Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“F” Quotations


(see also BODY and EYES and EARS and HEAD and NOSE)

  • A good face is a letter of recommendation. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Nov. 13, 1711)
  • My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain. W. H. Auden, quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, W. H. Auden (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: For some clever comments on the poet’s famously wrinkled face, see the Auden entry in POETS—ON THEMSELVES & THEIR WORK.

  • Time engraves our faces with all the tears we have not shed. Natalie Clifford Barney, quoted in George Wickes, The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney (1976)
  • He whose face gives no light shall never become a star. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast. Julie Burchill, in Sex and Sensibility (1992)
  • A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • The human face is the organic seat of beauty. Eliza Farnham, in Woman and Her Era (1864)

Farnham, an pioneering feminist writer, went on to make an early observation about what is now called body language when she added that the face was also “a legible language to those who will study it.”

  • Wearing makeup is an apology for our actual faces. Cynthia Heimel, in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Heimel was inspired by an earlier observation from Marie Shear, who had written in New Directions for Women (1986): “Makeup: Western equivalent of the veil. A daily reminder that something is wrong with women’s normal looks. A public apology.”

  • Your face is a billboard advertising your philosophy of life! Barbara Johnson, in Boomerang Joy (1998)
  • To me the most entertaining surface on earth is the human face. G. C. Lichtenberg, in The Lichtenberg Reader: Selected Writings (1959; F. H. Mautner & H. Hatfield, eds.)
  • The face that launch’d a thousand ships. Christopher Marlowe, the character Faustus describing Helen of Troy, in The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1604)

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

  • A face is too slight a foundation for happiness. Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to her future husband (April 25, 1710); reprinted in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)
  • If twas the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observ’d. Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to an unknown female correspondent (April 1, 1717); in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)
  • After a certain number of years, our faces become our biographies. We get to be responsible for our faces. Cynthia Ozick, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1987)
  • The fingers of your thoughts are molding your face ceaselessly. Charles Reznikoff, quoted in “Remarkable Remarks,” The Independent (New York City; June 8, 1918)
  • God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking to Ophelia, in Hamlet (1601)
  • You think you know someone by looking at his face but what can one face say about the thousand thoughts behind those eyes. Marianne Wiggins, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, who, in a literary conceit occasionally employed by authors, also happens to be named Marianne Wiggins, in The Shadow Catcher (2007)
  • A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction. Oscar Wilde, quoted in H. Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde (1976)
  • The face is the soul of the body. Ludwig Wittgenstein, notebook entry (1932–1934), in Culture and Value (1980)



  • Men are divided in opinion as to the facts. And even granting the facts, they explain them in different ways. Edwin Abbott Abbott, the character Sphere speaking, in Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)
  • Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. John Adams, in remarks to the jury at “The Boston Massacre” trial (Dec. 3, 1770); quoted in William Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of America, Vol. I (1788)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams offered this observation in his defense of British soldiers accused of murdering American colonists opposed to British rule. Facts are stubborn things has become an enormously popular proverbial saying, and Adams is often cited as the author. He was not. The saying, which was well known in America and England by the time of the American Revolution, first appeared in this exact phrasing in 1717; see the Abel Boyer entry below.

  • Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it. A good writer turns fact into truth; a bad writer will, more often than not, accomplish the opposite. Edward F. Albee, “Creativity and Commitment,” in Saturday Review (June 4, 1966); reprinted in Stretching My Mind (2005)
  • Facts were never pleasing to him. He acquired them with reluctance and got rid of them with relief. He was never on terms with them until he had stood them on their heads. J. M. Barrie, in The Greenwood Hat: A Memoir of James Anon, 1885–1887 (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Barrie was describing himself as a younger man (he used “James Anon” as a pen name earlier in his career). For more, go to: James Anon.

  • Facts are to begin with, coercive. Frederick Barry, in The Scientific Habit of Thought (1927)
  • A fact in itself is nothing. It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or for the proof which it furnishes. Claude Bernard, in The Art of Scientific Investigation (1865)
  • While playing the part of the detective the investigator follows clues, but having captured his alleged fact, he turns judge and examines the case by means of logically arranged evidence. William I. B. Beveridge, in The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950)

Beveridge concluded: “Both functions are equally essential but they are different.”

  • Of all the disguises truth assumes, fact is the most misleading. Elizabeth Bibesco, in Haven: Short Stories, Poems, and Aphorisms (pub. posthumously in 1951)
  • Feelings change facts. Phyllis Bottome, in The Life Line (1946)
  • Facts are stubborn things. Abel Boyer, in The Political State of Great Britain (Nov., 1717)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation has bedeviled quotation sleuths for centuries, but the evidence clearly suggests that the English lexicographer and historian Abel Boyer was the original author. The phrase first appears in a 1717 issue of a monthly political newsletter Boyer began publishing in 1711 and continued until his death in 1729 (it eventually comprised 38 volumes). The original phase may be seen at “Facts are Stubborn Things”. Thanks to Garson O'Toole, whose original identification of the saying in The Political State of Great Britain pointed me in the right direction. For a fascinating disposition on the various attributions of the quotation throughout history, see this 2010 post by O’Toole, better known as the Quote Investigator. And for more on the original author, go to Abel Boyer.

  • Life is so very simple when you have no facts to confuse you. Peg Bracken, in A Window Over the Kitchen Sink (1981)
  • I grow daily to honor facts more and more, and theory less and less. A fact, it seems to me, is a great thing—a sentence printed, if not by God, then at least by the Devil. Thomas Carlyle, in letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson (April 29, 1836)
  • 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.”

  • There is nothing so uncertain and slippery as fact. Sara Coleridge, an 1849 journal entry, in Memoir and Letters, Vol. 2 (1873)
  • Fact is like clay. You shape it to your own ends, John Gregory Dunne, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1996)
  • Facts are God’s arguments; we should be careful never to misunderstand or pervert them. Tryon Edwards, in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)
  • In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. Paul Eldridge, “Lanterns in the Night,” in The Jewish Forum (Aug., 1948)
  • If a man will kick a fact out of the window, when he comes back he finds it again in the chimney corner. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 1942 journal entry; quoted in Lawrence Rosenwald, Emerson and the Art of the Diary (1988)
  • A little fact is worth a whole limbo of dreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “The Superlative,” an 1847 lecture delivered at the Manchester (England) Athenaeum; reprinted in Century magazine (Feb., 1882)
  • A single fact will often spoil an interesting argument. William Feather, in The Ideals and Follies of Business (1927)
  • Facts are high explosives. Hallie Flanagan, quoted in Mel Gussow, “Theater in Review,” the New York Times (March 4, 1992)
  • We may make our own opinions, but facts were made for us; and, if we evade or deny them, it will be the worse for us. James Anthony Froude, “Times of Erasmus, Desiderius, and Luther,” in Short Studies on Great Subjects (1867–82)
  • Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty. Galileo Galilei, in Dialogues Concerning the New Sciences (1638)
  • A fact is a truth unsexed. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Stephen Jay Gould, “Glow, Big Glowworm,” in Natural History magazine (Dec., 1986); reprinted in Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991)

Gould continued: “Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the exit is often a change in metaphor—not because the new guideline will be truer to nature…but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.”

  • In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes (1983)
  • The human race’s favorite method for being in control of facts is to ignore them. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
  • When the mind withdraws into itself and dispenses with facts it makes only chaos. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)
  • All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called “facts.” They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. Aldous Huxley, “A Note on Dogma,” in Proper Studies (1927)
  • Facts are ventriloquist’s dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere they say nothing, or talk nonsense. Aldous Huxley, in Time Must Have a Stop (1945)
  • Truly is has been said, that to a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the Infinite may be seen. T. H. Huxley, in “The Study of Zoology,” a lecture delivered at the South Kensington Museum (May 14, 1860); reprinted in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1888)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Aldous Huxley, the grandson of T. H. Huxley.

  • Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. T. H. Huxley, in letter to Charles Kingsley (Sep. 23, 1860); reprinted in Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900)
  • The great tragedy of Science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. T. H. Huxley, in “Biogenesis and Abiogenesis,” his 1870 Presidential address to British Association for the Advancement of Science; reprinted in Discourses: Biological and Geological Essays (1894)
  • When facts speak, the wise man listens. Stephen King, the character Roland, quoting one of his father’s favorite sayings, in The Wind through the Keyhole (2012)
  • The facts we see depend on where we are placed, and the habits of our eyes. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922)
  • In science, all facts, no matter how trivial or banal, enjoy democratic equality. Mary McCarthy, “The Fact in Fiction,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • Facts are carpet-tacks under the pneumatic tires of theory. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Facts are the air of a scientist. Without them you will never be able to fly. Ivan Pavlov, in a 1936 open letter to the youth of Russia (formally titled “Bequest to the Academic Youth of Soviet Russia”), quoted in E. A. Asratyan, I. P. Pavlov: His Life and Work (1953)

Pavlov preceded the thought by writing: “Learn to do the hard, manual work in science. Study, compare, and accumulate facts. No matter how perfect a bird’s wing may be, it could never lift the bird to any height without the support of air, without them your theories will only be vain attempts.”

ERROR ALERT: Many Internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Linus Pauling.

  • I have perhaps been slow in coming to realize that the facts are always friendly. Every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true. Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person (1961)

Rogers added: “And being closer to the truth can never be a harmful or dangerous or unsatisfying thing.”

  • She always says, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you look them in the face hard enough they generally run away. She is a very courageous woman, my lord. Dorothy L. Sayers, the character Bunter (Lord Peter Wimsey’s butler), quoting his mother, in Clouds of Witness (1926)
  • Comment is free, but facts are sacred. C. P. Snow, “A Hundred Years,” in The Manchester Guardian (May 5, 1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation, which enjoys a legendary status among journalists, appeared in an essay celebrating the 100th anniversary of the British daily newspaper (which formally changed its name to The Guardian in 1959). Snow, the owner and editor, introduced the saying with this description of the role of a newspaper: “Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted.”

  • To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights. Timothy Snyder, in On Tyranny (2017)
  • Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one day flower in a truth. Henry David Thoreau, “Natural History of Massachusetts,” in Excursions (1863)

ERROR ALERT: All internet sites—and most published quotation anthologies—mistakenly phrase the observation as if it read flower into a truth.

  • What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. Barbara W. Tuchman, “Can History Be Served Up Hot?” in the New York Times Book Review (March 8, 1964)

Tuchman continued: “His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement.”

  • We do not deal much in fact when we are contemplating ourselves. Mark Twain, “Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?” in The North American Review (April, 1902)
  • It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink [at] facts because they are not to our taste. John Tyndall, “Science and Man,” in Fragments of Science, Vol. II (1892)

QUOTE NOTE: Tyndall originally wrote to blink facts, but his observation is almost always presented as if he wrote to blink at facts.

  • Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them. Jules Verne, quoted in Idrisyn Oliver Evans, Jules Verne and His Work (1966)
  • Those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament. Evelyn Waugh, the character Mr. Badwin speaking, in Scoop (1938)



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

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

  • Failure is never a reason not to try again. Martha Albrand, the character Albert speaking, in Wait for the Dawn (1950)
  • Failure?/I’m not ashamed to tell it,/I never learned to spell it./Not Failure. Maya Angelou, in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
  • Three failures denote uncommon strength. A weakling has not enough grit to fail thrice. Minna Thomas Antrim, in At the Sign of the Golden Calf (1905)
  • Failure is feedback. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: In The Winning Woman, Molly Jay’s 2001 anthology of quotations from women in sports, this saying was attributed to tennis legend Billie Jean King, but I believe she was simply passing along a saying that had recently become popular in sports circles.

  • Success has made failures of many men. Cindy Adams, quoted in Joey Adams, Cindy and I (1957)
  • We mount to heaven mostly on the ruins of our cherished schemes, finding our failures were successes. A. Bronson Alcott, in Tablets (1868)
  • They fail, and they alone, who have not striven. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, the concluding line of “Enamored Architect of Airy Rhyme,” in The Poems of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1885)
  • Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This sentiment, in a variety of slightly different forms, is commonly misattributed to Winston Churchill—and sometimes to Abraham Lincoln. For more, see this Quote Investigator post.

  • Some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes. Pearl Bailey, in Talking to Myself (1971). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • In truth, it’s usually failure, disappointment, and frustration that motivate people to reexamine that which they’ve taken for granted. It’s rare to find big change without significant bad news. Judith M. Bardwick, in Danger in the Comfort Zone (1995)

A moment later, Bardwick added: “In that sense, the pain of failure creates the largest opportunities for progress.”

  • We are all failures, at least all the best of us. J. M. Barrie, in rectorial address at St Andrews University (May 3, 1922); reprinted in Courage (1922)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites present the quotation this way: “We are all failures—at least, all the best of us are.”

  • Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett, in Worstward Ho (1983)
  • To the eye of failure success is an accident with a presumption of crime. Ambrose Bierce, “Some Negligible Epigrams” in The Cosmopolitan magazine (Feb., 1907)
  • Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure. Kenneth E. Boulding, “The Diminshing Returns of Science,” in New Scientist and Science Journal (March 25, 1971). An example of Oxymoronica.
  • A failure establishes only this, that our determination to succeed was not strong enough. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)
  • The world is made of people who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show. Jacob Bronowski, in The Face of Violence (1954)
  • Accept that all of us can be hurt, that all of us can—and surely will at times—fail. Other vulnerabilities, like being embarrassed or risking love, can be terrifying too. I think we should follow a simple rule: if we can take the worst, take the risk. Joyce Brothers, in a 1988 interview in Good Housekeeping magazine (specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation came in response to the question: “What would you advise others about taking risks?”

  • A minute’s success pays the failure of years. Robert Browning, in “Apollo and the Fates” (1886)
  • 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.”

  • If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. James Cameron, quoted in Dana Goodyear, “Man of Extremes: The Return of James Cameron,” in The New Yorker (Oct. 26, 2009)
  • Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. Truman Capote, “Self Portrait,” in The Dogs Bark (1973)
  • A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed—I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself. Georges Clemenceau, in conversation with Jean Martet (June 1, 1928), in Clemenceau, The Events of His Life as Told By Himself to His Former Secretary, Jean Martet (1930)
  • In archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.); reprinted in James Legge, The Life and Teachings of Confucius (1867)
  • There is no way of steering successfully between a failed situation and a failed self except by stopping and taking our bearings. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • Everything ultimately fails, for we die, and that is either the penultimate failure or our most enigmatical achievement. Edward Dahlberg, in Alms for Oblivion (1964)
  • “Daring to fail is the only path to meaningful growth. Michael Dell, in Play Nice But Win (2021)
  • Failure is not mere failure. It is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes. John Dewey, “Analysis of Reflective Thinking,” in How We Think (1933); reprinted in The Essential Dewey, Vol. 2 (1998; L. H. Hickman & T. M. Alexander, eds.)

A bit later, Dewey went on to add: “Nothing shows the trained thinker better than the use he makes of his errors and mistakes. What merely annoys and discourages a person not accustomed to thinking…is a stimulus and a guide to the trained inquirer.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many published quotation anthologies mistakenly present the observation as if it began: Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks….

  • If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works, with all the misconceptions, the omissions, the failures that any finished work of art implies. John Dos Passos, “Looking Back on U.S.A.,” in The New York Times (Oct. 25, 1959)
  • Failure is just another way to learn how to do something right. Marian Wright Edelman, in Families in Peril (1987)
  • Good failures are those that bring us valuable new information that simply could not have been gained any other way. Amy C. Edmondson, in Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well (2023)
  • I’m proof against that word failure. I’ve seen behind it. The only failure a man ought to fear is failure of cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Felix Holt, The Radical (1866)
  • Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure. George Eliot, the character Dorothea speaking, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)
  • In all failures, the beginning is certainly the half of the whole. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)
  • It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success. Havelock Ellis, in Questions of Our Day (1936)
  • All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. William Faulkner, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1956)
  • The man who has done his level best, and who is conscious that he has done his best, is a success, even though the world may write him down as a failure. B. C. Forbes, quoted in “Thoughts on the Business of Life,” in 1989 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Failure is success if we learn from it. Malcolm Forbes, in 1992 issue of Forbes magazine
  • Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently. Henry Ford, quoted in F. T. Haner, Stephen K Keiser, & Donald J. Puglisi, in Introduction to Business: Concepts and Careers (1976)
  • There’s always failure. And there’s always disappointment. And there’s always loss. But the secret is learning from the loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums. Michael J. Fox, in National Public Radio (NPR) interview (April 17, 2010)
  • If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life. It’s as simple as that. John W. Gardner, in Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society (1964)
  • A shy failure is nobler than an immodest success.  Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance. Seth Godin, in Poke the Box (2011)
  • I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publisher’s desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way. Gail Godwin, quoted in Janet Sternburg, The Writer on Her Work, Vol. 1 (1980)

Godwin added: “And even with the ones I do finish, I think of all the ways they might have been better.”

  • Success is more dangerous than failure, the ripples break over a wider coastline. Graham Greene, quoted in The Independent (London; April 4, 1991).
  • In Life as in Football/Fall Forward when you fall. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: This might be the original inspiration of a concept—failing forward—that has become quite popular in recent years.

  • One of the ingredients most necessary for success is failure. F. T. Haner, Stephen K. Keiser, & Donald J. Puglisi, in Introduction to Business: Concepts and Careers (1976)
  • Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping. Julius C. & Augustus W. Hare, in Guesses at Truth (1827)
  • Mine was a life of failure—one thing after another—like most lives…but that is all right, it is universal, it is the great human experience to fail. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • Learning starts with failure, the first failure is the beginning of education. John Hersey, in The Child Buyer (1960)
  • Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success. Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich (1937)
  • There is no loneliness greater than the loneliness of a failure. The failure is a stranger in his own house. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)

Hoffer continued, “We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and out present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.”

  • 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.

  • The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and don’t know it. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • Accept failure as part and parcel of life. It’s not the opposite of success; it’s an integral part of success. Arianna Huffington, quoted in Katie Couric, The Best Advice I Ever Got (2011)
  • There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life. T. H. Huxley, in On Medical Education (1870)
  • It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other, and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one. Jerome K. Jerome, “On Vanity and Vanities,” in Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886)
  • There is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object. John Keats, in Preface to Endymion (1818)
  • Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true. John Keats, attributed

ERROR ALERT: This quotation has become extremely popular, but it is in error in two ways. First, it has not been found in the writings of Keats, or reported in biographies or other accounts of his life. Second, the popular version above is a slight abridgment of the original phrasing that was attributed to Keats—but without source information—in Elon Foster’s New Cyclopaedia of Prose Illustrations (1877):

Albeit failure in any cause produces a correspondent misery in the soul, yet it is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterward carefully eschew.

This attributed quotation from Foster’s quotation anthology was given legitimacy when it appeared in a 1936 article in the “Saturday Review of Books and Art” in the New York Times.

  • I think success has no rules, but you can learn a great deal from failure. Jean Kerr, the character Bob speaking, in Mary, Mary (1963)
  • Learn how to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. Charles F. Kettering, in Strategy and Business (1977)
  • Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Thomas Alvin Boyd, Charles F. Kettering: A Biography (2002)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement” is mistakenly attributed to C. S. Lewis.

  • Of all failures, to fail in a witticism is the worst; and the mishap is the more calamitous in a drawn-out and detailed one. Walter Savage Landor, the character Lord Chatham speaking, in “Lord Chesterfield and Lord Chatham,” Imaginary Conversations, Second Series (1824)
  • Failure is the foundation of success, and the means by which it is achieved. Success is the lurking place of failure; but who can tell when the turning-point will come? Lao-Tzu, in Tao Te Ching (6th c. B.C.); also to be found in Lionel Giles, The Sayings of Lao Tzu (1904)
  • Failures aren’t failures if you learn something from them. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in War Within and War Without (1980)
  • Every man is in some sort a failure to himself. No one ever reaches the heights to which he aspires. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • Because a fellow has failed once or twice or a dozen times, you don’t want to set him down as a failure till he’s dead or loses his courage. George Horace Lorimer, the title character writing in a letter to his son, in Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • Not failure, but low aim, is crime. James Russell Lowell, in poem “For an Autograph” (1868)
  • When we can begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves. Katherine Mansfield, journal entry (Oct., 1922), in Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927; J. Middleton Murry, ed.)
  • Defeats and failures are great developers of character. They have made the giants of our race by giving Titanic muscles, brawny sinews, and far-reaching intellects. Orison Swett Marden, in Rising in the World, or Architects of Fate (1895)
  • Failure can get to be a rather comfortable old friend. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • Failure is the true test of greatness. Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” in The Literary World (Aug., 1850)

Melville preceded the observation by writing: “It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great.” For more on the quotation, see this 2015 post from The Quote Investigator.

  • Do not be one of those who, rather than risk failure, never attempts anything. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)
  • For this is the journey that men make: to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn’t matter much what else they find: Money, position, fame, many loves, revenge are all of little consequence, and when the tickets are collected at the end of the ride they are tossed into the bin marked FAILURE. James Michener, the voice of the narrator, in The Fires of Spring: A Novel (1949)

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

  • No man leaves where he is and seeks a distant place unless he is in some respect a failure. James Michener, the voice of the narrator, in Hawaii: A Novel (1959)

The narrator continued: “But having failed in one location and having been ejected, it is possible that in the next he will be a little wiser.”

  • The world itself is pregnant with failure. Henry Miller, “Reflections of Writing,” The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)

Miller added that the world “is the perfect manifestation of imperfection, of the consciousness of failure.”

  • First-rate pursuits—involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is all about and conveying that understanding—inevitably result in a sense of failure. Malcolm Muggeridge, “Woman’s Hour,” in BBC radio broadcast (Aug. 5, 1965); reprinted in Muggeridge Through the Microphone (1967)

Muggeridge preceded the thought by saying: “It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits—like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere, or landing on the moon.”

QUOTE NOTE: In Muggeridge’s view, understanding—and then communicating that understanding to others—was life’s most difficult task. About it, he wrote: “Understanding is for ever [sic] unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is nonetheless the only one worthy of serious attention.”

  • Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Iris Murdoch, the Abbess speaking, in The Bell (1958)
  • I live, I live, with an absolutely continuous sense of failure. I am always defeated, always. Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. The years pass and one has only one life. If one has a thing at all one must do it and keep on and on and on trying to do it better. Iris Murdoch, the character Arnold Baffin speaking, in The Black Prince (1973)
  • Failure is a highly contagious disease. Paul Newman, as the character Chance Wayne, in the 1962 film Sweet Bird of Youth (screenplay by Richard Brooks)

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

  • Failures are like skinned knees, painful but superficial. H. Ross Perot, quoted in Look magazine (March 24, 1970)
  • Pursue failure. Failure is success’s only launching pad. Tom Peters, in Liberation Management (1992)
  • The world is divided into two categories: failures and unknowns. Francis Picabia, “L’Humour Poetique,” in La Nef (Dec. 1950-Jan. 1951)
  • If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down. Mary Pickford, in Why Not Try God? (1934)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that the final portion of Pickford’s observation was inspired by a famous quotation from Oliver Goldsmith: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

  • Failure is nothing but success trying to be born in a bigger way. Most seeming failures are just installments toward victory! Catherine Ponder, in The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity (1962)
  • There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure. Colin Powell, quoted in Oren Harari, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (2003)
  • All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs. Enoch Powell, in epilogue to Joseph Chamberlain (1977)
  • A series of failures may culminate in the best possible result. Gisela Richter, in My Memoirs: Recollections of an Archaeologist’s Life (1972)
  • Rock Bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default. J. K. Rowling, in “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” Harvard University Commencement Address (5 June 5, 2008)

Rowling continued: “Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.”

  • Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday. Wilma Rudolph, in Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph (1977)
  • Flops are a part of life’s menu and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses. Rosalind Russell, quoted in a 1957 issue of the New York Herald Tribune (specific issue undetermined))
  • Success is a public affair. Failure is a private funeral. Rosalind Russell, in Life is a Banquet (1977)
  • We go forward by failure. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us and only those who are willing to fail shall taste the dangers and splendors of life. To be a good loser is to learn how to win. The real coward is he who sees no glory in failure Carl Sandburg, in Incidentals (1904; orig. published under the name Charles Sandburg)

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

  • Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. William Saroyan, quoted in New York Journal American (Aug. 23, 1961)
  • In a total work, the failures have their not unimportant place. May Sarton, a reflection of the title character, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • Failure would only be if you had somewhere stopped growing. As far as I can see the whole duty of the artist is to keep on growing. May Sarton, a 1949 remark, quoted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Among the Usual Days (1993)
  • Success and failure—we think of them as opposites, but they’re really not. They’re companions—the hero and the sidekick. Laurence Shames, in The Hunger for More: Searching for Values in an Age of Greed (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s always nice to see authors expressing genuine affection for something they’ve written—especially something written decades earlier—and that’s exactly what I discovered when I was attempting to track down the source of this quotation. From the millions of words Shames penned in a career spanning over four decades, he selected this remarkable metaphor as one of the things he was glad to have written. Go to: Laurence Shames.

  • Today’s failure may be a deliverance. It may be releasing you from the wrong task in order to free you for the right one. Susan Shaughnessy, in Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers (1993)
  • We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)
  • Our business in this world is not to succeed but to continue to fail, in good spirits. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Reflections and Remarks on Human Life,” (1878), in Complete Works, Vol. 26 (1924)
  • We will never lose if we define and redefine ourselves after each failure. Alexandra Stoddard, in Making Choices (1994)
  • I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody. Herbert Bayard Swope, in a speech in St. Louis (Dec. 20, 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1977 interview published in Scholastic magazine, Bill Cosby offered an extremely similar observation: “I don’t really know the exact formula for success, but I do know the formula for failure: trying to please everybody.” As a result, Cosby is often cited as the author of the sentiment. I don’t view Cosby’s quotation as an act of plagiarism, though. Many people say things in interviews they would never formally put in a book or a speech, and when Cosby offered his remark in 1977, the original Swope quotation had almost become proverbial.

  • He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being. Paul Tillich, in 1955 sermon at Riverside Church, reported in Presbyterian Life (1955, vol. 8; specific date undetermined)
  • The knowledge of personal failure…is the invaluable predicate of all honest compassion. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journal of an Artist (1996)
  • Risk is the willingness to fail. Kathleen Turner, in Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles (2008; with Gloria Feldt)

Turner preceded the thought by writing: “A full and meaningful life must involve some risks or there can be no growth. Risk to me means going to the point at which you may not be able to do what you have set out to do, or at which you might seriously fall short of what your vision is.”

  • What the world calls failure, I call learning. Susan Vreeland, the character Mr. Tiffany speaking, in Clara and Mr. Tiffany (2011)
  • It has been said that failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Denis Waitley, in Timing is Everything (1992)
  • Nothing succeeds like failure. Rebecca West, quoted in Agnes de Mille, Dance to the Piper (1952)
  • Failure is another stepping-stone to greatness. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)
  • I will tell you that there have been no failures in my life. I don’t want to sound like some metaphysical queen, but there have been no failures. There have been some tremendous lessons. Oprah Winfrey, quote in Bill Adler, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey (1997)
  • Failure is just a way for our lives to show us that we’re moving in the wrong direction, that we should try something different. It holds no more power than we give it. Oprah Winfrey, in a 2001 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Winfrey preceded the thought by writing: “Failure is defined by our reaction to it.”

  • I don’t believe in failure. It’s not failure if you enjoyed the process. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Marianne Ruuth, Oprah Winfrey (2008)
  • Failure is not fatal but failure to change might be. John Wooden, in Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court (1997; with Steve Jamison)



  • A fair-minded person tries to see both sides of an argument. Aesop
  • Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone—the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth. Svetlána Alexándrovna Alexiévich, in Voices From Chernobyl (2006)
  • Life’s not fair; why should I be? Margaret Atwood, in Good Bones (1992)
  • When life isn’t fair to us or to those we love, we get angry. When life is unfair to others, we get philosophical Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful
  • On the whole, life is unfair in the way it works out. It is a game played without an umpire! Ursula Bloom, in Life Is No Fairy Tale (1976)
  • Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in Life’s Instructions for Wisdom, Success, and Happiness (2000)
  • If people are worried about unfair advancement, they should look at the sons-in-law of the world running companies. They’ve truly slept their way to the top. Mary Cunningham, a 1980 observation, quoted in Bob Chieger, Was It Good for You, Too? (1983)
  • It is unfair to hold people responsible for our illusions about them. Comtesse Diane, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children. Marian Wright Edelman, quoted in The Huffington Post (Oct. 30, 2017)
  • I’ve never known a man to be beaten fairly, nor one to be elected, unfairly. Anne Ellis, in Plain Anne Ellis (1931)
  • It is not only unfair but disgustingly cruel that the mother is always held responsible for the illegitimate child, while the father goes scot-free. Dale Evans, in Time Out, Ladies (1966)
  • Lack of fairness to an opponent is essentially a sign of weakness. Emma Goldman, in Living My Life (1931)
  • If money is speech, then those with more money have more speech, and that idea is antithetical to a democracy that cherishes political fairness. It makes us no longer equal citizens. Doris Haddock, in Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year (2001; with Dennis Burke)
  • There is balance in life, but not fairness. Shirley Hazzard, “A Place in the Country,” in Cliffs of Fall (1961)
  • Life, after we’d had a few millennia to observe it, turned out to be dreadfully unfair, so we invented sports. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • Life is unfair. John F. Kennedy, remark at news conference (March 21, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the conclusion to a fuller observation that began this way: “Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic, and some are stationed in San Francisco. It's very hard in military or in personal life to assure complete equality.”

  • It’s so unfair that we should die, just because we are born. Anna Magnani, quoted in Oriana Fallaci, Limelighters (1963)
  • Fairness does not consist so much of everybody’s doing the same thing, but of everybody’s being willing to do something that others don't want to do. Judith Martin
  • The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life’s essential unfairness. Nancy Mitford, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, known only as Fanny, in The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • When they were going to be flagrantly, brutally selfish, how men did love to talk of being fair! Kathleen T. Norris, in Bread Into Roses (1936)
  • Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting. George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit,” in Shooting an Elephant (1950)
  • I never want anything more than what’s fair. The problem is, I never want anything less either. In the old-boy school of business, if a woman walks away from the table with what’s rightfully hers, the man feels screwed. Dolly Parton, in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (1994)
  • I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not. Michael Pollan, in “Food Chains, Dead Zones, and Licensed Journalism” (an interview with Russell Schoch), Mother Jones magazine ( Feb. 4, 2005)

Pollan went on to add: “Fairness forces you—even when you’re writing a piece highly critical of, say, genetically modified food, as I have done—to make sure you represent the other side as extensively and as accurately as you possibly can.”

  • Fair play is less characteristic of groups than of individuals. Agnes Repplier, “Are Americans Timid?” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself. Eleanor Roosevelt, a 1946 observation, quoted in My Day, Vol. 2 (1990)
  • The first time you are reconciled to the terrible unfairness of disappointment, you are getting old. Mary Lee Settle, in The Love Eaters (1954)
  • All’s fair in love and war. Francis Edward Smedley, in Frank Fairlegh: Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil (1850)
  • Because there is no precisely defined and widely agreed upon definition of fairness, what the term has come to mean in economic policy-making is that those with political power can restrict the options of individuals and enterprises, in order to produce whatever end result those in power choose to call “fair.” Thomas Sowell, in Basic Economics, 4th Ed. (2010)
  • Fair and unfair are among the most influential words in English and must be delicately used. Freya Stark, in A Peak in Darien (1976)
  • I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor? Bill Watterson, a cartoon caption (specific date undetermined)
  • Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not. Oscar Wilde the character Lord Goring, speaking to Sir Robert Chiltern, in An Ideal Husband (1895)


(see also BEAUTY)

  • Fair and softly goes far. Miguel de Cervantes



  • Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. G. K. Chesterton, “The Red Angel,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Chesterton continued: “The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites and many published quotation anthologies mistakenly present the Chesterton observation in the following way: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” The problem originated with Neal Gaiman, who presented a mistaken version of Chesterton’s words in an epigraph in his novel Coraline (2002). See this 2013 post in which Gaiman took responsibility for the error and explained how it happened.

  • Deeper meaning resides in the fairytales told to me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the character Max Piccolomini speaking, in The Piccolomini (1799)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated this way: “A deeper import/Lurks in the legend told my infant years/Than lies upon the truth we live to learn.”


(see also BELIEF and DOUBT and REASON and RELIGION)

  • There is nothing more perplexing in life than to know at what point you should surrender your intellect to your faith. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • Faith…is the virtue of the storm just as happiness is the virtue of the sunshine. Ruth Benedict, a notebook entry (Jan. 7, 1913); quoted in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: The full entry is also worth reading: “Faith is the sturdiest, the most manly of the virtues. It lies behind our pluckiest, blindest, most heartbreaking strivings. It is the virtue of the storm just as happiness is the virtue of the sunshine. It is a mistake to feel that it has to do only with the future; faith in the present too has the weight of all authority behind it.”

  • Faith is not a thing which one “loses.” we merely cease to shape our lives by it. George Bernanos, in The Diary of a Country Priest (1936)
  • Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The Bible—Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
  • Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. The Bible—James 2:17 (RSV)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage has evolved into the proverbial saying, “Faith without works is dead.”

