting on her life, in Raw Silk (1977)
  • Disaster appears, to crush/one man now, but afterward another. Euripides, in Alcestis (5th c. B.C.)
  • Disaster is private, in its way, as love is. Nadine Gordimer, in Get a Life: A Novel (2005)
  • The man does better who runs from disaster than he who is caught by it. Homer, in the Iliad (9th c. B.C.)
  • If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same. Rudyard Kipling, from the poem “If,” in Rewards and Fairies (1910)

QUOTE NOTE: The full poem, originally written in 1896, has become Kipling’s most popular creation and one of history’s most beloved poems (it was named “Britain’s favorite poem” in a 1995 survey by the British Broadcasting Company). The poem has become such an integral part of British culture that officials at Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club had this Triumph and Disaster couplet inscribed above the entryway to Centre Court. For more, see “If”.

  • Disaster falls on those who try hardest to avoid it. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, from the character Tang, the coppersmith, in Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1932)
  • Noble souls, through dust and heat,/Rise from disaster and defeat/The stronger. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Sifting of Peter,” in Ultima Thule (1880)
  • 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)

In another letter to wife Winnie, written a year later ((Aug. 1, 1970), Mandela offered another observation on disaster: “I am convinced that floods of personal disaster can never drown a determined revolutionary nor can the cumulus of misery that accompanies tragedy suffocate him.”

  • Disaster is Virtue’s opportunity. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), “On Providence,” in Sententiae (1st. cent. B.C.)
  • Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art. Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster,” in Against Interpretation (1966)



  • The earth is mankind’s ultimate haven, our blessed terra firma. When it trembles and gives way beneath our feet, it's as though one of God’s checks has bounced. Gilbert Adair, on earthquakes, quoted in Sunday Correspondent Magazine (London; Dec. 24, 1989)
  • The people of the United States are no longer strangers to that dreaded aerial monster, the Tornado. John P. Finley, the opening line of Tornadoes (1887)

Finley continued: “A single experience of this awful convulsion of the elements suffices to fasten the memory of its occurrence upon the mind with such a dreadful force that no effort can efface the remembrance of it. The destructive violence of this storm exceeds in its power, fierceness, and grandeur all other phenomena of the atmosphere.”

  • In a crescendo the wind rushes through the branches, the great dance begins, the cyclone is in full swing. Olympus joins in the fray; Jupiter sends us his thunderbolts, the Titans roll down rocks; the river flows. Paul Gauguin, in Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (1921)

Like many other great artists, Gauguin also painted masterfully with words as his medium. He continued on the Tahitian cyclone: “The immense breadfruit trees are overthrown, the cocoanut trees bow their backs and their tops brush the earth. Everything is in flight, rocks, trees, corpses, carried down to the sea. What a passionate orgy of the wrathful gods!” After the cyclone passes, Gauguin’s description ends eloquently as well: “The sun returns; the lofty cocoanut trees lift up their plujmes again; man does likewise. The great anguish is over; joy has returned; the sea smiles like a child.”

  • Blizzards, floods, volcanos, hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. Dean Koontz, the narrator describing the thoughts of the character Molly Sloan, in The Taking: A Novel (2004)

The narrator continued: “An alternating nurturing and destructive parent is the stuff of gripping drama.”

  • It takes an earthquake to remind us that we walk on the crust of an unfinished planet. Charles Kuralt, remark on CBS-TV’s Sunday Morning (Jan. 23, 1994)
  • If you were close enough to the river on Monday, above the roar of millions of gallons of raging brown murk, you could hear the uncanny kerthunk of huge rocks being smashed into one another, like a terrifying subaquatic game of pinball played by angry rain gods. Matt Seaton, on the massive 2023 flood in Vermont, in “The View From Chaos Turnpike,” in The Atlantic (July 12. 2023)



  • Someone who is determined to disbelieve something can manage to disregard an Everest of evidence for it. George F. Will, “Democrats Are Making Income Inequality Worse,” in The Washington Post (March 14, 2014)



  • True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline. Mortimer J. Adler, in How to Read a Book (1940, rev. 1972)
  • Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly. Julie Andrews, quoted in Richard Stirling, Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Andrews first man the remark in a 1993 Reader’s Digest article.

  • Discipline is the nearest thing in life that you’ll ever have to a Fairy Godmother. Author Unknown
  • For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. The Bible—Hebrews 12:11 (RSV)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the Revised Standard Version translation, an attempt to improve upon the cumbersome wording of the original King James Version: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

  • Without discipline, there can be no freedom. Nadia Boulanger, quoted in Don G. Campbell, Reflections of Boulanger (1982)
  • The ultimate mistake in discipline is the ultimatum. Marcelene Cox, in a 1950 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal (specific date undetermined)
  • Since in modern times cruelty is bad form, it must cover itself; this it often does under the admired cloak of discipline. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • There is a certain combination of anarchy and discipline in the way I work. Robert De Niro, a 1977 remark, quoted in Bob Woodward, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (1984)
  • 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].”

  • For the artist life is always a discipline, and no discipline can be without pain. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)

Ellis continued: “That is so even of dancing, which of all the arts is most associated in the popular mind with pleasure. To learn to dance is the most austere of disciplines.”

  • No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in Living Under Tension: Sermons on Christianity Today (1941)
  • Self-discipline is the free man’s yoke. Either he is his own master or he will be his own slave—not merely as slave to his passions, as an earlier generation might have feared, but a slave to his unbounded ego. John W. Gardner, in The Recovery of Confidence (1970)

Gardner introduced the thought by writing: “Every step toward removal of arbitrary constraints on individual behavior must be accompanied by increments in self-imposed controls.”

  • Discipline is hard—harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. Atul Gawande, in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2009)

Gawande continued: “We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”

  • When I extol the virtues of “discipline,” the odds are high that I am preparing to administer it rather than submit to it. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (April 17, 1974)
  • Without discipline, there's no life at all. Katharine Hepburn, remark on a 1975 broadcast of “The Dick Cavett Show,” ABC-TV (specific date undetermined)
  • Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty. Frank Herbert, a saying from “The Coda,” in Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
  • Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (1967)
  • Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. Stephen King, in Danse Macabre (1981)

King added: “No writer painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few people are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is ‘genius’), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”

  • The best discipline is the kind nobody notices—not even the one being disciplined. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. Maria Montessori, in The Montessori Method (1912)
  • If we do not discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us. Control from without flourishes when discipline from within grows weak. Mary H. Robinson, “Your Character Is Your Responsibility,” in The Improvement Era (April, 1965)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to William Feather.

  • Discipline is the bridge between thought and accomplishment. Jim Rohn, in 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness (1986)

Rohn continued: “Discipline comes to those with the awareness that for a kite to fly it must rise against the wind; that all good things are achieved by those who are willing to swim upstream; that drifting aimlessly through life only leads to bitterness and disappointment.” And then he added: “Discipline is the foundation on which all success is built. Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.”

  • If men live decently it is because discipline/saves their very lives for them. Sophocles, in Antigone (5th c. B.C.)
  • The pain of discipline is short, but the glory of the fruition is eternal. Harriet Beecher Stowe, “The Cathedral,” in The Atlantic Monthly (February 1864)
  • Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction. Margaret Thatcher, quoted in John Blundell, Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady (2008)
  • I cannot conceive of a good life which isn’t, in some sense, a self-disciplined life. Philip Toynbee, in The Distant Drum: Reflections on the Spanish Civil War (1976)
  • In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves and their carnal urges. Self-discipline with all of them came first. Harry S Truman, in The Autobiography of Harry S Truman (pub. posthumously in 1980; Robert H. Ferrell, ed).
  • Discipline yourself and others won't need to. John Wooden, in Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court (1997; with Steve Jamison)



  • 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)
  • Dilbert is the designated voice of discontent for the workplace. I never planned it that way. It just happened. Scott Adams, “The Monday Interview,” in Publishers Weekly (Oct. 6, 2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams was replying to a question from interviewer Dick Donahue: “What is it about Dilbert that’s kept him in the public eye for nearly 20 years?” Adams preceded his answer by saying, “I think Dilbert will remain popular as long as employees are frustrated and they fear the consequences of complaining too loudly.”

  • He that is discontented in one place will seldom be happy in another. Aesop, “The Ass and His Masters,” in Thomas James, Aesop’s Fables: A New Version, Chiefly from Original Sources (1872)
  • It is only through a wholesome discontent with things as they are, that we ever try to make them any better. Susan B. Anthony, in an 1883 letter; reprinted in Lynn Sherr, Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (1995)
  • And sigh that one thing only has been lent/To youth and age in common—discontent Matthew Arnold, “Youth’s Agitations” (1852)
  • Our discontent begins by finding false villains whom we can accuse of deceiving us. Next we find false heroes whom we expect to liberate us. The hardest, most discomfiting discovery is that each of us must emancipate himself. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961)
  • Upon the profound discontent of the young in every country do I set my faith. I beg you, the young, to be discontented. I pray that you may rebel against what is wrong, not with feeble negative complaining but with strong positive assertion of what is right for all humanity. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, with Love (1967)

Buck preceded the thought by writing: “The hope for mankind lies in the rebellion of the young against the individual selfishness, the nationalism, the inequalities of the present.”

  • To save the mind from preying inwardly upon itself, it must be encouraged to some outward pursuit. There is no other way to elude apathy, or escape discontent; none other to guard the temper from that quarrel with itself, which ultimately ends in quarreling with all mankind. Fanny Burney, the character Mr. Tyrold speaking, in Camilla, or A Picture of Youth (1796)
  • Discover your own discontent, and be grateful, for without divine discontent there would be no creative force. Deepak Chopra, in The Return of Merlin (1995)
  • Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Eugene V. Debs, “The Issue,” a speech in Girard, Kansas (May 23, 1908)
  • All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me, to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have. Daniel Defoe, in The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Discontent is the first necessity of progress. Thomas Alva Edison, in The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948; Dagobert D. Runes, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented in quotation anthologies, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

  • You are discontented with the world because you can’t get just the small things that suit your pleasure, not because it’s a world where myriads of men and women are ground by wrong and misery, and tainted with pollution. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • I used to think I had ambition, monsieur, but now I’m not so sure. It may have been only discontent. They’re easily confused. Rachel Field, the character Mademoiselle Deluzy speaking, in All This, and Heaven Too (1938)
  • Of course advertising creates wants. Of course it makes people discontented, dissatisfied. Satisfaction with things as they are would defeat the American dream. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, in Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me (1967)
  • Let thy discontents be thy secrets. Benjamin Franklin, in a 1740 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack.
  • Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor. Benjamin Franklin, in a 1749 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack. Also an example of chiasmus.
  • There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles. Frank Herbert, one of the “Collected Sayings of Muab’Dib,” in Dune (1965)
  • Who with a little cannot be content,/Endures an everlasting punishment. Robert Herrick, “Poverty and Riches,” in Chrysomela: A Selection from the Lyrical Poems of Robert Herrick (1877; F. T. Palgrave, ed.)
  • There is probably nothing more sublime than discontent transmuted into a work of art, a scientific discovery, and so on. Eric Hoffer, journal entry (Nov. 8, 1958); in Working and Thinking on the Waterfront: A Journal (1969)
  • Sorrow and frustration have their power. The world is moved by people with great discontents. Happiness is a drug. It can make men blind and deaf and insensible to reality. There are times when only sorrow can give to sorrow. Winifred Holtby, from “Episode in West Kensington” (1932), in Pavements at Anderby (1937)
  • Round pegs in square holes tend to have dangerous thoughts about the social system and to infect others with their discontents. Aldous Huxley, in 1946 Preface to his Brave New World (1932)
  • For to be discontented with the divine discontent, and to be ashamed with the noble shame, is the very germ and first upgrowth of all virtue. Charles Kingsley, in Health and Education (1874)
  • He who seeks pleasure with reference to himself, not others, will ever find that pleasure is only another name for discontent. L. E. Landon, “The Enchantress,” in The Book of Beauty (1833)
  • Far from being the basis of the good society, the family, with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets, is the source of all our discontents. Edmund Leach, in a 1967 BBC Reith Lecture; quoted in The Listener (Nov. 30, 1967)
  • Discontent with the status quo is a great catalyst for vision. John C. Maxwell, in Twenty One Indispensable Qualities of a Leader (1999)
  • Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better. Florence Nightingale, from the essay “Cassandra” (1852), in Ray Strachey, The Cause (1928)
  • The essence of man is, discontent, divine discontent; a sort of love without a beloved, the ache we feel in a member we no longer have. José Ortega y Gasset remark in 1916 lecture; recalled by Ortega y Gasset in “Historical Reason,” lecture in Buenos Aires (Oct., 1940)
  • Boredom or discontent is useful to me when I acknowledge it and see clearly my assumption that there’s something else I would rather be doing. In this way, boredom can act as an invitation to freedom by opening me to new options and thoughts. Hugh Prather, in Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person (1970)
  • Today be happy with what you have—not discontent with what you don't have. Helen Steiner Rice, “From the Heart: One Minute Devotions” (2003)
  • If necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is the father of progress. David Rockefeller, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York. William Shakespeare, the character Duke of Gloucester speaking, in Richard III (1591)
  • What’s more miserable than discontent? William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Henry VI, Part II (1592)
  • The best I can figure is that discontent in all of its forms comes from the absence of true love or a lack of inner purpose or a combination of the two. Ron Simoncini, in a personal communication to the compiler
  • Inner hunger is a divine discontent that keeps us moving forward. Jacquelyn Small, quoted in Karen Casey, A Woman’s Spirit (1994)
  • I am for frank explanations with friends in cases of affronts. They sometimes save a perishing friendship, and even place it on a firmer basis than at first; but secret discontent must always end badly. Sydney Smith, “Of Friendship,” in Lady Holland (Saba Smith), A Memoir of The Reverend Sydney Smith: by His Daughter (1855)
  • Man hath a weary pilgrimage,/As through the word he wends;/On every stage, from youth to age,/Still discontent attends. Robert Southey, “Remembrance,” in The Poetical Works of Robert Southey: Complete in One Volume (1850)
  • Woman’s discontent increases in exact proportion to her development. Elizabeth Cady Stanton et. al., in History of Woman Suffrage (1881).
  • Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the bastard Time. John Steinbeck, a reflection of the narrator, in Sweet Thursday (1954)
  • We can shoot rockets into space but we can’t cure anger or discontent. John Steinbeck, a reflection of protagonist Ethan Allen Hawley, in The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)
  • We are, perhaps uniquely among the earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still. Lewis Thomas, “The Youngest and Brightest Thing Around,” in The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979)
  • The factor in human life provocative of a noble discontent is the gradual emergence into prominence of a sense of criticism, founded upon appreciations of beauty, and of intellectual distinction, and of duty. Alfred North Whitehead, in Adventures of Ideas (1933)
  • And from the discontent of man/The world’s best progress springs. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Discontent,” in The Cosmopolitan magazine (Feb., 1900); reprinted in Poems of Power (1901)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilcox began the poem by linking man’s discontent with God’s, writing, “The splendid discontent of God/With chaos made the world.” The full poem may be seen at: “Discontent”.

  • Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in Fortnightly Review (Feb., 1891)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilde appears to be heading down a predictable path—and then he jolts the reader with an unexpected concluding line: “That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization.” This may also be the earliest appearance of the phrase sowing seeds of discontent.

  • Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)
  • Literature is the record of our discontent. Virginia Woolf, the character Professor Brierly speaking, in the short story, “The Evening Party” (1918),



  • The world is equally astonished—and resentful—at every new discovery, but in a short time accepts it as a commonplace. The layman resents all new ideas, but the adjustment of the human mind to the inevitable is common even among savages. Gertrude Atherton, the character Madame Zattiany speaking, in Black Oxen (1923)
  • A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Albert Szent-Györgi)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation was clearly inspired by the famous Louis Pasteur observation on Chance.

  • They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea. Francis Bacon, in The Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Claude Bernard, in The Art of Scientific Investigation (1865)
  • The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge. Daniel J. Boorstin, quoted in Carol Krucoff, “The Six O’Clock Scholar,” The Washington Post (Jan. 29, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: In “The Age of Negative Discovery,” an essay in Cleopatra’s Nose (1995), Boorstin offered the thought in a slightly different way, and even suggested that he simply passing along a familiar insight: “The history of Western science confirms the aphorism that the great menace to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.”

  • Discovery, like surprise, favors the well-prepared mind. Jerome S. Bruner, also playing off the Louis Pasteur observation (see Chance), in On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand (1979)
  • Discovery is the ability to be puzzled by simple things. Noam Chomsky, quoted in Ron Grossman, “Strong Words, Asking the Questions,” The Chicago Tribune (Jan. 1, 1993)
  • Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always. Michael Crichton, the character Ian Malcolm speaking , in Jurassic Park (1990)
  • No great discovery was ever made in science except by one who lifted his nose above the grindstone of details and ventured on a more comprehensive vision. Albert Einstein, quoted in Morris Raphael Cohen, The Meaning of Human History (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation was brought to the attention of a larger audience when Arnold J. Toynbee wrote in A Study of History, Vol. 12 (1961): “History certainly justifies a dictum of Einstein, that no great discovery was ever made in science except by one who lifted his nose above the grindstone of details and ventured on a more comprehensive vision.”

  • There comes a point where the mind takes a leap—call it intuition or what you will—and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap. Albert Einstein, quoted in William Miller, “Death of a Genius,” Life magazine (May 2, 1955)

Einstein introduced the thought by saying, “The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove.”

  • 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)

Edouard preceded the remark by saying: “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.”

  • 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.”

  • The pleasure derived from the discovery of some secret of Nature unknown before except to the architect of the universe surpasses all the rewards the world can give. Richard A. Gregory, in Discovery: or, The Spirit and Service of Science (1916)
  • 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)
  • Science is a voyage of discovery, and beyond each horizon there is another. Francis Hitching, in The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong (1982)
  • It is precisely because the drive toward discovery is in a sense irrational that it is so powerful. Gerald Holton, in Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein (1973)
  • Great scientific discoveries have been made by men seeking to verify quite erroneous theories about the nature of things. Aldous Huxley, “Wordsworth in the Tropics,” in The Yale Review (Summer, 1929)
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. James Joyce, in Ulysses (1922)
  • Most new discoveries are suddenly-seen things that were always there. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key (1942)
  • 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)
  • Discovery follows discovery, each both raising and answering questions, each ending a long search, and each providing the new instruments for a new search. J. Robert Oppenheimer, in “Prospects in the Arts and Sciences,” address at Columbia University Bicentennial celebration (Dec. 26, 1954); reprinted in Lewis Copeland, et. al, The World’s Great Speeches, 4th Ed. (1999)
  • I think there will always be something interesting left to be discovered. Linus Pauling, in interview with Neil A Campbell, “Crossing the Boundaries of Science,” BioScience (Dec., 1986)
  • Discovery comes only to a mind immersed in its pursuit. Michael Polanyi, “The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory,” in the journal Minerva (Autumn, 1962)

Polanyi continued: “For such work the scientist needs a secluded place among like-minded colleagues who keenly share his aims and sharply control his performances. The soil of academic science must be exterritorial in order to secure its rule by scientific opinion.”

  • The only real voyage of discovery, the only Fountain of Youth, consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of a hundred others, in seeing the hundred universes that each of them sees. Marcel Proust, in The Maxims of Marcel Proust (1948)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present an abridged version of the quotation: “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

  • It is not to see something first, but to establish solid connections between the previously known and the hitherto unknown that constitutes the essence of scientific discovery. Hans Selye, in From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1950)
  • We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)

Smiles introduced the thought by writing: “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.”

  • Discovery should come as an adventure rather than as the result of a logical process of thought. Theobald Smith, in letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (Oct. 11, 1933); reprinted in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan., 1934)
  • Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. Albert Szent-Györgi, in Irving John Good, The Scientist Speculates (1962)
  • What is it that confers the noblest delight? What is that which swells a man’s breast with pride above that which any other experience can bring to him? Discovery! To know that you are walking where none others have walked; that you are beholding what human eye has not seen before; that you are breathing a virgin atmosphere. Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad (1869)

Twain continued: “To give birth to an idea— to discover a great thought—an intellectual nugget, right under the dust of a field that many a brain-plow had gone over before. To find a new planet, to invent a new hinge, to find a way to make the lightnings carry your messages. To be the first—that is the idea. To do something, say something, see something, before any body else—these are the things that confer a pleasure compared with which other pleasures are tame and commonplace, other ecstasies cheap and trivial.”

  • The art of being taught is the art of discovery, as the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery to take place Mark Van Doren, in Liberal Education (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the full quotation, which is almost always presented in this abridged way: “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”



  • In conversation, discretion is more important than eloquence. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you—it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists. Philip Roth, the character Philip speaking to his wife, in Deception (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the first time Roth gave his own first name to a character in one of his fictional works; it seems safe to conclude that the character was reflecting the views of the author.

  • The better part of valor is discretion. William Shakespeare, the character Falstaff speaking, in King Henry IV, Part 1 (1597)

QUOTE NOTE: By the mid-1600s, this passage had evolved into the familiar proverb: Discretion is the better part of valor. In the play, Falstaff had feigned death in the middle of a battle in order to save his own hide (more an act of cowardice than discretion, of course, so, in truth, he was rationalizing his behavior). The full passage went this way: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.”




  • Anyone who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but his memory. Leonardo da Vinci, in Notebooks (c. 1500; trans. by Johann Paul Richter)
  • The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • You cannot have a rational discussion with a man who prefers shooting you to being convinced by you. Karl Popper, in “Utopia and Violence,” a 1947 address to Institut des Arts in Brussels, Belgium; later printed in Conjectures and Refutations (1963)

Popper introduced the thought by saying: “There are many difficulties impeding the rapid spread of reasonableness. One of the main difficulties is that it always takes two to make a discussion reasonable. Each of the parties must be ready to learn from the other.”

  • A good rule for discussion is to use hard facts and a soft voice. Dorothy Sarnoff, in Speech Can Change Your Life (1970)
  • Discussion in America means dissent. James Thurber, “The Duchess and the Bugs,” in Lanterns and Lances (1961)
  • A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a 1930 remark, in Personal Recollections (1981)
  • A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point. P. G. Wodehouse, the protagonist Bertie Wooster picking up on the body language of his manservant, Jeeves, in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
  • If you can’t add to the discussion, don’t subtract by talking. Lois Wyse, in The Six-Figure Woman (And How to Be One) (1983)



  • To say the truth, every physician almost hath his favorite disease. Henry Fielding, the voice of the narrator, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)
  • Disease generally begins that equality which death completes. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Sep. 1, 1750)
  • Disease can never be conquered, can never be quelled by emotion’s wailful screaming or faith’s cymballic prayer. Sean O’Casey, in Inishfallen Fare Thee Well (1949)
  • The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted. Mother Teresa, quoted in The Observer (Oct. 3, 1971)
  • Infectious disease is one of the few genuine adventures left in the world. The dragons are all dead and the lance grows rusty in the chimney corner. Hans Zinsser, in Rats, Lice, and History (1935)

Zinsser continued: “About the only sporting proposition that remains unimpaired…is the war against those ferocious little fellow creatures, which lurk in dark corners and stalk us in the bodies of rats, mice and all kinds of domestic animals; which fly and crawl with the insects, and waylay us in our food and drink and even in our love.”



  • Mother has lupus./She says it’s a disease/of self-attack./It’s like a mugger broke into your home/and you called the police/and when they came they beat up on you/instead of on your attackers, /she says. Paula Gunn Allen, “Dear World,” in Skins and Bones (1988)



  • Against the disease of writing one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease. Pierre Abelard, in a 12th-century letter to his beloved Heloise, in C. K. Scot Moncrieff, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (1942)
  • The jealous man’s disease is of so malignant a nature that it converts all he takes into its own nourishment. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Sep. 14, 1711)
  • We are more apt to catch the vices of others than their virtues, as disease is far more contagious than health. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Life is an incurable disease. Abraham Cowley, in “To Dr. Scarborough” (1656)
  • Biographies generally are a disease of English literature. George Eliot, in letter to Mrs. T. A. Trollope (Dec. 19, 1879)
  • Life—and I don’t suppose I’m the first to make this comparison—is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal. Neil Gaiman, the character Death speaking, in Death Talks About Life (1994; illustrated by Dave McKean)

QUOTE NOTE: And it is certainly true that Gaiman, through his famous character, wasn’t the first to offer the metaphor. I’ve seen it expressed in a number of different ways over the years. In The Sinner’s Congregation (1984), Guy Bellamy wrote: “Life is a sexually transmitted disease.” The following year, in a short piece in The Observer (March 17, 1985), Peter Hillmore quoted British psychiatrist R. D. Laing as saying: “Life, you see, is a sexually transmitted disease and there’s a 100 per cent mortality rate.” All of these observations may be viewed as modern spin-offs of the Abraham Cowley quotation presented earlier.

  • Childhood is a disease—a sickness that you grow out of. William Golding, quoted in The Guardian (June 22, 1990)
  • Addiction is the disease of our age. It is cunning and powerful. It proceeds from our chronic spiritual hunger and is nourished by our focus on getting and spending, and on news and gossip outside ourselves. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (1994)
  • Love’s a disease. But curable. Rose Macaulay, in Crewe Train (1926)
  • Biographers, translators, editors—all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the writings of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Lues Boswelliana, or disease of admiration. Thomas Babington Macaulay, in Edinburgh Review (1834)

This observation appeared in a review of Francis Thackeray’s 1827 biography of William Pitt. Macaulay added: “But we scarcely remember ever to have seen a patient so far gone in this distemper as Mr. Thackeray.” Macaulay’s inventive analogy was derived from biographer James Boswell’s great admiration for his subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and the word lues (pronounced loo-EEZE), the Latin term for “plague, affliction,” now rare, but then commonly used to describe syphilis and other venereal diseases.

  • 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)
  • Failure is a highly contagious disease. Paul Newman, as the character Chance Wayne, in the 1962 film Sweet Bird of Youth (screenplay by Richard Brooks)

QUOTE NOTE: The film was adapted from Tennessee Williams’s 1959 play by the same title. The line does not appear in the play.

  • Great writers arrive among us like new diseases—threatening, powerful, impatient for patients to pick up their virus, irresistible. Craig Raine, quoted in the Independent on Sunday (Nov. 18, 1990)
  • War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Flight to Arras (1942)
  • Once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing. Virginia Woolf, in Orlando: A Biography (1928)



  • All disgrace smells alike. Differences in ruin are only matters of degree. Rebecca West, the protagonist Laura Rowan speaking, in The Birds Fall Down (1966)



  • I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator and protagonist Bertie Wooster describing his manservant Jeeves, in The Code of the Woosters (1938)





  • The lowest form of popular culture—lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives—has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage. Carl Bernstein, in The New Republic (June 8, 1992)
  • The information war is about territory—just not the geographic kind. Renée DiResta, “The Digital Maginot Line,” a Nov. 28, 2018 post on www.ribbonfarm.com

Diresta continued: “In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics.”

  • While information is the oxygen of the modern age, disinformation is the carbon monoxide that can poison generations. Newton Lee, in Counterterrorism and Cybersecurity: Total Information Awareness (2nd Edition; 2015)

In the book, Lee also wrote: “Information is power. Disinformation is abuse of power.”

  • While we claim to live in an information age, disinformation has become the order of the day. Farid A. Malik, “It is About Sharing and Caring,” Daily Times (Jan. 23, 2020)
  • Disinformation is the deliberate use of lies to manipulate people, whether to extract profit or to advance a political agenda. Barbara McQuade, in Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America (2024)

In the book, McQuade continued: “Its unwitting accomplice, misinformation, is spread by unknowing dupes who repeat lies they believe to be true. In America today, both forms of falsehood are distorting our perception of reality.”



  • It wasn’t sin that was born on the day Eve picked her apple: what was born that day was a splendid virtue called disobedience. Oriana Fallaci, a reflection of the unnamed narrator, in the autobiographical Letter to a Child Never Born: A Novel (1975)
  • Disobedience, the rarest and most courageous of virtues, is seldom distinguished from neglect, the laziest and commonest of the vices. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. Oscar Wilde, in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Wilde continued: “It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.”




  • In America…to move on and make a fresh start somewhere else is still the normal reaction to dissatisfaction and failure. W. H. Auden, in the Introduction to Faber Book of Modern American Verse (1956)
  • Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. Albert Camus, in the Introduction to The Rebel (1951)
  • A certain type of intelligence may be at heart nothing more or less than a superior capacity for dissatisfaction. Alain de Botton, in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)
  • No one is satisfied with his fortune, nor dissatisfied with his own wit. Antoinette Deshoulières, in Reflexion sur le jeu (1675)
  • To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self. Joan Didion, “Jealousy: Is It a Curable Illness?” in Vogue magazine (June, 1961)
  • Religion has its origin and its support in dissatisfaction with life, resulting from reflection on the failure of life to satisfy the primary desires of man. Knight Dunlap, in Social Psychology (1925)
  • There are three wants which never can be satisfied: that of the rich, who wants something more; that of the sick, who wants something different; and that of the traveler, who says, “Anywhere but here. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations By the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Of course advertising creates wants. Of course it makes people discontented, dissatisfied. Satisfaction with things as they are would defeat the American dream. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, in Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me (1967)

In her book, Fitz-Gibbon also wrote: “Advertising prods people into wanting more and better things. Of course advertising makes people dissatisfied with what they have—makes them raise their sights. Mighty good thing it does. Nothing could be worse for the United States than 200,000,000 satisfied Americans.”

