Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“E” Quotations



  • I don’t make music for eyes. I make music for ears. Adele, quoted in Touré, “Adele Opens Up,” Rolling Stone magazine (April 28, 2011)
  • The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar, and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel, and is bored by repetition. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • The ear of the beholder. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: I first came across this clever tweaking of the “eye of the beholder” saying in the early 1970s (when I discovered it in the title of a Ph.D. dissertation), but I’ve learned that it goes back decades earlier. The earliest appearance I’ve found came from an anonymously-authored 1929 review of the new “talkie” film The Virginian (based on Owen Wister’s 1902 novel by the same title, later adapted into a popular 1904 Broadway play). The review from a Nov. 17, 1929 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer said: “The film presents to the eye and the ear of the beholder every living detail of the pulse-quickening story. One hears the bellowing of a thousand head of cattle, the the shouts of the cowboys as they drive the stampeding heard through the swift-flowing current of a river; one hears the cowboys 'round the crackling camp-fire, chanting their typical ditties; a dance hall in full blast; one hears the wind in the pines, bird songs, the pounding of horses' hoofs; school kids singing; and one hears Gary Cooper in the title role, his first full-dialogue part, delivering that famous line: ‘When you call me that, smile.’”

  • Does not the ear try words as the palate tastes food? The Bible—Job 12:11 (RSV) 

The King James Version has: “Doth not the ear try words? And the mouth taste his meat?”

  • The hearing ear is always found close to the speaking tongue. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Race,” in English Traits (2856)
  • We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Epictetus, quoted in The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (1909; Hastings Crossley, ed. & trans.)
  • Eyes are more accurate witnesses than ears. Heraclitus in Fragments (6th c. B.C.)
  • Men trust their ears less than their eyes. Herodotus, in The Histories of Herodotus (5th c. B.C.)
  • I found that of the senses, the eye is the most superficial, the ear the most arrogant, smell the most voluptuous, taste the most superstitious and fickle, touch the most profound and the most philosophical. Helen Keller, “Sense and Sensibility,” in a 1908 issue of Century magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. William Shakespeare, the character Antony speaking, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice. William Shakespeare, the character Polonious speaking, in Hamlet (1599)
  • I have often lamented that we cannot close our ears with as much ease as we can our eyes. Richard Steele, in The Spectator (Aug. 20, 1711)

[Pierced] EARS

(see BODY [Piercing])



  • Patience is only one faculty; earnestness the devotion of all the faculties. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 1 (1862)

Bovee continued: “Earnestness is the cause of patience; it gives endurance, overcomes pain, strengthens weakness, braves dangers, sustains hope, makes light of difficulties, and lessens the sense of weariness in overcoming them.”

  • Earnest people are often people who habitually look on the serious side of things that have no serious side. Van Wyck Brooks, in From a Writer’s Notebook (1958)
  • The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. Anne Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)
  • There is ever a slight suspicion of the burlesque about earnest, good men. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1840 journal entry
  • Taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human being becomes a bore. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)

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

  • The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Oscar Wilde, title of 1895 play



  • 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)
  • Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. Willa Cather, the character Father Latour describing New Mexico, in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
  • Earth, with her thousand voices, praises God. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in “Hymn Before Sunrise” (1802)
  • Earth laughs in flowers. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Hamatreya,” in Poems (1846)
  • Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it. R. Buckminster Fuller, in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: Fuller introduced the metaphor several years earlier in an essay (“The Prospect for Humanity”) in which he wrote, “For at least 2,000,000 years men have been reproducing and multiplying on a little automated spaceship called earth” (Saturday Review, Aug. 29, 1964). The original notion that the earth was a ship floating in space was introduced by Henry George in his classic 1879 work Progress and Poverty (see the George entry below). For more on the nature and history of the concept, go to Spaceship Earth.

  • It is a well provisioned ship this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch and there is a new supply of which before we never dreamed. Henry George, on earth, in Progress and Poverty (1879)

George continued: “And very great command over the services of others comes to those who as the hatches are opened are permitted to say, ‘This is mine!’”

  • The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. Thomas Jefferson, in a 1785 letter to James Madison
  • Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest. Douglas Jerrold, on Australia, “A Land of Plenty,” in The Wit and Opinions of Douglas Jerrold (1859)
  • On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers; everybody is a member of the crew. Marshall McLuhan, “At the Moment of Sputnik,” Journal of Communication (Winter, 1974)

McLuhan added: “We have moved into an age in which everybody’s activities affect everybody else.”

  • The earth doesn’t have a housekeeper to do the dusting. Pablo Picasso, remark in interview (Oct. 20, 1943), reprinted in Gilberte Brassaï, Conversations With Picasso (1999; originally published in French ed. in 1964)
  • Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground./It may be, could we look with seeing eyes,/This spot we stand on is a Paradise. Christina Rossetti, “Later Life,” in A Pageant: And Other Poems (1881)

The poem continued that earth was a place “Where dead have come to life and lost been found,/Where Faith has triumphed, Martyrdom been crowned,/Where fools have foiled the wisdom of the wise.”

  • The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Carl Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994)

Sagan continued: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”

  • Unless the gentle inherit the earth,/There will be no earth. May Sarton, playing off the Matthew 5:5 passage, in “New Year Poem,” The Silence Now (1988)
  • The longer I live the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum. George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Judge Henry Neil in a Sep. 1, 1919 Letter to the Editor, New York Tribune (published Sep. 14, 1919)

Many thanks to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, for not only tracking down the original source of this popular Shaw quotation, but also providing the backstory.

  • I believe more and more that God must not be judged on this earth. It is one of His sketches that has turned out badly. Vincent Van Gogh, quoted in Albert Camus, “Rebellion and Art,” The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (1951)
  • I hold one share in the corporate earth and am uneasy about the management. E. B. White, “Letter From the East,” in The Points of My Compass: Letters From the East, the West, the North, the South (1962); reprinted in An E. B. White Reader (1966)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it read I have one share or I own one share.

  • That is the stimulus of nature; it is never, never old, and always developing. Even the scarred, wrinkled earth herself is a mere infant among the old ladies and gentlemen that tread foot-paths in the sky. Mabel Osgood Wright, in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)




  • When it comes to eating, you can sometimes help yourself more by helping yourself less. Richard Armour, “Let the Quips Fall Where They May,” in 1 1949 issue of The Writer (specific issue undetermined)
  • I’m inclined to think that eating is a private thing and should be done alone, like other bodily functions. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, in Myself (1967)
  • Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk. Margaret Atwood, in The CanLit Foodbook: From Pen to Palate—A Collection of Tasty Literary Fare (1987)
  • 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 almost certainly served as the basis for the popular modern saying you are what you eat.

  • Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. Samuel Butler, “Mind and Matter,” in Notebooks (1912)
  • Man is a carnivorous production,/And must have meals, at least one meal a day;/He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,/But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan, Canto II (1823)

Lord Byron added: “Although his anatomical construction/Bears vegetables, in a grumbling way,/Your laboring people think beyond all question,/Beef, veal, and mutton better for digestion.”

  • The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance of a saying that went on to become a popular proverb about judging by results rather than appearances.

  • Eating without conversation is only stoking. Marcelene Cox, in a 1943 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal
  • It’s a very odd thing—/As odd as can be—/That whatever Miss T eats/Turns into Miss T. Walter de la Mare, in “Miss T” (1913)
  • He didn’t play with his food anymore till it got cold; instead, down it went like a fuel into a furnace keeping the ovens hot, and the energy at boiling point. Shelagh Delaney, “Tom Riley,” in Sweetly Sings the Donkey (1963)
  • Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Benjamin Franklin, in Autobiography (1868)
  • If you are ever at a loss to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating. Leigh Hunt, in Table-Talk (1851)
  • The whole of nature, as has been said, is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and the passive. W. R. Inge, “Confessio Fidei,” in Outspoken Essays: Second Series (1922)
  • The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth. Frances Moore Lappé, in Diet for a Small Planet (1971)
  • Greater numbers dig their graves with their own teeth, and die more by those fatal instruments than the weapons of their enemies. Thomas Moffet (1553–1604), in Health’s Improvement (c. 1590)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and many published quotation anthologies—present the quotation as if it began Men dig their graves…. The word fated is also often mistakenly presented instead of fatal. Moffet was an English naturalist and physician whose name is commonly spelled Muffet in reference sources. He appears to be the first person in history to offer this now-popular metaphor. The expression is commonly attributed to Fannie Hurst, who wrote in Anatomy of Me: A Wanderer in Search of Herself (1958): “We dig our graves with our teeth.”

  • Eat slowly: only men in rags/And gluttons old in sin/Mistake themselves for carpet bags/and tumble victuals in. Walter Alexander Raleigh, “Stans pure ad mensal,” in Laughter From a Cloud (1923)
  • The first freedom of man, I contend, is the freedom to eat. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow is Now (1963)
  • To eat is to appropriate by destruction. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Doing and Having,” in Being and Nothingness (1943)
  • We use eating as a medium for social relationships: satisfaction of the most individual of needs becomes a means of creating community. Margaret Visser, in The Rituals of Dinner (1991)



  • I certainly do not adore the writer’s discipline. I have lost lovers, endangered friendships, and blundered into eccentricity, impelled by a concentration which usually is to be found only in the minds of people about to be executed in the next half hour. Maya Angelou, quoted in Mari Evans, Black Women Writers [1950-1980] (1984)
  • If other people…think I’m eccentric and unpredictable, it is because my actions and opinions are inconsistent with their principles, if they have any; I assure you that they’re quite consistent with mine. John Barth, the voice of narrator and protagonist Todd Andrews, in The Floating Opera (1956; rev. ed. in 1967)
  • Los Angeles is a sophisticated city; it has no eccentricities and no heart. Stella Benson, in The Little World (1925)
  • Eccentricity, n. A method of distinction so cheap that fools employ it to accentuate their incapacity. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • It’s true that living alone for years makes you eccentric. I talk to my cat. Why lie? Over the years I’ve developed the habit of actually answering myself, in the cat’s voice (or what I imagine her voice to be). Stephanie Brush, in a 1993 issue of McCall's magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • My father was eccentric, peculiar, and unprepared for reality. This worked out fine, because reality and my father were rarely on speaking terms. Brett Butler, in Knee Deep in Paradise (1996)

A moment later, Butler continued: “For my father it was a private war, a cause to be won, and he fought it on a grand scale. And because he fought alone, he was both the victor and the casualty.”

  • The South is often noted for its eccentric characters, both real and fictional, and I was there long enough to know that “normal” either becomes a divine ambition or a malediction. Brett Butler, in Knee Deep in Paradise (1996)
  • The English like eccentrics. They just don’t like them living next door. Julian Clary, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (Sep. 2, 1992)
  • The surest way of being considered eccentric is just to be yourself. So few of us have the nerve. Marjorie Benton Cooke, in Bambi (1914)
  • There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup from cans. Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking (1988)
  • 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. Henry Steele Commager, in 1954 address at the National Conference on Adult Education.

Commager continued: “Free society must fertilize the soil in which non-conformity and dissent and individualism can grow.”

  • “Eccentricities of genius, Sam,” said Mr. Pickwick. Charles Dickens, in The Pickwick Papers (1837)
  • As a result of Auntie’s standard nonconformity…it is sometimes a little difficult to tell when her natural eccentricity crosses into territory better understood by the professionals. Alexandra Fuller, in Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (2011)
  • Now that he was rich he was not thought ignorant any more, but simply eccentric. Mavis Gallant, in The Pegnitz Junction (1973)
  • Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries. Jenny Holzer, in Truisms and Essays (1983)
  • We might define an eccentric as a man who is a law unto himself, and a crank as one who, having determined what the law is, insists on laying it down to others. Louis Kronenberger, “The One and the Many,” in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)

Kronenberger continued: “An eccentric puts ice cream on steak simply because he likes it; should a crank do so, he would endow the act with moral grandeur and straightaway denounce as sinners (or reactionaries) all who failed to follow suit…. Cranks, at their most familiar, are a sort of peevish prophets, and it’s not enough that they should be in the right; others must also be in the wrong.”

  • It is to the eccentrics that the world owes most of its knowledge. Rose Macaulay, in a 1955 letter, quoted in Constance Babington-Smith, Last Letters to a Friend (1962)
  • Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty 1859)
  • An agenda, no matter how bizarre, is the difference between eccentric and mad as a hatter. Joyce Rebeta-Burditt, in Buck Naked (1996)
  • Variety, individuality, peculiarity, eccentricity and indeed crankiness are agreeable to the British mind; they make life more interesting. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Unpopular Opinions (1946)
  • People who are eccentric enough to be quite seriously virtuous understand each other everywhere, discover each other easily, and form a silent opposition to the ruling immorality that happens to pass for morality. Friedrich Schlegel, in Philosophical Fragments(1991)
  • I am not an eccentric. It’s just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel in a pool of catfish. Edith Sitwell, in Life (1963)
  • Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd. Edith Sitwell, in Taken Care Of: An Autobiography (1965)
  • I'm convinced England’s overflowing with eccentric people, places, happenings. Indeed, you might say eccentricity’s normal in England. Dodie Smith, in The New Moon With the Old (1963)
  • I never took the bus. Never. Walking meant you were eccentric or pious or a loser—riding the bus meant you were insane or masochistic and worse than a loser. Susan Straight, “The Golden Gopher,” quoted in Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Noir (2007)
  • Before you can be eccentric you must know where the circle is. Ellen Terry, in The Story of My Life: Recollections and Reflections (1908)

Dame Ellen preceded the thought by writing: “There is all the difference in the world between departure from recognized rules by one who has learned to obey them, and neglect of them through want of training or want of skill or want of understanding.”

  • You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds. Henry David Thoreau, in letter to Lucy Brown (March 2, 1842)
  • We all try to be alike in our youth, and individual in our middle age…although we sometimes mistake eccentricity for individuality. Mrs. Alec Tweedie [Ethel Brilliana Tweedie], in Behind the Footlights (1904)
  • This passionate yearning for solitude, so necessary to genius yet so difficult to obtain, is perhaps the very cause of the strange, irritable, cynical eccentricities of temper and manner so often observable in the priesthood of intellect. Lady Speranza Wilde, “Miss Martineau,” in Notes on Men, Women, and Books (1891)
  • I have always noticed that when people consider others eccentric, it is because they are reveling in some form of enjoyment that their critics can neither compass nor share. Mabel Osgood Wright, in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)



  • What is the use of building a great city if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to build it on? Edward Abbey, in address at a protest demonstration at Colorado’s Glen Canyon Dam (March, 1981)

Abbey went on to add: “How can we create a civilization for for the dignity of free men and women if the globe itself is ravaged and polluted and defiled and insulted?

  • We have probed the earth, excavated it, burned it, ripped things from it, buried things in it, chopped down its forests, leveled its hills, muddied its waters, and dirtied its air. That does not fit my definition of a good tenant. If we were here on a month-to-month basis, we would have been evicted long ago. Rose Bird, in San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle (Dec. 18, 1977)
  • The First Law of Ecology: Everything is Connected to Everything Else. Barry Commoner, in The Closing Circle (1971)

QUOTE NOTE: Commoner, a pioneering figure in the Green movement, was once described by Time magazine as “the Paul Revere of the environmental movement.” He also went on to articulate several additional Laws of Ecology. The Second was “Everything Must Go Somewhere.” The Third was “Nature Knows Best.” And the Fourth was “There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

  • Ecology has become the political substitute for the word * “motherhood.” Jess Unruh, quoted in Newsweek (Jan. 26, 1985)



  • We’ve had trickle-down economics in the country for ten years now, and most of us aren’t even damp yet. Molly Ivins, “Deep Voodoo,” in Mother Jones magazine (Jan-Feb, 1991)

Ivins added: “It’s time we tried percolate-up economics.”



  • Ecstasy is what everyone craves—not love or sex, but a hot-blooded, soaring intensity, in which being alive is a joy and a thrill. That enravishment doesn’t give meaning to life, and yet without it life seems meaningless. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)
  • Ecstasy, I think, is a soul’s response to the waves holiness makes as it nears. Annie Dillard, in For the Time Being (1999)
  • Ecstasy cannot be constant, or it would kill. Eleanor Farjeon, in Portrait of a Family (1935)
  • Ecstasy cannot last, but can carve a channel for something lasting. E. M. Forster, the narrator describing the relationship between Clive and Maurice, in Maurice (pub. posthumously; 1971)

QUOTE NOTE: Originally written in 1913–14, Maurice is a love story about a homosexual couple that was published a year after Forster’s death, at age 90, in 1970. Homosexuality was illegal in England at the time of the novel’s writing, so Forster decided to forego publication. His concern about the potential impact on his literary reputation may be deduced from a handwritten note found in the manuscript: “Publishable, but worth it?” Forster revised the manuscript several times during his lifetime and showed it to a number of friends, including Christopher Isherwood. The quotation above—a spectacular metaphor that deserves to be more widely known—was originally part of this fuller passage: “During the next two years Maurice and Clive had as much happiness as men under that star can expect. They were affectionate and consistent by nature, and, thanks to Clive, extremely sensible. Clive knew that ecstasy cannot last, but can carve a channel for something lasting, and he contrived a relation that proved permanent.

  • I started with poetry because it was direct, immediate, and short. It was the ecstasy of striking matches in the dark. Erica Jong, in the Preface to What Do Women Want? (1998)
  • I feel often very close to the ecstasy and anguish which lie at the very heart of poetry—I am writing a lot. May Sarton, a 1959 remark, quoted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Among the Usual Days (1993)
  • The emotion, the ecstasy of love, we all want, but God spare us the responsibility. Jessamyn West, in Love Is Not What You Think (1959)



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

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



  • There are editors, it is apparently an occupational hazard, who cannot leave a piece, or a line of a piece, intact—eating through a text, leaf and branch, like tent caterpillars, leaving everywhere their mark. Renata Adler, in Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker (2000)
  • Prostitutes have clients, wives have husbands,/Poets, you will understand, have editors. Elizabeth Bartlett, “My Five Gentleman,” in Two Women Dancing: New & Selected Poems (1995)
  • There’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam’s Uncle Josh (1972)
  • The poem will please if it is lively—if it is stupid it will fail—but I will have none of your damned cutting and slashing. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in letter to his publisher, John Murray (April 6, 1819)
  • I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. Truman Capote, on editing his work, quoted in Lawrence Grobel, Conversations with Capote (1985)
  • Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir. Emily Dickinson, in letter to T. W. Higginson (July, 1862)
  • The verb edit was back-formed from editor. R. M. W. Dixon, Making New Words (2014)
  • When you see a manuscript as an editor…you’re at ease in the book the way a surgeon is at ease in a human chest, with all the blood and the guts and everything. E. L. Doctorow, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1986)

Doctorow added: “You’re familiar with the material and you can toss it around and say dirty things to the nurse.”

  • A good, let alone a great editor is an obsessive autocrat with a whim of iron, who rewrites and rewrites, cuts and slashes, until every piece is exactly the way he thinks it should have been done. Peter F. Drucker, on magazine and newspaper editors, in Adventures of a Bystander (1978)

Drucker preceded the observation by writing: “Good editors are not ‘permissive’; they do not let their colleagues do ‘their thing’; they make sure that everybody does the ‘paper’s thing’.”

  • Each manuscript laid on my desk was a carcass, to be stripped of its fat and gristle and made sufficiently presentable for the somewhat less than lustrous showcase in which it would eventually appear. Joseph Epstein, on his early job as an editor at The New Leader, in In a Cardboard Belt! Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage (2007)
  • An editor should have a pimp for a brother so he’d have someone to look up to. Gene Fowler, quoted in Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1995)
  • Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts. Gene Fowler, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat. Robert Heinlein, quoted in William Safire & Leonard Safir, Good Advice on Writing (1992)
  • The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it. Ernest Hemingway, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1958)
  • In writing as in gardening, prune prune prune. Sollace Mitchell, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 28, 2023)
  • Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too. Blake Morrison, “Black Day for the Blue Pencil,” in The Guardian (London, Aug. 5, 2005)
  • All writers know how hard it is to practice tough love on the children of our verbiage. Kick, the silly, labored metaphor out of the house. P. J. O’Rourke, “Computers Invite a Tangled Web of Complications,” The New York Times (Oct.. 8, 2001)

QUOTE NOTE: According to O’Rourke, it’s always difficult to edit one’s first drafts, but it’s even more difficult for those using a computer rather than typewriter. About that silly, labored metaphor mentioned above, he wrote: “But with a computer, that metaphor is back by dinner time, claiming a rightful place in the family of the final draft.”

  • If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” Arthur Quiller-Couch, in On the Art of Writing (1916)

QUOTE NOTE: Quiller-Couch’s recommendation was likely inspired by a valuable piece of writing advice that Dr. Samuel Johnson said he received from his college tutor: “Read over your compositions and where ever (sic) you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), Stephen King echoed Quiller-Couch’s admonition: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

  • Editing is the same as quarreling with writers—same thing exactly. Harold Ross, quoted in Time (March 6, 1950)
  • Nobody stands taller than those willing to stand corrected. William Safire, in The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time (2004)

Safire preceded the thought by writing: “Those of us in language’s artful dodge who make a living correcting others must learn to strike a noble pose and take the gaff when we goof.”

  • Having a manuscript under Ross’s scrutiny was like putting your car in the hands of a skilled mechanic, not an automotive engineer with a bachelor of science degree, but a guy who knows what makes a motor go, and sputter, and wheeze, and sometimes comes to a dead stop; a man with an ear for the faintest body squeak as well as the loudest engine rattle. James Thurber, on New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross, in The Years With Ross (1959)

Thurber masterfully extended the mechanic metaphor by writing: “When you first gazed, appalled, upon an uncorrected proof of one of your stories or articles, each margin had a thicket of queries and complaints—one writer got a hundred and forty-four on one profile. It was as though you beheld the works of your car spread all over the garage floor, and the job of getting the thing together again and making it work seemed impossible. Then you realized that Ross was trying to make your Model T or old Stutz Bearcat into a Cadillac or Rolls-Royce. He was at work with the tools of his unflagging perfectionism, and, after an exchange of growls or snarls, you set to work to join him in his enterprise.”

  • It’s a little like going to the tailor or barber. I have never liked haircuts and I don’t like being edited, even slightly. John Updike, on being edited, in interview on “Blue Pencil,” BBC-Radio (Aug. 6, 1995)
  • Listen, there were creative writing teachers long before there were creative writing courses, and they were called and continue to be called editors. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “Despite Tough Guys, Life is Not the Only School for Real Novelists,” in The New York Times (May 24, 1999)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Vonnegut’s reply to a New York Times editor who asked, “Can you really teach anyone to write?” He went on to add that “The best creative writing teachers, like the best editors, excel at teaching, not necessarily at writing.” The complete article may be seen at Vonnegut on Editors.

  • No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft. H. G. Wells, quoted in George Plimpton, The Writer’s Chapbook (1989)
  • Revise, revise, revise. I cannot stress this enough. Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn’t. Colson Whitehead, “How to Write,” in The New York Times (July 26, 2012)

Whitehead added: “It’s like washing the dishes two days later instead of right after you finish eating.”

  • It is my contention that a really great novel is made with a knife and not a pen. Frank Yerby, in Harvey Breit, “Talk With Frank Yerby,” New York Times Book Review (May 13, 1951)

Yerby added: “A novelist must have the intestinal fortitude to cut out even the most brilliant passage so long as it doesn’t advance the story.”

  • Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind. New varieties sprout overnight, and by noon they are part of American speech. William Zinsser, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

A little earlier in the book, Zinsser had written: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”



  • What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to an human soul. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Nov. 6, 1711)
  • The educator must believe in the potential power of his pupil, and he must employ all his art in seeking to bring his pupil to experience this power. Alfred Adler, quoted in Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: A Biography (1939)
  • Native ability without education is like a tree which bears no fruit. Aristippus (5th c. B.C.), quoted in Edward Parsons Day, Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The original source for this quotation has never been identified. See my note on the quote in the ABILITY section.

  • The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Aristotle, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • The aim of education is to induce the largest amount of neurosis that the individual can bear without cracking. W. H. Auden, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (London; 1966; specific date undetermined)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation, though widely cited, has not been found in Auden’s works, and may be apocryphal.

  • Education. The path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. Author Unknown, quoted in Leo Rosten, Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter (1989)

ERROR ALERT: This saying is widely misattributed to Mark Twain.

  • Nine-tenths of education is encouragement. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites and many published quotation anthologies attribute this saying to the French writer Anatole France, but there is no evidence he authored it.

  • The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration. Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind (1987)
  • If you think education is expensive—try ignorance. Derek Bok, quoted in Paul Dickson, The Official Rules (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying from the then-president of Harvard University took on a life of its own when bumper stickers bearing the quotation began showing up on automobiles all over America. In the Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro says the saying had appeared without attribution in a 1975 Washington Post article.

  • The goal of education is disciplined understanding. Jerome S. Bruner, “After John Dewey, What?” in Saturday Review (June 17, 1961)

Bruner went on to add: “To understand something is, first, to give up some other way of conceiving of it. Between one way of conceiving and a better way, there often lies confusion.”

  • I would urge that the yeast of education is the idea of excellence, and the idea of excellence comprises as many forms as there are individuals, each of whom develops his own image of excellence. The school must have as one of its principal functions the nurturing of images of excellence. Jerome S. Bruner, “After John Dewey, What?” in Saturday Review (June 17, 1961)
  • To live for a time close to great minds is the best kind of education. John Buchan, in Memory Hold-the-Door: The Autobiography of John Buchan (1940)
  • Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. G. K. Chesterton, quoted in The Observer (London; July 6, 1924)
  • I wonder how many parents realize that by the so-called education they are giving their children, they are only driving them into the commonplace, and depriving them of any chance of doing anything beautiful or original. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • Sixty years ago I knew everything. Now I know nothing. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. Will Durant, quoted in “Books: The Great Gadfly” (a review of The Age of Voltaire by Will and Ariel Durant), Time magazine (Oct. 8, 1965)
  • Education is all a matter of building bridges. Ralph Ellison, “What These Children Are Like,” in Going Through the Territory (1986)
  • You send your child to the schoolmaster, but ’tis the schoolboys who educate him. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Culture,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

ERROR ALERT: The quotation is often mistakenly presented: “I pay the schoolmaster, but ’tis the schoolboys that educate my son.”

  • Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon. E. M. Forster, quoted in The Observer (Oct. 7, 1951)
  • An education which does not cultivate the will is an education that depraves the mind. It is a teacher’s duty to teach the pupil how to will Anatole France, the title character speaking, in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many respected quotation anthologies mistakenly present the first portion of the observation as if it were worded deprives instead of depraves.

  • Genius without Education is like Silver in the Mine. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (August 1750)
  • Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. Robert Frost, quoted in Reader’s Digest (April 1960)
  • Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. John W. Gardner, in Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society (1964)

Gardner continued: “We are stuffing their heads with the products of earlier innovation rather than teaching them to innovate. We think of the mind as a storehouse to be filled when we should be thinking of it as an instrument to be used.”

  • Education does much, but encouragement is everything. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in letter to A. F. Oeser (Nov. 9, 1786); quoted in Early and Miscellaneous Letters of J. W. Goethe (1884; Edward Bell, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has been also translated in other ways, with the word education sometimes being replaced by instruction, and at other times by correction (the final passage is the same in all, though).

  • The philosophical aim of education must be to get each one out of his isolated class and into the one humanity. Paul Goodman, in Compulsory Miseducation (1964)
  • To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is to be educated. Edith Hamilton, in The Ever-Present Past (1964)

Hamilton preceded the observation by writing: “It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life.”

  • The most worthwhile form of education is the kind that puts the educator inside you, as it were, so that the appetite for learning persists long after the external pressure for grades and degrees has vanished. Otherwise you are not educated; you are merely trained. Sydney J. Harris, “The More We Know, the More We Can Ask,” in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners, where troubles fester; and the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Education is the art of making man ethical. Georg W. F. Hegel, in The Philosophy of Right (1821)
  • Learning starts with failure, the first failure is the beginning of education. John Hersey, in The Child Buyer (1960)
  • My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and to inflame their intellects. Robert Maynard Hutchins, quoted in Reader’s Digest (July, 1935)
  • The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values. W. R. Inge, in “The Training of the Reason,” in A. C. Benson, Cambridge Essays on Education (1917)
  • Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know, that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose, is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles, who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to George Wythe (August 13, 1786)
  • The highest result of education is tolerance. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: Keller was referring to religious tolerance here. She continued: “Long ago men fought and died for their faith, but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage—the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience.”

  • The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. C. S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man (1943)
  • Education is the great engine of personal development. Nelson Mandela, in Long Walk to Freedom (1994)

Mandela continued: “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

  • Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela, address at Johannesburg Planetarium (July 16, 2003); in Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012)
  • I hold Education to be an organic necessity of a human being. Horace Mann, in Thoughts Selected From the Writings of Horace Mann (1872)
  • A good deal of education consists in un-learning—the breaking of bad habits as with a tennis serve. Mary McCarthy, in How I Grew (1987)
  • People commonly educate their children as they build their houses, according to some plan they think beautiful, without considering whether it is suited to the purposes for which they are designed. Mary Wortley Montagu, letter to Lady Bute, her daughter (Feb. 19, 1750); in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)
  • The world of education is like an island where people, cut off from the world, are prepared for life by exclusion from it. Maria Montessori, in The Absorbent Mind (1949)

In the book, published three years before her death at age eighty-one, Montessori also wrote: “If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.”