  • Faith. n., Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp. Frederick Buechner, in The Magnificent Defeat (1966)
  • What is faith but a kind of betting or speculation after all? It should be, “I bet that my Redeemer liveth.” Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Faith isn’t faith until it’s all we have to hold on to and knowledge fails us. When we pray for faith, we automatically pray for darkness. Think about it. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)
  • I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings. William Sloane Coffin, in Credo (2004)
  • In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice. Jerry Coyne, quoted in The Independent (April 7, 2011). Also an example of Oxymoronica.

QUOTE NOTE: Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, was criticizing the Templeton Foundation for conflating religion and science when the organization awarded its annual prize (“for progress in religion”) to Martin Rees, a cosmologist with no religious beliefs. Coyne preceded the remark by saying: “Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning.”

  • To me faith means not worrying. John Dewey, quoted in J. H. Randall, Jr., “The Religion of Shared Experience,” in Philosophy After Darwin (1977, Beth J. Singer, ed.)
  • Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right,/By these we reach divinity. John Donne, in “Verse Letter to the Countess of Bedford” (c. 1607)
  • It is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that generates miracles. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the voice of the narrator, describing the position of a realist, in The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  • If there be a faith that can remove mountains, it is faith in our own power. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth. Albert Einstein, a remark to Jost Winteler (July 8, 1901), in Collected Papers of Albert Einstein; reported in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible. E. M. Forster, “What I Believe”, in Clifton Fadiman, The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women (1939); reprinted in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
  • If you are threatened or offended by people disagreeing, challenging or even ridiculing your faith, your faith can’t be that strong. Ricky Gervais, in a Tweet (Sep. 23, 2012)
  • Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam (1969)
  • If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask? Graham Greene, in letter written by Dr. Magiot, in The Comedians (1966)
  • The most dangerous heresy of our time, it bears repeating, is the belief that belief in itself is a good thing, regardless of its content; for faith that is attached to an unworthy or inadequate object makes people less than they are, not more. Sydney J. Harris, in Leaving the Surface (1968)
  • Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • It’s a condition of faith that it gets lost from time to time, or at least mislaid. P. D. James, the character Lady Ursula speaking, in A Taste for Death (1986)

Lady Ursula preceded the thought by saying: “The world is full of people who have lost faith: politicians who have lost faith in politics, social workers who have lost faith in social work, schoolteachers who have lost faith in teaching and, for all I know, policemen who have lost faith in policing and poets who have lost faith in poetry.”

  • Faith reinvigorates the will, enriches the affections, and awakens a sense of creativeness. Active faith knows no fear, and it is a safeguard to me against cynicism and despair. Helen Keller, on Edward R. Murrow's “This I Believe” (1951)
  • Faith is a mockery if it does not teach us that we can build a more omplete and beautiful world. Helen Keller, in To Love This Life (2000)
  • The Christian faith makes it possible for us nobly to accept that which cannot be changed, to meet disappointments and sorrow with an inner poise, and to absorb the most intense pain without abandoning our sense of hope. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator, in Moby-Dick (1851)
  • Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. H. L. Mencken, “The Believer,” in Prejudices:Third Series 1922)

A bit later, Mencken went on to add: “A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill.”

  • He whose faith is most assured has the best reason for relying on persuasion, and the strongest motive to thrust from him all temptations to use angry force. John Morley, “Realization of Opinion,” in On Compromise (1874)
  • Life is a battle between faith and reason in which each feeds upon the other, drawing sustenance from it and destroying it. Reinhold Niebuhr, a 1928 entry, in Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1930)
  • It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not the reason. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)

In the book, Pascal also wrote on the subject: “Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.”

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

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

  • Faith is like love; when you want it you can’t find it, and you find it when you least expect it. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • Faith is an excitement and an enthusiasm, a state of intellectual magnificence which we must safeguard like a treasure, not squander on our way through life in the small coin of empty words and inexact, pedantic arguments. George Sand, in a letter (May 25, 1866), in Correspondence, Vol. 5 (1884)
  • Faith…is nothing at all tangible. It is simply believing God; and, like sight, it is nothing apart from its object. Hannah Whitall Smith, in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1870)

Smith continued: “You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight, as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.”

  • Faith is a curious thing. It must be renewed; it has its own spring. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)
  • Faith is the bird that feels the light/and sings when the dawn is still dark. Rabindranath Tagore, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore: Poems, Vol. 2 (2007)
  • Faith is like radar that sees through the fog—the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see. Corrie Ten Boom, in Tramp for the Lord (1974)
  • There lives more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half the creeds. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” (1850)
  • It was the schoolboy who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Mark Twain, in “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation. Simone Weil, “Intelligence and Grace,” in Gravity and Grace (1947)
  • Faith is stepping out on nothing and landing on something. Cornel West, as quoted by his brother Clifton West, in Prophetic Fragments (1988}
  • When faith is lost, when honor dies,/The man is dead! John Greenleaf Whittier, in Ichabod (1850)
  • Faith is the centerpiece of a connected life. It allows us to live by the grace of invisible strands. It is a belief in a wisdom superior to our own. Terry Tempest Williams, in Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1991)

William preceded the thought by writing: “Faith defies logic and propels us beyond hope because it is not attached to our desires.”

  • I am extremely spiritual. I’ve not gone into this before because it’s personal, but faith is the core of my life. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Bill Adler, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey (1997)
  • Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death. Edward Young, “The Christian Triumph,” in Night Thoughts (1742–45)

QUOTE NOTE: The full title of Young’s long blank verse poem, originally published in nine parts over three years, was: The Complaint: Or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality.





  • Man can certainly keep on lying (and does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. Karl Barth, in Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Vol. 2 (1942); also quoted in his obituary in The New York Times (Dec. 11, 1968)
  • A falsehood is, in one sense, a dead thing; but too often it moves about, galvanized by self-will, and pushes the living out of their seats. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Preliminary Observations,” in Aids to Reflection (1825)
  • Falsehood is often rocked by truth, but she soon outgrows her cradle and discards her nurse. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1825)
  • Tyranny and injustice always produce cunning and falsehood. Maria Edgeworth, the title character speaking, in “Lame Jervas,” in Popular Tales (1804)
  • One falsehood spoils a thousand truths. Proverb (African)
  • 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 saying: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose./An evil soul producing holy witness/Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,/A goodly apple rotten at the heart.”

  • Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. Jonathan Swift, in The Examiner (London; November 2–9, 1710)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, this is the earliest appearance of a sentiment that ultimately morphed into an anonymously authored saying commonly misattributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” The fuller passage from Swift’s essay is as follows: “Besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers; and it often happens, that if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect.”

  • Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among themselves. Daniel Webster, “The Murder of Captain Joseph White,” a summation in the murder trial of John Francis Knapp, Salem, Massachusetts (August, 1830)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is commonly presented, but it was originally the conclusion of this larger passage: “Truth always fits. Truth is always congruous, and agrees with itself; every truth in the universe agrees with every other truth in the universe, whereas falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among themselves.”




  • I know the voice of fame to be a mere weathercock, unstable as water and fleeting as a shadow. Abigail Adams, in a 1781 letter; in The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (2003; Frank Shuffelton, ed.)
  • Fame does not tarnish as honor does when it is unmerited. Mortimer J. Adler, “Wrong Desires,” in Desires Right and Wrong: The Ethics of Enough (1991)

Adler had earlier written: “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.”

  • Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient. Louisa May Alcott, the character Jo speaking, in Little Women (1868)
  • Fame is a pearl many dive for and only a few bring up. Louisa May Alcott, Miss Cameron advising Josie, in Jo’s Boys (1886)

Miss Cameron added: “Even when they do, it is not perfect, and they sigh for more, and lose better things in struggling for them.”

  • Fame compensates for a column of wants. Gertrude Atherton, an unnamed English journalist speaking, in Los Cerritos: A Romance of the Modern Time (1890)
  • Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud. W. H. Auden, “Writing,” in The Dyer's Hand (1962)
  • Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid. Francis Bacon, “Of Ceremonies and Respects,” in Essays (1625)
  • Fame always brings loneliness. Success is as ice cold and as lonely as the North Pole. Vicki Baum, the character Elisaveta Alexandrovna Grusinskaya speaking, in Grand Hotel (1929)
  • Fame is failure disguised as money. Brendan Behan, quoted in The Irish Digest (1963)
  • It’s such a corrosive chemical: fame. Gertrude Berg, quoted in David Bailey & Peter Evans, Goodbye Baby and Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties (1969)
  • Those who taste the joys and sorrows of fame when they have passed forty know how to look after themselves. They know what is concealed beneath the flowers, and what the gossip, the calumnies, and the praise are worth. Sarah Bernhardt, in The Art of the Theatre (1924)

Bernhardt added: “But as for those who win fame when they are twenty, they know nothing and are caught up in the whirlpool.”

  • Famous, adj. Conspicuously miserable. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Don’t confuse fame with success. One is Madonna; the other is Helen Keller. Erma Bombeck, in May 12, 1991 commencement address at Meredith College (Raleigh, NC); quoted in USA Today (May 20, 1991)
  • We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1961)

Boorstin introduced the thought by writing: “Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great.”

(NOTE: Boorstin concludes the observation with a neat example of chiasmus).

  • And the highest fame was never reached except/By what was aimed above it. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • Happy is the man who hath never known what it is to taste of fame—to have it is a purgatory, to want it is a Hell! Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the voice of the narrator, in The Last of the Barons, Book Five (1843)
  • Fame is no sanctuary from the passing of youth. Julie Burchill, on fame for female stars in Hollywood, in Girls on Film (1986)

Burchill went on to add: “Suicide is much easier and more acceptable in Hollywood than growing old gracefully.”

  • Fame is a boomerang. Maria Callas, quoted in Arianna Stassinopoulos, Maria Callas (1981)
  • I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue than why I have one. Cato the Elder, quoted in Plutarch, “Marcus Cato,” Parallel Lives (2nd c. A.D.)
  • That’s what fame is: solitude. Coco Chanel, quoted in Marcel Haedrich, Coco Chanel (1972)
  • If you are ambitious of climbing up to the difficult, and in a manner inaccessible, summit of the Temple of Fame, your surest way is to leave on one hand the narrow path of Poetry, and follow the narrower track of Knight-Errantry, which in a thrice may raise you to an imperial throne. Miguel de Cervantes, the title character speaking, in Don Quixote, Part 2 (1615)

QUOTE NOTE: About this observation, the narrator writes: “With these words, Don Quixote seemed to have summed up the whole evidence of his madness.”

  • To want fame is to prefer dying scorned than forgotten. E. M. Cioran, “Strangled Thoughts,” in The New Gods (1969)
  • Novelists, playwrights, painters and others may hold in their heads the expectation of fame, but not poets. Having chosen that road, all one can dream of is the jealousy of one’s rivals. Billy Collins, from interview with Farideh Hassanzadeh, in Kritya: A Journal of Poetry (specific date undetermined)

Collins continued: “Celebrity is unexpected and almost unseemly—it forces one to wear a constant look of chagrin, if that is possible. Unless you are Byron, who was the first poet to become a star. At its worst, fame means being known by strangers—enough to bring on waves of paranoia.”

  • Worldly fame is but a breath of wind that blows now this way, and now that, and changes name as it changes direction. Dante Alighieri, in The Divine Comedy (1320)

QUOTE NOTE: This famous passage has also been translated this way: “For worldly fame is but a breath of wind/Which is now coming here, now going there;/Changing its name because it changes place.”

  • Fame creates its own standard. Sammy Davis, Jr., in Yes I Can (1965).

Davis added: “A guy who twitches his lips is just another guy with a lip twitch—unless he’s Humphrey Bogart.”

  • Fame does not define me. If you are looking for fame to define you, then you will never be happy and you’ll always be searching for happiness, and you will never find it in fame. Fulfillment comes from within you, by being authentic to yourself—not chasing fame. Cameron Diaz, in New York Post interview with Haley Goldberg (Dec. 17, 2015)
  • Fame is a bee./It has a song—/It has a sting—/Ah, too, it has a wing. Emily Dickinson, poem no. 1763 (undated), in Collected Poems (1955)
  • Fame is a fickle food /Upon a shifting plate. Emily Dickinson, poem no. 1659 (undated), in Collected Poems (1955)
  • Fame is a food that dead men eat,/I have no stomach for such meat. Austin Dobson, in “Fame is a Food That Dead Men Eat” (1906), in Collected Poems (1913)
  • Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful, and famous more authority than they deserve. Maureen Dowd, “Giant Puppet Show,” in The New York Times (Sep. 10, 1995)
  • What is popularly called fame is nothing but an empty name and a legacy from paganism. Desiderius Erasmus, in A Letter to Martin Dorp (1515)
  • Fame is very agreeable, but the bad thing is that it goes on 24 hours a day. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, quoted in Marlise Simons, “A Talk with Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” in The New York Times (Dec. 5, 1982)

A bit later in the interview, Marquez expanded on the theme by saying: “No doubt there are affinities between power and fame. I think the loneliness of power and the loneliness of fame are much alike.”

  • Nothing arouses ambition so much in the heart as the trumpet-clang of another’s fame. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Fame is a powerful aphrodisiac. Graham Greene, quoted in Radio Times magazine (London; Sep. 10, 1964)

Greene was likely inspired by the popular French proverb: “Power is an aphrodisiac” (more on this—including the famous Kissinger update—in the POWER entry). Greene had previously used the fame-as-aphrodisiac metaphor in his novel A Burnt-Out Case (1961), where the protagonist says to another character: “You are famous among your readers and fame is a potent aphrodisiac. Married women are the easiest.”

  • The love of fame is almost another name for the love of excellence; or it is the ambition to attain the highest excellence, sanctioned by the highest authority, that of time. William Hazlitt, “On Different Sorts of Fame,” in The Round Table (1817)
  • There are names written in her immortal scroll at which Fame blushes! William Hazlitt, in Characteristics: in the Manner of Rochefoucault’s Maxims (1823)
  • It is mark of many famous people that they cannot part with their brightest hour. Lillian Hellman, “Theatre,” in Pentimento (1973)
  • You don’t get to choose what you get famous for and you don’t get to control which of your life’s many struggles gets to stand for you. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (1994)

Jong continued: “The best you can do is work at not caring too much about the outer symbols and continuing to do whatever it is that centers you and makes you remember your true self.”

  • “My generation,” she used to say, “was told that fame was the greatest good. Stupidly, we believed it—at least as credulous teenagers we did. In fact, fame is merely the fact of being misunderstood by millions of people.” Erica Jong, the protagonist Sara Solomon quoting her mother, in Inventing Memory (1997)
  • Whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)

Lamott continued: “The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure you don’t take it all too seriously, that you don’t fill up on junk food.”

  • Fame is bought by happiness. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Ethel Churchill, Or, The Two Brides (1837)
  • Throughout my life, I have seen narrow-shouldered men, without a single exception, committing innumerable stupid acts, brutalizing their fellows, and perverting souls by all means. They call the motive for their actions fame. Comte de Lautréamont (pen name of Isidore Lucien Ducasse), in Les Chants de Maldoror, Part I (1870)
  • Fame is a kind of death because it arrests life around the person in the public eye. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1973)
  • Fame separates you from life. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, quoted in Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Special People (1977)
  • At first you can stand the spotlight in your eyes. Then it blinds you. Others can see you, but you cannot see them. Charles Lindbergh, quoted in Lewis H. Lapham, “Fatted Calf,” Harper’s magazine (Nov. 1977)
  • Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • Fame is not really for a daily diet, that’s not what fulfills you. It warms you a bit but the warming is temporary. It’s like caviar, you know—it’s good to have caviar but not when you have to have it every meal and every day. Marilyn Monroe, in Richard Meryman, “Marilyn Lets Her Hair Down About Being Famous,” Life magazine (Aug. 3, 1962)

Monroe introduced the thought by saying: “Fame to me certainly is only a temporary and a partial happiness.”

  • When you’re famous you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way. It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she—who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, you know, of any kind of nature—and it won’t hurt your feelings—like it’s happening to your clothing. Marilyn Monroe, in Richard Meryman, “Marilyn Lets Her Hair Down About Being Famous,” Life magazine (Aug. 3, 1962)
  • Fame will go by and so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced, but that’s not where I live. Marilyn Monroe, in Richard Meryman, “Marilyn Lets Her Hair Down About Being Famous,” Life magazine (Aug. 3, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the concluding thought in a lengthy taped interview she did with Meryman in the summer of 1962. The article was published the day before Monroe died.

  • Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make famous. Joyce Carol Oates, tweaking the famous MADNESS line from Euripides, “Down the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Highs and Lows, Reconsidered in Two Collections,” in The New Yorker (March 27, 1995)
  • Fame! It is the flower of a day, that dies when the next sun rises. Ouida ((pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), a musing of the title character, in Chandos (1866)
  • It is better to be a has-been than a never-was. Cecil Parkinson, quoted in The Guardian (London; June 29, 1990)

QUOTE NOTE: Parkinson, a prominent British politician, offered this reflection three years after a sex scandal forced his resignation as Chairman of the Conservative Party.

  • Now there is fame! Of all—hunger misery, the incomprehension by the public—fame is by far the worst. It is sad. It is true. Pablo Picasso, quoted in David Douglas Duncan, Picasso’s Picassos (1961)
  • I don’t think I realized that the cost of fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. Julia Roberts, quoted in Ned Zeman, “Canoodling With Julia,” in Vanity Fair (May 31, 1999)
  • The highest form of vanity is love of fame. George Santayana, in Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
  • So this was fame at last! Nothing but a vast debt to be paid to the world in energy, in blood, in time. May Sarton, the words of protagonist Hilary Stevens, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)

ERROR ALERT: Many quotation collections mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended: in energy, blood, and time.

  • Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become, and the same is true of fame. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • Fame is like a smudge on your nose. You can’t see it. Other people can. Ben Shahn, quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 11, 1972)
  • Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds. Socrates, quoted in Thomas Fielding, Select Proverbs of All Nations (1824)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is one of the earliest appearances—and possibly even the earliest—of this quotation, which has become very popular even though it has never been authenticated.

  • The love of the famous, like all strong passions, is quite abstract. Its intensity can be measured mathematically, and it is independent of persons. Susan Sontag, in The Benefactor (1963)
  • Blessed is he whose fame does not outshine his truth. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1914)
  • One day you are a signature, next day, you are an autograph. Billy Wilder, quoted in Charlotte Chandler, Nobody’s Perfect: Billy Wilder: A Personal Biography (2002)
  • If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are. It shouldn’t change you. If you’re a jerk, you just get to be a bigger jerk. What fame does is magnify who you are and puts that on a platter for the whole world to see. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)
  • This whole celebrity-fame thing is interesting. I’m the same person I always was. The only difference between being famous and not being famous is that people know who you are. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)



  • Familiarity breeds contentment. George Ade, “The Uplift That Moved Sideways,” in Hand-Made Fables (1920)
  • Familiarity breeds attempt. Jane Ace, a remark on The Easy Aces radio show (c. 1935); quoted in Goodman Ace, The Fine Art of Hypochondria (1996)
  • Familiarity breeds contempt. Aesop, “The Fox and the Lion,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of history’s most famous sayings, pithily capturing the notion that increased knowledge of a person is more likely to lead to disappointment than to increased affection. The saying has also spawned scores of clever alterations, many of which appear in this section:

  • In communications, familiarity breeds apathy. William Bernbach, in Bill Bernbach Said…. (1989)
  • Familiarity breeds consent. Rita Mae Brown, the character Adele speaking, in In Her Day: A Novel (1976)
  • No man is a hero to his valet. Anne-Marie Bigot (Madame du Cornuel), quoted in a 1728 letter written by Charlotte Elizabeth Aissé, in Lettres de Mlle Aissé à Madame C. (1787)
  • I would like to remind you that without a degree of familiarity we could not breed anything. Winston Churchill, quoted in William Manchester, The Last Lion (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Manchester, this was Churchill’s reply to Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, who had remarked to Churchill: “After all, they say that familiarity breeds contempt.”

  • All objects lose by too familiar View,/When that great Charm is gone of being New. John Dryden, the character Almanzor speaking, in The Conquest of Granada (1670)
  • Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it takes off the edge of admiration. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics in the Manner of la Rochefoucault’s Maxims (1823)
  • The most familiar facts are often hardest to understand. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Human Work (1904)
  • Familiarity breeds, not contempt, but indifference. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it is contempt. Florence King, in With Charity Toward None (1992)
  • Familiarity can periodically provide people with an intrinsic sense of comfort, no matter how sick. Melanie Lindsay, “6 Ways Growing Up With An Alcoholic Parent Shapes You In Adulthood,” Elite Daily (Feb. 23, 2016)
  • It’s so easy to cling to the familiar, even when it’s deplorable. Patricia McCairen, in Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through the Grand Canyon (1998)

McCairen preceded the thought by writing: “The same fear…has kept me stuck in life so many times before, afraid to move forward, to take a step that would free me from the ordinary, the mundane, the insufferable. A crippling fear that deadens my potential and limits my relationship with the world.”

  • The familiar grows dull and we no longer see, hear, or taste it. Anaïs Nin, a 1950 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)

Nin preceded the thought by writing: “A trite word is an overused word which has lost its identity like an old coat in a second-hand shop.”

  • Familiarity is a magician that is cruel to beauty, but kind to ugliness. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé) in Princess Napraxine (1884)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from Nadine’s mother, who is urging her daughter to overcome her objections to marrying a wealthy but unattractive suitor. She preceded the thought by saying, “Indeed, in a fortnight you will be so used to him that you will not think whether he is handsome or ugly.”

  • Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey. Cynthia Ozick, in Metaphor & Memory: Essays (1989)
  • What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness. Familiarity can blind you too. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  • Familiarity breeds…. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass at a Keyhole (1938)
  • Admiration and familiarity are strangers. George Sand, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1886)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has not been found in Sand’s works.

  • If ever a man and his wife, or a man and his mistress, who pass nights as well as days together, absolutely lay aside all good breeding, their intimacy will soon degenerate into a coarse familiarity, infallibly productive of contempt or disgust. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Nov. 3, 1749)
  • I like familiarity. In me it does not breed contempt. Only more familiarity. Gertrude Stein, quoted in a 1935 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Adolescents sometimes say words to the effect, “My friends listen to me, but my parents only hear me talk.” Often they are right. Familiarity breeds inattention. Laurence Steinberg and Ann Levine, in You and Your Adolescent (1990)
  • Familiarity breeds acquiescence as well as contempt. Arnold J. Toynbee, in A Study of History (1934)
  • Familiarity breeds contempt—and children. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; A. E. Paine, ed.)
  • Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. Alfred North Whitehead, “The Origins of Modern Science,” in Science and the Modern World (1925)



  • The family is the association established by nature for the supply of man’s everyday wants. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. Jane Austen, the title character speaking, in Emma (1815)

Emma preceded the thought by saying: “It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct without an intimate knowledge of their situation.”

  • He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Francis Bacon, “Of Marriage and Single Life,” in Essays (1625)
  • The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. Richard Bach, the narrator and protagonist (Richard) citing a passage from The Messiah’s Handbook, in Illusions (1977)
  • Friends are “annuals” that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a “perennial” that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. Erma Bombeck, in Family: The Ties That Bind—and Gag! (1987)

Bombeck concluded: “There’s a place in the garden for both of them.”

  • The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. Erma Bombeck, in Family: The Ties That Bind—and Gag! (1987)
  • Families aren’t easy to join. They’re like an exclusive country club where membership makes impossible demands and the dues for an outsider are exorbitant. Erma Bombeck, on the challenges facing a stepparent, in Family: The Ties that Bind…And Gag! (1987)
  • A happy family is but an earlier heaven. John Bowring, the closing words of the poem “Home Joys,” in Matins and Vespers: With Hymns and Occasional Devotional Pieces (1823; and subsequent editions)

QUOTE NOTE: The full final quatrain was as follows: “A glance of heaven to see,/To none on earth is given;/And yet a happy family/Is but an earlier heaven.”

ERROR ALERT: On numerous websites—including many of the most popular quotation sites—the saying A happy family is but an earlier heaven is mistakenly attributed to George Bernard Shaw.

  • The American notion of family is perhaps the most romanticized, deep-rooted, and misery-producing fantasy of the last hundred years. Dr. Joy Browne, in The Nine Fantasies That Will Ruin Your Life and the Eight Realities That Will Save You (1998)
  • Having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family; especially if they live in another city. George Burns, his definition of happiness, in Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites present the observation as if it were phrased: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family; especially if they live in another city.”

  • The family. I believe more unhappiness comes from this source than from any other—I mean the attempt to prolong family connection unduly, and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • When Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, what he meant was that there are no happy families. Susan Cheever, in Treetops: A Family Memoir (1991)

Cheever continued: “The family is as confining as it is nurturing. Our need for this community keeps us in a cage of other people’s desires and expectations; some of us spend our lives peering out through the bars at what seems to be a larger world.”

  • Every family has its own cast of characters—the pretty and the plain, the weak and the strong, the bright and the dull, the cop and the rebel. Family members each play a role, which is sometimes so inalterable that they seem to be reading from a script. Susan Cheever, in Treetops: A Memoir (1991).

Cheever continued: “In the world outside the family, they have the freedom to change and to establish who they are through actions. At home, they will always be the character they were as a child within the family context. No matter what their successes, members of their family will forever see them reliving the failures of their youth.”

  • Dear, dear, the miniature world of a family! All the emotions of mankind seem to find a place in it. Ivy Compton-Burnett, the character Eleanor speaking, in Parents and Children (1941)
  • One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family. Pat Conroy, quoted in Michael Carlson, “Pat Conroy obituary,” The Guardian (March 7, 2016)
  • The family is a court of justice which never shuts down. Malcolm de Chazal, in Sens Plastique (1948)
  • Family values are a little like family vacations—subject to changeable weather and remembered more fondly with the passage of time. Though it rained all week at the beach, it’s often the momentary rainbows that we remember. Leslie Dreyfous, in The New York Times (Oct. 25, 1992)
  • Family likeness has often a deep sadness in it. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Adam Bede (1859)

The narrator continued: “Nature, that great tragic dramatist, knits us together by bone and muscle, and divides us by the subtler web of our brains; blends yearning and repulsion, and ties us by our heart-strings to the beings that jar us at every moment.”

  • The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots. George Eliot, a reflection of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871-72)
  • The trouble with the family is that children grow out of childhood, but parents never grow out of parenthood. Evan Esar, in The Comic Encyclopedia (1978)
  • The cold truth is that family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters. M. F. K. Fisher, in An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • The family fireside is the best of schools. Arnold H. Glasow, in Glasow’s Gloombusters (1995)
  • A good many family trees are shady. Robert Elliott Gonzales, in Poems and Paragraphs (1918)
  • Without much accuracy, with strangely little love at all, your family will decide for you exactly who you are, and they’ll keep nudging, coaxing, poking you until you’ve changed into that very simple shape. Allan Gurganus, “Breathing Room: Something About My Brother,” in White People (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: The narrator, an early-reading and intellectually-curious ten-year-old named Bryan, hears his father proudly describe him to a business colleague as “Our family brain.” About the incident, he writes: “Because of this one moment, you will go on laboring under that half-slanderous heading for a lifetime. Bryan = Brain.” And then he continues:

And even if you somehow sensed the phrase’s branding-iron finality and whined a protest, it wouldn’t help. This name has already “taken,” in the way a smallpox vaccination takes precisely because it ends up as a scar.

  • How close beneath the surface, even in the happiest family, is the chronic grievance! I sometimes think that tinderboxes are inert and powder kegs mere talcum compared to the explosive possibilities in the most commonplace domestic situation. Margaret Halsey, in This Demi-Paradise: A Westchester Diary (1960)
  • Families have many ways of being dangerous. Ernest Hemingway, in A Movable Feast (1964)
  • Finally democracy is catching up with the old, hierarchical, father-dominated family: the family is being democratized. Shere Hite, in The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up Under Patriarchy (1994)
  • In the last states of a final illness, we need only the absence of pain and the presence of family. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life: Promises and Problems, Pains and Joys (1987; with Marion Glasserow Gladney)
  • Every family has a story that it tells itself—that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. A. M. Homes, in The Mistresse’s Daughter: A Memoir (2007)

Homes continued: “But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.”

  • Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. Jane Howard, in Families (1978)
  • Good families are fortresses with many windows and doors to the outer world. Jane Howard, in Families (1978)
  • Family. A snug kind of word. Fannie Hurst, the voice of the narrator, in Lummox (1923)
  • It is in the love of one’s family only that heartfelt happiness is known. I feel it when we are all together beyond what can be imagined. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to his youngest daughter, Mary Jefferson Eppes, who was also known as Maria (Oct. 26, 1801)

Jefferson wrote this during the first year of his first term as president. He preceded the thought by describing his life in Washington, D.C. this way: “I have here company enough, part of which is very friendly, part well disposed, part secretly hostile, and a constant succession of strangers. But this only serves to get rid of life, not to enjoy it.”

  • In families where there is or is not poverty, there is commonly discord: if a kingdom be…a great family, a family likewise is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions. Samuel Johnson, the character Nekayah speaking, in The History of Rasselas (1759)

Nekayah went on to add: “Parents and children seldom act in concert: each child endeavors to appropriate the esteem or fondness of the parents, and the parents, with yet less temptation, betray each other to their children; thus some place their confidence in the father and some in the mother, and, by degrees, the house is filled with artifices and feuds.”

  • Family is what grounds you. Angelina Jolie, in USA Today interview (July 17, 2003)
  • Family life is an encroachment on private life. Karl Kraus, in Beim Wort Genommen (1955); pub. in English as Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths (1990)
  • The first world we find ourselves in is a family that is not of our choosing. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Deception (1993)
  • Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold. André Maurois, in The Art of Living (1939)
  • The Family is the Heart’s Country. Giuseppe Mazzini, in The Duties of Man (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the passage translated: The family is the country of the heart. Mazzinni went on to write: “Family affections wind themselves round your heart slowly and all unobserved; but tenacious and enduring as the ivy round the tree, they cling to you, hour by hour, mingling with and becoming a portion of your very existence.”

  • They are the we of me. Carson McCullers, the protagonist, twelve-year-old Frankie Addams, reflecting on her brother and his bride-to-be, in The Member of the Wedding (1946)

ERROR ALERT: On numerous websites, the observation is mistakenly presented: “Family: They are the we of me.”

  • There is an interconnectedness among members that bonds the family, much like mountain climbers who rope themselves together when climbing a mountain, so that if someone should slip or need support, he’s held up by the others until he regains his footing. Phil McGraw, in Family First (2004)
  • In the provincial South…family ties rival the rampant kudzu for entanglement and tenacity. Sharon S. McKern, in Redneck Mothers, Good Ol’ Girls, and Other Southern Belles (1979)
  • One of life’s few really reliable pleasures: to have a family you love, and to leave them for a week. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The task of each family is also the task of all humanity. This is to cherish the living, remember those who have gone before, and prepare for those who are not yet born. Margaret Mead, in Family (1965; photographs by Ken Heyman)
  • The Family is an absolute monarchy in miniature. Abraham Miller, in Unmoral Maxims (1906)
  • The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life’s essential unfairness. Nancy Mitford, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, known only as Fanny, in The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • There is a little less trouble in governing a private family than a whole kingdom. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Solitude,” in Essays (1580–88)

The passage has also been translated this way: “There is not much less vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state.”

  • Unkindness is death to the home. One unkind, unsocial, critical, eternally dissatisfied member can destroy any family. Kathleen Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • What is a family, after all, except memories?—haphazard and precious as the contents of a catchall drawer in the kitchen (called the “junk drawer” in our household, for good reason). Joyce Carol Oates, in We Were the Mulvaneys (1996)
  • A family is but too often but a commonwealth of malignants. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)
  • The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other. Mario Puzo, the Cardinal speaking to Cesare, in The Family (2001; completed by Carol Gino)
  • One never knows how much a family may grow; and when a hive is too full, and it is necessary to form a new swarm, each one thinks of carrying away his own honey. George Sand, in The Haunted Pool (1851)
  • The family is one of nature’s masterpieces. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)

QUOTE NOTE: Given what we’ve learned about family life in the century since Santayana wrote these words, the reasoning behind his famous assertion now seems quaintly naïve. He continued:

“It would be hard to conceive a system of instincts more nicely adjusted, where the constituents should represent or support one another better. The husband has an interest in protecting the wife, she in serving the husband. The weaker gains in authority and safety, the wilder and more unconcerned finds a help-mate at home to take thought of his daily necessities. Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory; children endow their parents with a vicarious immortality.”

  • In the nurturing family . . . parents see themselves as empowering leaders not as authoritative bosses. They see their job primarily as one of teaching their children how to be truly human in all situations. Virginia Satir, in The New Peoplemaking (1988)

Satir continued: “They readily acknowledge to the child their poor judgment as well as their good judgment; their hurt, anger, or disappointment as well as their joy. The behavior of these parents matches what they say.”

  • The family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family. Virginia Satir, in The New Peoplemaking (1988)
  • Family life is something like an iceberg: most people are aware of only about one-tenth of what is going on—the tenth that they can see and hear. Virginia Satir, in The New Peoplemaking (1988)

Satir went on to write: “Just as a sailor’s fate depends on knowing that the bulk of the iceberg is under the water, so a family’s fate depends on understanding the feelings and needs that lie beneath everyday family events.”

