Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“G” Quotations



  • A “gaffe” is the opposite of a “lie”: it is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. Michael Kinsley, “Home Truths,” in The New Republic (May 28, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: in a 2014 blog post, this was named as one of “The New Republic’s Best Sentences” over the past 100 years.


(see also ADVANCEMENT and LOSS and LOSS & GAIN and PROFIT)

  • For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? The Bible—Mark 8:36 (KJV)
  • Where there is chance of gain, there is also chance of loss. Whenever one courts great happiness, one also risks malaise. Walker Percy, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Binx Bolling, in The Moviegoer (1961)
  • I know that gain has already made many a man famous; and yet there are occasions when it is undoubtedly better to incur loss than to make gain. Plautus, the character Hegio speaking, in The Captives (3rd c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also see the passage translated in the following way: “I don’t believe that wealth is always and invariably useful to a man. I am aware that it has given prestige to many a man, yet sometimes it is indisputably better to incur a loss than to make a gain.”



  • I’m crazy enough to believe in taking chances in every way, in making choices and gambling with your life. That’s the kind of gambling I believe in. Lauren Bacall, in a 1997 issue of Parade magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling. Ambrose Bierce, in 1 1904 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine; later reprinted in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Some gamble at the tables, others on the race-course, but the greatest of all gambles is with life. Lady Richmond Brown, in Unknown Tribes and Uncharted Seas (1924)
  • Betting and such sports are only the stunted and twisted shapes of the original instinct of man for adventure and romance. G. K. Chesterton, “The Eternal Revolution,” in Orthodoxy (1909)

Chesterton went on to write: “The perils, rewards, punishments, and fulfillments of an adventure must be real, or the adventure is only a shifting and heartless nightmare. If I bet I must be made to pay, or there is no poetry in betting. If I challenge I must be made to fight, or there is no poetry in challenging. If I vow to be faithful I must be cursed when I am unfaithful, or there is no fun vowing.”

  • The gamester, if he die a martyr to his profession, is doubly ruined. He adds his soul to every other loss, and by the act of suicide, renounces earth to forfeit Heaven. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Gambling is risk-taking. It might be said the owner of a casino gambles, takes risks, but he has the odds in his favor, so that’s intelligent gambling. If I wanted to gamble, I’d buy the casino. Jean Paul Getty, Sr., a 1963 remark, quoted in Alan Whicker, “Sutton Place: The Rosebud of Citizen Getty,“ Within Whicker’s World (1982)
  • Man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other. Charles Lamb, “Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist,” in The Essays of Elia (1823)
  • Oh, this pernicious vice of gaming! Edward Moore, the character Charlotte speaking, in The Gamester (1753)
  • But I was born for infamy—I’ll tell thee what it [the world] says; it calls me villain, a treacherous husband, a cruel father, a false brother; one lost to nature and her charities; or to say all in one short word, it calls me—gamester. Edward Moore, the character Beverley speaking, in The Gamester (1753)
  • A degenerate gambler. That is a man who gambled simply to gamble and must lose. As a hero who goes to war must die. Show me a gambler and I’ll show you a loser, show me a hero and I’ll show you a corpse. Mario Puzo, the character Jordan Hawley, thinking about himself, in Fools Die (1978)
  • 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.

  • It’s a pleasure to meet someone who understands that, to the true gambler, money is never an end in itself, it’s simply a tool, as language is to thought. Edward G. Robinson, as the gambler Lancey “The Man” Howard, in the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid (screenplay by Ring Lardner, jr. and Terry Southern)
  • There is no moral difference between gambling at cards or in lotteries or on the race track and gambling in the stock market. One method is just as pernicious to the body politic as the other kind. Theodore Roosevelt, in message to Congress (Jan. 31, 1908)
  • Gambling promises the poor what Property performs for the rich—something for nothing. George Bernard Shaw, “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” in Man and Superman (1903)

The passage in the Handbook continued: “That is why the bishops dare not denounce it fundamentally.”

  • Poker rewards not “gambling,” but concentration, discipline and the ability to control emotions, even when the big hand finally hits. Nancy Shute, “Fake and Rake,” in a 1997 issue of Smithsonian magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • In fact, women’s total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage. Gloria Steinem, “Night Thoughts of a Media Watcher,” in Ms. Magazine (Nov. 1982); reprinted in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)

Steinem introduced the thought by writing: “Someone once asked me why women don’t gamble as much as men do, and I gave the common-sensical answer that we don’t have as much money. That was a true but incomplete answer.”

  • One never made a fortune save by some form of gambling, however respectable. Thelma L. Strabel, in Storm to the South (1944)
  • I've been writing a book for years. It's called Horses That Owe Me Money, and I haven't come to the end of it yet. Sophie Tucker, in Some of These Days: The Autobiography of Sophie Tucker (1945)
  • It is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief. George Washington, on gaming, in letter to Bushrod Washington (Jan. 15, 1783)



  • We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one. Samuel Butler, “The World,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is six to five against. Damon Runyon, the character Sam the Gonoph speaking, “The Nice Price,” in Collier’s magazine (Sep. 8, 1934); reprinted in Money from Home (1935)

ERROR ALERT: In many quotation compilations, come is mistakenly replaced by came. Because of the unusual wording, the quotation is now almost always simply presented as: “All life is six to five against.”



  • No human being is innocent, but there is a class of innocent human actions called Games. W. H. Auden, “Dingley Dell & The Fleet” (1962), in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • Every game ever invented by mankind is a way of making things hard for the fun of it. The great fun, of course, is in making the hard look easy. John Ciardi, in How Does a Poem Mean? An Introduction to Literature (1959)

Ciardi preceded the thought by writing: “No chess player finds any real pleasure in playing an obviously inferior opponent.”

  • It is in games that many men discover their paradise. Robert Lynd, in Searchlights and Nightingales (1939)



  • The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or the Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating). Stephen Potter, title of 1947 book

QUOTE NOTE: Potter’s book introduced the world to his neologism gamesmanship, the nature of which was captured in the work’s subtitle. He went on to extend the concept to one-upmanship in a 1950 book. Potter’s book also served as the inspiration for brinksmanship, a Cold War term based on a comment John Foster Dulles made about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (see his entry in RISK & RISK-TAKING).



  • The great object in life is Sensation—to feel that we exist, even though in pain; it is this “craving void” which drives us to gaming, to battle, to travel, to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment. George Gordon (Lord Byron), in letter to Annabella Millbanke, later Lady Byron (Sep. 6, 1813)

QUOTE NOTE: Byron borrowed the term craving void from Alexander Pope, who introduced it in the poem Eloisa to Abelard (c. 1716). In the throes of love (“Oh happy state!” according to Pope), two souls are drawn so close together that “All then is full” and “No craving void is left aching [aking in the original] in the breast.”)

  • Man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other. Charles Lamb, “Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist,” in The Essays of Elia (1823)
  • Gaming is a mode of transferring property without producing any intermediate good. Samuel Johnson, an April 6, 1772 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Dr. Johnson preceded the remark by saying: “Sir, I do not call a gamester a dishonest man; but I call him an unsocial man, an unprofitable man.”

  • Nothing is sacred to a gamester. Bernard-Joseph Saurin, the character Henriette speaking, in Beverley (1768)
  • Avoid gaming…. It is the child of Avarice, the Brother of Iniquity, and father of Mischief. George Washington, in letter to nephew Bushrod Washington (Jan. 15, 1783)



  • Devising a vocabulary for gardening is like devising a vocabulary for sex. There are the correct Latin names, but most people invent euphemisms. Those who refer to plants by Latin name are considered more expert, if a little pedantic. Diane Ackerman. in Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden(2001)
  • Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? Douglas Adams, a reflection of the character Ford Prefect, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  • Gardening in England is a hobby, about midway on the social scale between throwing darts and composing sonnets. Abby Adams, “What Is a Garden Anyway?” in The Writer in the Garden (1999; Jane Garmey, ed.)
  • I think there are as many kinds of gardening as of poetry: your makers of parterres and flower-gardens are epigrammatists and sonneteers in this art: contrivers of bowers and grottos, treillages and cascades, are romance writers. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (September 6, 1712)
  • A modest garden…contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (April 28, 1851)

QUOTE NOTE: Nearly all sources present the observation without an ellipsis. Here’s the full thought: “A modest garden and a country rectory, the narrow horizon of a garret, contain for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.”

  • I’m not a dirt gardener. I sit with my walking stick and point things out that need to be done. After many years, the garden is now totally obedient. Hardy Amies, quoted in Sunday Times (London; July 11, 1999)
  • Gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old, because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized. Allan M. Armitage, in Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes (2008)
  • When you put a seed in the ground, the ground doesn’t say “Well, in eight hours I'm going to stop growing.” Ruth Asawa, quoted in Robert Snyder’s documentary film “Ruth Asawa, Of Forms and Growth” (2015)

Asawa, a popular San Francisco artist and teacher, went on to add that, from the moment a bulb is placed in the soil, “every second that bulb grows. Every second it is attached to the Earth. That’s why I think that every second we are attached to this Earth, we should be doing something.”

A bit later in the film, Asawa also said: “You plant the seed, you have to care for it, you have to water it, you have to weed it. And then you enjoy eating it. That whole experience has to be given to every person.”

  • Gardening is not a rational act. Margaret Atwood, “Unearthing Suite,” in Bluebeard’s Egg (1986)

Atwood went on to write: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

  • For there is no gardening without humility, an assiduous willingness to learn, and a cheerful readiness to confess you were mistaken. Alfred Austin, in The Garden That I Love (1906)

Austin continued: “Nature is continually sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. But, by the due exercise of patience and diligence, they may work their way to the top again.”

  • God Almighty first planted a garden, and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures. Francis Bacon, “Of Gardens,” in Essays (1625)

Bacon added: “It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which, buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks.”

  • The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. The Bible—Genesis 2:8 (KJV)
  • Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. Ray Bradbury a reflection of narrator and protagonist Guy Montag, in Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Montag continued: “It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hand away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there for a lifetime.”

  • Colette wrote of vegetables as if they were love objects and of sex as if it were an especially delightful department of gardening. Brigid Brophy, on Colette, quoted in A. Stibbs, Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle (1992)
  • Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in Life’s Instructions for Wisdom, Success, and Happiness (2001)
  • There are no child prodigy gardeners. Robin Chotzinoff, in People With Dirty Hands (1996)
  • I never had any other desire so strong and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden. Abraham Cowley, in The Garden (1664)
  • Weather means more when you have a garden: there’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your lettuce and green beans. Marcelene Cox, in a 1944 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Fall is not the end of the gardening year; it is the start of next year’s growing season. The mulch you lay down will protect your perennial plants during the winter and feed the soil as it decays, while the cleaned up flower bed will give you a huge head start on either planting seeds or setting out small plants. Thalassa Cruso, in The Gardening Year (1990)
  • The process of weeding can be as beneficial to the gardener as to the garden. Bertha Damon, in A Sense of Humus (1943)

Damon continued: “It gives scope to the aggressive instinct—what a satisfaction to pull up an enemy by the roots and throw him into a heap! And yet, paradoxically, weeding is the most peaceful of any outdoor task.”

  • The garden is a metaphor for life, and gardening is a symbol of the spiritual path. Larry Dossey, M.D., in a blurb for Vivian Elisabeth Glyck’s 12 Lessons on Life I Learned from My Garden (1997)
  • When I go into my garden with a spade and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health, that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “Man the Reformer” lecture, Boston, MA (Jan. 25, 1841)
  • I am an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. A graffiti artist beautifies walls; I beautify parkways and yards. I treat the garden as a piece of cloth and the plants and the trees are the embellishment of that cloth. You'd be surprised what soil can do if you let it be your canvas. Ron Finley, in a 2013 TedTalk
  • Gardening is like everything else in life, you get out of it as much as you put in. No one can make a garden by buying a few packets of seeds or doing an afternoon's weeding. You must love it, and then your love will be repaid a thousandfold, as every gardener knows. Margery Fish, in We Made a Garden (1956)

In the book, Fish also offered these thoughts:

“Firmness in all aspects is a most important quality when gardening, not only in planting but in pruning, dividing and tying up. Plants are like babies, they know when an amateur is handling them.”

“You mustn’t rely on your flowers to make your garden attractive. A good bone structure must come first, with an intelligent use of evergreen plants so that the garden is always clothed, no matter what time of year. Flowers are an added delight, but a good garden is the garden you enjoy looking at even in the depths of winter.”

  • No garden without weeds. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia (1732)
  • You should make something. You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening—everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, “I did that.” Ricky Gervais, in interview with Scott Raab, Esquire magazine (Jan. 12, 2012)
  • The garden was absolutely enormous. It had no design or plan, and there wasn’t a straight line in it; it was like a blossoming meadow; from the house it suggested a many-colored sea of petals floating above the ground. Over the surface of this sea there were always butterflies dancing, rather like flowers detached from their stems. Janet Gillespie, in The Joy of a Small Garden (1963)
  • In what other job can a person be inventor, scientist, landscape gardener, ditch digger, researcher, problem solver, artist, exorcist, and on top of all that eat one’s successes at dinner? Dorothy Gilman, on gardeners, in A New Kind of Country (1978)
  • You must remember garden catalogues are as big liars as house-agents. Rumer Godden, in China Court (1961)
  • A garden is a kinetic work of art, not an object but a process, open-ended, biodegradable, nurturant, like all women’s artistry. A garden is the best alternative therapy. Germaine Greer, in The Change: Women, Aging, and the Menopause (1991)
  • The kiss of the sun for pardon,/The song of the birds for mirth,/One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden/Than anywhere else on earth. Dorothy Frances Gurney, title poem of God’s Garden (1933)
  • I now derive physical and spiritual pleasure from gardening and there is tremendous satisfaction in knowing that I could survive almost anywhere if I had to. Don Henley, in Don Henley and Dave Marsh, Heaven is Under Our Feet 1991)
  • Gardening is the greatest tonic and therapy a human being can have. Even if you have only a tiny piece of earth, you can create something beautiful, which we all have a great need for. If we begin by respecting plants, it’s inevitable we’ll respect people. Audrey Hepburn, quoted in Diana Maychick, Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait (1993)
  • One’s own flowers and some of one’s own vegetables make acceptable, free, self-congratulatory gifts when visiting friends, though giving zucchini—or leaving it on the doorstep, ringing the bell, and running—is a social faux pas. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • The ideal garden is one in which a collection of trees, shrubs and plants have been procured and allotted to the best space available and are so arranged and tended that they are seen to their advantage, each in relation to the other. Penelope Hobhouse, in The Country Gardener (1989)

Hobhouse continued: “Every plant, of whatever shape or size, should be chosen not only for its individual merits but for its power to enhance the charms of neighboring plants by contrast or combination in foliage or in flower color.”

  • The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but grows to the enduring happiness that the love of gardening gives. Gertrude Jekyll, quoted in Louise Spilsbury, Dig, Plant, and Grow! (2009)
  • But though an old man, I am but a young gardener. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Charles Wilson Peale (Aug. 20, 1811)
  • The Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye. Rudyard Kipling, in the poem “The Glory of the Garden” (1936)
  • The garden was the primitive prison till man with Promethean felicity and boldness sinned himself out of it. Charles Lamb, in letter to William Wordsworth (Jan. 22, 1830)
  • Beyond its practical aspects, gardening—be it of the soil or soul—can lead us on a philosophical and spiritual exploration that is nothing less than a journey into the depths of our own sacredness and the sacredness of all beings. Christopher McDowell, in The Sanctuary Garden: Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Yard Or Garden (1998)

McDowell continued: “After all, there must be something more mystical beyond the garden gate, something that satisfies the soul’s attraction to beauty, peace, solace, and celebration.”

  • The fact is that gardening, more than most of our other activities except sometimes love-making, confronts us with the inexplicable. Mary McCarthy, in Occasional Prose (1985)
  • Gardening has compensations out of all proportion to its goals. It is creation in the pure sense. Phyllis McGinley, “Against Gardens,” in The Province of the Heart (1959)

In the same essay, McGinley wrote: “The trouble with gardening is that it does not remain an avocation. It becomes an obsession.”

  • I have found, through years of practice, that people garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land. Julie Moir Messervy, in The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning (2007)
  • Gardening is a long road, with many detours and way stations, and here we all are at one point or another. It’s not a question of superior or inferior taste, merely a question of which detour we are on at the moment. Getting there (as they say) is not important; the wandering about in the wilderness or in the olive groves or in the bayous is the whole point. Henry Mitchell, in Henry Mitchell on Gardening (1998)
  • Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. John Muir, in The Yosemite (1920)

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

  • There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. Mirabel Osler, in A Gentle Plea for Chaos: The Enchantment of Gardening (1989)
  • I shall use this garden as paint box, palette, and canvas, and in it I shall try out plants for their flower color, texture of foliage and habit of growth. Russell Page, in The Education of a Gardener (1994)

A moment later, Page added: “Each bed will be autonomous, its own small world in which plants will grow to teach me more about their aesthetic possibilities and their cultural likes and dislikes…my personal vegetable museum, my art gallery of natural forms, a trial ground from which I will always learn.”

  • All gardening is landscape painting. Alexander Pope, quoted in Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men (1858)
  • Gardening is all about optimism. I put a seed in the ground. I consistently tend it, confident I will see the results, in time, of the nurture I have provided. Mary Anne Radmacher, in Live Boldly: Cultivate the Qualities That Can Change Your Life (2008)
  • This rule in gardening never forget:/To sow dry and to set wet. John Ray, in English Proverbs (1670)
  • In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens. Oliver Sacks, “Why We Need Gardens,” in Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Takes (pub. posthumously in 2019)

Sacks, who earlier had written “I take my patients to gardens whenever possible, went on to add: “I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.”

  • The farmer and the gardener are both busy, the gardener perhaps the more excitable of the two, for he is more of the amateur, concerned with the creation of beauty rather than with the providing of food. Gardening is a luxury occupation; an ornament, not a necessity, of life. Vita Sackville-West, in Country Notes (1940)
  • Gardening is one of the rewards of middle age, when one is ready for an impersonal passion, a passion that demands patience, acute awareness of a world outside oneself, and the power to keep on growing through all the times of drought, through the cold snows, towards those moments of pure joy when all failures are forgotten and the plum tree flowers. May Sarton, in Plant Dreaming Deep (1968)
  • Gardening is an instrument of grace. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • 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)
  • A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself. May Sarton, diary entry (June 23, 1982), in At Seventy: A Journal (1984)

Several weeks earlier (May 28, 1982), Sarton made this additional entry on the subject: “Gardening is a madness, a folly that does not go away with age. Quite the contrary.”

  • All really grim gardeners possess a keen sense of humus. W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, in Garden Rubbish (1930)
  • Our bodies are gardens,/To the which our wills are gardeners. William Shakespeare the character Iago speaking, in Othello (1602-04)
  • How deeply seated in the human heart is the liking for gardens and gardening. Alexander Smith, in Dreamthorp: Essays Written in the Country (1863)
  • The autumn garden is a machete garden. Anyone still trying to control or tame it in September is either hopelessly deluded or has a strange need to use large cutting tools from the jungle. Lauren Springer, “The Arrival of Fall,” quoted in Jane Garmey, The Writer in the Garden (1999)
  • What is truly a part of our spiritual path is that which brings us alive. If gardening brings us alive, that is part of our path, if it is music, if it is conversation…we must follow what brings us alive. David Steindl-Rast, quoted in Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology (2008)
  • It is a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves. Nor must the ear be forgotten: without birds, a garden is a prison yard. Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Ideal House,” an unpublished an unfinished essay (c. 1884); reprinted in The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson (1916)
  • I think I may be a better person for having given serious time and thought and effort to gardening. Martha Stewart, in Martha Stewart’s Gardening, Month by Month (1991)
  • I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. Ruth Stout, in How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back (1955)
  • Working in the garden…gives me a profound feeling of inner peace. Nothing here is in a hurry. There is no rush toward accomplishment, no blowing of trumpets. Here is the great mystery of life and growth. Everything is changing, growing, aiming at something, but silently, unboastfully, taking its time. Ruth Stout, in How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back (1955)
  • I wanted no one lifting a finger in that garden unless he loved doing it. What if Fred had hired a man to dig those trenches and it had turned out that he didn’t love to dig? Who could eat that kind of asparagus? Ruth Stout, in How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back (1955)
  • Gardening is something more than a pastime; it is a religion. Patience Strong, in The Glory of the Garden (1951)

In the book, Strong also wrote: “Much of gardening is a struggle against the fecundity of Nature.”

  • “The worst of gardening,” said Mrs. Miniver, lying along one of the upper boughs of an appletree and reaching out to snip with a satisfying crunch through a half-inch-thick bramble, “is that it’s so full of metaphors one hardly knows where to begin.” Jan Struther, in Mrs. Miniver (1939)
  • It is a means by which you can attain many valuable hours of solitude without being thought unsociable. Jan Struther, on gardening, “Upside-Down Reflections,” in A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946)
  • There is a kind of immortality in every garden. Gladys Taber, in Stillmeadow Daybook (1955)
  • Last week, when I went early into my garden, a rose-breasted grosbeak was sitting on the fence. Oh, he was beautiful as a flower. I hardly dared to breathe, I did not stir, and we gazed at each other fully five minutes before he concluded to move. Celia Thaxter, in a letter to a friend, quoted in Annie Fields and Rose Lamb, Letters of Celia Thaxter (1895)
  • I was really nothing more than a custodian to a mystery that was beyond my comprehension. I think that’s what hooks one on gardening forever. It is the closest one can come to being present at the creation. Phyllis Theroux, “A Gardener Heeds the Call of the Soil,” in The New York Times (July 27, 1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This beautiful thought was the conclusion to a brief essay Theroux wrote on her first experience as a gardener. Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator for his help in authenticating this quotation.

  • Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • What impressed me most about English gardens was their generosity of spirit, an exuberant lavishness that could not always be contained within strict squares or rectangles. Susan Allen Toth, in My Love Affair With England (1992)

Toth went on to add: “I discovered cultivated flowers that soared on trellises, curved along winding paths, tumbled over walls, popped up between stones on a terrace, clustered in hidden corners like gossiping friends at a tea party, and crowded each other to show off their colors in mixed borders.”

  • We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us. Jenny Uglow, in A Little History of British Gardening (2005)
  • We have descended into the garden and caught 300 slugs. How I love the mixture of the beautiful and the squalid in gardening. It makes it so lifelike. Evelyn Underhill, from a 1943 letter, in The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (1991; Charles Williams, ed.)
  • “’Tis well said,” replied Candide, “But we must cultivate our gardens.” Voltaire, in Candide (1759)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the final words of the novel, and their exact meaning has been debated ever since the book was published .

  • What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. Charles Dudley Warner, “Third Week,” in My Summer in a Garden (1871)

From this passage, one gathers that Warner viewed gardening as hard work. But it was work he dearly loved. In a “Preliminary” section earlier in the book, he wrote: “To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch their renewal of life—this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do.”

  • It is as pompous for a home gardener to feel that he produced the plants as it would be for an obstetrician to claim he made the baby. Our garden grows in spite of us, in the same way that our children have turned into charming people in spite of the traumatic experience of living with us during their formative years. Marguerite Hurrey Wolf, in I’ll Take the Back Road (1975)
  • 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)



  • Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good. Alice May Brock, in Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook (1969)
  • Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm. Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise (1938)

ERROR ALERT: In numerous books, blogs, and internet sites, this quotation is mistakenly presented as if it ended in one of two different ways: the salad of life and the salad of taste.

  • Garlic, like perfume, must be used with discretion and on the proper occasions. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek Cookery (1942)
  • You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times. Morley Safer, quoted in Bryan Millerchester, “In the Kitchen With: Morley Safer,” The New York Times (October 5, 1994)
  • A little garlic, judiciously used, won’t seriously affect your social life and will tone up more dull dishes than any commodity discovered to date. Alexander Wright, in How to Live Without a Woman (1937)



  • We all got holes in our lives. Nobody dies in a perfect garment. Louise Erdrich, a reflection of protagonist Lipsha Morrissey, in The Bingo Palace (1994)



  • The gaze of a man has often been described. It seems to fasten coldly on the woman, as if it were measuring, weighing, evaluating, choosing her, as if, in other words, it were turning her into a thing. Milan Kundera, the voice of the narrator, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978)

The narrator continued: “Less well known is that a woman is not entirely defenseless against that gaze. If she is turned into a thing, then she watches the man with the gaze of a thing.”



  • Gender is many things, but one thing it is surely not is a hobby. What it is, more than anything else, is a fact. Jennifer Finney Boylan, in She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003)

Boylan preceded the observation by writing: “What transsexuality emphatically is not is a ‘lifestyle,’ any more than being male or female is a lifestyle.”

  • People share a common nature but are trained in gender roles. Grace Farrell, summarizing the view of Lillie Devereux Blake (1835–1913), a nineteenth-century women’s rights advocate, in Lillie Devereux Blake: Retracing a Life Erased (2002)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often attributed directly to Blake, but it is in fact Farrell’s summary of Blake’s view. About “The Social Condition of Woman,” an anonymously-authored piece that Blake wrote for Knickerbocker magazine (May, 1863), Farrell wrote: “Its radical premise is that gender identity is secondary to human identity. Blake insisted that people share a common nature but are trained in gender roles—in other words, that gender is socially constructed and historically contingent.”