  • The basic task of education is the care and feeding of the imagination. Katherine Paterson, in The Spying Heart: More Thoughts on Reading and Writing Books for Children (1989)
  • The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. Plutarch, “On Listening to Lectures,” in Moralia (1st c. A.D.).

ERROR ALERT: A very similar observation (“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”) is routinely attributed to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, but no evidence has been presented that Yeats ever wrote or said anything like it. The supposed Yeats quotation was offered in a 1992 congressional hearing—without any citation, of course—and was given a huge boost when the editors of Reader’s Digest included it in a 1997 collection of “Quotable Quotes.”

QUOTE NOTE: The Plutarch quotation above (sometimes with the word ignited instead of kindled), appears to be a pithy distillation of Plutarch’s original observation. The Loeb Classical Library offered this more formal version in a 1927 translation of Moralia: “For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.”

  • ’Tis education forms the common mind,/Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined. Alexander Pope, “To Lord Cobham,” in Epistles to Several Persons (1734)
  • The word “educate” is closely related to the word “educe.” In the oldest pedagogic sense of the term, this meant a drawing out of a person something potential or latent. Neil Postman, in Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)
  • It is as impossible to withhold education from the receptive mind, as it is impossible to force it upon the unreasoning. Agnes Repplier, “The American Credo,” in Times and Tendencies (1931)
  • My own education operated by a succession of eye-openers each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief. George Bernard Shaw, in The Quintessence of G.B.S.: The Wit and Wisdom of Bernard Shaw (1949; Stephen Winsten, ed.)
  • Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten. B. F. Skinner, “Education in 1984,” in Scientist magazine (May 21, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Skinner was inspired by a popular Mark Twain quotation: “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.“ The quotation appeared in Twain’s Notebook (1935), published twenty-five years after his death.

  • One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people’s motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans—anything except reason. Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” in Townhall.com (Sep. 3, 2007)
  • To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. Muriel Spark, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

Miss Brodie continues by comparing her teaching approach with a colleague’s: “To Miss McKay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion.”

  • Education has for its object the formation of character. Herbert Spencer, in Social Statics (1850)
  • The truth of it is, the first rudiments of education are given very indiscreetly by most parents. Richard Steele, in The Tatler (May 18, 1710)

Steele went on to write: “Whatever children are designed for, and whatever prospects the fortune or interest of their parents may give them in their future lives, they are all promiscuously instructed.”

  • What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Oct–Nov., 1850)
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run. Mark Twain, “The Facts Concerning the Recent Resignation (1867), in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old (1875)
  • The Founding Fathers…in their wisdom decided that children were an unnatural strain on parents. So they provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called an education. John Updike, in The Centaur (1963)

The words come from the character George Caldwell, a burned-out school teacher, who adds: “School is where you go between when your parents can’t take you and industry can’t take you. I am a paid keeper of Society’s unusables—the lame, the halt, the insane, and the ignorant.”

  • Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)
  • Storytelling is the oldest form of education. Terry Tempest Williams, in Prologue to Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (1984)



  • Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested. Winston Churchill, in A Roving Commission: My Early Life (1930)



  • Why can’t people be both flexible and efficient? Margaret Drabble, a reflection of the character Evelyn, in The Middle Ground: A Novel (1980)
  • Marriage remains the most efficient engine of disenchantment yet invented. Caitlin Flanagan, in To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife (2006)
  • There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all. Peter Drucker, “Managing for Business Effectiveness,” in Harvard Business Review (May-June 1963)
  • I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty. Samuel Goldwyn, quoted in Arthur Marx, Goldwyn: A Biography of The Man Behind the Myth (1976)
  • Inefficiency seems to be running rampant in our world, and our only hope lies in the fact that the wicked so often share this lack of dedication to a job well done. Helen Hayes, in On Reflection, An Autobiography (1968; with Sandford Dody)

Hayes continued: “Nature does have its way of compensating.”

  • Governmental inefficiency is our only defense against intended consequences. John O. Huston, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 26, 2019)

See also the somewhat similar observation by Sen. Eugene McCarthy below.

  • Although the stated goal of managed time is to increase our efficiency and effectiveness, in fact, the measure of success most often is speed. Diana Scharf Hunt, in Diana Scharf Hunt and Pam Hait, The Tao of Time (1990)

Hunt continued: “Doing things better is synonymous with doing things faster so that we can do even more things efficiently and effectively. In buying into this premise, we enter a spiral of acceleration that we can never hope to master.”

  • Good architecture is still the difficult, conscientious, creative, expressive planning for that elusive synthesis that is a near-contradiction in terms: efficiency and beauty. Ada Louise Huxtable, in On Architecture (2008)
  • The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty. Eugene McCarthy, quoted in Time magazine (Feb. 12, 1979)
  • In business, courtesy and efficiency have a symbiotic relationship. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book Of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • Real life has a tendency to interfere with our drive to be efficient. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)
  • Our society is monstrously disjunctive, at once so efficient in war and so inefficient in caring for the welfare of its members. It is frightening to see people rooting in garbage pails on streets, living in cardboard crates under bridges, while their government wages war. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journal of an Artist (1996)

Truitt continued: “Even when there is an emergency in a household, decent parents do not forget to feed the children.”

  • So you see the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)



  • The rewards come to those who travel the second, undemanded mile. Bruce Barton, in The Man and the Book Nobody Knows (1959)
  • Much effort, much prosperity. Euripides, in The Suppliant Women (5th c. B.C.)
  • Despite the success cult, men are most deeply moved not by the reaching of the goal, but by the grandness of effort involved in getting there—or failing to get there. Max Lerner, in The Unfinished Country: A Book of American Symbols (1959)
  • Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt. José Ortega y Gasset, “In Search of Goethe from Within, Letter to a German,” in Partisan Review (Dec., 1949)
  • The mode in which the inevitable comes to pass is through effort. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Ideals and Doubts,” Illinois Law Review (1915; Vol. X)



  • When you make an omelet, as when you make love, affection counts for more than technique. Isabel Allende, in Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998)
  • 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)
  • An egg is always an adventure. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Laurence Housman, Echo de Paris: A Study From Life (1923)



WORD NOTE: The concept of “ego” is firmly associated with Sigmund Freud, but he never used the word in his original thinking on the subject. Writing in his native German, he used “Das Ich,” “Das Uber-Ich,” and “Das Es” (literally “The I,” “The Over-I,” and “The It”) for what eventually became known as ego, super-ego, and id. When Freud’s Das Ich und Das Es was published in English in 1923 as The Ego and the Id, translator James Strachey Latinized the terms and gave birth to a whole new set of words for Freud’s ideas.

Since the time of the Romans, ego was the Latin word for “self,” and when Freud’s 1923 book was published, the words “egoism” and “egotism” were in common use. As a result, even though Freud gave the ego a relatively exalted status in his theory, it was only natural that people would begin to regard the ego as a source of problems.

  • Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. G. K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in Orthodoxy (1908)
  • Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent…easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Albert Einstein, “On Education,” in speech at Albany New York (Oct. 15, 1936); reprinted in Out of My Later Years (1950)
  • The ego is not master in its own house. Sigmund Freud, in “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis” (1917)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Freud’s elegant way of saying that unconscious motives drive much of human behavior and, further, that powerful instinctual drives—especially those of a sexual nature—could never be fully tamed.

  • Authorship of any sort is a fantastic indulgence of the ego. John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Affluent Society (1958)
  • Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity. Frank Leahy, quoted in Look magazine (Jan. 10, 1955)
  • No other man-made device since the shields and lances of the ancient knights fulfills a man’s ego like an automobile. William Rootes, quoted on BBC-TV’s Who Said That? (Jan 14, 1958)
  • There is no flower in the world more delicate than the male ego. Steve Schmidt, “Space Cowboys,” in his “The Warning” column on Substack (Dec. 1, 2023)

Schmidt offered this beautifully phrased observation in a post on Elon Musk, just days after the “X” owner had told his critical advertisers to go screw themselves. Schmidt preceded the thought by writing, “Here is what Elon Musk proves beyond a shadow of the doubt.” And after it, he added: “Amongst a bloom of delicate flowers, there is none more delicate than a Musk—besides a Trump. Brittle though the bloom may be, its venom should never be mistaken for nectar. Poison is whatever its name may be.”

  • To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. Gore Vidal, “Comment, July 1961,” in Esquire magazine
  • If you do not want to explore an egoism you should not read autobiography. H. G. Wells, in Experiment in Autobiography (1934)



  • In order to be profoundly dishonest, a person must have one of two qualities: either he is unscrupulously ambitious, or he is unswervingly egocentric. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

Angelou continued: “He must believe that for his ends to be served all things and people can justifiably be shifted about, or that hey is the center not only of his own world but of the worlds which others inhabit.”

  • I am not so sure that an egocentric childhood—when combined with a strong will—is a bad beginning for one whom life has destined for a career. One at least does not start out in life with an inferiority complex, than which surely nothing can be more hampering. Gertrude Atherton, in The Adventures of a Novelist (1932)

Atherton continued: “All careers are beset with disappointments, knock-down blows, failures, the persistent enmity of mean vestigial minds. To say nothing of one’s own mistakes. But if one has that inner conviction, however illogical it may appear at the time, that one must succeed (i.e. have one’s own way), that the reverse is unthinkable, pertinacity is as natural as confidence and the battle is half won.”

  • A person completely wrapped up in himself makes a small package. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in On Being a Real Person (1943)

ERROR ALERT: A similar saying (When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package), is commonly attributed to the English critic and social reformer John Ruskin, but without any evidence. Fosdick should be considered the author of the sentiment.

  • Writers are entirely egocentric. To them, few things in their lives have meaning or importance unless they give promise of serving some creative purpose. Doris Grumbach, in Fifty Days of Solitude (1994)
  • Love is as impossible to define to the egocentric as a rainbow to the sightless (the difference being that the sightless are willing to accept other people’s word for the rainbow, whereas the egocentric dismiss unselfish love as a mirage of the deluded). Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Aug. 15, 1974)
  • People are self-centered/to a nauseous degree./They will keep on about themselves/while I’m explaining me. Piet Hein, “The Egocentrics,” in Grooks (1966)
  • All too many men still seem to believe, in a rather naïve and egocentric way, that what feels good to them is automatically what feels good to women. Shere Hite, in The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (1976)
  • What we have here, fellow citizens, is a crassly egocentric, raving twit. Molly Ivins, on Camille Paglia, “I Am the Cosmos,” in Mother Jones (Sep.-Oct. 1991)
  • An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead. Carl Jung, in Psychology and Alchemy (1968)
  • It was hard to communicate with you. You were always communicating with yourself. The line was busy. Jean Kerr, the character Mary speaking to ex-husband Bob about their marital relationship, in Mary, Mary (1961)
  • Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)

QUOTE NOTE: King was tweaking a famous saying from Arthur Quiller-Couch, who had written in On the Art of Writing (1916): “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

  • [He} was his own world, and nothing that concerned anyone else was important to him, and nothing that touched him unimportant. Kathleen Thompson Norris, the narrator describing the character Gordon, in Walls of Gold (1933)
  • What’s really being celebrated at a modern wedding is female self-indulgence at its peak. Mimi Pond, in A Groom of One's Own and Other Bridal Accessories (1993)

Pond went on to add: “Unless you plan to become an egocentric movie star bitch-goddess, you will never again have the excuse to act like a monster and wear tulle at the same time.”

  • When dancing is right, the movement possesses a logic common to us all, an inevitability that takes it beyond the personal and egocentric and makes of it classical art. Twyla Tharp, in Push Comes to Shove (1992)
  • I know that we live after death and again and again, not in the memory of our children, or as a mulch for trees and flowers, however poetic that may be, but looking passionately and egocentrically out of our eyes. Brenda Ueland, in Me: A Memoir (1939)
  • One can write, think and pray exclusively of others; dreams are all egocentric. Evelyn Waugh, a diary entry (Oct. 5, 1962), in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)
  • Most of us hide behind egocentric biases that generate the illusion that we are special. These self-serving protective shields allow us to believe that each of us is above average on any test of self-integrity. Philip Zimbardo, in The Lucifer Effect (2007)

Zimbardo continued: “Too often we look to the stars through the thick lens of personal invulnerability when we should also look down to the slippery slope beneath our feet.”



  • Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody, rather than for somebody. Franklin P. Adams, in Nods and Becks (1944)
  • Vote for the man who promises least; he'll be the least disappointing. Bernard Baruch, quoted in Meyer Berger, New York (1960)
  • I do not like elections, but it is in my many elections that I have learnt to know and honor the people of this island. They are good through and through. Winston Churchill, in Thoughts and Adventures (1932)
  • No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable that the fighting of elections. Winston Churchill, in Great Contemporaries (1937)
  • An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), the voice of the narrator, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • The money that is spent in elections is absolutely unconscionable—even if it’s private money. It’s true that one’s not corrupted by the expenditure of one’s own money, but to some extent the system is. Millicent Fenwick, in Speaking Up (1982)

Fenwick continued: “We cannot have a system in which the only people you can count on for a vote that doesn’t look as though it might be a vote for a special-interest group are people with enormous fortunes.”

  • In every election in American history both parties have their clichés. The party that has the clichés that ring true wins. Newt Gingrich, quoted in the International Herald Tribune (Aug. 1, 1988)
  • To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary. Abraham Lincoln, in “Fragment of a Speech” (circa May 18, 1858)

QUOTE NOTE: In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro says that this is the closest documented passage to the familiar, but unverified, Lincoln quotation: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

  • An election marks the end of the affair; it puts paid to the seduction of the many by the few. Pretty words, fulsome promises. We wind up married, but to whom, to what? We cannot always predict with certainty the future leader from the winning candidate. Some men grow in the job; others are diminished by its demands and its grandeur. Anna Quindlen, “The Longest Election Day,” Newsweek magazine (Nov. 19, 2000)
  • So when it comes right down to it, this election is a contest between those who are satisfied with what they have, and those who know we can do better. That’s what this election is really all about. Ann Richards, in keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention (July 18, 1988)

Richards, the governor of Texas at the time, continued: “It’s about the American dream—those who want to keep it for the few and those who know it must be nurtured and passed along.”

  • Next to a small war, there is nothing quite like a general election to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. Ian Richardson, as prime minister Francis Urquhart, in BBC-TV’s House of Cards (“To Play the King,” Season Two, Episode 2, written by Andrew Davies)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, the elegantly evil Prime Minister borrows a famous phrase from Shakespeare’s Henry V (c. 1599). Readying his soldiers for battle, the English monarch says: “When the blast of war blows in our ears,/Then imitate the action of the tiger; /Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,/Disguise fair nature with hard-favor’d rage.”

  • A genuine primary is a fight within the family of the party—and, like any family fight, is apt to be more bitter and leave more enduring wounds than battle with the November enemy. Theodore H. White, in The Making of the President 1960 (1961)
  • Every American election summons the individual voter to weigh the past against the future. Theodore H. White, in The Making of the President 1960 (1961)

White continued: “The past consists variously of the voter’s ethnic stock, the way his father voted, the tales his mother told him, the prejudices he has accumulated on the way of life, the class and status of society he has attained or inherited. And the future consists of his fears and dreams.”


(see also CLASS and FASHION and STYLE and TASTE)

  • Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future. Coco Chanel, in a 1965 issue of McCall’s magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • It seems to me that invisibility is the required provision of elegance. Elegance ceases to exist when it is noticed. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1952)
  • Self-command is the main elegance. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Letters and Social Aims (1876)

Emerson introduced the observation by writing: “Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy.”

  • To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance. Jean Genet, the narrator and protagonist describing the attire of the character Stilitano, in The Thief’s Journal (1949)
  • Elegance is something more than ease; it is more than a freedom from awkwardness or restraint. It implies, I conceive, a precision, a polish, a sparkling effect, spirited yet delicate. William Hazlitt, “On the Look of a Gentleman,” in The Plain Speaker (1826)
  • We should never seek amusement in the foibles of another, never in coarse language, never in low thought. When the mind loses its feeling for elegance, it grows corrupt and grovelling. Walter Savage Landor, the character Leontion speaking, in Imaginary Characters, Vol. V (1829)
  • Beauty is a gift, elegance is an achievement. Donna Lee Michas, a 1976 engraving created for Claudette Colbert, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 1, 2014)
  • Elegance is good taste plus a dash of daring. Carmel Snow, in The World of Carmel Snow (1962)
  • Isn’t elegance forgetting what one is wearing? Yves St. Laurent, a remark to G. Y. Dryansky, quoted in “The Genius of Yves St. Laurent,” New York Magazine (Nov. 28, 1983)

St. Laurent preceded the thought for writing: “Dressing is a way of life. It brings you joy. It can give you freedom and liberation, help you to find yourself and to move without restraint.”

  • The only real elegance is in the mind; if you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it. Diana Vreeland, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 10, 1962)
  • Elegance is inferior to virtue. Mary Wollstonecraft, in the Introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)



  • Eloquence is logic on fire. Lyman Beecher, quoted in The Christian Treasury (1875)
  • Eloquence, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A conquering army on the border will not be halted by the power of eloquence. Otto von Bismarck, in speech to North German Reichstag (Sep. 24, 1967)
  • Eloquence is the art of translating thought into language of the heart. Sarah Knowles Bolton, in Famous American Statesmen & Orators (1888)
  • Silence, when nothing need be said, is the eloquence of discretion. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • Eloquence is the verbal equivalent of a black dress and pearls. Carl Bowers, personal communication to the compiler (June 5, 2016)
  • Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart. William Jennings Bryan, “Oratory,” in The Homiletic Review (Dec. 1906)
  • Eloquence is the poetry of prose. William Cullen Bryant, “On the nature of Poetry,” the first of four lectures at New York Athenaeum (April, 1825); reprinted in Prose Writing of William Cullen Bryant: Essays, Tales, and Orations (1884)

Bryant went on to write: “By eloquence I do not mean mere persuasiveness…by eloquence I understand those appeals to our moral perceptions that produce emotion as soon as they are uttered.”

  • Youth, beauty, pomp, what are these, in point of attraction, to a woman’s heart, when compared to eloquence? The magic of the tongue is the most dangerous of all spells. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the voice of the narrator, in Eugene Aram (1832)
  • The truest eloquence is that which holds us too mute for applause. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the character Graham speaking, in The Parisians (1872)
  • Eloquence is vehement simplicity. Richard Cecil, in Remains of the Rev. Richard Cecil, M.A. (1824; Josiah Pratt, ed.)
  • The art of the parenthesis is one of the great secrets of eloquence in Society. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maximes et Pensées (1796)
  • Next to arms, eloquence offers the great avenue to popular favor, whether it be in civilized or savage life. James Fenimore Cooper, in The Pathfinder (1840)
  • The eloquent view their voices as the means to voice their views. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 15, 2020). An example of chiasmus.
  • Everything that steel achieves in war can be won in politics by eloquence. Demetrius (4th c. B.C.), quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • The dancing of speech is eloquence: the aim of a dance is not to get from one part of the village green or the stage to another, it is to create and embody yet another form of life beyond the already known forms of it. In dancing, the dancers enjoy the certitude of being alive in their bodies. That is eloquence. Denis Donoghue, in On Eloquence (2008)

A bit later, Donoghue went on to write: “It is commonly assumed that eloquence is a form or a subset of rhetoric, a means to rhetorical ends. That is not true. Rhetoric has an aim, to move people to do one thing rather than another.”

  • Eloquence, as distinct from rhetoric, has no aim: it is a play of words or other expressive means. It is a gift to be enjoyed in appreciation and practice. Denis Donoghue, in On Eloquence (2008)

Donoghue continued: “The main attribute of eloquence is gratuitousness: its place in the world is to be without place or function, its mode is to be intrinsic. Like beauty, it claims only the privilege of being a grace note in the culture that permits it.”

  • Eloquence is the appropriate organ of the highest personal energy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Eloquence,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In eloquence, the great triumphs of the art are when the orator is lifted above himself; when consciously he makes himself the mere tongue of the occasion and the hour, and says what cannot but be said. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art,” in Society and Solitude (1870)

Emerson concluded: “Hence the term abandonment, to describe the self-surrender of the orator.”

  • The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together, and no constable to keep them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Eloquence,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Eloquence is the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom you speak. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Eloquence,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)

Earlier in the essay, Emerson wrote: “Eloquence shows the power and possibility of man. There is one of whom we took no note, but on a certain occasion it appears that he has a secret virtue never suspected—that he can paint what has occurred and what must occur, with such clearness to a company, as if they saw it done before their eyes. By leading their thought he leads their will, and can make them do gladly what an hour ago they would not believe that they could be led to do at all.”

  • Silence can be so much more eloquent than speech. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), a reflection of protagonist Arthur Crook, in He Came by Night (1945)

QUOTE NOTE: At the time Gilbert was writing, the eloquence of silence was a well established oxymoronic phrase.

  • In conversation, discretion is more important than eloquence. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Eloquence may set fire to reason. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in dissenting opinion, Gitlow v. New York, U. S. Supreme Court Decision (June 8, 1925)
  • So it is that the gods do not give all men gifts of grace—neither good looks nor intelligence nor eloquence. Homer, in the Odyssey Book VII (8th c. B.C.)
  • Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. David Hume, “Of Miracles,” in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)

QUOTE NOTE: Hume was referring here to the danger of seductive eloquence, and specifically to its power to arouse “gross and vulgar passions.” He added: “Happily, this pitch it seldom attains.”

  • There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted. Washington Irving, the narrator of “The Adventure of the German Student,” in Tales of a Traveller (1824)

QUOTE NOTE: A little more than a decade later, The Ladies’ Companion (Nov., 1835) published the story, without any attribution, under the title: “Gottfried Wolfgang: A Tale, Picked Up in a French Mad-House.”

  • Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak, and to speak well, are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks. Ben Jonson, in Timber (1641)

Jonson went on to add: “Speech is the only benefit man hath to express his excellency of mind above other creatures.”

  • Only library books speak with such wordless eloquence of the power good stories hold over us. Stephen King, in Salem’s Lot (1975)
  • In came…a baby, eloquent as infancy usually is, and like most youthful orators, more easily heard than understood. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • There is no eloquence which does not agitate the soul. Walter Savage Landor, “Chesterfield and Chatham” (the voice of Chatham), in Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (1824)
  • Eloquence resides as much in the tone of voice, in the eyes, and in the expression of the face, as in the choice of words. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

The passage has also been translated this way: “Eloquence lies as much in the tone of the voice, in the eyes, and in the speaker’s manner, as in his choice of words.”

  • True eloquence consists in saying all that is necessary, and nothing but what is necessary. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The shadow does not follow the body more closely than eloquence accompanies sagacity. Philip Melanchthon, “Praise of Eloquence,” in Orations on Philosophy and Education (1523)
  • Eloquence is feeling pouring itself to other minds, courting their sympathy, or endeavoring to influence their belief or to move them to passion or to action. John Stuart Mill, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” in Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. 1 (1859)

In comparing eloquent oratory to poetry, Mill saw one as public, the other private. He wrote about the latter: “Poetry is feeling confessing itself to itself, in moments of solitude, and embodying itself in symbols which are the nearest representations of the feeling in the exact shape in which it exists in the poet’s mind.”

  • Poetry and eloquence are both alike expression or utterance of feeling. But if we may be excused the antithesis, we should say that eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard. Eloquence supposes an audience; the peculiarity of poetry appears to us to lie in the poet’s utter unconsciousness of a listener. John Stuart Mill, “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties,” in Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. 1 (1859)
  • Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts/And eloquence. John Milton, in Paradise Regained (1671)
  • Eloquence is the art of clothing thoughts in such a garb of language that the words excite emotions which the thoughts themselves might fail to awaken. Maria Mitchell, in Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals (1896; Phebe Mitchell Kendall, ed.)
  • Shame on all eloquence which leaves us with a taste for itself and not for its substance. Michel de Montaigne, “Reflections Upon Cicero,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • That silence is one of the great arts of conversation, is allowed by Cicero himself, who says, there is not only an art but an eloquence in it. Hannah More, “Thoughts on Conversation,” in Essays on Various Subjects (1777)
  • Language is in decline. Not only has eloquence departed but simple, direct speech as well, though pomposity and banality have not. Edwin Newman, in Strictly Speaking (1974)
  • Architecture is a sort of eloquence of power embodied in forms, sometimes persuading, even flattering, and sometimes merely commanding. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols (1888)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has been translated in several other ways, including: “Architecture is a sort of oratory of power by means of forms. Now it is persuasive, even flattering, and at other times merely commanding.”

  • Eloquence is a painting of thought. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Continuous eloquence wearies. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)

Pascal continued: “Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated. Continuity in everything is unpleasant. Cold is agreeable, that we may get warm.”

  • Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory. Emily Post, in Etiquette: In Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922)
  • Fortify yourself against seductive eloquence. Regina Maria Roche, in Clermont (1798)

QUOTE NOTE: In Roche’s novel, the beautiful young Madeline was being warned by her father about the seductive charms of a male suitor. He says: “His eyes declare love and admiration, and his language I dare say accords with their glances: but oh, my dear Madeline, fortify yourself against such seductive eloquence.” In the Bertrand Russell quotation below, the English philosopher makes a similar argument, but his warning was about the seductive charms of political rhetoric.

  • We are good friends because we never need forgive each other the gaucherie of eloquence. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Answer Without Ceasing (1949)
  • In painting as in eloquence, the greater your strength, the quieter your manner. John Ruskin, in Modern Painters, Vol. 5 (1860)
  • To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy. Bertrand Russell, in Power (1938)
  • Action is eloquence. William Shakespeare, the character Volumnia speaking, in Coriolanus (1607)

QUOTE NOTE: Volumnia, the mother of the title character, is advising Coriolanus to look humble in order to win the votes of Roman citizens. The full passage is a timeless lesson in political oratory: “In such business/Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant/More learned than the ears.”

  • It’s not “natural” to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting, articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little—have few verbal means. Eloquence—thinking in words—is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, a heightened painful individuality. Susan Sontag, a 1976 remark, quoted in David Rieff, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh (2012)
  • When Gold argues the cause, eloquence is impotent. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • You are eloquent enough if truth speaks through you. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • Great eloquence, like fire, grows with its material; it becomes fiercer with movement, and brighter as it burns. Publius Tacitus, in Dialogus de Oratoribus (1st c. A.D.)
  • Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. Mother Teresa, quoted in Angelo Devananda, Mother Teresa: Contemplative in the Heart of the World (1983)
  • Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech. Martin F. Tupper, “Of Discretion,” in Proverbial Philosophy (1838–42)
  • And how moving is the eloquence of the untaught when it is the heart that is speaking! Mark Twain, in letter to Thomas Lounsbury (July 21, 1904)
  • Eloquence is the essential thing in a speech, not information. Mark Twain, in the short story “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” (1905); reprinted in Which Was the Dream? and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years (1966; John S. Tuckey, ed.)
  • Take eloquence and wring its neck. Paul Verlaine, “L’Art Poetique,” in Jadis et Naguère (1884)
  • But to a higher mark than song can reach,/Rose this pure eloquence. William Wordsworth, in The Excursion, Book VII (1814)
  • Eloquence invites us to bring some part of ourselves to the transaction. William Zinsser, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

Zinsser preceded the observation by contrasting eloquence with plain speech, writing: “Ultimately eloquence runs on a deeper current. It moves us with what it leaves unsaid, touching off echoes in what we already know from our reading, our religion and our heritage.”



  • If our nation had done nothing more in its whole history than to create just two documents, its contribution to civilization would be imperishable. The first of these documents is the Declaration of Independence and the other is that which we are here to honor tonight, the Emancipation Proclamation. Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Address,” (Albany, NY; September 12, 1962)

King continued: “All tyrants, past, present and future, are powerless to bury the truths in these declarations, no matter how extensive their legions, how vast their power and how malignant their evil.”



  • Coward, n. One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Natalie Goldberg, in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (1990)
  • Keeping even the most humble talent wrapped in a napkin becomes the more reprehensible the greater the emergency. Margaret Mead, in New Lives for Old (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: Mead was arguing that the insights of anthropology—however modest—were extremely important in the modern world, especially during times of crisis.

  • The state of emergency is also always a state of emergence. Claudia Rankine, in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
  • It’s queer how ready people always are with advice in any real or imaginary emergency, and no matter how many times experience has shown them to be wrong, they continue to set forth their opinions, as if they had received them from the Almighty! Anne Sullivan, in a letter (June 12, 1887), quoted in Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (1903)


(see also GREATNESS)

  • Eminent posts make great men greater, and little men less. Jean de la Bruyere, in Characters (1688)
  • To read good books is like holding a conversation with the most eminent minds of past centuries and, moreover, a studied conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts. René Descartes, in Discourse on Method (1637)
  • It is too often the case to be a mere accident that men who become eminent for wide compass of understanding and penetrating comprehension, are in their adolescence unsettled and desultory. John Morley, “Edmund Burke,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica (1876)
  • Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts of Various Subjects (1711)



  • Life without emotion was like an engine without fuel. Mary Astor, in A Place Called Saturday (1968)
  • If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder (1965)

Carson continued: “Once the emotions have been aroused—a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love—then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response.”