  • The best proof of man’s dissatisfaction with the home is found in his universal absence from it. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in The Home (1903)
  • 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)
  • No artist is pleased…. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. Martha Graham, in Agnes de Mille, Dance to the Piper (1952)
  • Some days confidence shrinks to the size of a pea, and the backbone feels like a feather. We want to be somewhere else, and don't know where—want to be someone else and don’t know who. Jean Hersey, in The Shape of a Year (1967)
  • We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • The chemistry of dissatisfaction is as the chemistry of some marvelously potent tar. In it are the building blocks of explosives, stimulants, poisons, opiates, perfumes, and stenches. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • If there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, good. If there is ferment, so much the better. If there is restlessness, I am pleased. Hubert H. Humphrey, in speech at the University of Chicago (Jan. 14, 1966)

Vice President Humphrey continued: “Then let there be ideas, and hard thought, and hard work. If man feels small, let man makes himself bigger.”

  • No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Martin Luther King, Jr., in speech in Washington, D.C. (Aug. 28, 1963)
  • The highly ambitious person, in spite of all his successes, always remains dissatisfied, in the same way as a greedy baby is never satisfied. Melanie Klein, in “Our Adult World and Its Roots in Infancy” (1959); reprinted in Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963 (1975)
  • I will never be satisfied. Life is one constant search for betterment for me. Jayne Mansfield, a 1967 remark, quoted in Raymond Strait, Here They Are: Jayne Mansfield (1992)
  • A fierce unrest seethes at the core,/Of all existing things:/It was the eager wish to soar,/That gave the gods their wings. Don Marquis, the first quatrain of the poem “Unrest,” in Dreams and Dust (1915)
  • We are seldom happy with what we now have, but would go to pieces if we lost any part of it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism (1863)
  • My growth has been slow, like a crescendo of growth, based on my dissatisfaction with the previous project, where I thought was weak, not what the critics thought. Joni Mitchell, quoted in Malta Marom, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words (2014)
  • I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish. Marianne Moore, “Spenser’s Ireland,” in What Are Years? (1941)
  • When you are unhappy or dissatisfied, is there anything in the world more maddening than to be told that you should be contented with your lot? Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death. George Bernard Shaw, the character Gregory Lunn speaking, in Overruled (1912)
  • Riches, both material and spiritual, can choke you if you do not use them fairly. For not even God can put anything in a heart that is already full. Mother Teresa, in No Greater Love (1997)

Mother Teresa continued: “One day there springs up the desire for money and for all that money can provide—the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles. Needs increase because one things calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction.”

DISSENT (as in Principled Disagreement


  • Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions. Alan Barth, in The Loyalty of Free Men (1951)

Barth preceded the thought by writing: “Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous.”

  • Unlike lions and dogs, we are a dissenting animal Carol Bly, “Extended vs. Nuclear Families,” in Letter From the Country (1981)

Bly preceded her observation by writing: “We need to dissent in the same way that we need to travel, to make money, to keep a record of our time on earth and in dream, and to leave a permanent mark. Dissension is a drive, like those drives.”

  • If our democracy is to flourish, it must have criticism; if our government is to function it must have dissent. Henry Steele Commager, in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
  • America was born of revolt, flourished on dissent, became great through experimentation. Henry Steele Commager, in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
  • Free society must fertilize the soil in which non-conformity and dissent and individualism can grow. Henry Steele Commager, in 1954 address at the National Conference on Adult Education.

Commager preceded the thought by writing: “A free society cherishes non-conformity. It knows that from a non-conformist, from the eccentric, have come many of the great ideas of freedom.”

  • No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Introduction: Family Values,” in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: In the first part of the observation, Ehrenreich references a famous observation from Samuel Johnson, to be seen in Patriots & Patriotism.

  • Here in America we are descended in spirit from revolutionists and rebels—men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1954 speech at Columbia University
  • I like the sayers of No better than the sayers of yes. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (May 18, 1833)
  • Dissent and dissenters have no monopoly on freedom. They must tolerate opposition. They must accept dissent from their dissent. And they must give it the respect and the latitude which they claim for themselves. Abe Fortis, in Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience (1968)
  • Dissent is essential to an effective judiciary in a democratic society. Felix Frankfurter, quoted in Time magazine (Feb. 15, 1971)
  • In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste, but its effects. J. William Fulbright, in U. S. Senate speech (April 21, 1966); reprinted in The Arrogance of Power (1966)
  • Dissent is to democracy what discipline is to rearing children: proof that someone cares enough about an outcome to put effort into effecting a change. Nancy C. Gates Meyer, in a personal communication to the compiler (April 23, 2017)
  • To dissent from others’ views is regarded as an insult because it is their condemnation. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • In the end it is worse to suppress dissent than to run the risk of heresy. Learned Hand, “The Guardians,” the third in a series of three Oliver Wendell Holmes lectures at Harvard University; reprinted in Learned Hand, The Bill of Rights (1958)
  • Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only a unanimity of the graveyard. Robert H. Jackson, in W. Virginia State Bd. of Educ. V. Barnette (1943)

Earlier in the opinion, Jackson had written: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or action their faith within.”

  • Dissent is what rescues the democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors. Lewis Lapham, “A Salute to Molly Ivins,” in The Nation (Oct. 26, 2006)

QUOTE NOTE: Lapham’s observation was originally part of a larger tribute to the American satirist Molly Ivins. Here’s the full passage: “Molly’s writing reminds us that dissent is what rescues the democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors, that republican self-government, properly understood, is an uproar and an argument, meant to be loud, raucous, disorderly and fierce.”

  • The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself. Archibald MacLeish, originally in The Nation (Dec. 4, 1937); reprinted in “In Praise of Dissent,” in The New York Times Book Review (Dec. 16, 1956)
  • Responsible dissent is the essence of democracy. Abigail McCarthy, in Private Places/Public Places (1972)

McCarthy preceded the thought by writing: “Growth requires purposeful division.”

  • We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. Edward R. Murrow, in CBS-TV’s See it Now broadcast (March 7, 1954)

QUOTE NOTE: This broadcast, formally titled “Report on Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy,” was the first domino to fall in the eventual toppling of the right-wing demagogue. In The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2006), Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner wrote: “This was the first major assault on McCarthyism. Even the popular and influential Murrow felt that he had to bide his time until McCarthy’s excesses began to worry the American public.” Murrow’s broadcast seemed to embolden other Americans. Three months later, in the televised “Army-McCarthy” hearings, attorney Joseph Welch famously said to the Wisconsin senator: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

  • Dissent is not only your right, it’s your duty. Susan Sarandon, quoted in Meg Grant, “Susan Sarandon Interview: Speaking Her Mind,” in Reader’s Digest (Aug., 2002)

Sarandon preceded the thought by saying: “This is an amazing country, for all of its faults. My feeling is, dig in and let’s try to change the world.”

  • Dissent truly is patriotism in action. Donna Seaman, “In Praise of Dissent,” in a 2003 issue of Speakeasy magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Seamon introduced the thought by writing: “Dissent is essential to democracy, although those who practice it are often accused of being unpatriotic. The idea that patriotism demands passivity and obedience, a following of orders as though citizenship is a form of military service, or as if the state is a church and citizens are required to embrace an unexamined faith, or at least act as though they do, contradicts democratic principles.”

  • Dissent…is a right essential to any concept of the dignity and freedom of the individual; it is essential to the search for truth in a world wherein no authority is infallible. Norman Thomas, quoted in a 1959 issue of The New York Times Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Discussion in America means dissent. James Thurber, “The Duchess and the Bugs,” in Lanterns and Lances (1961)
  • Mere unorthodoxy or dissent from the prevailing mores is not to be condemned. The absence of such voices would be a symptom of grave illness in our society. Earl Warren, in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957)
  • 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.

  • While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Howard Zinn, in a 2002 interview with Sharon Basco of the website www.TomPaine.com.

ERROR ALERT: The saying Dissent is the highest form of patriotism is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but there is no evidence he ever said such a thing.

DISSENT (as in Court Opinions)


  • The first opinion the Court ever filed has a dissenting opinion. Dissent is a tradition of this Court. William O. Douglas, in a New York Times interview (October 29, 1973)

Douglas went on to add: “When someone is writing for the Court, he hopes to get eight others to agree with him, so many of the majority opinions are rather stultified.”

  • Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, “My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.” But the greatest dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow. Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a National Public Radio interview with Bill Moyers (May 3, 2002)

In that same interview, Ginsburg said: “Some of my favorite opinions are dissenting opinions. I will not live to see what becomes of them, but I…remain hopeful.”

  • My dissenting opinions, like my briefs, are intended to persuade. And sometimes one must be forceful about saying how wrong the court’s decision is. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in an interview with The New Republic magazine (September 2014)



  • You do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with an complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. Vaclav Havel, in “The Power of the Powerless” (1978), reprinted in Living in Truth (1986)



  • We make ourselves our own distress,/We are ourselves our happiness. L. E. Landon, title poem, The Troubadour (1825)
  • At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived. Rose Macaulay, “Problems of a Woman's Life,” in A Casual Commentary (1926)
  • When half the world is still plagued by terror and distress, you stop guiltily sometimes in the midst of your house—laughter and wonder if you've a right to it. Ought any of us to laugh, until all of us can again, you ask yourself, sometimes. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Time For Each Other (1944)



[Disturbing the] PEACE



  • We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter their color; equal in importance no matter their texture. Maya Angelou, in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)

Angelou preceded the thought by writing: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

  • 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)
  • Embrace diversity/Unite—/or be divided,/robbed,/ruled,/killed/By those who see you as prey./Embrace diversity/Or be destroyed. Octavia E. Butler, in Parable of the Sower (1993)
  • Nature, who permits no two leaves to be exactly alike, has given a still greater diversity to human minds. Imitation, then, is a double murder; for it deprives both copy and original of their primitive existence. Germaine de Staël, the title character speaking, in Corinne, or Italy (1807)
  • I do not claim any ability to read God’s mind. I am sure of only one thing. When we look at the glory of stars and galaxies in the sky and the glory of forests and flowers in the living world around us, it is evident that God loves diversity. Perhaps the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity. Freeman Dyson, “Progress in Religion: A Talk by Freeman Dyson,” acceptance speechfor the Templeton Prize (Washington DC; May 9, 2000)
  • We must face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature. Mary Parker Follett, in Creative Experience (1924)

In the book, Follett also wrote: “What people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the utmost importance that these should not be considered the same.”

  • The tormented world cries out for internationhood, for co-existence in a harmony of diversity and mutual aid, for an end to self-segregation along secondary or superficial or downright imbecilic lines. Clara Fraser, in Revolution, She Wrote (1998)
  • Mankind will endure when the world appreciates the logic of diversity. Indira Gandhi, in Freedom Is the Starting Point (1976)
  • If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. John F. Kennedy, in speech at American University, Washington, DC (June 10, 1963)
  • Nothing is so fortunate for mankind as its diversity of opinion. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. Verna Myers, in Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing (2100)



  • I do not consider divorce an evil by any means. It is just as much a refuge for women married to brutal men as Canada was to the slaves of brutal masters. Susan B. Anthony, in remarks at meeting of the National Council of Women (Washington, D.C.; March, 1905)

QUOTE NOTE: Anthony was speaking in opposition to a proposal that the Council “cooperate with Church and State to lessen the evil of divorce.” Thanks to Mary Biggs, compiler of Women’s Words (1996) for providing information about context.

  • A divorce is like an amputation; you survive, but there's less of you. Margaret Atwood, quoted in Time magazine (March 19, 1973)
  • Divorce is the psychological equivalent of a triple coronary bypass. After such a monumental assault on the heart, it can take a whole decade to amend all the habits and attitudes that led up to it. Mary Kay Blakely, “The Holistic Divorce,” in American Mom: Motherhood, Politics, and Humble Pie (1994)
  • For some reason, we see divorce as a signal of failure despite the fact that each of us has a right and an obligation to rectify any other mistake we make in life. Joyce Brothers, in a 1975 issue of Good Housekeeping (specific date undetermined)
  • Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash. Rita Mae Brown, the voice of the narrator, in Sudden Death (1983)
  • Each divorce is the death of a small civilization. Two people declare war on each other, and their screams and tears and days of withdrawal infect their entire world with the bacilli of their pain. There are no clean divorces. Pat Conroy, “Anatomy of a Divorce,” in Atlanta magazine (Nov. 1, 1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Conroy, who was writing about his own recent divorce after eight years of marriage, continued: “Divorces should be conducted in abattoirs, surgical wards, blood banks or funeral homes. The greatest fury comes from the wound where love once issued forth.”

  • People who have gone through divorce compose an obsessed and articulate tribe, minstrels of hurt who can sing of those days with insight and defeat and wonderment. We find each other at parties, we become friends with each other, we date each other, and we compare scars and stories. Pat Conroy, “Anatomy of a Divorce,” in Atlanta magazine (Nov. 1, 1978)

Conroy continued: “The nights…are filled up with our voices repeating over and over again the tales of our wounded folklore as we greet each other honorably and tenderly, as brothers, as sisters, as survivors of the worst times of our lives.”

  • Divorces without children are minor-league divorces. To look into the eyes of your children and to tell them that you are mutilating their family, that you are changing the structure of their world by a process of radical surgery that will make all their tomorrows different is an act of desperate courage that I never want to repeat in my life. Pat Conroy, “Anatomy of a Divorce,” in Atlanta magazine (Nov. 1, 1978)
  • When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones. Peter De Vries, the character Augie Poole speaking, in The Tunnel of Love (1954)
  • So many persons think divorce a panacea for every ill, who find out, when they try it, that the remedy is worse than the disease. Dorothy Dix, in Dorothy Dix—Her Book: Every-Day Help for Every-Day People (1926)
  • There is something fantastic about getting divorced. Everyone should do it to experience the extraordinary sense of freedom after being in marriage jail. Delia Ephron, in Sister Mother Husband Dog, Etc. (2013)
  • Divorce is a game played by lawyers. Cary Grant, quoted in Joey Adams, Roast of the Town (1986)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams gave this observation the Number One position on his list of “The Ten greatest one-liners since the ten that Moses brought down.”

  • There is a rhythm to the ending of a marriage just like the rhythm of a courtship—only backward. Erica Jong, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)

Jong added: “You try to start again but get into blaming over and over. Finally you are both worn out, exhausted, hopeless. Then lawyers are called in to pick clean the corpses.”

  • Divorce is my generation’s coming of age ceremony—a ritual scarring that makes anything that happens afterward seem bearable. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (1994)
  • Being divorced is like being hit by a Mack truck. If you live through it, you start looking very carefully to the right and to the left. Jean Kerr, the title character speaking, in Mary, Mary (1961)
  • A lawyer is never entirely comfortable with a friendly divorce, any more than a good mortician wants to finish his job and then have the patient sit up on the table. Jean Kerr, the character Oscar speaking, in Mary, Mary (1961)
  • In every marriage there are the elements of success, and in every one the makings of a perfectly justifiable divorce. Kathleen Norris, the character Mrs. Chancellor speaking, in The Story of Julia Page (1915)

QUOTE NOTE: Mrs. Chancellor is advising a young male friend to take some definitive action about his failing marriage. She went on to advise: “If you’d made a failure admit it. Don’t sulk. You’ll find that doing something definite about it is like cleaning the poison out of a wound; you’ll feel better!”