  • Sex differences may be “natural,” but gender differences have their source in culture. Ann Oakley, in Sex, Gender, and Society (1972)
  • As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag. Patti Smith, a 1975 remark, quoted in Jan Clausen, Beyond Gay or Straight (1995)
  • Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being, a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. Virginia Woolf, a reflection of the title character, in Orlando (1928)


(see GENERATIONS section below)


(including GENERATION GAP; see also AGES and ANCESTORS and ERAS and FAMILIES)

  • The minority of one generation is usually the majority of the next. Gertrude Atherton, in The Aristocrats (1901)
  • Any given generation gives the next generation advice that the given generation should have been given by the previous one but now it’s too late. Roy Blount, Jr., “Don’t Anybody Steal These,” in Daniel Halpern, Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries (1998)
  • When three generations are present in a family, one of them is bound to be revolutionary. Elise Boulding, in The Family As a Way Into the Future (1978)
  • We didn’t have a generation gap, we had a generation Grand Canyon. Mary Crow Dog, in Lakota Woman (1990; with Richard Erdoes)
  • I was sorting through my mother’s things. All the letters from friends had to go. I don’t know why she kept them, and now they meant nothing to anybody alive. Each generation flushes the toilet for the last. Lucy Ellmann, in the short story “Pass the Parcel,” in Kate Saunders, Revenge: Short Stories by Women Writers (1991)
  • A generation which ignores history has no past—and no future. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • The gesture with which one generation guards the next is the movement, and the only time we see it clearly, of life itself. Storm Jameson, in The Journal of Mary Hervey Russell (1945)
  • Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Nathaniel Macon (Jan. 12, 1819)
  • Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (DeC. 8, 1750)
  • Perhaps every generation thinks of itself as a lost generation and perhaps every generation is right. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (1994)
  • Isn’t it our job to be appalled by our parents? Isn’t it every generation’s duty to be dismayed by the previous generation? And to assert that we are different—only to discover later that we are distressingly the same? Erica Jong, in Introduction to Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex (2011)
  • Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address (Jan. 20, 1961)
  • Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches. Don Marquis, in archy and mehitabel (1927)
  • The older generation will never see repeated in the lives of young people their own unprecedented experience of sequentially emerging change. This break between generations is wholly new: it is planetary and universal. Margaret Mead, in Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap (1970)

Mead introduced the thought by writing: “Even very recently, the elders could say: ‘You know, I have been young and you never have been old.’ But today’s young people can reply: ‘You never have been young in the world I am young in, and you never can be.’”

  • our parents give us their song of life. We receive it from them and work on it, and will hand it down to those who follow us to make of it a new and better thing, to make it understood by their own generation. Let us be careful to take the song reverently, not to snatch it ungratefully, lest we break the hearts of those who conceive it. Lily H. Montagu, a 1916 observation, in Lily Montagu: Sermons, Addresses, Letters and Prayers (1985; Ellen M. Umansky, ed.)
  • Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfather. Lewis Mumford, in The Brown Decades (1931)
  • I suppose every generation has a conceit of itself which elevates it, in its own opinion, above that which comes after it. Margaret Oliphant, the voice of the narrator of the short story “The Open Door,” in Great Ghost Stories (1918)
  • Every generation needs regeneration. Charles Spurgeon, in The Salt-Cellars (1889)

QUOTE NOTE: In his book, Spurgeon presented this observation as if it were a “quaint saying” he admired, but I believe it is his own creation. He followed it with a comment: “None needs it more than the present.”

  • Each generation has something different at which they are all looking. Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation” (1926), in What Are Masterpieces (1940)
  • One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)



  • It wasn’t that he was specially ungenerous but that he put things off to give his generosity a longer and more significant route. Saul Bellow, the title character reflecting a his friend Frazer, in The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
  • Generous, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Generosity without delicacy, like wit without judgment, generally gives as much pain as pleasure. Fanny Burney, Lord Orville speaking, in Evelina (1778)
  • Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present. Albert Camus, “Beyond Nihilism,” in The Rebel (1951)
  • You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them. Albert Camus, the protagonist Jean-Baptiste Clamence speaking, in The Fall (1956)
  • And so you have found out that secret—one of the deep secrets of Life—that all, that is really worth the doing, is what we do for others. Lewis Carroll, in letter to Ellen Terry (Nov. 13, 1890)

QUOTE NOTE: A few months earlier, Carroll had asked Terry—one of the era’s most prominent actresses—if she would be willing to recommend some teachers of elocution for the child of one of his friends (she had recently expressed interest in acting as a career). Terry not only met with the girl, but took the time to provide her with some private lessons on her own). Carroll was so touched by Terry’s kindness and generosity that he wrote at the beginning of the letter: “What is one to do with a friend who does about 100 times more than you ask them to do?”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites present an abridged and paraphrased version of the thought: “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.”

  • Generosity makes at least two people feel good. Karen Casey, in Girls Only! Daily Thoughts for Young Girls (1999)
  • The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is always a sign that we are holding on to something—usually ourselves. Pema Chodron in Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (2003)
  • Our generosity never should exceed our abilities. Marcus Tulles Cicero, in De Officiis (1st c. BC)
  • Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Richard Dawkins, in The Selfish Gene (1976)

Dawkins continued: “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

  • That’s what I consider true generosity. You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing. Simone de Beauvoir, the character Marianne speaking, in All Men Are Mortal: A Novel (1946)
  • Being generous…often consists of simply extending a hand. That’s hard to do if you are grasping tightly to your sand [sic], your rightness, your belief system, your superiority, your assumptions about others, your definition of normal. Patti Digh, in Life is a Verb (2008)
  • Generosity, to be perfect, should always be accompanied by a dash of humor. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880–93)
  • Generosity is not in giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is in giving me that which you need more than I do. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam: A Book of Aphorisms (1926)
  • How seldom is generosity perfect and pure! How often do men give because it throws a certain inferiority on those who receive, and superiority on themselves! Fulke Greville, in Maxims, Characters, and Reflections: Critical, Satirical, and Moral (2nd ed; 1857)
  • Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (2011)

The Dalai Lama continued: “When one desires to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being, then generosity—in action, word, and thought—is this desire put into practice.”

  • People who think they’re generous to a fault usually think that’s their only fault. Sydney J. Harris, in On the Contrary (1964)
  • Generosity does not flower easily or often in the rocky soil of the theatre. Few are uncorrupted by its ceaseless warfare over credit and billing, its jealousies and envies, its constant temptations toward pettiness and mean-spiritedness. Moss Hart, in Act One: An Autobiography (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a wonderful observation on its own, but the story behind it makes it even more special. On the opening night of the the play Once In a Lifetime, which the 25-year-old Hart co-wrote with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman, Hart was stunned when his esteemed collaborator went onstage to say, “I would like this audience to know that eighty percent of this play is Moss Hart.” Hart was stunned, and here is the full passage describing what that experience was like:

“I stood staring at the stage and at George Kaufman. Generosity does not flower easily or often in the rocky soil of the theatre. Few are uncorrupted by its ceaseless warfare over credit and billing, its jealousies and envies, its constant temptations toward pettiness and mean-spiritedness. It is not only a hard and exacting profession but the most public one as well. It does not breed magnanimity, and unselfishness is not one of its strong points. Not often is a young playwright welcomed into it with a beau geste as gallant and selfless as the one that had just come over those footlights.”

  • One can love any man that is generous. Leigh Hunt in Table-Talk (1870)
  • Generosity is a virtue for individuals, not governments. When governments are generous it is with other people’s money, other people’s safety, other people’s future. P. D. James, the character Xan speaking, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • He throws away his money without thought and without merit. I do not call a tree generous that sheds its fruit at every breeze. Samuel Johnson, a November, 1733 remark about John Dalrymple, who had recently described himself as generous in giving away his money, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Generosity gives assistance rather than advice. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Generosity lies less in giving much than in giving at the right moment. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of the Heart,” in Characters (1688)
  • What is called generosity is usually only the vanity of giving; we enjoy the vanity more than the thing given. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Generosity during life is a very different thing from generosity in the hour of death; one proceeds from genuine liberality and benevolence—the other from pride or fear. Horace Mann, in Thoughts Selected From the Writings of Horace Mann (1872)
  • Generosity with strings is not generosity: it is a deal. Marya Mannes, in But Will It Sell? (1964)
  • We’d all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • A man who isn’t generous with his money isn’t generous with his love and affection. Georgette Mosbacher, in Feminine Force: Feminine Force to Release the Power Within You to Create the Life You Deserve (1993)
  • A generous spirit is as eloquent in acknowledging benefits as it is bounteous in bestowing them. Jane Porter, the voice of the narrator, in Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803)
  • Letter-writing on the part of a busy man or woman is the quintessence of generosity. Agnes Repplier, quoted in Grace Guiney, Letters of Louise Imogen Guiney, Vol. 1 (1926)
  • Be generous! Give to those whom you love; give to those who love you; give to the fortunate; give to the unfortunate; yes—give especially to those to whom you don’t want to give. W. Clement Stone, “Be Generous“ in Og Mandino, A Treasury of Success Unlimited (1966)

Stone went on to add: “Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give—the more you will have!”

  • He who gives only what he would as readily throw away gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice. Henry Taylor, “Of Money,” in Notes From Life (1847)

Taylor went on to add: “When you give, therefore, take to yourself no credit for generosity unless you deny yourself something in order that you may give.”

  • Generosity is often the stalking horse of control. Anne Truitt, in Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (1982)
  • Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you’re generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit (2003; with Mark Reiter)

In the book, Tharp also wrote: “I cannot overstate how much a generous spirit contributes to good luck. Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared, they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them.”

  • Attention is the rarest and purest from of generosity. Simone Weil, in letter to Joë Bousquet (April 13, 1942)
  • It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but there is more grace in receiving than giving. When you receive, whom do you love and praise? The giver. When you give, the same holds true. Jessamyn West, in The Woman Said Yes: Encounters with Life and Death (1976)
  • ’Tis a curious fact that a generous act/Brings leisure and luck to a day. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Time Enough,” in Poems of Progress (1909)



  • Imagine being born with Gene Kelly’s grace and Grace Kelly’s genes. Andy Lee, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 19, 2019). Also a creative example ofchiasmus.
  • The genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger. Robin McKie, in The Genetic Jigsaw: The Story of the New Genetics (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the first appearance of a sentiment that—in a variety of similar phrasings—is well on the way to becoming a modern proverb. For example:

“Genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Cynthia Bulik, quoted in Woman’s Health magazine (July/August, 2006)

“In the end, genetics loads the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen, in You: Staying Young (2007)

McKie, the science and technology editor for The Guardian newspaper, originally offered the observation in a discussion of a specific disease: Xeroderma. Here’s the full thought: “Xeroderma is an important example of inherited ailments that do not automatically manifest themselves. Often a factor in the environment must first combine with a genetic predisposition to cause illness. Genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.”



  • What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite, “ego strength,” meaning (among other things) ordinary, Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment. Joan Acocella, in Introduction to Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this observation, Acocella was countering the idea that great art is born of neurosis (which she described as “the unhappy-childhood theory”). She was also advancing the intriguing notion that we love great artists “not just for artistic reasons, but for moral reasons.”

  • There is more beauty in the works of a great genius who is ignorant of all the rules of art, than in the works of a little genius, who not only knows but scrupulously observes them. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Sep. 10, 1714)
  • The meaning of genius is that it doesn’t have to work to attain what people without it must labor for—and not attain. Margaret C. Anderson, in My Thirty Years’ War: An Autobiography (1930)
  • We know that the nature of genius is to provide idiots with ideas twenty years later. Louis Aragon, “The Pen,” in Treatise of Style (1928)
  • No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. Aristotle, quoted by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), “On Tranquility of Mind,” in Sententiae (1st cent. B.C.)
  • Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do. W. H. Auden, “Dag Hammarskjöld,” in Markings (1964)
  • Genius, that power which dazzles mortal eyes,/Is oft but perseverance in disguise. Henry Austin, the opening lines of “Perseverance Conquers All,” in The Business Philosopher (March, 1911)

Austen continued: “Continuous effort of itself implies,/In spite of countless falls, the power to rise.” To see how the poem continues, go to ”Perseverance Conquers All”.

  • Genius is no more than childhood recalled at will. Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in L’Art Romantique (1869)

Baudelaire continued: “Childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience.”

  • I have known no man of genius who had not to pay, in some affliction or defect either physical or spiritual, for what the gods had given him. Max Beerbohm, “No. 2, The Pines” (1914), in And Even Now (1920)
  • These are the prerogatives of genius: To know without having learned; to draw just conclusions from unknown premises; to discern the soul of things. Ambrose Bierce, “Epigrams of a Cynic,” in A Cynic Looks at Life (1912)
  • One of the marks of true genius is a quality of abundance. A rich, rollicking abundance, enough to give indigestion to ordinary people. Great artists turn it out in rolls, in swatches. They cover whole ceilings with paintings, they chip out a mountainside in stone, they write not one novel but a shelf full. Catherine Drinker Bowen, “The Nature of the Artist,” address at Scripps College, Claremont, CA (April 26, 1961); reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (Nov. 1961)
  • What is genius—but the power of expressing a new individuality? Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in letter to Mary Russell Mitford (Jan. 14, 1843); reprinted in Elizabeth Barrett to Miss Mitford (1954; Betty Miller, ed.)
  • “Genius” (which means transcendent capacity of taking trouble, first of all). Thomas Carlyle, in History of Frederick the Great, book 4 (1858)

QUOTE NOTE: Many believe this is the observation that originally inspired the English proverb: “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” See also the Hopkins entry below.

  • Intelligence recognizes what has happened. Genius recognizes what will happen. John Ciardi, in his Saturday Review column (1966; specific issue undetermined)
  • Moderation is the inseparable companion of wisdom, but with it genius has not even a nodding acquaintance. Charles Caleb Colton, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has enjoyed popular currency since it appeared in Ballou’s impressive quotation anthology, but it does not appear in Lacon’s classic 1820 work Lacon: Or, Many Things in Few Words.

  • Genius, like truth, has a shabby and neglected mien. Edward Dahlberg, “For Sale,” in Alms for Oblivion (1964)
  • You can’t have genius without patience. Margaret Deland, the character Dr. Lavendar speaking, in The Awakening of Helena Richie (1906)
  • Genius has no sex! Germaine de Staël, a 1798 remark, quoted in J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël (1958)
  • Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm. Isaac D’Israeli, “Solitude,” in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 2, (1793)

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

  • Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Thomas A. Edison, quoted in the Idaho Daily Statesmen (May 6, 1901)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most famous version of an observation Edison made on many occasions (sometimes changing the exact numbers). An even earlier appearance came from The Delphos [Ohio] Daily Herald (May 18, 1898), which quoted Edison as saying: “Ninety eight per cent of genius is hard work. As for genius being inspired, inspiration is in most cases another word for perspiration.”

  • In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Earlier in the essay, Emerson had written: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.”

  • Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable. Margot Fonteyn, in The Magic of Dance (1979)
  • One of the strongest characteristics of genius is—the power of lighting its own fire. John W. Foster, a journal entry (undated), in The Life and Correspondence of John Foster, Vol. I (1866; J. E. Ryland, ed.)
  • Genius without Education is like Silver in the Mine. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (August 1750)
  • Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius. Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88)
  • Genius is formed in quiet, character in the stream of human life. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Torquato Tasso (1790)
  • If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in The Autobiography of Goethe (Eng. ed. pub. posthumously in 1848)

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

  • Genius is expansive, irresistible, and irresistibly expansive. If it is in you, no cords can confine it. Gail Hamilton (pen name of Mary Abigail Dodge), in Country Living and Country Thinking (1862)

QUOTE NOTE: If you failed to notice that lovely little chiastic twist in the first portion of the observation, you might want to take another look.

  • Gift, like genius, I often think, only means an infinite capacity for taking pains. Jane Ellice Hopkins, in Work Amongst Working Men (1883)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest expression in print of the now-proverbial phrase to describe genius: an infinite capacity for taking pains. It's possible that Hopkins was inspired by an 1858 observation from Thomas Carlyle (see his observation above). See also the Proverb section below.

  • A genius is a promontory into the infinite. Victor Hugo, in William Shakespeare (1864)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation was presented after Hugo’s work was first translated into English. The most common translation to be found these days is: “Genius is a promontory jutting out into the infinite.”

  • In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous. Robert G. Ingersoll, “Liberty in Literature,” an address delivered in Philadelphia, PA (Oct. 21, 1890)

Ingersoll was writing about Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass he described as “the true transcript of a soul.” He continued: “A great soul appears and fills the world with new and marvelous harmonies. In his words is the old Promethean flame. The heart of nature beats and throbs in his line. The respectable prudes and pedagogues sound the alarm, and cry, or rather screech: ‘Is this a book for a young person?’”

  • No estimate is more in danger of erroneous calculation than those by which a man computes the force of his own genius. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Sep. 7, 1751)
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. James Joyce, in Ulysses (1922)
  • The principle mark of genius is not perfection, but originality, the opening of new frontiers; once this is done, the conquered territory becomes common property. Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)
  • Genius is only a greater aptitude for patience. George-Louis Leclerc (Comte de Buffon), quoted in Hérault de Séchelles, Voyage à Montbar (1803)

QUOTE NOTE: A similar observation commonly attributed to the great French naturalist—but never with a source cited—is: “Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; hold fast, hold out. Patience is genius” (the last three words are often referred to simply as Buffon’s Maxim).

  • Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” address to Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, IL (Jan. 27, 1838)

QUOTE NOTE: Lincoln added: “It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it.” For more on the speech, which was instrumental in establishing Lincoln’s skills as an orator, go to Lyceum Address.

  • Men of genius are often dull and inert in society, as the blazing meteor when it descends to earth, is only a stone. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a reflection of the character Mr. Churchill, a schoolteacher and aspiring writer, in Kavanagh: A Tale (1849)

QUOTE NOTE: Longfellow is best remembered for his verse, but he also wrote two novels (Hyperion: A Romance, published in 1839, was his first). Kavanagh was greatly admired in its day by such Longfellow contemporaries as Emerson, Hawthorne, and Dickinson. According to Longfellow scholar Charles C. Calhoun, the novel occupies a footnote in history for its depiction of “what is probably the first lesbian relationship in American fiction.”

  • It may be said that every man of genius is considerably helped by being dead. Robert Lynd, in The Goldfish (1927)
  • Genius all over the world stands hand in hand. Herman Melville, in Hawthorne and His Masses (1850)

Melville continued: “And one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.”

  • It is a mark of genius not to astonish but to be astonished. Aubrey Menen in The Prevalence of Witches (1947)
  • 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.”

  • Blessed the geniuses who know/that egomania is not a duty. Marianne Moore, “Blessed Is the Man,” in Like a Bulwark (1956)
  • Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. Proverb (English)

QUOTE NOTE: See the Hopkins entry above.

  • When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1696–1706 (1711)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage served as the inspiration for John Kennedy Toole’s 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces, published eleven years after Toole’s death by suicide.

  • Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one. E. B. White, “One Man’s Meat” column, in Harper’s magazine (Jan., 1941)



  • Gentility is what is left over from rich ancestors after the money is gone. John Ciardi, in his “Manner of Speaking” column Saturday Review (Sep 24, 1966)



  • Somebody has said that a king may make a nobleman but he cannot make a gentleman. Edmund Burke, in letter to William Smith (Jan. 29, 1795)
  • His locked, lettered, braw brass collar,/Shew'd him the gentleman and scholar. Robert Burns, in poem “The Twa Dogs,” (1786)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the popular saying a gentleman and a scholar.

  • Manners and Money make a Gentleman. Thomas Fuller, M.D. in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • To be a gentleman is to be oneself, all of a seam, on camera and off. Murray Kempton, “The Party’s Over,” in America Comes of Age (1963)



  • The great mind knows the power of gentleness,/Only tries force, because persuasion fails. Robert Browning , in the poem “Herakles” (1871)
  • But gentleness is active/gentleness swabs the crusted stump/invents more merciful instruments/to touch the wound beyond the wound. Adrienne Rich, “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language (1978)
  • Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength. Ralph W. Sockman, quoted in The New York Mirror (Jun 8, 1952). Also an example of chiasmus.




  • Literature is not only a mirror; it is a map, a geography of the mind. Margaret Atwood, in Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972)
  • In our changing world nothing changes more than geography. Pearl S. Buck, in A Bridge for Passing (1962)
  • Geography is the maker of history. Maud Wilder Goodwin, in Dutch and English on the Hudson (1919)
  • If you don’t know where you are, you’re nowhere. Gilbert M. Grosvenor, quoted in the Washington Post (Jan. 14, 1988)

QUOTE NOTE: Grosvenor was president of The National Geographic Society when he announced the Society's $20 million initiative to fight ignorance of geography.

  • There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Josephine Hart, in Damage (1991)
  • If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. William Lyon Mackenzie King, on Canada, in speech to Canadian House of Commons (June 18, 1936)
  • Women are like geography:/From 16 to 22, like Africa—part virgin, part explored./From 25 to 35, like Asia—hot and mysterious./From 35 to 45, like the USA—high-toned and technical./From 46 to 55, like Europe— quite devastated but interesting in places./From 60 upwards, like Australia— everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to go there. Gertrude Lawrence, in a 1949 postcard to Daphne du Maurier
  • And I believe that the physical is the geography of the being. Louise Nevelson, in Dawns + Dusks (1976)
  • History is all explained by geography. Robert Penn Warren, in interview in The Paris Review (Spring-Summer 1957)
  • The formidable power of geography determines the character and performance of a people. Ethel Wilson, in Love and Salt Water (1956)
  • The geography of love is pornographic; its climate is much improved by money; when love comes it comes without effort, like perfect weather. Helen Yglesias, in Family Feeling (1976)



  • Geology…opens up such wide intellectual vistas and supplies a more perfectly unified and more comprehensive conception of nature than any other science. Rosa Luxemburg, in Prison Letters to Sophie Liebknecht (1917)


(see also ABILITY and GENIUS and TALENT and SKILL)

  • If you’re born with a gift, to behave like it’s an achievement is not right. Woody Allen, “What I’ve Learned,” in Esquire magazine (Sep., 2013)
  • Babies and children need love, care, and protection, of course, but they also need someone to pay attention to their gifts, the twinkles of purpose already flickering inside them. Samantha Aker, in Catcher of the Light (2021)
  • Sometimes, niña, our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given. Erica Bauermeister, in The School of Essential Ingredients (2009)
  • Perhaps our natural gifts elude us because they are so obvious. Sue Bender, in Everyday Sacred: A Woman’s Journey Home (1995)
  • It is one thing to be gifted and quite another thing to be worthy of one’s own gift. Nadia Boulanger, quoted in Don G. Campbell, Reflections of Boulanger (1982)
  • When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation. Truman Capote, in Music for Chameleons (1980)
  • In this world people have to pay an extortionate price for any exceptional gift whatever. Willa Cather, the protagonist Henry Seabury reflecting on all gifts, but especially the gift of beauty, in the short story “The Old Beauty” (1936), in The Old Beauty, and Others (1948)

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

  • Any great gift of power or talent is a burden…. But there is nothing to be done. If you were born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world or out of it may stand in the way of that service, because that is why you were born and that is the Law. Susan Cooper, in The Dark Is Rising (1978)
  • It all started when I was told that I had a gift. The gods are Yankee traders. There are no gifts. Everything has a price, and in bitter moments I have been tempted to cry “Usury!” Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • Gift, like genius, I often think, only means an infinite capacity for taking pains. Jane Ellice Hopkins, in Work Amongst Working Men (1883)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest expression in print of the phrase an infinite capacity for taking pains to describe genius. For more, see the GENIUS section.

  • If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place. Margaret Mead, in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)
  • We need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin. Margaret Mead, in Male and Female (1949)
  • The meaning of life is to discover your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Pablo Picasso, widely quoted, not yet verified
  • One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it. Katherine Anne Porter, quoted in Barbara Thompson, “Katherine Anne Porter,” Writers at Work, 2nd series (1963)
  • Your minds are endowed with a vast number of gifts of totally different uses—limbs of mind as it were, which, if you don’t exercise, you cripple. John Ruskin, “Influence on Imagination in Architecture,” an 1859 lecture, in Lectures on Art (1870)

Ruskin continued with an enumeration of four separate gifts: “One is curiosity; that is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing; which if you destroy, you make yourselves cold and dull. Another is sympathy; the power of sharing in the feelings of living creatures, which if you destroy, you make yourselves hard and cruel. Another of your limbs of mind is admiration, the power of enjoying beauty or ingenuity, which, if you destroy, you make yourself base and irrelevant. Another is wit; or the power of playing with the lights on the many sides of truth; which if you destroy, you make yourself gloomy, and less useful and cheering to others than you might be.”

  • I am convinced that, except in a few extraordinary cases, one form or another of an unhappy childhood is essential to the formation of exceptional gifts. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)



  • Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence—neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish—it is an imponderably valuable gift. Each of us has a few minutes a day or a few hours a week which we could donate. Maya Angelou, “The Sweetness of Charity,” in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now (1993).
  • Gifts must affect the receiver to the point of shock. Walter Benjamin, “Fancy Goods,” in One-Way Street (1928)
  • Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. The Bible—James 1-17 (KJV)
  • When giving treats to friends or children, give them what they like, emphatically not what is good for them. G. K. Chesterton, “Why I Am Not a Socialist,” in The New Age (Jan., 1908)
  • It is tragic that some gifts have to be made so costly, so damaging to the giver that there remains no small part of the giver to go with the gift. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • The only gift is a portion of thyself. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)

A bit earlier in the essay, Emerson had written: “Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we must convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought.”