  • Emotion has taught mankind to reason. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • There are strings in the human heart…that had better not be vibrated. Charles Dickens, the character Mr. Tappertit speaking, in Barnaby Rudge (1841)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, Tappertit has a speech problem which has him say wibrated instead of vibrated

  • Emotion doesn’t travel in a straight line. Sue Grafton, in “I” is for Innocent (1992)

The thought comes from the protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, who is reflecting on how the motivation behind a murder often lies in distorted passions. She continues: “Like water, our feelings trickle down through cracks and crevices, seeking out the little pockets of neediness and neglect, the hairline fractures in our character usually hidden from public view.”

  • The sign of an intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another’s personality, marking vulnerable points. Ayn Rand, the narrator describing the character James Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

The description comes just after Taggart has yelled at his sister Dagny in an argument over where to purchase steel for their family business, a transcontinental railroad company. “He observed, with satisfaction, that she was silenced by anger,” writes Rand, and then about his sister’s emotional reaction, he thinks: “But how one could feel a personal emotion about a metal alloy, and what such an emotion indicated, was incomprehensible to him; so he could make no use of his discovery.”

  • Where we have strong emotions, we’re liable to fool ourselves. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)
  • A belief which does not spring from a conviction in the emotions is no belief at all. Evelyn Scott, in Escapade (1923)
  • Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it. Vincent van Gogh, in letter to his brother Theo (July 6, 1889)
  • Every emotion is a two-edged sword: too much or too little of any of them brings trouble. William F. Wallace, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 18, 2020)
  • There is nothing more startling in human relations that the strong emotion of weak people. Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the voice of the narrator, in The History of David Grieve (1891)
  • Ninety percent of our lives is governed by emotion. Our brains merely register and act upon what is telegraphed to them by our bodily experience. Alfred North Whitehead, a June 10, 1943 remark, quoted in Lucien Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954)

Whitehead continued: “Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies.”



  • Much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people. Jane Addams, in Democracy and Social Ethics (1902)
  • That person is most cultivated who is able to put himself in the place of the greatest number of other persons. Jane Addams, a 1914 remark, quoted in a 1914 edition of Expositor and Current Anecdotes (specific issue undetermined)
  • If it is not tempered by compassion, and empathy, reason can lead men and women into a moral void. Karen Armstrong, “Empathy,” in Twelve Steps To a Compassionate Life (2010)
  • The well-taught philosophic mind/To all compassion gives;/Casts round the world an equal eye,/And feels for all that lives. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “The Mouses Petition,” in Poems (1773); reprinted in The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbaud in Two Volumes (1825)
  • In the currency of friendship, empathy is more valuable than accuracy. Erica Bauermeister, the voice of the narrator, in Joy For Beginners (2011)
  • I was loved, I was one of the haves, and one of the secrets of being a have is not wasting your time on empathy. Peter S. Beagle, the character Laura Durand speaking, in A Fine and Private Place (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: Laura was reflecting on how a lack of empathy for the emotional pain of others is often characteristic of people who are lucky in love. She introduced the thought by saying, “For that little while, I forgot all about the emotionally undernourished. I became arrogant.” And she ended it this way: “I gorged myself on being loved until it came out of my ears, and when it was over I didn’t realize it for a time because I was living off my fat.”

  • She did not talk to people as if they were strange hard shells she had to crack open to get inside. She talked as if she were already in the shell. In their very shell. Marita Bonner, a description of the character Pauline, in the short story “Nothing New” (1926); reprinted in Frye Street and Environs (1987)
  • Better to be without logic than without feeling. Charlotte Brontë, the character Frances Evans Henri speaking, in The Professor (written 1846; published posthumously 1857)
  • Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don't experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Brené Brown, in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (2010)
  • Empathy is the biggest negotiation tool. I must try to understand where the other person’s coming from to make points for my side. Lee Ducat, quoted in Sherry Suib Cohen, Tender Power (1989)
  • I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization. Roger Ebert, in Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2011 (2010)

Ebert was talking about the role that moves could play in empathy development. He preceded the thought by saying: “Real Movies…all involve intense involvement with their characters. All do something that is perhaps the most important thing a movie can do: They take us outside our personal box of time and space, and invite us to empathize with those of other times, places, races, creeds, classes, and prospects.”

  • It takes time plus sympathy to develop empathy. Welthy Honsinger Fisher, in To Light a Candle (1962)
  • If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own. Henry Ford, quoted in Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1982 edition)
  • Empathy enables us to collapse the dualistic structures that polarize our world into “us” and “them.” Virginia C. Fowler, in the Foreword to Fowler’s The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (1996)
  • A book is a little empathy machine. It puts you inside somebody else’s head. You see out of the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you’ve just read a book by one of those people. Neil Gaiman, in interview with Toby Litt, The Guardian (London; Nov. 17, 2014)
  • This is what differentiates sympathy from empathy. No matter how much I care for you, it’s not until I recognize me in you and you in me that the veil of gauze is lifted on the world. Jackson Galaxy, in Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean (2012; with Joel Derfner)
  • True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s own the suffering and joys of others. André Gide, “Portraits and Aphorisms,” in Pretexts: Reflections on Literature and Morality (1959)
  • Writers write from empathy. Nikki Giovanni, quoted in Claudia Tate, “Conversations with Nikki Giovanni,” Black Women Writers at Work (1983)

Giovanni preceded the thought by saying: “Writers don’t write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems.”

  • You try as a writer to put yourself into the other person’s position. Empathy. Empathy is everything because we can’t experience everything. Experience is important, but empathy is the key. Nikki Giovanni, quoted in Virginia C. Fowler, “An Interview with Nikki Giovanni,” in Fowler’s Conversations with Nikki Giovanni (1992)
  • Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman continued: “But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.”

  • Empathy is the essential building block for compassion. Daniel Goleman, in a Tweet (April 12, 2012)
  • The creative imagination can grasp characters and conditions not directly experienced, because the creator has access to all parts of his personality. To use the fashionable word, he has empathy with characters unlike him, because he knows that deep down he shares some of their unlovely traits. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • 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)
  • Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see. Leslie Jamison, in The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014)
  • The novel is inherently a political instrument, regardless of its subject. It invites you—more than invites you, induces you—to live inside another person’s skin. It creates empathy. And that’s the antidote to bigotry. Barbara Kingsolver, in a 1999 issue of American Writer (specific issue undetermined)

Kingsolver continued: “The novel doesn't just tell you about another life, which is what a newspaper would do. It makes you live another life, inhabit another perspective. And that’s very important.”

  • Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life. Literature sucks you into another psyche. So the creation of empathy necessarily influences how you’ll behave to other people. How can that not affect you politically? Barbara Kingsolver, quoted in Maya Jaggi, “A Life in Writing: Barbara Kingsolver,” The Guardian (June 11, 2010)
  • You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Harper Lee, the character Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • One must have the humility and the imagination to honor all deep human experiences—not least those one has never come near to sharing. Rosamond Lehmann, a reflection of the narrator, a girl known only as Rebecca, in The Ballad and the Source (1945)
  • No one is so accursed by fate,/No one so utterly desolate,/But some heart, though unknown,/Responds unto his own. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Endymion (1842)
  • I have always been myself and at the same time someone else; always able to be the other person, feel with him, think his thoughts, see from the angle in which he has found himself. It is the only genius that I have ever had, but it has been enough. Mabel Dodge Luhan, quoted in Malcolm Forbes, Women Who Made a Difference (1990)
  • All wars derive from lack of empathy: the incapacity of one to understand and accept the likeness or difference of another. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)

Mannes continued: “Whether in nations or the encounters of race and sex, competition then replaces compassion.”

  • We need empathy, we need the eyes that still can weep. Lydia Millett, a reflection of the fictional J. Robert Oppenheimer, in Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005)

This was the conclusion to a thought process that began this way: “I see it now, he thought. All my life I held up the ideal of learning, but I was wrong. We were all wrong, he thought. It is not learning we need at all. Individuals need learning but the culture needs something else, the pulse of light on the sea, the warm urge of huddling together to keep out the cold.”

  • You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit-the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us-the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. Barack Obama, in a speech (Aug. 11, 2006)

Obama continued: “When you think like this-when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers-it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”

  • For the first time in his life, he had experienced empathy, the least comfortable of human emotions. Frances Gray Patton, the narrator describing a character named Thomas, in Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
  • Empathy is a stunning act of imaginative derring-do, the ultimate virtual reality—climbing into another’s mind to experience the world from that person’s perspective. Daniel H. Pink, in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2005)

Pink introduced the thought by writing: “Empathy isn’t sympathy—that is feeling bad for someone else. It is feeling with someone else, sensing what it would be like to be that person.” And a moment later, he offered this fuller take on the subject:

“Empathy is mighty important. It helped our species climb out of the evolutionary muck. And now that we’re upright and pipedal—the big animals on campus—it still helps us get through the day. Empathy allows us to see the other side of an argument, comfort someone in distress, and bite our lip instead of muttering something snide. Empathy builds self-awareness, bonds parent to child, allows us to work together, and provides the scaffolding for our morality.”

  • Our job as actors is empathy. Our job is to imagine what someone else’s life is like. And if you can’t do that in real life, if you can’t do that as a human being, then good luck as an actor. Natalie Portman, in interview with James Lipton, Inside the Actor’s Studio (Nov. 21, 2004)
  • Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Marshall B. Rosenberg. in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (1999)

A moment later, Rosenberg went on to add: “Instead of offering empathy, we tend instead to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message.”

  • Loss of empathy might well be the most enduring and deep-cutting scar of all, the silent blade of an unseen enemy, tearing at our hearts and stealing more than our strength. Stealing our will, for what are we without empathy R. A. Salvatore, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Drizzt Do’Urden, in The Silent Blade (1998)

Drizzt Do’Urden continued: “What manner of joy might we find in our lives if we cannot understand the joys and pains of those around us, if we cannot share in a greater community?”

  • Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be OK, but acknowledging that it is not. Sheryl Sandberg, in a Facebook post a month after the death of her husband (June 3, 2015)
  • When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you. Susan Sarandon, quoted in a 2008 issue of Parents magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • People who cannot feel punish those who do. May Sarton, the character Willa speaking, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • The way we act toward “others” is shaped by the way we imagine them. Both philosophic and literary descriptions of such imagining show the difficulty of picturing other persons in their full weight and solidity. Elaine Scarry, “The Difficulty of Imagining Other People,” in Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country? Debating the Limits of Patriotism (1996)

Scarry continued: “This is true even when the person is a friend or acquaintance; the problem is further magnified when the person is a stranger of “foreigner.” And a bit later, she added: “The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small.”

  • Were we incapable of empathy—of putting ourselves in the position of others and seeing that their suffering is like our own—then ethical reasoning would lead nowhere. Peter Singer, in Writings on an Ethical Life (2000)

Singer continued chiastically: “If emotion without reason is blind, then reason without emotion is impotent.”

  • Empathy is the feeling that “I might be you” or “I am you,” but it is more than just an intellectual identification; empathy must be accompanied by feeling. Sympathy brings compassion, “I want to help you,” but empathy brings emotion. Without feeling there is no empathy. Howard M. Spiro, “Empathy: An Introduction,” in Howard M. Spiro, et. al, Empathy and the Practice of Medicine: Beyond Pills and the Scalpel (1993)
  • You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself. John Steinbeck, the character Lee speaking, in East of Eden (1952)
  • Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992)
  • It’s the great gift of human beings that we have this power of empathy. We can all feel like Elliott when E.T. died. We can all cry for each other. We can all sense a mysterious connection to each other. And that’s good. Meryl Streep, quoted in Brad Darrach, “Enchanting, Colorless, Glacial, Fearless, Sneaky, Seductive, Manipulative, Magical Meryl,” Life magazine (Dec. 1987)

Streep continued: “If there’s hope for the future of us all, it lies in that. And it happens that actors can evoke that event between hearts. And when they do—well, if I’m in the audience, it makes me feel bigger. Enhanced.”

ERROR ALERT: Mistaken versions of Streep’s thought appear all over the Internet. These are her exact words.

  • Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • One learns peoples through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect. Mark Twain, “What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us,” in North American Review (1895)
  • I don’t ask for your pity, but just your understanding—not even that—no. Just for your recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all. Tennessee Williams, the protagonist Chance Wayne talking, in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959)
  • Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate and to connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2005)



  • Early to bed and early to rise probably indicates unskilled employment. John Ciardi, tweaking the familiar proverb, in his “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (May 26, 1962)
  • The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness—whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or songs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Employment, sir, and hardships, prevent melancholy. Samuel Johnson, a 1777 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)


  • An empty man is full of himself. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto): Notes from a Secret Journal (1990)



  • Nine-tenths of education is encouragement. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites and many published quotation anthologies attribute this saying to the French writer Anatole France, but there is no evidence he authored it.

  • All that a critic, as critic, can give poets is the deadly encouragement that never ceases to remind them of how heavy their inheritance is. Harold Bloom, in A Map of Misreading (1975)
  • Most artists, ashamed of their need for encouragement, try to carry their work to term like a secret pregnancy. Julia Cameron, in The Sound of Paper (2005)

Cameron went on to write: “We bunker in with our projects, beleaguered by our loneliness and the terrible secret that we carry: We need friends to our art. We need them as desperately as friends to our hearts. Our projects, after all, are our brainchildren, and what they crave is a loving extended family, a place where ‘How’d it go today?’ can refer to a turn at the keys or the easel as easily as a turn in the teller’s cage.”

  • Abilities wither under criticism, they blossom under encouragement. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1998 edition)
  • Writers are diffident creatures—they need encouragement. Agatha Christie, in An Autobiography (1977)
  • Instruction does much, but encouragement is everything. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in letter to A. F. Oeser (Nov. 9, 1786); quoted in Early and Miscellaneous Letters of J. W. Goethe (1884; Edward Bell, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has been also translated in other ways, with the word instruction sometimes being replaced by education, and at other times by correction (the final passage is the same in all, though).

  • There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith: A Memoir (1942)
  • Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement. Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema: Why Are Movies So Bad?” in The New Yorker (June 23, 1980)

QUOTE NOTE: Kael was describing the inordinate amount of time it took executives at the major studios to approve scripts and begin production of films. She added: “For the supplicant, it’s a matter of weeks, months, years, waiting for meetings at which he can beg permission to do what he was, at the start, eager to do. And even when he’s got a meeting, he has to catch the executive’s attention and try to keep it; in general the higher the executive, the more cruelly short his attention span.”

  • 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. Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), quoted in Theodor Magnus Fries, Linnaeus (1923; translated & edited by Benjamin Daydon Jackson)
  • At the heart of good education are those gifted, hardworking, and memorable teachers whose inspiration kindles fires that never quite go out, whose remembered encouragement is sometimes the only hard ground we stand upon, and whose very selves are the stuff of the best lessons they ever teach us. Rosalie Maggio, in the Introduction to Quotations on Education (1997)
  • A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential. John Maxwell, in Encouragement Changes Everything: Bless and Be Blessed (2008)
  • Philosophers, writers, artists, even scientists, not only need encouragement and an audience, they need constant stimulation from other people. George Orwell, in his regular “As I Please” column in the Tribune (London; April 28, 1944)

Orwell preceded the thought by writing: “The greatest mistake is to imagine that the human being is an autonomous individual.”

  • If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge. Fritz Perls, in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1969)

Perls preceded the thought by writing: “Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem.”

  • Giving is the secret of a healthy life. Not necessarily money, but whatever a man has of encouragement and sympathy and understanding. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., quoted in Cleveland Amory, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables (1960)
  • The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement. Charles W. Schwab, quoted in Eugene Clyde Brooks, Education for Democracy (1919)
  • In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up. Rick Warren, in a Facebook post (May 22, 2013)
  • A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content. A certain amount of encouragement is necessary. Alfred North Whitehead, quoted in Lucien Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954)
  • To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time. P. G. Wodehouse, the dedication of his 1926 book The Heart of a Goof
  • A poor wretch of an author keeps all his thoughts in a dark attic in his own brain, and when they come out in print they look so shivering and naked. So for other people to like them is a great encouragement. Virginia Woolf, in a 1904 letter, reprinted in Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume I: 1888-1912 (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: Woolf was contrasting writers with artists. She preceded the thought by writing: “You can’t think what vain beasts writers are…. I don’t think the artist is so much tempted that way, because all his or her work is done in the open, and is therefore always criticized.”



  • We are not an endangered species ourselves yet, but this is not for lack of trying. “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat,” in Last Chance to See (1990; with Mark Carwardine)

ENDS [as in AIMS]


  • It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. Ursula Le Guin, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Gently Ai, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)



  • I learned from the example of my father that the manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured. Dean Acheson, quoted in Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (2006)
  • What cannot be help’d must be endured. Abigail Adams, in a 1777 letter to husband John (1777); in The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009; John P. Kaminski, ed.)
  • Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
  • You have accomplished your mission in going there tonight— you were “seen,” and you furnished your host and hostess with the sincerest proof of your great love and friendship for them—you endured their cocktail party. Letitia Baldrige, in Roman Candle (1956)
  • Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance. James Baldwin, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Baldwin’s reply to the question, “Can you discern talent in someone?”

  • He that endureth to the end shall be saved. The Bible—Matthew 10:22 (KJV)
  • Endurance can be a harsh and bitter root in one’s life, bearing poisonous and gloomy fruit, destroying other lives. Endurance is only the beginning. There must be acceptance and the knowledge that sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. Pearl S. Buck, in The Child Who Never Grew (1950)

Buck continued: “For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.”

  • She Endured. And survived. Marginally, perhaps, but it is not required of us that we live well. Anne Cameron, describing one of the Native women of Vancouver Island, in Daughters of Copper Woman (1981)
  • To bear is to conquer our fate. Thomas Campbell, the final line of the 1801 poem “Lines Written On Visiting a Scene in Argyleshire,” in The Poems of Thomas Campbell (1902)
  • Great loves too must be endured. Coco Chanel, quoted in Marcel Haedrich, Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets (1972)
  • If you loved, sooner or later you always lost; that was the penalty you had to pay for loving. Grief can be endured—somehow. But how poor and bare would be a life which had nothing to grieve over! Elizabeth Corbett, the narrator describing the situation of protagonist Eve Cheyney, in Eve and Christopher (1949)
  • You have to endure what you can’t change. Marie de France (12th c.), in The Lais of Marie de France (1982; R. W. Hanning & J. M. Ferrante, eds.)
  • Luxuries unfit us for returning to hardships easily endured before. Mary Mapes Dodge, in Hans Brinker (1865)
  • Yesterday is never over. Yesterday endures eternally. Jehanne d’Orliac, in The Moon Mistress: Diane de Poitiers (1930)
  • Unless you have courage, a courage within your own heart that keeps you going, always going, no matter what happens, there is no certainty of Success. It is really an endurance race. It is a test in holding out. Henry Ford, in Ford Ideals: Being a Selection of “Mr. Ford’s Page” in The Dearborn Independent (1922)

Ford continued: “The untried venture has no friends anywhere. It must make every friend it gets.”

  • That was the real bitterness, to face the fact that there was nothing to do but endure. Helen Fowler, the voice of the narrator, in The Intruder (1952)
  • The thought that we are enduring the unendurable is one of the things that keep us going. Molly Haskell, in Love and Other Infectious Diseases: A Memoir (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: The concept of enduring the unendurable goes back centuries as a Japanese proverb (see below)

  • He that endures is not overcome. George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum (1651)
  • Heroism is endurance for one moment more. George Kennan, citing a proverb, in “The Problems of Suicide,” McClure’s magazine (June, 1908)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying is almost always attributed directly to Kennan, but he was clearly citing a proverbial saying he liked. Here’s the way he expressed the full thought:

“The Caucasian mountaineers have a proverb which says: ‘Heroism is endurance for one moment more.’ That proverb recognizes the fact that in this world the human spirit, with its dominating force, the will, may be and ought to be superior to all bodily sensations and all accidents of environment. We should not only feel, but we should teach, by our conversation and by our literature, that, in the struggle of life, it is essentially a noble thing and a heroic thing to die fighting.”

  • Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is godlike. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the epic poem Evangeline (1847)
  • Endurance is the crowning quality,/And patience all the passion of great hearts. James Russell Lowell, in the poem “Columbus” (1844)
  • The child who is uprooted begins to recognize that what he builds within himself is what will endure, what will withstand shattering experiences. Anaïs Nin, in Jody Hay, “Out of the Labyrinth: An Interview,” East West Journal (1974)
  • Nothing is won by endurance/but endurance. Marge Piercy, “When a Friend Dies,” in The Moon Is Always Female (1980)
  • To endure what is unendurable is true endurance, Proverb (Japanese)
  • He that can't endure the bad will not live to see the good. Proverb (Yiddish)
  • What cannot be cured must be endured. François Rabelais, a saying of Friar John, in Gargantua and Pantagruel, Vol. V (1552)
  • Patience and endurance were not virtues in a woman; they were necessities, forced on her. Perhaps some day things would change and women would renounce them. They would rise up and say: “We are not patient. We will endure no more.” Then what would happen to the world? Mary Roberts Rinehart, in This Strange Adventure (1929)
  • We live in a day and age where endurance isn't a high priority in people's lives. We want what we want, and we don't want to wait for it or work hard for it. We want results, and we want them now. Eugene Robinson, in It Takes Endurance (1998)
  • To maintain success, stamina is more important than talent. You have to learn to be a marathon runner. Joan Rivers, in Enter Talking (1986; with Richard Merryman)
  • For it is in our nature to endure patiently the decrees of fate, but not the ill-will of others. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Emile: Or, On Education (1762)
  • True love isn’t the kind that endures through long years of absence, but the kind that endures through long years of propinquity. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • For there was never yet philosopher/That could endure the toothache patiently. William Shakespeare, the character Leonato speaking, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  • It is easier to endure than to change. But once one has changed, what was endured is hard to recall. Susan Sontag, a reflection of the narrator, an aging philanthropist named Hippolyte, in The Benefactor (1963)
  • Did anyone ever tell you that a trouble shared is a trouble half endured. Gene Stratton-Porter, the character Jamie speaking, in The Keeper of the Bees (1925)
  • Patient endurance/Attaineth to all things. Teresa of Avila, “Bookmark,” quoted in Joanna Bankier and Deirdre Lashgari, Women Poets of the World (1983)
  • It is about time that soft meaningless word: Love; was taken out of the dictionary. So that instead of saying: I will love you for ever; it would be a much more convincing proof to say: I will endure you for ever. Caitlin Thomas, in Not Quite Posthumous Letter to My Daughter (1963)
  • By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • Endure the hardships of your present state,/Live, and reserve yourselves for better fate. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st c. B.C.)

In his classic work, Virgil also wrote: “We may be masters of our every lot/By bearing it.”

  • Every life is punctuated by deaths and departures, and each one causes great suffering that it is better to endure rather than forgo the pleasure of having known the person who has passed away. Marguerite Yourcenar, in With Open Eyes: Conversations With Matthieu Galey (1980)

Yourcenar continued: “Somehow our world rebuilds itself after every death, and in any case we know that none of us will last forever. So you might say that life and death lead us by the hand, firmly but tenderly.”



  • Enemies’ promises were made to be broken. Aesop, “The Nurse and the Wolf,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction. Aesop, “The Eagle Wounded by An Arrow,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)

This is one of Aesop’s most celebrated sayings, and it comes from a story in which the shaft of the arrow that struck an eagle was feathered with one of the eagle's own plumes.

  • Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes. Antisthenes (5th c. B.C.), quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)

This legendary saying is also commonly presented this way: “Observe your enemies, for they first find out your faults.”

  • What is an imaginary friend? Are there also imaginary enemies? Lynda Barry, in What It Is (2008)
  • If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. The Bible: Proverbs 25:21 (KJV)
  • But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The Bible: Matthew 5:44 (RSV)
  • He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I’m slipping. Maria Callas, quoted in Arianna Stassinopoulos, Maria Callas (1981)
  • You will learn to defeat the enemy. He will teach you how. Orson Scott Card, a character known only as “the old man” speaking, in Ender’s Game (1985)
  • Some people are better served by their bitter-tongued enemies than by their sweet-smiling friends, because the former often tell the truth, the latter, never. Cato the Younger, quoted in Marcus Tullius Cicero, De amicitia (1st c. B.C.)
  • The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people. G. K. Chesterton, in Illustrated London News (July 16, 1910)
  • Man is his own worst enemy. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Epistolae ad Atticum (1st c. B.C.)
  • Understand that some of your enemies are amongst your best friends. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1947)
  • You shall judge of a man by his foes as well as by his friends. Joseph Conrad, the character Marlow speaking, in Lord Jim (1900)

ERROR ALERT: This passage is often mistakenly presented as if it were written you shall judge a man by.

  • I do not regret one professional enemy I have made. Any actor who doesn’t dare to make an enemy should get out of the business. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision, and heroism. When she had overcome them all she flourished for a moment and then began to die. Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ (1944)
  • There is a phrase that a man is known by the friends he keeps. The other side of the coin is that a man is known by the enemies he makes. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a 1954 remark about Joseph McCarthy, quoted in Bob Dole, Great Presidential Wit (2001)

According to Dole, president Eisenhower continued: “I read the last speech of Senator McCarthy. He said in that speech that we should have nothing to do with any nation that trades with the Reds. If he’s against that, I’m for it.”

  • Everyone needs a warm personal enemy or two to keep him free of rust in the movable parts of the mind. Gene Fowler, in Skyline: A Reporter’s Reminiscence of the 1920s (1961)
  • If you wou’d be reveng’d of your enemy, govern your self. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1734).
  • ’Thou canst not joke an Enemy into a Friend; but thou may’st a Friend into an Enemy. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1739)

An example of chiasmus.

  • The wise man draws more advantage from his enemies, than the fool from his friends Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1749)
  • Who judges best of a Man, his Enemies or himself? Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1751).
  • Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (March, 1756)
  • You and I were long friends; you are now my enemy, and I am yours. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to William Strahan (July 5, 1775)
  • An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life. Sigmund Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

He continued: “I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy have coincided in the same person.”

  • Praises from an enemy imply real merit. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • If we are bound to forgive an enemy, we are not bound to trust him. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • To see your enemy and know him is a part of the complete education of man. Marcus Garvey, in Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (1923)
  • The most dangerous enemy in the world is the one you do not recognize. Tess Gerritsen, a reflection of the character Helga Steinberg, in Call After Midnight (1987)
  • I owe much to my friends; but, all things considered, it strikes me that I owe even more to my enemies. The real person springs to life under a sting even better than under a caress. André Gide, in Pretexts: Reflections on Literature and Morality (1959)
  • I have always paid attention to the merits of my enemies, and found it an advantage. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Maxims and Reflections (1883)
  • The wise person finds enemies more useful than the fool does friends. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in The Little Book of Buddhism (1999)
  • For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, and enemy is indispensable. So we should be grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us to develop a tranquil mind. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in The Compassionate Life (2001)
  • We cannot learn real patience and tolerance from a guru or a friend. They can be practiced only when we come in contact with someone who creates unpleasant experiences. According to Shantideva, enemies are really good for us as we can learn a lot from them and build our inner strength. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love, and Happiness (2002; first published in India in 1999 under the title The Transformed Life)
  • If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in The Heart of Compassion: A Practical Approach to a Meaningful Life (2002)
  • Never completely encircle your enemy. Leave him some escape, for he will fight even more desperately if trapped. Alex Haley, in Roots (1977)
  • I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my god-damned friends, White, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor nights! Warren G. Harding, a remark to William Alan White; quoted in Thomas Harry Williams, et al., A History of the United States (1959)
  • The enemy…is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on. Joseph Heller, the protagonist Frank Yossarian speaking, in Catch-22 (1961)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This has become one of Hepburn’s most popular quotations, but an original source has not been found.

  • Never let yourself hate any person. It is the most devastating weapon of one’s enemies. Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn, in 1929 letter to daughter Katharine Hepburn, on her twenty-first birthday; reprinted in Hepburn’s autobiography Me (1991)
  • It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. Sally Kempton, “Cutting Loose,” in Esquire magazine (July, 1970)
  • One must know one’s enemy as he is, not as one, for whatever motives, wishes him to be. Eugene Kogon, “Lessons for Tomorrow,” in The Path to Dictatorship 1918–1933 (1966)
  • Nothing is so dangerous as an ignorant friend. Better is it to have a wise enemy. Jean de La Fontaine, in Fables (1668-78)
  • Men strive for peace, but it is their enemies that give them strength, and I think if man no longer had enemies, he would have to invent them, for his strength only grows from struggle. Louis L’Amour, a reflection of the protagonist and narrator Johannes Verne, in The Lonesome Gods (1983)
  • The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1957)
  • It is said we learn truth from our enemies. Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Henry Green, in The Log Cabin: Or, The World Before You (1844)

A moment later, Green added: “The knowledge of ourselves is a difficult study, and we must be willing to borrow the eyes of our enemies to assist the investigation.”

  • You cannot blame everything on the enemy. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Belle speaking, in the short story “The New Atlantis” (1975); in The Compass Rose: Stories (1982)
  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Drift-Wood (1857)

ERROR ALERT: On many internet sites, the forces of political correctness have changed each man's life to each person's life, and sometimes simply to each life.