  • The Family is a petty despotism. George Bernard Shaw, “Socialism and the Family” (1886)
  • Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to the country and to mankind is to bring up a family. George Bernard Shaw, in The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928)
  • If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to Immaturity (1931)

QUOTE NOTE: Immaturity was Shaw’s first novel, originally written by the 23-year-old aspiring author in 1879, but not published until more than a half-century later. The Preface, which contains important autobiographical information, was written by the mature Shaw for the 1931 publication.

  • The family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever wish to. Dodie Smith, in Dear Octopus (1938)
  • Absence is one of the most useful ingredients of family life, and to do it rightly is an art like any other. Freya Stark, in The Freya Stark Story (1953)
  • Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. Gloria Steinem, in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
  • The family is our first culture, and, like all cultures, it wants to make known its norms and mores. It does so through daily life, but it also does so through family stories which underscore, in a way invariably clear to its members, the essentials, like the unspoken and unadmitted family policy on marriage or illness. Or suicide. Or who the family saints and sinners are, or how much anger can be expressed and by whom. Elizabeth Stone, in Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us (1988)

Stone continued: “Like all cultures, one of the family’s first jobs is to persuade its members they’re special, more wonderful than the neighboring barbarians. The persuasion consists of stories showing family members demonstrating admirable traits, which it claims are family traits. Attention to the stories’ actual truth is never the family’s most compelling consideration. Encouraging belief is.”

  • The Family! Home of all social evils, a charitable institution for indolent women, a prison workshop for the slaving breadwinner, and a hell for children. August Strindberg, the voice of the narrator, in The Son of a Servant (1886)
  • If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relation to do the business. William Makepeace Thackeray, the voice of the narrator, in Vanity Fair (1848)
  • All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in it own way. Leo Tolstoy, the opening words of Anna Karenina (1875-77)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the classical translation of one of literary history’s most famous opening lines. Today, the quotation is more commonly presented this way: “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in it own way.”

  • I have slowly come to realize that a family is composed of people who are teaching one another. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journal of an Artist (1996)
  • Families are great murderers of the creative impulse, particularly husbands. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write, 2nd ed. (1938)
  • You can cut the ties that bind but not without losing a part of yourself. You can walk away and hide from the people who made you, but you’ll always hear them calling your name. Lisa Unger, a reflection of protagonist Ridley Jones, in Sliver of Truth (2007)
  • Before the cards that one is dealt by life are the cards that fate has dealt. One’s family. Gore Vidal, in Palimpsest: A Memoir (2008)
  • Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. Jeanette Winterson, in 
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)



  • Fanaticism was a more powerful combatant than avarice. Gertrude Atherton, the voice of the narrator, in The Doomswoman (serialized in 1892 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine; pub. in book form in 1893)
  • Hell hath no fury like a fanatic asked to find a reason for what he’s doing. He simply wants to do it, and generally he wants to do it because he observes, often unconsciously, that something new is coming into existence and he doesn’t like it, and he’s going out with fire and sword to hold it back. Gwen Bristow, the character Erich Kessler speaking, in Tomorrow is Forever: A Novel (1943)
  • A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case. Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley speaking, “Casual Observations,” in Dooley’s Opinions (1890)

QUOTE NOTE: Dunne originally presented the observation in Dooley’s characteristic phonetic dialect: “A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks th’ Lord wud do if He know th’ facts iv th’ case.”

  • Of all things, wisdom is the most terrified of epidemical fanaticism, because of all enemies it is that against which she is the least able to furnish any kind of resource. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step. Denis Diderot, in “Essay on Merit and Virtue” (1745)
  • The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955)

Hoffer introduced the idea by writing: “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves.”

  • Fanaticism is a disease of the mind, just as alcoholism is a disease of the body, and the rational cure for both is the diminishing dose. Elbert Hubbard, “Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock,” in The Philistine (May, 1907)

Hubbard continued: “That is, you are weaned from one thing by the substitution of something less harmful.”

  • Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates for a secret doubt. Aldous Huxley, in Vulgarity in Literature (1930)
  • Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave/A paradise for a sect. John Keats, the opening words of The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream (written 1820; pub. posthumously in 1856)
  • A fanatic is a nut who has something to believe in. Dean Koontz, the character Laura speaking, in Lightning (1988)
  • The less depth a belief system has, the greater the fervency with which its adherents embrace it. The most vociferous, the most fanatical are those whose cobbled faith is founded on the shakiest grounds. Dean Koontz, a reflection of protagonist and narrator Odd Thomas, in Forever Odd (2005)
  • We often excuse our own want of philanthropy by giving the name of fanaticism to the more ardent zeal of others. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Drift-Wood (1857)
  • The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is another childish, but also universal, corruption of religion. This is the source of all religious fanaticism. Reinhold Niebuhr, “Some Things I Have Learned,” in Saturday Review (Nov. 6, 1965)
  • It appears to me that one defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary by using one’s intelligence. George Orwell, in a letter to Richard Rees (March 3, 1949)

Orwell continued: “In the same way, a man can kill a tiger because he is not like a tiger and use his brain to invent the rifle, which no tiger could ever do.”

  • When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

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

  • Fanatics fear liberty more than they fear persecution. Ernest Renan, in Preface to The Hibbert Lectures (1880)
  • The enemy for the fanatic is pleasure, which makes it extremely important to continue to indulge in pleasure. Dance madly. That is how you get rid of terrorism. Salman Rushdie, in speech at University of Colorado—Boulder (April 17, 2013), quoted in Joe Rubino, “Salman Rushdie Discusses the Role of the Novel” in Huffington Post (April 18, 2013)
  • Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effortS when you have forgotten your aim. George Santayana, in Introduction to The Life of Reason (1905-06)
  • There is nobody as enslaved as the fanatic, the person in whom one impulse, one value, has assumed ascendancy over all others. Milton R. Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life: A Psychoanalyst’s Interpretations (1955)

Sapirstein continued: “And it is sad but true that this degeneration into fanaticism is an occupational hazard for those most dedicated to the cause of freedom. The cobwebby net is of their own fashioning but it is not less constricting for that.”

  • The weakness of the fanatic is that those whom he fights have a secret hold upon him; and to this weakness he and his group finally succumb. Paul Tillich, in The Courage to Be (1952)

Tillich introduced the thought by writing: “Fanaticism is the correlate to spiritual self-surrender: it shows the anxiety which it was supposed to conquer, by attacking with disproportionate violence those who disagree and who demonstrate by their disagreement elements in the spiritual life of the fanatic which he must suppress in himself. Because he must suppress them in himself he must suppress them in others.”

  • Fanaticism is to superstition what delirium is to fever, and fury to anger. Voltaire, in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • The cardinal doctrine of a fanatic’s creed is that his enemies are the enemies of God. Andrew Dickson White, in The History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1898)



  • If you have enough fantasies, you’re ready, in the event that something happens. Sheila Ballantyne, a reflection of the title character, in Norma Jean the Termite Queen (1975)
  • Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Talking Dirty,” in Ms. magazine (Oct., 1973)
  • The dream police will not let me have sexual fantasies. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Notes From Abroad,” in An Accidental Autobiography (1996)
  • Hollywood provides ready-made fantasies or daydreams; the problem is whether these are productive or nonproductive, whether the audience is psychologically enriched or impoverished. Hortense Powdermaker, in Hollywood, The Dream Factory (1950)
  • The most delusional fantasies can be made to masquerade as sanity if you've got the political power to reinforce them. Penny Skillman, “It’s a Mad, Mad World,” San Francisco Chronicle Review (July 3, 1988)



  • If one is lucky a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. Maya Angelou, in The Heart of a Woman (1981)
  • We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. Lynda Barry, quoted in Susan E. Kirtley, Lynda Barry: Girlhood through the Looking Glass (2012)
  • There are some people who can never see a little cloud of fantasy float across the horizon of their dreams without building a heavy castle in the air upon it, and bringing it to earth. Stella Benson, the voice of the narrator, in I Pose (1915)
  • Fantasy is not merely a distinct genre. All fiction is fantasy, a narrative of a world and people created by the storyteller’s imagination. Andrew Greeley, in “They Leap From Your Brain Then Take Over Your Heart,” in Writers on Writing: More Collected Essays From the New York Times (Vol. II, 2003)

Greeley added: “My world and my people leap out of the soup of my preconscious, the ever-flowing, ever-changing reservoir of bits and pieces of memory that my consciousness is always scanning.”

  • Here is Heimel’s Law: Anything you fantasize about won’t come true. So just cut it out. Cynthia Heimel, in If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? (1991)
  • Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl. G. Jung, in Psychological Types (1923)
  • Fantasy is the oldest form of literature and science fiction is just a new twist on it. Katharine Kerr, quoted in Stan Nicholls, Wordsmiths of Wonder (1993)
  • Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity than naturalistic fiction is. It is a real wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Language of the Night (1979)

In the book, Le Guin also offered this observation on the subject: “Fantasy is true of course. It is not factual but it’s true. Children know that. Adults know it, too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.”

  • Fantasy is like an exercise bicycle for the mind. Terry Pratchett, quoted in Leonard S. Marcus, The Wand in the Word (2006)
  • The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy. Lionel Trilling, “Freud and Literature,” in The Liberal Imagination (1950)



  • On the farm the weather was the great fact, and men’s affairs went on underneath it, as the streams creep under the ice. Willa Cather, the voice of the narrator, in My Antonia (1918)
  • Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in speech at Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois (Sep. 25, 1956)
  • As a work of art, I know few things more pleasing to the eye, or more capable of affording scope and gratification to a taste for the beautiful than a well-situated, well-cultivated farm. Edward Everett, in a speech in Buffalo, New York (Oct 9, 1857)
  • The Farmer will never be happy again;/He carries his heart in his boots;/For either the rain is destroying his grain/Or the drought is destroying his roots. A. P. Herbert, in “The Farmer” (1922)
  • Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bands. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Jay (Aug. 23, 1785)
  • A farm is an irregular patch of nettles bounded by short-term notes, containing a fool and his wife who didn’t know enough to stay in the city. S. J. Perelman, “Acres and Pains,” in The Most of S. J. Perelman (1959)
  • When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. Daniel Webster, “Remarks on the Agriculture of England,” speech in Boston, Massachusetts (Jan. 13, 1840)
  • A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus. E. B. White, “The Practical Farmer,” in Harper’s magazine (Oct., 1940); reprinted in One Man’s Meat (1942)



  • It is one of the basic tenets of fascist leadership to keep primary libidinal energy on an unconscious level so as to divert its manifestations in a way suitable to political ends. Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” (1951) , in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1977)
  • Fascism is not itself a new order of society. It is the future refusing to be born. Aneurin Bevan, a July 1940 remark, quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan (1962)
  • Fascism, after all, is not only a historical term; it describes a modern style of authoritarian rule that seeks to mobilize the masses by appealing to nationalism, xenophobia, and populist resentment. Its trademark is the use of democratic procedure even as it seeks to destroy the substantive values of democracy from within. Peter E, Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” in the New York Review of Books (Jan. 7, 2020)

Gordon continued: “It disdains the free press and seeks to undermine its credibility in the public sphere.”

  • Democracy is an interesting, even laudable, notion and there is no question but that when compared to Communism, which is too dull, or Fascism, which is too exciting, it emerges as the most palatable form of government. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • Fascism is a religion; the twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism. Benito Mussolini, quoted in George Seldes, Stardust Caesar: the Untold History of Mussolini and Fascism (1935)
  • The keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its function, and its aims. For Fascism, the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Benito Mussolini, in Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions (19350
  • It is the beauty of well-designed fascism that it gives every piss-ant an ant-hill to piss from. P.J. O’Rourke, in Give War a Chance (1992)
  • The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in address to Congress (April 29, 1938)
  • Fascism is Capitalism plus Murder. Upton Sinclair, widely attributed, never confirmed
  • Fascist politics feeds off the sense of aggrieved victimization caused by loss of hierarchal status. Jason Stanley, in How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (2018)

Stanley continued: “Empires in decline are particularly susceptible to fascist politics because of this sense of loss. It is in the very nature of empire to create hierarchy; empires legitimize their colonial enterprises by the myth of their own exceptionalism. In the course of decline, the population is easily led to a sense of national humiliation that can be mobilized in fascist politics to serve various purposes.”

  • Fascism was a fairly popular political philosophy which made sacred whatever nation and race the philosopher happened to belong to. Kurt Vonnegut, the voice of the narrator, in Breakfast of Champions (1973)

The narrator continued: “It called for an autocratic, centralized government, headed up by a dictator. The dictator had to be obeyed, no matter what he told somebody to do.”



  • Fashion, n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • It is of little use to quarrel with particular fashions, however absurd. Fashionable follies seldom stand their ground long enough to be made the objects of serious attack. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. I (1862)

Bovee added: “And where they give way to it, it is only to reappear in some new guise.”

  • Fashion is a process in two senses: it is a market-driven cycle of consumer desire and demand; and it is a modern mechanism for the fabrication of the self. It is in this respect that fashion operates as a fulcrum for negotiating the meeting of internal and external worlds. Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans, in Fashion and Modernity (2005)
  • Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only; fashion is something in the air. Coco Chanel, quoted in Alex Madsen, Chanel (1990)

Chanel added: “It’s the wind that blows in the new fashion; you feel it coming, you smell it…in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

  • I like fashion to do down to the street, but I can’t accept that it should originate there. Coco Chanel, quoted in A. Tapert & D. Edkins, The Power of Style (1994)
  • My philosophy is fashion says “me, too,” while style says “only me.” Lynn Dell, quoted in Ari Seth Cohen, Advanced Style (2012)
  • I don’t do fashion, I am fashion. Coco Chanel, quoted in Karen Karbo, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel (2009)
  • Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be. E. H. Chapin, in Moral Aspects of City Life (1853)
  • The fashion world can truly be a jungle filled with manufacturers who come up from the bottom and are so tough, insecure, jealous and greedy that there is a kind of animal, killer instinct in them. It’s a fiercely competitive business. Calvin Klein, in Playboy magazine interview (May 1984)
  • Only the minute and the future are interesting in fashion—it exists to be destroyed. Karl Lagerfeld, quoted in Vanity Fair magazine (Feb. 1992)
  • The fashion industry keeps us on a roller coaster of expectation and disappointment. It’s built on, and thrives on, our collective insecurity. Stacy London, in The Truth About Style (2012)
  • The fact is, there is only one body ideal in fashion, and most likely, you don’t have it. Stacy London, in The Truth About Style (2012)
  • Personal fashion isn’t a celebration, it’s a defense. It’s the armour of everyday life. Denise Mina, the protagonist Anna McDonald speaking, in Conviction (2019)
  • Fashion is a capricious deity. Mary Russell Mitford, in Recollections of a Literary Life, Vol. 2 (1852)
  • Fashion is more usually a gentle progression of revisited ideas. Bruce Oldfield, quoted in the Independent (London; Sep. 9, 1989)
  • We smile at the women who are eagerly following the fashions in dress whilst we are as eagerly following the fashions in thought. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Fashions fade, style is eternal. Yves Saint Laurent, in a 1980 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • I always believed that style was more important than fashion. They are rare, those who imposed their style while fashion makers are so numerous. Yves Saint Laurent, “Some Fashion Wisdom from Yves Saint Laurent,” in USA Today (June 1, 2008)
  • Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905-06)
  • The fashion wears out more apparel than the man. William Shakespeare, the character Conrade speaking, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  • Seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is? William Shakespeare, the character Borachio speaking, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  • He who goes against the fashion is himself a slave. Logan Pearsall Smith, in All Trivia (1933)
  • Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Goring speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)
  • Fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics. George Bernard Shaw, in the Preface to The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of a larger discussion about how a demand for anything “can be inculcated” in consumers of goods and services. According to Shaw, fashions in medical procedures were no different from fashions in dress. Here’s the full passage: “The psychology of fashion becomes a pathology; for the cases have every air of being genuine: fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics, proving that epidemics can be induced by tradesmen.”

  • Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • We worship…Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: Thoreau was vigorously opposed to changing his dress only to ensure “that the corporations may be enriched.” More than a dozen years earlier (Sep. 1, 1841), he had written in his journal: “Let us know and conform only to the fashions of eternity.”

  • Fashion rests upon folly. Art rests upon law. Fashion is ephemeral. Art is eternal. Indeed what is a fashion really? A fashion is merely a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable that we have to alter it every six months! Oscar Wilde, “The Philosophy of Dress,” in The New-York Tribune (April 19, 1885)

Wilde continued by contrasting fashionable with classical dress: “It is quite clear that were it beautiful and rational we would not alter anything that combined those two rare qualities. And wherever dress has been so, it has remained unchanged in law and principle for many hundred years.” For more on Wilde’s legendary observation—and one other slightly different version of it—go to Wilde in America.



  • I…resolved to take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her. Louisa May Alcott, undated journal entry (Oct., 1858)

QUOTE NOTE: In the fall of 1858, while working at a number of jobs to help support her family, Alcott went through a period in which she feared she would never achieve her dream of becoming a writer. And then, on a Sunday morning in October, she was inspired by a sermon on “Laborious Young Women” from her local Congregationalist preacher, Theodore Parker. The sermon was just what Alcott needed and, a month before her 26th birthday, she more fully expressed her resolve in the following journal entry: “My fit of despair was soon over, for it seemed so cowardly to run away before the battle was over I couldn’t do it. So I said firmly, ‘There is work for me, and I’ll have it,’ and went home resolved to take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.”

  • They, believe me, who await/No gifts from chance, have conquered fate. Matthew Arnold, “Resignation,” in The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems (1849)
  • Fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat. Elizabeth Bowen, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen (1979)
  • Fate is unalterable only in the sense that given a cause, a certain result must follow, but no cause is inevitable in itself, and man can shape his world if he does not resign himself to ignorance. Pearl S. Buck, in My Several Worlds (1954)
  • I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act. G. K. Chesterton, “On Holland,” in Generally Speaking (1928)
  • Fate is determined by what one does and what one doesn’t do. Ralph Ellison, “Remembering Richard Wright,” in Going to the Territory (1986)
  • Fate, then, is a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; for causes which are unpenetrated. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • When the winds of fate blow, we are merely leaves, picked up, carried by the gust and arbitrarily rearranged. Boris Glikman, the character Alexander speaking, in the short story The Eternal Question, in CafeLit[ (July 17, 2018)
  • Life is a compromise between fate and free will. Elbert Hubbard, in A Thousand and One Epigrams (1911)
  • If fate means you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow. William McFee, in Casuals of the Sea, Book 2 (1916)
  • Art is a revolt against fate. André Malraux, in The Voices of Silence (1951)
  • No human being is master of his fate, and…we are all motivated far more than we care to admit by characteristics inherited from our ancestors which individual experiences of childhood can modify, repress, or enhance, but cannot erase. Agnes E. Meyer, in Out of These Roots (1953)
  • Fate always wins. Most of the gods throw dice but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been using two queens all along. Terry Pratchett, the voice of the narrator, in Interesting Times: A Novel of Discworld (1994)
  • The passion for gambling comes from a man’s belief that he has no control over his life, that he is controlled by fate, and, therefore, he wants to reassure himself that fate or luck is on his side. Ayn Rand, quoted in Don Hauptman, “The ‘Lost’ Parts of Ayn Rand’s Playboy Interview,” Navigator magazine (March 1, 2004)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation would be lost to history were if not for the efforts of Hauptman, a New York City copywriter who purchased the original typewritten manuscript and galley proofs of Rand’s May, 1964 Playboy interview at a 2003 Christie’s auction. Rand preceded the foregoing quotation by saying: “As to gambling, I wouldn’t say that a person who gambles occasionally is immoral. That’s more a game than a serious concern. But when gambling becomes more than a casual game, it is immoral because of the premise that motivates it.” For more from the interview, including the fascinating story behind Hauptman’s acquisition of the material, The Atlas Society.

  • What we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from [within] us. Rainer Maria Rilke, in a letter (August 12, 1904), in Letters to a Young Poet (1929)
  • O God! That one might read the book of fate. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Henry IV, Part II (1597)
  • I have often noticed that when Fate has a phenomenal run of ill-luck in store for you, she begins by dropping a rare piece of good fortune into your lap, thereby enhancing the artistic effect of the sequel. Ethyl Smyth, in Impressions That Remained, Vol. II (1919)
  • If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude. Amy Tan, the narrator Winnie Louie recalling “that common saying that everyone in China was raised with,” in The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991)
  • I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate. Vincent van Gogh, in an 1886 letter; reprinted in The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Vol. 2 (1958)
  • There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,/Can circumvent or hinder or control/The firm resolve of a determined soul. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the opening lines of the poem “Will,”; in Maurine: And Other Poems (1888)



  • Fatalism is a false premise. What will be is not necessarily what must be. Pearl S. Buck, in Pearl S. Buck and Carlos P. Romulo, Friend to Friend (1958)



  • That he delights in the misery of others no man will confess, and yet what other motive can make a father cruel? Joseph Addison, “The Cruelty of Parental Tyranny,” in Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments (1794)
  • You hear it said that fathers want their sons to be what they feel they cannot themselves be, but I tell you it also works the other way. A boy wants something very special from his father. Sherwood Anderson, in Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs (1942

Anderson continued: “I know that as a small boy I wanted my father to be a certain thing he was not. I wanted him to be a proud, silent, dignified father. When I was with other boys and he passed along the street, I wanted to feel a flow of pride: ‘There he is. That is my father.’ But he wasn’t such a one. He couldn’t be.”

  • All fathers except mine are invisible in daytime; daytime is ruled by mothers. But fathers come out at night. Darkness brings home the fathers with their real, unspeakable power. Margaret Atwood, the voice of the protagonist Elaine Risley, in Cat’s Eye (1988)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is commonly presented as if it began: All fathers are invisible…. By the way, the real, unspeakable power alluded to was much about corporal punishment. About fathers, Elaine concluded: “There is more to them than meets the eye. And so we believe the belt.”

  • A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again. Enid Bagnold, in Autobiography (1969)
  • We are all children until our fathers die. Melissa Bank, in The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999)
  • A father had to work only half as hard as any mother to be considered twice as good. Mary Kay Blakely, in American Mom (1994)
  • Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. David Blankenhorn, in Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (1995)

Blankenhorn continued: “It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. Yet, despite its scale and social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that is frequently ignored or denied. Especially within our elite discourse, it remains largely a problem with no name.”

  • One never knows anything about one’s father. A father…is a passageway immersed in the deepest darkness, where we stumble blindly seeking a way out. Robert Bolaño, a reflection of the character Hugo Halder, in the novel 2666 (2004)
  • In the minds of women, fatherhood used to be considered a part-time job. It was something men did at the end of the day between parking the car for the night and going to bed. Erma Bombeck, in Forever Erma (1996)
  • Those who have never had a father can at any rate never know the sweets of losing one. To most men the death of his father is a new lease of [sic] life. Samuel Butler (1835-1902), in Samuel Butler’s Notebooks (G. Keynes and B. Hill, eds.)
  • No music is so pleasant to my ears as that word—father. Lydia Maria Child, the character Artaphernes speaking, in Philothea: A Grecian Romance (1836)

QUOTE NOTE: Artaphernes says this after his long-lost (and recently-found) daughter Eudora has just addressed him as father. A moment later, he went on to add: “Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!”

  • Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope. John Ciardi, in “Of Time and Chances: A Parental Reverie,” the title of his regular “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (March 18, 1972)
  • I can’t help feeling that, by comparison with being a mother, being a father is a rather abstract business. J. M. Coetzee, a reflection of protagonist David Lurie, in Disgrace: A Novel (1999)
  • It’s a wise father that knows his own child–hood. Marcelene Cox, playing off the familiar Shakespeare line (to be seen below), in a 1945 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Like many other women, I could not understand why every man who changed a diaper has felt impelled, in recent years, to write a book about it. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Wimps,” in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)
  • The family has been regarded as a small State of which the husband and father is head. Havelock Ellis, in Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)

Ellis preceded the thought by writing: “In the marriage system which has prevailed in our world for several thousand years, a certain hierarchy, or sacred order in authority, has throughout been recognized.”

  • Nothing is dearer to an old father than a daughter. Sons have spirits of higher pitch, but they are not given to fondness. Euripides, the character Iphis speaking, in The Suppliants (5th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This famous passage has also been rendered in verse form: “To a father waxing old/Nothing is dearer than a daughter: sons/Have spirits of a higher pitch, but less inclined/To enduring fondness.”

  • To her the name of father was another name for love. Fanny Fern (pen name of Sara Payson Willis), on the character Mary Hereford, in Fresh Leaves (1857)
  • The good father has a little bit of mother in his heart. Solar Forst, in Alphabet of Love (1967)
  • The good father never stops being a child. Solar Forst, in Alphabet of Love (1967)
  • I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)
  • The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat. Robert Frost, in Paris Review interview (Summer–Fall, 1960)

Frost introduced the thought by saying: “You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. One’s a Republican, one’s a Democrat.”

  • If you’re lucky, there are moments in life when you can look at your father with the same eyes you used as a child. When that happens, he is never less than heroic. Jane Ganahl, in Naked on the Page (2007)
  • How many of the people I know—sons and daughters—have intricate abstract expressionist paintings of their mothers, created out of their own emotions, attitudes, hands. And how many have only Polaroid pictures of their fathers. Ellen Goodman, in At Large (1981)
  • A guy’s got to get a license to drive a Geo, but any doofus with a few good swimmers can be a father. Lois Greiman, in Unmanned (2007)
  • There is probably no more terrible enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man—with human flesh. Frank Herbert, in Dune (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book, this observation serves as the epigraph to a chapter and is described as one of the “Collected Sayings of Muab’Dib,” as compiled by the Princess Irulan.

  • The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. Theodore Hesburgh, quoted in Ann Landers, Since You Ask Me (1961); found in the seventh of twelve articles serializing the book, Philadelphia Daily News (Jan. 15, 1962).

QUOTE NOTE: While serving as president of the University of Notre Dame, Hesburgh became a confidante to Ann Landers (and one of a handful of people she turned to for advice in writing her syndicated column). This looks like the first appearance of what ultimately became one of Hesburgh’s most popular observations (however, it is often presented as if it ended is to love their mother).

  • Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth: so much, that we see the grandchild come more and oftener to be heir of the first, than doth the second: he dies between; the possession is the third’s. Ben Jonson, “Explorata,” in Timber, or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter (1640)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present the observation as if it began: “Greatness of name in the father oft-times overwhelms the son.” See also the similar thought from Austin O’Malley below.

  • Father’s Day is like Mother’s Day, except the gift is cheaper. Gerald F. Lieberman, quoted in Robert Byrne and Teressa Skelton, Every Day is Father’s Day: The Best Things Ever Said About Dear Old Dad (1989)
  • Today, while the titular head of the family may still be the father, everyone knows that he is little more than chairman, at most, of the entertainment committee. Ashley Montagu, quoted in Sam Blum, “What Makes a Good Father,” Redbook magazine (Jan., 1964)
  • A father is very miserable who has no other hold on his children’s affection than the need they have of his assistance, if that can be called affection. Michel de Montaigne, “On the Affection of Fathers to Their Children,” in Essays (1580)
  • Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. Barack Obama, in a Father’s Day address in Chicago, Illinois (June 15, 2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Obama, a U. S. Senator and presidential candidate at the time, delivered the address from the pulpit of his home church, the Apostolic Church of God. He continued: “They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

  • The worst misfortune that can happen to an ordinary man is to have an extraordinary father. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)

QUOTE NOTE: See the similar thought above from Ben Jonson.

  • The hardest part about parenting is when I have to be The Dad—aka the Fun-Sucker—as opposed to being a friend. James Patterson, quoted in Family Circle magazine (July, 2011)
  • What a father says to his children is not heard by the world; but it will be heard by posterity. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Levana (1807)
  • Men are generally more careful of the breed of their horses and dogs than of their children. William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1682)
  • At the gambling table, there are no fathers and sons. Proverb (Chinese)
  • One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. Proverb (English)
  • A father is a banker provided by nature. Proverb (French)
  • You have to dig deep to bury your daddy. Proverb (Gypsy)
  • The sound of his father’s voice was a necessity. He longed for the sight of his stooped shoulders as he had never, in the sharpest of his hunger, longed for food. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the narrator describing a yearning of protagonist Jody Baxter, in The Yearling (1938)
  • It’s not always easy for a father to understand the interests and ways of his son. It seems the songs of our children may be in keys we’ve never tried. Fred Rogers, in The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember (2003)

Rogers continued: “The melody of each generation emerges from all that’s gone before. Each one of us contributes in some unique way to the composition of life.”

  • The fundamental defect of fathers, in our competitive society, is that they want their children to be a credit to them. Bertrand Russell, “Freedom Versus Authority in Education,” in Sceptical Essays (1928)

Russell wrote the problem was “rooted in instinct” and also existed “in a lesser degree” in mothers. He added: “We all feel instinctively, that our children’s success reflect glory upon ourselves, while their failures make us feel shame. Unfortunately, the successes which cause us to swell with pride are often of an undesirable kind…. Neither happiness nor virtue, but worldly success, is what the average father desires for his children.”

  • The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one—particularly if he plays golf, which he usually does. Bertrand Russell, in Introduction to The New Generation: The Intimate Problems of Modern Parents and Children (1930; V. F. Calverton and Samuel D. Schmalhausen, eds.)
  • A good father is a little bit of a mother. Lee Salk, quoted in a 1978 issue of Nebraska Ancestree (specific issue undetermined)
  • Finding out about fathers is not easy. It’s only in the last twenty years that they have been considered by the psychological community as much more than the ‘other’ parent, taking a very distant second place to Mom. Victoria Secunda, in Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life (1992)
  • It is a wise father that knows his own child. William Shakespeare, the character Launcelot speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

QUOTE NOTE: In the play, Launcelot reverses the words of a popular proverb about paternity (“It is a wise child that knows his own father”) as he attempts to convince his blind father Gobbo that he is, in fact, his son.

  • Everybody in America grew up without a father even if they had one. It was the fifties. They were working. Mona Simpson, in The Lost Father (1992)
  • Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father. Gloria Steinem, quoted in The New York Times (Aug. 26, 1971)
  • How many a father have I seen,/A sober man, among his boys,/Whose youth was full of foolish noise. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” (1850)
  • Children want to feel instinctively that their father is behind them as solid as a mountain, but, like a mountain, is something to look up to. Dorothy Thompson, in Ladies’ Home Journal (June, 1956)
  • Fatherhood, for me, has been less a job than an unstable and surprising combination of adventure, blindman’s bluff, guerilla warfare, and crossword puzzle. Frederic Franklin Van de Water, in Fathers Are Funny (1939)
  • Perhaps host and guest is really the happiest relation for father and son. Evelyn Waugh, “My Father,” in The Sunday Telegraph (London; Dec. 2, 1962); reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (March, 1963)

QUOTE NOTE: The metaphor originally emerged in Waugh’s relationship with his father and was extended to his sons when he became a father. He introduced the observation by writing: “My father and I were never intimate in the sense of my coming to him with confidences or seeking advice. Our relationship was rather that of host and guest.”

  • Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Goring speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)
  • Father! To God himself we cannot give/A holier name. William Wordsworth, the character Marmaduke speaking, in The Borderers. A Tragedy (written 1795-96)



  • Certain it is, that there is no Kind of Affection so pure and angelic as that of a Father to a Daughter. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Aug., 5, 1712)

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

  • A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again. Enid Bagnold, in Autobiography (1969)
  • Every time it happens, I’m obsessed with the feeling I’m giving a million-dollar Stradivarius to a gorilla. Jim Bishop, on his feelings when each of his four daughters became engaged; quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote (1977)
  • No matter what’s said, there’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. John Gregory Brown, in letter from Catherine Eagan to stepdaughter Meredith, in Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery (1994)
  • I have discovered very little in life that I am adept at doing. I cannot fix your car, repair your roof, or even drive a nail straight. However, I have given everything I have to being a father, and I happily stand back to see the results. Jim Brozina, the father of Alice Ozma, in the Foreword to Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared (2011)

QUOTE NOTE: In the Foreword to his adult daughter's book, Brozina, an elementary school librarian, reveals the premise for her book. When Alice was in the third grade, she got him to make a solemn pact in which he would read aloud to her every night for 1,000 consecutive nights. “The Streak,” as they went on to refer to it, ultimately ran to 3,218 consecutive nights, and Alice's book is a mesmerizing chronicle of the impact it had on both their lives.

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

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

  • The father of a daughter…is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, “Daddy, I need to ask you something,” he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan. Garrison Keillor, in Introduction to The Book of Guys (1993)
  • Why does a dad matter so much to a daughter, in particular? A dad is the one who teaches a daughter what a male is all about. It’s the first man in her life—the first man she loves, the first male she tries to please, the first man who says no to her, the first man to discipline her. Kevin Leman, in Be the Dad She Needs You to Be (2014)

Leman continued, “In effect, he sets her up for success or failure with the opposite sex. Not only that, but she takes cues from how Dad treats Mom as she grows up about what to expect as a woman who is in a relationship with a man. So Dad sets up his daughter’s marriage relationship too.”

  • The thing to remember about fathers is, they’re men./A girl has to keep it in mind./They are dragon-seekers, bent on improbable rescues./Scratch any father, you find/Someone chock-full of qualms and romantic terrors,/Believing change is a threat—/Like your first shoes with heels on, like your first bicycle/It took such months to get. Phyllis McGinley, “First Lesson,” in Times Three: Selected Verse (1960)

McGinley’s second verse continued this way: “Walk in strange woods, they will warn you about the snakes there./Climb, and they fear you’ll fall./Books, angular boys, or swimming in deep water—/Fathers mistrust them all./Men are the worriers. It’s difficult for them/To learn what they must learn;/How you have a journey to take and very likely,/For a while, will not return.”