  • There is no benefit in the gifts of a bad man. Euripides, in Medea (5th c. B.C.)
  • The only suitable gift for the man who has everything is your deepest sympathy. Imogene Fey, in The Reader’s Digest Dictionary of Quotations (1968)
  • A gift, with a kind countenance, is a double present. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • That is the bitterness of a gift, that it deprives us of our liberty. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • Consider not the gift of the lover, but the love of the giver. Ellye Howell Glover, in Novel Entertainment for Every Day in the Year (1907). An example of chiasmus.
  • Let him that desires to see others happy, make haste to give while his gift can be enjoyed, and remember that every moment of delay takes away something from the value of his benefaction. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Feb. 10, 1759)
  • I once truly believed that if I had to stand in line for twenty minutes to have a package gift-wrapped it actually gave the recipient more pleasure. Jean Kerr, in Penny Candy (1970)
  • The nicest gifts are those left, nameless and quiet, unburdened with love, or vanity, or the desire for attention. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Flower and the Nettle (1976)
  • Ever since Eve gave Adam the apple, there has been a misunderstanding between the sexes about gifts. Nan Robertson, “‘Misunderstood’ Men Offer Words on Gifts; Most Bought Presents,” The New York Times (Nov. 28, 1957)
  • 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)
  • Life is always bringing unexpected gifts. May Sarton, in a 1948 letter to Juliette Huxley (Aug. 5, 1948); reprinted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 (1997)



  • Ask any woman how she makes it through the day, and she may mention her calendar, her to-do lists, her babysitter. But if you push her on how she really makes it through her day, she will mention her girlfriends. Anna Quindlen, in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir of a Woman’s Life (2012)



  • Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized. Margaret Atwood, in Cat’s Eye (1988)
  • Girls are taught to seem, to appear—not to be and do. Abigail May Alcott, an 1848 remark, quoted in Eve LaPlante, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012)
  • Of all God’s works, little girls were the superior article: broadest in sympathy, deepest in wisdom, and purest in impulse. Annie Dillard, in The Living (1992)



  • You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich. Isabel Allende, in a “This I Believe” essay on NPR’s “All Things Considered” (April 4, 2005)

QUOTE NOTE: Allende She said she learned this lesson while mourning the death of her 28-year-old daughter Paula—a young woman who lived a life almost completely devoted to service. She concluded her essay by writing: “Give, give, give—what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world, and with the divine. It is in giving that I feel the spirit of my daughter inside me, like a soft presence.”

  • Don’t just be a giver. Be an extremely helpful giver who demonstrates an awareness of what that person most needs. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)

Anderson preceded the thought by writing: “The most productive, healthy and satisfying relationships are based, not on a quid pro quo but an ebb and flow of mutual support over time.”

  • Even more than giving is the capacity for us to do something smarter for the greater good that lifts us both up. Kare Anderson, “Be an Opportunity Maker,” TED Talk (Sep, 2014)
  • I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. Maya Angelou, “The Sweetness of Charity,” in Wouldn't Take Nothing for my Journey Now (1993)

Angelou introduced the observation by writing: “The New Testament informs the reader that it is more blessed to give than to receive.” And she concluded it this way: “The size and substance of the gift should be important to the recipient, but not to the donor save that the best thing one can give is that which is appreciated. The giver is as enriched as is the recipient, and more important, that intangible but very real psychic force of good in the world is increased.”

  • The good man thinks it is more blessed to give than to receive. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: A more familiar saying comes from Jesus in Acts 20:35 (see below), but Aristotle expressed the sentiment several centuries earlier.

  • It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep. James Baldwin, in “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” The New Yorker magazine (Nov. 17, 1962); reprinted in The Fire Next Time (1963)
  • Sharing is sometimes more demanding than giving. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life (1989)
  • Do not give, as many rich men do, like a hen that lays her egg and then cackles. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • To give and then not feel that one has given is the very best of all ways of giving. Max Beerbohm, “Hosts and Guests” (1918) in And Even Now (1920)
  • The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose. Heda Bejar, in Peacemaking: Day by Day, Vol. 2 (1989)
  • Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting. Elizabeth Bibesco, in Haven: Short Stories, Poems, and Aphorisms (1951)
  • Every man shall give as he is able. The Bible—Deuteronymy 16:17 (KJV)
  • Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. The Bible—James 1:17 (KJV)
  • God loveth a cheerful giver. The Bible—2 Corinthians 9:7 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: All observations about cheerful givers and cheerful giving derive from this passage. The full passage in the RSV (Revised Standard Version) goes this way: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

  • It is more blessed to give than to receive. The Bible—Acts 20:35 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: See the Aristotle entry for an earlier version of the sentiment.

  • In normal life one is often not at all aware that we always receive infinitely more than we give, and that gratitude is what enriches life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in letter to his parents (Sep. 13, 1943); reprinted in Letters and Papers from Prison, Reader’s Edition (2015)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the observation translated this way: “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude.”

  • Examples are few of men ruined by giving. Men are heroes in spending—very cravens in what they give. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • A man there was, tho’ some did count him mad/The more he cast away, the more he had. John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)
  • It is normal to give away a little of one’s life in order not to lose it all. Albert Camus, notebook entry (Nov. 22, 1937), in Notebooks, 1935-1942 (1962)
  • And so you have found out that secret—one of the deep secrets of Life—that all, that is really worth the doing, is what we do for others. Lewis Carroll, in letter to Ellen Terry (Nov. 13, 1890)

QUOTE NOTE: A few months earlier, Carroll had asked Terry—one of the era’s most prominent actresses—if she would be willing to recommend some teachers of elocution for the child of one of his friends (she had recently expressed interest in acting as a career). Terry not only met with the girl, but took the time to provide her with some private lessons on her own). Carroll was so touched by Terry’s kindness and generosity that he wrote at the beginning of the letter: “What is one to do with a friend who does about 100 times more than you ask them to do?”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites present an abridged and paraphrased version of the thought: “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.”

  • It is a common saying, that he who gives freely gives twice. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Leonela speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites attribute he who gives freely gives twice directly to Cervantes, but the full passage indicates that his character was simply passing along a saying that had recently become popular.

  • You cannot give to people what they are incapable of receiving. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in After the Funeral (1953; published in the U.S. under the title Funerals are Fatal)

Poirot continued: “At the end of it all he will still be something that he does not want to be.”

  • Riches may enable us to confer favors, but to confer them with propriety and grace requires a something that riches cannot give. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1825)
  • The manner of giving is worth more than the gift. Pierre Corneille, in Le Menteur (1642)
  • To give children everything is often worse than giving them nothing. Marcelene Cox, in a 1974 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • If you live long enough you die. If you give long enough you don’t. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (August 23, 2020)
  • Paradoxically, the shortest route to getting what you want is to give to others first. Ann Demarais, in Ann Demarais and Valerie White, First Impressions (2004)
  • Consider once before you give, twice before you receive, and a thousand times before you ask. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880–93)
  • To have and not give is in some cases worse than stealing. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • The value of a man…should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive. Albert Einstein, in School and Society (1936)
  • One must be poor to know the luxury of giving! George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)
  • The only gift is a portion of thyself. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • He that gives quickly gives twice. Desiderius Erasmus, in Adagia (1508 edition)
  • There is no benefit in the gifts of a bad man. Euripides, in Medea (5th c. B.C.)
  • Give naught, get same. Give much, get same. Malcolm Forbes, quoted in The Forbes Book of Business Quotations (1997; Ted Goodman, ed.)
  • He gives twice that gives soon; i.e., he will soon be called upon to give again. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1752)
  • It is in giving that we receive. Prayer of St. Francis

QUOTE NOTE: This oxymoronic line from one of Christendom’s most famous prayers—sometimes called The Peace Prayer—is frequently misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi. While there are a number of versions, the most popular goes this way:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

For more on the history of the prayer, see the Peace Prayer of St. Francis and this 2011 post by The Quote Investigator.

  • Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)

Fromm preceded the thought by writing: “In the sphere of material things, giving means being rich.”

  • Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)

Fromm preceded the thought by writing: “Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy.”

  • A gift, with a kind countenance, is a double present. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)

In the same book, Fuller also offered this thought on the downside of gifts: “That is the bitterness of a gift, that it deprives us of our liberty.”

  • It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding. Kahlil Gibran, “On Giving,” in The Prophet (1923)
  • There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. Kahlil Gibran, “On Giving,” in The Prophet (1923)
  • Two can give as cheap as one. Arnold Glasow, quoted in Forbes magazine (1972)
  • [Giving presents] is a talent; to know what a person wants, to know when and how to get it, to give it lovingly and well. Unless a character possesses this talent there is no moment more annihilating to ease than that in which a present is received and given. Pamela Glenconner, in Edward Wyndham Tennant: A Memoir by His Mother (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: Glenconner’s memoir was about her son, Edward, who she affectionately called “Bim” (he died at age nineteen at the Battle of the Somme in 1916). She preceded the thought by writing: “One of Bim’s chief characteristics was his love of giving presents, and his talent for this. For it is a talent; to know what a person wants….”

  • Let me give freely lest my giving take/With it freedom. Not the frailest strand/Of obligation must go with my gift. Joyce Grenfell, “Sonnet” (1940), quoted in Reggie Grenfell and Richard Garnett, Joyce By Herself and Her Friends (1980)
  • I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same. Giving and receiving—not giving and taking. Joyce Grenfell, in Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure (1976)
  • Giving people a little more than they expect is a good way to get back a lot more than you’d expect. Robert Half, quoted in Forbes magazine (1994)
  • If tempted by something that feels “altruistic,” examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it! Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)

Long preceded this observation by writing: “Beware of altruism. It is based on self-deception, the root of all evil.”

  • Trying to get without first giving is as fruitless as trying to reap without having sown. Napoleon Hill, in Napoleon Hill’s Positive Action Plan (1995)
  • The love we give away is the only love we keep. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra: A Magazine of Business Inspiration (April, 1915)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is almost always presented in quotation anthologies and on web sites, but it was originally the concluding portion of this slightly larger observation: “Our religion is one of humanity. Our desire is to serve. We know that we can help ourselves only as we help others, tnd that the love we give away is the only love we keep.”

  • We know that we can help ourselves only as we help others, and that the love we give away is the only love we keep. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra: A Magazine of Business Inspiration (April, 1915)
  • What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give. P. D. James, in Time To Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (1999)

QUOTE NOTE: While this observation has wide applicability, James was actually thinking about her own father—a highly undemonstrative man—when she wrote it. Here’s the original passage: “I don’t think he had known much demonstrative love in his childhood and what a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give.”

  • Religion is not an opiate, for religion does not help people to forget, but to remember. It does not dull people. It does not say Take, but Give. Bede Jarrett, in The Catholic Mother (1956)
  • Bounty always receives part of is value from the manner in which it is bestowed. Samuel Johnson, in letter to the Earl of Bute (July 20, 1762); quoted in James Boswell. Life of Johnson (1791)
  • Let him that desires to see others happy, make haste to give while his gift can be enjoyed, and remember that any delay takes away something from the value of his benefaction. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Feb. 10, 1759)
  • A cheerful giver does not count the cost of what he gives. His heart is set on pleasing and cheering him to whom the gift is given. Julian of Norwich, in Revelations of Divine Love (1373)
  • True sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963)
  • To give awkwardly is churlishness. The most difficult part is to give, then why not add a smile? Jean de La Bruyère, in Characters (1688)
  • The sage does not accumulate for himself. The more he used for others, the more he has himself. The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own. Lao-Tzu, in Tao-te Ching (6th c. B.C.)

This famous passage has also been translated this way: “The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.”

  • If the world seems cold to you,/Kindle fires to warm it! Lucy Larcom, “Three Old Saws,” in The Poetical Works of Lucy Larcom (1884)
  • The manner of giving shows the character of the giver more than the gift itself. There is a princely manner of giving, and a royal manner of accepting. Johann Kaspar Lavater, in Aphorisms on Man (c. 1788)
  • He gives only the worthless gold/Who gives from a sense of duty. James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal” (1848)
  • If instead of a gem or even a flower, we would cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels must give. George MacDonald, quoted in Mind magazine (October, 1900)
  • All life is a boomerang. We receive what we give. Shirley MacLaine, in Going Within (1989)
  • You must not ask from people more than they are capable of giving. W. Somerset Maugham, quoting the Mother Superior of a Chinese convent, in On a Chinese Screen: Sketches of Life in China (1922)

After the nun offered this observation to Maugham, he replied: “How true, and yet how hard to remember!”

  • We make our living by what we get. We make our life by what we give. Benjamin E. Mays, quoted in Wright L. Lassiter, Commencement Messages (2011)
  • In the economy of divine charity we have only as much as we give. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)
  • The miracle is this—the more we share, the more we have. Leonard Nimoy, quoted in a 1992 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific date undetermined)
  • One way to keep people close to you is by not giving them enough. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990)

Noonan went on to explain: “With people who give a lot of themselves, you sometimes lean back—but with people who give little you often lean forward, as if they’re a spigot in the desert and you’re the empty cup. It is the tropism of deprivation: We lean toward those who do not give.”

  • I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received. Antonio Porchia, in Voces (1943; translated into English as Voices in 1968 by W. S. Merwin)
  • If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart. Proverb (Arab)
  • Avarice hoards itself poor; charity gives itself rich. Proverb (German)
  • God looks not to the quantity of the gift, but to the quality of the givers. Francis Quarles, in Enchiridion (1640)
  • I will enjoy the pleasure of what I give by giving it alive, and seeing another enjoy it. When I die, I should be ashamed to leave enough to build me a monument if there were a wanting friend above ground. Alexander Pope, in letter to Jonathan Swift (Oct. 9, 1729)
  • There is an invariable law that the only way to keep the real things of life is by sharing them or giving them away. Alice Hegan Rice, in My Pillow Book (1937)
  • This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Baroness von Nordeck zur Rabenau (Sep. 17, 1907)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is presented in almost all quotation anthologies, but in his letter, Rilke carried the thought further. Here’s the full thought: “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess of that precious nourishing love from which flowers and children have their strength and which could help all human beings if they would take it without doubting.”

  • Giving is the secret of a healthy life. Not necessarily money, but whatever a man has of encouragement and sympathy and understanding. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., quoted in Cleveland Amory, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables (1960)
  • It’s best to give while your hand is still warm. Philip Roth, the unnamed protagonist speaking, quoting his father, in Everyman (2006)
  • We see that giving is a necessity sometimes…more urgent, indeed, than having. [ellipsis in original] Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Our Miss Boo (1942)
  • There is nothing more fatal than to give before asking has come from the deepest level of consciousness. Too many times I have rushed into this moment and killed it by my eagerness. Now I wait until I am sure. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Answer Without Ceasing (1949)
  • In giving, you throw a bridge across the chasm of your solitude. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the voice of the narrator, in The Wisdom of the Sands (pub. posthumously in 1948; in France the book was published under the title Citadelle))
  • When you give yourself, you receive more than you give. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the voice of the narrator, in The Wisdom of the Sands (pub. posthumously in 1948; in France the book was published under the title Citadelle)
  • There is only one real deprivation, I decided this morning, and that is not to be able to give one’s gifts to those one loves most. May Sarton, “August 16th,” in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • Being very rich as far as I am concerned is having a margin. The margin is being able to give. May Sarton, “October 17th,” in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • You have to be very careful when you give to others that you don’t tell them how great you are rather than how much you value them. Merle Shain, in When Lovers Are Friends (1978)
  • There is a very strong connection between pride and giving, and those who do the giving get to feel that they are worthy, while those who are given to often feel that they are not. Merle Shain, in When Lovers Are Friends (1978)

Shain preceded the thought by writing: “It can be much harder to be on the receiving end of a transaction than to be the one who gets to give. In fact, being given to can mean being taken from.”

  • The rule is, we are to give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there’s no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • The more I give to thee,/The more I have. William Shakespeare, Juliet speaking to Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet (1595)
  • Giving is true having. C. H. Spurgeon, in John Ploughman’s Talk (1896)
  • It is so easy to give, so exquisitely rewarding. Receiving, on the other hand, if it be well done, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness. It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships. In receiving you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well. John Steinbeck, in The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951)
  • We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in Count de Falloux, The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869)
  • He who gives only what he would as readily throw away gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice. Henry Taylor, “Of Money: Giving and Taking,” in Notes from Life (1853)
  • God loves a cheerful giver. Mother Teresa, repeating a legendary biblical saying (see the 2 Corinthians entry above), in No Greater Love (2010)
  • Charity, to be fruitful, must cost us. Give until it hurts. To love it is necessary to give; to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness. Mother Teresa, in The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living (1996; Jaya Chalila & Edward Le Joly, eds.)
  • When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life (2002)

Warren preceded the thought by writing: “Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time.”

  • The essence of love is not what we think or do or provide for others, but how much we give of ourselves. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life (2002)
  • Women like us have to learn to give to those who appreciate it instead of to those who expect it. Wendy Wasserstein, the character Jill speaking, in The Heidi Chronicles (1988)
  • It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but there is more grace in receiving than giving. When you receive, whom do you love and praise? The giver. When you give, the same holds true. Jessamyn West, in her memoir The Woman Said Yes (1977)
  • When I give I give myself. Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass (1855–92)
  • The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give. Walt Whitman, “Notes for Lectures on Religion,” in Walt Whitman’s Workshop: A Collection of Unpublished Manuscripts (C. J. Furness, ed.)
  • If you don’t give something back when you get, you don’t keep. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Bill Adler, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey (1997)
  • Why is it that so many people think that charity consists in giving away merely what they cannot use instead of the article the recipient needs? Mabel Osgood Wright, diary entry (Feb. 10), in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)


(see GIVING)



  • Glamour is what makes a man ask for your telephone number. But it also is what makes a woman ask for the name of your dressmaker. Lilly Daché, in a 1955 issue of Woman’s Home Companion (1955)
  • The Princess of Wales was the queen of surfaces, ruling over a kingdom where fame was the highest value and glamour the most cherished attribute. Maureen Dowd, on Princess Diana, in “Death And the Maiden”, The New York Times (Sep. 3, 1997)
  • Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of every-day life into a golden haze. Elinor Glyn, in The Philosophy of Love (1923)
  • The geniuses who conduct the motion-picture business killed glamour when they decided that what the public wanted was not dream stuff, from which movies used to be made, but realism. Hedda Hopper, in The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963; with James Brough)
  • Glamour is just sex that got civilized. Dorothy Lamour, quoted in James Robert Parish, The Paramount Pretties (1972)
  • Glamour really has to do with good lighting, doesn’t it? Nigella Lawson, quoted in Tracy Cochran, “The Feast of Life”[PW Talks with Nigella Lawson] Publishers Weekly (Oct. 25 2004)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Lawson’s reply when she was asked: “How do your son and daughter relate to your celebrity? Does it amuse them that you’ve become a glamorous figure?

  • Glamour should be effortless. Or at least look it. Rachel Zoe, in Style A to Zoe (2007)



  • Men are like that—they can resist sound argument and yield to a glance. Honoré de Balzac, Madame Evangelista speaking to her daughter Natalie, in A Marriage Settlement (1835)
  • The glance is natural magic. The mysterious communication established across a house between two entire strangers, moves all the springs of wonder. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

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



  • Global warming might be a fever the earth is running in an attempt to ward off a deadly infection known as homo sapiens. Rick Bayan, in “Hello I Must be Going,” a blog post (Dec., 2002)



  • The real glory is in being knocked to your knees and then coming back. Vince Lombardi, in What It Takes to Be #1: Vince Lombardi on Leaders (2003)



  • Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us. Peter De Vries, the character Crystal Swallow speaking, in Comfort Me With Apples (1956)



  • A good goal is like a strenuous exercise—it makes you stretch. Goals should be slightly out of reach to be of maximum value. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • A goal without a plan is just a wish. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This popular saying is widely attributed to French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry, but there is no evidence he ever wrote—or even thought—such a thing. The saying, which sometimes appears with dream being substituted for wish, is a classic orphan quotation that is also commonly misattributed to Dale Carnegie. For more, see quotation researcher Barry Popik's post on the saying at The Big Apple.

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

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

  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Slight variations of this saying have been attributed to English religious writer and philanthropist Hannah More, Henry Ford, mail-order guru E. Joseph Cossman, and even to David Byrne of the rock group “Talking Heads.” Despite years of sleuthing by quotation investigators, an original author and citation have never been found.

  • Dreams and goals are coming attractions in your life. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to mythologist Joseph Campbell
  • It is not possible to run a course aright when the goal itself has not been rightly placed. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)
  • Goals too clearly defined can become blinkers. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: I was almost certain that I had discovered an error when I first came across this quotation, suspecting Bateson meant blinders, not blinkers. Turns out I was wrong. When I wrote Dr. Bateson for clarification, I received this lovely reply: “‘Blinkers’ is the term I learned as a child for the pieces of a harness that prevent a horse being distracted. When I started saying it I discovered that ‘blinders’ is more common, at least in American English. You sometimes see ‘blinkered vision’ but never ‘blindered vision.’ Blinders seems to me way too strong for what is really a narrowed vision, but blinkers is occasionally confusing. Go figure. Sometimes copy editors change it and I don’t notice.”

  • Once you recognize, or admit, that your primary goal is to fully express yourself, you will find the means to achieve the rest of your goals. Warren G. Bennis, in On Becoming a Leader (1989)
  • Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life. Les Brown, in Live Your Dreams (1992)
  • Everybody wants to have a goal—I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal. I can finally get to that goal. Then you get to that goal, and then you gotta get to another goal. But in between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed—and if you don’t, you’re a fool. Sid Caesar, in “Sid Caesar: Ich Speaken German at Met,” The New York Times (Nov. 29, 1987). Go here for the full interview.
  • It is only when we are united with our brothers in a common goal, which is outside of ourselves, that we can breathe. And the experience shows us that to love is not to look at one another but to look together in the same direction. Albert Camus, quoted in André Maurois, From Proust to Camus: Profiles of Modern French Writers (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Most quotation anthologies and internet sites ignore the first portion of the observation and present only the concluding portion: “To love is not to look at one another but to look together in the same direction.”

  • Despicable means used to achieve laudable goals renders the goals themselves despicable. Anton Chekhov, in letter to A. S. Suvorin (Aug. 1, 1892)
  • An effective goal focuses primarily on results rather than activity. It identifies where you want to be, and, in the process, helps you determine where you are. It gives you important information on how to get there, and it tells you when you have arrived. Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)

Covey added: “It unifies your efforts and energy. It gives meaning and purpose to all you do. And it can finally translate itself into daily activities so that you are proactive, you are in charge of your life.”

  • No set goal achieved satisfies. Success only breeds a new goal. The golden apple devoured has seeds. It is endless. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)

Davis introduced the observation by writing: “I am doomed to an eternity of compulsive work.”

  • The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. Cecil De Mille, in Sunshine and Shadow (1955)
  • Without some goal and some effort to reach it, no man can live. When he has lost all hope, all object in life, man becomes a monster in his misery. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the voice of the narrator, in The House of the Dead (1862)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly attribute an extremely similar observation to John Dewey—and most of them employ this clumsy grammatical construction: without some goals and some efforts to reach it, no man can live.

  • Those who were carried to a goal should not think they’ve reached it. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one's greatest efforts. Albert Einstein, remark to former student Walter Wällenbach (May 31, 1915); quoted in Alice Calaprice, The New Quotable Einstein (2005)
  • Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age. Albert Einstein, in BBC broadcast of a science conference in London (Sep. 28, 1941)
  • If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects. Albert Einstein, quoted in A. P. French, Einstein: A Centenary Volume (1979)
  • In philosophy, it is not the attainment of the goal that matters, it is the things that are met with by the way. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, this quotation is mistakenly presented as if it ended: it is the things that are met along the way.

  • It is when things go hardest, when life becomes most trying that there is greatest need for having a fixed goal, for having an air castle that the outside world cannot wreck. When few comforts come from without, it is all the more necessary to have a fount to draw on from within. B. C. Forbes, in Finance, Business, and the Business of Life (1915)

Forbes continued: “The man or woman who has a star toward which to press cannot be thrown off course, no matter how the world may try, no matter how far things may seem to go wrong.”

  • What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946; English version, 1959)
  • Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives. Viktor Frankl, quoted in Robert C. Leslie, Jesus and Logotherapy (1965)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is the first appearance of a Frankl sentiment that has become quite popular, even though the precise words have never been found in Frankl’s works. It’s likely that Leslie was paraphrasing Frankl rather than quoting him directly. Here’s how he presented it in his 1965 book: “Life can be pulled by goals, as Frankl phrases it, just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.”

  • It matters not what goal you seek/Its secret here reposes:/You've got to dig from week to week/To get Results or Roses. Edgar Guest, “Results and Roses.” In A Heap O’ Livin’ (1916)
  • I believe that if you are bored with life, that if you don’t have a burning desire to get up in the morning with an urgent desire to do things, your problem is you do not have an awful lot of goals. Lou Holtz, in The Fighting Spirit: A Championship at Notre Dame (1989)
  • Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer the goal. Elbert Hubbard, quoted in The Fra magazine (July, 1915)
  • To see one’s goal and drive toward it,/Steeling one’s heart, is most uplifting! Henrik Ibsen, the title character speaking, in Peer Gynt (1876)
  • Aspiring only to second-place goals is a first-rate way to hedge our bets. Among the least appreciated reasons for doing superficial, second-rate work of any kind is the comfort of knowing that it’s not our best that’s on the line. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear (1995)

Keyes continued: “Far more is at risk when we do what we really want to do rather than something less. I don’t think we’ll ever fully appreciate the role of not daring to risk a shattered dream in limiting people to second-choice careers and third-choice lives.”

  • There must be a goal at every stage of life! Maggie Kuhn, “Is It Important to Set Goals?” in E. Jane Oyer & Herbert J. Oyer (eds.), What Really Matters: 12 Perspectives on Living (1981)

Kuhn added: “There must be a goal! And the goal that is going to be really satisfying is the goal that transcends your own survival. Just staying alive and getting ahead is not a good enough goal.”

  • The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us. Milan Kundera, the character Tomas speaking, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)
  • The first goal need not be the final one, for a sailing ship sails first by one wind, then another. The point is that it is always going somewhere, proceeding toward a final destination. Louis L’Amour, the protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • Establishing goals is all right if you don’t let them deprive you of interesting detours. Doug Larson, quoted in Reader’s Digest (January, 1988)
  • Despite the success cult, men are most deeply moved not by the reaching of the goal, but by the grandness of effort involved in getting there—or failing to get there. Max Lerner, in The Unfinished Country: A Book of American Symbols (1959)
  • A goal is a dream spelled out. Jeannette W. Lockerbie, in Fifty Plus: How Recycling Your Potential now can Mean a Joyous and Fulfilled Tomorrow (1976)

Lockerbie added: “In our younger years other people establish our goals. Sometimes it is not until we are fifty plus that we find we can activate a dream and turn it into a goal.”