  • None but yourself who are your greatest foe. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Michel Angelo: A Fragment (incomplete; published posthumously in 1833)
  • I don’t have a warm personal enemy left. They’ve all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me. Clare Booth Luce, remark on The Dick Cavett Show (ABC-TV; July 21, 1981)
  • I make enemies deliberately. They are the sauce piquante to my dish of life. Elsa Maxwell, quoted in The New York Journal-American (Nov. 2, 1963)
  • Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy. Thomas Merton, in Seeds of Contemplation (1949)

Merton continued in a similar vein in the next paragraph: “Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is yourenemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God's love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men.”

  • My nearest/And dearest enemy. Thomas Middleton and John Webster, in Anything for a Quiet Life (1621)
  • Lifelong enemies are, I think, as hard to make and as important to one’s well-being as lifelong friends. Jessica Mitford, “The Best of Frenemies” in the The New York Times (September 13, 1977). A month earlier, the essay had appeared in an August issue of London's Daily Mail

A moment earlier, Mitford had written: “Enemies are, to me, as important as friends in my life, and when they die I mourn their passing.”

QUOTE NOTE: An enemy who is also of some benefit to us is often called a frenemy, a blend of the words friend and enemy. The term, which has been in existence since 1953, was already well known when Mitford wrote her essay in 1977.

  • People wish their enemies dead—but I do not; I say give them the gout, give them the stone! Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, quoted in a letter from Horace Walpole to George Harcourt (Sep. 17, 1778)
  • Learning from one’s enemies is the best way to love them, for it puts one into a grateful mood toward them. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • The knight of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends. Friedrich Nietzsche, in the Foreword to Ecce Homo (written in 1888; first published in 1908)
  • Our enemy is by tradition our savior, in preventing us from superficiality. Joyce Carol Oates, “Master Race,” in Partisan Review: The 50th Anniversary Edition (1985; William Phillips, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is almost always presented on internet sites, but in her original essay, Oates began the observation this way: “As the aphorism has it, our enemy….”

  • You can learn from anyone, even your enemy. Ovid, in Metamorphoses (1st c. A.D)
  • Better a wise enemy than a foolish friend. Proverb (Arab)
  • If your enemy turns to flee, give him a silver bridge. Proverb (English)
  • There is no little enemy. Proverb (French)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying is sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who presented it as his own thought in a September, 1733 issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack.

  • An honest enemy is better than a false friend. Proverb (German)
  • Be thine enemy an ant, see in him an elephant. Proverb (Turkish)
  • Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. Mario Puzo, in the screenplay for the film The Godfather, Part II (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: In the film, the line is delivered by Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who is recalling advice from his father, Don Corleone.

  • Who despises an insignificant enemy resembles him who is careless about fire. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • We can come to look upon the deaths of our enemies with as much regret as we feel for those of our friends, namely, when we miss their existence as witnesses to our success. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Counsels and Maxims,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself. Sun Tzu, in The Art of War (circa 500 B.C.)
  • It is easy to love one’s enemy when one is making fine speeches; but so difficult to do so in the actual everyday work of life. Anthony Trollope, a reflection of the narrator, in Framley Parsonage (1861)
  • Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one’s enemies. Leon Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution (1924)
  • I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: “O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!” God granted it. Voltaire, in a Letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville (May 16, 1767)
  • I’m lonesome. They are all dying. I have hardly a warm personal enemy left. James McNeill Whistler, in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890)
  • One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy. E. B. White, “A Report in January,” in Essays of E. B. White (1977)
  • I call to the world to distrust the accounts of my friends, but listen to my enemies, as I myself do. Walt Whitman “Myself and Mine” (1865), in Leaves of Grass (1855-92)
  • My enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead. Walt Whitman, “Reconciliation” (1865), in Leaves of Grass (1855-92)
  • A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry Wotton speaking in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Lord Wotton preceded the remark by saying: “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects.”

  • Ted Stillman has at last discovered the best way to refer to a Broadway “pal”. Call him a frienemy. Walter Winchell in Evening Courier [Camden, New Jersey] (November 24, 1932)
  • Howz (sic) about calling the Russians our Frienemies? Walter Winchell, in Nevada State Journal (May 19, 1953)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and CANADA & CANADIANS and FRANCE & THE FRENCH and other nations & their citizens, including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia)

  • For six days a week the Englishman worships at the Bank of England, and on the seventh day at the Church of England. John Gunther, in Inside Europe (1936)
  • English life, while very pleasant, is rather bland. I expected kindness and gentility and I found it, but there is such a thing as too much couth. S. J. Perelman, quoted in The Observer (London; Sep. 24, 1971)

QUOTE NOTE: On many internet sites, only the concluding line of the observation is presented: “There is such a thing as too much couth.”

  • Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French. P. G. Wodehouse, the opening line of The Luck of the Bodkins (1935)

QUOTE NOTE: Writer and critic Robert McCrum hailed this as one of “The 10 Best First Lines in Fiction” in a 2012 article in The Guardian. About the line, McCrum wrote: “A classic English comic opening, perfectly constructed to deliver the joke in the final phrase, this virtuoso line also illustrates its author’s uncanny ear for the music of English.”



  • Modern English is the Wal-Mart of languages: convenient, huge, hard to avoid, superficially friendly, and devouring all rivals in its eagerness to expand. Mark Abley, in Spoken Here: Travels Among Spoken Languages (2003)
  • Speak English like it tastes good. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)
  • English is the great Wurlitzer of language, the most perfect all-purpose instrument ever invented. Michael Arlen, quoted in Richard Lederer, The Word Circus (1998)
  • English, n. A language so haughty and reserved that few writers succeed in getting on terms of familiarity with it. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • By its very looseness, by its way of evoking rather than defining, suggesting rather than saying, English is a magnificent vehicle for emotional poetry. Max Beerbohm, “On Speaking French,” in And Even Now (1920)
  • English took time to emerge as the common tongue. There had been luck, but also cunning and the beginnings of what was to become English’s most subtle and ruthless characteristic of all: its capacity to absorb others. Melvyn Bragg, in The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language (2003)
  • One cannot but be impressed by the amazing hospitality of the English language. Robert Burchfield, in The English Language (1985)

Later in the book, Burchfield provided this additional thought: “The English language is like a fleet of juggernaut trucks that goes on regardless. No form of linguistic engineering and no amount of linguistic legislation will prevent the cycles of change that lie ahead.”

  • English has been this vacuum cleaner of a language, because of its history meeting up with the Romans, and then the Danes, the Vikings and then the French and then the Renaissance, with all the Latin and Greek and Hebrew in the background. David Crystal, in “Talk of the Nation“ interview, National Public Radio (April 3, 2012)

Crystal continued: “Every language that English has come into contact with, it's pinched some of the words—thousands and thousands of words in many cases. And something like six-hundred languages have loaned or given words to English over the past 1,000 years.” To listen to the full interview, go to: Crystal NPR Interview

  • It is a language which is being molded by writers to do delicate things and yet be in the grasp of superficially educated people. Raymond Chandler, on American English, in “Notes on English and American Style,” The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)
  • I like to be beholden to the great metropolitan English speech, the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books,” in Society and Solitude (1870)

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson was talking about his preference for reading classical works translated into English rather than in the original Latin, French, German, or Italian. He continued: “I should as soon think of swimming across Charles River when I wish to go to Boston as of reading all my books in originals, when I have them rendered for me in my mother tongue.”

  • If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Oct. 3, 1982)
  • I have always had a deep and abiding love for the English language. I’ve always loved the flirtatious tango of consonants and vowels, the sturdy dependability of nouns and the capricious whimsy of verbs, the strutting pageantry of the adjective and the flitting evanescence of the adverb, all kept safe and orderly by those reliable little policeman, punctuation marks. Dennis Miller, in The Rant Zone (2001)

Miller ended his metaphorical flight of fancy in, for him, a predictable way: “Wow! Think I got my ass kicked much in high school?”

  • The circle of the English language has a well-defined center but no discernible circumference. James A. H. Murray, “General Explanations,” in A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (1888)
  • He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle to steady his fellow countrymen and hearten those Europeans upon whom the long dark night of tyranny had descended. Edward R. Murrow, on Winston Churchill, in CBS broadcast to mark Churchill’s eightieth birthday (Nov. 30, 1954); reprinted in In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938–1961 (1967)
  • The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. James D. Nicoll, “The King’s English,” a Usenet Post (May 15, 1990)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s rare for an internet post to take on a life of its own, but that’s exactly what happened with this colorful metaphor from Nicoll, a Canadian book and game reviewer. His observation has been repeated countless times (often with slight changes in the wording) and is often misattributed to Booker T. Washington, Ambrose Bierce, Terry Pratchett, and others. To see his original Usenet post (which misspelled—and later corrected—the word rifle), go to: James D. Nicoll.

  • The English language is full of words that are just waiting to be misspelled, and the world is full of sticklers, ready to pounce. Mary Norris, in Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2015)
  • Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. George Orwell, “The English People,” (1944); reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 3 (1968; S. Orwell & I. Angus, eds.)

Orwell added: “He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.”

  • A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Howard Richler, title of 1999 book
  • English, no longer an English language, now grows from many roots; and those whom it once colonized are carving out large territories within the language for themselves. The Empire is striking back. Salman Rushdie, quoted in The Times (London; July 3, 1982)
  • English is a stretch language; one size fits all. William Safire, “The Great Permitter,” in On Language (1980)
  • English is a beautiful, bewildering language, and the deeper you dive into it, the more effort it takes to come up to the surface for air. Kory Stamper, in Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (2017)

Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, preceded the thought by writing: “Lexicographers spend a lifetime swimming through the English language in a way that no one else does; the very nature of lexicography demands it.”

  • There is no such thing as “the Queen’s English.” The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares! Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. Derek Walcott, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1986)



  • one’s enjoyment is doubled when one can share it with a friend—and where can one find a more affectionate, a more intimate friend than in one’s own family? Marie Antoinette, a 1793 observation, quoted in Stefan Zweig, Marie Antoinette (1932)
  • To diminish expectation is to increase enjoyment. Fanny Burney, in Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)
  • The real difficulty of man is not to enjoy lamp-posts or landscapes, not to enjoy dandelions or chops, but to enjoy enjoyment. That is the practical problem which the philosopher has to solve. G. K. Chesterton, in The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: The simple ability to experience enjoyment—over even the smallest things—was at the very heart of appreciation, according to Chesterton. He preceded the thought by writing: “The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”

  • In a wicked way, it is an incentive to good living to observe the spice of enjoyment there is to a godly soul in a very little sin. Margaret Deland, in Florida Days (1889)
  • Our pleasures in literature do not, I think, decline with age; last 1st of January was my eighty-second birthday, and I think that I had as much enjoyment from books as I ever had in my life. Maria Edgeworth, in an 1849 letter, quoted in The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, Vol. 2 (1895; Augustus J.C. Hare, ed.)
  • The cream of enjoyment in this life is always impromptu. The chance walk; the unexpected visit; the unpremeditated journey; the unsought conversation or acquaintance. Fanny Fern, in Caper Sauce (1872)
  • Anticipation was the soul of enjoyment. Elizabeth Gaskell, “The Cage at Cranford,” in All the Year Round (1863)
  • Riches are always over estimated [sic]; the enjoyment they give is more in the pursuit than the possession. Sarah Josepha Hale, the character Mrs. Lowe, giving advice to her daughter Margaret, “The Thanksgiving of the Heart,” in Traits of American Life (1835)
  • A powerful preacher is open to the same sense of enjoyment—an awful, tremulous, goose-flesh sort of state, but still enjoyment—that a great tragedian feels when he curdles the blood of his audience. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Guardian Angel (1867; originally serialized in The Atlantic)
  • Restraint is the golden rule of enjoyment. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • To enjoy yourself is the easy method to give enjoyment to others. L.E. Landon, “The Talisman,” in The Book of Beauty (1833)

Landon also wrote: “Occupation is one great source of enjoyment. No man, properly occupied, was ever miserable.”

  • There are two phases of enjoyment in journeying through an unknown country—the eager phase of wondering interest in every detail, and the relaxed phase when one feels no longer an observer of the exotic, but a participator in the rhythm of daily life. Dervla Murphy, in In Ethiopia With a Mule (1968)
  • He has a capacity for enjoyment so vast that he gives away great chunks to those about him, and never even misses them. I can say no more of him than that he can take you to a bicycle-race, and make it raise your hair. Dorothy Parker, in The New Yorker (November 30, 1929)
  • Privilege, almost by definition, requires that someone else pay the price for its enjoyment. Paula Ross, “Women, Oppression, Privilege, and Competition,” in Valerie Miner and Helen E. Longino, Competition (1987)
  • I have always said and felt that true enjoyment can not be described. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Confessions (1782)
  • There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. George Santayana, “War Shrines,” in Soliloquies in England and Later Solilloquies (1922)
  • In our pursuit of the things of this world, we usually prevent enjoyment by expectation; we anticipate our own happiness, and eat out the heart and sweetness and worldly pleasures by delightful forethoughts of them; so that when we come to possess them, they do not answer the expectation, nor satisfy the desires which were raised about them, and they vanish into nothing. John Tillotson, “An Exhortation to Seek the Things Above,” in Sermons (1704; Ralph Barker, ed.)
  • If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)

Tolle introduced the thought by writing: “The modalities of awakened doing are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all–from the most simple task to the most complex.”

  • There is a limit to enjoyment, though the sources of wealth be boundless;/And the choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation. Martin F. Tupper, “Of Compensation,” in Proverbial Philosophy (1838–42)
  • I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves. Ludwig Wittgenstein, quoted in Miles Hollingworth, Ludwig Wittgenstein (2018)
  • I have always noticed that when people consider others eccentric, it is because they are reveling in some form of enjoyment that their critics can neither compass nor share. Mabel Osgood Wright, in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)
  • Enjoy every sandwich. Warren Zevon, on life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, on The Late Show with David Letterman (Oct. 30. 2002)



  • The enmity of one’s kindred is far more bitter than the enmity of strangers. Democritus, quoted by T. V. Smith, “The Golden Sayings of Democritus,” in From Thales to Plato (1934)
  • Next to happiness, perhaps enmity is the most healthful stimulant of the human mind. Margaret Oliphant, the voice of the narrator, in The Perpetual Curate (1870)


  • You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • Enough’s as good as a feast. George Chapman, Ben Jonson, & John Marston, the character Hamlet speaking, in the play Eastward Ho (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: Henry Fielding was almost certainly inspired by this quotation when, in his 1732 play The Covent-Garden Tragedy, he had the character Kissinda say: “Enough is equal to a feast.” The saying has now become proverbial, almost always in the phrasing “Enough is as good as a feast.” The meaning of the saying is that having a sufficient amount of something is just as important as having an abundance of it. The implication is that there is a point at which an additional amount of something—as in, say, money or food—will not bring about an increased amount of happiness or satisfaction.



  • I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you’re an idiot. Steve Martin, a Facebook post (Nov. 27, 2011)
  • I can’t get past the fact that food is coming out of my wife’s breasts. What was once essentially an entertainment center has now become a juice bar. Paul Reiser, after the birth of his first child, in Babyhood (1997)

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

  • Sex is the only form of entertainment where the performers are allowed to write their own reviews. Edgar R. Schneider, in Discovering My Autism (1999)
  • Art is the response to the demand for entertainment, for the stimulation of our senses and imagination, and truth enters into it only as it subserves these ends. George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty (1896)
  • It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names. Isaac Bashevis Singer, in Richard Durgin, “Isaac Bashevis Singer Talks…About Everything,” in The New York Times (Nov. 26, 1978)

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



  • Enthusiasm is the glory and hope of the world. A. Bronson Alcott, “Orphic Sayings,” in The Dial (July, 1840)
  • Enthusiasms, like stimulants, are often affected by people with small mental ballast. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
  • A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one. Mary Kay Ash, in On People Management (1984)
  • None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm. Author Unknown, but commonly attributed to Henry David Thoreau

ERROR ALERT: This quotation has been widely attributed to Thoreau for more than a century, but nothing like it has ever been found in his writings.

  • If you can give your son only one gift, let it be enthusiasm. Bruce Barton, in More Power to You: Fifty Editorials from Every Week (1917)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation: “If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.” However, Barton’s original editorial reflected the rampant sexism of the era, with boys being groomed for future careers, and nary a mention of girls. See the original piece at: Barton on Enthusiam

  • In things pertaining to enthusiasm, no man is sane who does not know how to be insane on proper occasions. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Enthusiasm, n. A distemper of youth, curable by small doses of repentance in connection with outward application of experience. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the voice of the narrator, in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834)

Bulwer-Lytton went on to add about enthusiasm: “It moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.”

  • All noble enthusiasms pass through a feverish stage, and grow wiser and more serene. William Ellery Channing, in Emancipation (1840)

QUOTE NOTE: Channing, a pioneering figure in the battle against slavery, was talking about the abolitionist movement here, but his observation would seem to apply to all enthusiasms, noble and otherwise..

  • Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. For what is enthusiasm but the oblivion and swallowing-up of self in an object dearer than self? Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in The Statesman's Manual (1816)

QUOTE NOTE: Many respected quotation anthologies attribute “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it is true that the line appears in the “Circles” essay in his Essays: First Series (1841). Emerson had likely read the Coleridge book earlier in his life, filed the saying away in the back of his mind, and later retrieved it without realizing he was repeating another author’s words.

  • You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), quoted in The New York World-Telegram & Sun (1961)
  • The sense of this word among the Greeks affords the noblest definition of it: enthusiasm signifies God in us. Germaine de Staël, in De L’Allemagne (1813)

QUOTE NOTE: The root sense of the word enthusiasm is “a god within,” coming from the Greek en (“in” or “within”) and theos (god). The underlying meaning is that people with enthusiasm are fueled by a power far greater than they possess on their own. Madame de Staël was one of the first writers in history—if not the first—to reference the etymology of the word in a popular work (De L’Allemagne was a study of German history and culture). Later in the century, Louis Pasteur made a similar etymological reference in his acceptance speech to the Académie Française (April 27, 1882): “The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the below things. They are the ones who gave us one of the most beautiful words in our language, the word enthusiasm—Εν Θεος–A God within.”

  • Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm. Isaac D’Israeli, “Solitude,” in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 2, (1793)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to D’Israeli’s son, Benjamin Disraeli.

  • Truth is never to be expected from authors whose understanding is warped with enthusiasm. John Dryden, in Dedication to The Life of Plutarch (1683)

Dryden continued: “For they judge all actions, and their causes, by their own perverse principles, and a crooked line can never be the measure of a straight one.”

  • Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Man the Reformer: A Lecture” (Boston; Jan. 25, 1841), in Orations, Lectures, and Addresses (1844)
  • Enthusiasm is a volcano on whose top never grows the grass of hesitation. Kahlil Gibran, in Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran (1962; Anthony R. Ferris, trans. & ed.)
  • Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away by it. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in T. Bailey Saunders, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1892)

QUOTE NOTE: I haven’t seen the observation in the original German, so I don’t know if Goethe deserves credit for originating the popular idiom of being carried away by enthusiasm. It’s possible the translator may have given the observation a modern look.

  • Enthusiasm is the great hill-climber. Elbert Hubbard, in A Thousand and One Epigrams (1911)
  • There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted. Washington Irving, the narrator of “The Adventure of the German Student,” in Tales of a Traveller (1824)

QUOTE NOTE: A little more than a decade later, The Ladies’ Companion (Nov., 1835) published the story, without any attribution, under the title: “Gottfried Wolfgang: A Tale, Picked Up in a French Mad-House.”

  • If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. Vince Lombardi, quoted in Lee Green, Sportswit (1984)
  • What is enthusiasm but a passionate belief in what seems to be a high and holy aim—an unselfish devotion to some noble cause—a consecration of heart and mind and soul to the attainment of a great object? Orison Swett Marden, in Success (1897)

Marden continued: “What is it but an earnest effort to attain the heights of spiritual and intellectual endeavor? What is it but the life, the force, the power, which makes individuals or nations capable of enduring much and waiting long, in the conviction that ultimately the thing they have at heart will be accomplished?”

  • Enthusiasm is contagious. Be a carrier. Susan Rabin, in How to Attract Anyone, Anytime, Anyplace (1993; with Barbara Lagowski)
  • It is so much easier to be enthusiastic than to reason! Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • Enthusiasm is a divine possession. Margaret E. Sangster, in Winsome Womanhood (1900)
  • I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the greatest assets I possess. Charles W. Schwab, quoted in Eugene Clyde Brooks, Education for Democracy (1919)
  • Enthusiasm is to a person what gasoline is to the engine of an automobile: the vital moving force. W. Clement Stone, in Believe and Achieve: W. Clement Stone’s 17 Principles of Success (1991; rev. 2002)

Stone preceded the observation by writing: “Enthusiasm is a state of mind that inspires and arouses a person to action. It is contagious and affects not only the enthused, but everyone with whom he or she comes in contact.”

  • Enthusiasm is ever a gracious, pardonable thing, because in its essentials are youth and zeal and all high, white-hot qualities whose roots strike not in the base earth. Katherine Cecil Thurston, the narrator describing the character Maxine, in Max: A Novel (1910)
  • Enthusiasm can only be kindled by two things: an ideal which takes the imagination by storm, and a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice. Arnold Toynbee, “The Education of Co-Operators,” an 1882 Oxford University lecture, reprinted in Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England (pub. posthumously in 1884)

QUOTE NOTE: Toynbee preceded the thought by writing: “Languor can only be conquered by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be kindled….”

ERROR ALERT: All over the Internet, Toynbee’s observation is worded as if it began Apathy can only be conquered by enthusiasm, and with the word aroused rather than kindled. The source of the error is Norman Vincent Peale, who originally misquoted Toynbee in Enthusiasm Makes the Difference (1967).

  • Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Samuel Ullman, from the poem “Youth” (c. 1900), in From the Summit of Years, Four Score (1922)

Ullman preceded the thought by writing: “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.”

ERROR ALERT: On his 75th birthday in 1955, Gen. Douglas MacArthur quoted, without attribution, this and other lines from Ullman’s poem. As a result, the saying is often mistakenly attributed to him.



  • Entitlement spending—the politics of greed wrapped in the language of love. Dick Armey, on President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy, quoted in U. S. News & World Report (Dec. 12, 1994)



  • Even the gods are moved by the voice of entreaty. Ovid, in The Art of Love (1st c. A.D.)



  • If you are an entrepreneur planning to start your own company, I can’t think of a better place to begin than by operating your business by the Golden Rule. Make this a high priority. Never make a decision that contradicts the Golden Rule. Mary Kay Ash, in You Can Have it All (1995)
  • I became an entrepreneur by mistake. Ever since then I’ve gone into business, not to make money, but because I think I can do it better than it’s been done elsewhere. And, quite often, just out of personal frustration about the way it’s been done by other people. Richard Branson, quoted in Martyn Lewis, Reflections on Success (1997)

The remark came in an interview with Lewis. In that same interview, Branson also said: “I think that people have the idea of an entrepreneur being the sort of stereotype person who treads all over everybody and bullies their way to the top. There certainly are people like that, and they have managed to get away with it, but they generally get their come-uppance in the end.”

  • If you want swashbuckling action in your life, become an entrepreneur and give it a go. Richard Branson, in Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur (2008)
  • Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. Peter Drucker, in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (1985)
  • The key role of entrepreneurs, like the most crucial role of scientists, is not to fill in the gaps in an existing market or theory, but to generate entirely new markets or theories George Gilder, in The Spirit of Enterprise (1986)

Gilder went on to write about entrepreneurs: “They stand before a canvas as empty as any painter’s; a page as blank as any poet’s.”

  • I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. Steve Jobs, advice to young entrepreneurs, in interview with Daniel Morrow at The Computerworld Smithsonian Awards Program (April 20, 1995)

A moment later, Jobs went on to add: “Unless you have a lot of passion…you’re not going to survive. You’re going to give it up. So you’ve got to have an idea, or a problem or a wrong that you want to right that you’re passionate about otherwise you’re not going to have the perseverance to stick it through. I think that’s half the battle right there.”

  • An entrepreneur must be decisive and must also be prepared to grasp opportunity. Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin. I wasted no time in finding out the particulars of Remington’s situation. Victor Kiam, in Going for It! How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur (1986)

QUOTE NOTE: Kiam offered the thought in connection with his 1979 decision to purchase Remington Products shortly after his wife had given him his first electric shaver as a gift (in later television commercials, he would famously say, “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company”).

  • The average for entrepreneurs is 3.8 failures before they finally make it in business. John C. Maxwell, in Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success (2007)
  • Going into business for yourself, becoming an entrepreneur, is the modern-day equivalent of pioneering on the old frontier. Paula Nelson, in The Joy of Money: The Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom (1975)
  • A vision is something you see and others don’t. Some people would say that’s a pocket definition of lunacy. But it also defines entrepreneurial spirit. Anita Roddick, in Body and Soul (1991)
  • Entrepreneurs are outsiders by nature—outsiders with a work ethic. Anita Roddick, in Business As Unusual (2000)
  • Entrepreneurs are all a little crazy. There is a fine line between an entrepreneur and a crazy person. Anita Roddick, in Business As Unusual (2000)

Roddick continued: “Crazy people see and feel things that others don’t. An entrepreneur’s dream is often a kind of madness, and it is almost as isolating. What differentiates the entrepreneur from the crazy person is that the former gets other people to believe in his vision.”

  • Entrepreneurs must love what they do to such a degree that doing it is worth sacrifice and, at times, pain. But doing anything else, we think, would be unimaginable. Howard Schultz, in Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul (2011; with Joanne Gordon)
  • An entrepreneur is someone willing to go out on a limb, having it cut off behind her, and discovering she had wings all the time. Leigh Thomas, quoted in Rebecca Maddox, Inc. Your Dreams (1995)



  • What is the use of building a great city if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to build it on? Edward Abbey, in address at a protest demonstration at Colorado’s Glen Canyon Dam (March, 1981)

Abbey went on to add: “How can we create a civilization for for the dignity of free men and women if the globe itself is ravaged and polluted and defiled and insulted?

  • It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams, in interview in Playboy magazine (May 1, 1983)
  • We have probed the earth, excavated it, burned it, ripped things from it, buried things in it, chopped down its forests, leveled its hills, muddied its waters, and dirtied its air. That does not fit my definition of a good tenant. If we were here on a month-to-month basis, we would have been evicted long ago. Rose Bird, in San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle (Dec. 18, 1977)
  • We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do. Barbara Ward, in Only One Earth (1972)


(includes COVETOUS; see also JEALOUSY and RESENTMENT)

  • In imaginative envy, we idealize what we don’t have. The act of yearning for something transmutes it from base metal into gold. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)
  • Few men have the strength of character to rejoice in a friend’s success without a touch of envy. Aeschylus, in Agamemnon (5th c. B.C.)
  • As iron is eaten away by rust, so the envious are consumed by their own passion. Antisthenes (4th cent. B.C.), quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd cent. A.D.)
  • Emulation admires and strives to imitate great actions; envy is only moved to malice. Honoré de Balzac, quoted in Edward Parsons Day, Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation, though widely cited, has not been found in any of Balzac’s works.

  • Congratulation, n. The civility of envy. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)
  • Envy, n. Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)
  • Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Josh Billings’ Wit and Humor (1874)
  • If one has a cow, it is always better not to be too familiar with those who have seven. Phyllis Bottome, in Old Wine (1925)
  • He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind. Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, quoted in Celina LuZanne Boozer, Heritage of Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha Gautama (1953)
  • As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man. St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)
  • Envy, if surrounded on all sides by the brightness of another’s prosperity, like the scorpion confined within a circle of fire, will sting itself to death. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • People may show jealousy, but hide their envy. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • Greatness is always envied—it is only mediocrity that can boast of a host of friends. Marie Corelli, “The Happy Life,” in Free Opinions: Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct (1905)
  • Nothing gives small minds a better handle for hatred than superiority—especially when that superiority is never asserted, but only felt. Marie Corelli, the character Mr. Harland speaking, in The Life Everlasting:A Romance of Reality (1911)
  • Every time you envy someone you use a muscle in your face to disadvantage. If you do it only once or twice, it can be erased. But over a period of years, those muscles will tighten your mouth, narrow your eyes, and help destroy your attractiveness. Arlene Dahl, in Always Ask a Man: Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity (1965)
  • When I heard that people were talking about me, I consoled myself with what my mother, Ruthie, used to say: “Birds peck at the best fruit.” Bette Davis, quoted in Charlotte Chandler, The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis (2007)
  • Envy and hatred fascinate the eyes and never make them see things as they are. Marguerite de Valois, in Memoirs of Marguerite de Valois (1628)
  • Hatred is a prolific vice; envy, a barren vice. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Envy is ignorance. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this longer passage about trusting and relying upon oneself: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

  • Pity that gold should always bring with it the canker— covetousness. Fanny Fern, in Fresh Leaves (1857)
  • When is enough enough? In envy’s eyes, enough never is. Somebody else always has something we want. Nancy Friday, Jealousy (1985)
  • Envy is one of the scorpions of the mind, often having little to do with the objective, external world. Bonnie Friedman, in Writing Past Dark (1993)

In her book, Friedman also offered this thought: “The antidote to envy is one’s own work. Always one’s own work. Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the doing of it. The answers you want can come only from the work itself.”