  • You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. She looks up to you. You're her oracle. You’re her hero. And then the day comes when she gets her first permanent wave and goes to her first real party, and from that day on, you’re in a constant state of panic. Spencer Tracy, as the character Stanley T. Banks, in the 1950 film Father of the Bride (screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett)

QUOTE NOTE: The line does not appear in Edward Streeter’s 1948 novel on which the film was based.



  • My father, dead so long now, looms up as unexplored landscape, the mountains of the moon, a text that has lain in a drawer, undeciphered, for which I have had no Rosetta Stone. Shirley Abbott, in The Bookmaker's Daughter: A Memory Unbound (1991)
  • He opened the jar of pickles when no one else could. He was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to go into the basement by himself. He cut himself shaving, but no one kissed it or got excited about it. It was understood when it rained, he got the car and brought it around to the door. When anyone was sick, he went out to get the prescription filled. He took lots of pictures…but he was never in them. Erma Bombeck, on her father, in Family—The Ties That Bind…and Gag! (1987)
  • Gone was the person who had known me better than anyone else on earth and who had loved and admired me unconditionally since the day I was born. Jane Brady, on her father’s death, quoted in Joyce Brothers, Widowed (1990)
  • Dad could charm a dog off a meat wagon. My charm was not so potent but at least I had some. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Nickel Smith, in Bingo (1988)
  • Great missionary he was, intrepid soul, but there was no fatherhood in him. He had to be viewed, to be considered, not as a father but as a man. His children were merely accidents which had befallen him. Pearl S. Buck, on her father, in Fighting Angel: Portrait of a Soul (1936)
  • It was my father’s hand that opened wide/The door to poetry, where printed line/ Became alive. Helen Bean Byerly, from the poem “Father’s Hand,” in Katie May Gill, Father: Poems for Fathers (1957)
  • There’s some screw loose in the whole marvelous machine. Hartley Coleridge, on his father Samuel Taylor Coleridge, quoted in The Independent (Aug. 21, 2006)
  • His values embraced family, reveled in the social mingling of children, and above all, welcomed the loving disorder of children. John N. Cole, on his father, in “Contact,” an essay in David Seybold, Fathers and Sons: An Anthology (1992)
  • Whenever I try to recall that long-ago first day at school only one memory shines through: my father held my hand. Marcelene Cox, in a 1954 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • He was generous with his affection, given to great, awkward, engulfing hugs, and I can remember so clearly the smell of his hugs, all starched shirt, tobacco, Old Spice and Cutty Sark. Sometimes I think I’ve never been properly hugged since. Linda Ellerbee, on her father, in Move On (1991)
  • My life has been a poor attempt/To imitate the man./I am the living legacy/To the leader of the band. Dan Fogelberg, lyrics from the 1981 song “Leader of the Band”]], on the album The Innocent Age (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: Leader of the Band may be the most moving tribute a musician has ever paid to his or her father. In clicking the link here, you can not only listen to the song, but catch a snippet of an interview in which Fogelberg described the meaning the song held for him as well as for his father.

  • My Mother always deferred to my Father, and in his absence spoke of him to me, as if he were all-wise. I confused him in some sense with God. Edmund Gosse, in Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments (1907)
  • One day I found in my hands the manuscript of a poem in my father’s handwriting. He had died when I was only fifteen. We had been in love with each other ever since I could remember, but he had died while our minds were still separated by my immaturity. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • My father was often angry when I was most like him. Lillian Hellman, in An Unfinished Woman (1969)
  • My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” Dad would reply. “We’re raising boys.” Harmon Killebrew, a 1984 remark

QUOTATION CAUTION: I've had this quotation in my personal files for many decades, but have never been able to find an original source. If you know where it first appeared please let me know.

  • My father was a romancer and most of my memories of him are colored, I fear, by an untruthfulness that I must have caught from him, like one of the colds that ran round the family. Mary McCarthy, in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957)
  • Directly after God in heaven comes Papa. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a childhood remark, quoted in Edmund Fuller, Thesaurus of Quotations (1941)
  • I stopped loving my father a long time ago. What remained was the slavery to a pattern. Anaïs Nin, “Birth,” in Under a Glass Bell (1948)
  • When my father would come home from the track after a good day, the whole room would light up; it was fairyland. But when he lost, it was black. In our house, it was always either a wake…or a wedding. Peter O'Toole, quoted in Gay Talese, The Overreachers (1965)
  • I have spent hours kicking myself for not fighting past Dad’s reserve, for not going into that cave where he lived and rooting him out. William Plummer, in Wishing My Father Well: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons, and Fly-Fishing (2000)
  • I wanted him to cherish and approve of me, not as he had when I was a child, but as the woman I was, who had her own mind and had made her own choices. Adrienne Rich, on her father, “Split at the Root,” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry (1986)
  • My father was a lot like my first pony, Bunty. Both returned my love with a mean bite. Susan Richards, in Chosen by a Horse (2007)
  • Beaming like a lesser god,/He bounced upon the earth he trod. May Sarton, “A Celebration for George Sarton,” in In Time Like Air (1958)
  • Four people, four lives that boiled down to one life and that was my father’s. What occupied him was what occupied us. Irene Mayer Selznick, on her father’s devotion to his wife and family, in A Private View (1983)
  • When I was young, my father was lord/Of a small kingdom: a wife, a garden,/Kids for whom his word was Word./It took years for my view to harden,/To shrink him to human size/And realize the door leading out was open. Tracy K. Smith, “The Speed of Belief,” in Life on Mars: Poems (2011)
  • All the feeling which my father could not put into words was in his hand—any dog, child or horse would recognize the kindness of it. Freya Stark, in Traveler's Prelude (1950)
  • When Father smiled, it was like the sun coming out, and spring and summer in your heart. Gladys Taber, on her father, in Especially Father (1948)
  • My father and I were always on the most distant terms when I was a boy—a sort of armed neutrality, so to speak. Mark Twain, “Memoranda,” in The Galaxy Magazine (Aug., 1870); reprinted as “A Memory,” in Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1852–1890 (1992)

Twain continued: “At irregular intervals this neutrality was broken, and suffering ensued; but I will be candid enough to say that the breaking and the suffering were always divided up with strict impartiality between us—which is to say, my father did the breaking, and I did the suffering.”

  • When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Mark Twain, attributed in Reader’s Digest (Sep., 1937).

ERROR ALERT: This represents the first appearance of a hugely popular quotation that is completely erroneous (nothing even remotely similar to it has ever been found in Twain’s works). It’s a wonderful observation, however, and almost cries out to be used in the appropriate occasion. When you do, though, make sure to mention its apocryphal nature.

  • I took what you didn’t give to me and gave it to my sons/Thank you. Chip Webster, from the poem “Dad,” in A Passion for Life: Reflections From the Journey (2017)
  • It’s a wonderful feeling when your father becomes not a god but a man to you—when he comes down from the mountain and you see he's this man with weaknesses. And you live with him as this whole being, not as a figurehead. Robin Williams, in “Robin Williams: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone magazine (Feb. 25, 1988)



  • God has made sleep to be a sponge by which to rub out fatigue. A man’s roots are planted in night, as in a soil, and out of it he comes every day with fresh growth and bloom. Henry Ward Beecher, “Relative Duties,” in Lectures to Young Men, On Various Important Subjects (3rd ed.;1856)
  • Sadness is almost never anything but a form of fatigue. André Gide, journal entry (March, 1922), in The Journals of André Gide, 1889–1949, Vol. 1 (1956)
  • There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. Martha Graham, in Blood Memory: An Autobiography (1991)
  • Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue. Henri Matisse

QUOTATION CAUTION: One of Matisse’s most famous observations, this is how it is typically presented. But it appears to be a condensation of a larger thought, originally written in “Notes of a Painter,” a 1908 essay in Paris’s La Grande Review: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman was well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”

  • Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue. Henri Matisse
  • Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Men in condition do not tire. George S. Patton, in a U. S. Army Letter of Instruction (March 6, 1944); reprinted in War As I Knew It (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: General Patton, who believed that the physical condition of the troops was “vital to victory,” was instructing his commanders to improve the U. S. military’s conditioning efforts. Decades later, the legendary Green Bay Packers’ coach prominently posted “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” in the team’s locker. While Lombardi is commonly cited as the author of the saying, Patton is the person who deserves credit.

  • Laziness: the habit of resting before fatigue sets in. Jules Renard, journal entry (May, 1906), in The Journal of Jules Renard (1964; L. Bogan & E. Roget, eds.)
  • Worry is a form of fear, and all forms of fear produce fatigue. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)

Russell continued: “A man who has learnt not to feel fear will find the fatigue of daily life enormously diminished.”



  • The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. Thomas Carlyle, in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841)
  • When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • Like old accustomed Spots upon the Wall,/Familiar Faults seem hardly Faults at all. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • My only fault…is that I have no faults. Joseph Heller, the character General Peckem speaking, in Catch-22 (1961)
  • It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other, and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one. Jerome K. Jerome, “On Vanity and Vanities,” in Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886)
  • The fault no child ever loses is the one he was most punished for. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The fault we admit to is seldom the fault we have, but it has a certain relationship to it, a somewhat similar shape, like that of a sleeve to an arm. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • There are certain faults which press too near our self-love to be even perceptible to us. Hannah More, in Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788)

More preceded the thought by writing: “It may be in morals as it is in optics, the eye and the object may come too close to each other, to answer the end of vision.”

  • How beautiful is candor! All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor. Walt Whitman, in Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855 ed.)
  • Misfortunes one can endure—they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults—ah! There is the sting of life. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Windermere speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)



  • Fear, too, of course, is forward. No one is afraid of yesterday. Renata Adler, in Pitch Dark (1983)

Adler began by writing: “The forward-directed attitudes, I think, are these: curiosity, ambition, love, courage, hunger, duty, rage. They may be backward-formed, but they are forward directed, moving toward the future.”

  • There are times when fear is good./It must keep its watchful place/at the heart’s controls. Aeschylus, in The Eumenides (458 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the lines that preceded one of Aeschylus’s most famous observations: “There is/advantage in the wisdom won from pain.”

  • Life doesn’t mean anything if you can’t rid yourself of fear. Martha Albrand, in Nightmare in Copenhagen (1954)
  • Fear is a disease that eats away at logic and makes man inhuman. Marian Anderson, in My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography (1956)
  • An ugly sight, a man who is afraid. Jean Anouilh, the title character speaking, in Antigone (1944)
  • Sex is a sideshow in the world of the animal, for the dominant color of that world is fear. Robert Ardrey, in African Genesis (1961)
  • Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival; it indicates danger, and without this warning sense no living thing could last long. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind, Vol. I (1978)

Arendt continued: “The courageous man is not one whose soul lacks this emotion or who can overcome it once and for all, but one who has decided that fear is not what he wants to show.”

  • Fear has a smell, as love does. Margaret Atwood, the unnamed protagonist speaking, in Surfacing: A Novel (1972)
  • The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Author Unknown, but inspired by a Joseph Campbell observation

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, American mythologist Joseph Campbell is cited as the author of this saying. For more, see the Campbell observation below.

  • Overcome fear, behold wonder. Richard Bach, recalling a lesson learned when, as a child, he faced his fear of heights by climbing a water tower, in Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit (1994)
  • Nothing is terrible except fear itself. Francis Bacon, in De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarium, Book 2 (1623)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the earliest of a set of observations that are believed to have inspired FDR’s famous observation on fear (see the Roosevelt entry below). For others, see the entries by Montaigne, Thoreau, and Wellesley.

  • Isn’t the fear of pain next brother to pain itself? Enid Bagnold, in A Diary Without Dates (1918)
  • Fear looks both ways but still refuses to cross; fear looks twice and still doesn’t leap. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • Although fear in the right dosage and under the right circumstance protects us…imaginary fear offers straitjackets instead of lifejackets, nooses instead of safety nets. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • At man’s core there is a voice that wants him never to give in to fear. George Bataille, in “Le Mal dans le Platonisme et le Sadisme” (a 1947 lecture); quoted in Jean-Michelle Helmont, On Bataille (1990)
  • Fear is not a good teacher. The lessons of fear are quickly forgotten. Mary Catherine Bateson, quoted in Bill Moyers, The World of Ideas (1989)
  • Fear is never a good counselor and victory over fear is the first spiritual duty of man. Nicholas Berdyaev, in Towards a New Epoch (1949)
  • We must travel in the direction of our fear. John Berryman, in “A Point of Age” (1948)
  • To everything there is an end—except fear. Phyllis Bottome, the narrator speaking in the short story “The Vocation,” in Innocence and Experience (1934)
  • Proust has pointed out that the predisposition to love creates its own objects: is this not true of fear? Elizabeth Bowen, in Collected Impressions (1950)
  • No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. Edmund Burke, in A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1756)
  • The very cave you are afraid to enter/turns out to be the source of/what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave/ that was so dreaded/has become the center. Joseph Campbell, in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion (1991; Robert Walter, ed., from material by Diane K. Osbon)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, the first portion of this observation is mistakenly presented as: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

  • The first duty for a man is still that of subduing Fear. We must get rid of Fear; we cannot act at all till then. Thomas Carlyle, “The Hero as Divinity,” in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History (1840)
  • If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. Dale Carnegie, quoted in Norman Vincent Peale, Norman Vincent Peale: Words That Inspired Him (1994)
  • Fear is sharp-sighted, and can see things under ground, and much more in the skies. Miguel de Cervantes, Sancho Panza speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: The first portion of this line has also been popularly translated as: “Fear has many eyes and can see things underground.”

  • Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. John Cheever, a portion of Leander Wapshot’s “Advice to My Sons,” in The Wapshot Chronicles (1957)
  • A man who fears ridicule will never go far, for good or ill: he remains on this side of his talents, and even if he has genius, he is doomed to mediocrity. Emile Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1976)
  • In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, journal entry (Oct. 5, 1830); reprinted in Table Talk (1835)
  • How does one kill fear, I wonder? How do you shoot a spectre through the heart, slash off its spectral head, take it by its spectral throat? Joseph Conrad, the character Marlow speaking, in Lord Jim (1900)
  • Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Marie Curie, quoted in Philip Steele, Marie Curie (2006)
  • If you give way to fear, you’ll be a coward; and…a coward is apt to be a liar. The devil's first name is Fear. Margaret Deland, The character Dr. Lavender speaking, in “The Harvest of Fear,” in Around Old Chester (1915)
  • All is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most. Fyodor Dostoevsky, a reflection of protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment (1866)

QUOTE NOTE: This is from Constance Garnett’s classic 1914 translation. A more recent translation goes this way: “Everything is in a man’s own hands, and if he lets everything slip through his fingers, it is through sheer cowardice. That’s an axiom. I wonder, though, what people fear most. It seems to me that what they are afraid of most is taking a new step or uttering a new word.”

  • Fear is a pair of handcuffs on your soul. Faye Dunaway, in Esquire The Meaning of Life (2004; Brendan Vaughan, ed.)
  • By the time we are women, fear is as familiar to us as air. It is our element. We live in it, we inhale it, we exhale it. Andrea Dworkin, “The Sexual Politics of Fear and Courage” (Queens College speech, March 12, 1975) ; reprinted in Our Blood (1956)

Dworkin added: “And most of the time we do not even notice it. Instead of ‘I am afraid,’ we say ‘I don’t want to,’ or ‘I don’t know how,’ or ‘I can’t.’”

  • Those who are animated by hope can perform what would seem impossibilities to those who are under the depressing influence of fear. Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in The Grateful Negro (1802)

QUOTE NOTE: In an 1814 letter to a friend, Edgeworth reprised the sentiment, writing: “How is it that hope so powerfully excites, and fear so absolutely depresses all our faculties?”

  • Nothing gives a fearful man more courage than another’s fear. Umberto Eco, a reflection of narrator Adso of Melk, in The Name of the Rose (1980)
  • To fear the examination of any proposition apears to me an intellectual and a moral palsy that will ever hinder the firm grasping of any substance whatever. George Eliot, in an 1842 letter to a friend' reprinted in The George Eliot Letters, Vol. 1 (1954; Gordon S. Haight, ed.)
  • I will show you fear in a handful of dust. T. S. Eliot, in The Waste Land (1922)
  • I knew a man scared by the rustle of his own hatband. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Aug. 2, 1837)
  • Fear always springs from ignorance. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar,” speech delivered to Phi Beta Kappa Society, Harvard University (August 31, 1837); reprinted in Emerson: Essays and Lectures (1983; Joel Porte, ed.)
  • Fear is an instructor of great sagacity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Courage,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, our fears are a treasurehouse of self-knowledge if we explore them. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time (1980)

Later in the book, Ferguson went on to write: “Risk always brings its own rewards: the exhilaration of breaking through, of getting to the other side; the relief of a conflict healed; the clarity when a paradox dissolves. Whoever teaches us this is the agent of our liberation. Eventually we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”

  • Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them. Brendan Francis (pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy), in Edward F. Murphy, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations (1978)
  • Every man, through fear, mugs his aspirations a dozen times a day. Brendan Francis (pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy), in Edward F. Murphy, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations (1978)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Brendan Behan.

  • Fear’s ally is hate. Lucy Freeman, in Fight Against Fears (1951)
  • Usually the things you dislike in a person are his defenses against fear. Lucy Freeman, in Fight Against Fears (1951)
  • Fear is the parent of cruelty. James Anthony Froude, in Short Studies on Great Subjects (1877)
  • There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. André Gide, in Autumn Leaves (1950)
  • Fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance. Arnold H. Glasow, in Glasow’s Gloombusters (1995)
  • We’re extremely adroit at hiding our fear. Most of our lives in public are spent papering over, rationalizing, and otherwise denying our fear. Seth Godin, in Poke the Box (2011)

Godin continued: “We go to war because we’re afraid, and we often go to spiritual events for the very same reason.”

  • You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,/You’ve got to be taught from year to year,/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear./You’ve got to be carefully taught. Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics from the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” in the Broadway musical South Pacific (1949; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

QUOTE NOTE: The words of the song are delivered by Lt. Joe Cable, who is attempting to explain the origins of racial prejudice to his friend Emile. The song was quite controversial at the time, and both Rodgers and Hammerstein strongly resisted numerous recommendations to drop it completely from the production. When the show went on tour in the American South, Georgia legislators attempted to halt its staging by introducing a bill outlawing any form of entertainment that contained “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow” (happily, it failed to pass). Later in life, author James Michener (on whose 1947 novel the musical was based) reflected about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s decision to stick with the song: “The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.”

  • Then and there I invented this rule for myself to be applied to every decision I might have to make in the future. I would sort out all the arguments and see which belonged to fear and which to creativeness, and other things being equal I would make the decision which had the larger number of creative reasons on its side. I think it must be a rule something like this that makes jonquils and crocuses come pushing through cold mud. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith (1942)
  • I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Frank Herbert, the character Bene Gesserit speaking, in Dune (1955)
  • In addition to the havoc it causes in the human body, fear strangles personality, murders logic, humor, and the ability to love. Marion Hilliard, in A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life (1957)

Earlier in the book, Dr. Hilliard wrote: “Nothing so withers fear as examination. No one should ever be afraid alone. It is the worst form of loneliness and the most corrosive.”

  • When we make children afraid we stop their learning dead in its tracks. John Holt, in Preface to How Children Learn (1967; rev. 1983)
  • Of all the mental and physical polluters of life, nothing exercises such a poisonous effect as fear. Elbert Hubbard, “Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock,” in The Philistine (May, 1907)
  • Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
  • Perfect love may cast our fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love. P. D. James, in Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (1999)
  • I have accepted fear as a part of life, specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: Turn back, turn back; you’ll die if you venture too far. Erica Jong, “Blood and Guts: The Tricky Problem of Being a Woman Writer in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Janet Sternburg, The Writer and Her Work, Vol. 1 (1980)

Jong preceded the thought by writing: “All the good things that have happened to me in the last several years have come, without exception, from a willingness to change, to risk the unknown, to do the very things I feared the most. Every poem, every page of fiction I have written, has been written with anxiety, occasionally panic, always uncertainty about its reception. Every life decision I have made—from changing jobs, to changing partners, to changing homes—has been taken with trepidation. I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me.”

  • No greater hell than to be slave to fear. Ben Jonson, in Every Man in His Humour (1598)
  • O!/How vain and vile a passion is this fear!/What base uncomely things it makes men do. Ben Jonson, in Sejanus His Fall (1603)
  • There is nothing bad that fear cannot make worse! Bertha Margaret Keen, in Good! I’m Growing Older (1974)
  • Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Helen Keller, in Let Us Have Faith (1940)
  • One of the most fundamental of human fears is that our existence will go unnoticed. We’d all like to have it recorded somewhere. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: People have dealt with this fundamental fear in a wide variety of ways, but most commonly in the creation of art and the procreation of children. Keyes described his method as follows: “What better way to achieve this goal than by writing? Long after maggots have had their way with my corpse, my name will still be on the spines of books in the Library of Congress. I’m on the record.”

  • Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)

Dr. King preceded the observation by writing: “Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; absolute fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives.”

  • We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Strength to Love (1963)

King preceded the thought by writing: “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live.”

  • Fear is a hammer, and when the people are beaten finally to the conviction that their existence hangs by a frayed thread, they will be led where they need to go. Dean Koontz, the character Wentworth speaking, in The Good Guy (2007)
  • Hope and fear go arm in arm: there is no fear without hope, no hope without fear. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Great self-destruction follows upon unfounded fear. Ursula K. Le Guin, the voice of the Augmentor speaking, in The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
  • There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. John Lennon, in In His Own Write (1964)

Lennon continued: “We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hope for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

  • Most of us experience fear as a kind of stop sign or flashing red light that warns: ‘Danger! Do not enter!’ But we may need to decode that signal and consider what it’s trying to convey. Harriett Lerner, in Fear and Other Uninvited Guests (2004)

Lerner went on to explain: “Fear is a message—sometimes helpful, sometimes not—but often conveying critical information about our beliefs, our needs, and our relationship to the world around us.” By the way, I hope you stopped to appreciate the great metaphorical title of Lerner’s book.

  • Afraid is a country with no exit visas. Audre Lorde, in “Diaspora” (1986)
  • The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. H. P. Lovecraft, the opening line of the long essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” orig. published in a 1927 issue of The Recluse magazine; reprinted in Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1965)

Lovecroft continued: “These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form.”

  • As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Nelson Mandela, quoted in Jean Guiloineau, Nelson Mandela: The Early Life of Rolihlahla Mandiba (2002)
  • Human progress had so often been checked by those who were afraid of losing what they had. Marya Mannes, in Message From a Stranger (1948)
  • Fear has always been a diminisher of life. Marya Mannes, in Last Rights: A Case for the Good Death (1974)

Mannes continued: “Whether bred in the bogs of superstition or clothed in the brocades of dogma and ritual, the specter of death has reduced the living to supplicants, powerless.”

  • Our greatest fears are often of things that do not happen. Benjamin E. Mays, in Born to Rebel (1971)
  • Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out. Dr. Karl A. Menninger, in The Human Mind (1930)
  • There are two levers for moving men—interest and fear. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), quoted in Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Napoleon; or The Man of the World,” Representative Men (1850)
  • One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • How very little can be done under the spirit of fear. Florence Nightingale, quoted in Edward Tyas Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, Vol. 1 (1914)
  • Man’s loneliness is but his fear of life! Eugene O’Neill, the title character speaking, in Lazarus Laughed (1927)
  • Fear has the largest eyes of all. Boris Pasternak, “Hoar-Frost,” in The Poetry of Boris Pasternak, 1917–1959 (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: Pasternak was likely influenced by the earlier passage from Cervante’s Don Quixote.

  • When men are ruled by fear, they strive to prevent the very changes that will abate it. Alan Paton, “The Challenge of Fear,” in Saturday Review (Sep. 9, 1967)
  • Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. Proverb (German)
  • He who fears something gives it power over him. Proverb (Moorish)
  • I had done battle with a great fear and the victory was mine. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek (1942)

In the work, Rawlings also wrote: “Fear is the most easily taught of all lessons, and the fight against terror, real or imagined, is perhaps the history of man's mind.”

  • One has to take some action against fear when once it lays hold of one. Rainer Maria Rilke, in The Journal of My Other Self (1930)
  • You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living (1960)

Mrs. Roosevelt went on to write: “The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

  • The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in first inaugural address (March 4, 1933)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of history’s most famous quotations, but you should know that it was originally embedded in a larger thought: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The basic idea about fearing fear was not original to FDR, though. He and his speechwriters were almost certainly inspired by a series of earlier observations on the subject (see the entries by Bacon, Montaigne, and Wellesley).

  • Worry is a form of fear, and all forms of fear produce fatigue. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)

Russell continued: “A man who has learnt not to feel fear will find the fatigue of daily life enormously diminished.”

  • Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life. Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • Were the diver to think on the jaws of the shark, he would never lay hands on the precious pearl. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • That fear first created the gods is perhaps as true as anything so brief could be on so great a subject. George Santayana, “Reason in Religion,” in The Life of Reason (1905–06)
  • A degree of fear sharpeneth, the excess of it stupifieth. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Reflections (1750)
  • Our fears do make us traitors. William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth speaking, in Macbeth (1606)
  • The slave of fear: the worst of slaveries. George Bernard Shaw, in Misalliance (1910)
  • In order to do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand shivering on the bank and thinking of the cold and the danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can. Sydney Smith, in Wit and Wisdom of the Rev. Sydney Smith (1856)
  • Fear binds people together. And fear disperses them. Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example—for courage is as contagious as fear. But courage, certain kinds of courage, can also isolate the brave. Susan Sontag, “On Courage and Resistance,” in At the Same Time (2007)
  • Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live. Dorothy Thompson, in 1939 New York Herald Tribune column, quoted in a 1941 Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is generally presented, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “Without the serene acceptance of death as inexorable we lose all the magic and wonder of life, and live in constant unconscious fear. For only when one is no longer afraid to die is one no longer afraid at all. And only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live in every experience, painful or joyful; to live in gratitude for every moment, to live abundantly.”

  • The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness; aggressiveness engenders hostility; hostility engenders fear—a disastrous circle. Dorothy Thompson, in The Courage to Be Happy (1957)
  • Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Sep. 7, 1851)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of the observations that is believed to have inspired FDR’s famous observation on fear (see the Roosevelt entry above). For others, see the entries above by Bacon, Montaigne, and Wellesley.

  • A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it. J. R. R. Tolkien, the character Sador speaking, “The Childhood of Túrin,” in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth (2001; Christopher Tolkien, ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly begin the quotation A man who flies, and almost all present short cut as one word.

  • Fear is a noose that binds until it strangles. Jean Toomer, in Essentials: Definitions and Aphorisms (1931)
  • Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • Your fear trills like an alarm bell you cannot shut off. John Updike, the voice of the narrator, in Rabbit, Run (1960)
  • Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence. Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999)
  • Fear betrays unworthy souls. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st c. B.C.)
  • The only thing I am afraid of is fear. Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington), a November 3, 1831 remark, quoted in Philip Henry Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington (1888)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of the observations that is believed to have inspired FDR’s famous observation on fear (see the Roosevelt entry above). For others, see the entries above by Bacon, Montaigne, and Thoreau.

  • Fear is born in uncertainty and nourished by pessimism. Lois Wyse, in The Rosemary Touch (1974)



  • The truly fearless think of themselves as normal. Margaret Atwood, “The Whirlpool Rapids,” in Bluebeard’s Egg (1986)
  • The fearless make their own way. L. E. Landon, “The Knife,” in The Book of Beauty (1833)
  • But fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s the mastery of fear. It’s all about getting up one more time than you fall down. Arianna Huffington, quoted in Katie Couric, The Best Advice I Ever Got (2011)
  • Fearlessness is the mother of reinvention. Arianna Huffington, quoted in a 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. John Lennon, in In His Own Write (1964)

Lennon continued: “We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hope for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

  • Fearlessness at twenty springs from not knowing what challenges lie ahead. Fearlessness at fifty comes from having wrestled with life’s challenges and learned from them. Kathleen Turner, in Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles (2007; with Gloria Feldt)
  • I have a lot of things to prove to myself. One is that I can live my life fearlessly. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Janet Lowe, Oprah Winfrey Speaks (2001)



  • 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.

  • A cheerful look makes a dish a feast. George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum (1651)



  • You can't develop positive people with negative feedback. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)

Anderson preceded the thought by writing: “Bring out others better side and they are more likely to see and support yours.”

  • Failure is feedback. Author Unknown

In The Winning Woman, Molly Jay’s 2001 anthology of quotations from women in sports, this saying was attributed to tennis legend Billie Jean King, but I believe she was simply passing along a saying that had recently become popular in sports circles.

  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Ken Blanchard & Spencer Johnson, in The One Minute Manager (1982)
  • In the guise of “seeking feedback,” many writers are trolling for compliments. When they ask for your opinion of their work, too often they mean your praise. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write (1995)
  • “Successful executives and effective leaders are open to feedback; they use it to explore where they are both intellectually and emotionally, and how that relates to who they want to be and need to be in their world; but they don't let it shape who they are. Sandy Linver, in The Leader's Edge (1994; with Jim Mengert)

Linver added: “They know that all the really important answers are inside themselves.”



  • Feelings change facts. Phyllis Bottome, in The Life Line (1946)
  • Better to be without logic than without feeling. Charlotte Brontë, the character Frances Evans Henri speaking, in The Professor (written 1846; published posthumously 1857)
  • Never apologize for showing feeling, my friend. Remember that when you do so, you apologize for truth. Benjamin Disraeli, the title character speaking, in Contarini Fleming (1832)
  • Feelings are self-justifying, with a set of perceptions and “proofs” all their own. Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995)
  • Feelings are untidy. Esther Hautzig, in The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia (1968)
  • All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Franz Xaver Kappus (Dec. 26, 1908); published posthumously in Letters to a Young Poet (1929)

Rilke continued: “Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.”

  • I have learned that in any significant or continuing relationship, persistent feelings had best be expressed. Carl Rogers, in A Way of Being (1980)

Rogers continued: “If they are expressed as feelings, owned by me, the result may be temporarily upsetting but ultimately far more rewarding than any attempt to deny or conceal them.”

  • People who cannot feel punish those who do. May Sarton, the character Willa speaking, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • Feelings take you into uncharted territory from time to time it’s true, but you almost always benefit from the journey one way or the other. Merle Shain, in Some Men Are More Perfect Than Others (1973)

Shain continued: “We tend to think of the rational as a higher order, but it is the emotional that marks our lives.”



  • When feminism exploded into my life, it gave me a vision of the world totally different from everything I had ever assumed or hoped. Dorothy Allison, in Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, & Literature (1994)
  • The true republic: men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. Susan B. Anthony, in The Revolution (1868)
  • Feminism is a way of understanding reality, not just a series of things to do. Feminism challenges our predilection for one right answer, one right God, one size fits all. Phyllis Chesler, in Letters to a Young Feminist (1997)
  • Feminism’s agenda is basic. It asks that women not be forced to “choose” between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women be free to define themselves—instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men. Susan Faludi, in BackLash (1992)

Faludi preceded the thought by writing: “Feminism asks the world to recognize at long last that women aren’t decorative ornaments, worthy vessels, members of a ‘special-interest group.’ They are half (in fact, now more than half) of the national population, and just as deserving of rights and opportunities, just as capable of participating in the world’s events, as the other half.”

  • “I hate discussions of feminism that end up with who does the dishes,” she said. So do I. But at the end, there are always the damned dishes. Marilyn French, in The Women’s Room (1977)
  • A woman who assumes self-dependence as a basic condition of her life. Erica Jong, defining a feminist; quoted in Barbara Ehrenreich, “The Women's Movements, Feminist and Anti-Feminist,” in Radical America (1981)
  • I became a feminist as an alternative to becoming a masochist. Sally Kempton, “Cutting Loose,” in Esquire (July, 1970)
  • If it’s a movement, I sometimes think it needs a laxative. Florynce Kennedy, on the feminist movement’s tendency to occasionally take itself too seriously, in Color Me Flo (1976)
  • A lot of men got upset at the feminist movement because they had all the toys and we wanted some. Judith Martin, in a 1997 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • “Mother, what is a Feminist?”/“A Feminist, my daughter,/Is any woman now who cares/To think about her own affairs/As men don’t think she oughter.” Alice Duer Miller, “Feminism,” in Are Women People? (1915)
  • For me, to be a feminist is to answer the question “Are women human?” with a yes. Katha Pollitt, in Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (1994)
  • Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Franz Xaver Kappus (May 14, 1904); published posthumously in Letters to a Young Poet (in 1929)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation, made over a half century before the modern Women’s Movement, is so amazingly prescient that only one conclusion is warranted: if ever a man deserved to be called am “early feminist,” it would have to be Rilke.