  • If we fail at marriage, we are lucky we don’t have to fail with the force of our whole life. I would like there to be an eighth sacrament: the sacrament of divorce. Ann Patchett, “The Sacrament of Divorce,” in Vogue magazine (April, 1996); reprinted in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (2013)

Patchett continued: “Like Communion, it is a slim white wafer on the tongue. Like confession, it is forgiveness. Forgiveness is important not so much because we’ve done wrong as because we feel we need to be forgiven. Family, friends, God, whoever loves us forgives us, takes us in again. They are thrilled by our life, our possibilities, our second chances.”

  • However often marriage is dissolved, it remains indissoluble. Real divorce, the divorce of heart and nerve and fiber, does not exist, since there is no divorce from memory. Virgilia Peterson, in A Matter of Life and Death (1961)
  • Divorce is the sacrament of adultery. Proverb (French)
  • When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they “don’t understand” one another, but a sign that they have, at last, begun to. Helen Rowland, “Divorces,” in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Divorce is very expensive, both economically and psychologically as well, but it probably isn't any more so than living with someone who isn't really on your side. Merle Shain, in Some Men Are More Perfect Than Others (1973)
  • Divorce is simply modern society’s version of medieval torture. Except it lasts longer and leaves deeper scars. A divorce releases the most primitive emotions; the ugliest, raw feelings. Emotionally wounded people do their best to inflict pain upon the other party, but rather than using claws they use divorce lawyers. William Shatner, in Up Till Now: The Autobiography (2008; with David Fisher)
  • There can be no summary and dramatic end to a marriage—only a slow and painful unraveling of a tangled skein of threads too stubborn to be broken. Wallis Warfield Simpson, in The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor (1956)
  • As for breaking up, once the relationship is over, you never really know what went wrong; you just feel nauseous whenever the subject comes to mind. After a plane crash there’s the black box that tells the FAA what caused the crack-up. Too bad there’s no black box of relationships. Linda Sunshine, in Dating Iron John and Other Pleasures (1993)
  • Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks more ancient. Voltaire, “Divorce,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • I find to my astonishment that an unhappy marriage goes on being unhappy when it is over. Rebecca West, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987)
  • In the dissolution of sentimental partnerships it is seldom that both associates are able to withdraw their funds at the same time. Edith Wharton, the voice of the narrator, in The Touchstone (1900)
  • Divorces are made in heaven. Oscar Wilde, the character Algernon speaking playing off the familiar saying about marriages, in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)



  • The real trouble with the doctor image in America is that it has been grayed by the image of the doctor-as-businessman, the doctor-as-bureaucrat, the doctor-as-medical-robot, and the doctor-as-terrified-victim-of-malpractice-suits. Shana Alexander, “An Ordeal to Choke a Sword-Swallower,” in a 1966 issue of Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Doctors and lawyers must go to school for years and years, often with little sleep, and at great sacrifice to their first wives. Roy Blount, Jr., “Loss: A Guide to Economics,” in The Atlantic Monthly (April, 1981)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotations as if it were worded, “with great sacrifice.”

  • Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. Erma Bombeck, quoted in Paul Dickson, The Official Rules (1978)
  • Many people are intimidated by doctors. Erma Bombeck, in I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise (1989)

Bombeck went on to add:“People also feel stupid when they don't understand what a doctor's talking about the first time around, so they don't ask again. And let's be honest here, people. English is not a doctor's first language.”

  • Individually doctors are kind to nurses; collectively they are indifferent to an appalling degree. Sarah Tarleton Colvin, in A Rebel in Thought (1944)
  • I love to go to the doctor. Where else would a man look at me and say, “Take off your clothes”? Phyllis Diller, in Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse (2005)
  • He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Feb., 1733)
  • God heals and the doctor takes the fee. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Nov., 1736)

QUOTE NOTE: Franklin was tweaking an English proverb that had been around since 1640: “God heals, and the physician hath the thanks.”

  • I suppose one has a greater sense of intellectual degradation after an interview with a doctor than from any other human experience. Alice James, an 1890 observation, quoted in Anna Robeson Burr, Alice James (1934)
  • 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,” in Dilys Winn, Murder Ink (1977)
  • I had never gone to a doctor in my adult life, feeling instinctively that doctors meant either cutting or, just as bad, diet. Carson McCullers, the Judge speaking, in Clock Without Hands (1961)

In the novel, the Judge also offered this thought on a common practice among physicians: “Don't you loathe it when doctors use the word ‘we’ when it applies only and solely to yourself?”

  • My doctor is nice; every time I see him I’m ashamed of what I think about doctors in general. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • The Doctor’s Motto: Have patients. Ethel Watts Mumford, in Oliver Herford, Ethel Watts Mumford, and Addison Mizner, The Complete Cynic (1902)
  • Doctors always think anybody doing something they aren’t is a quack; also they think all patients are idiots. Flannery O'Connor, a 1961 observation, in Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being (1979)
  • The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman. Jonathan Swift, in



  • Doctrine is nothing but the skin of Truth set up and stuffed. Henry Ward Beecher, in Lectures to Young Men (1868)



  • The dogma of woman’s complete historical subjection to man must be rated as one of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind. Mary Ritter Beard, in Woman as a Force in History (1946)
  • Racism is the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to congenital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital superiority. Ruth Benedict, in Race: Science and Politics (1940)
  • Dogmas are the toys that amuse and can satisfy but unreasoning children. They are the offspring of human speculation and prejudiced fancy. H. P. Blavatsky, in The Spiritualist (1878)
  • It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held and not in the dogma or want of dogma that the danger lies. Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh (1903)
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic. G. K. Chesterton, “On Europe and Asia,” in Generally Speaking (1928)
  • We worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (1966)
  • In France, even heresy rapidly hardens into dogma. Storm Jameson, in Parthian Words (1970)
  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)
  • My karma just ran over my dogma. Barbara Johnson, in Boomerang Joy (1998)
  • Profound ignorance makes a man dogmatic. Jean de La Bruyère, in Characters (1688)

La Bruyère continued: “The man who knows nothing thinks he is teaching others what he has just learned himself; the man who knows a great deal can’t imagine that what he is saying is not common knowledge, and speaks more indifferently.”

  • The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. Abraham Lincoln, in Annual Message to Congress (Dec. 1, 1862)

Lincoln continued: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As out case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

  • A religion without dogma is like a parcel tied up without string. Christine Longford, in Making Conversation (1931)
  • The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism. William Osler, “Chauvinism in Medicine,” address to Canadian Medical Association (Sep. 17, 1902)
  • When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

Pirsig preceded the observation by writing: “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow.”

  • You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks. Dorothy Parker, quoted in Robert E. Drennan, The Algonquin Wits (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: Parker is widely credited as the author of this saying, but an anonymous version had been in circulation since 1953.

  • Any stigma will do to beat a dogma. Dorothy Parker, “The Little Hours,” in The New Yorker (Aug. 19, 1933); reprinted in The Portable Dorothy Parker (144)
  • Take out the kernel of spiritual truth with any faith, and what is left is dogma. Peace Pilgrim, in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words (1991)
  • The dogma is that dogma is a mistake. Gloria Steinem, quoted in Gail Collins, When Everything Changed (2009)
  • Every dogma must have its day. Carolyn Wells, “Inexpensive Cynicisms,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • A dogma is the hand of the dead on the throat of the living. Lemuel Washburn, in Is the Bible Worth Reading: And Other Essays (1911)
  • 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.”

  • It is the rigid dogma that destroys truth; and, please notice my emphasis is not on the dogma but on the rigidity. Alfred North Whitehead, in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954; compiled by Lucien Price)

Whitehead continued: “When men say of any question, ‘This is all there is to be known or said of the subject; investigation ends here,’ that is death.”


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

  • An animal on a leash is not tamed by the owner. The owner is extending himself through the leash to that part of his personality which is pure dog, that part of him which just wants to eat, sleep, bark, hump chairs, wet the floor in joy, and drink out of a toilet bowl. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)
  • Take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man; who to him is instead of a God. Francis Bacon, in Essays (1625)
  • If a dog doesn’t put you first where are you both? In what relation? A dog needs God. It lives by your glances, your wishes. It even shares your humor. Enid Bagnold, in Autobiography (1969)
  • Dogs need to sniff the ground; it’s how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Talks Back (1991)
  • Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Talks Back (1991)
  • The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down—very important traits in times like these. Robert Benchley, “Your Boy and His Dog,” in Liberty magazine (July 30, 1932); reprinted in Chips Off the Old Benchley (1949)
  • Dogs are a habit, I think. Elizabeth Bowen, “Aunt Tatty,” the title character speaking, in Joining Charles (1929)
  • A very laid-back dog, he hates trouble, rolling his eyes and whining when the cats quarrel among themselves. If the chips were down and we were attacked by strangers, he would do the sensible thing—run for his life. Edna Buchanan, on her adopted dog Rocky, in “Rocky Rowf,” from The Corpse Had a Familiar Face: Covering Miami, America's Hottest Beat (1897)
  • The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. Samuel Butler, “Dogs,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • I have a very old and very faithful attachment for dogs. I like them because they always forgive. Albert Camus, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall (1956)
  • Dogs are great teachers. They are at home in the world. They live in the moment, and they force us to stay there with them. They enjoy themselves. Dogs love us unconditionally, not for our bodies or bank accounts. Susan Cheever, “Love Among the Milk-Bones” (review of Caroline Knapp’s Pack of Two), in The New York Times (July 5, 1998)
  • Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more. Agatha Christie, the character Jerry Burton speaking, in The Moving Finger (1942)
  • The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog. M. K. Clinton, in Barking from the Bayou
  • It is scarcely possible to doubt that the love of man has become instinctive in the dog. Charles Darwin, in On the Origin of Species (1859)
  • I agree with [Lewis] Agassiz that dogs possess something very like a conscience. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd ed., 1874)

Darwin went on to add: “Dogs possess some power of self-command, and this does not appear to be wholly the result of fear.”

  • The dog is a Yes-animal, very popular with people who can't afford to keep a Yes-man. Robertson Davies, in The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: Davies, writing under the pseudonym Samuel Marchbanks, preceded the thought by asserting his “lifelong contention that Man’s Dumb Chum is a fraud, and has only wormed his way into the mearts of dog-lovers by undignified self-abasement.”

  • Dogs have more love than integrity. They’ve been true to us, yes, but they haven’t been true to themselves. Clarence Day, This Simian World (1920)
  • 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)

Hotchner also quoted Day as saying: “I have never found in a human being loyalty that is comparable to a dog’s loyalty.”

  • The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs. Charles de Gaulle, quoted in Time magazine (Dec. 8, 1967)
  • You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than [human] beings, because they know but do not tell. Emily Dickinson, in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, quoted in “Today’s Literature,” the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 12. 1891)
  • The dog opened one eye, cocked it at me, and rolled it up before her lids closed. People should not feed moralistic animals. If they’re so holy, where are their books? Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” (1923), from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
  • The opportunity to love a dog and to treat it with kindness is an opportunity for a lost and selfish human heart to be redeemed. They are powerless and innocent, and it is how we treat the humblest among us that surely determines the fate of our souls. Dean Koontz, the voice of the narrator, in The Darkest Evening of the Year (2007)
  • Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails. Max Eastman, in Enjoyment of Laughter 1936)

QUOTE NOTE: This form of the quotation is familiar to many people, especially dog lovers, but Eastman actually preceded the thought by writing: “Man has been defined as the laughing animal, but that is not strictly accurate.” He went on to conclude: “And a tail is an awkward thing to laugh with as you can see by the way they bend themselves half double in extreme hilarity trying to get that rear-end exuberance forward into the main scene of action. What puts man on a higher state of evolution is that he has got his laugh on the right end.”

  • And after all, they’re God’s creatures as much as we, and who’s to say He doesn’t like them a lot better? Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), in Death Won’t Wait (1954)
  • Half the pleasure of having a dog, I could see, was storytelling about the dog: she was a screen on which we could all project a private preoccupation. Adam Gopnik, “Dog Story,” in The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs (2012)
  • Dogs have little imagination about us and our inner lives but limitless intuition about them; we have false intuitions about their inner lives but limitless imagination about them. Our relationship meets in the middle. Adam Gopnik, “Dog Story,” in The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs (2012). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Dogs aren’t the Uncle Toms of the animal world, I thought as dawn came; they’re the dignified dual citizens who plead the case for all of mute creation with their human owners. Adam Gopnik, “Dog Story,” in The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs (2012)
  • Nothing is less necessary than a pet dog, or more needed. Adam Gopnik, “A Note on Thurber’s Dogs,” in The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs (2012)
  • Upon the whole, we know ourselves to be such lamentably imperfect characters, that we long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, “Dogs,” in Chapters on Animals (1874)

ERROR ALERT: Almost every internet site mistakenly attributes this quotation to George Eliot.

Hamerton continued: “Women love in us their own exalted ideals, and to live up to the ideal standard is sometimes rather more than we are altogether able to manage; children in their teens find out how clumsy and ignorant we are, and do not quite unreservedly respect us; but our dogs adore us without a suspicion of our shortcomings.”

  • When I hear tell of the character and the loyalty and devotion of dogs, I remain unmoved. All of my dogs have been scamps and thieves and troublemakers and I’ve adored them all. Helen Hayes, in On Reflection, An Autobiography (1968; with Sandford Dody)

In the book, Hayes also wrote: “Our house was always filled with dogs…They helped make our house a kennel, it is true, but the constant patter of their filthy paws and the dreadful results of their brainless activities have warmed me throughout the years.”

  • A dog is the only exercise machine you cannot decide to skip when you don’t feel like it. Carolyn Heilbrun, in The Last Gift of Time (1998)
  • Dogs do all the things we want to do but won't. Dogs act exactly the way we would act if we had no shame. Cynthia Heimel, in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye! (1993)
  • Dogs are us, only innocent Cynthia Heimel, in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye! (1993)

In the same book, Heimel wrote about her pet dogs: “I have four now. My friends tell me if I get any more they’ll have to hold an intervention.”

  • Dogs and humans are symbiotic species. We need each other. Cynthia Heimel, in When Your Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’ll Be Me (1995)

In the same book, Heimel wrote; “Dogs are forever in the moment. They are always a tidal wave of feelings, and every feeling is some variant of love.”