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of the first observations to lay out the metaphor that a goal is a particular type of dream. Observations like this one laid the foundation for, and almost certainly evolved into, the modern proverb A goal is a dream with a deadline).

  • We are built to conquer environment, solve problems, achieve goals, and we find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve. Maxwell Maltz, in Psycho-Cybernetics (1960)

Maltz continued: “People who say that life is not worthwhile are really saying that they themselves have no personal goals which are worthwhile.”

  • The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. Benjamin E. Mays, in Disturbed About Man (1969)

Mays, the longtime president of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, continued: “It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.”

  • By losing your goal—you have lost your way, too! Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Shadow,” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1892)
  • To tend, unfailingly, unflinchingly, towards a goal, is the secret of success. Anna Pavlova, “Pages of My Life,” in Pavlova: A Biography (1956; A. H. Franks, ed.)

Pavlova added: “But success? What exactly is success? For me it is to be found not in applause, but in the satisfaction of feeling that one is realizing one’s ideal.”

  • To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (1974)

Pirsig introduced the thought by writing: “Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”

  • Hurl yourself at goals above your head and bear the lacerations that come when you slip and make a fool of yourself. Sylvia Plath, an undated 1951 journal entry, in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000; Karen V. Kukil, ed.)

Plath continued: “Try always, as long as you have breath in your body, to take the hard way, the Spartan way—and work, work, work to build yourself into a rich, continually evolving entity.”

  • People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals—that is, goals that do not inspire them. Anthony Robbins, in Unlimited Power (1986)
  • One simple guideline I follow in order to accomplish my goals is to do something new every day. No matter how small the activity, each one counts. You are the judge. Each new pursuit should be in line with your goals. Rosemarie Rossetti, in Take Back Your Life! Regaining Your Footing After Life Throws You a Curve (2003)
  • Not having a goal is more to be feared than not reaching a goal! Robert H. Schuller, in It’s Possible (1978)
  • To remain healthy, man must have some goal, some purpose in life that he can respect and be proud to work for. Hans Selye, in Stress without Distress (1974)
  • If we direct all our efforts towards reaching a goal, we stand in grave danger of losing everything. Viola Spolin, in Improvisation for the Theater (1963)
  • When you’re climbing Mount Everest, nothing is easy. You just take one step at a time, never look back, and always keep your eyes glued to the top. Jacqueline Susann, the character Henry Bellamy speaking to aspiring actress Anne Welles, in Valley of the Dolls (1966)
  • When natural inclination develops into a passionate desire, one advances towards his goal in seven-league boots. Nikola Tesla, in My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (1983); first published as as “My Inventions,” in several issues of Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)
  • We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (March 11, 1859)

Thoreau continued: “What we do best or most perfectly is what we have most thoroughly learned by the longest practice, and at length it falls from us without our notice, as a leaf from a tree.”

  • It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it. Arnold J. Toynbee, in Civilization on Trial (1948)
  • As we voyage along through life,/’Tis the set of the soul/That decides the goal/And not the calm or the strife. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Winds of Fate,” in Poems of Optimism (1919)
  • A goal properly set is partially reached. Zig Ziglar, in See You at the Top (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: Most quotation anthologies present the observation as A goal properly set is halfway reached. It is likely this latter version emerged in one of Ziglar’s many seminars.

  • As you head toward your goals, be prepared to make some slight adjustments to your course. You don’t change your decision to go—you do change your direction to get there. Zig Ziglar, in See You at the Top (1975)
  • What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. Zig Ziglar, quoted in Lilly Walters, Secrets of Superstar Speakers (2000)

QUOTATION CAUTION: So far, I’ve been unable to locate a quotation phrased in this exact way in any of Ziglar’s works. The closest I found was this one from Great Quotes from Zig Ziglar (2005): “What you get by reaching your destination isn’t nearly as important as what you become by reaching that destination.”



  • When we say God is a spirit, we know what we mean, as well as we do when we say that the pyramids of Egypt are matter. Let us be content, therefore, to believe him to be a spirit, that is, an essence that we know nothing of, in which originally and necessarily reside all energy, all power, all capacity, all activity, all wisdom, all goodness. John Adams, in letter to Thomas Jefferson (Jan. 17, 1820)
  • Never place a period where God has placed a comma. Gracie Allen

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation appears on the web sites of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of churches, and it even became the centerpiece of a 2005 national advertising campaign by the United Church of Christ (“God is Still Speaking”). The quotation has never been authenticated, however. It is commonly reported that Allen addressed the saying to husband George Burns in a letter she wrote to him just before her death. The story is almost certainly false—and, as often happens with apocryphal stories, it is often embellished with tantalizing details (the most popular is that Burns discovered the long-lost letter in his deceased wife’s papers many years after her death).

  • If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that He’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that, basically, He’s an underachiever. Woody Allen, the character Boris speaking, in the film Love and Death (1976)
  • We are always making God our accomplice so that we may legalize our own iniquities. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Oct. 6, 1866)

Amiel continued: “Every successful massacre is consecrated by a Te Deum and the clergy have never been wanting in benedictions for any victorious enormity.” [Te Deum is the title of an early Christian hymn of praise to God]

  • I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. Susan B. Anthony, in remarks at 1896 meeting of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association; reprinted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1898)

QUOTE NOTE: Anthony preceded the remark by saying: “The religious persecution of the ages has been carried on under what was claimed to be the command of God.”

  • Nature is to zoos as God is to churches. Margaret Atwood, the character Crake speaking, in Oryx and Crake (2003)
  • God was a clever idea. The human race came up with a winner there. J. G. Ballard, quoted in Susie Mackenzie, “The Benign Catastrophist”, The Guardian (Sep. 6, 2003)
  • If God were a woman, She would have installed one of those turkey thermometers in our belly buttons. When we were done, the thermometer pops up, the doctors reaches for the zipper conveniently located beneath our bikini lines and out comes a smiling, fully diapered baby. Candice Bergen, in a 1992 Woman’s Day magazine article; reprinted in Weekly World News (June 16, 1992)
  • O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter. The Bible: Isaiah 64:8
  • God is light. The Bible: 1 John 1:5

The full passage is: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

  • God is love. The Bible: I John 4:8

QUOTE NOTE: I believe this is the first appearance in the Bible of the God is Love metaphor. The full passage is: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

  • The kingdom of God is within you. The Bible: Luke 17:21
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Bible: Psalms 46:1
  • Man has learned to cope with all questions of importance without recourse to God as a working hypothesis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a 1944 letter; reprinted in Letters and Papers from Prison (1953)

QUOTE NOTE: The metaphor of God-as-a-hypothetical construct was first advanced by the legendary French mathematician Pierre-Simon La Place. See his entry below.

  • God is the Celebrity-Author of the World’s Best Seller. We have made God into the biggest celebrity of all, to contain our own emptiness. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1962)
  • I always adhered to the idea that God is time, or at least that His spirit is. Joseph Brodsky, in Watermark (1992)
  • He’s the comfort/and wine and piccalilli for my soul. Gwendolyn Brooks, on God, “In the Mecca,” in In the Mecca (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: Piccalilli is a relish made with vegetables and spices. For more, go to: Piccalilli.

  • God is a skillful Geometrician. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation was almost certainly inspired by one of Plato’s lesser-known remarks. In Moralia (1st. c. A.D.), Plutarch quoted Plato as saying: “God ever geometrizes.”

  • God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,/And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,/A gauntlet with a gift in’t. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1857)
  • God is the perfect poet,/Who in his person acts his own creations. Robert Browning, in Paraclesus (1835)
  • All service is the same with God,/With God, whose puppets, best and worst,/Are we: there is no last nor first. Robert Browning, in Pippa Passes (1841)
  • When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them. Martin Buber, quoted by Rabbi Harold S. Kusnher, “Happiness,” in Dennis Wholey, Are You Happy (1986)
  • The universe /is God’s self-portrait. Octavia E. Butler, in The Parable of the Sower (1993)

This is the conclusion to an eighteen-line poem that began this way: “Create no images of God./Accept the images/that God has provided./They are everywhere,/in everything.”

  • Any god who can invent hell is no candidate for the Salvation Army. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988)
  • When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation. Truman Capote, in Music for Chameleons (1980)
  • Is there no God, then, but at best an absentee God, sitting idle, ever since the first Sabbath, at the outside of his Universe? Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus (serialized in Fraser’s Magazine 1833-34; published as novel 1836)
  • I think of God as an omnipotent and omniscient presence, a spirit that permeates the universe, the essence of truth, nature, being, and life. To me, these are profound and indescribable concepts that seem to be trivialized when expressed in words. Jimmy Carter, in Living Faith (2001)

President Carter preceded the observation by writing: “Except during my childhood, when I was probably influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel depiction of God with a flowing white beard, I have never tried to project the Creator in any kind of human likeness. The vociferous debates about whether God is male or female seem ridiculous to me.”

  • I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune Him in. George Washington Carver, quoted in Lawrence Elliott, George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame (1966)
  • God is God and I am not, thank God. Randy Coller, in a personal communication to the compiler (Dec. 2, 2019)
  • Do I believe in God? Let’s say we have a working relationship. Noël Coward, quoted in Sheridan Morley, The Quotable Noël Coward (1999)
  • God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform;/He plants his footsteps in the sea,/And rides upon the storm. William Cowper, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” in Olney Hymns (1779)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of popular saying: “The Lord moves in mysterious ways.” The saying is also often often wrongly believed to be a biblical passage.

  • Nature is but a name for an effect,/Whose cause is God. William Cowper, “Winter Walk at Noon,” in The Task: A Poem, in Six Books (1785)
  • Why indeed must “God” be a noun? Why not a verb—the most active and dynamic of all? Mary Daly, in Beyond God the Father (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: For an earlier expression of this sentiment, see the R. Buckminster Fuller entry below.

  • I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose. Clarence Darrow, in 1930 speech In Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion (2006)
  • Home is the definition of God. Emily Dickinson, from letter to Perez Cowan (Oct. 1870), in Martha Dickinson Bianchi, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson (1924)
  • They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse. Emily Dickinson, from letter to Mrs. J. G. Holland (Spring, 1878), in Martha Dickinson Bianchi, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson (1924)
  • When I am alone, God knocks on the door and says, “We need to talk.” M. A. “Fred” Dietze, in personal communication to the compiler (Oct. 8, 2016)
  • The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. Albert Einstein, in letter to Erik Gutkind (Jan., 1954)
  • My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment. Albert Einstein, in letter to Morton Berkowitz (Oct. 25, 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: Einstein sometimes described himself as an agnostic, and at other times as something closer to a pantheist. Never, however, did he express a belief in a personal God. In 1929, Herbert S. Goldstein a rabbi at the Institutional Synagogue in New York sent a cable to Einstein in which he famously asked: “Do you believe in God? Stop. Prepaid reply fifty words.” Einstein needed only twenty-nine words to reply, and his answer has become part of his legacy: “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

  • I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals. Albert Einstein, a 1927 remark to a Colorado man who had asked him about God; quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979; Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffmann, eds.)

Einstein went on to add: “My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend of the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

  • God enters by a private door into every individual. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Intellect,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • There is a crack in everything that God has made. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • The dice of God are always loaded. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • God is not a cosmic bell-boy for whom we can press a button to get things done. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in As I See Religion (1932)
  • When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. Pope Francis, in address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences (Oct. 27, 2014)

QUOTE NOTE: The Pope’s address contradicted the support of his predecessor (Benedict XVI) for theories of creationism and intelligent design. Pope Francis added: “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

  • At bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father. Sigmund Freud, in Totem and Taboo (1913)
  • God, to me, it seems,/is a verb/not a noun/proper or improper. R. Buckminster Fuller, in No More Secondhand God (1963; written in 1940)
  • Mathematics is the language in which God wrote the universe. Galileo Galilei, quoted in Harry Frank & Steven C. Althoen, Statistics: Concepts and Applications (1994)
  • To me, at least, the greatest blasphemy in the world is not the denial of God’s existence, but the claim that we have a pipeline to Him, and that all other claimants are wrong. This assertion is what plunged the world into the bloodiest of wars in the past, and might well do so again if the zealots had their way. Sydney J. Harris, in his syndicated “Strictly Personal” column (Jan. 20, 1985)
  • The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • How much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? Joseph Heller, the protagonist Frank Yossarian speaking, in Catch-22 (1961)
  • Our passionate preoccupation with the sky, the stars, and a God somewhere in outer space is a homing impulse. We are drawn back to where we came from. Eric Hoffer, on the first moon landing, quoted in The New York Times (July 21, 1969)
  • God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest. P. D. James, the character Jonah, quoting a saying he'd seen on a church pulpit, in Devices and Desires (1989)
  • The God whom science recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business. He cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of the earliest retail/wholesale metaphors I've found, and I think it holds up very well more than a century after it was first made. A retail business is concerned with individual customers, of course, and the God recognized by science, according to James, was a wholesaler, not a retailer. See also the later section on RETAIL/WHOLESALE METAPHORS.

  • God is the tangential point between zero and infinity. Alfred Jarry, in Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll Pataphysicien (1911); quoted in Keith Beaumont, Alfred Jarry; A Critical and Biographical Study (1984)
  • Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Peter Carr (Aug. 10, 1787)
  • God is the Old Repair Man./When we are junk in Nature’s storehouse he takes us apart./What is good he lays aside; he might use it someday./What has decayed he buries in six feet of sod to nurture the weeds./Those we leave behind moisten the sod with their tears. Fenton Johnson, “The Old Repair Man,” in Arna Bontemps, American Negro Poetry: An Anthology (1995)
  • God is man idealized. LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), in Home: Social Essays (1966)
  • As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. Julian of Norwich, in Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1393)
  • I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of a flower—the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence. Helen Keller, in Midstream (1930)
  • God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and time is running out. Arthur Koestler, in The Ghost in the Machine (1967)
  • You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: Lamott wasn’t passing off this observation as her own, but said she got it in a conversation with “my priest friend Tom.” Later in the book, she attributed one additional observation to her clerical friend: “A priest friend of mine has cautioned me away from the standard God of our childhoods, who loves and guides you and then, if you are bad, roasts you: God as high school principal in a gray suit who never remembered your name but is always leafing unhappily through your files.”

  • I have no need of that hypothesis. Pierre-Simon Laplace, quoted in E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1896)

QUOTE NOTE: This was said to be Laplace’s reply when asked by Napoleon why Méchanique celeste (Celestial Mechanics), his five-volume work on astronomy and the solar system made no reference to God. It is history’s first appearance of the metaphor of God as a hypothetical construct.

  • God is only a great imaginative experience. D. H. Lawrence, “Introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse by Frederick Carter,” in Mercury magazine (London; July, 1930); reprinted in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (1936; E. McDonald, ed.)
  • God is a concept/By which we measure/Our pain. John Lennon, lyric from the song “God” (1970)
  • God is what man finds that is divine in himself. God is the best way man can behave in the ordinary occasions of life, and the farthest point to which man can stretch himself. Max Lerner, “Seekers and Losers,” in The Unfinished Country (1959)
  • As a friend of mine said, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.” C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain (1940)

ERROR ALERT: The observation is often attributed directly to Lewis, but he was clearly quoting a friend. Earlier, Lewis had written: “Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.” And then he went on to add: “Now God who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.”

  • After all, is our idea of God anything more than personified incomprehensibility? G. C. Lichtenberg, in The Reflections of Lichtenberg (Norman Alliston, tr.; 1908)
  • Those who turn to God for comfort may find comfort but I do not think they will find God. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Creator. A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh. H. L. Mencken, in A Book of Burlesques (1916)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is commonly misattributed—even in some otherwise respected sources—to Voltaire in the form: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”

  • God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in his arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)
  • Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about him. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)

Later in the book, Merton wrote: “Anything our imagination tells us about Him is ultimately misleading and therefore we cannot know Him as He really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined and enter into an obscurity without images and without the likeness of any created thing.”

  • If the triangles were to make a God, they would give him three sides. Baron de Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat), in Lettres Parsanes (1721)
  • At no time have I ever said that people should be stripped of their right to the insanity of belief in God. If they want to practice this kind of irrationality, that's their business. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, in interview in Playboy magazine (1962)

O’Hair continued: “It won’t get them anywhere; it certainly won’t make them happier or more compassionate human beings; but if they want to chew that particular cud. they’re welcome to it.”

  • 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)
  • God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight. Friedrich Nietzsche, the title character speaking, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)
  • Which is it? Is man one of God’s blunders? Or is God one of man’s blunders? Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols (1889)

QUOTE NOTE: This popular example of chiasmus has also been commonly translated: “Which is it? Is man only God’s mistake or God only man’s mistake?”

  • Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue! Eugene O’Neill, the title character speaking speaking, in The Great God Brown (1926)
  • God is a Mother. Eugene O’Neill, the character Nina speaking, in Strange Interlude (1928)
  • God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. P. J. O’Rourke, in Parliament of Whores (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: This was originally part of a larger observation in which O’Rourke, a card-carrying Republican, advanced the argument that “God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.” To see his complete analysis, go to: O’Rourke on God.

  • God is a gentleman. He prefers blondes. Joe Orton, in Loot (1966)
  • The belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man. Thomas Paine, quoted in Robert G. Ingersoll, A Vindication of Thomas Paine (1877)
  • God is a name we give to love. Nancy Pickard, the character Grace speaking, in “A Rock and a Hard Place,” in Sara Paretsky, Women on the Case (1996)
  • God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things. Pablo Picasso, quoted in Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso (1974)
  • God is an unutterable sigh in the human heart. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), quoted in Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments, Vol. I (1914)
  • God, that dumping ground of our dreams. Jean Rostand, “A Biologist’s Notebook,” in The Substance of Man (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the passage translated: “God, that checkroom of our dreams.”

  • We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins. Andy Rooney, in Sincerely, Andy Rooney (1999)
  • God often visits us, but most of the time we are not at home. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by “God” one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying . . . it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity. Carl Sagan, in U. S. News & World Report (Dec. 23, 1991)
  • All great works of art are “about God” in the sense that they show the perplexed human being the path, the way up the mountain. E. F. Schumacher, in A Guide for the Perplexed (1978)
  • We say God and the imagination are one. Wallace Stevens, in “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (1950)
  • I always say I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. Mother Teresa, in The Joy in Living: A Guide to Daily Living (1996; compiled by J. Chalika & E. Le Joly)

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

  • God was left out of the Constitution but was furnished a front seat on the coins of the country. Mark Twain, notebook entry (May 23, 1903)
  • I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. Alice Walker, the character Shug Avery speaking, in The Color Purple (1982)
  • Even God has become female. God is no longer the bearded patriarch in the sky. He has had a sex change and turned into Mother Nature. Fay Weldon, quoted in The Times (London; Aug. 29, 1998)
  • If there is a God, I don’t think He would demand that anyone bow down or stand up to him. Rebecca West, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1981)
  • All roads that lead to God are good. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in The New York Templar (May 15, 1911)
  • I have heard a grave divine say God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. Isaac Walton, in The Compleat Angler (1653)

QUOTE NOTE: The “grave divine” is believed to be John Donne.

  • I believe in God, only I spell it “Nature.” Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted in Quote magazine (Aug. 14, 1966)



  • The skirts of the gods/Drag in our mud. We feel the touch/And take it to be a kiss. Christopher Fry, in Thor, with Angels (1948)
  • It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)
  • Man is quite insane. He wouldn’t know how to create a maggot, and he created gods by the dozen. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580)

This observation has also been commonly translated this way: “Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a flea, yet he makes gods by the dozens.”

  • It is fear that first brought gods to the world. Petronius, in Satyricon (1st. c. A.D.)
  • The gods play games with men as balls. Titus Maccius Plautus, in Captivi (2nd c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: Shakespeare was intimately familiar with the works of Plautus, borrowing plot elements as well as stock characters from his plays; it is also highly likely that his observation below was inspired by this passage.

  • 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)
  • As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods./They kill us for their sport. William Shakespeare, Gloucester speaking, in King Lear (1605–06)



  • Gold, n. A yellow metal greatly prized for its convenience in the various kinds of robbery known as trade. Ambrose Bierce, in Wasp (May 7, 1885); later reprinted in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

Bierce continued: “The word was formerly spelled “God”—the l was inserted to distinguish it from the name of another and inferior deity.” Bierce was not the first to make the god/gold connection. That honor goes to the English writer Ben Jonson (see his entry below).

  • Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes/And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;/Nor all, that glisters, is gold. Thomas Gray, in “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” (1748)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Gray simply rephrases a proverbial saying from ancient times and immortalized in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (to be seen below).

  • That for which all virtue now is sold./And almost every vice—almighty gold. Ben Jonson, “Epistle to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland,” in Epigrams (1616)

QUOTE NOTE: Jonson was the first to suggest that gold had a kind of divinity, cleverly tweaking the phrase almighty God into the expression almighty gold. For a later attempt at a similar metaphor, see Washington Irving’s almighty dollar observation in DOLLAR.

  • It is extraordinary how many emotional storms one may weather in safety if one is ballasted with ever so little gold. William McFee, the voice of the narrator, in Casuals of the Sea: The Voyage of a Soul (1916)
  • Gold is the key, whatever else we try;/And that sweet metal aids the conqueror/In every case, in love as well as war. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), the character Horace speaking, in The School for Wives (1662)

QUOTE NOTE: Another popular translation of the passage goes this way: “You know as well as I:/That daring enterprises go awry/Without hard cash. The metal men adore/Makes conquests possible in love and war.”

  • Gold will buy the highest honors; and gold will purchase love. Ovid, in The Art of Love (1st c. A.D.)
  • Fetters of gold are still fetters, and silken cords pinch. Proverb (English)
  • Hay is more acceptable to an ass than gold. Proverb (Latin)
  • When Gold argues the cause, eloquence is impotent. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • If a piece of worthless stone can bruise a cup of gold, its worth is not increased, nor that of the gold diminished. Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • Gold defiles with frequent touch;/There’s nothing fouls the hand so much. Jonathan Swift, in “The Fable of Midas” (1711)
  • Love is the only gold. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the character Geoffery speaking, in Becket (1884)
  • Accursed greed for gold,/To what dost thou not drive the heart of man. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st. c. B.C.)



TOPIC NOTE: The Golden Rule—most commonly expressed as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—is one of history’s oldest ethical principles. The sentiment has been around for longer than most people realize, with the earliest versions appearing independently in China, India, Mesopotamia (current-day Iraq), and Egypt over four thousand years ago! Since the seventeenth century, the admonition has been known as The Golden Rule, but it is also commonly referred to it as The Law of Reciprocity.

  • Here’s my Golden Rule for a tarnished age: Be fair with others, but keep after them until they’re fair with you. Alan Alda, in May, 1980 commencement address at Connecticut College (his own daughter Eve was in the graduating class); reprinted in Things I Overheard While Talking to My Self (2007)
  • We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us. Aristotle, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • If we don’t manage to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we treat all peoples, wherever and whoever they may be, as though they were as important as ourselves, I doubt that we’ll have a viable world to hand on to the next generation. Karen Armstrong, in interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” (Sep. 21, 2009)
  • Compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what give us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Karen Armstrong, in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010)
  • Never make a decision that contradicts the Golden Rule. Mary Kay Ash, in You Can Have it All (1995)

Ash preceded the dehortation (yes, dehortation; check out my Neverisms book) by writing: “If you are an entrepreneur planning to start your own company, I can't think of a better place to begin than by operating your business by the Golden Rule. Make this a high priority.”

  • The Golden Rule of friendship is—listen to others as you would have them listen to you. David W. Augsburger, in From Here to Maturity (1982)

In Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard (1982), Augsburger expressed the idea in a slightly different way: “Monologists, verbal road hogs who take up both sides of a conversation by usurping all the time or constantly turning the topic back to the self rather than pursuing common, similar of shared experiences, are violating the golden rule of hearing as I want to be heard.”

  • Undo others before they undo you. Author Unknown
  • I’ll be damned if I want most folk out there to do unto me what they do unto themselves. Toni Cade Bambara, quoted in Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work (1983)
  • There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between. Thomas Beecham, quoted in Harold Atkins and Archie Newman, Beecham Stories (1978)
  • Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you. Wendell Berry, rephrasing the Golden Rule for environmentalists, in Citizenship Papers: Essays (2003)
  • So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets The Bible—Matthew: 7:12, quoting Jesus (RSV)

QUOTE NOTE, In Luke 6:31, Jesus is quoted as saying: “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

  • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a nice sentiment but an unreliable rule. People don’t necessarily want or need to be done unto as you would have them do unto you. They want to be done unto as they want to be done unto. Roy Blount, Jr., in Alphabet Juice (2008)
  • Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you. Marlon Brando, as the character Terry Malloy, in the 1954 film On the Waterfront (Budd Schulberg, screenwriter)
  • My golden rule for business and life is: We should all enjoy what we do and do what we enjoy. Richard Branson, quoted in Virgin.com Newsletter ( Aug. 26, 2014). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Do unto others better than you can ever expect that they will do unto you. Alice Bundy, in “Opening the Heart,” Seaside Spirit Newsletter (Seaside Church of Religious Science, Encinatas, California; April 2004)
  • Don’t fall for that superstitious nonsense about treating people the way you would like to be treated. It is a transparently narcissistic approach, and may be the sign of a weak mind. George Carlin, in Brain Droppings (1997)
  • Give unto others what we would have others give unto us. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • If you contemplate the Golden Rule, it turns out to be an injunction to live by grace rather than by what you think other people deserve. Deepak Chopra, in The Third Jesus: How to Find Truth and Love in Today’s World. (2008)
  • What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. Confucius, in Analects (6th century B.C.)
  • Do unto others as they would want, but with imagination. Marcel Duchamp, quoted in Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp (1967)
  • If we all try to carry out the Golden Rule in this life we have little to fear from the hereafter no matter what our belief may be. Thomas Edison, quoted in M. Gelb & S. M. Caldicott, Innovate Like Edison (2007)
  • Perhaps the summary of good breeding may be reduced to this rule. “Behave unto all men as you would they should behave unto you.” Henry Fielding, a 1752 passage in The Covent Garden Journal

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

  • The Golden Rule in reverse: Whatsoever you would laugh at in others, laugh at in yourself. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in On Being a Real Person (1943)
  • The maxim “to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you” can be interpreted as meaning “be fair in your exchange with others.” But actually, it was formulated originally as a more popular version of the Biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)
  • Give as thou wouldest receive. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Introductio ad Prudentiam (1727)
  • If one gives way to fear, even truth will have to be suppressed. The golden rule is to act fearlessly upon what one believes to be right. Mohandas Gandhi, quoted in M. S. Desphande, The Way to God: Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (1999)

Gandhi went on to add: “The danger is that when we are surrounded by falsehood on all sides, we might be caught in it and begin to deceive ourselves.”