  • A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after. Gloria Steinem, quoted in a 1960 issue of Newsweek (specific issue undetermined)
  • We are becoming the men we wanted to marry. Gloria Steinem, in a 1982 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The alternative to being a feminist is being a masochist. Gloria Steinem, in a 1993 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Feminism isn’t called the longest revolution for nothing. Gloria Steinem, “Revving Up for the Next Twenty-Five Years,” in a 1997 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Women tend to be conservative in youth and get more radical as they get older because they lose power with age. So, if a young woman is not a feminist, I say, just wait. Gloria Steinem, quoted in a 2005 issue of Newsweek magazine (2004)
  • Feminism is the most revolutionary idea there has ever been. Equality for women demands a change in the human psyche more profound than anything Marx dreamed of. Polly Toynbee, in a 1987 issue of The Guardian (specific issue undetermined)
  • I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. Rebecca West, “Mr. Chesterton in Hysterics,” in The Clarion (Nov. 14, 1913)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is remarkable in two ways. First, it was written decades before the term feminism became part of common parlance. And second, it was written when the author was only twenty years old.



  • A fiancée is neither this nor that: he’s left one shore, but not yet reached the other. Anton Chekhov, the unnamed narrator and protagonist reflecting on his “dreary” status, in the short story “Love” (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated in the following way: “An engaged man is neither one thing nor the other, he has left one side of the river and not reached the other.”



  • A play is fiction—and fiction is fact distilled into truth. Edward Albee, quoted in the New York Times (Sep. 18, 1966)
  • Fiction happens in the womb. It doesn’t get processed in the mind until you do the editing. Isabel Allende, quoted in Meredith Maran, Why We Write (2013)

In 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times (titled “A Life of Letters”), writer Patt Morrison cited this related observation from Allende: “Fiction happens in the belly, it doesn’t happen in the brain.”

  • Fiction never exceeds the reach of the writer’s courage. The best fiction comes from the place where the terror hides, the edge of our worst stuff. Dorothy Allison, in Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, & Literature (1994)

In the book, Allison wrote: “Fiction is a piece of truth that turns lies to meaning.”

  • Fiction is not only the historian of life but its apologist. Gertrude Atherton, in The Living Present (1917)
  • Fiction is the higher autobiography. Saul Bellow, quoted in New York Times obituary (April 6, 2005)
  • without fiction, either life would be insufficient or the winds from the north would blow too cold. Elizabeth Bowen, “Out of a Book,” in Collected Impressions (1950)
  • Fiction is the great repository of the moral sense. The wicked get punished. Anita Brookner, quoted in Sybil Steinberg, Writing for Your Life (1992)
  • Biography at its best is a form of fiction. Robertson Davies, in The Lyre of Orpheus (1988)
  • Fiction keeps its audience by retaining the world as its subject matter. People like the world. Many people actually prefer it to art and spend their days by choice in the thick of it. Annie Dillard, in Living by Fiction (1983)
  • Books are acts of composition: you compose them. You make music: the music is called fiction. E. L. Doctorow, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1986)
  • The art of writing fiction is to sail as dangerously close to the truth as possible without sinking the ship. Kinky Friedman, in Cowboy Logic: The Wit and Wisdom of Kinky Friedman (2006)
  • Good fiction sets off…a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind. John Gardner, in On Becoming a Novelist (1983)
  • For my own purpose, I defined the art of fiction as experience illuminated. Ellen Glasgow, in A Certain Measure (1943)
  • All fiction is fantasy, a narrative of a world and people created by the storyteller’s imagination. Andrew Greeley, “They Leap From Your Brain Then Take Over Your Heart,” in the New York Times (Dec. 3, 2001)

Greeley added: “My world and my people leap out of the soup of my preconscious, the ever-flowing, ever-changing reservoir of bits and pieces of memory that my consciousness is always scanning.”

  • Fiction is life with the dull bits left out. Clive James, quoted in The Telegraph (London, June 21, 2012)
  • The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million…but they are, singly, as nothing without the posted presence of the watcher. Henry James, in Portrait of a Lady (1908)

QUOTE NOTE: In The History Man (1975), Malcolm Bradbury paid homage to this popular observation when he had one characters say to another: “Of course, as Henry James says, the house of fiction has many windows. Your trouble is you seem to have stood in front of most of them.”

  • 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)
  • Fiction is Truth’s elder sister. Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was till somebody had told a story. Rudyard Kipling, “Fiction,” in A Book of Words (1928)
  • For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss. Vladimir Nabokov, in On a Book Entitled Lolita (1956)
  • A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist—their lives hanging by a thread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be able to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order. Katherine Paterson, in Gates of Excellence (1981)
  • Thus, in a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility. Katherine Paterson, in The Spying Heart (1989)

In the book, Paterson also wrote: “The work reveals the creator—and as our universe in its vastness, its orderliness, its exquisite detail, tells us something of the One who made it, so a work of fiction, for better or worse, will reveal the writer.”

  • Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. Anna Quindlen, “The Eye of the Reporter, the Heart of the Novelist,” in the New York Times (Sep. 23, 2002)
  • It is not the office of a novelist to show us how to behave ourselves; it is not the business of fiction to teach us anything. Agnes Repplier, “Fiction in the Pulpit,” in Points of View (1891)
  • Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise. Philip Roth, in Paris Review interview (Fall, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how most internet sites present the quotation, but here’s the fuller version of the thought: “What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book—if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don’t. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise.”

  • Fiction to me is a kind of parable. Muriel Spark, “My Conversion,” in Twentieth Century (Autumn, 1961)
  • Fiction is about what happens, how the characters react, and what happens as a result of that reaction. Harvey Stanbrough, “Writing the Character-Driven Story: Chapter 1,” in his “The Daily Journal” Substack post (Feb. 4, 2024)
  • Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Gossip on Romance,” in Memories and Portraits (1887)
  • Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us. Paul Theroux, in the New York Times (July 28, 1976)
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t. Mark Twain, tweaking the proverbial saying, in “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” Following the Equator (1894)

QUOTE NOTE: The proverbial saying, of course, was inspired by Lord Byron, who had written in Don Juan (1823). “’Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange;/Stranger than Fiction.” To see an original image of the Twain quotation in a 1917 calendar devoted to his observations, go to Twain Calendar

ERROR ALERT: In Uncommon Sense: The World’s Fullest Compendium of Wisdom (1987), anthologist Joseph Telushkin presented an altered version of quotation (“Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense”) and attributed it to Twain. This mistaken version is now more popular on the internet than Twain’s original observation.

  • Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented yet. John Updike, in Odd Jobs (1991)
  • Writing fiction has become a priestly business in countries that have lost their faith. Gore Vidal, quoted in the Independent (London, Aug. 16, 1989)
  • Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace (1947)
  • Fortunately, there is more to life than death. There is for one thing, fiction. A thousand thousand characters to be sent marching out into the world to divert time from its forward gallop to the terrible horizon. Fay Weldon, in Down Among the Women (1971)
  • Fiction stretches our sensibilities and our understanding, as mere information never can. Fay Weldon, in Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen (1984)

In the book, Weldon also wrote: “Fiction, on the whole, and if it is any good, tends to be a subversive element in society.”

  • Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1956)
  • All fiction for me is a kind of magic and trickery—a confidence trick, trying to make people believe something is true that isn’t. Angus Wilson, in Paris Review interview (Autumn-Winter, 1957)

A bit later in the interview, Wilson added that the notion of fiction is trickery is important for this reason: “The natural habit of any good and critical reader is to disbelieve what you are telling him and try to escape out of the world you are picturing.”

  • “The proper stuff of fiction” does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in The Common Reader, 1st Series (1925)
  • Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)

In the book, Woolf also wrote: “Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction—so we are told.”



  • A flash story is something like seeing a darkened room illuminated for a second by a bright light. You have time to take in most of it - but not all. You have time to notice things, but not the whole. Your mind works on the image, recalls what you have seen, and pieces it together again—adding context. Vanessa Gebbie, in “Flash Fiction—All You Ever Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask…” a March 2013 blog post on the bridportprize.org.uk website (the full article may be seen here)

Gebbie went on to add: “‘Flash’ perhaps gives the impression that these little pieces are easy to write, quick and meaningless. Oh sure, I know some who dash pieces off, and think that is it. Done, finished—and indeed, there is nothing wrong with using the liberating technique of fast unfettered writing (the ‘flash’ process). I use it all the time myself in the hopes of creating fresh characters, voices and scenarios. But the very best pieces of flash fiction you read will have been carefully scrutinized at the rewriting stage, each phrase, each word examined to ensure it really does earn its place.”

  • I love the very short flash fiction form. Little room for words, but tons of room for implication and inference and hints at what’s going on in the characters’ minds. Harvey Stanbrough, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 20, 2024)



  • In my experience of fights and fighting, it is invariably the aggressor who keeps getting everything wrong. Martin Amis, “Gore Vidal” (1977), in The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986)



  • A figure of speech is a shifty thing; it can be twisted or it can be straight. Salman Rushdie, the character Mr. Butt speaking, in Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
  • A figure of speech can often get into a crack too small for a definition. G. K. Chesterton, “The Suicide of Thought,” in Orthodoxy (1908)

QUOTE NOTE: Back in 1994, in one of his 637 Best Things Ever Said books, Robert Byrne presented a similar observation (“A figure of speech can often get into a crack too small for logic”) and attributed it to Author Unknown. The similar saying was clearly inspired by the foregoing Chesterton quotation.

  • Silence is a figure of speech, unanswerable, short, cold, but terribly severe. Theodore Parker, “Of Justice and the Conscience,” in Sermons of Religion (1853)
  • Ultimately, I use figures of speech to deepen the reader’s subliminal understanding of the person, place, or thing that’s being described. That, above everything else, validates their role as a highly effective literary device. If nothing else, they remind reader and writer alike that language is not the frosting, it’s the cake. Tom Robbins, “What Is the Function of Metaphor?” in Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)
  • Experience insists that irony is Fate’s most common figure of speech. Trevanian, the voice of the narrator, in Shibumi: A Novel (1979)



  • The film is a machine for seeing more than meets the eye. Iris Barry, quoted in John Robert Colombo, Popcorn in Paradise: The Wit and Wisdom of Hollywood (1980)
  • The theater is like a faithful wife. The film is the great adventure, the costly, exacting mistress. One adores them both, but in different ways. Ingmar Bergman, quoted in Current Biography Yearbook (1961)
  • Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls. Ingmar Bergman, quoted in John Berger, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” in Sight and Sound magazine (June, 1991)
  • The tragedy of film history is that it is fabricated, falsified, by the very people who make film history. Louise Brooks, “The Other Face of W. C. Fields,” in Lulu in Hollywood (1982)
  • A film is a petrified fountain of thought. Jean Cocteau, quoted in Esquire magazine (Feb., 1961)
  • Film is a collaborative art. Kirk Douglas, quoted in a 1972 issue of Films & Filming magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Film is a religious experience…. You commune in a darkened open room with mythological huge symbolic figures. There is—on an unconscious level—a religious experience going on. Richard Dreyfuss, quoted in Judith Crist, Take 22: Moviemakers on Moviemaking (1984; rev. ed, 1991)

Dreyfuss went on to add: “Television is a minor experience.”

  • The film is a battleground . . . love, hate, violence, action, death—in a word, emotion. Sam Fuller, quoted in Gary Herman, The Book of Hollywood Quotes (1979)
  • Black and white are the most ravishing colors of all in film. Penelope Gilliatt, in Three-Quarter Face (1980). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • A film is the world in an hour and a half. Jean-Luc Godard, a 1965 remark, quoted in Jonathan Green, Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982)
  • Since films and television have staged everything imaginable before it happens, a true event, taking place in the real world, brings to mind the landscape of films. Elizabeth Hardwick, “The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King,” in Bartleby in Manhattan (1983)
  • A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission, and the babysitter were worth it. Alfred Hitchcock, quoted in a 1960 edition of The Observer (London; specific date undetermined)
  • Making a film is like going down a mine. Once you’ve started you bid a metaphorical goodbye to the daylight and the outside world for the duration. John Schlesinger, quoted in Gary Herman, The Book of Hollywood Quotes (1979)
  • A film is a boat which is always on the point of sinking—it always tends to break up as you go along and drag you under with it. François Truffaut, quoted in Peter John Graham, The New Wave: Critical Landmarks (1968)
  • A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet. Orson Welles, a 1960 remark, quoted in Peter A. Cowie, A Ribbon of Dreams: The Cinema of Orson Welles (1973)

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



  • There are no rules in filmmaking, only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness. Frank Capra, in The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography (1971)
  • As far as the filmmaking process is concerned, stars are essentially worthless—and absolutely essential. William Goldman, in Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983). Also an example of oxymoronica.



  • Resolve to be thyself; and know, that he/Who finds himself, loses his misery. Matthew Arnold, in “Self-Dependence” (1852)
  • You know who you are inside, but people outside see something different. You can choose to become the image, and let go of who you are, or continue as you are and feel phony when you play the image. Richard Bach, in Bridge Across Forever (1984)
  • Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you? Fanny Brice, quoted in Norman Katkov, The Fabulous Fanny (1952)
  • Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Brené Brown, in The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)
  • One recognizes one’s course by discovering the paths that stray from it. Albert Camus, in the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942; first Eng. trans., 1955)
  • To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting. e. e. cummings, quoted in Charles Norman, The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Cummings wrote these words in a 1955 letter to a high school student who had asked what advice he had for young people who wanted to write poetry. Cummings continued: “As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time—and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.”

  • To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s. Fyodor Dostevsky, the character Razumikhin speaking, in Crime and Punishment (1866)
  • It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves—in finding themselves. André Gide, journal entry (Oct. 26, 1924)
  • No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator describing the hypocritical Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, in The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • You can’t change the music of your soul. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Lee Israel, “Last of the Honest-To-God Ladies,” Esquire magazine (Nov., 1967)
  • What’s a man’s first duty? The answer’s brief: to be himself. Henrik Ibsen, the title character speaking, in Peer Gynt (1867)

Gynt went on to add: “But how/Can he do this if his existence/Is that of a pack-camel, laden/With some one else’s weal and woe.”

  • There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it ease like water over a stone, onto its fluid contours, and are home. Josephine Hart, the voice of the narrator, in Damage: A Novel (1991)

A moment later, the narrator went on to explain: “We may go through our lives happy or unhappy, successful or unfulfilled, loved, without ever standing cold with the shock of recognition, without feeling the agony as the twisted iron in our soul unlocks itself and we slip at last into place.”

  • The best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: “This is the real me!” William James, in letter to wife Alice (June, 1878)
  • The descent into the depths always seems to precede the ascent. Carl Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1934)
  • On the trail of another man, the biographer must put up with finding himself at every turn: any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it. Paul Murray Kendall, in The Art of Biography (1965)

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

  • One should stick by one’s own soul, and by nothing else. In one’s soul, one knows the truth from the untruth, and life from death. And if one betrays one’s own soul-knowledge one is the worst of traitors. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to Cynthia Asquith (April 28, 1917)
  • Now man cannot live without some vision of himself. But still less can he live with a vision that is not true to his inner experience and inner feeling. D. H. Lawrence, “The Risen Lord,” in Everyman magazine (Oct. 3, 1929); reprinted in D. H. Lawrence: Late Essays and Articles, Vol. 2 (2004; James T. Boulton, ed.)
  • Do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Ged speaking, in The Farthest Shore (1972)
  • One cannot violate the promptings of one’s nature without having that nature recoil upon itself. Jack London, the narrator, describing the essential struggle of the protagonist, in White Fang (1906)
  • A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization. Abraham Maslow, in Motivation and Personality (1954)

Maslow preceded the thought by writing: “We may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he, individually, is fitted for.”

  • If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)

May continued: “Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.”

  • Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the “one thing necessary” may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life? Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)

Merton went on to add: “You must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone.”

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

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

  • Until you make peace with who you are, you’ll never be content with what you have. Doris Mortman, in Circles (1984)
  • At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique human being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874), in Untimely Meditations (1876)

Nietzsche continued: “He knows this, but hides it like an evil conscience—and why? From fear of his neighbor, who looks for the latest conventionalities in him, and is wrapped up in them himself.”

  • When one is pretending the entire body revolts. Anaïs Nin, the voice of the narrator, in Winter of Artifice (1939)
  • If a man can reach the latter days of his life with his soul intact, he has mastered life. Gordon Parks, citing a lesson he learned from his father, in To Smile in Autumn: A Memoir (1979)
  • Don’t be a pawn in somebody’s game…. Find the attitude which gives you the maximum strength and the maximum dignity, no matter what else is going on. Anne Rice, the protagonist Rowan Mayfair speaking, in The Witching Hour (1990)
  • This above all: to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man. William Shakespeare, the character Polonius speaking to Laertes, in Hamlet (1601)
  • To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Royal Sport Nautique,” in An Inland Voyage (1877)
  • To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Henry David Thoreau,” in Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882)
  • Not till we are lost…do we begin to find ourselves. Henry David Thoreau, “The Village,” in Walden (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is often presented, but here’s the full original thought: “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

  • All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why. James Thurber, moral to the fable “The Shore and the Sea,” in Further Fables for Our Time (1956)
  • People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • All serious daring starts from within. Eudora Welty, “Finding a Voice,” in One Writer’s Beginnings (1984)

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



  • When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing to himself. Louis Nizer, in My Life in Court (1961)

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



  • I know two things in this world that never, never tire me and always rest me—I wonder if they always will? One is a sunset, and the other is an open wood fire. Mary Adams, in Confessions of a Wife (1902)
  • The fire which enlightens is the same fire which consumes. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, an entry in his Journal Intime (March 25, 1851)
  • I decline utterly to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire. Winston Churchill, in House of Common speech July 7, 1926)
  • Fire draws us like friendship. It fascinates us from our earliest experiences with its lovely light. It is beautiful and dangerous, seductive and comforting, frightening and useful. Of what else could we ask so much? Cathy Johnson, “A Sense of Being,” in Susan and Ann Zwinger, Women in Wilderness (1995)
  • Fire is a natural symbol of life and passion, though it is the one element in which nothing can actually live. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942)
  • Fire is a good servant, but a bad master. Proverb (English)
  • Fire is a good companion for the mind. May Sarton, “Reflections by a Fire,” in Cloud, Stone, Sun, Vine (1961)
  • Time is the school in which we learn,/Time is the fire in which we burn. Delmore Schwartz, in “For Rhoda” (1938)
  • All fires burn out at last. Sigrid Undset, in Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross (1922)
  • Fire destroys that which feeds it. Simone Weil, in The Notebooks of Simone Weil (1951)


(see GUNS)


  • If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. Vince Lombardi, quoted in Lee Green, Sportswit (1984)


(see also HEARTH and HOME and [Living] ROOM)

  • To keep the fire burning brightly, there’s one easy rule: keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart—about a finger’s breadth—for breathing room. Good fire, good marriage, same rule. Marnie Reed Crowell, in Greener Pastures (1973)
  • A house with no fireplace is a house without a heart. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)



  • No matter how different our First Ladies have been—and as individual women they have ranged from recluses to vibrant hostesses to political manipulators on a par with Machiavelli—they have all shared the unnerving experience of facing a job they did not choose. Margaret Truman, in First Ladies: An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives (1995)



  • It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a mighty ocean. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro lists this as a Modern Proverb and pinpoints its first appearance in print to a Dec. 25, 1927 New York Times article.

  • I will never eat fish eyeballs, and I do not want to taste anything commonly kept as a house pet, but otherwise I am a cinch to feed. Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking (1988)
  • Fish die belly-upward and rise to the surface; it is their way of falling. André Gide, journal entry (May 18, 1930), in Journals, 1928–1939 (1949; Justin O’Brien, ed.). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • A fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape. Doris Lessing, in Particularly Cats…and Rufus (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes from a fuller sentiment in which Lessing was attempting to capture the essence of a cat in motion: “If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.”

  • Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream. Malcolm Muggeridge, quoting an unnamed supporter, in Radio Times (July 9, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: Muggeridge’s phrasing suggested that he was passing along a saying that was already in use, and his highlighting of the quote only helped to enhance its popularity. The saying has since become something on a modern proverb. In her 1991 book Moving On, for example, Linda Ellerbee wrote, “Only dead fish swim with the stream.”

  • One man’s fish is another man's poisson. Carolyn Wells, “More Mixed Maxims,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Well’s is playing off the proverbial saying, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” What makes her remark so clever is that the the French word for fish is poisson.


(see also ANGLING; see also ANIMALS and HUNTING and SPORT)

  • The man who goes fishing gets something more than the fish he catches. Mary Astor, in A Life on Film (1967)
  • People who fish know that life is a morality play in which you are sometimes the victor, sometimes vanquished. It is all of life’s lessons in the space of a morning. Janna Bialek, “Thoughts From a Fishing Past,” in Holly Morris, Uncommon Waters (1991)

Bialek continued: “Only an extraordinary person would purposely risk being outsmarted by a creature often less than twelve inches long, over and over again.”

  • Many Americans talk about fishing with the suspicious insistence with which middle-aged Frenchmen with stomach trouble talk about food and middle-aged Italians talk about love. Luigi Barzini, Jr., in Americans Are Alone in the World (1953)
  • If fishing is a religion, fly fishing is high church. Tom Brokaw, quoted in International Herald Tribune (Paris; Sep. 10, 1991)
  • The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. John Buchan, “Lost Monsters,” in Great Hours in Sport (1921)

Buchan continued: “Any hour may bring to the most humble practitioner the capture of the monster of his dreams. But with hope goes regret, and the more ardent the expectations of the fisherman the bitterer will be his sense of loss when achievement fails him by the breadth of the finest hair.”

  • Somebody just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl. Ernest Hemingway, “Trout Fishing in Europe,” in The Toronto Star Weekly (Nov. 17, 1923); reprinted in By-Line Ernest Hemingway (1967; William White, ed.)
  • In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. Norman Maclean, the opening line of “A River Runs Through It,” in A River Runs Through It: And Other Stories (1976)
  • Fishing is a delusion entirely surrounded by liars in old clothes. Don Marquis, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury, 1455–1955 (1955)
  • And as it was the saying of Bion, that, though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest; so in hunting and fishing, the fault is in the men delighting in the torments and cruel deaths of beasts, and tearing them without compassion from their whelps and their young ones. Plutarch, quoting the ancient Greek philosopher Bion and then building on his observation, in Moralia (1st. c. A.D.)
  • Catching something is purely a by-product of our fishing. It is the act of fishing that wipes away all grief, lightens all worry, dissolves fear and anxiety. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)
  • Deep down I’ve always known fly-fishing is to the rest of fishing what high seduction is to rape. Robert Traver (pen name of John D. Voelker), the character Hal speaking, in Trout Magic (1974)
  • Fly-fishing is the sport of the thinkers and the dreamers. Clare Vanderpool, the character Gunnar speaking, in Navigating Early (2013)
  • There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot. Steven Wright, in “Quotable Quotes,” Reader’s Digest (1992; specific date not verified)



  • My generation is the first in my species to have put fitness next to godliness on the scale of things. Ellen Goodman, in Making Sense (1989)

Goodman continued: “Keeping in shape has become the imperative of our middle age. The heaviest burden of guilt we carry into our forties is flab. Our sense of failure is measured by the grade on a stress test.”



  • The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag. Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, in Abe Martin’s Sayings (1915)
  • Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead. Arundhati Roy, in “Come September,” a speech at Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, NM (2002); reprinted in War Talk (2003)

Roy was talking about the dangers of nationalism, which she described as “the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.” She continued: “When independent, thinking people…begin to rally under flags, when writers, painters, musicians, film makers suspend their judgment and blindly yoke their art to the service of the nation, it’s time for all of us to sit up and worry.”

  • I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag. Craig Washington, quoted by Molly Ivins in her regular column in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram (June 29, 1997)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Ivins, Washington was a Texas state representative who made the remark on the floor of the Texas Senate (no date was provided). Many internet sites mistakenly cite Ivins as the author of the sentiment.




  • Between flattery and admiration there often flows a river of contempt. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
  • Man would not succumb so easily to flattery if he did not begin by flattering himself. Irving Babbitt, in Democracy and Leadership (1924)
  • There is no such flatterer as is a man’s self. Francis Bacon, “Of Friendship,” in Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: In his “On Love” essay in the same collection, Bacon further explored the topic, this time quoting an unnamed source: “It hath been well said, ‘That the arch-flatterer, with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man’s self.’” Many reference sources mistakenly attribute the quotation directly to Bacon.

  • Every one that flatters thee/Is no friend in misery./Words are easy, like the wind;/Faithful friends are hard to find. Richard Barnfield, “Ode,” in Poems: In Divers Humours (1596)

QUOTE NOTE: Barnfield, a contemporary and friend of William Shakespeare, is thought by some to be the “rival poet” mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets. He continued his Ode by writing: “Every man will be thy friend/Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;/But if store of crowns be scant,/No man will supply thy want.”

  • Mountains of gold would not seduce some men, yet flattery would break them down. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • A flattering mouth worketh ruin. The Bible—Proverbs 26:28
  • Flattery is like Cologne water, to be smelt of, not swallowed. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: The original version of the thought, from a February, 1870 issue of Josh Billings’ Old Farmer’s Allminax, was presented in the author’s characteristic phonetic style: “Flattery iz like Colone water, to be smelt ov, not swallowed.” All later observations suggesting that flattery should not be swallowed, but rather inhaled, derive from this one.

  • Flattery is so necessary to all of us that we flatter one another just to be flattered in return. Marjorie Bowen, “The Art of Flattery,” World's Wonder: And Other Essays (1938)
  • Flattery is a juggler, and no kin unto sincerity. Thomas Browne, in Christian Morals (1716)
  • Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Flatterers look like friends, as wolves like dogs. George Chapman, in The Conspiracy of Byron (1608)

QUOTE NOTE: A generation later, Sir Walter Raleigh employed the same analogy in giving advice to his son (see the Raleigh entry below)

  • Some indeed there are who profess to despise all flattery, but even these are nevertheless to be flattered, by being told that they do despise it. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Imitation is the sincerest of flattery. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the observation that inspired the proverbial saying: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  • The lie that flatters I abhor the most. William Cowper, in “Table Talk” (1782)
  • If a man is vain, flatter. If timid, flatter. If boastful, flatter. In all history, too much flattery never lost a gentleman. Kathryn Cravens, in Pursuit of Gentlemen (1951)
  • We can be stabbed without being flattered, but we’re rarely flattered without being stabbed. Francisco de Quevedo, in The Life of Marcus Brutus (1632-44). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter. Denis Diderot, the title character speaking, in Rameau’s Nephew (written 1762; pub. posthumously in 1805)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1956 translation of the play, Jacques Barzun rendered the thought this way: “One gulps down the flattering lie and sips the bitter truth.”

  • Every one likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel. Benjamin Disraeli, an 1880 remark made to Matthew Arnold, quoted in G. W. E. Russell, Collections and Recollections (1898)

QUOTE NOTE: The notion that flattery can be laid on thick and heavy, as opposed to lightly and delicately, is a masonry metaphor that emerged in England three centuries before Disraeli. William Shakespeare, as he did with so many idiomatic expressions, gave the fledgling metaphor a major boost when he had the character Celia say in As You Like It (1599): “Well said; that was laid on with a trowel.”

  • He was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty. Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Watson speaking about Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet (1887)
  • Flattery, of a tactful sort, is sometimes useful in conversation. But too much flattery is like too much sugar: it sickens. Lillian Eichler, in The New Book of Etiquette (1924)
  • We love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • Flattery must be pretty thick before anybody objects to it. William Feather, in The Business of Life (1949)
  • Flattery, if judiciously administered, is always acceptable, however much we may despise the flatterer. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Just praise is only a debt, but flattery is a present. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Sep. 10, 1751)
  • Of all wild beasts preserve me from a tyrant;/And of all tame, a flatterer. Ben Jonson, the character Lucius Arruntius speaking, in Sejanus (1603)
  • Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don't swallow it. Hank Ketcham, cartoon caption (Mrs. Wilson speaking), in “Dennis the Menace” cartoon strip (1990; specific date undetermined)
  • Self-love is the greatest of all flatterers. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Flattery is counterfeit money which, but for vanity, would have no circulation. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • We sometimes think that we hate flattery, but we only hate the manner in which it is done. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Flattery is praise without foundation. Eliza Leslie, in Miss Leslie’s Behavior Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies (1859)
  • The more we love our friends, the less we flatter them; it is by excusing nothing that pure love shows through. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in The Misanthrope (1666)
  • A little flattery will support a man through great fatigue. James Monroe, an 1818 remark to F. A Van Der Kemp, quoted in Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington (1880)
  • Who flatters is of all mankind the lowest,/Save he who courts flattery. Hannah More, “Daniel,” in Sacred Dramas (1782)
  • Flattery is a sugar-coated insult. Peter A. Olsson, M.D. in a personal communication to the compiler (Oct., 2016)
  • It is easier and handier for men to flatter than to praise. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Titan: A Romance (1803)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated: “It is easy to flatter; it is harder to praise.”

  • A flatterer is said to be a beast that biteth smiling . . . . But it is hard to know them from friends, they are so obsequious and full of protestations; for a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend. Sir Walter Raleigh, in Instructions to His Son and to Posterity (pub. posthumously in 1632)

QUOTE NOTE: Raleigh was not the first liken flatterers to wolves (see the Chapman entry above). He introduced the subject by writing: “Take care thou be not made a fool by flatterers, for even the wisest men are abused by these. Know therefore, that flatterers are the worst kind of traitors; for they will strengthen thy imperfections, encourage thee in all evils, correct thee in nothing, but so shadow and paint all thy vices and follies as thou shalt never, by their will, discern evil from good, or vice from virtue.”

  • Flattery affects a man like any other sort of “dope.” It stimulates and exhilarates him for the moment, but usually ends by going to his head and making him act foolish. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • It is flattering some men to endure them. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • Academic research has found that people’s susceptibility to flattery is without limit and beyond satire . . . even blatantly insincere, computer-generated flattery works. Schumpeter (pen name of Adrian Wooldridge), in “The Network Effect,” The Economist (Jan. 17, 2015)
  • For ne’er/Was flattery lost on poet’s ear:/A simple race!/They waste their toil/For the vain tribute of a smile. Sir Walter Scott, in Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805)
  • For love of grace,/Lay not that flattering unction to your soul. William Shakespeare, the title character to Gertrude, his mother and the Queen of Denmark, in Hamlet (1601)
  • But when I tell him he hates flatterers,/He says he does, being then most flattered. William Shakespeare, the character Cassius speaking, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering. George Bernard Shaw, the character Broadbent speaking, in John Bull’s Other Island (1904)

QUOTE NOTE: Sheed was talking about novelists writing book reviews. He preceded the thought by writing: “A novelist can probably only hurt himself by reviewing other novelists. He looks ugly stalking a lodge brother; and uglier still, fawning on one.”

  • The aim of flattery is to soothe and encourage us by assuring us of the truth of an opinion we have already formed about ourselves. Edith Sitwell, quoted in Elizabeth Salter, The Years of a Rebel (1967)
  • Women have, in general, but one object, which is their beauty; upon which, scarce any flattery is too gross for them to swallow. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Oct. 16, 1747)

Lord Chesterfield continued: “Nature has hardly formed a woman ugly enough to be insensible to flattery upon her person.”

  • Among all the diseases of the mind there is not one more epidemical or more pernicious than the love of flattery. Richard Steele, in The Spectator (Dec. 3, 1711)
  • Attention is a silent and perpetual flattery. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • ’Tis an old maxim in the schools,/That flattery’s the food of fools;/Yet now and then your men of wit/Will condescend to take a bit. Jonathan Swift, in Cadenus and Vanessa (1713)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Many early editions of the poem have vanity’s instead of flattery’s in the second line. I’ve queried several Swift scholars in search of an explanation, but have not yet received any replies.

  • The constant, obvious flattery, contrary to all evidence, of the people around him had brought him to the point that he no longer saw his contradictions, no longer conformed his actions and words to reality, logic, or even simple common sense, but was fully convinced that all his orders, however senseless, unjust, and inconsistent with each other, became sensible, just, and consistent with each other only because he gave them. Leo Tolstoy, the narrator describing tsar Nicholas I, in Hadji Murad (1912)
  • A prince who writes against flattery is as singular as a pope who writes against infallibility. Voltaire, quoted in Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)
  • Bald heads, forgetful of their sins,/Old, learned, respectable bald heads/Edit and annotate the lines/That young men tossing on their beds,/Rhymed out in love’s despair/to flatter beauty’s ignorant ear. William Butler Yeats, in “The Scholars” (1915)



(see also BEDBUGS and BUGS and LICE and VERMIN)

  • The Vermin only teaze [sic] and pinch/Their Foes superior by an Inch./So, Nat’ralists observe, a Flea/Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey;/And these have smaller Fleas to bite ’em,/And so proceed ad infinitum./Thus every poet, in his kind,/Is bit by him that comes behind. Jonathan Swift, “On Poetry: a Rhapsody,” in Poems (1733)

QUOTE NOTE: In the poem “Siphonaptera,” from his 1872 Budget of Paradoxes, the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan piggybacked on Swift’s famous piece of verse by writing a similar quatrain: “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,/And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum./And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;/While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.”

Swift's poem also inspired another clever spin-off, this one on the topic of whirls (as in whirlwinds). See WHIRLWINDS.




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



  • Flirtation is merely an expression of considered desire coupled with an admission of its impracticability. Marya Mannes, “A Plea for Flirtation,” in But Will It Sell? (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: A bit later in the essay, Mannes added: “Flirtation…is a graceful salute to sex, a small impermanent spark between one human being and another, between a man and a woman not in need of fire.”