  • Envy shooteth at others and woundeth herself. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Nothing sharpens sight like envy. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Envy is a kind of praise. John Gay, “The Hound and the Huntsman,” in Fables (1727)
  • The envious die not once, but as oft as the envied win applause. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Whereas envy leads to a hateful attitude toward those who have what is believed to be unavailable to the self, it also leads to attitudes that keep that which is envied unavailable. Althea Horner, in The Wish for Power and the Fear of Having It (1989)
  • Even in envy may be discerned something of an instinct of justice, something of a wish to see universal fair-play, and things on a level. Leigh Hunt, in The Indicator (Sep. 13, 1820)

QUOTE NOTE: Three years later, in an observation that was clearly inspired by Hunt’s words, William Hazlitt wrote in Characteristics (1823): “Envy, among other ingredients, has a mixture of the love of justice in it. We are more angry at undeserved than at deserved good fortune.”

  • Envy is a littleness of soul, which cannot see beyond a certain point, and if it does not occupy the whole space, feels itself excluded. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. Zora Neale Hurston, in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. Ivan Illich, in Tools for Conviviality (1973)
  • Envy is that tawdry emotion one never becomes totally immune to here in L.A.; at any given moment, most of us have our noses flat-pressed against one windowpane or another. Everywhere you turn, there’s something or someone bigger, better, more beautiful. There's always a blonder blond, a buxomer babe, a hotter award on the mantelpiece. Barbara King, “Heeding the Water’s Sweet Siren Song,” in The Los Angeles Times (Aug. 7, 2003)
  • Envy is the gasoline on which a competitive society runs. John Lahr, “Dogma Days,” The New Yorker (Nov. 16, 1992)
  • How Envy dogs success. L. E. Landon, “A History of the Lyre,” in The Venetian Bracelet (1829)
  • Envy coexists only too easily with righteous disapproval. Ursula K. Le Guin, in No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (2017)
  • Envy has always hidden behind moral indignation. Doris Lessing, in Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949–1962 (1997)
  • We often pride ourselves on even the most criminal passions, but envy is a timid and shame-faced passion we never dare acknowledge. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • No woman is envious of another's virtue who is conscious of her own. Charlotte Lennox, the title character speaking, in Sophia (1762)
  • Envy, as a rule, is of success rather than of merit. No one would have objected to his talent deserving recognition—only to his getting it. Ada Leverson, in The Limit (1911)
  • Envy is stimulated by a disappointment with the self—a sense that one is lacking in some way and that all the good exists outside oneself. Nic Liberman, “Envy,” in Being Warren Buffett: Life Lessons From a Cheerful Billionaire (2014)

Liberman continued: “The good is removed from the self and transferred to the thing or person one envies; and this thing or person becomes the container of all that is desirable.”

  • Envy, like flame, soars upward. Livy, in History of Rome (1st cent. B.C.)
  • The truly covetous have never enough! Delarivier Manley, in Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes (1709)
  • I am Envy, begotten of a chimneysweeper and an oysterwife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt. Christopher Marlowe, in Dr. Faustus (1604)
  • Spite is never lonely; envy always tags along. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • It is more to my personal happiness and advantage to indulge the love and admiration of excellence, than to cherish a secret envy of it. Elizabeth Montagu, in a letter to Mrs. Barbaud (Feb 22, 1744), quote in Anna Letitia Le Breton, Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld (1874)
  • Anger is a violent act, envy a constant habit—no one can be always angry, but he may be always envious. Hannah More, “On Envy,” in Essays on Various Subjects (1777)
  • A slowness to applaud betrays a cold temper or an envious spirit. Hannah More, quoted in William Roberts, Memories of the Life of Mrs. Hannah More (1835)
  • Envy is a symptom of lack of appreciation of our own uniqueness and self worth. Elizabeth O’Connor, in Eighth Day of Creation (1971)
  • Envy is a gun with a faulty breech-lock which flares back and burns the gunner. Austin O’Malley, Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Envy, the meanest of vices, creeps on the ground like a serpent. Ovid, in Letters From the Black Sea (1st cent. B.C.)
  • There one sits, reading and writing, month after month, tear after year. There one sits, envying other young writers who have achieved a grain more than oneself. Without the rush and brush and crush of the world, one becomes hollowed out. The cavity fills with envy. Cynthia Ozick, in Paris Review interview (Spring 1987)

QUOTE NOTE: Ozick was reflecting on the many years she spent writing before her first book was published at age 37 (Trust, in 1966)

  • If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill. Proverb (Danish)
  • When all men praised the peacock for his tail, the birds cried out, “Look at his legs! And what a voice!” Proverb (Japanese)
  • There is a natural limit to the success we wish our friends, even when we have spurred them on their way. Agnes Repplier, “When Lalla Rookh Was Young,” in A Happy Half-Century (1908)
  • Need drives men to envy as fullness drives them to selfishness. Agnes Repplier, “Allies,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • Envy is merely the meanest form of admiration, and a man who envies another admits thereby his own inferiority. Theodore Roosevelt, in The Strenuous Epigrams of Theodore Roosevelt (1904)

A bit later in the book, Roosevelt added this other observation on the topic: “If you use envy in the ordinary sense of the word, its existence implies a feeling of inferiority in the man who feels it, a feeling that a self-respecting man will be ashamed to have.”

  • The man who has double my salary is doubtless tortured by the thought that someone else in turn has twice as much as he has, and so it goes on. If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon. But Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I dare say, envied Hercules, who never existed. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930).
  • The vulgar bark at men of mark, as dogs bark at strangers. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in De vita beata [On the Happy Life] (1st c. A.D.)
  • Such men as he be never at heart’s ease/Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,/And therefore are they very dangerous. William Shakespeare, the title character referring to Cassius, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • A competitive society is a society of envy. Dorothee Sölle, in The Arms Race Kills Even Without War (1983)
  • Envy is as persistent as memory, as intractable as a head cold. Harry Stein, “Thy Neighbor’s Life,” in Esquire (July, 1980)
  • We are savages insides. We all want to be the chosen, the beloved, the esteemed. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t at one point or another had that why not me? voice pop into the interior mix when something good has happened to someone else. Cheryl Strayed, in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (2012)
  • To envy is to draw circles that isolate us from others, to take small, bitter trips that diminish the traveler. Phyllis Theroux, in Night Lights: Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark (1987)
  • Base envy withers at another’s joy,/And hates that excellence it cannot reach. James Thomson, “Spring” (1728), in The Seasons: A Poem (1730)
  • Some folk are always thirsting for water from other people’s wells. Jessamyn West, in Leafy Rivers (1967)
  • A show of envy is an insult to oneself. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, in The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1953–1965 (1965)



  • An epigram is a flashlight of a truth; a witticism is truth laughing at itself. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
  • Our live experiences, fixed in aphorisms, stiffen into cold epigrams. F. H. Bradley, in Aphorisms (1930)

QUOTE NOTE: Bradley was describing the difficulty in capturing actual experience in written words. He added: “Our heart’s blood, as we write it, turns to mere dull ink.”

  • An epigram is only a wisecrack that’s played at Carnegie Hall. Oscar Levant, in Coronet magazine (Sep., 1968)
  • A “brilliant epigram” is a solemn platitude gone to a masquerade ball. Lionel Strachey, “Odd Ideas,” in The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. 9 (1906)
  • A good epigram doesn’t drench you with the water of wisdom; it’s a splash in the face, part taunt, part blessing. Tad Tuleja, in Quirky Quotations (2000)



  • Under here, we’re all equal Gloria Allred, a suggested epitaph for herself, in More (2006)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a snippet from the closing words of one of Burns’s most celebrated poems. The fuller passage went this way: “Reader, attend! whether thy soul/Soars fancy’s flights beyond the pole,/Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,/In low pursuit;/Know, prudent, cautious self-control/Is wisdom’s root.”

  • A little humor can make life worth living. That has always been my credo. Someone once asked me, “What would you like your epitaph to be?” I’ve always said that I’d like it to be: “He left people a little happier than they were when he came into the room.” Bennett Cerf, quoted by Christopher Cerf, in 2002 Introduction to At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf (1977)
  • And were an epitaph to be my story,/I’d have a short one ready for my own./I would have written of me on my stone:/I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. Robert Frost, “The Lesson for Today,” in reading before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Harvard University (June 20, 1941); later published in A Witness Tree (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world” is often described as Frost’s epitaph, and it is true that the words do appear on Frost’s gravestone in the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont. Frost died twenty-two years after the poem was written, and it is not clear that he intended the saying as his final words. But that is exactly what happened when, shortly after his death, surviving family members had the saying inscribed on his gravestone. The saying became indelibly associated with Frost after the broadcast of a 1963 PBS documentary titled Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel With the World. For more on the saying, go to “This Day in Quotes”.

  • This is too deep for me. Hedy Lamarr, suggesting her own epitaph, quoted in Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes (1973)
  • About the best a parent can hope for is the epitaph, “He Meant Well.” Josephine Lawrence, in My Heart Shall Not Fear (1949)
  • This is on me. Dorothy Parker, suggesting her own epitaph, quoted in Robert E. Drennan, The Algonquin Wits (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: On other occasions, Parker suggested two additional epitaphs for herself: “Excuse my dust” and “Involved in a plot.”

  • For my own epitaph, I ask that it be: “I loved and was loved and all the rest was background music.” Estelle R. Ramey, quoted in Erica Goode, Letters for Our Children (1996)
  • I wonder how many of our tombstones will have to be inscribed with the epitaph “Died of too many meetings”? Hannah Whitall Smith, an 1891 remark, quoted in Logan Pearsall Smith, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H.W.S.” (1949)
  • We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane. Kurt Vonnegut, Kilgore Trout’s epitaph, in Breakfast of Champions (1973)
  • If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on its headstone might well be: “It seemed a good idea at the time.” Rebecca West, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, “Talk with Rebecca West,” in The New York Times Book Review (Oct. 2, 1977)



  • 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.



  • There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and to elect lawmakers. Susan B. Anthony, in The Arena (1897)
  • Equality consists in the same treatment of of similar persons. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • When quarrels and complaints arise, it is when people who are equal have not got equal shares, or vice versa. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • The principle of equality does not destroy the imagination, but lowers its flight to the level of the earth. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America (1835-39)
  • We cannot legislate equality but we can legislate…equal opportunity for all. Helen Gahagan Douglas, in A Full Life (1982)
  • There can be no truer principle than this—that every individual of the community at large has an equal right to the protection of government. Alexander Hamilton, in address at Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (June 29, 1787)
  • In theory we are all equal before the law. In practice, there are overwhelming privileges that come with winning the birth lottery. Arianna Huffington, in Fanatics and Fools (2004)
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Thomas Jefferson, the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).

QUOTE NOTE: These are among the most famous words ever written, originally appearing in a document drafted by America’s Founding Fathers to formally declare their grievances against the government of King George III and sever ties with England. Below, see how Elizabeth Cady Stanton tweaked the passage to include women.

  • All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents. John F. Kennedy, in address at San Diego State College (June 6, 1963)
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” at the First Woman’s Rights Convention (1848), quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage, The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1 (1881)
  • The more equality there is established among men, the more virtue and happiness will reign in society. Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790)
  • Virtue can only flourish among equals. Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790)



  • An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted. Arthur Miller, “The Year it Came Apart,” in New York magazine (Dec. 30, 1974—Jan. 6, 1975)
  • Looking back, you can usually find the moment of the birth of a new era, whereas, when it happened, it was one day hooked on to the tail of another. John Steinbeck, the voice of the narrator, in Sweet Thursday (1954)



  • Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain. Gloria Steinem, in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1984)





  • An error is the more dangerous in proportion to the degree of truth which it contains. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (Dec. 26, 1852)
  • Error is certainty’s constant companion. Error is the corollary of evidence. And anything said about truth may equally well be said about error: the delusion will be no greater. Louis Aragon, “Preface to a Modern Mythology,” in Paris Peasant (1926)

Aragon began by writing: “There exists a black kingdom which the eyes of man avoid because its landscape fails signally to flatter them. This darkness, which he imagines he can dispense with in describing the light, is error.”

  • The error bred in the bone/Of each woman and each man/Craves what it cannot have,/Not universal love/But to be loved alone. W H. Auden, in the poem “September 1, 1939”; reprinted in The English Auden: Poems, Essays, & Dramatic Writings, 1927–1939 (1977, E. Mendelsohn, ed.)

Auden introduced this portion of the poem by writing: “What the mad Nijinsky wrote/About Diaghilev/Is true of the normal heart.”

  • Would you like to sin/With Elinor Glyn/On a tigerskin?/Or Would you prefer/To err/With her/On some other fur? Author Unknown, a 1907 poem, quoted in Anthony Glyn, Elinor Glyn: A Biography (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: For those who have struggled with the correct pronunciation of the word err, this 1907 poem offers perhaps the best possible explanation. Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) was an English writer of romantic fiction. She popularized the term “It-girl” and the use of the word “It” as a shorthand term for sex appeal.

  • Truth emerges more readily from error than confusion. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)
  • Every man has the right to an opinion but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts. Bernard Baruch, quoted in an October 1946 Associated Press article, reprinted in “Baruch Upholds U.S. Atom Plan,” The Galveston Daily News (October 9, 1946)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 2020 Quote Investigator post, Garson O’Toole identifies this as the earliest appearance in print of a sentiment that has been widely repeated by others, including Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In March 1948, the Reader’s Digest quoted Baruch in a slightly different way (“Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts”), and it is this latter version that is most commonly seen today.

  • It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles. Claude Bernard, in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865)
  • The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who are strong. George Bidault, quoted in The Observer (London; July 15, 1962)
  • Many…have too rashly charged the troops of error, and remain as trophies unto the enemies of truth. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), “Truth and Convenience” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • An error is simply a failure to adjust immediately from a preconception to an actuality. John Cage, in Silence (1961)
  • Who errs and mends, to God himself commends. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Sancho speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • There is something to be said for every error; but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous. G. K. Chesterton, quoted in The Illustrated London News (April 25, 1931)
  • So easy it is to see the errors of past ages, so difficult to acknowledge our own! Lydia Maria Child, in 1833 letter to Miss Sarah shaw, from Letters of Lydia Maria Child (1882)
  • Any man may err, but only a fool persists in his error. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Oratio Philippica I (44 B.C.)
  • There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find its defenders among the ablest men. John Dalberg (Lord Acton), in letter to Mary Gladstone (April 24, 1881)

Lord Acton continued: “Imagine a congress of eminent celebrities such as More, Bacon, Grotius, Pascal, Cromwell, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Napoleon, Pitt, etc. The result would be an Encyclopedia of Error.”

  • To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. Charles Darwin, in letter to A. S. Wilson (March 5, 1879)
  • Error proliferates. Man tracks it down and cuts it up into little pieces hoping to turn it into grains of truth. René Daumal, “The Lie of the Truth” (1938), in Essais et Notes (1972); reprinted in The Lie of the Truth (1989)
  • He who thinks little, errs much. Leonardo da Vinci, in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1888)
  • Errors, like Straws, upon the surface flow;/He who would search for Pearls must dive below. John Dryden, in Prologue to All for Love, or the World Well Lost (1677)
  • Many a truth is the result of an error. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Truth is immortal; error is mortal. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health (1875)

In the book, Eddy also wrote: “Error tills its own barren soil and buries itself in the ground, since ground and dust stand for nothingness.”

  • Errors look so very ugly in persons of small means—one feels they are taking quite a liberty in going astray; whereas people of fortune may naturally indulge in a few delinquencies. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator in “Janet’s Repentance,” from Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Error is popular because people are afraid to grow up. Clear thinking means facing the fact that life is full of difficult problems, that we cannot escape from pain, discomfort and uncertainty, that we cannot attain happiness by turning away from reality. Rudolf Flesch, in The Art of Clear Thinking (1951)
  • Error is always in Haste. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for errors; and those of the poor and lowly, for crimes. Marguerite Gardiner (Countess of Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • For most of us, errors are like cockroaches: we stomp them the moment we see them and then flush the corpse as fast as we can, never pausing to contemplate the intricate design of nature’s great survivor, never asking what it might reveal beyond itself. Daniel Gilbert, “The Errors of Our Ways” (a review of Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong), in The New York Times (July 23, 2010)
  • Mistakes are a fact of life/It is response to error that counts. Nikki Giovanni, in “Of Liberation” (1970)
  • Man errs as long as he strives. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Lord speaking, in Faust (1808)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also commonly translated: “Man errs, till he has ceased to strive.”

  • Error is acceptable as long as we are young; but one must not drag it along into old age. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in On Art and Antiquity, Vol. 3 (1821)
  • When I err, every one can see it; but not when I lie. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1892; Bailey Saunders, trans. & ed.)

The Saunders translation of Goethe’s classic anthology also contained these other entries on the subject:

“To err is to be as though truth did not exist. To lay bare the error to oneself and others is retrospective discovery.”

“Error is related to truth as sleep to waking. I have observed that on awakening from error a man turns again to truth as with a new vigor.”

“It is much easier to recognize error than to find truth; for error lies on the surface and may be overcome; but truth lies in the depths, and to search for it is not given to every one.”

“Truth requires us to recognize ourselves as limited, but error flatters us with the belief that in one way or another we are subject to no bounds at all.”

  • The greatest of sages can commit one mistake, but not two; he may fall into error, but he doesn’t lie down and make his home there. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Admitting Error clears the Score/And proves you Wiser than before. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • The road to wisdom?—Well, it's plain/and simple to express:/Err/and err/and err again/but less/and less/and less. Piet Hein, “The Road to Wisdom?” in Grooks (1966)
  • Every judgment teeters on the brink of error. Frank Herbert, the character Leto speaking, in Children of Dune (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Leto added: “To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.“ Herbert borrowed the adventure at the edge of uncertainty expression from Jacob Bronowski, who employed it a few years earlier in his 1973 classic The Ascent of Man (see the Bronowski entry in KNOWLEDGE).

  • To rise from error to truth is rare and beautiful. Victor Hugo, in Preface to The Legend of the Ages (1859)
  • Generally speaking, the errors of religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous. David Hume, in A Treatise upon Human Nature (1739)
  • An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth. Robert G. Ingersoll, in The Great Infidels (1881)
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. James Joyce, in Ulysses (1922)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often wrongly presented as: A man's errors are his portals of discovery.

  • Error is just as important a condition of life as truth. Carl G. Jung, in Psychological Reflections: An Anthology of Jung's Writings, 1905-1961 (1945; Second Edition 1969; Jolande Jacobi, ed.)
  • Since we’re all human, since anybody can make mistakes, since nobody’s perfect, and since everybody is ‘equal,’ a human error is Democracy in action. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)

King introduced the thought by writing: “We are living in the Age of Human Error.”

  • The most common error made in matters of appearance is the belief that one should disdain the superficial and let the true beauty of one’s soul shine through. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)

Lebowitz continued: “If there are places on one’s body where this is a possibility, you are not attractive—you are leaking.”

  • The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922)
  • All men are liable to error; and most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Crooked things may be as stiff and unflexible as straight: and men may be as positive in error as in truth. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Sometimes we may learn more from a man’s errors than from his virtues. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the character Paul Flemming speaking, in Hyperion (1839)
  • Who thinks it just to be judged by a single error? Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)
  • The errors of great men are venerable because they are more fruitful than the truths of little men. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Fragment of a Critique of Schopenhauer” (1867); in The Portable Nietzsche (1977; Walter Kaufmann, trans. & ed.)
  • The specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. Robert K. Merton, in The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (1948)
  • It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. Thomas Paine, in “Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation” (1792)
  • The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794)

Two years earlier, in Rights of Man, II (1792), Paine had written: “Reason, like time, will make its own way, and prejudice will fall in a combat with interest.”

  • Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself. Vilfredo Pareto, “Comment on Kepler,” quoted in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the earliest citation I’ve found for a quotation that has become quite popular (it continues to be included in recent Bartlett’s editions, never with a specific citation, but always with the brief comment on Kepler notation). Pareto was a prominent Italian economist and political scientist whose work gave birth to The Pareto Principle, commonly called The 80–20 Rule.

  • The most powerful cause of error is the war existing between the senses and reason. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • To tell an adult exactly what steps to take towards his salvation was apt to weaken him. It deprived him of his inalienable right to trial and error which was tonic to the character. Frances Gray Patton, the voice of the narrator, in Good Morning, Miss Dove (1954)
  • With Pleasure own your Errors past,/And make each day a Critic on the last. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)
  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711) [T.15]

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of history’s most famous sayings, but the sentiment is not entirely original with Pope. He was likely inspired by a similar saying (“To erre is humane, to repent is divine”) that appeared in Paroimiographia, James Howell’s 1659 collection of English proverbs.

  • The error of one moment becomes the sorrow of a whole life. Proverb (Chinese)
  • Error is always in a hurry. Proverb (English)
  • The human mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject, till it has first reached the extremity of error. Benjamin Rush, “An Inquiry Into the Effects of Public Punishments Upon Criminals, and Upon Society” (1787), in Essays: Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (1798)
  • Nobody stands taller than those willing to stand corrected. William Safire, in The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time (2004)

Safire preceded the thought by writing: “Those of us in language’s artful dodge who make a living correcting others must learn to strike a noble pose and take the gaff when we goof.”

  • Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense. Henry St. John, in Reflections Upon Exile (1716)
  • By our errors we see deeper into life. Olive Schreiner, the character Lyndall speaking, in The Story of an African Farm (1883; orig. published under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • Error is the ultimate inside job. Yes, the world can be profoundly confusing; and yes, other people can mislead or deceive you. In the end, though, nobody but you can choose to believe your own beliefs. Kathryn Schulz, in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010)

Schulz, an American journalist with a talent for writing in a breezy way about the most serious of subjects, preceded the thought by writing: “Wrongness always seems to come at us from left field—that is, from outside ourselves. But the reality could hardly be more different.”

QUOTE NOTE: Shulz’s entire book is a virtual celebration of the role of error in human life. She writes in the introductory chapter: “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being the mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.”

  • Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong. Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Kathryn Schulz, in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010)
  • An old man’s errors mattered both more and less than a young man’s. More because there was less time to undo them; less because there was less time to endure their consequences. Laurence Shames, the voice of the narrator, in Florida Straits (1992)
  • It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it argues an infirmity of character to stick to it. Adela Rogers St. Johns, in Some Are Born Great (1974)
  • Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Feb. 16, 1748)
  • All creativity is based on trial and error. Take chances. Extend yourself. Dare. Alexandra Stoddard, in Daring to Be Yourself (1990)
  • If you shut your door to all errors, truth will be shut out. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)

ERROR ALERT: Most quotation anthologies mistakenly say: “If you shut the door to all errors, truth will be shut out.”

  • For the robust, an error is information. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010)
  • Let us not fear occasional error—the imagination is only free when fear of error is temporarily laid aside. Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock (1970)

Toffler continued: “In thinking about the future, it is better to err on the side of daring, than the side of caution.”

  • One advantage of introspection is self-appraisal. Monitoring my behavior makes me behave better. When I err I’m forced to explain. Carll Tucker, in privately-circulated e-missive (Nov. 3, 2018)
  • Error is a hardy plant: it flourisheth in every soil. Martin Tupper, “Of Truth in Things False,” in Proverbial Philosophy (1838–42)
  • An error becomes a mistake when we refuse to admit it. Marilyn Vos Savant, in Parade magazine (Nov. 22, 1987)
  • Love truth, but pardon error. Voltaire, in Seven Discourses in Verse on Man (1738)
  • Error flies from mouth to mouth, from pen to pen, and to destroy it takes ages. Voltaire, “Assassin,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error. Voltaire, in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • Error is the price we pay for progress. Alfred North Whitehead, in Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929)



  • Erudition, n. Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Erudition, like a bloodhound, is a charming thing when held firmly in leash, but it is not so attractive when turned loose upon a defenseless and unerudite public. Agnes Repplier, “Books That Have Hindered Me,” in Points of View (1891)

Repplier continued: “Lady Harriet Ashburton used to say that, when Macaulay talked, she was not only inundated with learning, but she positively stood in the slops.”

  • 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)



  • The wildness of those compositions which go by the name of essays. Joseph Addison, “On Method in Discussion”, in The Spectator (Sep. 5, 1712)

Addison was comparing loosely structured essays to more disciplined compositions, ones “written with regularity and method.” He went on to write that essays work best when written by “men of great learning or genius” who “choose to throw down their pearls in heaps before the reader, rather than be at the pains of stringing them.”

  • Seneca’s Epistles to Lucilius, if one mark them well, are but Essays—that is dispersed meditations. Francis Bacon, in dedication (to Prince Henry) of the 1612 edition of Essays

QUOTE NOTE: This is the passage containing Bacon’s popular description of essays as “dispersed meditations.” In dedicating his book to the Prince of Wales, Bacon also offered a lovely thought about regarding essays more as intellectual appetizers than as full meals: “My hope is they may be as grains of salt that will rather give you an appetite than offend you with satiety.”

  • An essay is a work of literary art which has a minimum of one anecdote and one universal idea. Carol Bly, in The Passionate Accurate Story (1990)
  • There are dark and morbid moods in which I am tempted to feel that Evil re-entered the world in the form of Essays. The Essay is like the Serpent, smooth and graceful and easy of movement, also wavering and wandering. G. K. Chesterton, “On the Essay”, in The Illustrated London News (Feb. 16, 1929)

Chesterton’s tongue was only slightly in his cheek when he wrote these words, for he was an essayist himself and greatly admired many masters of the form. But he felt that too many modern essays reflected sloppy thinking or descended into sophistry. Greatly preferring the clarity and logical purpose of writers who state a thesis and then attempt to prove or defend it, he wrote: “I do think the Essay has wandered too far away from the Thesis.”

  • A form [of writing] that’s like a pair of baggy pants into which nearly anyone and anything can fit. Joseph Epstein, on the essay, in interview in Publisher’s Weekly (March 1, 1985)
  • Essays, entitled critical, are epistles addressed to the public, through which the mind of the recluse relieves itself of its impressions. Margaret Fuller, “A Short Essay on Critics,” in Art, Literature, and the Drama (1858)
  • We would not want to think of the essay as the country of old men, but it is doubtful that the slithery form, wearisomely vague and as chancy as trying to catch a fish in the open hand, can be taught. Elizabeth Hardwick, in Introduction to The Best American Essays: 1986 (1986)
  • Essays…although they go back four hundred years to Montaigne, seem a mercurial, newfangled, sometimes hokey affair that has lent itself to many of the excesses of the age, from spurious autobiography to spurious hallucination, as well as to the shabby careerism of traditional journalism. It’s a greased pig. Edward Hoagland, on the slippery and elusive nature of modern essays, in “What I Think, What I Am,” The Tugman’s Passage (1982)

Hoagland went on to write: “Essays are associated with the way young writers fashion a name—on plain, crowded newsprint like The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, or The New York Review of Books, instead of the thick paper stock and thin readership of Partisan Review.”

  • Essays…hang somewhere on a line between two sturdy poles: This is what I think, and this is what I am. Edward Hoagland, “What I Think, What I Am,” in The Tugman’s Passage (1982)
  • Essays belong to the animal kingdom, with a surface that generates sparks, like a coat of fur, compared with the flat conventional cotton of the magazine article writer, who works in the vegetable kingdom, instead. Edward Hoagland, “What I Think, What I Am,” in The Tugman’s Passage (1982)

Hoagland introduced the thought by writing: “The style of the writer has a ‘nap’ to it, a combination of personality and originality and energetic loose ends that stand up like the nap on a piece of fur and can’t be brushed flat.”

  • Essay. A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition. Samuel Johnson, in A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  • How like an eel this essay creature is. It wriggles between narcissism and detachment, opinion and fact, the private party and the public meeting, omphalos and brain, analysis and polemics, confession and reportage, persuasion and provocation. Justin Kaplan, in Introduction to The Best American Essays: 1990 (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: I’m at a loss to explain Kaplan’s motivation for using the obscure word omphalos (AHM-fuh-loss) here. For me, it was an unnecessary—and slightly annoying—distraction in an otherwise stimulating observation. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word this way: “1. The navel. 2. A central part; a focal point.”

  • An essayist is, essentially, writing the biography of a thought, allowing cognition itself—its circuitry and obsessiveness, its “moments of being,” as Virginia Woolf called it—to play out on the page. Kim Dana Kupperman, in Christin Geall, “Hungry for the Essay: An Interview with Kim Dana Kupperman,” Brevity magazine (Feb. 1, 2012)
  • If an essayist can not only charm but write the unforgettable sentence, one that reveals the heart in a few words, I’m her slave. Cyra McFadden, in a 1995 issue of The Boston Sunday Globe (specific issue undetermined)

McFadden continued: “Essayists must not only be succinct but have original ideas and, even harder to come by, or to fake, likable voices. Consciously or not, they endeavor to win us over by charm.”

  • An essayist is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted. Charles Poore, the opening line of “Books of the Times,” The New York Times (May 31, 1962)

Poore continued: “The great world is as you know an open conspiracy to prevent anyone from doing that. Hecklers abound almost everywhere. Therefore, successful and agreeably received essayists are rare.”

  • Give the mood, and the essay, from the first sentence to the last, grows around it as a cocoon grows around the silkworm. Alexander Smith, in Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country (1863)
  • The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest. He is a fellow who thoroughly enjoys his work, just as people who enjoy bird walks enjoys theirs. E. B. White, in Foreword to Essays of E. B. White (1977)

White, writing about himself, continued: “Each new excursion of the essayist, each new ‘attempt,’ differs from the last and takes him into new country. This delights him. Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.”