  • The Golden Rule of Parenting is: Do unto your children as you wish your parents had done unto you! Louise Hart, in The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem in Your Children and Yourself (1987)
  • What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Hillel, in The Talmud: Shabbat 31A
  • This is that law of the Gospel; whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan (1651)
  • I do to others what they do to me, only worse. Jimmy Hoffa, a remark to Robert F. Kennedy (March 19, 1957), quoted in Kennedy’s The Enemy Within (1960)
  • Explaining the Ten Commandments to our little schoolchildren may cause their little minds to implode. It might be simpler to tack up on their walls, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and let it go at that. Arthur Hoppe, “The Ten Commandments,” in The San Francisco Chronicle (June 21, 1999)
  • Do unto others as though you were the others. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself. Robert G. Ingersoll, in a discussion on “The Limitations of Toleration,” Metropolitan Opera House, New York City (May 8, 1888)
  • We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flaunt the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Negro and the Constitution,” a speech delivered in a high school oratory competition (April 13, 1944); reprinted in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Vol I (1992; C. Carlson, et. al, eds.)

QUOTE NOTE: These are among Dr. King’s earliest public words, delivered when he was a fifteen-year-old high school junior. By winning the competition, young Martin won the right to represent his high school (Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School) in the statewide competition.

  • Restraint is the golden rule of enjoyment. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Do Unto Others as Others Would Have You Do Unto Them. Adair Lara, “The Platinum Rule,” in The San Francisco Chronicle (Aug. 5, 1997)
  • “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is the greatest phrase ever written. If everyone followed that creed, this world would be a paradise. Stan Lee, quoted in Peter Wallace, “Unlikely Saints: Stan Lee, Soupy Sales, and the Golden Rule,” Huffington Post (Dec. 6, 2017)
  • We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life. Edwin Markham, quoted in a 1925 issue of The International Bookbinder (specific issue undetermined)
  • The golden rule for every business man is this: “Put yourself in your customer’s place.” Orison Swett Marden, in The Optimistic Life (1907)
  • The neurotic usually obeys his own Golden Rule: Hate thy neighbor as thyself. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Complete Neurotic’s Notebook (1981)
  • In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism (1863)
  • If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. William Morris, “The Beauty of Life,” in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882)
  • Nothing in the Golden Rule says that others will treat us as we have treated them. It only says that we must treat others in a way that we would want to be treated. Rosa Parks, in Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue With Today’s Youth (1996; with Gregory J. Reed)
  • I cannot remember a time when the Golden Rule was not my motto and precept, the torch that guided my footsteps. James Cash (J.C.) Penney, a 1925 remark, quoted in Vanessa Castagna, J. C. Penney Company, Inc: A Century of Timeless Values (2002)
  • There is one golden rule (of public speaking): Stick to topics you deeply care about, and don’t keep your passion buttoned inside your vest. An audience's biggest turn-on is the speaker’s obvious enthusiasm. If you are lukewarm about the issue, forget it! Tom Peters, in The Power of Wow! (1994)
  • The Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. Proverb (Modern American)
  • The Golden Rule: Do not do for others what they can do for themselves. Proverb (Modern American)
  • I would like to have engraved inside every wedding band, Be kind to one another. This is the Golden Rule of marriage, and the secret of making love last through the years. Randolph Ray, in My Little Church Around the Corner (1957)
  • There are far too many commandments and you really only need one: Do not hurt anybody. Carl Reiner, quoted in Rich Freedman, “Leaving Room for ‘Desserts,’” The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California (Nov. 13, 2009)
  • Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Do not do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists: The Golden Rule,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • The golden rule is that there are no golden rules. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists: The Golden Rule,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • The good, which each follower of virtue seeks for himself, he will desire also for others. Baruch Spinoza, in Ethics (1667)
  • Do as you would be done by is the surest method that I know of pleasing. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Oct. 16, 1747)
  • The need to treat ourselves as well as we treat others. It’s women’s version of the Golden Rule. Gloria Steinem, “Doing Sixty,” in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • The basis of all animal rights should be the Golden Rule: we should treat them as we would wish them to treat us, were any other species in our dominant position. Christine Stevens, quoted in Michael W. Fox, Returning to Eden: Animal Rights and Human Responsibility (1980)
  • There are only three major ethical modes of conduct. 1. The Golden Rule: doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us. 2. The Rule of Respect: doing unto others as they want us to do unto them. 3. The Rule of Paternalism: doing unto others as we, in our superior wisdom, know what ought to be done unto them in their own best interests. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • What has become of the golden rule? It exists, it continues to sparkle, and it well taken care of. It is Exhibit A in the Church’s assets, and we pull it out every Sunday and give it an airing. Mark Twain, “Concerning the Jews,” in Harper’s magazine (Sep. 1899)

Twain went on to add: “It is strictly religious furniture, like an acolyte, or a contribution-plate, or any of these things. It is never intruded into business.”

  • “Bus’nis is bus’nis” ain’t part of the golden rule, I allow, but the way in gen’ally runs, fur’s I’ve found out, is, “Do unto the other feller the way he’d like to do unto you, an’ do it fust.” Edward Noyes Westcott, the title character speaking, in David Harum: A Story of American Life (1898)



  • It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball. I did that in one afternoon on the golf course. Hank Aaron, quoted by Arnold Palmer in the Foreword to Jim Apfelbaum’s 1,001 Pearls of Golfer’s Wisdom: Advice and Knowledge, from Tee to Green (2012)
  • If you break 100, watch your golf. If you break 80, watch your business. Joey Adams, in Strictly for Laughs (1955)
  • Golf is a game that mirrors life. Golf is both a mystical journey of joy and sorrow and a physical journey of cause and effect. It is a game providing us with opportunities for wonderfully torturous choices—take a chance and achieve supreme glory or wallow in dismal failure—always with the promise of another day to try again. Matthew E. Adams, in Fairways of Life: Golf Wisdom from the Legends (2011)

In his book, Adams also offered these thoughts:

“The game of golf has a way of divulging aspects of our character that we would probably prefer were left hidden, sometimes even from ourselves.”

“One of the things that makes the game of golf so unique is that professional golfers are independent contractors. Play well, you get paid. Miss the cut, and you get nothing.”

  • Golf is a lot like life. It will test your patience. It will dazzle and baffle you with highs and lows, successes and frustrations. Amy Alcott, in Amy Alcott’s Guide to Women’s Golf (1993)

Alcott added: “Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the game jumps up and reminds you that nobody ever quite gets it.”

  • Golf is a spiritual game. It’s like Zen. You have to let your mind take over. Amy Alcott, quoted in Criswell Freeman, The Golfer’s Book of Wisdom (1996)
  • So why go to a church to worship God? A church is man made. God never said, “And let there be aluminum siding.” Climbing a tree to talk to God sounds like a better idea since only God can make a tree. And if that tree's on a golf course, all the better. Tim Allen, in I’m Not Really Here (1996)
  • All games are silly, but golf, if you look at it dispassionately, goes to extremes. Peter Alliss, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is really not a game at all, but a perverse obsession designed to inflict pain on its practitioners that has somehow slipped past the borders of its national origin, and is now played by people who do not realize the true essence of the endeavor. Peter Andrews, “No Pain, No Game,” in Golf Digest (July, 1994)

Andrews preceded the thought by writing: “Golf is a mistake. You must understand this elemental fact if you are ever going to come to terms with it. By rights golf should have remained a solitary Scottish occupation like tossing the caber, which is something a Scot would only be foolish enough to do.”

  • Golf is an awkward set of bodily contortions designed to produce a graceful result. Tommy Armour, quoted in a 1972 issue of Kiwanis magazine (Volume 57-58)
  • You drive for show and putt for dough. Author Unknown
  • Nothing handicaps you so much in golf as honesty. Author Unknown
  • To some, the greatest handicap is the ability to add correctly. Author Unknown
  • Golf is a game where the ball always lies poorly, and the player always lies well. Author Unknown
  • A “gimme” can best be defined as an agreement between two golfers, neither of whom can putt very well. Author Unknown
  • Golf matches are not won on the fairways or the greens. They are won on the tee–the first tee. Author Unknown, quoted in Bobby Riggs, Court Hustler (1973)
  • A personal tragedy leads to six stages of grief: shock, denial, pain, anger, depression, and acceptance. It’s the same after a round of golf. Author Unknown
  • Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle. Author Unknown
  • Why are there eighteen holes in golf? Because there are eighteen shots in a bottle of Scotch. Author Unknown
  • The true definition of a golfer is one who shouts “Fore,” takes five, and puts down a three. Author Unknown
  • It is always disillusioning to weigh your fish and measure your golf drives. Smart men estimate them. Havilah Babcock, in My Health Is Better in November: Thirty-Five Stories of Hunting and Fishing in the South (1985)
  • The only time I talk on a golf course is to my caddie. And then only to complain when he gives me the wrong club. Seve Ballesteros, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is the equivalent of crack for middle-aged white men. Mike Barnicle, in The Boston Globe (July 15, 1990)
  • Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing. Dave Barry, in Stay Fit and Healthy Until You’re Dead (1985)
  • Golf. The art of driving hard, avoiding the rough, surmounting traps and hazards, aiming straight, and arriving on the green at last, only to end up in a hole in the ground before your companions. Rick Bayan, in The Cynic’s Dictionary (1997)

About the game, Bayan added: “The favored pastime of businessmen and their cronies, probably without a full appreciation of its metaphorical implications.”

  • Sand Trap: A deep depression filled with sand filled with golfers in a deep depression. Henry Beard & Roy McKie, in Golfing: A Duffer's Dictionary (1987)

I love books of quotable definitions and Beard—one of the founders of the satirical magazine National Lampoon—offered countless choice specimens in the book. Here’s a sampling:

“Triple Bogey: Three strokes more than par. Four strokes more than par is a quadruple bogey, 5 more is a quintuple, 6 is a sextuple, 7 is a throwuple, 8 is a blowuple, and 9 is a ohshutuple.”

  • “Play it as it lies” is one of the fundamental dictates of golf. The other is “Wear it if it Clashes.” Henry Beard & Roy McKie, in Golfing: A Duffer’s Dictionary (1987)
  • Never concede a chip shot. Henry Beard, in A Duffer’s Dictionary (1987)
  • Never try to keep more than three hundred separate thoughts in your mind during your swing. Henry Beard, in Mulligan’s Laws (1987)

In the book, Beard also offered these thoughts:

“Never wash your ball on the tee of a water hole.”

“It is as easy to lower your handicap as it is to reduce your hat size.”

  • Retirement is an illusion. Not a reward but a mantrap. The bankrupt underside of success. A shortcut to death. Golf courses are too much like cemeteries. Saul Bellow, the narrator and protagonist Harry Trellman speaking, in The Actual (1997)
  • Golf is sex in the afternoon. It is an old man’s Marilyn Monroe who, in the transition of 18 holes becomes Golda Meir. It is the only game in which the player seduces himself. Jim Bishop, in his syndicated column (Dec. 15, 1975)
  • It is a game, a sport, in which grown men flog, flail, flush, fracture, and foul a green landscape on which 18 holes are hidden. Jim Bishop, on golf, in his syndicated column, “Hackers Lexicon” (April 11, 1977)

Bishop went on to write: “Golf is played by 20 million immature American men whose wives think they are out there having fun.”

  • The mind messes up more shots than the body. Tommy Bolt, in How to Keep Your Temper on the Golf Course (1969; with William C. Griffith)
  • Never break your putter and your driver in the same round, or you’re dead. Tommy Bolt, quoted in Colin M. Jarman, The Hole is More Than the Sum of the Putts (1999)
  • All I know is that Nicklaus watches Hogan practice and I never heard of Hogan watching Nicklaus practice. Tommy Bolt, quoted in a 1978 Golf Digest article (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Bolt’s way of saying that Jack Nicklaus was a student of the game in a way that Ben Hogan never was. Nicklaus was famous for his work ethic and many stories have been told about how he was constantly trying to improve his game. The day after winning the 1986 Masters tournament at age 46, for example, he was seen taking a lesson on an aspect of his game that he felt wasn’t clicking for him.

  • Golf is not, on the whole, a game for realists. By its exactitudes of measurement it invites the attention of perfectionists. Heywood Hale Broun, in Tumultuous Merriment (1979)
  • Golf is an expensive way to make yourself miserable. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • Golf is the only instance of a country exporting its landscape, because golf courses the world over generally resemble a bit of Scotland. Guy Browning, quoted in The Guardian (London; July 22, 2006)

Browning added: “Kentucky has done something similar, but less healthy, with fried chicken.”

  • Golf is an acquired taste, like poison gas. Art Buchwald, in The Washington Post (April 22, 1993)
  • Golf is the only game in which a precise knowledge of the rules can earn one a reputation for bad sportsmanship. Patrick Campbell, in How To Become a Scratch Golfer (1963)
  • My back swing off the first tee had put him in mind of an elderly woman of dubious morals trying to struggle out of a dress too tight around the shoulders. Patrick Campbell, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is an arrogant, elitist game that takes up entirely too much space in this country. George Carlin, in Napalm & Silly Putty (2002)
  • Golf puts a man’s character on the anvil and his richest qualities—patience, poise, restraint—to the flame. Billy Casper, quoted in Michael Hobbs, The Golf Quotation Book (1992)
  • I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles. G. K. Chesterton, quoted in a 1977 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • The game of golf fulfills the axioms laid down for a perfect exercise—a walk with an object. James Cantile, in Physical Efficiency (1906)
  • Golf is a billion-dollar industry devoted entirely to hope. Deepak Chopra, in Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life (2003)
  • Golf is so addictive, I believe, because it tantalizes us with the hope of returning to a place where spirit is exalted. It’s not shooting below par but above yourself that makes the game so seductive. Deepak Chopra, in Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life (2003)
  • Golf is played in a manmade Eden, a garden. The setting is made beautiful to refresh the senses, and when you step onto the course you have a second chance at paradise. Deepak Chopra, in Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life (2003)

Chopra continued: “Approaching the game from spirit, golf is no longer about winning but about growing. As much as some people make this game their religion, they haven’t yet found its spiritual core. Golf is meant to be a journey to mastery, and when you achieve that mastery, your life in general will be enormously expanded.”

  • A curious sport whose object is to put a very small ball into a very small hole with implements ill-designed for the purpose. Winston Churchill, a circa 1915 remark about golf, quoted in William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Vol. 1 (1983)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Over the years, this observation has appeared in a number of slightly different phrasings, including this one:

“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

The observation is regarded by many as one of the best golf quotations of all time, even though serious quotation researchers are in general agreement that Churchill is not the original author, and probably didn't even say it. For example, in his respected Churchill by Himself (2008) book, Richard Langworth includes the saying in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions”). For more, see this 2011 Quote Investigator post.

  • The golf links lie so near the mill/That almost every day/The laboring children can look out/And see the men at play. Sarah Cleghorn, from the 1915 poem “The Golf Links Lie So Near the Mill,” in Portraits and Protests (1917)

QUOTE NOTE: While Cleghorn wrote about many subjects, she was passionately devoted to social causes and frequently wrote poems to express her rage at social injustice, as she does in this stinging portrayal of the evils of child labor. What makes the poem so effective is the powerful reversal of what is with what should be true: in a just society, laboring men should be looking out and seeing children at play. In his Dictionary of Quotations (1968), Bergen Evans called this poem “One of the world’s great strokes of irony.”

  • Golf is like life in a lot of ways: The most important competition is the one against yourself. All the biggest wounds are self-inflicted. Bill Clinton, in an interview with Thomas L. Friedman, Golf Digest (June 2, 2008)

I'm a big fan of irony, and one of my favorite experiences in life is seeing people say things about any topic without sensing the irony in their remarks. Clinton said this exactly ten years after making one of the most egregious self-inflicted wounds in the history of the U. S. presidency.

  • When CBS sportscaster Ben Wright claimed women don’t make good golfers because their “boobs” get in the way of their swings, I thought, “Two words, Ben. Beer. Gut.” Kate Clinton, in Don’t Get Me Started (1998)
  • Of all forms of exercise theoretically designed for recreation and relaxation none can be so unerringly guaranteed to produce nervous exhaustion and despair leading to severe mental illness and, in some cases, petulance. Alistair Cooke, on golf, “History of the Scottish Torture” (1973); in Fun and Games with Alistair Cooke (1996)

A little later in the essay, Cooke wrote: “For every game of golf is an open exhibition of overweening ambition, courage deflated by stupidity, skill soured by a whiff of arrogance.”

  • The British, of all ages, still walk the course. On trips to Florida or the American desert, they still marvel, or shudder, at the fleets of electric carts going off in the morning like the first assault wave of the Battle of El Alamein. Alistair Cooke, “Golf: The American Conquest” (1985), in Fun and Games with Alistair Cooke (1996)
  • Humiliations are the essence of the game. They derive from the fact that the human anatomy is exquisitely designed to do practically anything but play golf. Alistair Cooke, “History of the Scottish Torture” (1973), in Fun and Games with Alistair Cooke (1996)

Cooke continued: “To get an elementary grasp of the game, a human must learn, by endless practice, a continuous and subtle series of highly unnatural movements, involving about sixty-four muscles, that result in a seemingly ‘natural’ swing, taking all of two seconds to begin and end.”

  • I am past writing angst songs for kids. My angst is when I can't get my Porsche roof up and when I can't get my golf handicap down. Alice Cooper, quoted in London's The Times newspaper (Oct. 27, 2001)
  • The reason the Road Hole is the greatest par 4 in the world is because it’s a par 5. Ben Crenshaw, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • My golf game’s gone off so much that when I went fishing a couple of weeks ago my first cast missed the lake. Ben Crenshaw, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is like a love affair. If you don’t take it seriously, it’s no fun; if you do take it seriously, it breaks your heart. Arnold Daly, in The Boston Globe (Dec. 24, 1933)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to the New York Times sportswriter Arthur Daley.

  • Work is the thing that interferes with golf. Frank Dane, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • When I get out on that green carpet called a fairway, manage to poke the ball right down the middle, my surroundings look like a touch of heaven on earth. Jimmy Demaret, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at it. Jimmy Demaret, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • Golf is like love—one day you think you're too old, and the next you can't wait to do it again. Roberto De Vicenzo, quoted in The St. Petersburg Times (Feb. 21, 1990)
  • Many a golfer has been destroyed more by his own sensitivity than by the course or his opponent. But it is a matter of simple observation that the very best players are highly intelligent men who recognize the demons and face them squarely for what they are. Peter Dobereiner, in The Glorious World of Golf (1973)

Dobereiner continued: “The unimaginative clod with a sound method can make a good golfer, but it takes brains to make a great one.”

  • As the early Scot found life a hard battle, with good and evil fortune mixed capriciously, and only to be won by patience and steadfastness in adverse circumstances, so in his game [of golf] he sought to reproduce the greater struggle for the smaller stake. Peter Dobereiner, in The Glorious World of Golf (1973)

Dobereiner continued: “He was in no mind to make the game easier or less trying, but rather sought to increase its natural difficulties, recognizing even in his recreation, that the harder the struggle, the greater was the joy of mastery.”

  • Water creates a neurosis in golfers. The very thought of this harmless fluid robs them of their normal powers of rational thought, turns their legs to jelly, and produces a palsy of the upper limbs. Peter Dobereiner, in The Glorious World of Golf (1973).
  • The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody would put a flagstick on top. Pete Dye, in Bury Me in a Pot Bunker: Golf Through the Eyes of the Game’s Most Challenging Course Designer (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally the conclusion to this larger observation: “While there are critics who believe my courses are too difficult, the ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody would put a flagstick on top.”

  • Golfing has some strange charm from which there is no escaping once one has experienced it. To play golf and to learn its fascination, is to love it always and be unable to forsake it. Lillian Eichler, in Book of Etiquette, Vol. 2 (1921)

Eichler went on to add: “It is the kind of game that must be played enthusiastically and constantly.”

  • I would like to thank the press from the heart of my bottom. Nick Faldo, in remarks after winning the 1992 British Open tournament; quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • A golf course is nothing but a pool room moved outdoors. Barry Fitzgerald, in the role of Father Fitzgibbon, who opposed golf because of the excessive profanity heard on the links, in the 1944 film Going My Way (screenplay by Frank Butler & Frank Cavett)
  • The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same difference between a beautiful and a plain woman—a matter of millimeters. Ian Fleming, the voice of the narrator, in Goldfinger (1959)

The narrator, who is describing a golf shot by James Bond, continued: “In this case, the club face had gone through just that one millimeter too low under the ball. The arc of flight was high and soft—no legs. Why the hell hadn’t he taken a spoon or a two iron off that lie? The ball hit the lip of the far bunker and fell back. Now it was the blaster, and fighting for a half.”

The golf scene between Bond and Goldfinger was inspired by Fleming’s own experience with the game, mirroring in part his participation in a 1957 doubles tournament at the Berkshire Golf Club, when he partnered with the British Open-winner Peter Thomson.

  • The only remedy against a cheat at golf is not to play with him again. Ian Fleming, a reflection of protagonist James Bond, in Goldfinger (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: This thought comes to Bond’s mind during a golf match with Goldfinger, a notorious golf cheater. In the book, the narrator continued: “But that was no good in this match. Bond had no intention of playing the man again. And it was no use starting a you-did-I-didn’t argument unless he caught Goldfinger doing something even more outrageous. Bond would just have to try and beat him, cheating and all.”

  • I would like to deny all allegations by Bob Hope that during my last game of golf, I hit an eagle, a birdie, and elk, and a moose. Gerald Ford, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is a science—the study of a lifetime, in which you may exhaust yourself but never your subject. David R. Forgan, quoted in Hide & Leather magazine (July 16, 1921)
  • Golf is the only opportunity that middle-aged WASPS have to dress up like a pimp. Kinky Friedman, the voice of the narrator, in When the Cat’s Away (1988)

See also the Robin Williams entry below.

  • I kind of look at birdies like deposits in the bank. You can never have too many deposits because you’re always going to have withdrawals. Fred Funk, quoted in golfchannel.com’s “Quotes of the Week” (Jan. 29, 2007)
  • They christened their game golf because they were Scottish and revelled in meaningless Celtic noises in the back of the throat. Stephen Fry, in Paperweight (1992)
  • If there is any larceny in a man, golf will bring it out. Paul Gallico, quoted in The New York Times (March 6, 1977)
  • What other game invites such tension and mental anguish? Like one’s own children, golf has an uncanny way of endearing itself to us while at the same time evoking every weakness of mind and character, no matter how well hidden. W. Timothy Gallwey, in The Inner Game of Golf (1981)

In the book, Gallwey also offered these other observations:

“Golf is one of the few sports in which a novice can, on occasion, perform like a champion.”

“There is…a seductive quality to golf found in few other sports. In moments of frustration many players vow to quit, but few are able to. For some reason, the two or three ‘triumphs’ during a round are remembered long after the exasperating failures and dull mediocrity are forgotten.”

  • Augusta is the closest thing to heaven for a golfer—and it's just about as hard to get into. Joe Geshwiler, on the Augusta National Golf Club, in a 1983 column in The San Francisco Examiner
  • A golf course is the epitome of all that is purely transitory in the universe, a space not to dwell in, but to get over as quickly as possible. Jean Giraudoux, the Doctor speaking, in The Enchanted: A Comedy in Three Acts (1933; originally titled Intermezzo)

The Doctor continued: “In a golf course everything is calculated, limited, and foreseen—even the hazards. Every blade of grass is registered—even the weeds.”

  • I never pray on a golf course. Actually, the Lord answers my prayers everywhere except on the course. Billy Graham, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf balls are attracted to water as unerringly as the eye of a middle-aged man to a female bosom. Michael Green, in The Art of Coarse Golf (1967)
  • It is more satisfying to be a bad player at golf. The worse you play, the better you remember the occasional good shot. Nubar Gulbenkian, a 1972 remark, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is more fun than walking naked in a strange place, but not much. Buddy Hackett, in The Truth about Golf, and Other Lies (1968)
  • You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way. Walter Hagen, in The Walter Hagen Story: By the Haig, Himself (1956; with Margaret Seaton Heck)
  • The course is playing the players instead of the players playing the course. Walter Hagen, a remark made at the 1951 U. S. Open golf tournament
  • My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. Ernest Hemingway, in letter to Horace Liveright (May 22, 1925); reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981; Carlos Baker, ed.)
  • Beauty is Nature in perfection; circularity is its chief attribute. Behold the full moon, the enchanting golf ball, the domes of splendid temples, the huckleberry pie, the wedding ring, the circus ring, the ring for the waiter, and the “round” of drinks. O. Henry, the voice of the narrator, in the title story of The Voice of the City (1908)
  • It is clear that the game of golf may well be included in that category of intolerable provocations which may legally excuse or mitigate behavior not otherwise excusable. A. P. Herbert, “Is a Golfer a Gentleman?” in Uncommon Law (1935)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from Justice Trout, who is ruling in a legal proceeding against a golfer accused of “ungentlemanly conduct” on a golf course. He began his ruling by saying: “Elderly gentlemen, gentle in all respects, kind to animals, beloved by children, and fond of music, are found in lonely corners of the downs, hacking at sandpits or tussocks of grass, and muttering in a blind, ungovernable fury elaborate maledictions which could not be extracted from them by robbery or murder. Men who would face torture without a word become blasphemous at the short fourteenth.”