  • The art of flirtation is dying. A man and woman are either in love these days or just friends. In the realm of love, reticence and sophistication should go hand in hand, for one of the joys of life is discovery. Nowadays, instead of progressing from vous to tu, from Mister to Jim, it's “darling” and “come to my place” in the first hour. Marya Mannes, “New Bites by a Girl Gadfly,” in Life magazine (1964)
  • Few things are more vulgar than the readiness to infer a flirtation from every case of marked mutual interest between a man and a woman. Agnes H. Morton, in Etiquette (1892)
  • Flirtation envies Love, and Love envies Flirtation. Carolyn Wells, “Wiseacreage,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)




  • I like Florida. Everything is in the 80s. The temperatures, the ages, and the IQ’s. George Carlin, from his stand-up routine
  • August in Florida is God’s way of reminding us who’s in charge. Blaize Clement, a reflection of protagonist Dixie Hemingway, in Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs (2009)
  • Florida wasn’t so much a place where one went to reinvent oneself as it was a place where one went if one no longer wished to be found. Douglas Coupland, the narrator describing the state of mind of the character Wade Drummond, in All Families are Psychotic (2001)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original version of a sentiment that appears all over the internet in the following slightly altered way: “Florida isn’t so much a place where one goes to reinvent oneself, as it is a place where one goes if one no longer wished to be found.”

  • I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. Neil Gaiman, the character Samantha “Sam” Black Crow speaking in American Gods (2001)
  • Poisonous frogs feast on insects that don’t even have names. Tropical lizards disappear into the cracks of trees whose branches spread out as wide as their trunks climb high. This is the real Florida, as it was before people, and probably will be after us, too. Nancy Pickard, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Marie Lightfoot, in Ring of Truth (2001)

Lightfoot preceded the observation by thinking: “Right in the middle of the most populous areas, there are hidden acres of snakes and Spanish moss, of gigantic looping ropes of vine.”

  • Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again. Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (1998)
  • I love Florida. I love the beach. I love the sound of the crashing surfers against the rocks. Emo Philips, from his stand-up routine
  • Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek (1942)
  • Florida is the world’s greatest amusement park. Budd Schulberg, “Florida,” in American Panorama: East of the Mississippi (1960)
  • My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty and that’s the law. Jerry Seinfeld, from his stand-up routine
  • The Florida sun seems not much a single thing overhead but a set of klieg lights that pursue you everywhere with an even white illumination. John Updike, the voice of the narrator, in Rabbit at Rest (1990)



  • Say it with flowers. Advertising Slogan, created for The Society of American Florists

QUOTE NOTE: Originally created in 1917, this is one of advertising history’s most successful slogans. It wasn’t the first try out of the box, though, according to Jonathon Green in Says Who? A Guide to the Quotations of the Century (1988). The first slogan submitted by adman Major Patrick O’Keefe was “Flowers are words that even a babe can understand.” When rejected as over-wordy, O’Keefe replied, “Why, you can say it with flowers in so many words.” Green writes: “Suitably abbreviated, a slogan was born.”

  • Some flowers give out little or no odor until crushed. Abigail May Alcott, an 1842 remark, quoted in Eve LaPlante, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012)
  • Flowers produce an effect on me which can only be produced in an equal degree by music. Charlotte A. Barnard, “Flowers,” in Fireside Thoughts, Ballads, Etc., Etc., by Claribel (1865)
  • Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men or animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest, and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. Henry Ward Beecher in Star Papers: or, Experiences of Art and Nature (1855)
  • Flowers are the sweetest things that God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • Flowers may beckon toward us, but they speak toward heaven and God! Henry Ward Beecher, in Eyes and Ears (1862)
  • I like to see flowers growing, but when they are gathered, they cease to please. I look on them as things rootless and perishable; their likeness to life makes me sad. I never offer flowers to those I love; I never wish to receive them from hands dear to me. Charlotte Brontë, in Villette (1853)
  • Flowers always make people better, happier, and more hopeful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul. Luther Burbank, “The Making of New Flowers,” in a California Academy of Sciences address (June 18, 1901); reprinted in American Gardening (July 13, 1901)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites and in scores of books and magazine articles on flowers and gardening this quotation is mistakenly presented as more helpful instead of more hopeful. The error may be traced to Edward James Wickson’s 1904 book Luther Burbank: Man, Methods, and Achievements: An Appreciation.

  • The flower has no weekday self, dressed as it always is in Sunday clothes. Malcolm de Chazal, in Sens-Plastique (1948)

Chazal, described by W. H. Auden as “the most original French writer to emerge since the end of the Second World War,” was fascinated by flowers and described them in a variety of metaphorical ways:

A bunch of flowers is a house of colored cards.

The flower in the vase smiles, but no longer laughs.

The crown of petals is the flower’s panties. Rip them off and you will have public indecency.

Flowers are both knowing and innocent, with experienced mouths but childlike eyes. They bend the two poles of life into a divinely closed circle.

Flowers are always peerlessly dressed, formal in splendor, at the height of elegance on all occasions except at the first appearance of the fruit when they change into something skimpy.

  • Flowers…are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. Lydia M. Child, in letter to a friend (Sep. 1, 1842); reprinted in Letters From New York (1843)
  • How can one help shivering with delight when one’s hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with new-born vigor. Colette, “On Tour,” in Music Hall Sidelights (1913)
  • Flowers are like visible messages from God. Marie Corelli, in The Master-Christian (1900)
  • Flowers are the music of the ground/From earth’s lips spoken without sound. Edwin Curran, “Flowers,” in The Second Poems of Edwin Curran (1920)
  • Flowers…so pathetic in their beauty, frail as the clouds, and in their coloring as gorgeous as the heavens, had through thousands of years been the heritage of children—honored as the jewellery of God only by them. Thomas De Quincey, in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822)
  • The older I grow the more do I love spring and spring flowers. Is it so with you? Emily Dickinson, quoted in Mabel Loomis Todd, The Letters of Emily Dickinson. 1845-1886 (1906)
  • I think we must love flowers the way we do because they’re so perishable. Bridget Dryden, in Passion Is the Wind (1928)
  • Can flowers but droop in absence of the sun,/Which waked their sweets? John Dryden, in Aureng-zebe (1675)
  • Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (May 16, 1834)
  • Flowers…are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • Earth laughs in flowers. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Hamatreya,” in Poems (1846)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Emerson was inspired by an 1840 observation from the English writer and critic Leigh Hunt, seen below.

  • All flowers are flirtatious—particularly if they carry hyphenated names. The more hyphens in the name, the flirtier the flower. Willard R. Espy, in The Word’s Gotten Out (1989)

Espy continued: “The one-hyphen flowers—black-eyed Susan; lady-smock; musk-rose—may give you only a shy glance and then drop their eyes; the two-hyphen flowers—forget-me-not; flower-de-luce—keep glancing. Flowers with three or more hyphens flirt all over the garden and continue even when they are cut and arranged in vases. John-go-to-bed-at-noon does not go there simply to sleep.”

  • A root is a flower that disdains fame. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life. Jean Giraudoux, the character Daisy speaking, in The Enchanted: A Comedy in Three Acts (1933; English adaptation by Maurice Valency in 1948)

NOTE: Giraudoux’s play was originally titled Intermezzo; Valency changed the title to The Enchanted in his 1948 adaptation, which was first performed at Manhattan’s Lyceum Theatre in 1950 (produced by George S. Kaufman).

  • It was a perfect spring afternoon, and the air was filled with vague, roving scents, as if the earth exhaled the sweetness of hidden flowers. Ellen Glasgow, in The Miller of Old Church (1911)
  • I never fail to get that childlike feeling of pure delight when I discover the first spring wildflower. Carolyn Harstad, in Go Native!: Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest (1999)
  • Perfumes are the feelings of flowers. Heinrich Heine, in Travel Pictures (1826; English translation in 1904 by C. G. Leland under the title Pictures of Travel)

Heine continued: “And as the human heart feels most powerful emotions in the night, when it believes itself to be alone and unperceived, so also do the flowers, soft-minded, yet ashamed, appear to await for concealing darkness, that they may give themselves wholly up to their feelings, and breathe them out in sweet odors.”

  • Flowers speak to us if we listen. Appreciating the blossom in hand or pausing in the garden to admire the beauty quiets our outer selves till we hear something new, something we did not hear before—the still, small voice of Nature herself. Jean Hersey, in A Sense of Seasons (1964)
  • A flower is a daisy chain, a graduation, a valentine; a flower is New Year’s Eve and an orchid in your hair; a flower is a single geranium blooming in a tin can on a murky city fire-escape; an acre of roses at the Botanical Gardens; and the first gold crocus of spring! Jean Hersey, in A Sense of Seasons (1964)

Hersey went on to write: “A flower is a birth, a wedding, a leaving of this life.”

  • The Amen! of Nature is always a flower. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • He is happiest who hath power/to gather wisdom from a flower. Mary Howitt, “Spring Crocuses,” in Ballads and Other Poems (1847)
  • Colors are the smiles of nature. When they are extremely smiling, and break forth into other beauty besides, they are her laughs, as in the flowers. Leigh Hunt, in The Seer (1840)

Hunt preceded the thought by writing: “We feel as if there were a moral as well as material beauty in color—an inherent gladness—an intention on the part of Nature to share with us a pleasure felt by herself.”

  • Where flowers bloom, so does hope. Lady Bird Johnson, a signature saying, quoted in Bob Bryant and Bonnie L. Harper-Lore, “Where Flowers Bloom, So Does Hope,” in Public Roads (Nov./Dec., 1997)
  • Flowers in a city are like lipstick on a woman—it just makes you look better to have a little color. Lady Bird Johnson, quoted in Time magazine (Sep. 5, 1989)
  • People often…have no idea how fair the flower is to the touch, nor do they appreciate its fragrance, which is the soul of the flower. Helen Keller, in a 1923 letter to a friend, in To Love This Life (2000)
  • Flowers grow/out of the dark/moments. Corita Kent, in Moments (1982)
  • Have you ever looked into the heart of a flower? Grace Kelly, in My Book of Flowers (1980; with Gwen Robyns)
  • A flower is a plant’s way of making love. Barbara Kingsolver, “Knowing Our Place,” in Small Wonder (2002)
  • Flowers have faces as distinctive and individual as people. Kathryn Kleinman, in Kathryn Kleinman and Sara Slavin, On Flowers (1992)
  • 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)
  • Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • Gardening has compensations out of all proportion to its goals. It is creation in the pure sense. Phyllis McGinley, in The Province of the Heart (1962)
  • There is something of the same pleasure in noticing the hues of the stars that there is in looking at a flower garden in autumn. Maria Mitchell, quoted in Hope Stoddard, Famous American Women (1970)
  • I place flowers in the very first rank of simple pleasures; and I have no very good opinion of the hard worldly people who take no delight in them. Mary Russell Mitford, an 1812 remark, quoted in A. G. L'Estrange, The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, Vol. 1 (1870)
  • I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers. Claude Monet, a 1924 remark made while admiring his own garden, quoted in Claire Joyes, Monet at Giverny (1975)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites present this remark as if it were immediately preceded by, “I am following Nature without being able to grasp her.” Monet did say this—but without the added comment about flowers—in an 1889 letter (see the Monet entry in NATURE). The two observations were separated by thirty-five years and do not belong together

  • People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. Iris Murdoch, in A Fairly Honorable Defeat (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This thought pops into the mind of the character Morgan Browne as she walks through a grassy field. It is preceded by this passage: “The flowers were beginning to quiver in front of her eyes. How extraordinary flowers are, she thought. Out of these dry cardboard rods these complex fragile heads come out, skin-thin and moist, like nothing else in the world.”

  • I hate flowers—I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. Georgia O'Keeffe, quoted in a 1954 issue of The New York Herald Tribune (specific issue undetermined)
  • When I began to paint flowers, I was sure nobody would pay attention. So I thought, I’ll make them big and they’ll pay attention. Georgia O'Keeffe, “Horizons of a Pioneer,” in a 1968 issue of Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • A flower touches everyone’s heart. Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Shirley Glubock, Painting: Great Lives (1994)
  • I realized that were I to paint flowers small, no one would look at them because I was unknown. So I thought I’ll make them big, like the huge buildings going up. People will be startled; they’ll have to look at them—and they did. Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating (1995)
  • Each separate flower has a magic all its own. Myrtle Reed, in Later Love Letters of a Musician (1900)
  • I’ve always thought my flowers had souls. Myrtle Reed, in Lavender and Old Lace (1902)
  • A flowerless room is a soulless room, to my way of thinking; but even one solitary little vase of a living flower may redeem it. Vita Sackville-West, in Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1983)
  • I love giving flowers. It is so deliciously unlasting and romantic. May Sarton, a 1928 remark; quoted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Among the Usual Days (1993)
  • Flowers and plants are silence presences; they nourish every sense except the ear. May Sarton, in Plant Dreaming Deep: A Journal (1968)
  • Every flower holds the whole mystery in its short cycle, and in the garden we are never far away from death, the fertilizing, good, creative death. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • As I work among my flowers, I find myself talking to them, reasoning and remonstrating with them, and adoring them as if they were human beings. Much laughter I provoke among my friends by so doing, but that is of no consequence. We are on such good terms, my flowers and I. Celia Thaxter, in An Island Garden (1894)
  • I am inclined to think that the flowers we most love are those we knew when we were very young, when our senses were most acute to color and to smell, and our natures most lyrical. Dorothy Thompson, in The Courage to Be Happy (1957)
  • One of the most attractive things about the flowers is their beautiful reserve. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (June 17, 1853)
  • A beautiful flower is not to be possessed, it’s there to be beheld. You’re not going to take a beautiful painting off the museum wall. It’s there for your pleasure. Diana Vreeland, quoted in Lynn Gilbert, Particular Passions: Diana Vreeland (1981; with Gaylen Moore)

Vreeland preceded the though by writing: “Beauty has nothing to do with possession. If possession and beauty must go together, then we are lost souls.

  • Fair, rich confusion is all the aim of an old-fashioned flower garden, and the greater the confusion, the richer. You want to come upon mignonnette in unexpected places, and to find sprays of heliotrope in close consultation with your roses, and geraniums sporting their uniforms like gay recruits off duty. Anna Bartlett Warner, in Gardening by Myself (1872)
  • She had so deep a kinship with the trees, so intuitive a sympathy with leaf and flower, that it seemed as if the blood in her veins was not slow-moving human blood, but volatile sap. Mary Webb, the narrator describing protagonist Hazel Woodus, in Gone to Earth (1917)
  • A weed is but an unloved flower. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, opening line of the poem “The Weed,” in Poems of Progress: and New Thought Pastels (1909)

The full poem, which includes other metaphorical elements, may be seen at: “The Weed”

  • Despairing of human relationships (people were so difficult), she often went into her garden and got from her flowers a peace which men and women never gave her. Virginia Woolf, the character Sally Seton reflecting on her own life, in Mrs. Dalloway (1925)




  • For years now we've had no cause to mistrust the begonia. Colette, “Flowers,” Journey for Myself (1972)

About begonias, Colette went on to write: “This year we stand stunned before its megalomanic flower, which aspires to replace the hollyhock, the nasturtium, the peony, even the rose. A blaze of incomparable, presumptuous colors adorns it, it claims the most beautiful vibrant reds, a yellow that sheds light all round, a unique fleshy saffron. But smell it; it has less fragrance than a clod of earth and, if you touch it cautiously, it has been unable to lose its vegetable stiffness, its flesh as brittle as that of a young radish.” CAPERS

  • Capers are as odd and wild as birds. They are the original nipped buds, picked from their scraggly bushes early in the morning, on their way to becoming tiny, petaled flowers, just before they’re won over by the sun and convinced to bloom. I believe I can taste the power of their foiled entry to the hot day each time I eat one. Tamar Adler, in An Everlasting Meal (2011)


  • The ground was white with columbine, enormous flowers snowy and crisp as though freshly starched by fairy laundresses. Katharine Newlin Burt, in Hidden Creek (1920)


  • Crocuses. They come/by stealth, spreading the rumor of spring. Linda Pastan, “Crocuses,” in Heroes in Disguise (1992)


  • Dogwoods are great optimists. Daffodils wait and see, crouching firmly underground just in case spring doesn’t come this year, but dogwoods have faith. Barbara Holland, in Coming From Away (1997)


  • The Daisy is a Weed of Little Worth—/Save that it makes a Dearer Place of Earth. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • In a corner of the churchyard grew a plantation of white violets, enormously plump and prosperous-looking. Rosamond Lehmann, in The Ballad and the Source (1945)

Lehmann went on to add: “I saw the dead stretched out under me in the earth, feeding these flowers with a thin milk drawn from their bones.”

  • They are my favorite flower. There is something innocent and vulnerable about them as if they thanked you for admiring them. Anne Sexton, a 1971 observation about daisies, quoted in Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames, Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)


  • Dogwoods are great optimists. Daffodils wait and see, crouching firmly underground just in case spring doesn’t come this year, but dogwoods have faith. Barbara Holland, in Coming From Away (1997)


  • Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Bring Me a Unicorn (1971)


  • Fair, rich confusion is all the aim of an old-fashioned flower garden, and the greater the confusion, the richer. You want to come upon mignonnette in unexpected places, and to find sprays of heliotrope in close consultation with your roses, and geraniums sporting their uniforms like gay recruits off duty. Anna Bartlett Warner, in Gardening by Myself (1872)


  • The smell of lilacs crept poignantly into the room like a remembered spring. Margaret Millar, in Vanish in an Instant (1952)
  • Nothing is more wistful than the scent of lilac, nor more robust than its woody stalk, for we must remember that it is a tree as well as a flower, we must try not to forget this. Stevie Smith, a 1938 observation, in Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith (1984)


  • We once had a lily here that bore 108 flowers on one stalk: it was photographed naturally for all the gardening papers. The bees came from miles and miles, and there were the most disgraceful Bacchanalian scenes: bees hardly able to find their way home. Edith Sitwell, in a 1943 letter; quoted in John Lehmann and Derek Parker, Selected Letters (1970)


  • A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books. Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass (1855)


  • When they are in full flower they assail the senses: the scent and the sight of them is overwhelming and the urge to touch the frail petals and cup the great blooms in your hands is almost irresistible. Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, in Peonies (1999)


  • I have spoken to plants myself, and if pressed for conclusions would have to say that those I threatened did better than those I—well, I wouldn’t say prayed over, but pleaded with, cajoled. A rhododendron that hadn’t bloomed for six years was flatly told it would be removed the following year if there were no flowers. Need I say that it has bloomed profusely ever since? Eleanor Perenyi, in Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (1981)


  • Any nose/May ravage with impunity a rose. Robert Browning, in Sordello (1840)
  • Oh, no man knows/Through what wild centuries/Roves back the Rose. Walter de la Mare, in “All That’s Past” (1912)
  • For each pure Rose/That now the Bush adorns,/The patient Gardener knows/A Hundred Thorns. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Roses are the only flowers at garden-parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing. Katherine Mansfield, from the title story, in The Garden Party (1922)
  • Its beginnings were obscure. Like that of the human race whose history it was destined to adorn. Katherine Anne Porter, the opening words of “The Flower of Flowers,” in Flair magazine (May 1950)

In the opening paragraph, Porter continued: “The first rose was small as the palm as the of a small child’s hand, with five flat petals in full bloom, curling in a little at the tips, the color red or white, perhaps even pink, and maybe sometimes streaked. It was a simple disk or wheel around a cup of perfume, a most intoxicating perfume, like that of no other flower.”


  • I found a strawberry blossom in a rock. The little slender flower had more courage than the green leaves, for they were but half expanded and half grown, but the blossom was spread full out. I uprooted it rashly, and I felt as if I had been committing an outrage, so I planted it again. It will have but a stormy life of it, but let it live if it can. Dorothy Wordsworth, an 1802 journal entry, in Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 1 (1897; William Knight, ed.)


  • No wonder the tulip is the patron flower of Holland. Looking at it one almost smells fresh paint laid on in generous brilliance: doors, blinds, whole houses, canal boats, pails, farm wagons—all painted in greens, blues, reds, pinks, yellows. Elizabeth Coatsworth, in Personal Geography: Almost an Autobiography (1976)


  • A gush of violets along a wood path. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a notebook entry (Jan. 23, 1842), in The American Notebooks (1932; C. M. Simpson, ed.)
  • In a corner of the churchyard grew a plantation of white violets, enormously plump and prosperous-looking. Rosamond Lehmann, in The Ballad and the Source (1945)

Lehmann went on to add: “I saw the dead stretched out under me in the earth, feeding these flowers with a thin milk drawn from their bones.”



  • Flight is but momentary escape from the eternal custody of earth. Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)
  • All the science of flying has been captured in the breadth of an instrument board, but not the religion of it. Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)



  • Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. Alexander Graham Bell, “Bell Telephone Talk,” in Orison Swett Marden, How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901)
  • No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in Living Under Tension: Sermons on Christianity Today (1941)
  • There is nothing quite as potent as a focused life, one lived on purpose. Rick Warren, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” in The Purpose Driven Life (2002)
  • Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)



  • Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)


(see also HAIL and HAZE and MIST and RAIN and SNOW and WEATHER)

  • I must go in, the fog is rising. Emily Dickinson, the last words she wrote, quoted in Martha Dickinson Bianchi, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson (1924)
  • Fog rolled in like a form of sorrow. To live exiled from a place you have known intimately is to experience sensory deprivation. A wide-awake coma. Gretel Ehrlich, in A Match to the Heart (1994)
  • Man proceeds in the fog. But when he looks back to judge people of the past, he sees no fog on their path. From his present, which was their faraway future, their path looks perfectly clear to him, good visibility all the way. Looking back, he sees the path, he sees the people proceeding, he sees their mistakes, but not the fog. Milan Kundera, “Paths in the Fog,” in Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts (1995)
  • The fog comes/on little cat feet./It sits looking/over the harbor and city/on silent haunches/and then moves on. Carl Sandburg, in “Fog” (1916)



  • To weep over a folly is to double it. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Illusions (1901)
  • The folly of one man is the fortune of another; for no man prospers so suddenly as by others’ errors. Francis Bacon, “Of Fortune,” in Essays (1625)
  • As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. The Bible—Proverbs 26:11
  • It would be a great reform in politics if wisdom could be made to spread as easily and rapidly as folly. Winston Churchill, in speech at the Guildhall (Sep. 10, 1947)
  • Profit from folly rather than participate in it. Warren Buffett, quoted in Janet Lowe, Warren Buffett Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World’s Greatest Investor (2007)

Buffett preceded the observation by saying, “Look at market fluctuations [in the stock market] as your friend rather than your enemy.”

  • In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, journal entry (Oct. 5, 1830); reprinted in Table Talk (1835)
  • Folly always knows the answer. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 4th Selection (1987)
  • The chief characteristic of folly is that it mistakes itself for wisdom. Luis de León, in The Perfect Wife (1583)

QUOTE NOTE. Originally titled La Perfecta Casada, the book was written by a prominent Spanish cleric who lived and wrote during what is called the Spanish Golden Age. Using the proverbs of Solomon as an inspiration, Friar de León originally wrote the book as a gift for his recently married niece, and it ultimately went on to become a popular wedding gift for women of the era. De León was also a lyric poet whose attempts to write for a popular audience got him into trouble with authorities during the Inquisition. He also occupies a footnote in history as the person responsible for compiling and publishing the writings of Teresa of Ávila. For more, go to Luis de León

  • 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)
  • There is, perhaps no surer mark of folly, than an attempt to correct the natural infirmities of those we love. Henry Fielding, the voice of the narrator, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)
  • Of all the passions that possess mankind,/The love of novelty rules most the mind./In search of this, from realm to realm we roam,/Our fleets come fraught with every folly home. Samuel Foote, the opening words of the Prologue to The Englishman Returned From Paris (1756)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet quotation sites mistakenly attribute this to the American historian Shelby Foote. They compound the error by incorrectly wording the passage as well (most begin the verse with Of all the passions of mankind and in the fourth line say loaded rather than fraught).

  • The most exquisite folly is made of wisdom spun too fine. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Sep., 1746)
  • Where ignorance is bliss/’Tis folly to be wise. Thomas Gray, in Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742)
  • There is no delusion more fatal, no folly more profound, than a man’s belief that he can kick and gouge and scheme his way to the top—and then afford the luxury of being a good person; for no consequence is more certain than that we become what we do. Sydney J. Harris, in Last Things First (1961)
  • To flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and to have got rid of folly is the beginning of wisdom. Horace, in Epistles (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Folly pursues us throughout our lives, and the man whom we call wise is he whose follies are proportionate to his age and to his fortune. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. H. L. Mencken, “Sententiae,” in A Book of Burlesques (1920)
  • What curious little corners of folly are to be found in even the sanest brain! Queen Marie of Romania (Marie Alexandra Victoria), in Masks (1937)
  • I enjoy vast delight in the folly of mankind; and, God be praised, that is an inexhaustible source of entertainment. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to her sister, the Countess of Mar (Sep., 1725)
  • My only books/Were Woman’s looks,/And Folly’s all they taught me. Thomas Moore, in The Time I’ve Lost in Wooing (undated, c. 1820)
  • What use is wisdom when folly reigns? Proverb (Yiddish)
  • The follies which a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Folly is perennial and yet the human race has survived. Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • With folly even the gods contend in vain. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the character Talbot speaking in The Maid of Orleans (1801)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the traditional translation of a legendary passage which is now more likely to be found in reference works in the following way: “Against stupidity the gods/Themselves contend in vain.”

  • The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools. Herbert Spencer, “State Tamperings with Money and Banks,” in Essays (1891)
  • The obstinacy of cleverness and reason is nothing to the obstinacy of folly and inanity. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in Little Foxes (1866; orig. pub. under pen name Christopher Crowfield)
  • Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all the passions.” Barbara W. Tuchman, in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)
  • Government remains the paramount area of folly because it is there that men seek power over others—only to lose it over themselves. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)
  • Folly is a child of power. We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton’s dictum, that power corrupts. We are less less aware that it breeds folly: that the power to command frequently causes failure to think. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)
  • The history of the world’s great leaders is often the story of human folly. Voltaire, in La Siècle de Louis XIV (1751)



  • Hunger makes you restless. You dream about food—not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother’s milk singing to your bloodstream. Dorothy Allison, The protagonist, Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright, speaking, in Bastard Out of Carolina: A Novel (1992)
  • Food is our common ground, a universal experience. James Beard, in Beard on Food (1974)
  • Food comes first, then morals. Bertolt Brecht, in The Threepenny Opera (1928)
  • Food for all is a necessity. Food should not be a merchandise, to be bought and sold as jewels are bought and sold by those who have the money to buy. Food is a human necessity, like water and air, and it should be as available. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • Clearly, some time ago makers and consumers of American junk food passed jointly through some kind of sensibility barrier in the endless quest for new taste sensations. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America (1989)

Bryson continued: “Now they are a little like those desperate junkies who have tried every known drug and are finally reduced to mainlining toilet bowl cleanser in an effort to get still higher.”

  • The worst vice of the solitary [man] is the worship of his food. Cyril Connolly, quoted in David Pryce-Jones, Cyril Connolly: Journal and Memoir (1983)
  • In a strange city, I connect through food and fantasy. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 3rd Selection (1986)
  • We think fast food is equivalent to pornography, nutritionally speaking. Steve Elbert, quoted in Vegetarian Times (April, 1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Elbert, a resident of Bexley, Ohio, said this in arguments against a proposal to demolish an adult video store behind his home and replace it with a McDonald’s fast-food franchise.

  • Food has it over sex for variety. Hedonistically, gustatory possibilities are much broader than copulatory ones. Literarily, reading about food is more interesting than reading about sex. Joseph Epstein, “Foodstuff and Nonsense,” Familiar Territory: Observations on American Life (1979)

Epstein added: “How delightful it is to hear someone describe a magnificent meal, or comical to hear a botched one described, whereas listening to the same person describe a seduction is almost invariably boring, if not repulsive. Perhaps the reason for this is that eating is the more social function, sex the more personal, and as such eating shows people in a greater multiplicity of poses, moods, and characters than does sex. Modern psychologists to the contrary, there is more going on at the table than in bed.”

  • Food became, for dinner parties in the sixties, what abstract expressionism had been in the fifties. Nora Ephron, in Wallflower at the Orgy (1970)
  • Food is the beginning of wisdom. The first condition of putting anything into your head and heart is to put something into your stomach. Ludwig Feuerbach, quoted in Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (1936)

Feuerbach introduced the thought by writing: “The beginning of existence is nourishment.”

  • It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. M.F.K. Fisher, written in 1943, in Dubious Honors: A Book of Prefaces (1988)

Fisher added: “So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it.

  • Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly. M. F. K. Fisher, “A Is for Dining Alone,” in An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • Food is the most primitive form of comfort. Sheilah Graham, in A State of Heat (1972)
  • Food, sex, and liquor create their own appetite. Sheilah Graham, in A State of Heat (1972)
  • What is food to one person may be bitter poison to others. Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus), in De Rerum Natura (1st c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the source of the proverb One man’s meat is another man’s poison, popular in English since the sixteenth century.

  • All food starting with p is comfort food, I thought: pasta, potato chips, pretzels, peanut butter, pastrami, pizza, pastry. Sara Paretsky, in Killing Orders (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from the private detective V. I. Warshawski, who is trying to relax by thinking about her favorite foods. It appears to work, for she concludes by thinking: “By the time I reached the Belmont exit I had quite a list and had calmed the top layer of frazzle off my mind.”

  • Food = joy. Food = guilt. Food = anger. Food = pain. Food = nurturing. Food = friendship. Food = hatred. Food = the way you look and feel. Susan Powter, in Food (1995)

After coming to the conclusion that “Food = everything you can imagine,” Powter went on to offer a number of additional metaphorical observations about what food means to people, including these two antithetical notions: “When you are hurt and angry, food is warmer and more soothing than a fire on a cold winter night” and “It’s the beating you’re looking for, that food club you use when you’re bingeing and hating yourself.”

  • Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories. I cannot conceive of cooking for friends or family, under reasonable conditions, as being a chore. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek Cookery (1942)
  • Preserve and treat food as you would your body, remembering that in time food will be your body. B. W. Richardson, quoted in The American Kitchen Magazine (Feb., 1896)
  • There is no love sincerer than the love of food. George Bernard Shaw, the character Jack Tanner speaking, in Man and Superman (1903)
  • He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • The Chinese do not draw any distinction between food and medicine. Lin Yutang, in The Importance of Living (1938)




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

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

  • Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you. Joey Adams, in The Joey Adams Encyclopedia of Humor (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: In 1999, I selected this clever line as the title for my book on Chiasmus and chiastic quotations. Adams was not the original author of the sentiment, though. That credit goes to the talented E. Y. “Yip” Harburg (see his entry below).

  • A prosperous fool is a grievous burden. Aeschylus, in Fragments (5th c. B.C.)
  • Fine clothes may disguise, but foolish words will disclose a fool. Aesop, “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • A fool bolts pleasure, then complains of moral indigestion. Minna Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
  • Illusion is the dust the devil throws in the eyes of the foolish. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Illusions (1901)
  • There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death. Isaac Asimov, “Worlds in Confusion,” in The Stars in Their Courses (1971)
  • The folly of one man is the fortune of another. For no man prospers so suddenly as by others’ errors. Francis Bacon, “Of Fortune,” in Essays (1625)
  • The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness. The Bible—Proverbs 2:14 (KJV)
  • Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. The Bible—Proverbs 26:4 (RSV)
  • As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. The Bible—Proverbs 26:11 (KJV)
  • April fool, n. The March fool with another month added to his folly. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • A fool can always find a greater fool to admire him. Nicolas Boileau, in L’Art poétique (1674)
  • Even a fool can deceive a man—if he be a bigger fool than himself. Marjorie Bowen, in The Glen O’Weeping (1907)
  • I used to think that romantic love was a neurosis shared by two, a supreme foolishness. I no longer thought that. There’s nothing foolish in loving anyone. Thinking you’ll be loved in return is what’s foolish. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of the protagonist, Nickel Smith, in Bingo (1988)
  • Though a fool spend all his life with wise men, he will know the truth no more than a spoon knows the taste of the soup. Gautama Buddha, in The Dhammapada—5:64-65
  • A fool…flatters himself—a wise man flatters the fool. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, advice from the mother of protagonist Henry Pelham, offered in a letter to him, in Pelham: Adventures of a Gentleman (1828)

ERROR ALERT: The original passage was A fool, my dear Henry, flatters himself, but almost all internet sources present the observation it as if it read A fool flatters himself.

  • A man that extols himself is a fool and an idiot. John Calvin, in Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol 1 (1848; John Pringle, ed.)

Calvin introduced the thought a moment earlier by writing: “What greater vanity is there than that of boasting without any ground for it?”

  • Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain—and most fools do. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • There are well-dressed foolish ideas just as there are well-dressed fools. Nicolas Chamfort, quoted in The Cynic’s Breviary: Maxims and Anecdotes from Nicolas de Chamfort (1902; Wm. G. Hutchinson, ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Diane Ackerman.

  • Wisdom is the sad smile with which we recognize our own motives in a fool. John Ciardi, in his regular Saturday Review column (May 21, 1966)
  • Any man may err, but only a fool persists in his error. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Oratio Philippica I (44 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the passage translated this way: “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.”