  • The essayist arises in the morning and, if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe: he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person, according to his mood or his subject matter—philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil’s advocate, enthusiast. E. B. White, in Foreword to Essays of E. B. White (1977)

Edward Hoagland picked up on White’s wardrobe metaphor in “What I Think, What I Am,” his acclaimed essay on the essay in The Tugman’s Passage (1982): “I have worn many shirts, and not all of them have been a good fit. But when I am discouraged or downcast I need only fling open the door of my closet, and there, hidden behind everything else, hangs the mantle of Michel de Montaigne, smelling slightly of camphor.”

  • In a way, an essay is just a grown-up version of the tie-breakers in supermarket quizzes: Complete the line “I think history is bunk because….” in not more than 10,000 words. Robert Windner, quoted in The Independent (London; June 22, 1996)

Windner added: “Essayists are preachers, but also the stand-up comedians of literature: there are no props to fall back on. Neither is there a plot. Novelists require their readers to sign an invisible contract promising to indulge their clever lies. But essayists tell the truth. They just say what they think, as nicely or as brutally as they can.”

  • Vague as all good definitions are, a good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in, not out. Virginia Woolf, the concluding line to “The Modern Essay”, in The Common Reader, First Series (1925)

Earlier in the piece, Woolf had written: “There is no room for the impurities of literature in an essay.” Her point was that compositional errors—like verbosity, irrelevant digressions, or boring passages—which only wound a longer literary work are fatal to an essay. She continued: “Somehow or other, by dint of labor or bounty of nature, or both combined, the essay must be pure—pure like water or pure like wine, but pure from dullness, deadness, and deposits of extraneous matter.”


(see also AUTHORITY and RULING CLASS and [The] SYSTEM)

  • There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment—and nothing more corrupting. A. J. P. Taylor, in “William Cobbett” (1953), Essays in English History (1976)



  • Action is indeed the sole medium of expression for ethics. Jane Addams, in Democracy and Social Ethics (1902)
  • The Supreme Ethical Rule: Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself. Felix Adler, in An Ethical Philosophy of Life: Presented in Its Main Outlines (1918)
  • We’ve lost our sense of ethics; we live in a world of small-mindedness, of gratification without happiness, and actions with meaning. Isabel Allende, the character Cyrus speaking, in The Infinite Plan (1991)
  • In ethics, there is a humility; moralists are usually righteous. John Berger, “The Denial of True Reflection,” in The Guardian (Aug. 20, 2006)

Berger preceded the thought by writing: “Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities. They have nothing to do, however, with judging the actions of others. Such judgments are the prerogative of (often self-proclaimed) moralists.”

  • Today we live in a society suffering from ethical rickets. Rita Mae Brown, in the 1988 Introduction to In Her Day (1976)
  • Without “ethical culture,” there is no salvation for humanity. Albert Einstein, in address to the Ethical Culture Society (Jan. 5, 1951)

A moment earlier, Einstein introduced the thought by saying: “I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education has led directly to the impairment of ethical values.”

  • As to ethics, unfortunately, we are still at sea. We never did have any popular base [sic] for what little ethics we knew, except the religious theories, and now that our faith is shaken in those theories we cannot account for ethics at all. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (1935)

Gilman continued: “It is no wonder we behave badly, we are literally ignorant of the laws of ethics, which is the simplest of sciences, the most necessary, the most continuously needed.”

  • The real nature of an ethic is that it does not become an ethic unless and until it goes into action. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)
  • While religion is ethical, it by no means follows that ethics is religion. Georgia Harkness, in Conflicts in Religious Thought (1929)
  • Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself. Bertrand Russell, “On the Scientific Method in Philosophy,” in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)
  • Sex cannot dispense with an ethic, any more than business or sport or scientific research or any other branch of human activity. But it can dispense with an ethic based solely upon ancient prohibitions propounded by an uneducated people in a society wholly unlike our own. Bertrand Russell, in Marriage and Morals (1929)
  • Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. Albert Schweitzer, “Civilization and Ethics,” in Kulturphilosophie, Vol. 2 (1923)

Schweitzer continued: “That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.”

  • The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. Albert Schweitzer, in Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (1933)

Schweitzer continued: “In reality, however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that comes within his reach. A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, and that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.”

  • Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life—it is bad to damage and destroy life. And this ethic, profound and universal, has the significance of a religion. It is religion. Albert Schweitzer, quoted in George Seaver, Albert Schweitzer: The Man and His Mind (1947)
  • In civilized life, law floats in a sea of ethics. Earl Warren, address at Jewish Theological Seminary (Nov. 11, 1962)
  • “I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.” (Dorian Gray). “A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you on it.” (Lord Henry). Oscar Wilde, an exchange between Dorian Gray and Lord Henry, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)



  • Manners, courtesy, etiquette—whatever you choose to call it…is civilized social behavior, and, stuffy, though that sounds, it is the grease that makes it possible for all of us to rub together without unnecessary overheating. Russell Baker, “The Decline of Manners,” in The New York Times (Jan. 25, 1981)

ERROR ALERT, All over the internet, the quotations is mistakenly presented this way: “Etiquette is the grease that makes it possible for all of us to rub together without unnecessary overheating.”

  • He who observes etiquette but objects to lying is like someone who dresses fashionably but wears no vest. Walter Benjamin, “Fancy Goods,” in One-Way Street (1928)
  • Nothing more rapidly inclines a person to go into a monastery than reading a book on etiquette. There are so many trivial ways in which it is possible to commit some social sin. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven (1984)
  • Etiquette…means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. Will Cuppy, in How to Be a Hermit: Or a Bachelor Keeps House (1929).
  • A regard for the rights of others is the basic law of all etiquette. Lillian Eichler, in The New Book of Etiquette (1924)
  • Manners are about making other people reasonably comfortable. If etiquette is, in part, about how to eat that artichoke, manners is knowing not to serve them if you suspect that someone at supper is going to be uncomfortable about being confronted with one. Mrs. Falk Feeley, in A Swarm of Wasps (1983)
  • A code of behavior is an inevitable part of life in any community, and if we hadn’t inherited ours, we should have had to invent one. Millicent Fenwick, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)

In her book, Fenwick also wrote about etiquette: “Like life and people, it is full of paradoxes. Etiquette is based on tradition, and yet it can change. Its ramifications are trivialities, but its roots are in great principles.”

  • Etiquette is what you are doing and saying when people are looking and listening. What you are thinking is your business. Thinking is not etiquette. Virginia Cary Hudson, in O Ye Jigs and Juleps! A Humorous Slice of Americana by a Turn-of-the-Century Pixie, Aged Ten (1962)
  • Etiquette may be despotic, but its cruelty is inspired by intelligent kindness. Abby B. Longstreet, in Social Etiquette of New York (1888)
  • Protocol is etiquette with a government expense account, and is not to be sneered at. Judith Martin (Miss Manners), in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1982)
  • The idea that people can behave naturally, without resorting to an artificial code tacitly agreed upon by their society, is as silly as the idea that they can communicate by a spoken language without commonly accepted semantic and grammatical rules. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • That social climbers and twits have misused etiquette throughout history should not be used as an argument for doing away with it. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)

Martin preceded the thought by writing: “To sacrifice the principles of manners, which require compassion and respect, and bat people over the head with their ignorance of etiquette rules they cannot be expected to know is both bad manners and poor etiquette.”

  • Yes, etiquette is hypocritical. Yes, it does inhibit children—if you’re lucky. But the idea that it’s elitist and irrelevant is like saying language is elitist and irrelevant.* Judith Martin, quoted in Susan Goodman, “Judith Martin,” in a 1996 issue of Modern Maturity magazine (specific issue undetermined)

In the article, Goodman also offered these other thoughts on etiquette from Martin:

“Etiquette enables you to resolve conflict without just trading insults. Without etiquette, the irritations in modern life are so abrasive that you see people turning to the law to regulate everyday behavior. This frightens me; it's a major inroad on our basic freedoms.”

“The etiquette of intimacy is very different from the etiquette of formality, but manners are not just something to show off to the outside world. If you offend the head waiter, you can always go to another restaurant. If you offend the person you live with, it's very cumbersome to switch to a different family.”

  • Etiquette is about all of human social behavior. Behavior is regulated by law when etiquette breaks down or when the stakes are high—violations of life, limb, property and so on. Barring that, etiquette is a little social contract we make that we will restrain some of our more provocative impulses in return for living more or less harmoniously in a community. Judith Martin (Miss Manners), in Hara Estroff Marano, “Polite Company: A Chat with Judith Martin About Etiquette,” Psychology Today (March 1, 1998)

In that same article, Martin offered these additional thoughts:

“People think, mistakenly, that etiquette means you have to suppress your differences. On the contray, etiquette is what enables you to deal with them; it gives you a set of rules.”

“People say when you’re in love, you don’t need etiquette. Well, you need it then more than anything. Or they say, 'At home I can just be myself.' What they mean is they can be their worst selves.”

  • Etiquette—a fancy word for simple kindness. Elsa Maxwell, in Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book (1951)
  • If “tact consists in knowing what not to say,” etiquette consists in knowing what not to do in the direction of manifesting our impulsives likes and dislikes. Agnes H. Morton, in Introduction to Etiquette: Good Manners for All People (1892)

Morton continued: “Etiquette is not so much a manifestation toward others as it is an exponent of ourselves. We are courteous to others, first of all, because such behavior is consistent with our own claim to be well-bred.” She then went on to add: “We can behave with serenity in the presence of our most aggravating foe; his worst manifestation of himself fails to provoke us to retort in kind. We treat him politely, not because he deserves it, but because we owe it to ourselves to be gentle-mannered. Etiquette begins at self.”

  • Since censoriousness is a quality utterly antagonistic to good manners, it is well to reflect that, while etiquette lays down many laws, it also indulgently grants generous absolution.

Agnes H. Morton, in Introduction to Etiquette: Good Manners for All People (1892)

  • 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)
  • Etiquette can be at the same time a means of approaching people and of staying clear of them. David Riesman, in The Lonely Crowd (1950)
  • The Australian Book of Etiquette is a very slim volume, but its outrageous Book of Rudeness is a hefty tome. Paul Theroux, “Waffling in White Australia,” in The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific (1992)

Theroux continued: “Being offensive in a matey way gets people’s attention, and Down Under you often make friends by being intensely rude in the right tone of voice.”

  • We must learn which ceremonies may be breached occasionally at our convenience and which ones may never be if we are to live pleasantly with our fellow man. Amy Vanderbilt, in Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (1954)



  • Euphemisms, like fashions, have their day and pass, perhaps to return at another time. Like the guests at a masquerade ball, they enjoy social approval only so long as they retain the capacity for deception. Freda Adler, in Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal (1975)
  • Payola is the year’s new word. It doesn’t sound as ugly as bribe, but it means the same thing. William Attwood, in Look magazine (March 29, 1960)
  • Euphemism, n. A figure of speech in which the speaker or writer makes his expression a good deal softer than the facts would warrant him in doing. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911; definition added by E. J. Hopkins for The Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary, 1967)
  • Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, and on its own it is quite impressive. You should know, though, that it is the conclusion of metaphorical tour de force. Here’s the complete thought:

Euphemisms are not, as many young people think, useless verbiage for that which can and should be said bluntly; they are like secret agents on a delicate mission, they must airily pass by a stinking mess with barely so much as a nod of the head, make their point of constructive criticism and continue on in calm forbearance. Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.

  • Euphemism is a euphemism for lying. Bobbie Gentry, quoted in Marshall Fritz, “Euphemisms Mislead; Bluntness Needed,” Alliance for the Separation of Church and State web site (April 10, 2001; rev. Sep., 2003)
  • We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism. Robert Hughes, on political correctness, in Culture of Complaint (1993)
  • Euphemism is a human device to conceal the horrors of reality. Paul Johnson, “Patience Is the Secret Weapon,” in The New York Times (June 29, 1986)
  • Using euphemisms is the verbal equivalent of draping nude statues. Doing so substitutes unthreatening words for ones that make us fidget. Ralph Keyes, in Euphemania ( 2010)
  • It is part of politics to make things look better than they really are. What is a spin doctor but a serial euphemiser [sic]? Nigel Rees, quoted in “The Art of Political Euphemisms,” BBC Today (Aug. 5, 2008)


(includes DEATH & DYING and [Terminal] ILLNESS and [Mercy] KILLING)

  • 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.”



  • TV evangelists are the pro wrestlers of religion. Rick Overton, from his comedy routine



  • You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Maya Angelou, in A Letter to My Daughter (2008)
  • Throughout the life cycle we consciously and unconsciously edit the events of our life, trying to give them meaning. Joan Borysenko, in A Woman’s Book of Life (1994)
  • Superstition is just fantasy with attitude; it’s a way of erroneously trying to control events. Joy Browne, in The Nine Fantasies That Will Ruin Your Life and the Eight Realities That Will Save You (1998)
  • A mere chronicle of observed events will produce only journalism; combined with a sensitive memory, it can produce art. Hallie Burnett, in On Writing the Short Story (1983)
  • Many ‘natural’ events—like early death, disease, hardship—are neither desirable nor necessary. Phyllis Chesler, in Women and Madness (1972)
  • The common events of this little dirty world are not worth talking about, unless you embellish them! Hannah Cowley, the character Flutter speaking in The Belle’s Stratagem (1780)
  • Events never arrive as we fear they will, nor as we hope they will. Comtesse Diane, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • 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, in Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish (1990)
  • There have been too many events in my life, and in the lives of my friends, which have defied any kind of scientific explanation. Science does not have appropriate tools for the dissection of the spirit. Jane Goodall, in Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (2000; with Phillip Berman)
  • Events do not really have beginnings or ends. Behind every event is the previous one, causing, or helping to cause, what follows. Isabelle Holland, in Trelawny (1974)
  • Events are absorbed and become a part of who we are. To attempt to get over them is as futile as to keep living them. Marybeth Holleman, “The Wind on My Face,” in Solo: On Her Own Adventure (1996)
  • Learn to get in touch with silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences; all events are blessings given to us to learn from. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in a 1976 speech
  • The most momentous events in life—baptisms, weddings, and funerals—don’t seem to take much time, but the effects of them bind up the whole of your existence. Sharyn McCrumb, the voice of the narrator, in An Unquiet Grave (2017)
  • Recurrence is sure. What the mind suffered last week, or last year, it does not suffer now; but it will suffer again next week or next year. Happiness is not a matter of events; it depends upon the tides of the mind. Alice Meynell, “The Rhythm of Life,” in Essays (1914)
  • It is often interesting, in retrospect, to consider the trifling causes that lead to great events. A chance encounter, a thoughtless remark—and the tortuous chain reaction of coincidence is set in motion, leading with devious inevitability to some resounding climax. Patricia Moyes, in Down Among the Dead Men (1961)
  • Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false namings of real events. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born (1976)



  • It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. William Kingdon Clifford, in “The Ethics of Belief,” an 1876 lecture to London Metaphysical Society; reprinted to Contemporary Review (Jan, 1877)
  • Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule. Charles Dickens, the character Mr. Jaggers advising Pip, in Great Expectations (1861)
  • The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness. Pierre-Simon LaPlace, in Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1812)

QUOTE NOTE: Below, see a famous Carl Sagan quotation that was likely inspired by this thought.

  • This habit of forming opinions, and acting upon them without evidence, is one of the most immoral habits of the mind. James Mill, in an 1826 issue of The Westminster Review (specific issue undetermined)

Mill, a Scottish philosopher and the father of John Stuart Mill went on to add: “As our opinions are the fathers of our actions, to be indifferent about the evidence of our opinions is to be indifferent about the consequences of our actions. But the consequences of our actions are the good and evil of our fellow-creatures. The habit of the neglect of evidence, therefore, is the habit of disregarding the good and evil of our fellow-creatures.”

  • The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, or vice versa. Donald Rumsfeld, in a Department of Defense news briefing (Feb. 12, 2002)

QUOTE NOTE: It was in that same briefing that Rumsfeld offered the following observation: “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns–the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan, in “Encyclopaedia Galactica,” Episode 12 of the PBS series Cosmos (Dec. 14, 1980)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of Sagan’s most popular quotations, and has almost become a signature line. In crafting the observation, Sagan was almost certainly inspired by a similar thought from the 19th-century French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon LaPlace (see his entry above).

  • Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Nov. 11, 1850)



  • Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin. Aesop, “The Swallow and the Other Birds,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good. Maya Angelou, in interview with Bill Moyers at “Facing Evil” Conference (1988)

Moyers continued: “Our greed, fear and lasciviousness have enabled us to murder our poets, who are ourselves, to castigate our priests, who are ourselves. The lists of our subversions of the good stretch from before recorded history to this moment.”

  • It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil. Hannah Arendt, describing Albert Eichmann’s testimony at his trail for WWII war crimes, in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the banality of Evil (1963)

QUOTE NOTE: The subtitle of Arendt’s book—and then these final words of the book—introduced what went on to become one of modern history’s most famous sayings: the banality of evil.

  • The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil. Hannah Arendt, in the New Yorker magazine (Dec. 5, 1977)
  • Evil is unspectacular and always human/And shares our bed and eats at our own table. W. H. Auden, in “Herman Melville” (1940)
  • I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return. W. H. Auden, in the poem “September 1, 1939” (1940)
  • Evil to some is always good to others. Jane Austen, the title character speaking, in Emma (1816)
  • The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Edmund Burke

ERROR ALERT: This quotation—in a number of slightly differing versions—is one of history’s most famous observations. Citing Burke as the author is also one of quotation history’s most common erroneous attributions. In The Quote Verifier (2006), Ralph Keyes reports that even the folks at Bartlett’s helped to perpetuate the error. In 1968, the fourteenth edition of the esteemed quotation anthology cited a 1795 letter as the source (a retraction was issued in the fifteenth edition in 1980). About the quotation, Keyes concluded: “Despite diligent searching by librarians and others, no one has ever found these words in the works of Edmund Burke, or anyone else.”

Burke did offer a related thought in the pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (April 23, 1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Nearly a century later, John Stuart Mill offered a far more thematically similar observation. Speaking in his inaugural address after being named Rector of the University of St. Andrews (Feb. 1, 1867), Mill said: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” For more, see this detailed analysis by Garson O’Toole, The Quote Investigator.

  • The way to avoid evil is not by maiming our passions, but by compelling them to yield their vigor to our moral nature. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

Beecher added about passions: “They should be to spiritual sentiments what the hot-bed is to early flowers.”

  • Stupidity always accompanies evil. Or evil, stupidity. Louise Bogan, a 1935 remark, quoted in Ruth Limmer, Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan (1980)
  • One that confounds good and evil is an enemy to the good. Edmund Burke, in Parliamentary speech “On the Impeachment of Warren Hastings” (Feb. 15, 1788)
  • There are evils, as someone has pointed out, that have the ability to survive identification and go on forever—money, for instance, or war. Saul Bellow, the voice of the protagonist, Albert Corde, in The Dean’s December (1982)
  • When we understand the source of evils, and are alive to their existence, they are already half conquered. Henry Whitney Bellows, in Re-statements of Christian Doctrine in Twenty-Five Sermons (1860)
  • The love of money is the root of all evil. The Bible—1 Timothy 6:10
  • The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Louis Brandeis, in dissenting opinion in Burdeau v. McDowell (1921)

Justice Brandeis preceded this famous judicial opinion by writing: “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.”

  • No matter how daring or cautious you may choose to be, in the course of your life you are bound to come into direct physical contact with what’s known as Evil. I mean here not a property of the gothic novel but, to say the least, a palpable social reality that you in no way can control. Joseph Brodsky, in Commencement Address at Williams College (May 24, 1984)

Brodsky continued: “No amount of good nature or cunning calculations will prevent this encounter. In fact, the more calculating, the more cautious you are, the greater is the likelihood of this rendezvous, the harder its impact. Such is the structure of life that what we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good. You never see it crossing your threshold announcing itself: ‘Hi, I’m Evil!’ That, of course, indicates its secondary nature, but the comfort one may derive from this observation gets dulled by its frequency.”

  • If men were basically evil, who would bother to improve the world instead of giving it up as a bad job at the outset? Van Wyck Brooks, in From a Writer’s Notebook (1958)
  • The face of “evil” is always the face of total need. William S. Burroughs, a reflection of narrator William Lee, in The Naked Lunch (1959)

Burroughs continued: “A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency, need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: Wouldn’t you? Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need.”

  • The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. Albert Camus, in The Plague (1947)
  • 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)
  • Evil is not something superhuman, it’s something less than human. Agatha Christie, Inspector Lejeune speaking, in The Pale Horse (1961)
  • In our time all it takes for evil to flourish is for a few good men to be a little wrong and have a great deal of power, and for the vast majority of their fellow citizens to remain indifferent. William Sloane Coffin, in Once to Every Man: A Memoir (1977)
  • The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. Joseph Conrad, an unnamed character (described only as a dame de compagnie) speaking, in Under Western Eyes: A Novel (1911)
  • But little evil would be done in the world if evil never could be done in the name of good. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • Nature, more of a stepmother than a mother in several ways, has sown a seed of evil in the hearts of mortals. Desiderius Erasmus, in In Praise of Folly (1509)

Erasmus added: “Especially in the more thoughtful men, which makes them dissatisfied with their own lot and envious of another’s.”

  • Idleness is the root of all evil. George Farquhar, in The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation is not original to Farquhar; he was simply repeating a saying inspired by the biblical saying on “the love of money” from Timothy 6:10, seen above.

  • What we call evil is simply ignorance bumping its head in the dark. Henry Ford, quoted in The Observer (London; March 16, 1930)
  • No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed. Sigmund Freud, in Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905)
  • In my humble opinion, noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. Mohandas Gandhi, in courtroom statement; Ahmadabad, India (March 23, 1922)
  • Once we have labeled someone as “evil” there is often no limit to the cruelty and violence we can feel justified in administering to him. James Gilligan, in Preventing Violence (2001)
  • Man produces evil as a bee produces honey. William Golding, “Fable,” in The Hot Gates (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of a fuller observation Golding offered in a lecture at UCLA in the early 1960s. Golding began by saying: “Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganization of society.” A few years later, though, after discovering “what one man can do to another,” he ended up with quite another view: “Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.”

  • Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.

 Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Why was so much evil pleasant, pretty on the outside, like poisoned candy? Laurell K. Hamilton, a reflection of protagonist Dr. Jasmine Cooper, in the short story “Here Be Dragons”
  • There is so much evil / but none of us knows an evil person. Patricia Hampl, “Science Fiction at a San Francisco Beach,” in Woman Before an Aquarium (1978)
  • A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible. Thomas Hardy, the voice of the narrator, in Far From the Madding Crowd (1874)
  • In the face of evil, detachment is a dubious virtue. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Budapest, Winter 1989,” in The Astonishing World (1992)
  • Some people show evil as a great racehorse shows breeding. Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast (1964)
  • We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Whenever evil befalls us, we ought to ask ourselves, after the first suffering, how we can turn it into good. So shall we take occasion, from one bitter root, to raise perhaps many flowers. Leigh Hunt, in The Religion of the Heart: A Manual of Faith and Duty (1853)
  • He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it, Martin Luther King, Jr., in Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)
  • There’s evil in the world, all right. Being aware of it makes you a realist, not a paranoid. Dean Koontz, the character George Zane speaking, in Your Heart Belongs to Me (2008)
  • When you choose the lesser of two evils, always remember that it is still an evil. Max Lerner, in Actions and Passions (1949)
  • By the fruit the tree is to be known. An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Abraham Lincoln, in letter to Williamson Durley (Oct. 3, 1845)

QUOTE NOTE: In writing this, Lincoln was clearly inspired by the biblical passage Matthew 7:15-20.

  • Evil is something you recognize immediately [when] you see it: it works through charm. Brian Masters, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (London; May 31, 1991)
  • A great cause of evil in the world is that men seldom think themselves criminal if they offer the same injustice to others that has been successfully practiced on themselves. Norman Macdonald, in Maxims and Moral Reflections (1827
  • 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)
  • It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good. Margaret Mead, in her Redbook magazine column (Nov., 1978)
  • The worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator, in White-Jacket (1850)
  • What attracts men to evil acts is not the evil in them but the good that is there, seen under a false aspect and with a distorted perspective. The good seen from that angle is only the bait in a trap. When you reach out to take it, the trap is sprung and you are left with disgust, boredom—and hatred. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)
  • A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • Evil alone has oil for every wheel. Edna St. Vincent Millay, in an untitled poem, first appearing in Mine the Harvest: A Collection of New Poems (pub. posthumously in 1954)
  • The lesser evil is also evil. Naomi Mitchison, in Lobsters on the Agenda (1952)
  • As the world runs, evil soon makes tools out of those who don’t hate it. Hatred [of evil] is our best protection. Iris Murdoch, the character Hugh Peronett speaking, in An Unofficial Rose (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: The remark comes as Hugh and Douglas Swann are discussing Hitler. Swann is questioning the wisdom of teaching schoolchildren to hate Hitler, arguing that there is already enough hatred in the world. When Swann goes on to suggest that Hitler might even be viewed with “a sort of intelligent compassion,” Peronett disagrees with his evil soon makes tools observation.

  • Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Note that the concluding line is a famous example of chiasmus.
  • Perhaps evil isn’t a cosmological riddle, only just selfish human behavior, and this behavior the result of conscious, accountable choice. Joyce Carol Oates, “Crime and Punishment” (a review of Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes), in The New York Times (Sep. 19, 1999)
  • Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled (1978)

Peck went on to add about evil people: “They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of self-awareness.”

  • The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles. Ayn Rand, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966)
  • The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • In all men is evil sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men. Mary Renault, the protagonist and narrator Simonides of Keos speaking, in The Praise Singer: A Novel (1978)
  • Much of the most important evils that mankind have to consider are those which they inflict upon each other through stupidity or malevolence or both. Bertrand Russell, in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. Haile Selassie, in remarks at meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jan. 28, 1972)

Selassie continued: “The glorious pages of human history have been written only in those moments when men have been able to act in concert to prevent impending tragedies. By the actions you take, you can also illuminate the pages of history.”

  • 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. William Shakespeare, the character Antonio speaking, alluding to Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

Antonio preceded the thought by famously saying: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

  • The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interred with their bones. William Shakespeare, the character Marc Antony speaking, in Julius Caesar (1599)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage was preceded by one of history’s most familiar lines: “Friends, Romans, countryman, lend me your ears/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

  • All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Prometheus Unbound (1820)
  • Only among people who think no evil can Evil monstrously flourish. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Other People,” in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago (1973–75)

Solzhenitsyn preceded the thought by writing: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

  • Evil is obvious only in retrospect. Gloria Steinem, in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
  • Now I know the full power of evil. It makes ugliness seem beautiful and goodness seem ugly and weak. August Strindberg, the character Kurt speaking, in The Dance of Death (1900)
  • There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • Many people believe that evil is the presence of something. I think it’s the absence of something. Lisa Unger, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Ridley Jones, in Sliver of Truth (2007)

Jones introduced the thought this way: “Even the psychopaths and sociopaths in this world who commit the most heinous possible acts against innocent victims are in this quest for happiness. But their ideas are twisted and black; these people were wired wrong.”

  • Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It’s that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive. Kurt Vonnegut, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Howard W. Campbell, Jr., in Mother Night: A Novel (1962)
  • Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty. Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace (1947)
  • Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before. Mae West, as the title character, in the film Klondike Annie (1936)
  • No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790)



  • Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. David P. Barash, “God, Darwin, and My College Biology Class,” in The New York Times (Sep. 27, 2014)
  • All modern men are descended from a wormlike creature, but it shows more on some people. Will Cuppy, in How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (1931)
  • I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection. Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: Natural Selection was the term originally favored by Darwin for his developing theory of evolution, but he realized it had some limitations. He went on to write: “The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.”

  • Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colors. Richard Dawkins, in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009)
  • Natural selection, as it has operated in human history, favors not only the clever but the murderous. Barbara Ehrenreich, in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)
  • Evolution is not a religious tenet, to which one swears allegiance or belief as a matter of faith. It is a factual reality of the empirical world. Just as one would not say “I believe in gravity,” one should not proclaim “I believe in evolution.” Michael Shermer, in Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (2006)



  • The speaking in a perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but love. Francis Bacon, “Of Love,” in Essays (1625)
  • Exaggeration is a blood relation to falsehood, and nearly as blameable. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)
  • People exaggerate both happiness and unhappiness; we are never so fortunate nor so unfortunate as people say we are. Honoré de Balzac, in Modeste Mignon (1844)
  • There are people who exaggerate so much that they can’t tell the truth without lying. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam’s Uncle Josh: Or, Josh Billings on Practically Everything (1953)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation of often mistakenly presented in the following way: “There are some people so addicted to exaggeration that they can’t tell the truth without lying.”

  • The temptation to vivify the tale and make it walk abroad on its own legs is hard to deny. Gelett Burgess, “Sub Rosa,” in The Romance of the Commonplace (1916)
  • Alcohol is perfectly consistent in its effects upon man. Drunkenness is merely an exaggeration. A foolish man drunk becomes maudlin; a bloody man, vicious; a coarse man, vulgar. Willa Cather, the voice of the narrator, from “On the Divide,” in The Troll Garden: Short Stories (1983)
  • All passions exaggerate; and they are passions only because they do exaggerate. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • Every exaggeration of the truth once detected by others destroys our credibility and makes all that we do and say suspect. Stephen R. Covey, quoted in Ken Knox, Carpe Diem: Simple Strategies to Move from Average to Extraordinary (2008)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation shows up in countless Internet anthologies, and it certainly sounds like something Covey would say. I have not, however, been able to verify its authenticity.