  • If you watch a game, it’s fun. If you play it, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf. Bob Hope, quoted in Reader’s Digest magazine (October 1958)
  • Some of these legends have been around a long time. When they mention a good grip, they’re talking about their dentures. Bob Hope, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)

In Pickering’s book, he also quoted Hope as saying this about a recent game of golf he had with U. S. President Gerald Ford: “Whenever I play with him, I usually try to make it a foursome—Ford, me, a paramedic, and a faith healer.” To see a remark Ford made about Bob Hope, see the Ford entry above.

  • Drugs are very much a part of professional sports today, but when you think about it, golf is the only sport where the players aren't penalized for being on grass. Bob Hope, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Arnold Palmer is the biggest crowd-pleaser since the invention of the portable sanitary facility. Bob Hope, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • The Golf Hall of Fame is full of players with unusual looking swings. Some of the prettiest swings you’ve ever seen in your life are made on the far end of the public driving range by guys who couldn’t break an egg with a baseball bat. Peter Jacobsen, in Buried Lies: True Tales and Tall Stories from the PGA Tour (1994)
  • If profanity had an influence on the flight of the ball, the game of golf would be played far better than it is. Horace Hutchinson, in Hints on the Game of Golf (1886)

Hutchinson, one of the leading golfers of his era, was also, through his books and essays, one of the great popularizers of the sport. He preceded the thought by writing: “There is every reason to believe that the golf ball is obedient to the laws of dynamics rather than to your modest impassioned prayers or imprecations. Any good effect that can ensue from giving vent to the feelings must therefore be purely subjective.”

  • If your adversary is badly bunkered, there is no rule against your standing over him counting his strokes aloud, with increasing gusto as their number mounts up, but it will be a wise precaution to arm yourself with the niblick before doing so, so as to meet him on equal terms. Horace Hutchinson, in Hints on the Game of Golf (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: At the time, a niblick was a pitching iron with an extra-heavy head and typically used when playing out of bunkers. It had a loft equivalent to a modern nine-iron or sand wedge.

  • I had always suspected that trying to play golf in the company of big-time pros and a gallery would be something like walking naked into choir practice. Dan Jenkins, in The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate (1970)

Jenkins continued: “And it was. In that moment on the 1st tee, I suddenly felt blinded and flushed, and that I would like to be somewhere else. Bolivia, maybe.”

  • Golfers don’t fist fight. They cuss a bit. But they wouldn’t punch anything or anybody. They might hurt their hands and have to change their grip. Dan Jenkins, protagonist Kenny Lee Puckett speaking, in Dead Solid Perfect (1974)
  • The devoted golfer is an anguished soul who has learned a lot about putting just the way an avalanche victim has learned a lot about snow. Dan Jenkins, in a Sports Illustrated column, quoted in his obituary in The New York Times (March 8, 2019)

The obituary quoted Jenkins as continuing this way: “He knows he has used straight shafts, curved shafts, shiny shafts, dull shafts, glass shafts, oak shafts and Great Uncle Clyde’s World War I saber, which he found in the attic. Attached to these shafts have been putter heads made of large lumps of lead (‘weight makes the ball roll true,’ salesmen explain) and slivers of aluminum (‘lightness makes the ball roll true,’ salesmen explain) as well as every other substance harder than a marshmallow. He knows he has tried 41 different stances, inspired by everyone from the club pro to Fred Astaire in ‘Flying Down to Rio’ and as many different strokes. Still, he knows he is hopelessly trapped. He can’t putt, and he never will, and the only thing left for him to do is bury his head in the dirt and live the rest of his life like a radish.”

  • I'll take the two-shot penalty, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to play the ball where it lies. Elaine Johnson, a remark after her ball bounced off a tree and landed in her bra; quoted in Downs MacRury, Golfers on Golf (1997)
  • A game in which you claim the privileges of age, and retain the playthings of childhood. Samuel Johnson, on golf, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course—the distance between your ears. Bobby Jones, in a 1931 instructional film titled How I Play Golf

QUOTE NOTE: In 1931 Warner Brothers produced a series of twelve short films that were designed to be shown just prior to the feature films being shown in American movie theaters (they added six more in 1933). The films also featured appearances from such popular Warner Brothers actors as James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Edward G. Robinson, W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Loretta Young.

The films were so popular—and so much of a moneymaker for Jones—that he was forced to give up his amateur golfing status. After a few years, the films were put into storage and lost for decades. When a surviving print was finally located in the 1990s, they were put into video format for preservation. All in all, 18 shorts were preserved and ultimately released in a 2012 DVD collection. They still occasionally air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Here’s one other quotation from the series:

“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots—but you have to play the ball where it lies.”

  • I have never felt so lonely as on a golf course in the midst of a championship with thousands of people around, especially when things began to go wrong and the crowds started wandering away. Bobby Jones, in Golf is My Game (1960)

In the book, Jones also wrote: “In order to win, you must play your best golf when you need it most, and play your sloppy stuff when you can afford it. I shall not attempt to explain how you achieve this happy timing.”

  • The more I studied the Old Course, the more I loved it; and the more I loved it, the more I studied it. Bobby Jones, on the St. Andrews Links; quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • Jack is playing an entirely different game, and one which I’m not even familiar with. Bobby Jones, reflecting on Jack Nicklaus’s play in his 1965 win in the Master’s tournament; quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • If I ever needed an eight foot putt, and everything I owned depended on it, I would want Arnold Palmer to putt for me. Bobby Jones, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is the one game I know which becomes more and more difficult the longer one plays it. Bobby Jones, in Bobby Jones on Golf (1966)

In the book, Jones also wrote:

“The real way to enjoy playing golf is to take pleasure not in the score, but in the execution of strokes.”

“I always like to see a person stand up to a golf ball as though he were perfectly at home in its presence.”

“I get as much fun as the next man from whaling the ball as hard as I can and catching it squarely on the button. But from sad experience I learned not to try this in a round that meant anything.”

“Golf is recognized as one of the more difficult games to play or teach. One reason for this is that each person necessarily plays by feel, and a feel is almost impossible to describe.”

  • My psychiatrist prescribed a game of golf as an antidote to the feelings of euphoria I experience from time to time. Bruce Lansky, in Golf: It’s Just a Game: The Best Quotes & Cartoons About Golf (1996)

In the book, Lansky also wrote: “Talking to a golf ball won't do you any good, unless you do it while your opponent is teeing off.”

  • Golf may be played on Sunday, not being a game within the view of the law, but being a form of moral effort. Stephen Leacock, “Why I Refuse to Play Golf,” in Over the Footlights (1923)
  • I’ve seen lifelong friends drift apart over golf just because one could play better, but the other counted better. Stephen Leacock, in Leacock on Life (2002; Gerald Lynch, ed.)
  • You build a golf game like you build a wall, one brick at a time. Tony Lema, in Champagne Golf (1966)

In the book, Lema also wrote: “Golf is like solitaire. When you cheat, you cheat only yourself.”

  • If you think it's hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball. Jack Lemmon, quoted in Sports Illustrated (Dec. 9, 1985)
  • Golf is the only game where the worst player gets the best of it. He obtains more out of it as regards both exercise and enjoyment, for the good player gets worried over the slightest mistake, whereas the poor player makes too many mistakes to worry over them. David Lloyd George, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)

In his book, Pickering also quoted Lloyd George as saying, “You get to know more of the character of a man in a round of golf than in six months of political experience.”

  • If you call on God to improve the results of a shot while it is still in motion, you are using an “outside agency” and subject to appropriate penalties under the rules of golf. Henry Longhurst, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place the world is when one is playing golf. Robert Wilson Lynd, in Searchlights and Nightingales (1939)
  • The chief object of every golf architect or greenkeeper worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself. Alister MacKenzie, in Methods of Early Golf Architecture (2013)
  • He who has the fastest golf cart never has a bad lie. Mickey Mantle, quoted in Carlo De Vito, Golf: The Players, the Tournaments, the Records (2008)
  • If you drive, don't drink. Don't even putt. Dean Martin, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)

I love to see familiar sayings altered in humorous ways, and Martin’s tweak of the popular PSA slogan “If you drink, don’t drive” was absolutely inspired, in my opinion.

  • Indeed, the highest pleasure of golf may be that on the fairways and far from all the pressures of commerce and rationality, we can feel immortal for a few hours. Colman McCarthy, in The Pleasures of the Game: The Theory Free Guide to Golf (1977)
  • If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States. H. L. Mencken, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad. A. A. Milne, in Not That It Matters (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, was an exceptional golfer, at one point even getting his handicap down to single figures. He often golfed as many as three times a week at such famous English courses as The Addington, Walton Heath, and Royal Wimbledon.

  • The game of golf was not invented; it happened. John Morgan, in Golf (1976)
  • Golf is the most over-taught and least learned human endeavor in the whole spectrum of doctrinology. if they taught sex the way they teach golf, the race would have died out years ago. Jim Murray, from a Golf Magazine column, quoted in Jeffrey Lener, “What’s New in the Golf Business,” The New York Times (June 25, 1989)
  • Golf is the cruelest of sports. Like life, it’s unfair. It’s a harlot. A trollop. It leads you on. It never lives up to its promises. It’s not a sport, it’s bondage. An obsession. A boulevard of broken dreams. It plays with men. And runs off with the butcher. Jim Murray, quoted in “Best of Jim Murray,” The Los Angeles Times (Aug. 18, 1998)
  • Anyone who would pass up an opportunity to see Sam Snead swing a golf club at a golf ball would pull down the shades when driving past the Taj Mahal. Jim Murray, in a Los Angeles Times column
  • Seve Ballesteros goes after a golf course the way a lion goes after a zebra. Jim Murray, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • A round of golf partakes of the journey, and the journey is one of the central myths and signs of Western Man. It is also a round: it always leads back to the place you started from. Michael Murphy, the character Shivas Irons speaking, in Golf in the Kingdom (1972)
  • The wretched golfer, divot-bound,/Shouts “fore” when he should yell “four,”/And “fore” when he should shout “look out,”/And lets his roguish eye run off its track/To find, amid the scenery, some girl’s back. Ogden Nash, first stanza of the poem “Tee Etiquette,” in Many Long Tears Ago (1945)
  • Sam Snead did to the tee-shot what Roger Bannister did to the four-minute mile. Byron Nelson, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • If there is one thing I have learned during my years as a professional, it is that the only thing constant about golf is its inconstancy. Jack Nicklaus, in Golf My Way (1974; with Ken Bowden)

In the book, Nicklaus also wrote: “Nobody—but nobody—has ever become really proficient at golf without practice, without doing a lot of thinking and then hitting a lot of shots. It isn’t so much a lack of talent; it’s a lack of being able to repeat good shots consistently that frustrates most players. And the only answer to that is practice.”

  • The older you get the stronger the wind gets—and it’s always in your face. Jack Nicklaus, quoted in the International Herald Tribune (Feb. 28, 1990)
  • Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game. Jack Nicklaus, quoted in Colin Jarman, The Guinness Dictionary of Sports Quotations (1990)
  • Tee the ball high. Years of experience have shown me that air offers less resistance to dirt. Jack Nicklaus, a 1977 remark, quoted in Colin M. Jarman, The Hole is More Than the Sum of the Putts (1999)
  • I don’t even remember what happened in 2005. You make a mistake and just put it in the trash. Lorena Ochoa, quoted in golfchannel.com’s “Quotes of the Week” (March 26, 2007)

Ochoa was referring to the 2005 Safeway International tournament, in which she blew a four-shot lead with three holes to play, and then lost to Annika Sorenstam in a playoff. She won the tournament in 2007.

  • Anytime you get the urge to golf, instead take eighteen minutes and beat your head against a good solid wall. This is guaranteed to duplicate to a tee the physical and emotional beating you would have suffered playing a round of golf. Mark Oman, quoted in Colin M. Jarman, The Hole is More Than the Sum of the Putts (1999)

Oman went on to add: “If eighteen minutes aren’t enough, go for twenty-seven or thirty-six…whatever feels right.”

  • Golf is essentially an exercise in masochism conducted out of doors; it affords an opportunity for a certain swank, it induces a sense of kinship in its victims, and it forces them to breathe fresh air, but it is, at bottom, an elaborate and addictive rite calculated to drive them crazy for hours on end and send them straight to the whisky bottle after that. Paul O’Neil, “Palmer Tightens His Grip on Golf,” in Life magazine (June 15, 1962)
  • Golf…combines two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with a stick. P. J. O’Rourke, in Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People (1983)
  • All the important lessons of life are contained in the three rules for achieving a perfect golf swing: 1. Keep your head down. 2. Follow through. 3. Be born with money. P.J. O’Rourke, in Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1995)
  • One more swell thing about golf, it provides ammunition for the social bore. Who doesn’t love cornering others with tales of action and adventure starring the self? P. J. O’Rourke, in Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1995)

O’Rourke went on to add: “A good golf bore can produce a regular Odyssey of tedium. And golf allows banal sports chitchat to be elevated to the plane of theoretical physics. An absolute lunkhead…turns into Stephen Hawking on the subject of golf.”

  • I'm not very good with a gun, but I'm hot with a wedge. Anne Marie Palli on killing a duck while it was flying across the course, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive—the white ball sailing up into that blue sky, growing smaller and smaller, then suddenly reaching its apex, curving, falling, and finally dropping to the turf to roll some more, just the way I planned it. Arnold Palmer, in Radio Times (Sep. 15, 1973)
  • Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears. Arnold Palmer, in Arnold Palmer Golf Journal: A Personal Handbook of Practice, Performance, and Progress (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: In making this observation, Palmer was almost certainly inspired by a similar observation from Bobby Jones, first offered in 1931 and seen above.

  • Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening - and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented. Arnold Palmer, quoted in Jim Apfelbaum, 1,001 Pearls of Golfer’s Wisdom: Advice and Knowledge, from Tee to Green (2012)
  • Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. Arnold Palmer, quoted in Thomas Hauser, Arnold Palmer: A Personal Journey (1994)

In the book, Palmer was also quoted as saying, “The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.”

  • The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done. Arnold Palmer, in a FaceBook post (Oct. 4, 2016)
  • Golf is the most brilliant game ever invented! What other game could turn seemingly intelligent and sane people into complete lunatics in a matter of seconds? Jesper Parnevik, in Forward to Deepak Chopra’s Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life (2003)

ERROR ALERT: In Paul Dickson’s otherwise wonderful book Golf is . . .: Defining the Great Game (2012), this quotation is mistakenly attributed directly to Chopra. In his Foreword to the book, Parnevik continued: “No other sport gives you the roller-coaster ride of emotions that golf does. The peaks consist of pure ecstasy and the lows are full of despair and anger. The danger lies in letting the latter get the upper hand.”

  • A golfer’s biggest opponent is not the golf course or the other players. It’s that little voice in your head whispering, “DON’T HIT IT IN THE WATER.” Jesper Parnevik, in Forward to Deepak Chopra’s Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life (2003)
  • There has to be a better use for titanium than golf clubs. Rob Payne, in Working Class Zero (2003)
  • Golf has probably kept more people sane than psychiatrists have. Harvey Penick, in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings From a Lifetime in Golf (1992; with Bud Shrake)

Penick preceded the thought by writing: “Playing golf you learn a form of meditation. For the four hours you are on the course, you learn to focus on the game and clean your mind of worrisome thoughts.”

  • Face the ball plain, as if you are about to shake hands with someone on the other side of it. Harvey Penick, in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (1992; with Bud Shrake)

Penick continued: “There’s no need to get your body twisted into some kind of funny shape. If you were going to shake hands with someone, you wouldn’t bend sideways or slump sharply forward like so many beginners do.”

  • I compare the pressure of a golf shot with making an extra point in basketball. The player starts from a full stop, and that rim doesn’t move. Harvey Penick, in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (1992; with Bud Shrake)
  • I see things written about the golf swing that I can’t believe will work except by accident. Harvey Penick, in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (1992; with Bud Shrake)
  • The woods are full of long drivers. Harvey Penick, in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (1992; with Bud Shrake)
  • In golf your strengths and weaknesses will always be there. If you could improve your weaknesses, you would improve your game. The irony is that people prefer to practice their strengths. Harvey Penick, in And If You Play Golf, You’re My Friend: Further Reflections of a Grown Caddie (1993; with Bud Shrake)
  • Like chess, golf is a game that is forever challenging but can never be conquered. Harvey Penick, “Seasoned Citizens,” in The Best of Harvey Penick: The Collected Writings of Golf's Best-Loved Teacher (1997; with Bud Shrake)
  • Golf tips are like aspirin. One may do you good, but if you swallow the whole bottle you will be lucky to survive. Harvey Penick, in The Game for a Lifetime: More Lessons and Teachings (2011)

In the book, Penick also offered these thoughts:

“Play the shot you can play the best, not the shot that would look the best if you could pull it off.”

“All seasoned players know, or at least have felt, that when you are playing your best, you are much the same as in a state of meditation. You are free of tension and chatter. You are concentrating on one thing. It is the ideal condition for good golf.”

  • Golf asks something of a man. It makes one loathe mediocrity. It seems to say, “If you are going to keep company with me, don’t embarrass me.” Gary Player, quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (June 24, 1965)
  • Golf is a puzzle without an answer. Gary Player, “My Shot,” in Golf Digest (Oct., 2002)
  • If a man has a stroke during a golf game, should it be added to his score? Hart Pomerantz, in “Sigmund Freud: The Untold Story,” The New Yorker (Aug. 25, 2018)
  • While tearing off/A game of golf/I may make a play for the caddie./But when I do/I don’t follow through/’Cause my heart belongs to daddy. Cole Porter lyrics from the 1938 song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”
  • Golf is a particularly severe strain upon the amiability of the average person’s temper, and in no other game, except bridge, is serenity of disposition so essential. Emily Post, in Etiquette (1922)
  • Golf is a fascinating game. It has taken me nearly forty years to discover that I can't play it. Ted Ray, in Golf—My Slice of Life (1972)
  • Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across a desk. Grantland Rice, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • You know what the game of golf is, don’t you? It’s basketball for people who can’t jump and chess for people who can’t think. Tom Robbins, in B Is for Beer (2009)
  • Golf is a thinking man’s game. You can have all the shots in the bag, but if you don’t know what to do with them, you’ve got troubles. Chi-Chi Rodríguez, in Everybody’s Golf Book (1975; with Juan Rodriquez)

In the book, Rodriguez also wrote: “Remember you have to be comfortable. Golf is not a life or death situation. It’s just a game and should be treated as such. Stay loose.”

  • Golf is the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off. Chi Chi Rodriguez, a 1986 remark, reported by the Associated Press
  • I can’t wait until we make an eagle. Chi Chi Rodriquez, a remark after his female partner in a mixed-pairs tournament gave him a kiss every time they birdied a hole; quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)

In his book, Liebman also quoted Rodriquez as once saying: “I never exaggerate. I just remember big.”

  • A golf ball is like a clock. Always hit it at 6 o’clock and make it go toward 12 o'clock. Just be sure you're in the same time zone. Chi Chi Rodriquez, quoted in Colin M. Jarman, The Hole is More Than the Sum of the Putts (1999)
  • The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Will Rogers, in “Helping the Girls with their Income Taxes,” in a 1924 issue of The Illiterate Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you get so sore at yourself you forget to hate your enemies. Will Rogers, in Will Rogers’ Weekly Articles. Vol. 1, The Harding/Coolidge Years, 1922–1925 (1980; James M. Smallwood, ed.)
  • Golf is just the old-fashioned pool hall moved outdoors, but with no chairs around the walls. Will Rogers, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Golf is a game in which the ball lies poorly and the players well. Art Rosenbaum, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts (1995)
  • Golf is not a game of perfect, it’s a game of managing imperfections. Dr. Bob Rotella, in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect (2007)
  • 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 the Introduction to The New Generation (1930)
  • Watching Sam Snead practice hitting golf balls is like watching a fish practice swimming. John Schlee, quoted in a 1977 issue of Golf Digest
  • Golf is not just exercise; it is an adventure, a romance. Anything can happen, however unexpected, unlikely, bizarre or close to impossible. The game is full of surprises, turns and twists. It is like a Shakespeare play in which disaster and comedy are intertwined. Harold A. Segall, “Golf is a Funny Game; Tennis Not So,” in The New York Times (June 15, 1986)
  • I am a victim of circumference. When I stand close enough to the ball to reach it, I can’t see it. When I see it , I can’t reach it. Bernard “Toots” Shor, on his golf swing, quoted in Dr. Mardy Grothe, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You (1999)
  • Tennis is like a wonderful, longstanding relationship with a husband. Golf is a tempestuous, lousy lover. It’s totally unpredictable, a constant surprise. But you can get so hooked on it. Dinah Shore, quoted in Michael Martinez, “To Dinah Shore, Golf is a Passion,” in The New York Times (Feb. 16, 1985)
  • The poetic temperament is the worst for golf. It dreams of brilliant drives, iron shots laid dead, and long putts holed, while in real golf success waits for him who takes care of the foozles and leaves the fine shots to take care of themselves. Walter Grindlay Simpson, in The Art of Golf (1887)
  • Night after night I went to sleep murmuring, “Tomorrow I will be easy, strong, quick, supple, accurate, dashing and self-controlled all at once!” For not less than this is necessary in the Game of Life called golf. Ethyl Smyth, in What Happened Next (1940)
  • Take it easily and lazily, because the golf ball isn't going to run away from you while you're swinging. Sam Snead, in How to Play Golf (1946)
  • Never concede a putt. Sam Snead, in The Education of a Golfer (1962)
  • The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so I could afford to hunt and fish. Sam Snead, quoted in Sports Illustrated (Jan 22, 1968)
  • The greens are harder than a whore’s heart. Sam Snead, on the greens at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York; quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • The greens are so fast I have to hold my putter over the ball and hit it with the shadow. Sam Snead, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Until you play it, St. Andrews looks like the sort of real estate you wouldn't give away. Sam Snead, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Some of us worship in churches, some in synagogues, some on golf courses. Adlai E. Stevenson, quoted in Lois & Alan Gordon, American Chronicle (1987)
  • A bad attitude is worse than a bad swing. Payne Stewart, quoted in Downs MacRury, Golfers on Golf (1997)
  • Golf is like a love affair. If you don’t take it seriously, it’s no fun. If you do take it seriously, it will break your heart. Believe me. Louise Suggs, in And That’s That!: The Life Story of One of Golf’s Greatest Champions (2014; with Elaine Scott)

In making this observation, Suggs was almost certainly inspired by a famous 1933 remark by Arnold Daly, seen above.

  • Golf is in the interest of good health and good manners. It promotes self-restraint and affords a chance to play the man and act the gentleman. William Howard Taft, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Hold up a one-iron and walk. Even God can't hit a one-iron. Lee Trevino, his advice to golfers on how to avoid being struck by lightning during a round of golf;

quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)

  • If you’re caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron. Lee Trevino quoted in an issue of Golf Monthly (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Trevino was famous for his clever quips and wisecracks, and this is one of his most famous. He was replying to a reporter who asked what he would do the next time he was caught in a thunderstorm. At the 1975 Western Open, Trevino was sheltering from a storm when he was struck by a bolt of lightning and knocked unconscious. He was hospitalized for his injuries and ultimately required two back surgeries to repair the damage.

  • I adore the game of golf. I won't ever retire. I'll play until I die. Then I want them to roll me into a bunker, cover me with sand, and make sure nobody's ball lands in there for a while. Lee Trevino, a 1985 remark; quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • They say I’m famous for my delicate iron shots—and, sure, when I hit them right they land just so, like a butterfly with sore feet. Lee Trevino, quoted in Frank Keating, “Tee and Sand Wedges”, The Spectator (London; July 17, 1992)
  • Arnie would go for the flag from the middle of an alligator's back. Lee Trevino, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Why play with the flat bellies when you can play with the round bellies? Lee Trevino, his reply when asked why he had joined the senior tour; quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts: 1,001 of the Game’s Funniest One-Liners (1995)
  • If it wasn’t for golf, I don’t know what I’d be doing. If my IQ had been two points lower, I’d have been a plant somewhere. Lee Trevino, quoted in Glenn Liebman, Golf Shorts: 1,001 of the Game’s Funniest One-Liners (1995)
  • I’m not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes they’d come up sliced. Lee Trevino, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Real pressure in golf is playing for $10 when you've only got $5 in your pocket. Lee Trevino, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Running through the Rules [of golf] are underlying principles that, like the steel rods which lie below the surface of reinforced concrete, serve to bind together the brittle material and to give it strength. Richard S. Tufts, in The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf (1958 private publication; 1960 by U. S. Golf Association)
  • Golf is a good walk spoiled. Mark Twain, attributed in Reader’s Digest (Dec., 1948)

ERROR ALERT: Despite its widespread popularity, this observation has never been found in any of Twain’s writings or talks, and should be considered apocryphal. According to Fred Shapiro and his Yale Dictionary of Quotations (2006), a Wisconsin newspaper, The Stevens Point Daily Journal, offered the first published version of the sentiment in a Dec. 19, 1913 issue: “Golf, of course, has been defined as a good walk spoiled.” The original author of the sentiment remains unknown.

According to Garson O’Toole, AKA “The Quote Investigator,” the earliest attribution to Twain appeared in an August, 1948 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. For more, see this 2010 Quote Investigator post.