  • You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), quoted in The New York World-Telegram & Sun (1961)
  • A wise man may be duped as well as a fool; but the fool publishes the triumph of the deceiver. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • The fool shouts loudly, thinking to impress the world. Marie de France, in Medieval Fables of Marie de France (1981; Jeanette Beer, ed.)
  • A virulent, aggressive fool taints the reason of a household. I have seen a whole family of quiet, sensible people unhinged and beside themselves, the victims of such a rogue. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Most fools think they are only ignorant. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Oct., 1748)
  • To be intimate with a foolish friend is like going to bed to a razor. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Sep., 1754)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites have the phrasing with a razor.

  • A Fool’s Tongue is long enough to cut his own Throat. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Zeal is fit only for wise men, but is found mostly in fools. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Just because some people are liars, Jim, is no reason why we should be fools. Erle Stanley Gardner, protagonist Perry Mason speaking to James Etna, in The Case of the Grinning Gorilla (1952)
  • Oh, innocent victims of Cupid,/Remember this terse little verse;/To let a fool kiss you is stupid,/To let a kiss fool you is worse. E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, “Inscription On A Lipstick,” in a 1941 issue of The Garment Worker; reprinted in Rhymes for the Irreverent (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original version of the sentiment—a lovely example of Chiasmus, by the way—and one made even more popular by comedian Joey Adams in the late 1960s (see the Adams entry above).

  • Self-satisfaction is the opiate of fools. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Who is Man? (1965)
  • Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day. Wisdom consists in not exceeding that limit. Elbert Hubbard, in Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams (1923)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1909 essay (“Charity or Business—Which?”) in Hubbard’s magazine The Fra, he offered an earlier version of the thought: “It is a great thing to be protected against your own discretion, for even the best men are locoed logically half an hour every day, says Ali Baba, the Sage. Wisdom consists in not exceeding the time-limit.”

  • Silence is all the genius a fool has and it is one of the things a smart man knows how to use when he needs it. Zora Neale Hurston, the character Joshua speaking to Moses, in Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • There are two kinds of fools: one says, “This is old, therefore it is good”; the other says, “This is new, therefore it is better.” W. R. Inge, in More Lay Thoughts of a Dean (1931)
  • The wise man who is not heeded is counted a fool, and the fool who proclaims the general folly first and loudest passes for a prophet. Carl Jung, in Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955)
  • The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions. James Russell Lowell, in My Study Windows (1871)
  • A knowledgeable fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in Les Femmes savantes (1672).

QUOTE NOTE: The first part of this observation is also commonly translated as a learned fool or an erudite fool. It is also an example of Oxymoronica.

  • People are never so near playing the fool as when they think themselves wise: they lay aside that distrust which is the surest guard against indiscretion. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to her daughter, Lady Mary Stuart Bute (March 1, 1755)

QUOTE NOTE: Lady Montgagu was writing about Lady Mary Coke. After asserting that “she is the present envy of her sex, in the possession of youth, health, wealth, wit, beauty, and liberty,” she concluded: “All these seeming advantages will prove snares to her.”

  • Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)
  • A fool and his money are soon parted. Proverb (English)
  • The dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits. William Shakespeare, the character Celia speaking, in As You Like It (1599)
  • The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. William Shakespeare, the character Prospero speaking, in As You Like It (11599)
  • Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power. George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Stephen Winsten, Days with Bernard Shaw (1949)
  • Fools are a family over all the world. James Shirley, the character Littleworth speaking, in The Lady of Pleasure (1637)
  • There’s no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool. Edward Teller, quoted in Joel Davis, “Nuclear Reactions,” Omni magazine (May, 1988)
  • It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. Voltaire, quoted in H. Percy Smith and Helen Kendrick Johnson, A Dictionary of Terms, Phrases, and Quotations (1895)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation is widely cited, but has not been found in any of Voltaire’s works.

  • People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they were willing to remain actually fools. Alice Walker, “One Child of One’s Own,” in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (1983). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are fools and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion. Thornton Wilder, the character Horace Vandergelder speaking, in The Matchmaker (1954)



  • Rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen. Soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by beasts. Football is a beastly game played by beasts. Henry Blaha, a 1972 remark, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell's Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors. Frank Gifford, quoted in Sports Illustrated (June 4, 1960)
  • A game that requires the constant conjuring of animosity. Vince Lombardi, on football, quoted in The New York Times (Dec. 10, 1967)
  • Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport. Vince Lombardi, quoted in James Michener, Sports in America (1976)
  • Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important. Eugene McCarthy, remark in 1968 interview, quoted in Anthony Jay, The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations (1996)
  • Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings. George F. Will, quoted in International Herald Tribune (Paris; May 7, 1990)



  • In Life as in Football/Fall Forward when you fall. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: This might be the original inspiration of a concept—failing forward—that has become quite popular in recent years.

  • Run to Daylight. Vince Lombardi, title of his autobiography (1963; with W. C. Heinz)

QUOTE NOTE: The book title came from Lombardi’s name for the Green Bay Packers’ version of a popular play in professional football: the power sweep. The metaphor of “going for the daylight” has become extremely popular, especially in business and politics.

  • In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard. Theodore Roosevelt, in “What Can We Expect of the American Boy?” in St. Nicholas magazine (May, 1900)



  • You’ve fine-tuned the footnote to a major networking device. Carole Cable, caption for cartoon depicting two academics—one holding a text—talking to one another, in Chronicle of Higher Education (April 11, 1997)
  • Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love. Noël Coward, quoted in Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History (1997)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is how the observation appears on almost all internet sites, and it is certainly consistent with Coward’s view. He did not originally author the sentiment, though, and there is some evidence he was actually citing a far more sexually explicit remark from his friend and fellow actor John Barrymore. In Remembered Laughter: The Life of Noël Coward (1976), biographer Cole Lesley describes Coward’s antipathy toward footnotes this way: “He could never bring himself to glance at one, he said, after John Barrymore expressed the opinion that having to look at a footnote was like having to go down to answer the front door just as you were coming.”

  • Like the high whine of the dentist’s drill, the low rumble of the footnote on the historian’s page reassures. Anthony Grafton, in The Footnote: A Curious History (1997)

Grafton continued: “The tedium it inflicts, like the pain inflicted by the drill, is not random but directed, part of the cost that the benefits of modern science and technology exact.”

  • The footnote would seem to be the smallest detail in a work of history. Yet it carries a large burden of responsibility, testifying to the validity of the work, the integrity (and the humility) of the historian, and to the dignity of the discipline. Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Where Have All the Footnotes Gone?” in the New York Times Book Review (June 16, 1991); reprinted in On Looking Into the Abyss (1994)
  • Footnotes, the little dogs yapping at the heels of the text. William James, quoted in Robert I. Fitzhenry, The Harper Book of Quotations (1993; 3rd ed,)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Despite its popularity, an original source for this quotation has never been found.

  • The job of intellectuals is to come up with ideas, and all we’ve been producing is footnotes. Theodore H. White, quoted in Joe Flaherty, Managing Mailer (1970)



  • The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. Alfred North Whitehead, in Process and Reality (1920)
  • There are books in which the footnotes, or the comments scrawled by some reader’s hand in the margin, are more interesting that the text. The world is one of these books. George Santayana, in Soliloquies in England: and Later Soliloquies (1922)
  • Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. Vladimir Nabokov, “Commentary,” in Pale Fire (1962)


(see also EVIL and PLEASURE and SIN and TEMPTATION and VICE)

  • Whatever is not forbidden is permitted. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, an unnamed soldier speaking, in Wallenstein’s Camp (1798)

QUOTE NOTE: The popular passage has also been translated this way: “That which is not forbidden is allow’d.”

  • There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)



  • This is the devilish thing about foreign affairs: they are foreign and will not always conform to our whim. James Reston, in the New York Times (Dec. 16, 1964)



  • Forests are the ornaments of the earth. Anton Chekhov, the character Sonya, citing the views of another character, a philosopher and forest conservationist named Mikhail Lvovitch Astrov, in Uncle Vanya (1897)

Further expressing Astrov’s views, Sonya waxes philosophic about the value of forests: “They teach man to understand beauty and to attune his mind to lofty views. Forests modify a stern climate, and in countries where the climate is milder, less energy is wasted in the struggle with nature, and the people are kind and gentle. The inhabitants of such countries are handsome, docile, sensitive, graceful in speech and in gesture. Their philosophy is gay, art and science flourish among them, their treatment of women is marked by charming kindliness.”

  • This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks,/Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,/Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the Introduction to Evangeline (1847)
  • The forest is the poor man’s overcoat. Proverb (New England)



  • I cannot bear to go to a place unprovided, when a little forethought and care would save me much trouble. Abigail Adams, in letter to her sister, Mary Smith Cranch (April 18, 1791)
  • Forethought spares afterthought and after-sorrow. Amelia E. Barr, the character Snorro speaking, in Jan Vedder’s Wife (1895)
  • Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. Octavia Butler, a passage from the religious book “Earthseed: The Books of the Living,” in Parable of the Talents (1998)

The passage continues: “To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. “To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

  • To observe the principles of good taste does not entail greater expense but merely forethought. Eloise Butler, quoted in Martha E. Hellender, The Wild Gardener (1992)



  • Forgetting is the cost/Of living cheerfully. Zoë Akins, “The Hills Grow Smaller,” in The Hills Grow Smaller (1937)
  • My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. Roger Angell, describing a forgetfulness strategy he developed in his senior years, “This Old Man,” in The New Yorker (Feb. 17, 2014)

Angell, age ninety-three when the piece was published, continued: “If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.” The full article may be seen at “This Old Man”.

  • Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence. Sholem Asch, in The Nazarene (1939)
  • People forget years and remember moments. Ann Beattie, the voice of the narrator in the short story “Snow,” in Where You’ll Find Me: And Other Stories (1986)

The narrator preceded the thought by writing: “Who expects small things to survive when even the largest get lost?”

  • The crime of loving is forgetting. Maurice Chevalier, attributed in Connie Robertson, Dictionary of Quotations (1998)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This simple-but-powerful observation—which captures so much about the dynamics of failed relationships—is all over the internet. I’ve been unable to track down an original source, though. It may have appeared in one of two Chevalier autobiographies: With Love (1960) or I Remember It Well (1970). I’m still checking.

  • Without the faculty of forgetting, our past would weigh so heavily on our present that we should not have the strength to confront another moment, still less to live through it. E. M. Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1973)

Cioran added: “Life would be bearable only to frivolous natures, those in fact who do not remember.”

  • After a few days, the affair began to be forgotten, as most affairs are, when wonder, having no fresh food to support it, dies away of itself. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Oliver Twist (1838)
  • Forgotten is forgiven. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • I shall go the way of the open sea,/To the lands I knew before you came./And the cool clean breezes shall blow from me/the memory of your name. Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Nicolson), “The End,” in Stars of the Desert (1903)
  • A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. Zora Neale Hurston, a lovely example of chiasmus, in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • It would add much to human happiness, if an art could be taught of forgetting all of which the remembrance is at once useless and afflictive. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Sep. 1, 1759)

Regarding pleasant and unpleasant memories, Johnson argued that “We suffer equal pain from the pertinacious adhesion of unwelcome images, as from the evanescence of those which are pleasing and useful.” And then, extolling the benefits of selective forgetfulness, he wrote: “If useless thoughts could be expelled from the mind, all the valuable parts of our knowledge would more frequently recur.” The full essay can be seen at The Idler.

  • The prerequisite of originality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know. Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)

By leaving our conscious mind, according to Koestler, that which is forgotten becomes material for the Unconscious, which works “as an anaesthetist, who puts reason to sleep, and restores, for a transient moment, the innocence of vision.”

  • To be able to forget means sanity. Incessantly to remember means obsession, lunacy. Jack London, in The Star Rover (1915)

The words come from the novel’s protagonist, Darrell Standing, a university professor convicted of murder and serving a life sentence at San Quentin State Prison. Professor Standing introduced the thought this way: “There is more than the germ of truth…in the child’s definition of memory as the thing one forgets with.”

  • Memory is so crazy! It's like we’ve got these drawers crammed with tons of useless stuff. Meanwhile, all the really important things we just keep forgetting, one after the other. Haruki Murakami, the character Korogi speaking, in After Dark (2004)
  • Forgetfulness transforms every occurrence into a non-occurrence. Plutarch, “Contentment,” in Moralia (c. 100. A.D.)
  • Yes, forgetting can be a curse, especially as we age. But forgetting is also one of the more important things healthy brains do, almost as important as remembering. Michael Pollan, in The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001)

Pollan, who had earlier written that “forgetting is vastly underrated as a mental operation,” added: “Think how quickly the sheer volume and multiplicity of sensory information we receive every waking minute would overwhelm our consciousness if we couldn’t quickly forget a great deal more of it than we remember.”



  • Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)

Arendt continued: “We would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice, who lacked the magic formula to break the spell.”

  • Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Mark Twain)

ERROR ALERT: This is a classic orphan quotation, widely attributed to Twain (as well as to some others) in order to enhance its credibility. However, there is no evidence that Twain ever said or wrote anything like it, and no other original author has ever been found. In 1909, an early version of the quotation appeared in The Judge, a legal magazine which quoted an unnamed blind girl as describing forgiveness this way: “It is the fragrance of a flower after it is crushed.” For more on the history of the quotation, including the fascinating discovery that the earliest versions of the sentiment were inspired by the fragrance of sandalwood trees cut down by axes in sixteenth century Arabia, see this 2013 post from Garson O’Toole, The Quote Investigator.

  • As we know, forgiveness of oneself is the hardest of all the forgivenesses. Joan Baez, in “Joan Baez: Interview,” The Guardian (Sep. 15, 2009)
  • I have seen that every one forgives much in themselves that they find unpardonable in other people. Amelia E. Barr, the character Arenta Van Ariens speaking, in The Maid of Maiden Lane (1900)
  • It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Arthur Bloch, in Murphy's Law, Book Two (1980)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest appearance of a sentiment that has evolved into a modern proverb.

  • Forgiveness is not the misguided act of condoning irresponsible, hurtful behavior. Nor is it a superficial turning of the other cheek that leaves us feeling victimized and martyred. Rather it is the finishing of old business that allows us to experience the present, free of contamination from the past. Joan Borysenko, in Minding the Body, Mending the Mind (1987)
  • I have learned that life is an adventure in forgiveness. Nothing clutters the soul more than remorse, resentment, recrimination. Norman Cousins, written at age seventy-four, in Head First: The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit (1989)

Cousins went on: “Negative feelings occupy a fearsome amount of space in the mind, blocking our perceptions, our prospects, our pleasures. Forgiveness is a gift we need to give not only to others but to ourselves, freeing us from self-punishment and enabling us to see a wider horizon in life than is possible under circumstances of guilt or grudge”

  • Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast. Marlene Dietrich, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past. Don Felt, quoted in The Los Angeles Times (Dec. 2, 1991)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 2018 post, Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, identified this as the earliest appearance in print of a saying that has become something of a modern proverb. The sentiment has been repeated many times by such authors as Gerald G. Jampolsky, Harold Kushner, Anne Lamott, John A. MacDougall, and others. I can’t be sure, but I believe the basic idea originated in recovery groups in the 1980s, and Reverend Felt, the pastor of a Congregational Church in Maui, was simply passing along an early version of the saying.

  • Forgotten is forgiven. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • I’d like to say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first. Sue Grafton, in “V” Is for Vengeance (2011)
  • Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled again made clean. Dag Hammarskjöld, in Markings (1963)
  • He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven. George Herbert, quoted in John Jeremiah Daniell, The Life of George Herbert of Bemerton (1893)
  • As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind. Isabelle Holland, in The Long Search (1990)
  • The ineffable joy of forgiving and being forgiven forms an ecstasy that might well arouse the envy of the gods. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • The unforgivable was usually the most easily forgiven. P. D. James, in Death of an Expert Witness (1977)
  • We can forgive anything as long as it isn’t done to us. P. D. James, in Innocent Blood (1980)
  • Forgiveness is the needle that knows how to mend. Jewel, lyric from the 1996 song “Under the Water” (Jewel Kilcher & Ralph Sall)
  • We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)

Dr. King continued: “It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury on us.”

  • Forgiveness is not a matter of exonerating people who have hurt you. They may not deserve exoneration. Forgiveness means cleansing your soul of the bitterness of “what might have been,” “what should have been,” and “what didn’t have to happen.” Harold S. Kushner, in Overcoming Life’s Disappointments (2006)

Kushner continued: “Someone has defined forgiveness as “giving up all hope of having had a better past.” What’s past is past and there is little to be gained by dwelling on it.” For more on the better past saying, see the Don Felt entry above.

  • Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare. Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2005)
  • Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the passage is typically presented in most modern quotation collections, but it was originally presented in a fuller way in a section of the book in which Lewis discussed “this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies.” Here’s the full passage:

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war [WWII]. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.”

  • There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, “You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.” In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count. C. S. Lewis, “The Cursings,” in Reflections on the Psalms (1958)

Lewis continued: “For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offense and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offenses but for one offense.”

  • Forgiveness is not a gift for the other person; it is a purely selfish act that allows you to put the past behind you. Stephanie Marston, in The Divorced Parent (1994)

Marston preceded the thought by writing: “You can’t change what happened between you and your ex-spouse, but you can change your attitude about it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what your ex did was right or that you condone what he or she did; it simply means that you no longer want to hold a grudge.

  • Forgiveness is the final form of love. Reinhold Niebuhr

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the observation is almost always presented, and while it does capture one of Niebuhr’s core beliefs, he never said it in exactly this way. Here’s how he originally expressed the thought in The Irony of American History (1952):

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

  • The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. Alden Nowlan, in “Scratchings“ (1971)
  • When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive. Alan Paton, in Too Late the Phalarope (1953)
  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism (1711)

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.

  • Successful marriage: The union of two good forgivers. Robert Quillen, quoted in a 1935 issue of Column Review (specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest version of a wry sentiment that is now almost always presented in the following way: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

  • To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis B. Smedes, in Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (1984)
  • Forgiving presupposes remembering. And it creates a forgetting not in the natural way we forget yesterday's weather, but in the way of the great “in spite of” that says: I forget although I remember. Paul Tillich, “Forgetting and Being Forgotten,” in The Eternal Now (1963)
  • It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)
  • Forgetting is something that time takes care of, but forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make the decision. Simon Wiesenthal, in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (1969)
  • Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties came prepared to forgive, neither was prepared to be forgiven. Charles Williams, quoted in W. H. Auden, “The Giving of Thanks,” Mademoiselle magazine (Nov. 1944)
  • The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world. Marianne Williamson, “Miracles,” in A Return to Love (1992)



  • Fortitude is the capacity to say “no” when the world want to hear “yes.” Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • I know of no higher fortitude than stubborness in the face of overwhelming odds. Louis Nizer, in My Life in Court (1961)



  • Fortune is like the market, where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall. Francis Bacon, “Of Delay,” in Essays (1625)
  • A man’s fortunes are the fruit of his character. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • I have often noticed that when Fate has a phenomenal run of ill-luck in store for you, she begins by dropping a rare piece of good fortune into your lap, thereby enhancing the artistic effect of the sequel. Ethyl Smyth, in Impressions That Remained, Vol. II (1919)
  • A man is never so on trial as in the moment of excessive good fortune. Lew Wallace, the voice of the narrator, in Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). Also an example of oxymoronica.



  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen, the opening words of Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • When a fortune comes without calling, it’s apt to leave without asking. George Horace Lorimer, the title character writing in a letter to his son, in Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and CANADA & CANADIANS and ENGLAND & THE ENGLISH and other nations & their citizens, including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia; see also PARIS & PARISIANS)

  • The French are a race of individuals. There is no type. Gertrude Atherton, in The Living Present (1917)

Despite the observation above, Atherton went on to write: “Stoicism is the fundamental characteristic of the French.”

  • The French have a meticulous code in business that allows them to sound incredibly helpful and generous and courteous while basically telling you to get lost. Kate Betts, in My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine (2015)

Betts continued: “They deliver this dismissive news with the most mellifluous voice imaginable, the more melodious and beautiful the delivery, the less accommodating the message.”

  • A paté is nothing more than a French meat loaf that’s had a couple of cocktails. Carol Cutler, in Paté: The New Main Course for the 80’s (1983)
  • I always hotly defend the French against the charge that they are grasping materialists only interested in money. A nation of shopkeepers whose motto is obviously “The customer is always wrong,” simply cannot care that much about money. Alice Furlaud, in Air Fair: Alice Furlaud’s Dispatches from Paris (1989)
  • There is something in the quality of the French mind to which I have always felt a reluctant kinship. They are the only people I know who can leap into an enormous vocabulary of words and beat them up with the wings of their spirit into a fine hysterical eloquence. Corra Harris, in As A Woman Thinks (1925)
  • Remember this: no matter how politely or distinctly you ask a Parisian a question he will persist in answering you in French. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • Frenchwomen just never look ungroomed, do they? Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in War Within and War Without (1980)
  • Only two groups of people intimidate me absolutely: salespeople and the French. Bette Midler, in A View From a Broad (1980)
  • It is difficult to admonish Frenchmen. Their habit of mind is unfavorable to preachment. Agnes Repplier, “To Counsel the Doubtful,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • The French write plays and paint as naturally as we play jazz—it’s just a national gift. Alice B. Toklas, in a 1948 letter, quoted in Edward Burns, Staying On Alone: Letters of Alice B. Toklas (1973)
  • Fateful moments tend to evoke grandeur of speech, especially in French. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The Guns of August (1962)
  • The French use cooking as a means of self-expression, and this meal perfectly represented the personality of a cook who had spent the morning resting her unwashed chin on the edge of a tureen, pondering whether she should end her life immediately by plunging her head into her abominable soup. Rebecca West, “Increase and Multiply,” in Ending in Earnest (1931)



  • Aunt Clo’s obsession for entire frankness was principally indulged in the direction of an unsparing candor with regard to the deficiencies of other people. E. M. Delafield, the narrator describing a suspicion of protagonist Lily Stellenthorpe, in Humbug: A Study in Education (1922)
  • Frankness invites frankness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • It’s important to our friends to believe that we are unreservedly frank with them, and important to the friendship that we are not. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly; and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship; for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • When perfect frankness comes in at the door love flies out of the window. Helen Rowland, in Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1909)
  • Frankness is usually a euphemism for rudeness. Muriel Spark, the protagonist Fleur Talbot speaking, in Loitering With Intent (1981)
  • All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness. Tennessee Williams, the character Flora Goforth speaking, in the play The Milkman Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963)



  • What we really mean by free will…is the visualizing of alternatives and making a choice between them. Jacob Bronowski, in The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination (1978)

Bronowski went on to add: “The central problem of human consciousness depends on this ability to imagine.”

  • The will is never free—it is always attached to an object, a purpose. It is simply the engine in the car—it can’t steer. Joyce Cary, in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter 1954-55)
  • There’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will. Agatha Christie, the character Jerry Burton speaking, in The Moving Finger (1942)
  • We must not think of the problem in terms of a choice between being determined and being free. We must look at it dialectically, and say that man is indeed determined, but that it is open to him to overcome necessity, and that this act is freedom. Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. Jacques Ellul, in The Technological Society (1964)

Ellul continued: “The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.”

  • If you cannot be free, be as free as you can. Ralh Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (Nov. 7, 1838)
  • One cannot base one’s conduct on the idea that everything is determined, because one does not know what has been determined. Instead, one has to adopt the effective theory that one has free will and that one is responsible for one’s actions. This theory is not very good at predicting human behavior, but we adopt it because there is no chance of solving the equations arising from the fundamental laws. Stephen Hawking, in Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)

Hawking continued: “There is also a Darwinian reason that we believe in free will: A society in which the individual feels responsible for his or her actions is more likely to work together and survive to spread its values.”

  • Life is a compromise between fate and free will. Elbert Hubbard, in A Thousand and One Epigrams (1911)
  • My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will. William James, quoted in Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, Vol. 1 (1935)
  • If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952)

Lewis continued: “Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

  • Man is a masterpiece of creation if for no other reason than that, all the weight of evidence for determinism notwithstanding, he believes he has free will. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms, “Note book J” (1765-99)
  • To me life means the growing of a soul. I do not know why this duty is imposed upon us. I merely know that it is, and I feel that we are given much latitude of free will. Alice Foote MacDougall, in The Autobiography of a Business Woman (1928)
  • As you get older, you have to watch it [free will] dwindle. At twenty your choices are almost unlimited. At fifty you’re a prisoner of past decisions. At seventy you have no free will left at all. Helen McCloy (pen name of Helen Clarkson), the character Alcott speaking, Mr. Splitfoot (1968)
  • Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play it is free will. Jawaharlal Nehru, as quoted by Norman Cousins, in Saturday Review (November 4, 1967)
  • I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Will to Power (1886)
  • One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license. P. J. O'Rourke, in Rolling Stone (Nov. 30, 1909)
  • Will power is only the tensile strength of one's own disposition. Once cannot increase it by a single ounce. Cesare Pavese, a diary entry (Jan. 15, 1918); in The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950 (1952)
  • We must believe in free will. We have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer, quoted in a 1991 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • We human beings do have some genuine freedom of choice and therefore some effective control over our own destinies. I am not a determinist. But I also believe that the decisive choice is seldom the latest choice in the series. More often than not, it will turn out to be some choice made relatively far back in the past. A. J. Toynbee, “Some Great ‘If’s’ of History,” in The New York Times (March 5, 1961)



  • True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline. Mortimer J. Adler, in How to Read a Book (1940, rev. 1972)
  • Better starve free than be a fat slave. Aesop, “The Dog and the Wolf,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. Saul Alinsky, in Rules for Radicals (1971)
  • My people had used music to soothe slavery’s torment or to propitiate God, or to describe the sweetness of love and the distress of lovelessness, but I knew no race could sing and dance its way to freedom. Maya Angelou, in The Heart of a Woman (1981)
  • The touchstone of a free act—from the decision to get out of bed in the morning or take a walk in the afternoon to the highest resolutions by which we bind ourselves for the future—is always that we know that we could also have left undone what we actually did. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be. James Baldwin, “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel,” in Nobody Knows My Name (1961)
  • So free we seem, so fettered fast we are! Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto,” in Men and Women (1855)
  • one who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1942)
  • Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all. Albert Camus, “Bread and Freedom” (1957), in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1961)
  • Freedom has a thousand charms to show,/That slaves, howe’er contented, never know. William Cowper, in Table Talk (1782)

ERROR ALERT: For more than a century, the first line of this couplet has been mistakenly presented as Freedom hath a thousand charms.

  • Freedom is the oxygen of the soul. Moshe Dayan, in Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life (1976)

Dayan preceded the thought—arguably his most famous observation—by writing: “Not that I recommend a prison term. But release endows with a quality of wonder the simple, everyday acts and habits one had always taken for granted, like the drawing of breath after swimming underwater.”

  • What do men need in order to remain free? A taste for freedom. Do not ask me to analyze that sublime taste; it can only be felt. It has a place in every heart which God has prepared to receive it; it fills and inflames it. Alexis de Tocqueville, in The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856)

De Tocqueville concluded: “To try to explain it to those inferior minds who have never felt it is to waste time.”

  • Freedom is not won on the battlefields. The chance for freedom is won there. The final battle is won or lost in our hearts and minds. Helen Gahagan Douglas, in A Full Life (1982)
  • History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in inaugural address as the 34th U.S. President (Jan. 20, 1953)
  • For what avail the plough or sail,/Or land or life, if freedom fail. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the 1873 poem “Boston”

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson debuted the poem in a formal reading at Faneuil Hall on Dec. 16, 1873, there Centennial Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

  • Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire. Epictetus, in Discourses (2nd c. A.D.)
  • In a free state, tongues too should be free. Desiderius Erasmus, in The Education of a Christian Prince (1516)
  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946)

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

  • Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Milton Friedman, in the Introduction to Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Friedman’s most popular quotations, often in a mistaken phrasing (see ERROR ALERT below). Friedman preceded the observation by tweaking a classic line from John F. Kennedy: “The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather ‘What can I and my compatriots do through government to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom?’ And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?”

ERROR ALERT: In a 2006 issue, Forbes magazine conflated the Friedman observation above with a popular George J. Stigler quotation (“Competition is a tough weed, not a delicate flower”) to produce the following: “Competition is a tough weed, but freedom is a rare and delicate flower.” This hybrid observation is not to be found in the separate works of either Friedman or Stigler (the Stigler observation may be seen in COMPETITION).

  • The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are mental states. Mohandas K. Gandhi, in Non-Violence in Peace and War (1949)
  • “Freedom” is the most expensive possession there is; it has to be paid for with loneliness. Martha Gellhorn, quoted in Caroline Moorehead, Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (2006)
  • To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom. André Gide, in Autumn Leaves (1950; Elsie Pell, trans.)
  • Eternal vigilance, as they say, is the price of freedom. Add intellectual integrity to the cost basis. Stephen Jay Gould, “The Tallest Tale,” in Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (2011)

QUOTE NOTE: Here Gould is tweaking the famous Wendell Phillips observation, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” (see his entry in LIBERTY)

  • Freedom is fragile and must be protected. To sacrifice it, even as a temporary measure, is to betray it. Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970)
  • The History of the World is nothing but the development of the Idea of Freedom. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in Introduction to Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)
  • For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt. Lillian Hellman, in The Watch on the Rhine (1941)
  • The enemies of Freedom do not argue; they shout and they shoot. William Ralph Inge, in End of an Age (1948)
  • Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Søren Kierkegaard, in The Concept of Anxiety (1980 translation; originally written in 1844)
  • Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King, Jr., in letter from the Birmingham [Alabama] Jail (April 16, 1963)
  • Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, lyric from the 1969 song “Me and Bobby McGee.”
  • Absolute freedom is absolute responsibility. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Language of the Night (1979)

Le Guin was discussing the freedom of the writer. She introduced the thought by writing: “As a writer, you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness. You are in the country where you make up the rules, the laws. You are both dictator and obedient populace. It is a country nobody has ever explored before.”

  • Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. John Lewis, in Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America (2012)

Lewis continued: “The work of love, peace, and justice, will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred or revenge, and fills up our existence with their power.”

  • Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. Abraham Lincoln, in letter to H. L. Pierce (April 6, 1859)
  • Total freedom is never what one imagines and, in fact, hardly exists. It comes as a shock in life to learn that we usually only exchange one set of restrictions for another. The second set, however, is self-chosen, and therefore easier to accept. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1973)
  • There’s one thing about freedom…each generation of people begins by thinking they’ve got it for the first time in history, and ends by being sure the generation younger than themselves have too much of it. Rose Macaulay, in Told By an Idiot (1923)
  • If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too. W. Somerset Maugham, in Strictly Personal (1941)
  • Freedom is man’s capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves. Rollo May, in Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
  • Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present the following abridged version of the thought: “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”

  • Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. John Stuart Mill, “On Individuality, as One of the Elements of Wellbeing,” in On Liberty (1859)

Mill continued: “Persons of genius are, ex vi termini [meaning “by definition”], more individual than any other people—less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the smaller number of molds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character. If from timidity they consent to be forced into one of these molds, and to let all that part of themselves which cannot expand under the pressure remain unexpanded, society will be little the better for their genius.”

  • There are only two kinds of freedom in the world: the freedom of the rich and powerful, and the freedom of the artist and the monk who renounce possessions. Anaïs Nin, a 1940 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3 (1969)
  • Those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it. Thomas Paine, in the pamphlet “The Crisis” (Sep. 11, 1777)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet quotation sites mistakenly replace fatiques with fatigue.

  • Tyranny is always better organized than freedom. Charles Péguy, “War and Peace,” in Basic Verities (1943)
  • Freedom is the right to choose the habits that bind you. Renate Rubinstein, in Liefst Verliefd [lit., Rather in Love] (1983)
  • Freedom to reject is the only freedom. Salman Rushdie, a dream-thought of the character Ormus Cama, in The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
  • Man is condemned to be free. Jean-Paul Sartre, in Existentialism is a Humanism (1946)
  • That sweet bondage which is freedom’s self. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Queen Mab (1813)
  • A hungry man is not a free man. Adlai Stevenson, in a campaign speech (Sep. 6, 1952)

QUOTE NOTE: Three years later, the American UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. might have been thinking about this Stevenson line when he said: “It has been well said that a hungry man is more interested is four sandwiches than four freedoms” (from a March 29, 1955 Time magazine article). The four freedoms reference in Lodge’s observation is from FDR’s legendary Four Freedoms Speech, originally delivered in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 6, 1941.

  • To be what no one ever was,/To be what everyone has been:/Freedom is the mean of those/Extremes that fence all effort in. Mark Van Doren, “Freedom,” in Morning Worship and Other Poems (1960)
  • Freedom is not a gift from the heavens, you have to fight for it every day of your life. Simon Wiesenthal, “The Holocaust—A Warning to the Murderers of Tomorrow,” in Encyclopedia of Genocide, Vol. 1 (1999; Israel W. Charney, ed.)

Wiesenthal preceded the observation by writing: “Freedom is like health: you don’t appreciate its value until you’ve lost it. My generation was made to feel the full force of this bitter lesson.”

  • Caged birds accept each other but flight is what they long for. Tennessee Williams, the character Marguerite speaking, in Camino Real (1953)



  • Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us. John Irving, “But Could It Really Be Taught to a Chimpanzee?” in My Movie Life (1999)

Irving was talking about the chilling effect of the Right-to-Life movement on access to reproductive services, including legal abortions. He preceded the thought by writing: “Let doctors practice medicine. Let religious zealots practice their religion, but let them keep their religion to themselves.”