  • With dogs, you don’t need gurus. Dogs are forever in the moment. They are always a tidal wave of feelings, and every feeling is some variant of love. Cynthia Heimel, in When Your Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’ll Be Me (1995)
  • Who thinks you’re as fantastic as your dog does? Audrey Hepburn, quoted in Warren G. Harris, Audrey Hepburn (1994)
  • Near this Spot/are deposited the Remains of one/who possessed Beauty without Vanity,/Strength without Insolence,/Courage without Ferocity,/and all the virtues of Man without his Vices. John Cam Hobhouse (Lord Broughton), in the undated poem “Epitaph to a Dog”

QUOTE NOTE: In 1808, Lord Byron’s beloved Newfoundland dog (named “Boatswain”) died after contracting a severe case of rabies. While constructing an elaborate tomb for the dog, Byron attempted to use his poetic skills to create an epitaph, but he came up short. In the end, he borrowed the first stanza of a poem from his friend John Hobhouse, seen above.

  • By and large, people who enjoy teaching animals to roll over will find themselves happier with a dog. Barbara Holland, in Secrets of the Cat (1988)
  • Almost any dog thinks almost any human is the Great Spirit, the Primal Creator, and the Universal Force Behind the Sun and Tides. What human can resist? Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • Dogs are joiners; if they were guys, their idea of a good time would be to attend an Elks luncheon. Nicole Hollander, in Everything Here Is Mine (2000)
  • The more I see of dogs, the more I like children. Winifred Holtby, quoted in Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship (1940)
  • The dog is man’s best friend. Thomas Hood, in Whimsicalities (1842)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Fred Shapiro’s Yale Book of Quotations (2006), this is the original appearance of a sentiment that went on to become one of history’s most popular sayings. The underlying notion that a dog could be a man’s best friend clearly predates Hood’s succinct statement, though. In C. J. Laveaux’s 1789 biography The life of Frederick the Second, King of Prussia, he wrote that King Frederick once referred to one of his Italian greyhounds as his best friend.

  • A dog gets lonesome just like a human. He wants to associate with other dogs, but when they take him out, the poor dog is on a leash and cannot run around. Langston Hughes, in Simple Speaks His Mind (1950)
  • To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs. Aldous Huxley, quoted in a 1934 issue of Reader’s Digest
  • Be sure to incorporate your pooch into your daily activities to make her feel like a true family member. You can do this by signing your dog’s name—or her paw print—on birthday cards, by getting “from our dog to your dog” holiday cards, or by including your dog when asked the number of family members in your household. These small, considerate actions will make you an ideal petowner. Joyce Jillson, in Astrology for Dogs (2005)
  • The dog lay down next to Arthur with his nose a few inches from Arthur’s mouth, staring at him as if Arthur were about to speak the secrets of the past. Marjorie Kellogg, in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1968)
  • I thanked God for being wise enough to withhold from dogs the gift of speech. Elizabeth Kelly, in The Last Summer of the Camperdowns (2013)
  • Nothing is more likely to start me screaming like a madwoman than New York in February with its piles of blackened snow full of yellow holes drilled by dogs. Florence King, in Southern Ladies and Gentlemen (1975)
  • Until that afternoon in October four years ago, I hadn’t known dogs could scream. Stephen King, a reflection of protagonist Edgar Freemantle, in Duma Key: A Novel (2008)
  • A man’s life was five dogs long, Cortland believed. The first was the one that taught you. The second was the one you taught. The third and fourth were the ones you worked. The last was the one that outlived you. That was the winter dog. Cortland’s winter dog had no name. He thought of it only as the scarecrow dog… [ellipsis in original] Stephen King, the epigraph to Chapter 1, in Ur (2009)

QUOTE NOTE: Ur was a novella written exclusively for the Amazon Kindle platform. A heavily revised edition of the work was later included with other King works in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015). In the revised edition, the final two sentences were collapsed into one: “Cortland’s winter dog was Negrita, but he thought of it only as the scarecrow dog…”

  • All dogs can be guide dogs of a sort, leading us to places we didn’t even know we needed or wanted to go. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)
  • I am in love with my dog. I’m 38 and I’m single and I’m having my most intense and gratifying relationship with a dog. But we all learn about love in different ways, and this way happens to be mine. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)
  • In some ways, living with a dog is like being followed around twenty-four hours a day by a mute psychoanalyst: you get that blank screen—nonjudgmental, trusted, noncritical—but no interpretation, no words of insight or guidance, no quiet voice of reason helping you to connect the psychic dots. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)

Knapp continued: “Feelings float up from inside—rational ones, irrational ones, ones you didn’t even know you had—and attach themselves to the dog, who will not question their validity, or hold your behavior up to scrutiny, or challenge your perceptions. Freud in fur; Freud without the therapeutic agenda. In the dog’s presence you are free to act—and act out—any way you want.”

  • The dog’s agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)

Knapp continued: “If you’ve spent a lifetime navigating the landscape of human relationships, characterized as it can be by covertness and ambivalence and indirection, this can be an enormous relief.”

  • Dogs possess a quality that’s rare among humans—the ability to make you feel valued just by being you—and it was something of a miracle to me to be on the receiving end of all that acceptance. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)

Knapp continued: “The dog didn’t care what I looked like, or what I did for a living, or what a train wreck of a life I’d led before I got her, or what we did from day to day. She just wanted to be with me, and that awareness gave me a singular sensation of delight.”

  • I remembered the way my mother, a markedly undemonstrative woman most of the time, used to reach down and pet the dog, scratch his chest until he zoned out with contentment, eyes at half-mast. Caroline Knapp, in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (1998)
  • If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater…suggest that he wear a tail. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)

Also on the subject of dogs, Lebowitz wrote in the same book: “No animal should ever jump up on the dining-room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation.”

  • We treat our dogs as if they were “almost human”: that is why they really become “almost human” in the end. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952)
  • No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does. Christopher Morley, a reflection of the title character, in John Mistletoe (1931)
  • At night, when all was quiet about the campfire, he would come to me and rest his head on my knee with a look of devotion as if I were his god. John Muir, on his pet dog Stickeen, in Stickeen (1897)
  • He had let out the dogs and they were jumping around him frantic with joy, as if they were afraid, every night, that there would never be another letting out or another morning. Mary O’Hara, in My Friend Flicka (1941)
  • The dog is man's best friend./He has a tail on one end./Up in front he has teeth./And four legs underneath. Ogden Nash, in “An Introduction to Dogs,” in The Face is Familiar (1941)
  • A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of. Ogden Nash, “A Dog’s Best Friend is His Illiteracy,” in The Private Dining Room (1952)

In “An Introduction to Dogs” (1941), mentioned above, Nash also devoted a stanza to subject of door and dogs:

“A dog that is indoors/To be let out implores./You let him out and what then?/He wants back in again.”

  • If therapists didn’t charge you and were willing to chase sticks, they would be dogs. The kindly and receptive silence, the respect for secrets, the inexhaustible supply of attention—these are a dog’s, and a therapist’s, finest qualities. Dogs, though, are more fun than therapists, more tender, more dear, and certainly more admiring. Susan Orlean, in On Animals (2021)
  • When you feel really lousy, puppy therapy is indicated. Sara Paretsky, the protagonist V. I. Warshawski speaking, in Burn Marks (1990)
  • To a man individual liberty is the greatest blessing; to a dog it is the last word in despair. William Lyon Phelps, “Interlude on Cats“, in Autobiography with Letters (1939)

Phelps continued: “He is happy only in slavery. Hence he sticks to a master even though he is treated badly. The more one beats him, the greater is his servility.”

  • I feel the canine is the greatest animal on earth, although I don’t want to appear dogmatic. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 22, 2019)
  • I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive. Gilda Radner, in It’s Always Something (1989)
  • A puppy is but a dog, plus high spirits, and minus common sense. Agnes Repplier, “A Kitten,” in In the Dozy Hours (1894)
  • Our dogs will love and admire the meanest of us, and feed our colossal vanity with their uncritical homage. Agnes Repplier, “The Idolatrous Dog,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • A real dog, beloved and therefore pampered by his mistress, is a lamentable spectacle. He suffers from a fatty degeneration of his moral being. Agnes Repplier, “The Idolatrous Dog,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • An affection for dogs is not, as we have been given to understand, a test of an open and generous disposition. Still less is their affection for us to be accepted as a guarantee of our integrity. The assumption that a dog knows a good from a bad human being when he sees one is unwarranted. Agnes Repplier, “The Idolatrous Dog,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • From the dog's point of view, his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog. Mabel Louise Robinson, quoted in Jon Winokur, Mondo Canine (1993)
  • The average dog is a nicer person than the average person. Andy Rooney, quoted in 1980 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • If dogs could talk it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one. Andy Rooney, in Not That You Asked (1989)
  • Dogs are the slavering sycophants, the slobbering indiscriminate flatterers, the bootlickers, the pathetic transparent brown-nosers of the domestic animal kingdom. Ron Rosenbaum, “Stumpy Versus Lucille: The Great Pet Debate,” in The New York Observer (August 9, 1988)

Rosenbaum was writing 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. He continued: “Dogs are skilled at sucking up, creating the pathetic illusion of love, but it has nothing to do with how lovable you actually are. Dogs will slaver over anyone who gives them food and security. Dogs will suck up to serial killers, dogs will make goo-goo eyes at child molesters, dogs will fawn and whimper over mass murderers.”

  • We’ve begun to long for the pitter-patter of little feet—so we bought a dog. Well, it’s cheaper, and you get more feet. Rita Rudner, in Naked Beneath My Clothes (1992)
  • A dog cannot relate his autobiography; however eloquently he may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were honest though poor. Bertrand Russell, in Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948)
  • Don’t make the mistake of treating your dogs like humans, or they’ll treat you like dogs. Martha Scott, quoted in Jilly Cooper and Tom Hartman, Violets and Vinegar (1980)
  • Hunger and fear are the only realities in dog life: an empty stomach makes a fierce dog. Robert Falcon Scott, in Being the journals of Captain R. F. Scott (1913)
  • Like many other much-loved humans, they believed that they owned their dogs, instead of realizing that their dogs owned them. Dodie Smith, the voice of the narrator, in The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956). Also an example of chiasmus.

In the book, the narrator also wrote: “Many dogs can understand almost every word humans say, while humans seldom learn to recognize more than half a dozen barks, if that. And barks are only a small part of the dog language. A wagging tail can mean so many things. Humans know that it means a dog is pleased, but not what a dog is saying about his pleasedness. (Really, it is very clever of humans to understand a wagging tail at all, as they have no tails of their own.)”

  • On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Peter Steiner, a cartoon caption, in The New Yorker (July 5, 1993)
  • Dogs live with man as courtiers round a monarch, steeped in the flattery of his notice and enriched with sinecures. To push their favor in this world of pickings and caresses is, perhaps, the business of their lives. Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Character of Dogs,” (1883): reprinted in Memories and Portraits (1908)
  • I loathe people who keep dogs. They are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves. August Strindberg, in A Madman’s Diary (1895)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the observation translated this way: “I detest dogs, those protectors of cowards who have not the courage to bite the assailant themselves.”

  • In all the years of breeding spaniels, we have found that dog lovers are a good breed themselves. And they all speak the same language. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)

Later in the book, Taber wrote: “I know of nothing to compare with the welcome a dog gives you when you come home.”

  • Dogs who chase cars evidently see them as large, unruly ungulates badly in need of discipline and shepherding. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in The Hidden Life of Dogs (1993)

In her book, she also wrote: “What do dogs want? They want each other. Human beings are merely a cynomorphic substitute.”

  • Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. Agnes Sligh Turnbull, in The Flowering (1972)
  • The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s. Mark Twain, in letter to William D. Howells (April 2, 1899)
  • A composite dog is a dog that’s made up of all the valuable qualities that’s in the dog breed—kind of a syndicate; and a mongrel is made up of the riffraff that’s left over. Mark Twain, an autobiographical dictation (Oct. 11, 1907); reprinted in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (Univ. of Cal. Press, 2015)
  • The faithful dog—why should I strive/To speak his merits, while they live/In every breast, and man's best friend/Does often at his heels attend. C. S. Van Winkle, in an 1821 issue of The New-York Literary Journal (specific date undetermined)
  • The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well- assured place in men’s regard as a thing of good repute. Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

Veblen The dog is at the same time associated in our imagination with the chase — a meritorious employment and an expression of the honourable predatory impulse.

  • It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can possibly have. Voltaire, in Dictionnaire philosophique (1764)
  • Fido and Rover are partaking of a mystery of which, further up the table, Cézanne and Beethoven are participants also. Rebecca West,in the title essay of The Strange Necessity (1928)
  • My little old dog:/A heart-beat at my feet. Edith Wharton, “A Lyrical Epigram,” in Artemis to Actaeon (1909)
  • Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday. Thornton Wilder, the voice of the narrator, in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)
  • No one would think of bringing a dog into church. For though a dog is all very well on a gravel path, and shows no disrespect to flowers, the way he wanders down an aisle, looking, lifting a paw, and approaching a pillar with a purpose that makes the blood run cold with horror…a dog destroys the service completely. Virginia Woolf, in Jacob’s Room (1922)
  • I can train any dog in five minutes. It’s training the owners that takes longer. Barbara Woodhouse, quoted in a 1975 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • There is no such thing as a difficult dog, only an inexperienced owner. Barbara Woodhouse, in No Bad Dogs (1978)

In the book, Woodhouse also wrote: “I do not believe that a dog can be cured by a psychiatrist, but I think some owners could be helped by one.”

  • I have caught more ills from people sneezing over me and giving me virus infections than from kissing dogs. Barbara Woodhouse, quoted in a 1984 issue of Telegraph Sunday Magazine (specific date undetermined)


(see also ANIMALS and BIRDS and CATS and CATS & DOGS and DOGS and PETS and PUPPIES)


  • The nose of the bulldog has been slanted backwards so that he can breathe without letting go. Winston Churchill, in address at the London Opera House (Sep. 11, 1914); reprinted in Churchill by Himself (2008; R. M. Langworth, ed.)


  • I asked my vet what kind of dog he’d get. He told me, “I’d get a Chihuahua, because when it died, I wouldn’t care.” Margo Kaufman, in 1-800-Am-I-Nuts?: And Other True Tales of the Nineties (1992)


  • You should see my corgis at sunset in the snow. It’s their finest hour. About five o’clock they glow like copper. Then they come in and lie in front of the fire like a string of sausages. Tasha Tudor, in The Private World of Tasha Tudor (1992)


  • Dachsunds are ideal dogs for small children, as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that the child cannot do much harm one way or the other. Robert Benchley, in Chips Off the Old Benchley (1949)


  • C. came in yesterday to see me, carrying a baby Pekinese. Have you ever seen a really baby one about the size of a fur glove, covered with pale gold down, with paws like minute seal flappers, very large impudent eyes and ears like fried potatoes? Good God! What creatures they are…. They are like fairy animals. Katherine Mansfield, in a 1920 letter, quoted in J. Middleton Murry, The Letters of Katherine Mansfield, Vol. 2 (1928)


  • O Pug, obstinate old nervous breakdown,/In the midst of so much love,/and such comfort,/Still to feel unsafe and be afraid,/How one’s heart goes out to you! Stevie Smith, “O Pug!” in Scorpion and Other Poems (1972)


  • Other dogs look at French poodles and wonder if they are members of a weird religious cult. Rita Rudner, quoted in Robert Byrne, The Fifth and Far Finer than the First Four 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: Rudner offered this thought in a variety of ways in her stand-up comedy routine. Most internet sites have it phrased in the following way: “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.”