  • As in marriage, there is sharing [in golf]; we search for one another’s lost balls, we comment helpfully upon one another’s defective swings, we march more or less in the same direction, and we come together, like couples at breakfast and dinner, on the tees and on the greens. John Updike, “The Camaraderie of Golf—II,” in Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf (1996)

Updike continued: “But, unlike marriage, golf is war from the start; it is out of its regulated contention, its mathematical bloodshed, that the fervor of golf camaraderie blossoms and, from week to week, flourishes. We slay or are slain, eat or are eaten: golf camaraderie is founded on the solid and ancient ground of animal enmity, pleasantly disguised in checked slacks and small courtesies.”

  • Golf is a constant struggle with one’s self, productive of a few grunts and expletives but no extended discourse; it is a mode of meditation, a communion with the laws of aerodynamics, a Puritan exercise in inward exhortation and outward stoicism. John Updike, “Golf in the Land of the Free,” in More Matter: Essays and Criticism (1999)

Updike continued: “Since its rules can be infracted in the privacy of a sand bunker or a sumac grove, it tests the conscience. And it is the only professional game that, under the stress of ever bigger bucks and crowds, hasn’t lost its manners.”

  • No other game, to my knowledge, provides so ready and effective a method of handicapping, which can produce a genuine match between gross unequals. John Updike, “Golf in the Land of the Free,” in More Matter: Essays and Criticism (1999)

Updike continued: “On the ski slopes, the daughter quickly outspeeds the father; at the backgammon table, the mother consistently outsmarts the son; but on the golf course, we play our parents and our children with unfeigned competitive excitement, once the handicap strokes are in place on the card.”

  • Golf is a great social bridge, and a great tunnel into the essences of others, for people are naked when they swing—their patience or impatience, their optimism or pessimism, their grace or awkwardness, their life’s motifs are all bared. John Updike, “Golf in the Land of the Free,” in More Matter: Essays and Criticism (1999)

Updike continued: “Like children trying to walk and bear cubs trying to climb a tree, they are lovable in their imperfection and then all the more lovable in their occasional triumphs of muscle and will.”

  • Golf, which generates more books, more incidental rules, more niceties of instruction, and more innovations in equipment than any other game, yet has a scoring system of divine simplicity: as all souls are equal before their Maker, a two-inch putt counts the same as a 250-yard drive. There is a comedy in this, and a certain unfairness even, which make golf an apt mirror of reality. John Updike, “Golf in the Land of the Free,” in More Matter: Essays and Criticism (1999)
  • A great deal of unnecessarily bad golf is played in this world. Harry Vardon, in Progressive Golf (1920)
  • Golfers find it a very trying matter to turn at the waist, more particularly if they have a lot of waist to turn. Harry Vardon, quoted in Dr. Mardy Grothe, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You (1999)
  • Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty. Harry Vardon, quoted in Colin M. Jarman, The Hole is More Than the Sum of the Putts (1999)
  • Never give a golfer an ultimatum unless you're prepared to lose. Abigail Van Buren, in a “Dear Abby” column (June 29, 1998)
  • At Jinja there is both hotel and golf course. The latter is, I believe, the only course in the world which posts a special rule that the player may remove his ball from hippopotamus footprints. Evelyn Waugh, in the satirical novel Scoop (1938)
  • The uglier a man’s legs are, the better he plays golf. It’s almost a law. H. G. Wells, the character Mrs. Milton speaking, in the humorous novel Bealby: A Holiday (1915)
  • Golf is a game where white men can dress up like black pimps and get away with it. Robin Williams, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell’s Sports Quotations (2000)

QUOTE NOTE: For a similar comment, see the Kinky Friedman entry above. And to view Robin Williams’s classic comedy routine on how the Scottish invented golf go here.

  • In golf, as in no other sport, your principal opponent is yourself. Herbert Warren Wind, in Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book (1971)
  • Golf without [Bobby] Jones would be like France without Paris: leaderless, lightless and lonely. Herbert Warren Wind, in Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book (1971)
  • The only way…of really finding out a man’s true character is to play golf with him. In no other walk of life does the cloven hoof so quickly display itself. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator (known only as “The Oldest Member”) speaking, in “Ordeal by Golf,” in Collier’s magazine (Dec. 6, 1919); reprinted in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
  • The least thing upset him on the links. I have personally seen him miss short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining fields. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator (“The Oldest Member”) describing a fellow golfer, in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
  • Golf…is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator (“The Oldest Member”) describing a fellow golfer, in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
  • Golf, like the measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed, to riper years, the results may be serious. P. G. Wodehouse, in A Mixed Threesome (1922)
  • They were real golfers, for real golf is a thing of the spirit, not of mere mechanical excellence of stroke. P. G. Wodehouse, in Golf Without Tears (1924)

In the book, Wodehouse also wrote:

“It is the glorious uncertainty of golf that makes it the game it is.”

“Back horses or go down to Throgmorton Street and try to take it away from the Rothschilds, and I will applaud you as a shrewd and cautious financier. But to bet at golf is pure gambling.”

  • Golf is the Great Mystery. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator (“The Oldest Member”) speaking, in The Heart of a Goof (1926)
  • You learn very little about golf from life but you learn a lot about life from golf. Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods, in a television interview in July, 1997
  • I think the best thing is being able to play golf competitively for a living. Ever since I was a little boy, that’s something I've always wanted to do, and now I get a chance to live out my dreams. Tiger Woods, in an interview at the PGA Championship, in Chaska, Minnesota (August 13, 2002)
  • A day/Spent in a round of strenuous idleness. William Wordsworth, in the poem “The Prelude: or, Growth of a Poet's Mind; An Autobiographical Poem,“ Book Four (written circa 1805; first pub. in 1850)

QUOTE NOTE: “The Prelude” is an lengthy autobiographical poem written in blank verse. Originally intended as the introduction to the never-finished philosophical poem “The Recluse,” it is a deeply personal work that reveals a host of information about Wordsworth’s life. Wordsworth began writing the poem in 1798, at the age of 28, and continued to work on it throughout his life (he died in 1850). He never gave it a title, but called it the “Poem (title not yet fixed upon) to Coleridge” in letters to his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. The work was largely unknown until the final version was published shortly after Wordsworth’s death. Wordsworth’s widow Mary formally titled the work.

  • As your golf improves, your concentration will improve with it. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, in Championship Golf (1948)

In the book, Zaharias also wrote:

“Some of us are fortunate enough to play championship golf, but this isn’t essential in the enjoyment of the game.”

“I expect to play golf until I am 90—even longer if anybody figures out a way to swing a club from a rocking chair.”


(see also BAD and GOOD and GOOD & EVIL and VICE and VICE & VIRTUE and)

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



  • The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good. W. H. Auden, in A Certain World (1970). This observation is also an example of chiasmus.
  • Evil to some is always good to others. Jane Austen, the title character speaking, in Emma (1816)
  • Evil and good are God’s right hand and left. Philip James Bailey, in Festus: A Poem (1839)
  • Evil is done without effort, naturally, it is the working of fate; good is always the product of an art. Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in L’Art Romantique (1860)
  • For the whole advantage of evil is in its being so often imperceptible and silent; evil comes at leisure like the disease; good comes in a hurry like the doctor. G. K. Chesterton, in The Man who was Orthodox (1963)
  • Good and evil travel on the same road, but they leave different impressions. Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal), in letter to her daughter (Dec. 11, 1675)
  • Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls. Freeman Dyson, “Progress in Religion: A Talk by Freeman Dyson,” acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize (Washington DC; May 9, 2000)

A moment earlier, Dyson introduced the thought by writing: “We all know that religion has been historically, and still is today, a cause of great evil as well as great good in human affairs.”

  • Goodness has only once found a perfect incarnation in a human body and never will again, but evil can always find a home there. Graham Greene, “The Lost Childhood” (1951), in Collected Essays (1969)

Greene continued: “Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.”

  • The problem of good and evil is not the problem of good and evil, but only the problem of evil. In opposition to good there are evil characters, but there are no good characters in opposition to evil. Laura Riding Jackson, in Though Gently (1930)

Jackson continued: “Evil is arguable, but good is not. Therefore the Devil always wins the argument.”

  • It seems to me very important to continue to distinguish between two evils. It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good. Margaret Mead, in a 1978 Redbook magazine article; reprinted in Margaret Mead: Some Personal Views (1979; Rhoda Métraux, ed.)
  • What attracts men to evil acts is not the evil in them but the good that is there, seen under a false aspect and with a distorted perspective. The good seen from that angle is only the bait in a trap. When you reach out to take it, the trap is sprung and you are left with disgust, boredom—and hatred. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)
  • In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Galt added: “In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube.”

  • In all men is evil sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men. Mary Renault, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Simonides of Kenos, in The Praise Singer (1978)
  • The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interred with their bones. William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar (1599)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes from Marc Antony’s funeral oration. It was preceded by the famous words: “Friends, Romans, countryman, lend me your ears;/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

  • The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago (1973–75)

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

  • A maxim for the twenty-first century might well be to start not by fighting evil in the name of good, but by attacking the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found. Tzvetan Todorov, in Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2000, in French; English trans. in 2003)

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

  • No man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. Mary Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)


  • As much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many. Charlotte Brontë, the title character speaking, in Jane Eyre (1847)

[Doing] GOOD


  • It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (th c. B.C.)
  • Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the trinity or original sin or the incarnation, which have preoccupied later Christians. He went around doing good and being compassionate. Karen Armstrong, in interview with Steve Paulson, reported in Paulson’s Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science (2010)
  • Keep doing good deeds long enough, and you’ll probably turn out a good man. In spite of yourself. Louis Auchincloss, the character Dr. Prescott speaking, in The Rector of Justin (1964)
  • Do not run after happiness, but seek to do good, and you will find that happiness will run after you. James Freeman Clarke, quoted in St Andrew’s Cross (Jan. 1918)
  • It is not enough to do good; one much do it in a good way. Nicolas de Condorcet, quoted in John Morley, On Compromise (1877)
  • What greater bliss than to look back on days spent in usefulness, in doing good to those around us. Dorothea Dix, from undated letter to Ann Heath, in Charles M. Snyder, The Lady and the President: The Letters of Dorothea and Millard Fillmore (1975)
  • It must be a good thing to be good or ivrybody wudden’t be pretending he was. Finley Peter Dunne, “Hypocrisy,” in Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902)
  • To be good, we must do good; and by doing good we take a sure means of being good, as the use and exercise of the muscles increase their power. Tryon Edwards, in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)
  • I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to his parents (April 13, 1738)

Franklin continued: “And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d [for] what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did GOOD to our Fellow Creatures.”

  • He who fasteth and doeth no good saveth his bread but loseth his soul. Thomas Fuller (1654-1734), in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • To do good without ulterior motive is a generous and almost divine thing in itself. Francesco Guicciardini, in Remembrances (1530)
  • An act is not good because we feel obliged to do it, it is rather that we feel obliged to do it because it is good. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (1951)

Yet another example of the literary device of chiasmus.

  • I believe…that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Adams (Oct. 14, 1816)
  • The happiest people I know are people who don’t even think about being happy. They just think about being good neighbors, good people. And then happiness sort of sneaks in the back window while they’re busy doing good. Harold Kushner, “To Love and Be Loved,” in Andrea Miller, ed., Right Here With You: Bringing Mindful Awareness Into Our Relationships (2011)
  • The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident. Charles Lamb, “Table Talk”, in The Athenaeum magazine (Jan. 4, 1834)
  • Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (1st c. A.D.)
  • There is a sort of gratification in doing good which makes us rejoice in ourselves. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Repentance,” in Essays (1580)
  • Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. Anna Quindlen, in A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes from Quindlen’s bestselling (over a million copies sold) book, an expanded version of a commencement address she planned to deliver—but did not give—at Villanova University’s graduation ceremonies in 1999. Quindlen, a liberal-leaning Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, withdrew after learning that a group of conservative students were planning to demonstrate against her appearance (she explained that she didn’t want to “ruin the day or case a shadow” on the ceremonies, adding: “I don’t think you should have to walk through demonstrators to get to your college commencement”). After e-mailing the text of her speech to a Villanova student who expressed disappointment about not being able to hear it, the written address exploded in popularity on the internet. It is now often described as one of history’s best commencement speeches, even though it was never actually delivered. Elements of the speech—along with thoughtful commentary on it—may be seen at Quindlen Commencement Speech.

  • Oh! What a Godlike Power is that of doing Good! I envy the rich and the great for nothing else! Samuel Richardson, a reflection of the title character, in Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)
  • By doing good we become good. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Emile: or, Treatise on Education (1762)
  • Every man has to seek in his own way to do some good. Every man has to seek in his own way to make himself more noble and to realize his own true worth. Albert Schweitzer, in interview with Bernard Redmont, in 1951 issue of This Week magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Schweitzer continued: “You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it is a little thing, do something for those who have need of help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too.”

  • A man, to be greatly good, must intensely imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in A Defence of Poetry (1821)
  • If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do. Voltaire, in Age of Louis XIV (1752)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is almost always presented these days, but you should know that it is a fairly liberal translation of an observation that has traditionally been presented this way: “A minister of state is excusable for the harm he does when the helm of government has forced his hand in a storm; but in the calm he is guilty of all the good he does not do.”

  • That best portion of a good man’s life,/His little, nameless, unremembered, acts/Of kindness and of love. William Wordsworth, in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (July 13, 1798)


(see also FAREWELL and PARTING)

  • Good-byes breed a sort of distaste for whomever you say good-bye to; this hurts, you feel, this must not happen again. Elizabeth Bowen, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little. Raymond Chandler, the character Phillip Marlowe speaking, in The Long Good-Bye (1950)
  • He turned back from the door. Apparently, like adolescents, he thought he had gone when he had said good-bye. Rae Foley, in The Brownstone House (1974)
  • You cannot say good-bye in imagination. That is something you can only do in actuality. Shirley Hazzard, in The Transit of Venus (1980)
  • Goodbye Don’t Mean I’m Gone. Carole King, title of song on the album Rhymes and Reasons (1972)
  • Good-bye is always hello to something else. George Ella Lyon, in Borrowed Children (1988)

Lyon continued: “Good-bye/hello, good-bye/hello, like the sound of a rocking chair.”

  • Why do people always put on such airs when they are saying Goodbye? Katherine Mansfield, a 1918 entry, in J. Middleton Murray, The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield (1940)
  • Ev’ry time we say goodbye/I die a little,/Ev'ry time we say goodbye/I wonder why a little. Cole Porter, lyrics from the 1944 song Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
  • To say goodbye is to die a little. Proverb (French)
  • When death threatens, when a good-bye is faced, how one searches the past for images, begins to shoal up the past for future use. Jessamyn West, in The Woman Said Yes: Encounters with Life and Death (1976)



  • Content thyself to be obscurely good./When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,/The post of honor is a private station. Joseph Addison, the title character speaking, in Cato: A Tragedy (1713)
  • There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mrs. March speaking to her daughter Amy, in Little Women (1868)

Mrs. March continued: “Even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.”

  • Simple, genuine goodness is the best capital to found the business of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only riches we can take out of this world with us. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mr. Bhaer speaking, in Little Men (1871)
  • Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Goodness is easier to recognize than to define. W. H. Auden, “W. H. Auden,” in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1939)
  • And we are introduced to Goodness every day,/Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults. W. H. Auden, in “Herman Melville,” in Collected Poems of W. H. Auden (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: Auden preceded this passage by writing the familiar words: “Evil is unspectacular and always human,/And shares our bed and eats at our own table.”

  • The inclination to goodness is imprinted deeply in the nature of man. Francis Bacon, “Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature,” in Essays (1625)
  • No one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand. Bertolt Brecht, the character First God speaking, in The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943; first presented in English in 1948)

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Brecht’s play has been presented in different ways over the years. In 1990, it was presented by Michael Hofmann as The Good Person of Sichuan, in 1997 by Tony Kushner as The Good Person of Szechwan, and in 2008 by David Harrower as The Good Soul of Szechuan.

  • Make a great deal more of your right to praise the good than of your right to blame the bad. Never let a brave and serious struggle after truth and goodness, however weak it may be, pass unrecognized. Phillips Brooks, “Destruction and Fulfilment,” in Twenty Sermons (4th Series; 1887)

QUOTE NOTE: Brooks felt his admonition was especially relevant to those leadership and management positions. He preceded the thought by writing: “I beg you to think of this, you who are set in positions of superintendence and authority.”

  • How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. Van Wyck Brooks, in A Chilmark Miscellany (1948)

Brooks continued: “People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or their prowess or good breeding.”

  • Only the Good discerns the good, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “De Profundis” (1840) in Last Poems (1862)
  • Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others, this is my criterion of goodness. Robert Burns, in letter to Mrs. Dunlop (June 21, 1789)

Burns continued: “And whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity.”

  • A good man therefore is a standing lesson to all his acquaintance, and of far greater use in that narrow circle than a good book. Henry Fielding, the voice of the narrator, in Joseph Andrews (1742)

The narrator continued: “But, as it often happens, that the best men are but little known, and consequently cannot extend the usefulness of their examples a great way; the writer may be called in aid to spread their history farther, and to present the amiable pictures to those who have not the happiness of knowing the originals; and so, by communicating such valuable patterns to the world, he may, perhaps, do a more extensive service to mankind than the person whose life originally afforded the pattern.”

  • In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. Anne Frank, diary entry (July 15, 1944), in The Diary of a Young Girl (1952)

QUOTE NOTE: Frank was talking about her ideals here. Here’s the full passage: “I’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”

  • True goodness is an inward grace, not an outward necessity. Ellen Glasgow, a remark from the father of protagonist Ada Fincastle to his daughter, in Veil of Iron (1935)
  • Goodness is uneventful. It does not flash, it glows. David Grayson, in Adventures in Contentment (1907)
  • I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. Stephen Grellet, attributed in W. Gurney Benham, Benham’s Book of Quotations, Proverbs, and Household Words (1907)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Benham notes that this quotation has been attributed to Marcus Aurelius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others, but he finds “some authority in favor of Stephen Grellett” (an American of French birth), even though it has not been found in his works. In the Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro traced the simple expression “I will not pass this way again” to 1858, where it was quoted anonymously.

  • Find the good and praise it. Alex Haley, a signature saying

QUOTE NOTE: Haley offered this thought in a number of slightly different variations over the years, and he did it with such frequency that it became his signature saying (the earliest published version has never been found, however). The words are inscribed on Haley’s gravestone in Henning, Tennessee, and the saying became the official slogan of a U.S. Coast Guard ship in honor of Haley, who served in the USCG from 1939 to 1959. Haley’s biographer Robert J. Norrell believes the first version of the saying was “Find something good and praise it,” and that it first emerged when Haley worked for Reader’s Digest in the early 1960s.

  • Goodness and happiness are synonymous in a healthy animal. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • As I know more of mankind, I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly. Samuel Johnson, quoted in a 1783 entry in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)

In yet another meditation on the same theme, Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.”

  • Confidence in the goodness of others is no slight testimony to one’s own goodness; and so God gladly favors it. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580)

QUOTE NOTE: This comes from an essay with a lengthy title: “That the Taste of Good and Evil Depends in Large Part on the Opinion we Have of Them.” The quotation above has also been translated this way: “Confidence in the goodness of another is good proof of one’s own goodness.”

  • All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of goodness. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Pedantry,” in Essays (1580)
  • It is the modern nature of goodness to exert itself quietly, while a few characters of the opposite cast seem, by the rumor of their exploits, to fill the world; and by their noise to multiply their numbers. Hannah More, in the Introduction to Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799)
  • Goodness is a special kind of truth and beauty. It is truth and beauty in human behavior. H. A. Overstreet, in The Enduring Quest: A Search for a Philosophy of Life (1931)
  • Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. William Saroyan, quoted in New York Journal American (Aug. 23, 1961)
  • A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in A Defense of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840)
  • There is always more goodness in the world than there appears to be, because goodness is of its very nature modest and retiring. Stephen G. Tallentyre (pen name of Evelyn Beatrice Hall), “Helveticus: The Contradiction,” in The Friends of Voltaire (1906)
  • Goodness is the only investment that never fails. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

Thoreau preceded the observation by writing: “There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice.”

  • There never has been, and cannot be, a good life without self-control. Apart from self-control, no good life is imaginable. The attainment of goodness must begin with that. Leo Tolstoy, “The First Step,” in Essays and Letters (1904
  • That best portion of a good man’s life,/His little, nameless, unremembered, acts/Of kindness and of love. William Wordsworth, in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (July 13, 1798)
  • Greatness has nothing to do with goodness—or very little. Frank Yerby, in Goat Song: A Novel of Ancient Greece (1966)



  • Gossip is nature’s telephone. Sholem Aleichem, quoted in Leo Rosten’s Treasury of Jewish Quotations (1972)
  • Rumor and gossip, like sound itself, appear to travel by wave-effect, sheer preposterosity being no barrier. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)

Alexander continued: “And once the first stone, or word, is cast, it is already beyond recall.”

  • Gossip is the art-form of the man and woman in the street, and the proper subject for gossip, as for all art, is the behavior of mankind. W. H. Auden, “In Defense of Gossip,” Listener (Dec. 22, 1937)
  • Gossip columnist: one who writes other’s wrongs. Author Unknown, quoted in Jacob Morton Braude, Braude’s Treasury of Wit and Humor (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, this was the first appearance of the saying in print.

  • Gossip is irresponsible communication. Rita Mae Brown, the voice of the narrator, in A Plain Brown Rapper (1976)

The narrator continued: “Irresponsible because it is at the expense of another person who is not there to defend herself. Irresponsible because it is not constructive: it helps no one, least of all the person being gossiped about.”

  • Gossip, like novels, is a way of turning life into story. Good gossip approximates art. Rachel M. Brownstein, in Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels (1982)
  • The right sort of gossip is a charming and stimulating thing. The Odyssey itself is simply glorious gossip, and the same may be said of nearly every tale of mingled fact and legend which has been handed down to us through the ages. J. E. Buckrose, the opening line of “Gossip” essay, in What I Have Gathered (1923)

Buckrose added: “But the wrong sort of gossip is responsible for half the misery of the world.”

  • Gossip? It’s the mother’s milk of journalism. Herb Caen, quoted in Jerry Carroll, “Psst! Heard the Latest?” in The San Francisco Chronicle (April 10, 1990)
  • All literature is gossip. Truman Capote, in interview with Beverly Gary Kempton, “After Hours: Books,” Playboy magazine (December, 1976)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is usually presented, but it was part of a fuller observation when Capote first advanced the thought. Earlier in the year, Esquire magazine printed three chapters from Capote’s long-anticipated novel Answered Prayers. The chapters were filled with numerous gossipy tidbits that resulted in widespread speculation about the real identities of the novel’s characters. In response to the question, “Is gossip literature?” Capote replied:

“Of course it is—and, in fact, my entire book is gossip. I don’t deny that for an instant. What I say is that all literature is gossip, certainly all prose-narrative literature. What in God’s green earth is Anna Karenina or War and Peace or Madame Bovary if not gossip? Or Jane Austen? Or Proust? Gossip is the absolute exchange of human communication. It can be two ladies at the back fence or Tolstoy writing War and Peace.”

In her 1988 writing guide Starting From Scratch, Rita Mae Brown picked up on the theme when she wrote: “I believe all literature started as gossip.”

  • I don’t call it gossip, I call it ‘emotional speculation.’” Laurie Colwin, the character Misty speaking, in Happy All the Time: A Novel (1978)
  • The inspired scribbler always has the gift for gossip. Elizabeth Drew, in The Literature of Gossip (1964)
  • While gossip among women is universally ridiculed as low and trivial, gossip among men, especially if it is about women, is called theory, or idea, or fact. Andrea Dworkin, in Right-Wing Women (1978)
  • Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it; it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Daniel Deronda (1874)
  • Professional psychologists seem to think that they are the only people who make sense out of human actions. The rest of us know that everybody tries to do just this. What else is gossip? Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the opening paragraph of the short story “The Moran Scandal,” in Four-Square (1949)
  • Gossip…is only fiction produced by non-professionals. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, quoted in Elizabeth Yates, Pebble in a Pool (1958; reprinted in 1971 as The Lady from Vermont)
  • By collecting gossipy anecdotes, we invade the celebrity’s world. By shaping narratives around their pecadilloes, we assert our priority over them. It’s the prose version of the strip search. Neal Gabler, “The Gossip of Mount Olympus,” in The New York Times (April 17, 1991)
  • Gossip makes hypocrites of us all. We condemn it publicly yet strain to hear the latest dirt, and our aural antenna twitch all the more when the news of another is bad. Emory A. Griffin, in Making Friends (& Making Them Count) (1987)
  • Malicious gossip, which takes the place of creation in non-creative lives, of course draws heavily on imagination. Nancy Hale, in The Realities of Fiction: A Book About Writing (1961)
  • In general I’d rather talk about other people. Gossip, or as we gossips like to say, character analysis. Elizabeth Hardwick, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 1985)
  • Gossip is vice enjoyed vicariously—the sweet, subtle satisfaction without the risk. Elbert Hubbard, in The Philistine (August, 1904)
  • Gossip…was like any other commodity in the marketplace. You received it only if you had something of value to give. P. D. James, a thought from Inspector Dalgliesh, in A Taste for Death (1986)
  • Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed. Erica Jong, a thought from the protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)

This was the conclusion to an oft-quoted passage that went this way: “Men have always detested women’s gossip because they suspect the truth: their measurements are being taken and compared. In the most paranoid societies (Arab, Orthodox Jewish) the women are kept completely under wraps (or under wigs) and separated from the world as much as possible. They gossip anyway: the original form of consciousness-raising. Men can mock it, but they can’t prevent it.”