  • In a free state, tongues too should be free. Desiderius Erasmus, in The Education of a Christian Prince (1516)
  • What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. Salman Rushdie, quoted in Weekend Guardian (London; Feb. 10, 1990)
  • It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand. Salman Rushdie, “Do We Have to Fight the Battle for the Enlightenment All Over Again?” in The Independent (London; Jan. 22, 2005)

Rushdie continued: “If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech.”

  • The censor’s sword pierces deeply into the heart of free expression. Earl Warren, in Times Film Corp v. City of Chicago (Jan. 23, 1961)



  • I, like every soldier of America, will die for the freedom of the press, even for the freedom of newspapers that call me everything that is a good deal less than being a gentleman. Dwight D. Eisenhower, remark during a Moscow press conference (Aug. 14, 1945)
  • Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Dr. James Currie (Jan. 28, 1786)
  • In Czechoslovakia there is no such thing as freedom of the press. In the United States there is no such thing as freedom from the press. Martina Navratilova, quoted in Lee Green, Sportswit (1984)



  • The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible. Salman Rushdie, “Do We Have to Fight the Battle for the Enlightenment All Over Again?” in The Independent (London; Jan. 22, 2005)





  • No friend can supply the absence of a good husband. Abigail Adams, in a 1791 letter to her daughter; reprinted in Letters of Mrs. Adams (1848)
  • Fortify yourself with a flock of friends! George Matthew Adams, quoted in a 1952 issue of Coronet magazine (specific date undetermined)

Adams, a popular syndicated columnist who wrote briefly titled self-help books, including Up (1920) and You Can (1913), preceded the thought by writing: “Nothing in this world appeases loneliness as does a flock of friends! You can select them at random, write to one, dine with one, visit one, or take your problems to one. There is always at least one who will understand, inspire, and give you the lift you may need at the time.”

  • One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

In the book, his autobiography, Adams offered these other observations on the friendship theme:

“Friends are born, not made.”

“A friend in power is a friend lost.”

  • The greatest sweetener of human life is Friendship. To raise this to the highest pitch of enjoyment is a secret which but few discover. Joseph Addison, “Of Friendship,” in Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Political Fragments (1794)

In that same essay, Addison wrote that Cicero “was the first who observed that friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and dividing of our grief; a thought in which he hath been followed by all the essayers upon friendship that have written since his time.” See the Cicero entry below.

  • Stay is a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary. A. Bronson Alcott, in Concord Days (1872)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often misattributed to Alcott’s daughter Louisa May Alcott.

  • A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. Apocrypha—Ecclesiasticus 6:14–16 (RSV)

The passage continues: “There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence. A faithful friend is an elixir of life.”

  • Forsake not an old friend, for a new one does not compare with him. A new friend is like new wine; when it has aged, you will drink it with pleasure. Apocrypha—Ecclesiasticus 9:10 (RSV)
  • I keep my friends as misers do their treasure. Pietro Aretino, in letter to Giovanni Pollastra (July 7, 1537)

Aretino added: “Of all things granted to us by wisdom, none is greater or better than friendship.”

  • Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • To the query, “What is a friend?” his reply was, “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Aristotle, quoted by Diogenes Laërtius in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • Friendship is a virtue which comprehends all the rest; none being fit for this, who is not adorned with every other virtue. Mary Astell, in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694)
  • A friend is a present you give yourself. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: In 1946, a number of people (including Walter Winchell), began to wrongly attribute this observation to Robert Louis Stevenson, and the mistake has been perpetuated ever since. According to Garson O'Toole

  • This communicating of a man’s self to his friend works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in half. Francis Bacon, “Of Friendship,” in Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: See the later Cicero entry for an observation that likely served as an inspiration for this thought from Bacon.

  • It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend of his faults. If you are angry with a man, or hate him, it is not hard to go to him and stab him with words; but so to love a man that you cannot bear to see the stain of a sin upon him, and to speak painful truth through loving words—that is friendship. Henry Ward Beecher, “Gems of Thought,” in Lectures to Young Men, on Various Important Subjects (1856)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present an abridged version of the quotation: “It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend his faults. So to love a man that you cannot bear to see a stain upon him, and to speak painful truth through loving words, that is friendship.”

QUOTE NOTE: Beecher might have been inspired by an observation attributed to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton two decades earlier by The New-York Mirror (Feb. 25, 1832): “One of the surest evidences of friendship that an individual can display to another, is telling him gently of a fault. If any other can excel it, it is listening to such a disclosure with gratitude, and amending the error.” This quotation, however, has never been found in Bulwer-Lytton’s works.

  • Friendship is a difficult, dangerous job. It is also (though we rarely admit it) extremely exhausting. Elizabeth Bibesco, in Balloons (1922)
  • Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The Bible—John 15:13 (KJV)
  • Acquaintance, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1908)

In his sardonic classic, the man who became known as “bitter Bierce” defined friendless this way: “Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.”

  • Friendship, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1908)
  • Friends are “annuals” that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a “perennial” that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. Erma Bombeck, in Family—The Ties That Bind…and Gag (1987)

Bombeck concluded: “There’s a place in the garden for both of them.”

  • We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over. James Boswell, a September 19, 1777 observation, in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Friendship, “the wine of life,” should, like a well stocked cellar, be thus continually renewed. James Boswell, in Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE: The wine of life metaphor was borrowed from the English poet Edward Young (see below). Boswell preceded his observation by writing: “As longevity is generally desired, and I believe, generally expected, it would be wise to be continually adding to the number of our friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others.”

  • Thus much for thy assurance know;/a hollow friend is but a hellish foe. Nicholas Breton, in The Mother’s Blessing (1602–03)
  • Proximity is nine-tenths of friendship. John Malcolm Brinnin, in Truman Capote—Dear Heart, Old Buddy (1987)
  • Love is like the wild rose-briar,/Friendship like the holly-tree./The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms/But which will bloom most constantly? Emily Brontë, in “Love and Friendship” (1846)
  • If we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for their sakes rather than for our own; we must look at their truth to themselves, full as much as their truth to us. Charlotte Brontë, in letter to W. S. Williams (July 21, 1851)
  • Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. Edna Buchanan, in Suitable for Framing (1995)
  • If you want to know who your friends are, get yourself a jail sentence. Charles Bukowski, in Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
  • There is no man so friendless but what he can find a friend sincere enough to tell him disagreeable truths. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in What Will He Do With It? (1858)
  • Love is only chatter,/Friends are all that matter. Gelett Burgess, “Willy and the Lady,” in A Gage of Youth: Lyrics from The Lark and Other Poems (1901)
  • To a heart formed for friendship and affection the charms of solitude are very short-lived. Fanny Burney, in Cecilia: Or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
  • Friendship is like money, easier made than kept. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Friendship is Love without his wings! George Noel Gordon (Lord Byron ), in “L’amitié est l’amour sans ailes” (1806)
  • Give me the avow’d, the erect, the manly foe,/Bold I can meet—perhaps may turn his blow;/But of all plagues, good heaven, thy wrath can send,/Save, save, oh! save me from the Candid Friend! George Canning, from “New Morality” (1798) in Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin (1801)
  • Friendship’s a noble name, ’tis love refined. Susannah Centlivre, in The Stolen Heiress (1703)
  • Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
  • Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light. Jennie Jerome Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill, in Small Talk on Big Subjects (1916)
  • A friend is, as it were, a second self. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Amicitia (44 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most famous observation from Cicero’s famous treatise on friendship, which also contained three other metaphorical observations on the subject:

“Friendship was given by Nature as the handmaid of virtues, not the companion of vices.”

“What sweetness is left in life, if you take away friendship? Robbing life of friendship is like robbing the world of the sun.”

“Friendship makes prosperity more brilliant, and lightens adversity by dividing and sharing it.” (This is almost certainly the inspiration for Francis Bacon’s observation above)

  • Friendship is a sheltering tree. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a line from “Youth and Age,” first published in A. A. Watts, The Literary Souvenir (1828)
  • True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • The firmest friendships have been formed in mutual adversity, as iron is most strongly united by the fiercest flame. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanism of friendship. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in The Pure and the Impure (1932)
  • Most people ask of their friends that they understand them, but, on balance, I think I prefer a friend who understands himself. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • But oh! The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Dinah Mulock Craik, a reflection of protagonist and narrator Dora Johnston, in A Life for a Life (1859)

She continued: “Oh, the comfort—the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

  • My friends are my estate. Emily Dickinson, in letter to Samuel Bowles (August, 1858); reprinted in Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1845–1886 (1906; Mabel Loomis Todd, ed.)
  • There are very few honest friends—the demand is not particularly great. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)

Ebner-Eschenbach's collection of aphorisms also included this thought: “In meeting again after a separation, acquaintances ask after our outward life, friends after our inner life.”

  • It is easy to say how we love new friends, and what we think of them, but words can never trace out all the fibers that knit us to the old. George Eliot, in letter to Cara Bray (Nov. 26, 1858)
  • Best friend, my well-spring in the wilderness! George Eliot, the character Fedalma speaking, in The Spanish Gypsy (1868)
  • Friendships begin with liking or gratitude—roots that can be pulled up. George Eliot, in Daniel Deronda (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation typically appears, but it originally occurred in an interaction between Daniel and Mrs. Meyrick. After she made a statement about the depth of a mother’s love, Daniel said, “Is not that the way with friendship, too?” adding with a smile, “We must not let the mothers be too arrogant.” Mrs. Meyrick shook her head as she continued darning, replying: “It is easier to find an old mother than an old friend. Friendships begin with liking or gratitude—roots that can be pulled up. Mother’s love begins deeper down.”

  • A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • The only way to have a friend is to be one. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • I hate it in friends when they come too late to help. Euripides, in Rhesus (5th c. B.C.)
  • I’ve been barbecued, stewed, screwed, tattooed, and fried by people claiming to be friends. W. C. Fields, quoted in Carlotta Monti, W. C. Fields & Me (1971; with Cy Rice)
  • To have a good friend is the purest of all God’s gifts, for it is a love that has no exchange of payment. It is not inherited, as with a family. It is not compelling, as with a child. And it has no means of physical pleasure, as with a mate. It is, therefore, an indescribable bond that brings with it a far deeper devotion than all the others. Frances Farmer, in Will There Really Be a Morning? (1972)
  • ’Tis great Confidence in a Friend to tell him your Faults, greater to tell him his. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Aug., 1751)
  • There are three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.

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).
  • Friends are the thermometers by which one may judge the temperature of our fortunes. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)

Lady Blessington had earlier written: “When the sun shines on you, you see your friends. It requires sunshine to be seen by them to your advantage. While it lasts we are visible to them; when it is gone, and our horizon is overcast, they are invisible to us.”

  • Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)

Gibran continued: “And he is your board and your fireside. For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.”

  • When you part from your friend, you grieve not;/For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain. Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)
  • Old Friends are best; yet, as the Swift Years run;/Make New Ones, too, or Time may leave you None. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Friendship to me is like a capital reserve. It pays dividends only so long as the principal remains intact. Whatever personal sacrifice is required, I am determined to come through all this experience without spending my principal—on any level. Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, the character Bess, in a letter to her friend Totsie, in A Woman of Independent Means (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Following the death of her husband, Bess is touched by Totsie's invitation to summer with her in Vermont. She contrasts Totsie’s “tangible offer of comfort” with the many hollow words of sympathy she’s recently received, writing: “I am so weary of people asking if there is anything they can do for me. Of course I always answer with a polite no, and they go away satisfied at having done their duty. If only once I dared answer in the affirmative. But nothing frightens people more than undisguised need. I have kept all my old friends through this difficult time by never demanding the dues of friendship. Not that I doubt they would be paid—but only once.” She then continues with the thought above.

  • The making of friends, who are real friends, is the best token we have of a man’s success in life. Edward Everett Hale, quoted in The Native American (Jan. 23, 1909)
  • There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith (1942)
  • Nothing gives such a blow to friendship as the detecting another in an untruth. It strikes at the root of our confidence ever after. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Never judge someone by who he’s in love with; judge him by his friends. People fall in love with the most appalling people. Cynthia Heimel, in But Enough About You (1986)
  • Friends are the twenty-first-century version of extended families. Cynthia Heimel, in When Your Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’ll Be Me (1995)
  • Friendship is often outgrown; and his former child’s clothes will no more fit a man than some of his former friendships. Arthur Helps, “Unreasonable Claims in Social Affections and Relations,” in Friends in Council (1847)
  • A friend can bother you without bothering you. Mark Holmboe, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 26, 2020)
  • Don’t flatter yourselves that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. On the contrary, the nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway. Elbert Hubbard, in The Motto Book (1907)
  • It seems to me that trying to live without friends is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)

Hurston added: “It is a whole lot of trouble, and then not worth much after you get it.”

  • Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling. Harriett A. Jacobs, in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1861)
  • But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Maria Cosway (Oct. 12, 1786)

Jefferson added: “And thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.”

  • Friendship may well deserve the sacrifice of pleasure, though not of conscience. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Oct. 27, 1750)
  • Friendship, like love, is destroyed by long absence, though it may be increased by short intermissions. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Sep. 23, 1758)
  • If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair. Samuel Johnson, an April, 1775 remark to Sir Joshua Reynolds, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present friendships instead of friendship.

  • To let friendship die away by negligence and silence is certainly not wise. It is voluntarily to throw away one of the greatest comforts of this weary pilgrimage. Samuel Johnson, in letter to Captain Bennett Langton (March 20, 1782)
  • Friends—a family of which one has chosen the members. Alphonse Karr, quoted in J. Raymond Solly, Selected Thoughts from the French (1913)
  • Friends are God’s apology for relations. Hugh Kingsmill, quoted in Richard Ingrams, God's Apology: A Chronicle of Three Friends (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Jay McInerny was clearly inspired by Kingsmill’s saying when he had narrator Patrick Keane open the 1996 novel The Last of the Savages with these words: “The capacity for friendship is God’s way of apologizing for our families. At least that’s one way of explaining my unlikely fellowship with Will Savage.”

  • A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success. Doug Larson, quoted in The Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune (Aug. 26, 1995)
  • I get by with a little help from my friends. John Lennon & Paul McCartney, lyric from the 1967 song “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
  • The most deadly fruit is borne by the hatred which one grafts on an extinguished friendship. G. E. Lessing, the title character speaking, in Philotas (1759)
  • I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. C. S. Lewis, “Friendship,” in The Four Loves (1960)

Lewis famously continued: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

  • It is one of the major tragedies that nothing is more discomforting than the hearty affection of the Old Friends who never were friends. Sinclair Lewis, the voice of the narrator, in Martin Arrowsmith (1925)
  • Men kick friendship around like a football, but it doesn’t seem to crack. Women treat it like glass and it goes to pieces. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1974)
  • Life without a friend is death without a witness. Rose Macaulay, in Daisy & Daphne (1928)
  • One doesn’t measure friendship by length of time only; depth of time is just as valuable. And danger gives the greatest depths of all. Helen MacInnes, the character Christophorou speaking, in Decision at Delphi (1960)
  • Friendship is not linear. It moves in all directions, teaching us about ourselves and about each other. Shirley MacLaine, in Dancing in the Light (1985)
  • The truth is friendship is to me every bit as sacred and eternal as marriage. Katherine Mansfield, in letter to Ida Baker (Sep. 7, 1921)
  • Relations are errors that Nature makes./Your spouse you can put on the shelf./But your friends, dear friends, are the quaint mistakes/You always commit yourself. Phyllis McGinley, “Marginal Notes,” in On the Contrary (1934)
  • It’s important to our friends to believe that we are unreservedly frank with them, and important to the friendship that we are not. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Friendship is the bread of the heart. Mary Russell Mitford, an 1853 remark, quoted in A. G. L'Estrange, The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, Vol. 3 (1870)
  • May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly; and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship; for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • The chief rock upon which a lasting friendship rests is a strong mutual belief in the same general fallacies and falsehoods. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theater, the Drama, the Girls (1921)
  • Love demands infinitely less than friendship. George Jean Nathan, quoted in The World of George Jean Nathan (1952; Charles S. Angoff, ed.)
  • Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. Anaïs Nin, a 1937 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 (1967)
  • What I cannot love, I overlook. Is that real friendship? Anaïs Nin, journal entry (Summer, 1953), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1947–1955, Vol. 5 (1974)
  • Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It's how true friends talk. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution (1990)
  • For friendship is an art, and very few persons are born with a natural gift for it. Kathleen Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • A home-made friend wears longer than one you buy in the market. Austin O'Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Love will enter cloaked in friendship’s name. Ovid, in The Art of Love (1st c. A.D.)
  • Friendship requires deeds. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), quoted in The Sailor’s Magazine and Seaman’s Friend (Jan. 1877)
  • Friendship loves a free air, and will not be penned up in straight and narrow enclosures. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)
  • Illness is friendship’s proving ground, the uncharted territory where one’s actions may be the least sure-footed but also the most indelible. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick (2013)
  • When we are prosperous, our friends know us; when we are poor, we know our friends. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938). An example of the literary device known as chiasmus.
  • Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust, in Pleasures and Regrets (1896)
  • There is no better mirror than an old friend. Proverb (Japanese)
  • Only a real friend will tell you when your face is dirty. Proverb (Sicilian)
  • We call that person who has lost his father, an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • Though friendship is not quick to burn,/It is explosive stuff. May Sarton, from the poem “Friendship: The Storms,” in A Grain of Mustard Seed: New Poems (1971)

ERROR ALERT: On virtually all internet sites, this is mistakenly presented as a prose quotation, not a piece of verse.

  • We are advertis'd by our loving friends. William Shakespeare, the character King Edward speaking, in King Henry VI , Part 3 (1591)
  • Friendship is constant in in all other things/Save in the office and affairs of love. William Shakespeare, the character Claudio speaking, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  • A friend should bear his friend’s infirmities. William Shakespeare, Cassius speaking to Brutus, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • Perhaps what makes friendship and love exciting is the continuing discovery of another personality. Gladys Taber, in Harvest of Yesterdays (1976)
  • Friends do not live in harmony merely, as some say, but in melody. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime , if not asked to lend money. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation. George Washington, in letter to nephew Bushrod Washington (Jan. 15, 1783)

Washington introduced the thought by writing: “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

  • Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., quoted in Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Father, Son & Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond (2000; with Peter Petre)
  • The path of social advancement is, and must be, strewn with broken friendships. H. G. Wells, in Kipps: the Story of a Simple Soul (1905)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from the narrator, who is describing an “unpleasant truth” that Kipps was not prepared for.

  • All love that has not friendship for its base,/Is like a mansion built upon the sand./Love, to endure life’s sorrow and earth’s woe,/Needs friendship’s solid masonwork below. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Upon the Sand,” in Poems of Passion (1883)
  • Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or friendship, is conversation. Oscar Wilde, in De Profundis (1897)
  • A friend: one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. Walter Winchell, in Winchell Exclusive (1975)
  • Friendship’s the wine of life. Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742–45)



  • It's you’ friends that do you—you’ enemies cain’ get to you. Leslie Ford, in The Simple Way of Poison (1938)
  • Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. Thomas F. Jones, quoted in a 1975 issue of The Wall Street Journal (specific issue unidentified)

QUOTE NOTE: Thomas F. Jones, Jr, (1916-1981) was an American educator and the 23rd president of the University of South Carolina, serving from 1962 to 1974.

  • There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. J. K. Rowling, the character Dumbledore speaking, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997)



  • Sometimes we must make a serious effort to be frivolous. Theodore Isaac Rubin, an oxymoronic observation from Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)



  • Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Profile of America: An Autobiography of the U.S.A. (1954; Emily Davie, ed.)
  • The frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting-point between savagery and civilization. Frederick Jackson Turner, in The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1894)



  • A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do. P. J. O’Rourke, in The Bachelor’s Home Companion (1987)



  • For those who want to eat efficiently, God made the banana, complete with its own color co-ordinated carrying case. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated (2005)



  • 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)
  • Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit. Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother’s womb. Jean Arp, quoted in Robert Motherwell, On My Way (1948)
  • Beauty is as summer fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last. Francis Bacon, in Essays (1625)
  • A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruits is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. The Bible: Matthew 7:18-20
  • Ambition is a Dead Sea fruit, and the greatest peril to the soul is that one is likely to get precisely what he is seeking. Edward Dahlberg, in Alms for Oblivion (1964)
  • The finished man of the world must eat of every apple once. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Culture,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Action is the proper fruit of knowledge. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Acting in Star Wars, I felt like a raisin in a gigantic fruit salad. Mark Hamill, in Screen International (Dec., 1977)
  • The fruit that can fall without shaking,/Indeed is too mellow for me. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, “Answer for Lord William Hamilton,” in The Works of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 5 (1803)
  • Artists buy their fruits and vegetables in the Still Life section at the market. Stella Violano, in a blog post (June 1, 2012)



  • “The English language was Designed for Profanity,” James Marriott, the title of an article in The Times (London; Dec. 13, 2023)

In his homage to profanity in the English language, Marriott, the deputy books editor of the newspaper, wrote, “Consider the force and versatility of ‘the f-word,’” adding a bit later: “Shouting it has been shown to reduce pain. It can be used as a verb, an adverb, a noun, an adjective, a modifier, an intensifier and an interjection. It is a valid exclamation of love, dismay, rage, astonishment, happiness, agony and grief. We are likely to hear it or to utter it at the greatest and the most tragic moments of our lives. A vulgar one-word sonnet.”


(see also FOREPLAY and FUCK (THE F-WORD) and INTERCOURSE and INTIMACY and KISSING and [Making] LOVE and SEX)

  • There are as many kinds of kisses as there are people on earth, as there are permutations and combinations of those people. No two people kiss alike—no two people fuck alike—but somehow the kiss is more personal, more individualized than the fuck. Diane di Prima, in Memoirs of a Beatnik (1998)
  • The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. Erica Jong, protagonist Isadora Wing speaking, in Fear of Flying (1971)

In the novel, Wing preceded the thought by writing: “The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not ‘taking’ and the woman is not ‘giving.’ No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is out to prove anything or get anything out of anyone.”

After the book was published, the term zipless fuck was commonly used to describe a spontaneous and purely physical form of sexual intercourse that required no emotional attachment and was unencumbered by any expectations that it would lead to anything further.

  • You get a hundred dollars a week for filing, and a hundred dollars a night for fucking, but you don’t get nuthin’ for filing, and fucking, and cleaning, and cooking, and washing, and ironing, and chauffering, and nursing, and sewing, and…. Florynce R. Kennedy, in Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times (1976)



  • Even though we often talk about the path to purpose, there are actually an infinite number of paths leading to fulfillment, as long as you are true to yourself along the way. Samantha Aker, in Follow Your Light (2021)
  • Never dismiss your inner voice; it’s that ‘mere feeling’ that protects your essence and propels you towards true fulfillment. Marcia Brodsky, quoted in Rebecca Maddox, Inc. Your Dreams (1995)
  • People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in The Complete Life’s Little Instruction Book (1997)
  • Woe to those who get what they desire. Fulfillment leaves an empty space where your old self used to be, the self that pines and broods and reflects. Laurie Colwin, “The Long Pilgrim,” quoted in Susan Cahill, New Women & New Fiction (1986)

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

  • Fulfillment comes from within you, by being authentic to yourself—not chasing fame. Cameron Diaz, in New York Post interview with Haley Goldberg (Dec. 17, 2015)

Diaz preceded the thought by saying: “Fame does not define me. If you are looking for fame to define you, then you will never be happy and you’ll always be searching for happiness, and you will never find it in fame.”

  • Longing, the hope for fulfillment, is the one unwavering passion of the world’s commerce. E. L. Doctorow, “Theodore Dreiser: Book One and Book Two,” in Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution (1993)
  • The essence of greatness is the ability to choose personal fulfillment in circumstances where others choose madness. Wayne W. Dyer, the epigraph to Chapter 1, in Your Erroneous Zones (1976)

Dyer went on to write: “Turning your now into total fulfillment is the touchstone of effective living, and virtually all self-defeating behaviors (erroneous zones) are efforts at living in a moment other than the current one.”

  • A man may fulfill the object of his existence by asking a question he cannot answer, and attempting a task he cannot achieve. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in letter to Harriett Beecher Stowe (Sep. 13, 1860)
  • Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Nobel Lecture (Dec. 11, 1964)
  • Until we know what motivates the hearts and minds of men we can understand nothing outside ourselves, nor will we ever reach fulfillment as that greatest miracle of all, the human being. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies our fulfilling our natures as human beings. Rollo May, in Man’s Search For Himself (1953)

May continued: “It is based on the experience of one's identity as a being of worth and dignity, who is able to affirm his being, if need be, against all other beings and the whole inorganic world.”

  • It is the sign of feeble character to seek for a shortcut to fulfillment. Rabindranath Tagore, in Letters to a Friend (1928)

Tagore went on to add: “The one path to fulfillment is the difficult path of suffering and self-sacrifice.”



  • All fundamentalists feel that in a secular society, God has been relegated to the margin, to the periphery, and they are all in different ways seeking to drag him out of that peripheral position, back to center stage. Karen Armstrong, in “Now with Bill Moyers” interview, PBS-Television (March 1, 2002)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Armstrong’s answer to the question, “You said once that you felt the fundamentalists were trying to restore God to the world.” A transcript of the entire interview is available at PBS Now.

  • Fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ. Will Durant and Ariel Durant, on Christian Fundamentalism, in The Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ (1944)



  • Memorial services are the cocktail parties of the geriatric set. Harold Macmillan, quoted in Alistair Horne, Macmillan (1989; Vol. 2)


(includes FURIOUS; see also ANGER and EMOTION and HATRED and HOSTILITY and RAGE)

  • Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d,/Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn’d. William Congreve, the character Zara speaking, in The Mourning Bride: A Tragedy (1697)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original phrasing of the sentiment that evolved into the modern proverb, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” (some versions of the proverb replace hath with has, and still others replace scorned with spurned). The saying has been tweaked and parodied many times, as in the following:

“Hell hath no fury like a fanatic asked to find a reason for what he’s doing.” Gwen Bristow, in Tomorrow is Forever: A Novel (1943)

“There is no fury like a woman searching for a new lover.” Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1945)

“In this day and age, we need to revise the old saying to read, ‘Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.’” Milton Friedman, “Bureaucracy Scorned,” in Newsweek (Dec. 29, 1975);

  • I don’t know if fury can compete with necessity as the mother of invention, but I recommend it. Gloria Steinem, piggybacking on the familiar proverb, in Moving Beyond Words (1994)



  • I try to remember…the comments of an old lady of my acquaintance. She said that “the best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.” Dean Acheson, quoted in a 1950 article in Public Affairs magazine (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the earliest version I’ve found of a quotation that has been presented in a variety of different ways over the years. Also in 1950, Reader’s Digest had this version: “I try to be as philosophical as the old lady from Vermont who said that the best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.” Most current internet sites omit the prefatory comment about an old lady, clean up the grammar (only comes is changed to comes only), and present this more polished version: “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” Acheson repeated the sentiment many times in his lifetime—and often in slightly different ways—resulting in the confusion.

  • The future was plump with promise. Maya Angelou, in All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
  • Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • It is difficult to predict, especially the future. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This popular oxymoronic observation—sometimes in the form prediction is difficult, especially about the future—is commonly attributed to the Danish physicist Niels Bohr (and also, but less frequently, to the Danish writer Piet Hein), but there is no evidence either one made the remark. The saying does appear to have Danish origins, however, and might even be considered a Danish proverb. In his Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred R. Shapiro cites a 1948 work that traces the saying to the Danish parliament in the late 1930s.

  • The future is like heaven—everyone exalts it but no one wants to go there now. James Baldwin, “A Fly in Buttermilk,” in Nobody Knows My Name (1961)
  • Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • We ensure that future by doing it. Ray Bradbury, in 1988 interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” program
  • You can never plan the future by the past. Edmund Burke, in letter to unidentified member of the French National Assembly (Jan. 19, 1791)
  • The best of prophets of the future is the past. Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon), a journal entry (Jan. 28, 1821)
  • Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present. Albert Camus, “Beyond Nihilism,” in The Rebel (1951)
  • The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves. Albert Camus, in The Rebel (1951)

Camus preceded the observation by writing: “The slave and those whose present life is miserable and who can find no consolation in the heavens are assured that at least the future belongs to them.”

  • Sweeping, confident articles on the future seem to me, intellectually, the most disreputable of all forms of public utterance. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization (1969)
  • The future is a convenient place for dreams. Anatole France, quoted in Henri Pène du Bois, French Folly in Maxims of Philosophy (1894)
  • The future: A consolation for those who have no other. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson, quoted in The Economist (Dec. 4, 2003)
  • You cannot fight against the future. Time is on our side. William E. Gladstone, in House of Commons speech (April 27, 1866)
  • There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. Graham Greene, the voice of the narrator, in The Power and the Glory (1940)

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

  • Sometimes it’s like I can see the future stretched out in front of me—just as plain as day. Lorraine Hansberry, the character Walter Younger speaking, in A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Speaking to his mother, Walter continues about the future: “Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me—a big, looming blank space—full of nothing. Just waiting for me. But it don’t have to be.”

  • In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • The future remains uncertain and so it should, for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires. Thus always the human condition faces a beautifully empty canvas. Frank Herbert, the character Jessica speaking, in Children of Dune (1976)

Jessica continued: “We possess only this moment in which to dedicate ourselves continuously to the sacred presence which we share and create.”

  • No one can walk backwards into the future. Joseph Hergesheimer, the character Jasper Penny speaking, in The Three Black Pennies: A Novel (1917)
  • The future has a way of embarrassing the present, and…a pinch of self-doubt is never more needful than at just the moment when any doubt is deemed heretical. Jeff Jacoby, “The House of Tudor Didn’t Get the Last Word,” in The Boston Globe (March 26, 2015)

Jacoby added: “To err is human, to be human is to err. Don’t be too sure that history, or the moral arc of the universe, will approve of your preferences and convictions.”

  • I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Adams (Aug. 1, 1816); reprinted in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1854; H. A. Washington, ed.)
  • The future is purchased by the present. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Nov. 30, 1751)
  • Of all human activities, none is so useless and potentially destructive as trying to predict the future. The future is merely a shadow which blocks out the joys of the present and emphasizes the miseries of the past. Erica Jong, an epigraph to the chapter “Winging It,” in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation does not directly come from the novel’s famous protagonist, Isadora Wing, but there is a clear suggestion that it is consistent with her beliefs. Three years later, Jong put a similar sentiment into the mouth of yet another famous fictional character. See the following entry.

  • Of all the foolish Fears of Humankind, Fear of the Future is by far the most foolish. Erica Jong, the title character speaking, in Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980)

Fanny continued: “We cannot control the Future by fearing it, howe’er much we may believe we do so. Anticipation and Worry are, in fact, quite as useless to affect our Fates as a Fortune Teller’s Predictions; but, alas, that doth not prevent our Indulgence in ’em.”

  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Alan Kay, remark at a 1971 conference, quoted in The Financial Times (Nov. 1, 1982)
  • The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present. Robert F. Kennedy, in speech at World’s Fair, Seattle, Washington (Aug. 7, 1962)
  • My interest is in the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Reader's Digest (Jan., 1946)
  • Eventually the future shows up everywhere. Dorianne Laux, the opening line of the poem “Dark Charms,” in The Book of Men: Poems (2011)
  • The Future…something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. C. S. Lewis, the character Screwtape, in a letter to his nephew Wormwood, in The Screwtape Letters (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: This abridged version of the quotation appears in most published anthologies, including the respected Yale Book of Quotations. The full original passage reveals it as part of a strategy in which Screwtape and his fellow demons are messing with the minds of people: “We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favored heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

  • There is no such thing as the future. The future is an illusion. What we have is a now, followed by a now, followed by a series of nows. Mary J. Lore, opening words of Managing Thought: Think Differently. Think Powerful. Achieve New Levels of Success (2008)
  • The wave of the future is coming and there is no fighting it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future (1940)
  • “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, the voice of the narrator, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
  • I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate. Arthur Wing Pinero, the character Paula speaking, in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893)
  • The future bears a great resemblance to the past, only more so. Faith Popcorn, in The Popcorn Report (1991)
  • The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt, widely attributed, never verified

QUOTATION CAUTION: This popular quotation has never been found in any of Mrs. Roosevelt’s writings or speeches. According to quotation sleuth Barry Popik, it first appeared in print when it was cited in an unusual source: Gerson G. Eisenberg’s Learning Vacations (1986), a Peterson's Guide book. The quotation was given added credence when it showed up (also without source information) in the Introduction to Leonard C. Schlup and Donald W. Whisenhunt’s 2001 book It Seems to Me : Selected Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt. The safest course is to regard the observation as apocryphal. For more, see this post by Barry Popik

  • The future has a way of arriving unannounced. George F. Will, in Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home, 1986–1990 (1992)

Will continued: “Its arrival is jolting when people have not prepared for it. One way to prepare is by governing with a two-word truism in mind: Nothing lasts.”



  • Culture shock is relatively mild in comparison with a much more serious malady that might be called “future shock.” Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future. Alvin Toffler, “The Future as a Way of life,” in Horizon magazine (Summer, 1965)

QUOTE NOTE: This was an early formulation of a concept that Toffler went on to explore in depth in his groundbreaking book Future Shock (1970). In that book, he described future shock in the following ways:

“Man has a limited biological capacity for change. When this capacity is overwhelmed it is in ‘future shock.’”

“Future shock…the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

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