  • A Rottweiler is a dog—a cross between a Doberman and a Jeep. Ruth Greenberg, in Ruth Greenberg and Greg Fallis, Be Your Own Detective (1989)


  • Samoyeds are very smart and therefore very disobedient. Doris Haddock, in Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year (2001; with Dennis Burke)


(see CATS & DOGS)



  • The most effective way to do it, is to do it. Toni Cade Barbara, “In Search of the Mother Tongue,” in First World Journal (1980)
  • You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • “What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence,” returned my companion, bitterly. “The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done.” Arthur Conan Doyle, narrator Doctor Watson, quoting Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet (1887)
  • One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Meister Eckhart, in Work and Being (14th c.)

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

  • What we do is never as important as how we do it. Jane Nelson, in Positive Discipline (1981)
  • If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. William Shakespeare, the character Portia speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

Portia continued: “It is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”





  • Nothing that costs only a dollar is worth having. Elizabeth Arden, quoted in Alfred Allan Lewis and Constance Woodworth, Miss Elizabeth Arden (1972)
  • Every dollar is a soldier that does your bidding. Vincent Astor, quoted in Harvey O’Connor, The Astors (1941)
  • A dollar saved is a quarter earned. John Ciardi, in his “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (May 26, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Ciardi piggybacks on the English proverb “A penny saved is a penny earned” to cleverly describe the effect of inflation on money saved. The proverb was first expressed as “A penny saved is a penny gained” in Thomas Fuller’s The Worthies of England (1662). Thanks to Garson O’Toole, The Quote Investigator, for helping source this observation.

  • A dollar is not value, but representative of value, and at last of moral values. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • The value of a dollar is social, as it is created by society. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • A dollar that stays 100 cents is as necessary as a pound that stays 16 ounces and a yard that stays 36 inches. Henry Ford, in My Life and Work (1922)
  • No one has yet had the courage to memorialize his wealth on his tombstone. A dollar mark would not look well there. Corra Harris, in A Circuit Rider’s Wife (1910)
  • The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land. Washington Irving, “The Creole Village: A Sketch from a Steam-Boat,” in Knickerbocker magazine (Nov., 1836); later reprinted in Wolfert's Roost: and Other Papers (1855)

QUOTE NOTE: Irving is generally credited with authorship of the phrase almighty dollar, but he was not the first to liken money to divinity. In 1616, Ben Jonson tweaked Almighty God to coin the provocative expression almighty gold (see the Jonson entry in GOLD).

Irving’s 1836 sketch recalled a steamboat trip he made through the bayous of Louisiana several years earlier. He was surprised to discover that the inhabitants, though generally poor and uneducated, were not at all unhappy with their lives. About them, he wrote more fully: “The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.”

  • Americans relate all effort, all work, and all of life itself to the dollar. Their talk is of nothing but dollars. Nancy Mitford, “The English Aristocracy,” in Noblesse Oblige (1956; Hamish Hamilton, ed.)
  • The dollar sign is the only sign in which the modern man appears to have any real faith. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • There are only three things you can do with a dollar: spend, loan, or own. Venita VanCaspel, in Money Dynamics for the New Economy (1986)
  • The man possessed of a dollar feels himself to be not merely one hundred cents richer, but also one hundred cents better than the man who is penniless; so on through all the gradations of earthly possessions—the estimate of our own moral and political importance swelling always in a ratio exactly proportionate to the growth of our purse. Frances Wright, in Course of Popular Lectures (1829)



  • How is it possible, that the love of gain and the lust of domination should render the human mind so callous to every principle of honor, generosity, and benevolence? Abigail Adams, in letter to husband John (July 25, 1775)



  • I doodle a lot and often get my best ideas with a pencil in my hand while I'm doodling. The problem is, sometimes I lose my doodles and that’s bad. Judy Blume, in New York Public Library’s “Live Chat with Author Judy Blume” (Nov. 19, 2002)
  • Other people are doodlers…. That’s a name we made up back home for people who make foolish designs on paper when they’re thinking. It’s called doodling. Gary Cooper, as the character Longfellow Deeds, in the film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936; screenplay by Robert Riskin)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance of the word doodling, which Deeds offers in his own defense at a formal court hearing arranged to examine his sanity. He continues: “Almost everybody’s a doodler. Did you ever see a scratch pad in a telephone booth? People draw the most idiotic pictures when they’re thinking.”

  • I have been doodling with ink and watercolor on paper all my life. It’s my way of stirring up my imagination to see what I find hidden in my head. I call the results dream pictures, fantasy sketches, and even brain-sharpening exercises. Maurice Sendak, quoted in Julie Cummins, Wings of an Artist: Children’s Book Illustrators Talk About Their Art (1999)
  • The doodle is the brooding of the hand. Saul Steinberg, quoted in Harold Rosenberg, Saul Steinberg (1978)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original and, I believe, the accurate version of an observation that has become something of a signature saying for Steinberg. Over the years, several other similarly-phrased observations have also appeared (doodling is the brooding of the hand and doodling is the brooding of the mind). Given the recent research of Quote Investigator Garson O’Toole, these variant phrasings should now be considered to be in error.



  • I wear the key of memory, and can open every door in the house of my life. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • There are a great many doors open; but a door must be of a man's size or it is not meant for him. Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in J. T. Lloyd, Henry Ward Beecher: His Life and Work (1887)
  • So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The Bible: John 8-9 (RSV)
  • If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. William Blake, “A Memorable Fancy,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)

QUOTE NOTE: These words so inspired Aldous Huxley that he chose The Doors of Perception as the title for his 1954 book on mind-expanding drugs. Less than a decade later, Huxley’s book, in turn, inspired UCLA poetry student and aspiring musician Jim Morrison to name his newly-formed rock group The Doors.

  • Death is the opening—and the closing—of a Door. Ethel M. Dell, in The Keeper of the Door (1915)
  • When a workman knows the use of his tools, he can make a door as well as a window. George Eliot, in The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. Helen Keller in We Bereaved (1929)

QUOTE NOTE: The thought is not original to Keller; she was simply repackaging a proverbial saying that goes back to the late 1500s (see the Spanish proverb below)

  • Every door opens to something and it is better to go toward that something than to sit staring at the blank wall of time. Zelda Popkin, in Open Every Door (1956)
  • When one door shuts, another opens. Proverb (Spanish)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation scholars, this saying (in a number of slightly different forms) has been proverbial since the late 1500s. The first appearance of the saying in print was in the 1554 book The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, an anonymously authored anti-clerical novel (and one of literary history's first picaresque novels).

  • When knowledge comes in at the door, fear and superstition fly out of the window. Mary Roberts Rinehart, in The Red Lamp (1925)
  • When perfect frankness comes in at the door love flies out of the window. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see, including and perhaps most of all, the door into one's own secret, and often terrible and frightening, real self. May Sarton, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)



  • Doubt is not below knowledge, but above it. Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier), in Libres propos (Journal d’Alain) (1908)
  • 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)
  • Who never doubted, never half believed./Where doubt, there truth is—’tis her shadow. Philip James Bailey, the character Lucifer speaking, in Festus (1813)
  • Doubt seems the only purity for those who are too fervent to deny, and too lucid to affirm. Natalie Clifford Barney, in Adventures of the Mind (1929)
  • Doubt is a necessary precondition to meaningful action. Donald Barthelme, “The Rise of Capitalism,” in Sadness (1972)
  • Can that which is the greatest virtue in philosophy, Doubt (called “the father of inventions” by Galileo), be in religion what the priests term it, the greatest of sins? Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)

QUOTE NOTE: In a footnote to the entry, Bovee quoted an unnamed friend as saying: “The philosopher makes Doubt an ally; the theologian an enemy. The one is ever advancing to fresh conquests, the other has much ado to maintain his ground.” The Galileo quotation has never been verified. Bovee almost certainly got it from George Henry Calbert’s Scenes and Thoughts in Europe: Second Series (1852), which asserted: “Galileo calls doubt the father of inventions.”

  • The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,/If faith o'ercomes doubt. Robert Browning, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” in Man and Women (1855)
  • We should never believe anything we have not dared to doubt. Christina, Queen of Sweden, in Maxims of a Queen (1907; Una Birch, ed.)
  • Doubt is the vestibule which all must pass, before they can enter into the temple of wisdom. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

Colton continued: “Therefore, when we are in doubt, and puzzle out the truth by our own exertions, we have gained a something that will stay by us, and which will serve us again. But, if to avoid the trouble of the search we avail ourselves of the superior information of a friend, such knowledge will not remain with us; we have not bought but borrowed it.”

  • Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning. In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice. Jerry Coyne, quoted in The Independent (April 7, 2011). Also an example of Oxymoronica
  • Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt. Clarence Darrow, quoted in George G. Whitehead, Clarence Darrow—The Big Minority Man (1929)
  • Doubt is a necessity of the mind, faith of the heart. Comtesse Diane, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • The believer who has never doubted will hardly convert a doubter. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. Richard Feynman, in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)

Feynman continued: “I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”

  • Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. André Gide, in So Be It: Or, The Chips Are Down (1959; trans. by Justin O’Brien; orig. published in French in 1952 as Ainsi Soit-il: Ou, Les Jeux Sont Faits)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is usually presented, but it was originally part of this fuller thought: “I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself.”

  • Doubts are not the enemy of belief, they are its companion. Malcolm Gladwell, in Talking to Strangers (2019)
  • Doubt grows with knowledge. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Proverbs in Prose (1819)
  • 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.)
  • Doubt indulged soon becomes doubt realized. Frances Ridley Havergal, in Golden Thoughts From the Life and Works of Frances Ridley Havergal (1892)
  • A quart of doubt to an ounce of truth is the safest brew. John Oliver Hobbes (pen name of Pearl Craigie), the character Mrs. Arden speaking, in The Herb-Moon: A Fantasia (1896)
  • To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Ideals and Doubts,” Illinois Law Review (Jan., 1915)
  • Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates for a secret doubt. Aldous Huxley, in Vulgarity in Literature (1930)
  • Not far from the invention of fire we must rank the invention of doubt. T. H. Huxley, quoted in Cyril Bibby, T. H. Huxley: Scientist, Humanist, Educator (1959)

Huxley continued: “For it is out of doubt of the old that the new springs; and it is doubt of the new that keeps inventions within bounds.”

  • I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous—if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men. Robert G. Ingersoll, “The Ghosts,” in The Ghosts and Other Lectures (1892)
  • Doubt comes in at the window, when Inquiry is denied at the door. Benjamin Jowett, “On The Interpretation of Scripture,” in J. W. Parker, Essays and Reviews (1860); reprinted in Scripture and Truth: Dissertations (1907)
  • Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)
  • There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. Alfred Korzybski, in Manhood of Humanity (1921)
  • Doubts, like facts, are stubborn things. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)

QUOTE NOTE: The full quotation was, in fact, an observation about parties: “They say parties are so very delightful: I have my doubts—and doubts, like facts, are stubborn things.”

  • Doubt must be no more than vigilance, otherwise it can become dangerous. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms: Notebook F (written between 1776–1779)
  • Doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it has been tested. David Magee, the protagonist and title character speaking, in Ang Lee’s 2012 film The Life of Pi (screenplay by Magee).
  • 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.” H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)

Mencken preceded the thought by writing: “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.”

  • I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education. Wilson Mizner, quoted in Edward Dean Sullivan, The Fabulous Wilson Mizner (1935)
  • To know much is often the cause of doubting more. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1588)
  • I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. Flannery O’Connor, in 1959 letter to Louise Abbot, in The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (1971; Sally Fitzgerald, ed.)
  • When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

Pirsig preceded the observation by writing: “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow.”

  • To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. Henri Poincaré, quoted by Bertrand Russell in Foreword to the 1913 English translation of Poincaré’s Science and Method (1908)
  • Modest doubt is call’d the beacon of the wise. William Shakespeare, the character Hector speaking, in Troilus and Cressida (1602)
  • Our doubts are traitors/And make us lose the good we oft might win/By fearing to attempt. William Shakespeare, the character Lucio speaking, in Measure for Measure (1604-05)
  • Faith and doubt both are needed—not as antagonists but working side by side—to take us around the unknown curve. Lillian Smith, in The Journey (1954)
  • 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.”

  • I hate doubt, yet I am certain that doubt is the only way to approach anything worth believing in. Edward Teller, quoted in Phillip Berman, The Courage of Conviction (1985)
  • There lives more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half the creeds. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” (1850)
  • Life is doubt,/And faith without doubt is nothing but death. Miguel de Unamuno, in “Salmo II” (1907)
  • A faith which does not doubt is a dead faith. Miguel de Unamuno, in The Agony of Christianity (1925)
  • 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.”

  • To believe is very dull. To doubt is intensely engrossing. To be on the alert is to live, to be lulled into security is to die. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, Oscar Wilde, His Life and Wit (1946)
  • Doubt springs eternal in the human breast. Thornton Wilder, the voice of the narrator, playing off Alexander Pope’s famous saying about hope, in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)



  • Good drama should sandpaper the mind. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • The cat is, above all things, a dramatist. Margaret Benson, in The Soul of a Cat: And Other Stories (1901)
  • Wherever there is human nature, there is drama. Agatha Christie, the narrator and protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The King of Clubs (1926)
  • Drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Alfred Hitchcock, quoted in The Observer (London; July 10, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: This was one of Hitchcock’s favorite lines, offered on a number of occasions. Speaking to François Truffaut in 1962, he said: “Making a film means, first of all to tell a story. That story can be an improbable one, but it should never be banal. It must be dramatic and human. What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits but out?”

  • In my perhaps sometimes unjust critical canon, a dramatist is held always to be as strong as his weakest banality. George Jean Nathan, in Comedians All (1919)

Nathan went on to explain: “In the midst of even the best of his good writing he descends now and then to the most doggrel [sic] showhouse platitude.”

  • A dramatist one who believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)

Wilder continued: “On the stage it is always now: the personages are standing on that razor-edge, between the past and the future.”


(see also ASPIRATION and DAYDREAMS and DREAMS [Nocturnal] and GOALS and HOPE and MOTIVATION and WISHES and VISION)

  • What would be achieved ever if people lost the ability to dream? Martha Albrand, in Wait for the Dawn (1950)
  • Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your Ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)

Allen was an English philosophical writer who wrote a number of popular inspirational books, including As a Man Thinketh, a classic in self-help literature. The book (in reality, an essay) heavily influenced Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and a generation of later writers.