  • A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea—he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the character Father Zosima speaking, in The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  • Some so speak in exaggerations and superlatives that we need to make a large discount from their statements before we can come at their real meaning. Tryon Edwards, in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)
  • Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talks that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. E. M. Forster, the voice of the narrator, in A Passage to India (1924)
  • An exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam (1926)
  • Exaggeration is a species of lying. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • In the world of advertising, there is no such thing as a lie, Maggie. Only The Expedient Exaggeration. Cary Grant, as advertising executive Roger Thornhill, speaking to his secretary, in the 1959 film North by Northwest (screenplay by Ernest Lehman)
  • To exaggerate is to weaken. Jean-François de La Harpe, Monsieur de Faublas speaking, in Mélanie (1770)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also commonly translated: “We weaken whatever we exaggerate.”

  • It is the essence of truth that it is never excessive. Why should it exaggerate? Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

The narrator continued: “There is that which should be destroyed and that which should be simply illuminated and studied. How great is the force of benevolent and searching examination. We must not resort to the flame where only light is required.”

  • Exaggeration is neither thoughtful, wise, nor safe; it is a proof of the weakness of the understanding…so that even when he speaks the truth, he soon finds it is received with large discount, or utter unbelief. W. B. Kinney, quoted in Edward Parsons Day, Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)
  • Never exaggerate. Never say more than you really mean. C. S. Lewis, in a 1959 letter, in Letters to Children (1985)
  • He desired to exaggerate. And here we have what may be called a primary human need, which should be placed by psychologists with the desire for nourishment, for safety, for sense-gratifications, and for appreciation, as one of the elemental lusts of man. Rose Macaulay, in Catchwords and Claptrap (1926),
  • Men of great conversational powers almost universally practice a sort of lively sophistry and exaggeration which deceives for the moment both themselves and their auditors. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “On the Athenian Orators,” (Aug., 1824), in The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay (1860)

Macaulay continued: “Thus we see doctrines, which cannot bear a close inspection, triumph perpetually in drawing-rooms, in debating societies, and even in legislative or judicial assemblies.”

  • You mustn’t exaggerate, young man. That’s always a sign that your argument is weak. Bertrand Russell, remark to interviewer Tommy Robbins, in Redbook magazine (Sep. 1964)
  • Never exaggerate, but express your feelings with moderation. St. Teresa of Avila, quoted in The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus (1957; E. A. Peers, ed.)



  • A man improves more by reading the story of a person eminent for prudence and virtue, than by the finest rules and precepts of morality. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Feb. 12, 1712)
  • I learned from the example of my father that the manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured. Dean Acheson, quoted in Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (2006)
  • Example is the best precept. Aesop, “The Two Crabs,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • If…you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning, that’s all. Catherine Aird, the character Sloan speaking, in His Burial Too (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: On most internet sites, this observation—which is the closing line of the novel—is presented without ellipses. The complete quotation is a follows:

“If, Crosby,” said Sloan, letting out a long sigh, “you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning, that’s all.”

  • There is good in everyone, even if it’s just a bad example. Author Unknown
  • No reproof or denunciation is so potent as the silent influence of a good example. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Maturin M. Ballou, Life-Story of Hosea Ballou, for the Young (1854)
  • Children have almost an intuitive discernment between the maxims you bring forward for their use, and those by which you direct your own conduct. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “On Education,” in The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Vol. 2 (1825)
  • Human models are more vivid and more persuasive than explicit moral commands. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1961)
  • Example has more followers than reason. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other. Edmund Burke, in Letters on a Regicide Peace (1797)
  • Be careful how you live your life, it is the only Gospel many people will ever read. Dom Hélder Câmara, quoted in a 1985 issue of Basta (national newsletter of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America; specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Câmara, a Brazilian Catholic priest who went on to serve as Archbishop of Olinds and Recife from 1964 to 1985, was a proponent of social justice and liberation theology. He devoted so much of his time to fighting poverty that he became known as “The Bishop of the Slums.” For more, see Hélder Câmara.

  • He preaches well that lives well. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Sancho Panza speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • The legacy of heroes—the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. Benjamin Disraeli, in House of Commons speech (Feb. 1, 1849)
  • A superior who works on his own development sets an almost irresistible example. Peter Drucker, in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1973)
  • People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves. Tyron Edwards, in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908)
  • Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Social Aims,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)

ERROR ALERT: For more than a century, an abridged—and therefore mistaken—version of Emerson’s observation has been widely circulated: “What you are [sometimes do] speaks so loud [sometimes loudly] that I cannot hear what you say.” On almost all internet sites, incorrect versions appear in place of the correct original saying.

  • It is a trite but true observation, that examples work more forcibly on the mind than precepts. Henry Fielding, the voice of the narrator, in Joseph Andrews (1742)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the opening line of one of the best opening paragraphs in literary history. The narrator continues: “And if this be just in what is odious and blameable, it is more strongly so in what is amiable and praiseworthy. Here emulation most effectually operates upon us, and inspires our imitation in an irresistible manner. A good man therefore is a standing lesson to all his acquaintance, and of far greater use in that narrow circle than a good book.”

  • None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (July, 1736)
  • Setting too good an example is a kind of slander seldom forgiven. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Feb, 1753)
  • A good example is the best sermon. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)

ERROR ALERT: The saying is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who presented it in a 1747 issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack.

  • We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)
  • People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy. Oliver Goldsmith, “On Our Theatres” in The Bee (Oct. 13, 1759)
  • It is easier to exemplify values than teach them. Theodore M. Hesburgh, widely attributed

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has become extremely popular, but I have not been able to find it in any of Hesburgh’s writings or speeches. It’s possible the saying originated in an observation made about the former Notre Dame president by biographer Michael O’Brien in Hesburgh: A Biography (1998). O’Brien wrote: “It was much easier to exemplify values than to teach them directly. He wanted teachers to be examples in their own lives of the kind of values they taught students.”

  • Example is better than precept. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this though, Halsey was clearly inspired by earlier authors (see the Aesop, Fielding, and Johnson entries)

  • It is not so much the example of others we imitate as the reflection of ourselves in their eyes and the echo of ourselves in their words. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • I have ever deemed it more honorable and more profitable, too, to set a good example than to follow a bad one. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to José Correa de Serra (Dec. 27, 1814)
  • Example is always more efficacious than precept. Samuel Johnson, the character Nekayah speaking, in Rasselas (1759)
  • Children have more need of models than critics. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • From time to time there appear on the face of the earth men of rare and consummate excellence, who dazzle us by their virtue, and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Personal Merit,” in Characters (1688)

La Bruyère continued: “Like those extraordinary stars of whose origins we are ignorant, and of whose fate, once they have vanished, we know even less, such men have neither forebears nor descendants: they are the whole of their race.”

  • Nothing is so contagious as example. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

La Rochefoucauld continued: “And we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like. We imitate good actions from emulation, and bad ones from the depravity of our nature, which shame would keep prisoner, and example sets at liberty.”

  • They who set an example make a highway. Others follow the example, because it is easier to travel on a highway than over untrodden grounds. Horace Mann, in Thoughts (1867)

Mann continued: “As the mind becomes habituated to travel on the great thoroughfares which example makes, it seems even unnatural to leave them.”

  • Example moves the world more than doctrine. The great exemplars are the poets of action, and it makes little difference whether they be forces for good or forces for evil. Henry Miller, “An Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere,” in The Cosmological Eye (1939)
  • If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn./If children live with hostility, they learn to fight./If children live with fear, they will learn to be apprehensive./If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves./If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy./If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy./If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty./If children live with encouragement, they will learn confidence./If children live with tolerance, they learn patience. Dorothy Law Nolte, “Children Learn What They Live,” in Torrance Herald (1954)
  • Example is an eloquent orator. Proverb (Czechoslovakian)
  • The crab instructs its young, “Walk straight ahead—like me.” Proverb (Hindustani)
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. [italics in original] Albert Schweitzer, in Albert Schweitzer: Thoughts for Our Times (1975; Erica Anderson, ed.)

Schweitzer continued: “Hope is renewed each time that you see a person you know, who is deeply involved in the struggle of life, helping another person. You are the unaffected witness and must agree that there is hope for mankind.”

  • If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson (which is not at all necessary), hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example. George Bernard Shaw, in A Treatise on Parents and Children (1939)
  • Example is one of the most potent of instructors, though it teaches without a tongue. It is the practical school of mankind, working by action, which is always more forcible than words. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)

Smiles continued: “Precept may point to us the way, but it is silent continuous example conveyed to us by habits, and living with us in fact, that carries us along.”

  • There is a transcendent power in example. We reform others unconsciously when we walk uprightly. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. Mark Twain, in “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • Example, whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence. George Washington, in letter to Lord Stirling (March 5, 1780)



  • The sad truth is that excellence makes people nervous. Shana Alexander, “Neglected Kids—The Bright Ones,” in “The Feminine Eye” column, Life magazine (June 24, 1966)
  • Art is simply a right method of doing things. The test of the artist does not lie in the will with which he goes to work, but in the excellence of the work he produces. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica (1273)
  • Every activity performed in public can attain an excellence never matched in privacy; for excellence, by definition, the presence of others is always required. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)
  • The Good of man is the active exercise of his soul’s faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: Aristotle continued with an explanation that evolved into one of history’s most famous metaphors: “Moreover, this activity must occupy a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day; and similarly, one day or brief period of happiness does not make a man supremely blessed and happy.” Aristotle’s observation inspired one of John F. Kennedy’s most famous remarks (see the JFK entry below).

  • If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes. Jane Austen, the character Mr. Henry Tinsley speaking, in Northanger Abbey (1817)
  • Next to excellence is the appreciation of it. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Striving for excellence is a positive quality. Striving for perfection is self-defeating. Melody Beattie, in The Language of Letting Go (1990)
  • Excellence is a better teacher than is mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary. Warren G. Bennis, in Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (1997; with Patricia Ward Biederman)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and many business books—mistakenly omit the second is in the first sentence: “Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity.”

  • Most of the excellence we see in the world is the product not of talent or genius but of self-respect. Robert Brault, in The Second Collection (2015)
  • Strive for excellence, not perfection. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in Life’s Little Instruction Book (1991)
  • I did some excellent things indifferently,/Some bad things excellently. Both were praised,/The latter loudest. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • Anyone who has achieved excellence in any form knows that it comes as a result of ceaseless concentration. Louise Brooks, “The Other Face of W. C. Fields,” in Lulu in Hollywood (1982)
  • I would urge that the yeast of education is the idea of excellence, and the idea of excellence comprises as many forms as there are individuals, each of whom develops his own image of excellence. The school must have as one of its principal functions the nurturing of images of excellence. Jerome S. Bruner, “After John Dewey, What?” in Saturday Review (June 17, 1961)
  • The secret of joy in work is contained in one word—excellence. Pearl S. Buck, in The Joy of Children (1964)

Buck added: “To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”

  • You cannot learn very much about excellence from studying failure. Of all the infinite ways to perform a certain task, most of them are wrong. There are only a few right ways. Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All the Rules (1999)

A bit earlier in the book, Buckingham had written: “You cannot infer excellence from studying failure and then inverting it.”

  • Define excellence vividly, quantitatively. Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like. Keep everyone pushing and pushing toward the right-hand edge of the bell curve. Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All the Rules (1999)
  • The rareness of excellence should not be made into an excuse for the failure to recognize it. John Ciardi, in A Browser’s Dictionary: A Compendium of Curious Expressions & Intriguing Facts (1980)
  • Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based upon excellence of performance. James B. Conant, quoted in John W. Gardner, Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? (1961)

Gardner went on to emphasize his point by writing: “As James B. Conant put it, ‘Each honest calling, each walk of life, has it’s own elite, it’s own aristocracy based upon excellence of performance.’”

  • The study of what is excellent is food for the mind and body. Leonardo da Vinci, in Treatise on Painting (1651)
  • It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us. Isaac D’Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 2 (1793)
  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. Will Durant, in The Story of Philosophy (1926)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Aristotle. It occurred in a discussion of Aristotle’s thinking in The Story of Philosophy, which helps account for the error; but the words are Durant’s, not Aristotle’s. He preceded the observation by writing: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly.” A 2012 post from quotation sleuth Frank Herron alerted me to the error.

  • The mediocre always feel as if they’re fighting for their lives when confronted by the excellent. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Excellence encourages one about life generally; it shows the spiritual wealth of the world. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • It is the privilege of any human work which is well done to invest the doer with a certain haughtiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Whoever I am or whatever I am doing, provided that I am engaged in a socially acceptable activity, some kind of excellence is within my reach. John W. Gardner, “The Full Range of Human Excellence,” in Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? (1984 rev. ed.; orig. pub. 1961)
  • We must recognize that there may be excellence or shoddiness in every line of human endeavor. We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. John W. Gardner, “College and the Alternatives,” in Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? (1984 rev. ed.; orig. pub. 1961)

This has become one of Gardner’s most famous observations. He continued: “An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

  • There are some faults so nearly allied to excellence that we can scarce weed out the vice without eradicating the virtue. Oliver Goldsmith, the character Sir William Honeywood speaking, in The Good-Natur’d Man (1768)
  • Badness you can get easily, in quantity: the road is smooth, and it lies close by. But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it, and rough at first. Hesiod, in Works and Days (c. 700 B.C.)

Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, added: “But when you come to the top, then it is easy, even though it is hard.”

  • The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)

Hoffer continued: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.

  • Excellence in any pursuit is the late, ripe fruit of toil, and toil must needs be wearisome, at times. W. M. L. Jay (pen name of Julia Louisa M. Woodruff), in Shiloh: or, Without and Within (1870)

The words come from the protagonist, Miss Winnie Frost, as she advises her young friend Ruth about what lies ahead of her if she decides to pursue a music career. She added: “The willingness of the spirit cannot always prevail over the weakness of the flesh.”

  • 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.)
  • I have given before to this group the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: it is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. John F. Kennedy, in White House press conference (Oct. 31, 1963)

Kennedy had been asked by a reporter if he enjoyed the Presidency and why he wanted to pursue a second term. He continued: “I find, therefore, the Presidency provides some happiness.” In formulating his remarks, JFK was clearly inspired by a passage from Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way (1930): “‘The exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope’ is an old Greek definition of happiness.” And Hamilton’s observation was based in part on the Aristotle quotation above.

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

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

  • 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)
  • Can you know excellence if you’ve never seen it? Can you know good if you have seen only bad? E. L. Konigsburg, IN The View From Saturday (1996)
  • From time to time there appear on the face of the earth men of rare and consummate excellence, who dazzle us by their virtue, and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Personal Merit,” in Characters (1688)

La Bruyère continued: “Like those extraordinary stars of whose origins we are ignorant, and of whose fate, once they have vanished, we know even less, such men have neither forebears nor descendants: they are the whole of their race.”

  • Real excellence and humility are consequently not incompatible one with the other; on the contrary, they are twin sisters. Jean Baptiste Lacordaire, in Lacordaire’s Letters to Young Men (1865)
  • Excellence in life seems to me to be the way in which each human being makes the most of the adventure of living and becomes most truly and deeply himself, fulfilling his own nature in the context of a good life with other people. Eda J. LeShan, in The Conspiracy Against Childhood (1967)
  • Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good. Vince Lombardi, in June, 1959 remarks to his Green Bay Packers team, quoted in John Eisenberg, That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on a Path to Glory (2009)
  • The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor. Vince Lombardi, in Vince Lombardi on Football (1973; with George L. Flynn)
  • To rest in the arms of perfection is the desire of any man intent upon creating excellence. Thomas Mann, a reflection of protagonist Gustav von Aschenbach, in Death in Venice (1912)
  • It is more to my personal happiness and advantage to indulge the love and admiration of excellence, than to cherish a secret envy of it. Elizabeth Montagu, in letter to Anna Laetitia Barbauld (Feb. 22, 1774); reprinted in Anna Letitia Le Breton, Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld (1874)
  • One of the greatest satisfactions one can ever have, comes from the knowledge that he can do some one thing superlatively well. Hortense Odlum, in A Woman’s Place: The Autobiography of Hortense Odlum (1939)
  • The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying. David Ogilvy, in Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963)
  • In Search of Excellence. Thomas J. Peters & Robert H. Waterman, Jr., title of 1982 book
  • Excellence is not the same as perfection. Excellence must above all conform with realistic standards. Otherwise it becomes a rationalization of obsessive, perfectionistic needs. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Overcoming Indecisiveness (1985)
  • The renown which riches or beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession. Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus), in The War with Cataline (1st c. B.C.)
  • Excellence costs a great deal. May Sarton, the character Carryl Cope speaking, in The Small Room: A Novel (1961)

QUOTE NOTE: Cope, a professor at Appleton College, is speaking at a full faculty meeting in defense of Agnes Skeffington, a brilliant math student who is on the verge of being expelled. Agnes has for the past several months become so involved in solving a mathematical problem that she has skipped most of her classes, handed in no papers, and failed to attend required House meetings. Professor Cope preceded the remark by saying: “We talk a great deal about excellence, and pride ourselves on demanding it, but when we get what we have asked for, become as confused and jejeune as a freshman in a course of ethics. We are unwilling, evidently, to pay the price of excellence. What is the price?” And then, after pausing for dramatic effect, she concludes: “The price is eccentricity, maladjustment if you will, isolation of one sort or another, strangeness, narrowness.” Cope’s argument wins the day, Agnes is not expelled, and a new policy is generated for students who perform “above and beyond the usual college standard.”

  • Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)
  • This is excellence—the following of anything for its own sake and with its own integrity. Freya Stark, “Decadence, or The Bed of Procrustes,” in The Arch of the Zodiac (1968)
  • It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Carl “Tuchy” Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)
  • Excellence, to me, is the state of grace that can descend only when one tunes out all the world’s clamor, listens to an inward voice one recognizes as wiser than one’s own, and transcribes without fear. Naomi Wolf, in The Most Important Thing I Know (1997; Lorne A. Adrain, comp.)



  • Fame belongs to the great, the outstanding, the exceptional, without regard to virtue or vice. Infamy is fame no less than good repute. The great scoundrel can be as famous as the great hero; there can be famous villains as well as famous saints Mortimer J. Adler, “Wrong Desires,” in Desires Right and Wrong: The Ethics of Enough (1991)
  • I have never been able to accept the two great laws of humanity—that you’re always being suppressed if you’re inspired and always being pushed into a corner if you’re exceptional. I won’t be cornered and I won’t stay suppressed Margaret Anderson, in My Thirty Years’ War: An Autobiography (1930)
  • In this world people have to pay an extortionate price for any exceptional gift whatever. Willa Cather, a reflection of the character Henry Seabury, in the title story, The Old Beauty and Others (1948)
  • A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germ of his most exceptional action; and if we wise people make eminent fools of ourselves on any particular occasion, we must endure the legitimate conclusion that we carry a few grains of folly to our ounce of wisdom. George Eliot, the character Adolphus Irwine speaking, in Adame Bede (1859)
  • For every individual who really is exceptional there are about fifty thousand who just imagine they are—until it's too late, and they find out they aren’t after all. Gwethalyn Graham, in Earth and High Heaven (1944)
  • Eventually it comes to you: the thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. Lorraine Hansberry, in To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969; Robert Nemiroff, ed.)
  • Almost every one flatters himself that he and his are exceptional. Alphonse Karr
  • When the exceptional man handles the mediocre man with more delicate fingers than he applies to himself or to his equals, this is not merely kindness of heart—it is simply his duty. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Antichrist (written 1888; published 1895)

Nietzsche preceded the thought by writing: “To the mediocre, mediocrity is a form of happiness. They have a natural instinct for mastering one thing, for specialization. It would be altogether unworthy of a profound intellect to see anything objectionable in mediocrity in itself. It is, in fact, the first prerequisite to the appearance of the exceptional: it is a necessary condition to a high degree of civilization.”

  • Men who believe that, through some exceptional grace or good fortune, they have found God, feel little need of culture. Agnes Repplier, “The Masterful Puritan,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • People see themselves as “succeeding” because they are individually exceptional—they don’t see that there is a mechanism that has made it possible for them. Sarah Schulman, in Bitch (2012)
  • Once you know the difference between all right and exceptional, all right no longer seems good enough. Alexandra Stoddard, in Grace Notes (1993)
  • I am convinced that, except in a few extraordinary cases, one form or another of an unhappy childhood is essential to the formation of exceptional gifts. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)


(includes EXCEPTION TO THE RULE observations; see also RULES)

  • Exceptions are not always the proof of the old rule; they can also be the harbinger of a new one. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be an exception to the rule. Malcolm Forbes, in 1992 issue of Forbes magazine
  • Nature provides exceptions to every rule. Margaret Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
  • If you feel like getting a divorce, you are no exception to the general rule. Elizabeth Hawes, in Anything But Love (1948)
  • Don't fancy that your circumstances are peculiar; people always make mistakes when they fancy themselves exceptions. Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury, the character Captain Cleveland, speaking to daughter Zoë, in Zoë: The History of Two Lives/, Vol. 1 (1845)
  • 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)



  • The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790)
  • Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)



  • Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke. F. Scott Fitzgerald, quoted in Sheila Graham, Beloved Infidel (1958, with Gerold Frank)

QUOTE NOTE: In an observation that was clearly inspired by this Fitzgerald quotation, British humorist Miles Kington offered the following in a 1976 issue of the English humor magazine Punch: “So far as good writing goes, the use of the exclamation mark is a sign of failure. It is the literary equivalent of a man holding up a card reading LAUGHTER to a studio audience.”

  • Since it first popped up in the 14th century, the exclamation point (punctus admirativus or exclamativus) has generally been regarded as the hot-headed punk in the school of punctuation. Richard Nordquist, “Notes on Exclamation Points,” in Grammar & Composition posting (About.com, April 4, 2012)

Nordquist, professor of rhetoric and English at Armstrong Atlantic State University (Savannah, GA) and the Grammar Guide for About.com, added: “Favored by advertisers, preteens, and writers of ransom notes, the exclamation point is less a mark of punctuation than an oratorical cue or a typographical shriek—in newspaper slang, a ‘screamer.’” To read the full post, go to: Notes on Exclamation Points.

  • In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practices the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly. Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero-Toleration Approach to Punctuation (2003)
  • The Exclamation Point. Don’t use it unless you must to achieve a certain effect. It has a gushy aura, the breathless excitement of a debutante commenting on an event that was exciting only to her. William Zinsser, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

Zinsser added: “We have all suffered more than our share of these sentences in which an exclamation point knocks us over the head with how cute or wonderful something was.”

[Making] EXCUSES


  • No emergency excuses you from exercising tolerance. Phyllis Bottome, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • Once the “what” is decided, the “how” always follows. We must not make the “how” an excuse for not facing and accepting the “what.” Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • There are reasons, and then there are excuses. Julia Child, in Julia Child & Company (1978)
  • To rush into explanations and excuses is always a sign of weakness. Agatha Christie, the character Superintendent Battle speaking, in The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
  • Guilt is often an excuse for not thinking Lillian Hellman, in Pentimento (1973)
  • Private problems don’t constitute an excuse for bad manners. Margaret Millar, in A Stranger in My Grave (1960)
  • I attribute my success to this. I never gave or took an excuse. Florence Nightingale, quoted in Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale (1950)
  • Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to confute him. John Selden, in Table-Talk (1689)

QUOTE NOTE: The underlying sentiment is not original to Selden; he was simply passing along a legal principle that had been around since 1530, when, in Dialogues in English, Christopher St. German had written, “Ignorance of the law…doth not excuse.” St. German’s maxim formed the basis for the English proverb “Ignorance of the law excuses nobody” (and that proverbial saying ultimately evolved into the modern proverb: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”).

  • Oftentimes excusing of a fault/Doth make the fault the worse by th’excuse. William Shakespeare, the character Pembroke speaking, in King John (1591)
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they make a good excuse. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)



  • A good goal is like a strenuous exercise—it makes you stretch. Goals should be slightly out of reach to be of maximum value. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • I get my exercise serving as a pallbearer to my friends who take exercise. Chauncey E. Depew, quoted in The Los Angeles Times (May 4, 1954)
  • I am persuaded that the greater part of our complaints arise from want of exercise. Madame de Sévigné, in a 1671 letter, in Letters of Madame de Sévigné to Her Daughter and Her Friends, Vol. 1 (1811)
  • Exercise is the yuppie version of bulimia. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Food Worship,” in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)
  • 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)
  • Exercise, to qualify at all, must be lonely, painful, humorless, and boring. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • Ability atrophies through lack of exercise. Glenda Jackson, quoted in Ian Woodward, Glenda Jackson (1985)
  • You know how some people are unlucky in love? I was always unlucky in exercise. I’d get into a relationship with a workout program or guru, we’d go steady for a few intense months, and then we’d have a really ugly breakup. Alissa Nutting, “Promiscuous Fitness,” in a 2012 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (specific date undetermined)

In the article, Nutting also wrote: “Exercise will never be my lover. Or even my friend. For me, a workout is more like an annoying coworker I have to see a few times a week.”

  • If I tried to jog with these boobs, I’d end up with two black eyes. Dolly Parton, in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (1994)
  • I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor. Joan Rivers, in a 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific date undetermined)
  • First of all, let’s get one thing straight: fitness and exercise aren’t the same thing. You can exercise without getting fit, but you can’t get fit without exercise. Jaclyn Smith, in The American Look (1986)
  • The brain is a tool that gets rusty without constant, albeit moderate, exercise. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • All your trouble comes from lack of exercise. George Sand, in an 1875 letter to Gustave Flaubert, in Francis Steegmuller and Barbara Bray, Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence (1993)

Sand continued: “A man of your strength and constitution ought always to have kept physically active. So don’t jibe at the very wise advice that sentences you to one hour’s walk a day. You imagine the work of the mind takes place only in the brain; but you’re much mistaken. It takes place in the legs as well.”



  • Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. Mahmoud Darwish, quoted in Adam Shatz, “A Poet’s Palestine as Metaphor,” in The New York Times (Dec. 22, 2001)

Darwish, often referred to as the Palestinian’s national poet, went on to add: “Isn’t exile one of the sources of literary creation throughout history? The man who is in harmony with his society, his culture, with himself, cannot be a creator.”

  • I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, and cunning. James Joyce, an assertion of protagonist Stephen Dedalus, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

QUOTE NOTE: Dedalus is often described as Joyce’s fictional alter ego, so this declaration may also be viewed as a personal statement.

  • A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of exiles. Emma Lazarus, on the Statue of Liberty, in “The New Colossus” (1883)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage is inscribed on a plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The plaque also contains these more famous words: “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  • Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy! Percy Bysshe Shelly, line from the poem ”Julian and Maddalo” (1818)
  • New York is of course many cities, and an exile does not return to the one he left. John Updike, “Is New York Inhabitable,” in Odd Jobs (1991)



  • When searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both actors and spectators. Niels Bohr, quoted in Paul Arthur Schilpp, “Discussion with Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics,” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949)
  • But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon), in letter to the poet Thomas Moore (Oct. 28, 1815); reprinted in Byron’s Letters and Journals (1975, Leslie Marchand, ed.)

Byron continued: “The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.”

  • Existence is this, I thought, a start of joy, a stab of pain, an intense pleasure, veins that pulse under the skin, there is no other truth to tell. Elena Ferrante, in The Days of Abandonment (2005)
  • Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can be discontented, that can feel evicted from paradise. Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: Fromm returned to the theme in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), where he wrote: “Man is the only animal who does not feel at home in nature, who can feel evicted from paradise, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. He cannot go back to the prehuman state of harmony with nature, and he does not know where he will arrive if he goes forward. Man’s existential contradiction results in a state of constant disequilibrium. This disequilibrium distinguishes him from the animal, which lives, as it were, in harmony with nature.”

  • The individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself. Eric Hoffer, in The Ordeal of Change (1964)
  • Could anything be absurder than a man? The animal who knows everything about himself—except why he was born and the meaning of his unique life? Storm Jameson, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist (a man named Renn), in Before the Crossing (1947)
  • There’s nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book. Carson McCullers, the character John Ferris speaking, in the short story “Sojourners,” in a 1950 issue of Mademoiselle magazine; later published in The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951)
  • The cradle rocks above the abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Vladimir Nabokov, in Speak, Memory (1955; rev ed. 1966)
  • Happiness remains the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment. George Santayana, “The Measure of Values in Reflection,” in The Life of Reason (1905)
  • Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future. Susan Sontag, “‘Thinking Against Oneself’: Reflections on Cioran,” in Styles of Radical Will (1969)
  • No metaphysician has yet shaken the ordinary individual’s belief in his own existence. The uncertainties only begin for most of us when we ask what else is. Evelyn Underhill, in Mysticism (1911)
  • Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience. John Updike, in Self-Consciousness: Memoirs 1989)



  • There's a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over—and to let go. It means leaving what's over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives. Ellen Goodman, in her final syndicated op-ed column, The Washington Post (Jan. 1, 2010)

Goodman continued: “It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than out.”

  • Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time. Malcolm Muggeridge, “Twilight of Greatness,” in The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge (1966)
  • Look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else. Tom Stoppard, the character Player speaking, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a shortened version of Player’s full remark, which went this way: “We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and even some published quotation anthologies—present an erroneous phrasing of this quotation, usually in the form every exit is an entrance somewhere else.



  • The expectation makes the blessing sweet. Abigail Adams, in a 1797 letter; in The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009; John P. Kaminski, ed.)
  • A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment. Douglas Adams, the protagonist Dirk Gently speaking, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)
  • Expectations are disappointments under construction. Author Unknown, a popular saying that first emerged in twelve-step recovery progams in the 1980s.
  • Expectations are premeditated resentments. Author Unknown, quoted in Anne Wilson Schaef, Meditations for People Who Worry (1996)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, this is the first appearance of the saying in print. Shaef described it as “an old saying,” but my best guess is that it emerged from the recovery movement in the 1980s or early 1990s. Here is Shaef’s complete thought: “If the old saying that ‘expectations are premeditated resentments’ is true, then our expectations are always putting us in an untenable position.” See the similar thought below from Anne Lamott.

  • It’s expectation that differentiates you from the dead. The dead, so low in their stone rows, making no demands, without desire. Sheila Ballantyne, in Norma Jean the Termite Queen (1975)
  • For people who live on expectations, to face up to their realization is something of an ordeal. Expectations are the most perilous form of dream, and when dreams do realize themselves it is in the waking world: the difference is subtly but often painfully felt. Elizabeth Bowen, the voice of the narrator, in The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • Life is so constructed that the event does not, cannot, will not, meet the expectation. Charlotte Brontë, the protagonist Lucy Snowe reflecting on a recent visit from a potential love interest, in Villette (1853; originally written under the penname Currer Bell)

ERROR ALERT: In a Summer, 1875 letter to Louise and Frances Norcross, Emily Dickinson quoted the passage but omitted the will not portion, writing: “Charlotte Brontë said ‘Life is so constructed that the event does not, cannot, match the expectation.’” As a result, the line is sometimes mistakenly presented that way.

  • To diminish expectation is to increase enjoyment. Fanny Burney, in Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)
  • People are lucky and unlucky not according to what they get absolutely, but according to the ratio between what they get and what they have been led to expect. Samuel Butler, “Lucky and Unlucky,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised. G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics (1905)

QUOTE NOTE: The sentiment was not original with Chesterton; he was piggybacking on an Alexander Pope quotation (see Pope entry below)

  • Things never come when they are expected. Agatha Christie, in The Moving Finger (1942)
  • We should expect the best and the worst from mankind, as from the weather. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Nothing sets a person up more than having something turn out just the way its supposed to be, like falling into a Swiss snowdrift and seeing a big dog come up with a little cask of brandy around its neck. Claud Cockburn, “Printing House Square,” in Cockburn Sums Up: An Autobiography (1981)
  • How tedious is time, when his wings are loaded with expectation! Mary Collyer, Letter XLVIII, in Felicia to Charlotte (1744)
  • We find what we expect to find. We do not see the world as it is but as we are. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • Events never arrive as we fear they will, nor as we hope they will. Comtesse Diane de Beausacq, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • The thing we look forward to often comes to pass, but never precisely in the way we have imagined to ourselves. * George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton,” Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand. George Eliot, the character Nancy Lammeter speaking, in Silas Marner (1861)
  • There is one illusion that has much to do with most of our happiness, and still more to do with most of our unhappiness. It may be told in a word. We expect too much. Joseph Farrell, in The Lectures of a Certain Professor (1877)
  • My happiness goes in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Michael J. Fox, quoted in Brian Hiatt, “Michael J. Fox: The Toughest Man on TV,” Rolling Stone magazine (Sep. 26, 2013)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Fox’s most frequently quoted observations, but it is unclear from Hiatt’s article whether the observation is original to Fox or a maxim he learned during his many years in recovery from alcoholism. At the time of the article, Fox had been sober for 21 years (about which, he quipped, “My sobriety is old enough to drink”).

  • 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)
  • People…believe what they wish to believe, and see what they are expecting to see. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), in Death Knocks Three Times (1949)
  • 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. Archibald speaking, in The Sheltered Life (1932)
  • Keep expectation alive. Keep stirring it up. Let much promise more, and great deeds herald greater. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • So often, happiness is the extent to which we balance our grandiose expectations with reality. Cathy Guisewite, in A Hand to Hold, An Opinion to Reject: A Cathy Collection (1987)
  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the concluding line of one of Dr. Johnson’s most widely quoted passages. Here it is in full: “Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment.”

  • 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). See also the Author Unknown entry above.

  • Expectations are resentments waiting to happen. Anne Lamott, the character Elizabeth reflecting on her desire to keep her expectations in check, in Little Heart (2011)
  • Children have an uncanny way of living up—or down—to what is expected of them. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • No times passes so rapidly as that of painful expectancy—no hour arrives so soon as the one we dread. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Women run on expectations, the way a car is fueled by gas. Amy Lindgren, in SCAN: Magazine of St. Catherine University (1993)

Lindgren added: “And it doesn’t matter whose: unspoken assignments from parents, bosses, clients, children, and lovers crowd out our calendars’ borders, in ink only we can see.”

  • To release others from the expectations we have of them is to really love them. Shirley MacLaine, in Going Within: A Guide for Inner Transformation (1989)
  • 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)
  • Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expected. We take what we get and are thankful it’s no worse than it is. Margaret Mitchell, The character Ashley Wilkes speaking, in Gone With the Wind (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Ashley is replying to Scarlett O’Hara, who has just said, “Oh, Ashley, nothing has turned out as we expected.”

  • Expectation…quickens desire, while possession deadens it. Hannah More, the character Mr. Stanley speaking, in Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the expression is often presented (and sometimes without the ellipsis), but it was originally fully expressed this way: “Expectation with them [referring to children], as with men, quickens desire, while possession deadens it.”

  • Expectation is hope colored by fancy. Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson Morgan), in The Book of the Boudouir, Vol. 2 (1829)
  • To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Flannery O’Connor, in letter to Cecil Dawkins (Dec. 9, 1958); reprinted in Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (1979)
  • What makes earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it should feel like Heaven. Chuck Palahniuk, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a 13-year-old girl named Madison, in Damned (2011)
  • “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 sentiment: “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.”

  • There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it. Dennis Prager, in Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (1998)

Prager introduced the thought by writing: “Because gratitude is the key to happiness, anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations”

  • The universe is energy, energy that responds to our expectations. James Redfield, the character Julia summarizing The Third Insight, in The Celestine Prophecy (1993)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet quotation sites present an abridged version of the quotation: The universe is energy that responds to our expectations.

  • What is destructive is impatience, haste, expecting too much too fast. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • I am giddy; expectation whirls me round./The imaginary relish is so sweet/That it enchants my sense. William Shakespeare, Troilus speaking, in Troilus and Cressida (1602)
  • Oft expectation fails and most oft there/Where most it promises. William Shakespeare, the character Helena speaking, in All’s Well That Ends Well (1603–04)
  • Promising is the very air o’ the time; it opens the eyes of expectation: performance is ever the duller for his act. William Shakespeare, the Painter speaking, in Timon of Athens (c. 1605-06)
  • It would be an incalculable gain to domestic happiness if people would begin the concert of life with their instruments tuned to a very low pitch: they who receive the most happiness are generally they who demand and expect the least. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in Little Foxes (1866; originally published under the name Christopher Crowfield)
  • In our pursuit of the things of this world, we usually prevent enjoyment by expectation; we anticipate our own happiness, and eat out the heart and sweetness and worldly pleasures by delightful forethoughts of them; so that when we come to possess them, they do not answer the expectation, nor satisfy the desires which were raised about them, and they vanish into nothing. John Tillotson, “An Exhortation to Seek the Things Above,” in Sermons (1704; Ralph Barker, ed.)
  • Unexpected money is a delight. The same sum is a bitterness when you expected more. Mark Twain, in letter to his brother, Orion Clemons (March 23, 1878)
  • All relationships have the same basic components: people, needs, and expectations. Iyanla Vanzant, in In the Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want (1998)
  • Go out there and do something remarkable. Don’t live down to expectations. Wendy Wasserstein, in 1990 commencement address at Mount Holyoke College

QUOTE NOTE: Wasserstein employed the concept of living down to expectations on a number of other occasions as well, and most people now associate the expression with her. The idea was not original to Wasserstein, however. In a Dec. 13, 2019 post, Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, reported a 1905 instance of the saying in an observation about corrupt mayors.

  • People hear what they want and expect to hear, not what is said. Fay Weldon, in Auto da Fay (2002)

In her book, Weldon also wrote: “By and large, nothing is as bad as you fear, or as good as you hope.”

  • All expectation hath something of torment. Benjamin Whichcote, in Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1703)
  • When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad. E. B. White, “Removal” in Harper’s magazine (July, 1938)


(includes [Learning From] EXPERIENCE; see also HISTORY and LEARNING and LIFE and PAST)

  • Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Douglas Adams, in Last Chance to See (1990; with Mark Carwardine)
  • You know what a learning experience is? A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” Douglas Adams, quoted in Brendan Buhler, “Interview with Daily Nexus,” Daily Nexus (Univ. of California Santa Barbara student newspaper; April 5, 2001); reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002)
  • All experience is an arch, to build upon. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams typically gets credit for the metaphor of experience as an arch, but Lord Tennyson beat him to the punch. In his poem “Ulysses” (1842), he wrote: “Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’/Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades/For ever and for ever when I move.”

  • Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)

In her book, a collection of epigrams and aphorisms on a wide range of subjects, Antrim also wrote: “Experience has no text books nor proxies. She demands that her pupils answer to her roll-call personally.”

  • The only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience. Author Unknown, quoted in Earl Wilson’s “It Happened Last Night” syndicated column (April 28, 1966)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to either Archibald MacLeish or Laurence J. Peter. Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for his help in tracking down the original source of this quotation.

  • Experience is the one thing you can’t get for nothing. Author Unknown, first reported in New Outlook: A Digest of Ideas and Ideals (Sep., 1952)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly attributed to Oscar Wilde, who offered a number of interesting observations on experience (see below), but never this one.

  • One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art. James Baldwin, “Autobiographical Notes” (1952), in Notes of a Native Son (1955)
  • The fruit of life is experience, not happiness. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • Experience, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize in an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Experience isn’t interesting till it begins to repeat itself—in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience. Elizabeth Bowen, the character Anna speaking, in The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • But let me say this about learning experiences: they’re weird. Or put it this way: what you learn from a learning experience is generally something else. Peg Bracken, in A Window Over the Sink (1981)
  • I don’t know what people expect. Young men often lack judgment. What is the old saying? “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.” Rita Mae Brown, the character Thomas Harrison speaking in Alma Mater (2001)

QUOTE NOTE: The “old saying” being referred to here is a modern proverb that began to gain currency in the early decades of the twentieth century. See more in the Proverb section below.

Several years earlier, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997), used the same proverbial saying in her discussion of former lover Martina Navratilova’ s love life. She wrote: “Martina is a woman who has to be in love. And therein lies the problem. ‘Look before you leap’ is not part of her operating procedure. But who among us hasn’t made that mistake once or twice? Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

  • Experience is the best of schoolmasters, only the school-fees are heavy. Thomas Carlyle, “Goethe’s Helena,” in Foreign Review (April, 1828); reprinted in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1938-39)
  • Experience, the universal Mother of Sciences. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • Everything you experience is what constitutes you as a human being, but the experience passes away and the person’s left. The person is the residue. Ilka Chase, in New York 22 (1951)
  • When you have really exhausted an experience you always reverence and love it. G. K. Chesterton, “The Contented Map,” in A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Chesterton added: “The two things that nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been through are childhood and youth. And though we would not have them back again on any account, we feel that they are both beautiful, because we have drunk them dry.”

  • If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (March 18, 1831); published in Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1835; Henry Nelson Coleridge, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Coleridge first advanced this idea more than a decade earlier, writing in October, 1820 : “To most men, experience is like the stern lights of a ship, which illumine only the track it has passed.” (Source: Letters and Conversations of S. T. Coleridge, Vol I (1836; Thomas Allsop, ed.)

  • Experience has two things to teach: the first that we must correct a great deal; the second, that we must not correct too much. Eugène Delacroix, in letter to Philarite Chasles (March 8, 1890)
  • Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

To drive home his point, Emerson went on to add: “We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”

  • Experience is an excellent doctor, though he never has a diploma. Fanny Fern, in Caper-Sauce: A Volume of Chit-Chat (1872)
  • Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools learn in no other. Ben Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Dec., 1743)
  • We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)
  • No matter how vital experience might be while you lived it, no sooner was it ended and dead than it became as lifeless as the piles of dry dust in a school history book. Ellen Glasgow, in In This Our Life (1941)
  • Never, “for the sake of peace and quiet,” deny your own experience or convictions. Dag Hammarskjöld, in Markings (1964)
  • Experience is the extract of suffering. Arthur Helps, quoted in Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought (1873)
  • The way we remember a learning experience is by dramatizing it in our minds; but when we dramatize it, we distort it—and then it is no longer the same experience we vowed to remember. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (April 11, 1975)
  • What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in Introduction to Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)
  • I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past. Patrick Henry, in speech to the Virginia Convention, Richmond, VA (March 23, 1775)
  • A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in the experience. Elbert Hubbard, in A Thousand & One Epigrams (1911)

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

  • Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. Aldous Huxley, in the Introduction to Texts and Pretexts (1932)

Huxley preceded the observation by writing: “Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and co-ordinating.”

  • Experience is a good teacher, though her fees are terribly high. W. R. Inge, in Talks in a Free Country (1942)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, this quotation is mistakenly presented as: “Experience is a good teacher, but her fees are very high.”

  • Experience is never limited and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue. Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” (1884), in Partial Portraits (1888)
  • At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experiences of life; the thorns should never be plucked from his roses. Ellen Key, in The Century of the Child (1909)
  • Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward. Vernon Law, “How to Be a Winner,” in This Week magazine (Aug. 14, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: I’m not completely certain that Law—a star pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates when he wrote the article—is the original author of this observation, or if he was simply passing along a saying he heard. Metaphors expressing the idea that experience teaches and even that experience is a hard teacher go back centuries, but Law’s 1960 tweaking of the idea does appear to be the first appearance of the saying in print. It has since gone on to achieve the status of a modern proverb. For example, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978), the legendary advice columnist wrote: “Experience, they say, is the best teacher, but we get the grade first and the lesson later. And in a 1994 interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Naomi Judd reflected: “Experience gives us the test first and the lessons later.”

  • If only one could have two lives: the first, in which to make one’s mistakes, which seem as if they had to be made; and the second in which to profit by them. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell (May 24, 1928)
  • One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning. James Russell Lowell, in “Shakespeare Once More,” in Among My Books (1870); also in Literary Essays, Vol. II (1870–1890)
  • All experience is great providing you live through it. If it kills you, you’ve gone too far. Alice Neel, quoted in Patricia Hill, Alice Neel: The Paintings of Two Decades (1980)
  • A strong and well-constituted man digests his experiences (deeds and misdeeds) just as he digests his meats, even when he has some tough morsels to swallow. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Genealogy of Morals (1887)
  • I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a “learning experience.” Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a “learning experience.” It makes me feel less stupid. P. J. O’Rourke, “Second Thoughts About the Sixties,” in Give War a Chance (1992)
  • There are some people who never learn; indeed, few people learn by experience, so far as I have ever seen. Margaret Oliphant, in A House in Bloomsbury (1894)
  • Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. Proverb (American)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, this saying likely emerged in the early decades of the 20th century and first appeared in print form in a Feb. 17, 1932 issue of The Muncie Evening Press, when an Indiana Rotarian named Fred Rose offered a saying he had recently heard: “Good Judgment depends mostly on experience and experience usually comes from poor judgment.” For more on the saying, go here.

  • Our experience comprises illusions lost, rather than wisdom gained. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)

In a meditation on the same subject a little earlier in the book, Roux wrote: “What is experience? A poor little hut constructed from the ruins of the palace of gold and marble called our illusions.”

  • Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry. Muriel Rukeyser, the opening line of “Poem Out of Childhood” (1935)
  • One never believes other people’s experience, and one is only very gradually convinced by one’s own. Vita Sackville-West, in The Edwardians (1930)
  • The lessons of experience are always learned too late. George Sand, in an 1871 letter to Gustave Flaubert, in Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence (1993; F. Steegmuller & B. Bray, eds.)
  • The tragic thing about learning from experience is I fear that one can only learn from one’s own experience. Other people’s—other nations’—experiences simply do not help. They can be imaginatively learned from. But people do not act on other people’s experiences. May Sarton, in a 1944 letter, from May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 (1997; Susan Sherman, ed.)
  • Experience teaches us in a millennium what passion teaches us in an hour. Olive Schreiner, in The Story of an African Farm (1883; written under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • Experience—A comb life gives you after you lose your hair. Judith Stern, quoted in Bennett Cerf, The Laughs on Me (1959)
  • Experience is never at a bargain price. Alice B. Toklas, in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954)
  • We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot-stove lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • Experience, the name men give to their mistakes. I never commit any. Oscar Wilde, Prince Paul speaking, in Vera; or The Nihilists (1880)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilde re-cycled this sentiment in two later works. In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), the narrator says: “Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their mistakes.” And in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), the character Dumby delivers the most familiar version of the thought: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”

[Learning From] EXPERIENCE




  • Never accept an expert’s opinion if it violates your own because the experts can change their minds. Mary Kay Blakely, in American Mom (1994)
  • An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy. Arthur Bloch, “Weinberg’s Corollary,” in Murphy’s Law (1979)
  • An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field. Niels Bohr, quoted by Edward Teller, in Robert Coughlan, in “Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession,” Life magazine (Sep. 6, 1954)
  • An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. Niels Bohr, quoted by Edward Teller in remarks at the U.S. Embassy (Oct. 10, 1972); reported in Alan L. Mackay, A Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977)
  • It is a rare expert who clearly realizes how inexpert someone else can be. Peg Bracken, in I Didn’t Come Here to Argue (1969)
  • An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less. Nicholas Murray Butler, quoted in a 1945 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • In the media age, everybody was famous for 15 minutes. In the Wikipedia age, everybody can be an expert in five minutes. Stephen Colbert, in ”Be An Expert on Anything,” Wired magazine (Aug. 1, 2006)

Colbert added: “Special bonus: You can edit your own entry to make yourself seem even smarter.”

  • An expert is anyone who can already do what we want to do. Susan Collins, in Our Children Are Watching: Ten Skills for Leading the Next Generation to Success (1995)
  • When a workman knows the use of his tools, he can make a door as well as a window. George Eliot, the character Mr. Riley speaking, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • The expert is to many what the priest is, someone who knows absolutely and can tell us what to do. The king, the priest, the expert, have one after the other had our allegiance, but so far as we put any of them in the place of ourselves, we have not a sound society and neither individual nor general progress. Mary Parker Follett, in Creative Experience (1924)

Follett introduced the thought by writing: “A little of the ready reliance on the expert comes from the desire to waive responsibility, comes from the endless evasion of life instead of an honest facing of it.”

  • I wish we could understand the word expert as expressing an attitude of mind which we can all acquire rather than the collecting of information by a special caste. Mary Parker Follett, in Creative Experience (1924)

Follett went on to add: “Many of us are calling for experts because, acutely conscious of the mess we are in, we want someone to pull us out.”

  • There is a pernicious tendency to make the opinions of the expert prevail by crowd methods, to rush the people instead of educating them. Mary Parker Follett, in Creative Experience (1924)
  • An expert is anyone from out of town. Mem Fox, in Radical Reflections (1993)
  • No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, in letter to Robert Bulwer-Lytton (June 15, 1877)

Gascoyne-Cecil added: “If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.”

  • Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success (2008)
  • An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them. Werner Heisenberg, in Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversation (1971)
  • The essence of the expert is that his field shall be very special and narrow; one of the ways in which he inspires confidence is to rigidly limit himself to the little toe; he would scarcely venture an off-the-record opinion on an infected finger. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners (1954)
  • Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (1985)
  • We have not overthrown the divine right of kings to fall down for the divine right of experts. Harold Macmillan, in speech in Strasbourg, France (Aug. 16, 1950)
  • How much of a person’s competence is based on knowing which actions not to take? We usually think of a person’s abilities in positive terms, as in, “An expert is someone who knows what to do.” But one could take the opposite view, that “An expert is someone who rarely slips up—because of knowing what not to do.” [italics in original] Marvin Minsky, in The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind (2006)
  • There is no true expertise in the humanities without knowing all of the humanities. Camille Paglia, in The New York Times (May 5, 1991)

Paglia continued: “Art is a vast, ancient interconnected web-work, a fabricated tradition. Over-concentration on any one point is a distortion.”

  • If a man is trained, purely and simply, to be expert and contented in a particular task he will not innovate; Freud would have remained an anatomist, Marx a philosopher, Darwin a field-naturalist. John Passmore, in The Perfectibility of Man (1971)
  • “Experts” are those who don’t need to bother with elementary questions anymore—thus, they fail to “bother” with the true sources of bottlenecks, buried deep in the habitual routines of the firm, labeled “we’ve always done it that way.” Tom Peters, in Thriving on Chaos (1987)
  • Experts may indeed have far more knowledge than the average amount of knowledge among individuals in the general population but the total amount of knowledge among millions of people in the general population vastly exceeds the total knowledge that any group of experts can assemble. Thomas Sowell, in Basic Economics (4th ed.; 2010)
  • Don’t be overawed by what the experts say. Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense. Benjamin Spock, in Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1945)
  • As our lives have become increasingly isolated, with little time for friends and socializing, we have professionalized contentment, paying experts to give us the advice that used to come from our confidantes and communities. In a culture that loves consumerism, happiness has become the ultimate consumer product. Ruth Whitman, in America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks (2016)



  • You can explain things to people, but you cannot understand things to people. Jeff Bezos, in Business Insider interview with Mathias Döpfner (April 28, 2018)
  • To rush into explanations and excuses is always a sign of weakness. Agatha Christie, the character Superintendent Battle speaking, in The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)



  • Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • Literature, by the way, may be defined as the aesthetic exploitation of language. Anthony Burgess, in A Mouthful of Air (1992)
  • Every modern war has had its roots in exploitation. Helen Keller, “Menace of the Militarist Program,” in address to the Labor Forum (New York City; Dec. 19, 1915)
  • It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation. Alan Paton, a passage from a private essay written by the character Arthur Jarvis, in Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Jarvis is a white South African who serves as something of a spokesperson for Paton (he’s been raised in a comfortable, even sheltered, White neighborhood, and begins to question the racist underpinnings of South African society when he matures spiritually and religiously (he expresses his views in his “Private Essay on the Evolution of a South African”). In an ironic plot twist in the novel, he is murdered by someone who comes from the native population he is trying to help. In the essay, Jarvis continues: “It might have been permissible in the early days of our country, before we became aware of its cost, in the disintegration of native community life, in the deterioration of native family life, in poverty slums, and crime. But now that the cost is known, it is no longer permissible.”

  • Toleration of exploitation, oppression, and injustice points to a condition lying like a pall over the whole of society; it is apathy, an unconcern that is incapable of suffering. Dorothee Sölle, in Suffering (1973)



  • Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. E. L. Doctorow, quoted in Bruce Weber, “The Myth Maker,” The New York Times (Oct. 20, 1985)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Doctorow’s most popular quotations, but few know that he concluded the thought with these words: “If you do it right, you’re coming up out of yourself in a way that’s not entirely governable by your intellect. That’s why the most important lesson I’ve learned is that planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

  • Uncertainty is the necessary companion of all explorers. Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • The explorer who will not come back or send back his ships to tell his tale is not an explorer, only an adventurer; and his sons are born in exile. Ursula K. Le Guin, in The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)
  • I believe that any form of art is a species of exploration and transgression. Joyce Carol Oates, “Running and Writing,” in The Faith of a Writer (2003)

Oates went on to add: “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.”



  • Political extremism involves two prime ingredients: an excessively simple diagnosis of the world’s ills, and a conviction that there are identifiable villains back of it all. John W. Gardner, “A Nation Is Never Finished,” in ABA Journal (Nov., 1967); reprinted in No Easy Victories (1968)
  • I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Barry Goldwater, in speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, San Francisco, CA (July 16, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: In formulating this thought, Goldwater was almost certainly inspired by an observation from Thomas Paine in his 1792 classic The Rights of Man (see Paine entry in MODERATION). Goldwater’s line, delivered so confidently at the convention, went on to doom his chances at winning the U. S. presidential election. For more, see this informative post by Bob Deis at This Day In Quotes.

  • Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents. Robert F. Kennedy, “Extremism, Left and Right,” in The Pursuit of Justice (1964)
  • People divorced from community, occupation, and association are first and foremost among supporters of extremism. William Kornhauser, in The Politics of Mass Society (1959)
  • All empty souls tend to extreme opinion. It is only in those who have built up a rich world of memories and habits of thought that extreme opinions affront the sense of probability. William Butler Yeats, in The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats (1935)



  • When people don’t make eye contact, there’s a reason. Patsy Clairmont, in Normal Is Just a Setting on Your Dryer (1993)
  • She was big on eye contact; a conversation without it was, for her, like driving without headlights. Jodi Compton, in The 37th Hour (2003)
  • Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair? Walker Percy, in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Lost in the Cosmos, while a darkly humorous parody of self-help books, nonetheless contains many perceptive—and occasionally even profound—observations, as in this example.



  • Though most of us don’t hunt, our eyes are still the great monopolists of our senses. Diane Ackerman, “The Beholder’s Eye,” in A Natural History of the Senses (1990)

Ackerman added: “To taste or touch your enemy or your food, you have to be unnervingly close to it. To smell or hear it, you can risk being further off. But vision can rush through the fields and up the mountains, travel across time, country, and parsecs of outer space, and collect bushel baskets of information as it goes.”

  • The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar, and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel, and is bored by repetition. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • The eyes are the windows of the soul. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: According to the Yale Book of Quotations, this saying—in exactly this form—appeared in print for the first time in a Feb. 14, 1891 issue of the Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois). Observations linking the eyes to the soul and the mind had appeared before (one of the earliest was “The eyes . . . are the wyndowes of the mind,” which first emerged in England in the mid-sixteenth century). Other predecessors of the saying may be seen below (especially note the Gautier entry). Within a few decades of appearing in the Decatur Review, the saying had become proverbial (see the Beerbohm entry below).

  • There are whole veins of diamonds in thine eyes,/Might furnish crowns for all the Queens of earth. Philip James Bailey, in Festus (1839)
  • It needs no dictionary of quotations to remind me that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Max Beerbohm, the Duke of Dorset speaking, in Zuleika Dobson (1911)
  • The light of the body is the eye. The Bible—Matthew 6:22

QUOTE NOTE: Matthew is quoting Jesus here, and this passage from the King James Version continues: “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” The word single in the passage is generally interpreted to mean something like singleness of vision or clarity of purpose. The Revised Standard Version of the passage is slightly different: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness (Matthew 6:22–23).”

  • What are so mysterious as the eyes of a child? Phyllis Bottome, “Brother Leo,” in Innocence and Experience (1934)
  • The Night has a thousand eyes,/And the day but one. Francis William Bourdillon, opening lines of the poem “Light,” published in The Spectator (London; Oct., 1873)

QUOTE NOTE: “Light” is the formal title of the poem, but it is popularly known as “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” The poem continues: “Yet the light of the bright world dies/With the dying sun.”

  • An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. Martin Buber, in I and Thou (1923)
  • The eyes those silent tongues of love. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • Eyes—the head’s chief of police. They watch and make mental notes. Anton Chekhov, “A Brief Human Anatomy,” reprinted in Works of Anton Chekhov, Vol. 2, “Nauka” (1976)
  • The eyes, like sentinels, hold the highest place in the body. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Natura Deorum (1st c. B.C.)
  • The eye instinctively looks for analogies and amplifies them, so that a face imagined in the pattern of a wallpaper may become more vivid than a photograph. Kenneth Clark, in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (1951)
  • My eyes make pictures, when they are shut. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in “A Day-Dream” (1807)
  • Their eyes seem’d rings from whence the gems were gone. Dante Alighieri, “Purgatory,” The Divine Comedy (1310-21)
  • The sky is the daily bread of the eyes. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (May 25, 1843)
  • The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • 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)
  • Eyes so transparent,/That through them one sees the soul. Theophile Gautier, “The Two Beautiful Eyes”, in Poésies Complètes (1845)
  • Eyes are more accurate witnesses than ears. Heraclitus in Fragments (6th c. B.C.)
  • The eyes have one language everywhere. George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum (1651)
  • Men trust their ears less than their eyes. Herodotus, in The Histories of Herodotus (5th c. B.C.)
  • 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)
  • I dislike an eye that twinkles like a star. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Hyperion (1839)

Longfellow continued: “Those only are beautiful which, like the planets, have a steady, lambent light, are luminous, but not sparkling.”

  • I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;/I lift my eyes and all is born again. Sylvia Plath. in the poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” originally written during her college years in 1951, but not published until Ariel, her posthumous collection of poetry was published in 1965.
  • All seems infected that the infected spy/As all looks yellow to a jaundiced eye. Alexander Pope, in An Essay of Criticism (1711)
  • The movements of the eyes express the perpetual and unconscious courtesy of the parties. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)


(see SIGHT)

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