ERROR ALERT: On numerous web sites and in many books, the wording of the first line of the quotation is mistakenly presented as you shall rather than shall you.

  • The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • Follow your dreams, not your boyfriends. Gillian Anderson, quoted in Joseph Galliano, Dear Me: More Letters to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self (2011)
  • How many people have a department of dreams in their own minds? A research laboratory where the results that they expect to bring to pass, ten years from now, are being dreamed out and planned today? Bruce Barton, quoted in William L. Bird, Jr. “Better Living”: Advertising, Media, and the New Vocabulary of Business Leadership, 1935–1955 (1999)
  • I believe that dreams—day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing—are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. L. Frank Baum, in Introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)

Baum added: “The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.”

  • Dreams are, by definition, cursed with short life spans. Candice Bergen, in Knock Wood (1984)
  • I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. Emily Brontë, the character Catherine Earnshaw, speaking to Nelly Dean, in Wuthering Heights (1847)
  • There were many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts being broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever the dream might be. Pearl S. Buck, the voice of the narrator, in The Patriot: A Novel (1939)
  • Dream manfully and nobly, and thy dreams shall be prophets! Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the narrator, Pisistratus Caxton, speaking, in The Caxtons: A Family Picture (1849)
  • Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don’t. Brett Butler, in Knee Deep in Paradise (1996)
  • Trapped dreams must die. James Branch Cabell, in Dedication (to Robert Gamble Cabell II) of The Certain Hour (1916)
  • It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. Paulo Coelho, a reflection of the protagonist, a shepherd boy named Santiago, in The Alchemist (1988)
  • Dreams nourish the soul just as food nourishes the body. Paulo Coelho, in Life: Selected Quotations (2007); originally in The Pilgrimage (1988)

Few writers have explored the subject of dreams more thoroughly—or more memorably—than Coelho. Here are several other quotations on the subject from his various works:

“The Good Fight is the one that we fight in the name of our dreams.” The Pilgrimage (1988)

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” The Alchemist (1988)

“The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams—each according to his or her own talent.” The Valkyries (1992)

  • When your life becomes dull, it’s time to get a bigger dream. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (May, 2016)
  • Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. Belva Davis, in Never in My Wildest Dreams (2010;with Vicki Haddock)
  • To have realized your dream makes you feel lost. Oriana Fallaci, in Letter to a Child Never Born (1975)
  • Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. William Faulkner, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1956)
  • When you cease to dream you cease to live. Malcolm Forbes, in 1994 issue of Forbes magazine
  • It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. Gabriel García Márquez, in a FaceBook post (June 23, 2011)
  • A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness. Jean Genet, the voice of the narrator, in the semi-autobiographical novel Miracle of the Rose (1946)
  • The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • People need dreams, there’s as much nourishment in ’em as food. Charlotte Gilman, in Caravan (1992)
  • I knew I wanted to write. I had dreamed about it for years. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who die wondering, “What if?” I would keep putting my dream to the test—even though it meant living with uncertainty and fear of failure. This is the Shadowland of hope, and anyone with a dream must learn to live there. Alex Haley, “The Shadowland of Dreams,” in Reader’s Digest (Aug., 1991)
  • Happy talk, keep talking happy talk,/Talk about things you’d like to do,/You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,/How you gonna have a dream come true? Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics from the song “Happy Talk” (1949; music by Richard Rodgers); from the Broadway musical South Pacific (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: In the musical, the character Bloody Mary sang the song to the U. S. Marine lieutenant Joe Cable, using many hand gestures as she sings.

  • You must find your dream, then the way becomes easy. But there is no dream that lasts forever, each dream is followed by another, and one should not cling to any particular one. Herman Hesse, the character Frau Eva speaking, in Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth (1919)
  • Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blue-prints of your ultimate achievements. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success (1928)
  • Hold fast to dreams/For if dreams die/Life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly. Langston Hughes, “Dreams” (1929)

The second and concluding stanza went this way: “Hold fast to dreams/For when dreams go/Life is a barren field/Frozen with snow.”

  • What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore—/And then run?/Does it stink like rotten meat?/Or crust and sugar over—/like a syrupy sweet?/Maybe it just sags/like a heavy load./Or does it explode? Langston Hughes, in “Harlem” (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: A key phrase from this poem inspired the title of Lorraine Hansberry’s play Raisin in the Sun (1959), starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. Hansberry was the first African-American woman to have a play staged on Broadway. Her play went on to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and was later adapted into an acclaimed 1961 film.

  • There is something about poverty that smells like death. Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet; impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
  • And it’s a risky thing to talk about one’s most secret dreams a bit too early. Tove Jansson, in Tales From Moominvalley (1963)
  • 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)
  • You have to have a dream—every picture is a dream, and some of them turn out to be bad dreams. Stanley Kramer, on filmmaking, quoted in Charlotte Chandler, The Ultimate Seduction (1984)
  • Sometimes we have the dream but we are not ourselves ready for the dream. We have to grow to meet it. Louis L’Amour, the title character speaking, in Bendigo Shafter (1978)
  • All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. T. E. Lawrence (aka “Lawrence of Arabia”), in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)
  • A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1957)
  • Don’t forget that the ruins of your dreams can be building materials for others. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in More Unkempt Thoughts (1964)
  • Dreams can be relentless tyrants. Morgan Llywelyn, in Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish (1984)
  • The curse of the romantic is a greed for dreams, an intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • Man is what his dreams are. Benjamin E. Mays, in Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (1971)
  • 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.)
  • Dreams are elephants and therefore can only be consumed one bite at a time. Tim McCarthy, in “Losing Track of Our Dreams,” a blog post (April 1, 2021)
  • Never dream with thy hand on the helm. Herman Melville, the character Ismael speaking, in Moby-Dick (1851)
  • Throw your dream into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, or a new country. Anaïs Nin, advice to a young friend, reported in her diary (July, 1945)

ERROR ALERT: In numerous quotation collections, dream is mistakenly reported as dreams. Nin was giving advice to a 17-year-old aspiring writer she was mentoring (she referred to him only as Leonard W.). Her advice was a direct reply to something Leonard had earlier written to her: “Every dream of mine cast into a story and put on paper and made public is one less dream for myself and of them I have few enough.”

  • Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the action stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living. Anaïs Nin, a June, 1946 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • A dreamer—you know—it’s a mind that looks over the edges of things Mary O’Hara, the character Nell speaking, in My Friend Flicka (1941)

Also in the novel, the narrator said about the character Ken: “He felt the sense of loss which every dreamer feels when the dream moves up, comes close, and at last is concrete.”

  • They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awaking, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil. Edgar Allan Poe, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Eleonora: A Fable,” in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1842 (Fall, 1841)
  • Dreams grow holy, put into action. Adelaide Anne Procter, “Philip and Mildred,” in Legends and Lyrics (1858)
  • Nothing in the world was ever built without a dream at the beginning. Myrtle Reed, in The Shadow of Victory (1903)
  • So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. Christopher Reeve, in speech at the Democratic National Convention (August 1996)
  • The republic is a dream./Nothing happens unless first a dream. Carl Sandburg, in “Washington Monument by Night” (1922)
  • In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Delmore Schwartz, title of short story, Partisan Review (Dec., 1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Often regarded as one of Schwarz’s most influential short stories, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” was written over a July weekend in 1935 when the author was only twenty-one, and published two and a half years later in Partisan Review’s very first issue as a literary magazine (Vladimir Nabokov had read and recommended publication of the story). Schwartz borrowed the title from William Butler Yeats, who used “In dreams begin responsibility” as the epigraph for his 1914 volume of poems Responsibilities (Yeats said he got the line from “An old play,” but did not provide the title). The entire Partisan Review issue, including Schwarz’s short story, may be seen at Partisan Review.

  • What do you pack when you pursue a dream? And what do you leave behind? Sandra Sharp, “Growing Up Integrated (Did Momma Do the Right Thing?),” in Crisis magazine (March, 1988)
  • You see things; and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?” George Bernard Shaw, the Serpent speaking, in Back to Methuselah (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This was one of Robert F. Kennedy’s favorite sayings, and it actually showed up on one of his campaign posters (without attribution) during his 1968 run for the presidency. As a result, the saying is often mistakenly attributed to RFK.

  • Wishing and dreaming are the beginning of all human endeavor. Barbara Sher, in Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want (1979)
  • I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. Henry David Thoreau, “Conclusion,” in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the opening sentence of one of the most inspiring paragraphs in literary history. It may be seen at: Walden.

  • Tell me what you dream, and I’ll tell you who you are. Elsa Triolet, in Proverbes d’Elsa (1971)
  • Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them. John Updike, in Self-Consciousness: Memoirs (1989)
  • Saddle your dreams afore you ride ’em. Mary Webb, the character Wizard Beguildy speaking, in Precious Bane (1924)
  • Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future. Elie Wiesel, “Hope, Despair and Memory”, Nobel Lecture (Dec. 11, 1986)
  • You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning. Billy Wilder, quoted in Charlotte Chandler, Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder: A Personal Biography (2002)
  • It is necessary that we dream now and then. No one ever achieved anything from the smallest to the greatest unless the dream was dreamed first. Laura Ingalls Wilder, quoted in Stephen W. Hines, Words From a Fearless Heart (1995)
  • Dreaming is the poorest of all grindstones on which to sharpen the wits. There is only one thing to do: have a fixed purpose and stick to it. Frances E. Willard, in Occupations for Women (1897)
  • For most of us, dreams come true only after they do not matter. Only in childhood do we ever have the chance of making dreams come true when they mean everything. Lois Wyse, in Far From Innocence (1979)
  • To dreamers, Truth is an unlovely thing. Frank Yerby, the voice of narrator and protagonist Nathan (the Thirteenth Disciple), in Judas, My Brother (1967)
  • Like all people who have nothing, I lived on dreams. Anzia Yezierska, “The Miracle,” in Hungry Hearts (1920)


(see also DAYDREAMS and DREAMS [Aspirational & Escapist] and NIGHTMARES and SLEEP)

  • In every human body there is a great well of silent thinking always going on…. There is a deposit of thoughts, of unexpressed emotions…. There is a heavy iron lid clamped over the mouth of the well. When the lid is safely in place one gets on all right…. Sometimes at night, in dreams, the lid trembles Sherwood Anderson, the voice of the narrator, in Many Marriages (1923)
  • Dreams have only the pigmentation of fact. Djuna Barnes, in Nightwood (1936)
  • Dreams are large possessions…they are an expansion of life, an enlightenment, and a discipline. I thank God for my dream life; my daily life would be far poorer, if it wanted the second sight of dreams. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. Emily Brontë, the character Catherine Earnshaw speaking, in Wuthering Heights (1847)
  • Everything one has forgotten cries for help in the dream. Elias Canetti, in The Human Province: 1942-1972 (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated this way: “All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.”

  • But a man who doesn’t dream is like a man who doesn’t sweat. He stores up a lot of poison. Truman Capote, in The Grass Harp (1951)
  • We live, as we dream—alone. Joseph Conrad, a reflection of narrator Charles Marlow, in Heart of Darkness (1899)
  • Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives. William Dement, quoted in Newsweek (Nov. 30, 1959)
  • People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. Isak Dinesen, in Out of Africa (1937)
  • Dreams are but interludes which fancy makes;/When monarch Reason sleeps, this mimic wakes. John Dryden, “The Cock and the Fox,” in Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700)
  • Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Daphne du Maurier, the opening words of Rebecca (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: The opening words come from an unnamed female narrator who is known only as “the second Mrs. de Winter” (the first Mrs. de Winter, of course, is the title character). The first sentence went on to become one of literary history’s most celebrated opening lines, and I was shocked when it did not appear among the American Book Review’s “100 Best First Lines from Novels” in 2006.

In an April 2012 Guardian article on “The Ten Best First Lines in Fiction,” Robert McCrum said the opening words have a “haunting brevity.” And in a July 2021 article in The Strand Magazine (“For Openers: Great First Lines of Legendary Novels”) writer Deborah Goodrich Royce wrote:

“Okay, most of us love Rebecca and can quote this sentence. But why is it so evocative? What does it do to us in a few seconds that keeps us reading this book? It sets a tone immediately and tips us off to a couple key points. First, it lets us know that something is lost to the narrator: a place called Manderley. And I, for one, want to know why. Why is this person dreaming of Manderley? It sounds like he/she can’t go there. Which naturally makes me want to go there, myself. Secondly, beginning a novel with a dream creates a hazy, unreal feeling. It evokes a gothic mood where the reader needs to pay attention to what may or may not be reality. And the author has hooked me already.”

  • Dreams wherein we often see ourselves in masquerade. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In dreams we are true poets. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Poetry and the Imagination,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)
  • What are dreams but an internal wilderness? Louise Erdrich, in The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: The full passage from which this snippet was taken was: “So what is wild? What is wilderness? What are dreams but an internal wilderness and what is desire but a wildness of the soul?” When Erdrich’s book—her first work of non-fiction—was later released in paperback, the subtitle was changed to A Memoir of Early Motherhood.

  • In forming a bridge between body and mind, dreams may be used as a springboard from which man can leap to new realms of experience lying outside his normal state of consciousness and enlarge his vision not only of himself, but also of the universe in which he lives. Ann Faraday, in Dream Power (1972)

In her book, Faraday also wrote: “The surest guide to the meaning of a dream is the feeling and judgment of the dreamer himself, who deep down inside knows its meaning.”

  • I wonder if when you dream about somebody they dream about you. Louise Fitzhugh, the title character speaking, in Harriet the Spy (1964)
  • The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. Sigmund Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams (2nd ed., 1909)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented: “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.”

  • Both dreams and myths are important communications from ourselves to ourselves. If we do not understand the language in which they are written, we miss a great deal of what we know and tell ourselves in those hours when we are not busy manipulating the outside world. Erich Fromm, quoted in The New York Times (Jan. 5, 1964)
  • We spend about 20 percent of our total sleep time in a dream state. For most of us, this means we dream one and a half hours each night or, on the average, spend four years of our lifetime in a dream state. Patricia L. Garfield, in Creative Dreaming (1974)

In her book, Garfield also offered this thought: “Whatever our problems are, dreams can provide novel ideas and sometimes magnificent resolutions.”

  • There is in every human being, I think, a native country of the mind, where, protected by inaccessible barriers, the sensitive dream life may exist safely. Ellen Glasgow, in A Certain Measure: An Interpretation of Prose Fiction (1943)
  • Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language. Gail Godwin, the voice of the protagonist Justin Stokes, in The Finishing School (1984).

Justin preceded the observation with this reflection: “I believe that dreams transport us through the undersides of our days, and that if we wish to become acquainted with the dark side of what we are, the signposts are there waiting for us to translate them.”

  • Sleep is when all the unsorted stuff comes flying out as from a dustbin upset in a high wind. William Golding, the voice of the narrator, in Pincher Martin (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, the narrator introduced the thought by saying: “Sleep is a relaxation of the conscious guard, the sorter.”

  • Who knows what part we play in other people’s dreams? Sue Grafton, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Kinsey Millhone, in “J” Is for Judgment (1993)
  • The dream police will not let me have sexual fantasies. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Notes From Abroad,” An Accidental Autobiography (1996)
  • We often forget our dreams so speedily: if we cannot catch them as they are passing out at the door, we never set eyes on them again. William Hazlitt, “On Dreams,” in The Plain Speaker (1826)
  • The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. Carl Jung, “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man” (1933); reprinted in Civilization in Transition, Vol. 10 of the Collected Works (1968)
  • The dream itself wants nothing; it is a self-evident content, a plain natural fact like the sugar in the blood of a diabetic or the fever in a patient with typhus. It is only we who, if we are clever and can unriddle the signs of nature, turn it into a warning. Carl Jung, “The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” in The Psychology of the Unconscious (1943)
  • I think a lot of times dreams are nothing more than a kind of mental or spiritual flatulence. They’re a way of relieving pressure. Stephen King, “The Symbolic Language of Dreams,” in Marjorie Ford & Jon Ford (eds.), Dreams and Inward Journeys: A Rhetoric and Reader for Writers (2003; 5th ed.)
  • A dream is actually a night movie designed to tell you a story. Viki King, in How to Write a Movie in 21 Days (1988)
  • when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the consciousness. Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal Dreams (1990)

Kingsolver preceded the thought by writing, “It takes your sleeping self years to catch up to where you really are.”

  • Dreaming is not merely an act of communication (or coded communication, if you like); it is also an aesthetic activity, a game of the imagination, a game that is a value in itself. Milan Kundera, the voice of the narrator in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

Kundera continued: “Our dreams prove that to imagine—to dream about things that have not happened—is among mankind’s deepest needs.”

  • Dreams have always been my friend, full of information, full of warnings. Doris Lessing, in Under My Skin: My Autobiography to 1949 (1994)
  • Dreams are messages from your psyche about your psyche. Diane Mariechild, in Mother Wit: A Feminist Guide To Psychic Development (1981)
  • Dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Experience,” in Essays (1580–88)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “I dream but seldom, and then of chimeras and fantastical things, commonly produced from pleasant thoughts, rather ridiculous than sad; and believe it to be true, that dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them.”

  • Dreams are perhaps the ultimate personal creation. Jill Morris, in The Dream Workbook (1985)
  • In my dreams I sleep with everybody. Anaïs Nin, a 1933 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1 (1966)

In a 1936 diary entry, Ain offered this additional observation on the subject: “Dreams are necessary to life.”

  • Gold never comes to the dreamers—except in dreams. Anaïs Nin, a 1924 diary entry, in Linotte, the Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3 (1983)
  • Dreams are…illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you. Marsha Norman, in The Fortune Teller (1987)
  • In bed my real love has always been the sleep that rescued me by allowing me to dream. Luigi Pirandello, in The Rules of the Game (1918)
  • A few months after the accident I had an idea for a short film about a quadriplegic who lives in a dream. During the day, lying in his hospital bed, he can’t move, of course. But at night he dreams that he’s whole again, and is able to do anything and go everywhere. Christopher Reeve, in Still Me (1998)
  • A dream is always simmering below the conventional surface of speech and reflection. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)
  • I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams. Susan Sontag, in The Benefactor (1963). An example of chiasmus.
  • In the drowsy dark caves of the mind/dreams build their nest with fragments/dropped from day’s caravan. Rabindranath Tagore, in Fireflies (1928)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites—and even some respected quotation anthologies—mistakenly say cave of the mind.

  • The things we ignore often come back to us in our sleep. Gene Tierney, in Self-Portrait (1979; with Mickey Herskowitz)
  • In dreams all certainties are blurred and dimmed. Dawn and dusk, reality and fantasy, merge. Elie Wiesel, in All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (1995)
  • It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)



  • When a man drinks too much at a cocktail party, he becomes tight. When a woman does—she becomes loose. Joey Adams, in Strictly for Laughs (1981)
  • Drink promises you everything, but gives nothing. Nancy Astor, in a House of Commons address, quoted in Alice Stone Blackwell, The Woman Citizen (1919)
  • Drink was the most fearsome of deceivers…for it promised one thing and came through with quite another. Kay Boyle, in Being Geniuses Together (1968; with Robert McAlmon)
  • A man’s got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink. W. C. Fields, quoted in 1972 Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Benjamin Franklin, in Autobiography (1868)
  • To drink for pleasure may be a distraction, but to drink from misery is always a danger. Ellen Glasgow, a reflection of protagonist Ada Fincastle, in Vein of Iron (1935)
  • Even though a number of people have tried, no one has yet found a way to drink for a living. Jean Kerr, the character Sydney speaking, in Poor Richard (1965)
  • A word to those of you who are trying to drown your sorrow. Please be aware that sorrow knows how to swim. Ann Landers, in Ann Lander’s Encyclopedia, A to Z (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original version of an observation that generally shows up on internet sites in the following phrasing: “People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim.”

  • Like so many other recovered alcoholics, I am to this day bewildered that it took so long for me to understand that there was no such animal as “social drinking” for me; that it had nothing to do with my willpower or self-respect or moral fiber, that it was a simple biochemical intolerance to a drug. Mercedes McCambridge, in The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (1981)
  • My anger made me drink as an escape from reality, a way of forgetting. But you don't know when the medicinal effect ends and the poisoning begins. Mercedes McCambridge, quoted in Doug McClelland, Star Speak (1987)

McCambridge was reflecting on her alcoholism after six year of sobriety. About her struggle, she said, “Overcoming alcoholism has been my greatest challenge and my greatest reward.”

  • All the great villainies of history, from the murder of Abel onward, have been perpetrated by sober men, and chiefly by teetotallers. But all the charming and beautiful things, from the Song of Songs to bouillabaisse, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the Martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from tap water to something with color to it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen. H. L. Mencken, in Selected Prejudices (1927)
  • He who has once taken to drink can seldom be said to be guilty of one sin only. Hannah More, “The History of Hester Wilmot,” in The Works of Hannah More, Vol. 1 (1841)
  • In the words of a friend of mine, I drink to make other people interesting. George Jean Nathan, quoted in The World of George Jean Nathan (1952; Charles S. Angoff, ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites and published quotation anthologies present the observation without the introductory portion, thereby suggesting that Nathan is the author of the sentiment. Beneath Nathan’s portrait in Charlie O’s bar in Manhattan the following saying is inscribed: “I only drink to make other people seem interesting.”

  • Depend upon it, of all vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness. Sir Walter Scott, quoted in John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of The Life of Sir Walter Scott, Vol 1 (1837 )
  • First the man takes a drink,/Then the drink takes a drink,/Then the drink takes takes the man. Edward Rowland Sill, in the poem “Adage from the Orient,” in The Poems of Edward Rowland Sill (1902)

Sills was purportedly passing along an ancient Japanese saying. He preceded the words by writing: “At the punch-bowl’s brink,/Let the thirsty think,/What they say in Japan.”

  • Like most women, I remember my first drink in tender minutiae. Koren Zailckas, in Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2005)


(see also COMPUTERS and WAR and WEAPONS)

  • In the age of the Almighty Computer, drones are the perfect warriors. They kill without remorse, obey without kidding around, and they never reveal the names of their masters. Eduardo Galeano, in Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (2013)



  • There’s nothing worse than an introspective drunk. Tom Sharpe, the character Peter Braintree speaking, in The Wilt Alternative (1979)



  • Authors have established it as a kind of rule, that a man ought to be dull sometimes; as the most severe reader makes allowances for many rests and nodding-places in a voluminous writer. Joseph Addison, in the Spectator (July 23, 1711)
  • There are no rules in filmmaking, only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness. Frank Capra, in The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography (1971)
  • There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics 1905)
  • In all private quarrels the duller nature is triumphant by reason of dullness. George Eliot, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others. Samuel Foote, a 1783 remark about an unnamed London jurist, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of the most famous things ever said on the subject, a clever tweak of Shakespeare’s “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men” (from his 1597 play King Henry IV, Part 2). Foote was a prominent English dramatist who was speaking about a man he described as “a law-lord, who, it seems, once took a fancy to associate with the wits of London.” Foote preceded his insult by saying, “What can he mean by coming among us?” The remark is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Dr. Johnson, who also had something interesting to say on the subject (see below).

  • Beware the mediocrity that threatens middle age, its limitation of thought and interest, its dullness of fancy, its too external life, and mental thinness. Margaret Fuller, in Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1840)
  • Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him great. Dr. Samuel Johnson, a 1775 remark about the English poet Thomas Gray, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Those who have mastered etiquette, who are entirely, impeccably right, would seem to arrive at a point of exquisite dullness. Dorothy Parker, “Mrs. Post Enlarges on Etiquette,” in The New Yorker (Dec. 31, 1927); reprinted in The Portable Dorothy Parker (1944; rev. 1973)
  • It is a good thing if two uninteresting people marry and keep their dullness to themselves. Elizabeth C. Taylor, in “Hester Lilly,” the title story of Hester Lilly and Twelve Short Stories (1954)
  • Dullness is the coming of age of seriousness. Oscar Wilde, “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” originally published in The Chameleon [Oxford Univ. student magazine] (Dec., 1894)
  • Dullness is a misdemeanor. Ethel Wilson, in Ethel Wilson: Stories, Essays, and Letters (1988; David Stouck, ed.)





  • It is easy to become the dupe of a deferred purpose, of the promise the future can never keep. Jane Addams, in Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)
  • A flow of words is a sure sign of duplicity. Honoré de Balzac, in letter from the character Don Felipe Hénarez, in Letters of Two Brides (serialized 1841; published 1842)
  • A man’s own vanity is a swindler that never lacks for a dupe. Honoré de Balzac, the voice of the narrator, in The Jealousies of a Country Town [originally Les Rivalités] (1898)
  • Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. William Beveridge, in Full Employment in a Free Society (1944)
  • Dishonesty is the raw material not of quacks only, but also in great part of dupes. Thomas Carlyle, “Count Cagliostro” (1833); in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1839)
  • Evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin. G. K. Chesterton, “What is Eugenics?” in Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State (1922)
  • Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life. Kate Chopin, the character Edna Pontellier speaking in The Awakening (1899)
  • Duplicity is a mark of second-rate ability. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • We begin as dupes and end as scoundrels. Antoinette Deshoulières, in Reflexion sur le jeu (1675)

QUOTE NOTE: The literal translation is “Reflections on the Game,” but I believe, since the book was about her interest in gambling, that she might have been happy with Reflections on Gaming as an English title.

  • A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • The head is always the dupe of the heart. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Man is the yokel par excellence, the booby unmatchable, the king dupe of the cosmos. He is chronically and unescapably deceived, not only by the other animals and by the delusive face of nature herself,but also and more particularly by himself—by his incomparable talent for searching out and embracing what is false, and for overlooking and denying what is true. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices: Third Series (1922)



  • Happiness isn’t a moral force. It’s a duty. W. H. Auden, in Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman (1996; Thekla Clark, ed.)
  • Duty, n. That which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • If you ask me, nobody really likes people who are always doing their duty. Agatha Christie, an unnamed elderly gardener speaking, in The Hallowe’en Party (1969)
  • When one has come to accept a certain course as duty he has a pleasant sense of relief and of lifted responsibility, even if the course involves pain and renunciation. Charles Horton Cooley, in Human Nature and the Social Order (1902)

Cooley added: “It is like obedience to some external authority: any clear way, though it leads to death, is mentally preferable to the tangle of uncertainty.”

  • The life of pleasure breeds boredom. The life of duty breeds resentment. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • When two duties jostle each other, one of ’em isn’t a duty. Margaret Deland, the character Cousin Mary speaking, in The Promises of Alice (1919)
  • Do your duty until it becomes your joy. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another. George Eliot, the character Mordecai quoting a Hebrew sage, in Daniel Deronda (1874-76)
  • Oh! Duty is an icy shadow. It will freeze you. It cannot fill the heart’s sanctuary. Augusta Jane Evans, in Beulah (1859)
  • Duty largely consists of pretending that the trivial is critical. John Fowles, the character Conchis speaking, in The Magus (1965)
  • Duty is but a pot, it holds whatever is put in it, from the greatest evil to the greatest good. John Fowles, a reflection of protagonist Charles Smithson, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
  • The last pleasure in life is the sense of discharging our duty. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect. Robert A. Heinlein, entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)

Long preceded the thought by writing: “Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different.”

  • What’s a man’s first duty? The answer’s brief: to be himself. Henrik Ibsen, the title character speaking, in Peer Gynt (1867)

Gynt went on to add: “But how/Can he do this if his existence/Is that of a pack-camel, laden/With some one else’s weal and woe.”

  • Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail. Thomas Jefferson, in The Rights of British America (1774)
  • Without duty, life is soft and boneless; it cannot hold itself together. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • He gives only the worthless gold/Who gives from a sense of duty. James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal” (1848)
  • Oh duty,/Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie? Ogden Nash, “Kind of an Ode to Duty,” in The Face is Familiar (1941)
  • One only says it is one’s duty when one has something disagreeable to do; and I am not doing anything disagreeable Margaret Oliphant, the character Nettie speaking, in The Doctor’s Family (1863)
  • 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)
  • One of the most destructive anti-concepts in the history of moral philosophy is the term “duty.” Ayn Rand, “Causality Versus Duty” (1970), in Philosophy: Who Needs It? (1982)

Rand continued:“An anti-concept is an artificial, unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The term ‘duty’ obliterates more than single concepts; it is a metaphysical and psychological killer: it negates all the essentials of a rational view of life and makes them inapplicable to man’s actions.”

  • A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not to be endured with patient resignation. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty. George Bernard Shaw, the character Apollodorus speaking, in Caesar and Cleopatra (1906)
  • There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. Robert Louis Stevenson, “An Apology for Idlers,” in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • It is easier to do one’s duty to others than to one’s self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish. Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” in The Second Sin (1973)
  • Duties are not performed for duty’s sake, but because their neglect would make the man uncomfortable. A man performs but one duty—the duty of contenting his spirit, the cuty of making himself agreeable to himself. Mark Twain, the Old Man speaking, in the short story “What is Man?” (1906)
  • Duty should be a byproduct. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)
  • Wherever and whatever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty by close application thereto, it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more persons are employed therein. George Washington, in letter to Secretary of War Henry Knox (Sep. 24, 1792)
  • The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else. Edith Wharton, a reflection of protagonist Newland Archer, in The Age of Innocence (1920)
  • Duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)
  • Sometimes duties act on the soul like weeds on a flower. They crowd it out. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, the title character speaking, in “The Balking of Christopher,” in The Copy-Cat and Other Stories (1914)

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