  • Someone who gossips well has a reputation for being good company or even a wit, never for being a gossip. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)
  • It’s the gossip columnist’s business to write about what is none of his business. Louis Kronenberger, in The Cart and the Horse (1964)
  • Anyone who has obeyed nature by transmitting a piece of gossip experiences the explosive relief that accompanies the satisfying of a primary need. Primo Levi, “About Gossip,” in La Stampa (Turin, Italy; June 24, 1986); reprinted in The Mirror Maker (1989)
  • Of course we women gossip on occasion. But our appetite for it is not as avid as a man’s. It is in the boys’ gyms, the college fraternity houses, the club locker rooms, the paneled offices of business that gossip reaches its luxuriant flower. Phyllis McGinley, “Some of My Best Friends….” in The Province of the Heart (1949)
  • Gossip isn’t scandal and it’s not merely malicious. It’s chatter about the human race by lovers of the same. Phyllis McGinley, “A New Year and No Resolutions,” in Woman’s Home Companion (Jan., 1957)

McGinley added: “Gossip is the tool of the poet, the shop-talk of the scientist, and the consolation of the housewife, wit, tycoon, and intellectual. It begins in the nursery and ends when speech is past.”

  • Another good thing about gossip is that it is within everybody’s reach,/And it is much more interesting than any other form of speech. Ogden Nash, “I Have it on Good Authority,” in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1938)
  • She proceeded to dip her little fountain-pen filler into pots of oily venom and to squirt this mixture at all her friends. Harold Nicolson, on the gossip-mongering society hostess Mrs. Ronnie Greville, in a diary entry (July 20, 1937)
  • A cruel story runs on wheels, and every hand oils the wheels as they run. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • The most powerful force in the Universe is gossip. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)
  • Gossip is a guilty pleasure—the guilt, of course, making it all the more pleasurable. Diana Postlethwaite, “Buffalo Harlots!” in Nation magazine (May 11, 1998)
  • Gossip needs no carriage. Proverb (Russian)
  • The widespread interest in gossip is inspired, not by a love of knowledge but by malice: no one gossips about other people’s secret virtues, but only about their secret vices. Bertrand Russell, in On Education: Especially in Early Childhood (1926)

Russell continued: “Accordingly most gossip is untrue, but care is taken not to verify it. Our neighbor’s sins, like the consolations of religion, are so agreeable that we do not stop to scrutinize the evidence closely.”

  • Ah, well, the truth is always one thing, but in a way it’s the other thing, the gossip, that counts. It shows where people’s hearts lie. Paul Scott, the character Count Bronowsky speaking, in The Day of the Scorpion (1968)
  • What is gossip but unsubstantiated rumor? People are universally interested in gossip. I think gossip is just news running ahead of itself in red satin dress. Liz Smith, in an interview reported in The Dallas Times Herald (Aug. 3, 1978)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation sleuth Barry Popik, this is the earliest appearance of a metaphor Smith would repeat many times in her career. For example, in a 1982 article in Working Woman magazine, she wrote: “Gossip is not always bad or slanderous. I always say that gossip is just news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.” In that 1978 Times Herald interview, Smith also attributed a memorable gossip metaphor to Walter Winchell. See his entry below.

  • Good gossip is just what’s going on. Bad gossip is stuff that is salacious, mean and bitchy—the kind most people really enjoy. Liz Smith, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Jan. 13, 1992)
  • Gossip is one of the great luxuries of a democracy. It is the tawdry jewel in the crown of free speech and free expression. You don’t read gossip columns in dictatorships. Liz Smith, in Natural Blonde (2000)

Smith continued: “Gossip is for leisure, for fun, for entertainment, for relaxation. Should the day come when we are enduring big, black headlines about war, famine, terrorism, and natural disaster—then that kind of news will drive gossip underground and out of sight. Then, we won’t have gossip to kick around any longer.”

  • Gossip, even when it avoids the sexual, bears about it a faint flavor of the erotic. Patricia Meyer Spacks, in Gossip (1985)

Spacks went on to add: “The atmosphere of erotic titillation suggests gossip’s implicit voyeurism. Surely everyone feels—although some suppress—the same prurient interest in others’ privacies, what goes on behind closed doors. Poring over fragments of other people’s lives, peering into their bedrooms when they don’t know we’re there, we thrill to the glamour and the power of secret knowledge, partly detoxified but also heightened by being shared.”

  • It doesn’t start as a story; it starts as an inflection of the voice, a question asked in a certain tone and not answered with “no”; a prolonged little silence, a twinkle in the eye, a long-drawn “w-e-e-ell—I don’t know.” These are the fine roots of the tree whose poisonous fruits are gossip and slander. Maria Augusta Trapp, in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949)
  • Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid. Walter Winchell, quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow, Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms (1955)
  • Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s headline. Walter Winchell, quoted by Liz Smith in an interview reported in The Dallas Times Herald (Aug. 3, 1978)



  • He that would govern others, first should be the master of himself. Phillip Massinger, in The Bondman (1624),



  • We've got to bring the government up to date. It’s insane to try to live under the same governmental structures set up nearly two hundred years ago. Bella Abzug, in Bella!: Ms. Abzug goes to Washington (1972)
  • If ever the time should come when vain & aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin. Samuel Adams, in letter to James Warren (Oct. 24, 1780); reprinted in The Writings of Samuel Adams, 1778–1802 (1908; H. A. Cushing, ed.)

Adams continued: “There may be more danger of this than some even of our well disposed citizens may imagine.”

  • This used to be a government of checks and balances. Now it's all checks and no balances. Gracie Allen, in How to Become President (1940)
  • No one sex can govern alone. I believe that one of the reasons why civilization has failed so lamentably is that it has had one-sided government. Nancy Astor, in My Two Countries (1923)
  • Secrecy is an instrument of conspiracy; it ought not, therefore, to be a system of a regular government. Jeremy Bentham, “On Publicity,” in Essays on Political Tactics (1791)

ERROR ALERT: All over the Internet, this quotation is mistakenly presented in the following way: “Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government.”

  • The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Louis Brandeis, in dissenting opinion in Burdeau v. McDowell (1921)

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

  • It is easy to overthrow a government but very difficult to build a new one. Pearl S. Buck, in Of Men and Women (1941)
  • Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Corporations are addicted to profit and governments to power. Helen Caldicott, in If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Save the Earth (1992)

Caldicott preceded the thought by writing: “The problem with addicted people, communities, corporations, or countries is that they tend to lie, cheat, or steal to get their ‘fix’.”

  • The government ought not to be invested with power to control the affections, any more than the consciences of citizens. Lydia Maria Child, “Prejudices Against People of Color,” in An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833)

QUOTE NOTE: Child (1802-1880) was writing in opposition to a 1789 Massachusetts law prohibiting marriage between “any white person” and “any Negro Indian, or Mulatto” (the law was repealed in 1843). She continued: “A man has at least as good a right to choose his wife as he has to choose his religion. His taste may not suit his neighbors; but so long as his deportment is correct, they have no right to interfere with his concerns.”

  • There are two great antagonistic principles at the root of all government—stability and experiment. John Wilson Croker, in letter to Lord Brougham (March 14, 1839); reprinted in The Croker Papers, Vol. II (1884)

QUOTE NOTE: Croker used the English terms Tory and Whig (corresponding to the American terms Conservative and Liberal) to describe these two streams of thought. He added: “The human mind divides itself into these classes as naturally and as inconsiderately…as it does into indolence and activity, obstinacy and indecision, temerity and versatility, or any other of the various different or contradictory moods of the mind.”

  • No government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition. Benjamin Disraeli, the voice of the narrator, in Coningsby: Or, The New Generation (1844). Also an example of oxymoronica.
  • The only people who should be in government are those who care more about people than they do about power. Millicent Fenwick, in Speaking Up (1982)
  • We must have government, but we must watch them like a hawk. Millicent Fenwick, quoted in a 1983 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • You cannot know the intentions of a government that doesn’t know them itself. John Kenneth Galbraith, “Galbraith’s First Law of Intelligence” (first formulated in the 1960s), in A Life in Our Times (1981)
  • The government’s like a mule, it’s slow and it’s sure; it’s slow to turn, and it’s sure to turn the way you don’t want it. Ellen Glasgow, in The Voice of the People (1900)
  • The only index by which to judge a government or a way of life is by the quality of the people it acts upon. No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion—it is an evil government. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • When there is a lack of honor in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned. Herbert Hoover, quoted in The New York Times (Aug. 9, 1964)
  • Governmental inefficiency is our only defense against intended consequences. John O. Huston, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 26, 2019)

QUOTE NOTE: Houston’s observation, a clever oxymoronic observation, also brings to mind Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s legendary 1979 observation: “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency.”

  • Personally, I think government is a tool, like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build with or you can use a hammer to destroy with. There is nothing intrinsically good or evil about the hammer itself. It is the purposes to which it is put and the skill with which it is used that determine whether the hammer’s work is good or bad. Molly Ivins, in Foreword to You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You (1998)

QUOTE NOTE: Ivins first introduced this thought six years earlier in an article (titled “Wiggy Republicans”) in Mother Jones magazine (Sep./Oct., 1992): “Government is just a tool, like a hammer. There’s nothing intrinsically good or evil about the hammer; it all depends on what it’s used for and the skill with which it is used.”

  • Most of us think of government as them. Yet government isn’t Them: It’s us. Molly Ivins, in a 2001 issue of Rosie magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Generosity is a virtue for individuals, not governments. When governments are generous it is with other people’s money, other people’s safety, other people’s future. P. D. James, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport. Barbara C. Jordan, in 1977 speech at Harvard University; later in Barbara Jordan: A Self Portrait (1979; with Shelby Hearon)
  • A government is not legitimate merely because it exists. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, quoted in a 1985 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Evil government relies on deliberate misuse of language. Because literary skill is the rigorous use of language in the pursuit of truth, the habit of literature, of serious reading, is the best defense against believing the half-truths of ideologues and the lies of demagogues. Ursula K. Le Guin, in acceptance speech for the Maxine Cushing Gray Award, Seattle, Washington (Oct. 18, 2006)
  • If men were angels, no government would be necessary. James Madison, in The Federalist (1788)
  • The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. James Madison, in speech at the Virginia Convention (Dec. 2, 1829)

After mentioning abuses of power in Monarchies and Aristocracies, Madison went on to write: “In Republics, the great danger is that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.”

  • Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote. George Jean Nathan, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury (1955)

QUOTATION CAUTION; In Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (2010), the editors at The Library of Congress say of this quotation: “Unverified in Nathan’s works.”

  • I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub. Grover Norquist, interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” (May 25, 2001)
  • Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us. P. J. O’Rourke, “At Home in the Parliament of Whores,” in Parliament of Whores (1991)

These are the concluding words of the book. O’ Rourke preceded the thought by writing: “Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power.”

  • Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. P. J. O’Rourke, in Preface: “Why God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat,” to Parliament of Whores (1991)
  • Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense (1776)

ERROR ALERT: Many web sites, especially those with a conservative or libertarian bent, mistakenly present intolerant instead of the correct intolerable. As a result, the error continues to be repeated (libertarian columnist John Stossel made the mistake in a 2013 Tweet of Paine’s famous observation).

  • For forms of government let fools contest;/Whate’er is best administered is best. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733)
  • The difference between government and leadership is that leadership has a soul. Anna Quindlen, in “No There There,” in Thinking Out Loud (1993)
  • The Government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a healthy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. Ronald Reagan, quoted in Leo E. Litwak, “The Ronald Reagan Story; Or, Tom Sawyer Enters Politics,” in The New York Times Magazine (Nov. 14, 1965)

QUOTE NOTE: Reagan was simply a former actor with political aspirations when he made this remark in a stump speech during his 1965 run for governor of California. The idea was not original to Reagan, however; he simply re-worked an observation from English clergyman Ronald Knox (1888–1957), who had defined baby this way: “A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”

  • It will take some time to accomplish the things I have described. Government is an ocean liner, not a speedboat. Ronald Reagan, “Government & Business in the ‘80s.” in The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 9, 1981)

Reagan, who was President-elect at the writing of the piece, continued: “If you turn the wheel a few degrees, it must come along gradually, lest it capsize. So, though we shall move deliberately, with clearly identified goals, we won’t do so in haste.”

QUOTE NOTE: Ronald Reagan may not have been the first person to liken the government to a slow-moving ocean liner, but he was the first American president to do so. President Barack Obama employed versions of the metaphor on several occasions—and often gets credit for originating it—but he was simply repeating a sentiment that President Reagan had offered three decades earlier. For more, including a sampling of Obama’s similar observations, see Barry Popik’s informative 2016 post in The Big Apple website.

  • Governments are the only vessels that leak from the top. James Reston, in a dispatch to The New York Times (Nov. 9, 1946)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance of a metaphor about governments strategically leaking information to journalists in an attempt to serve their own purposes. Reporting on the deliberations of The Big Four at the end of WWII, Reston more fully wrote:

“Reports of what went on at those meetings got out. Some of the reports were false and misleading, but since governments are the only vessels that leak from the top, a good deal of accurate information leaked out, including the central point that the Big Four agreed on practically nothing.”

Reston continued to offer the metaphor—in slightly varying ways—over the next several decades. In a 1956 New York Times article, for example, he wrote: “A government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.” For more, see this 2010 post from master quotation researcher Barry Popik

  • Cynics about government find much to be cynical about. Alice Mitchell Rivlin, in Reviving the American Dream (1992)
  • Government, in the Conservative view, is something like fire. Under control, it is the most useful of servants; out of control, it is a ravaging tyrant. Clinton Rossiter, in Conservatism in America (1955)
  • Government has become a machine that runs only when gold coins are inserted. Patricia Schroeder, in 24 Years of House Work…and the Place Is Still a Mess (1998)
  • A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. George Bernard Shaw, in Everybody's Political What's What? (1944)
  • A government is just only when the whole people share equally in its protection and advantages. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in The Revolution (1869)
  • A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Barbara W. Tuchman, the opening line of The March of Folly (1984)

Tuchman continued: “In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense, and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

  • 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)
  • Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so. Barbara Tuchman, in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984)
  • Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. Barbara W. Tuchman, in The March of Folly (1984)
  • Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading. John Updike, the title character speaking, in Buchanan Dying (1974)
  • Governments need both shepherds and butchers. Voltaire, “The Piccini Notebooks” (c.1735–50) in Voltaire's Notebooks, 2nd ed., Vol. 2 (1968; Theodore Besterman, ed.)
  • Government expands to absorb revenue, and then some. Tom Wicker, “Political Books for a Political Year,” in The New York Times (June 7, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: In his review of recent political books, Wicker explained his decision to forego the reading of one book “because I have come to know enough about government not to expect to see much done about waste and mismanagement, and not to expect my taxes to go down if anybody should do anything about waste and mismanagement. Wicker’s Law is that government expands to absorb revenue, and then some.” A little over a decade later, Harold Faber formally enshrined the observation as “Wicker’s Law” in The Book of Laws (1979). Thanks to Barry Popik for his research on the quotation.



  • Grace is something you can never get but only be given. Frederick Buechner, in Beyond Words (1979)
  • Beauty without grace, is a hook without bait. Ninon de Lenclos, in The Memoirs of Ninon de L'Enclos, Vol. 1 (1761)
  • Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is the bullring. Marlene Dietrich, “Matador,” in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace,/As I have seen in one autumnal face. John Donne, “The Autumnal,” in Elegies (1600)
  • Since we must eat to live, we might as well do it with both grace and gusto. M. F. K. Fisher, in How to Cook a Wolf (1951)
  • Grace is the absence of everything that indicates pain or difficulty, hesitation or incongruity. William Hazlitt, “On Beauty,” in The Round Table (1817)
  • Grace has been defined, the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul. William Hazlitt, “On Manner,” in The Round Table (1817)
  • Grace under pressure. Ernest Hemingway, his definition of guts, quoted by Dorothy Parker, in “The Artist’s Reward,” The New Yorker magazine (Nov. 30, 1929)

QUOTE NOTE: Here’s how Parker introduced the topic in her profile: “That brings me to the point which I have been trying to reach all this time: Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage—his phrase that, it seems to me, makes Barrie’s ‘Courage is immortality’ sound like one of the more treble trillings of Tinker Bell. Mr. Hemingway did not use the term ‘courage.’ Ever the euphemist, he referred to the quality as ‘guts,’ and he was attributing its possession to an absent friend.” Parker then asked: “Exactly what do you mean by ‘guts’?” Hemingway matter-of-factly replied, “I mean, grace under pressure.” Hemingway had used the phrase once before (in an April 20, 1926 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald), but it was the New Yorker profile that gave it currency. It is now one of Hemingway’s most popular quotations, and is sometimes mistakenly presented on internet sites as courage is grace under pressure.

  • When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age. Victor Hugo, the narrator describing the character Marius Pontmercy, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • Humor helps us get through life with a modicum of grace. It offers one of the few benign ways of coping with the absurdity of it all. Diane Keaton, in Then Again (2011)
  • I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999)
  • A good grace is to the body what good sense is to the mind. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Imagine being born with Gene Kelly’s grace and Grace Kelly’s genes. Andy Lee, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 19, 2019). Also a creative example ofchiasmus.
  • You can have the other words—chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. Mary Oliver, “Sand Dabs, Five” in Winter Hours (1999)
  • Humility is a grace that shines in a high condition but cannot, equally, in a low one because a person in the latter is already, perhaps, too much humbled. Samuel Richardson, the protagonist speaking, in Pamela: Or, Vice Rewarded (1740)
  • Gardening is an instrument of grace. May Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude (1973)
  • Grace is a kind of movable beauty. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, “On Grace and Dignity” (1793), in Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, Vol. I (1902; N. H. Dole, ed.)

Later in the essay, Schiller went on to add: “Grace can be found only in movement, for a modification which takes place in the soul can only be manifested in the sensuous world as movement.”

  • That word—grace,/In an ungracious mouth, is but profane. William Shakespeare, the Duke of York speaking, in King Richard II (1595)
  • Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace (1947)
  • High station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace. Tennessee Williams, the concluding line of Memoirs (1975)
  • 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.”

[Saying] GRACE

(see also BLESSING and GRACE and PRAYER)

  • You say grace before meals./All right./But I say grace before the play and the opera,/And grace before the concert and the pantomime,/And grace before I open a book,/And grace before sketching, painting,/Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;/And grace before I dip the pen in the ink. G. K. Chesterton, from an undated and unpublished manuscript, quoted in Frederick Buechner, “G. K. Chesterton: The Man Who Never Stopped Talking,” in Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say) (2001)



  • Of all the qualities of a gracious life, appreciation is the most essential. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)

Stoddard Continued: “When we’re conscious of all the good and beautiful things and people in our lives, not judging, but living in continuous gratitude, we’re free to connect with the great, timeless truth. When we show appreciation, we’re recognizing the divinity within us, our true identity.”



  • Grammar, n. A system of pitfalls thoughtfully prepared for the feet of the self-made man, along the path by which he advances to distinction. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split. Raymond Chandler, in letter to Atlantic Monthly editor, Edward R. Meeks (Jan. 18, 1947)

Chandler added: “And when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.” For a similar complaint about an over-enthusiastic copyeditor, see the Edward Abbey entry in PUNCTUATION.

  • Grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor or the scales to a musician. B. J. Chute, quoted in Richard Lederer & Richard Dowis, The Write Way (1995)

Chute added: “You may loathe it, it may bore you, but nothing will replace it, and, once mastered, it will support you like a rock.”

  • Grammar is a piano I play by ear. Joan Didion, “Why I Write,” in The New York Times (Dec. 5, 1976)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger passage: “Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

Didion may have been influenced by a similar observation from Mark Twain’s Autobiography: “I know grammar by ear only, not by note, not by the rules.” See the complete Twain passage below.

  • You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country. Robert Frost, in The Atlantic (Jan, 1962)
  • What the devil to do with the sentence “Who the devil does he think he’s fooling?” You can’t write “Whom the the devil—.” Paul Goodman, “September to December 1958,” in Five Years (1966)
  • When a thought takes one’s breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in Preface to Poems of Emily Dickinson (1890)
  • Grammar is to speech what salt is to food. Moses Ibn Ezra, in Shirat Yisrael (12th cent.); quoted in Joseph Baron, A Treasury of Jewish Quotations (1977)
  • University seems to have turned them into Conan the Grammarians, who fret over perfect sentence construction. Kathy Lette, on writers with English degrees, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (Nov. 30, 2002)
  • Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over Windows versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi or boxers versus briefs. Jack Lynch, in The English Language: A User’s Guide (2008)

Lynch continued: “Pedantic and vicious debates over knotty matters such as PREPOSITIONS AT THE END, THAT VERSUS WHICH, and SPLIT INFINITIVES may be entertaining to those who enjoy cockfights, but do little to improve writing.”

  • It is well to remember that grammar is common speech formulated. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is to put it out of its misery as soon as possible. W. Somerset Maugham, 1942 entry, in A Writer’s Notebook (1949)
  • Grammar, which can govern even kings. Molière, the character Philaminte speaking, in Les Femmes Savantes [The Learned Ladies] (1672)
  • A man’s grammar, like Caesar’s wife, must not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity. Edgar Allan Poe, in Marginalia (1844)
  • Grammar to a writer is to a mountaineer a good pair of hiking boots or, more precisely, to a deep-sea diver an oxygen tank. A. A. Patawaran, in Write Here Write Now: Standing at Attention Before My Imaginary Style Dictator (2012)
  • English grammar is like the bad boys in the back row who just won’t follow the rules. Laurie Rozakis, in Comma Sutra: Position Yourself for Success with Good Grammar (2005)
  • A dependent clause is like a dependent child: incapable of standing on its own but able to cause a lot of trouble. William Safire, “On Language: The Wicked Which and the Comma,” in The New York Times magazine (Sep. 2, 1984)
  • Give your main clause a little space. Prose is not like boxing; the skilled writer deliberately telegraphs his punch, knowing that the reader wants to take the message directly on the chin. William Safire, on placing a comma after the dependent clause, in How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar (1990)
  • All grammars leak. Edward Sapir, in Language (1921)

Sapir preceded the observation by writing: “Were a language ever completely ‘grammatical,’ it would be a perfect engine of conceptual expression. Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent.”

  • A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Grammar is the logic of speech. Richard Chevenix Trench, in On the Study of Words (1858)
  • As far as I’m concerned, “whom” is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler. Calvin Trillin, “Whom Says So?” in Nation magazine (June 8, 1985)
  • Perfect grammar—persistent, continuous, sustained—is the fourth dimension, so to speak; many have sought it, but none has found it. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (Albert Bigelow Paine, ed., 1924)

Twain continued: “Even this reviewer, this purist, with all his godless airs, has made two or three slips. At least I think he has. I am almost sure, by witness of my ear, but cannot be positive, for I know grammar by ear only, not by note, not by the rules.”

  • He does not so much split his infinitives as disembowel them. Rebecca West, describing the “literary manner” of a character, in The Clarion (1913)



  • So often, happiness is the extent to which we balance our grandiose expectations with reality. Cathy Guisewite, in A Hand to Hold, An Opinion to Reject: A Cathy Collection (1987)
  • An individualism which has got beyond the stage of hedonism tends to yield to the lure of the grandiose. André Malraux, in The Voices of Silence (1951)
  • Children are born with imaginations in mint condition, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Then life corrects for grandiosity. Phyllis Theroux, in The Journal Keeper: A Memoir (2011)



  • Whenever you come to have Grandchildren, you will scarcly [sic] know any difference between them & your own children, particularly if you should be under the same roof with them. Abigail Adams, in a 1787 letter, quoted in John P. Kaminski, The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009)
  • Grandma…had a great deal to do with the education of her granddaughters. In general she not so much trained as just shed herself upon us. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • I still take the pill. I don’t want any more grandchildren. Phyllis Diller, in Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse (2005)
  • A friend once told me that before you visit your grandchildren, you get more excited than when you are going to meet a lover. Mostly it’s true. Erica Jong, in Fear of Dying (2015)
  • My mother wants grandchildren, so I said, “Mom, go for it!” Sue Murphy, quoted in Michael Cader, That’s Funny! (1996)
  • I didn’t anticipate the primal quality of my pleasure, the raw physicality of it, the way my whole body leaps forward when I see my grandsons after a few days’ absence. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, “Proud Granny,“ in a 1999 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Your sons weren’t made to like you. That's what grandchildren are for. Jane Smiley, in Good Will (1989)
  • Never have children, only grandchildren. Thomas Pryor Gore, as recalled by grandson Gore Vidal, in Palimpsest: A Memoir (1995)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is commonly misattributed to Gore Vidal, but he clearly attributed it to his grandfather in his memoir.

  • Grandchildren are God’s way of compensating us for growing old. Mary H. Waldrip, quoted in Eugenia Chapman & Jill C. Major, More Clean Your House & Everything In It (1985)
  • Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation. Lois Wyse, in Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother (1988)



  • Whenever you come to have Grandchildren, you will scarcly know any difference between them & your own children, particularly if you should be under the same roof with them. Abigail Adams, in a 1787 letter, quoted in John P. Kaminski, The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009)

According to Kaminski, Mrs. Adams also offered this thought about grandchildren in a 1790 letter: “There is nothing that enlivens us so much as having these little creatures round us.”

  • A house needs a grandma in it. Louisa May Alcott, a journal entry (July, 1857); reprinted in Ednah D. Cheney, Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (1889)

QUOTE NOTE: Alcott was twenty-four when she wrote this. It was the conclusion to an entry that began this way: “Grandma Alcott came to visit us. A sweet old lady; and I am glad to know her, and see where Father got his nature. Eighty-four; yet very smart, industrious, and wise.”

  • Eating cookies that you bake with your grandmother is one of the greatest social steps one must experience in order to grow up into a decent world citizen, in my opinion. Roseanne Barr, in Roseannearchy (2011)
  • A grandparent is the only baby-sitter who doesn’t charge more after midnight—or anything before midnight. Erma Bombeck, in Forever, Erma (1996)
  • Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy—the mother. Claudette Colbert, quoted in Time magazine (Sep. 14, 1981)
  • Grandmother always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and now the day was complete. Marcy Demaree, quoted in Kristin Shea, Grandparents (2003)
  • Uncles, and aunts, and cousins, are all very well, and fathers and mothers are not to be despised; but a grandmother, at holiday time, is worth them all. Fanny Fern, in Folly As It Flies (1868)
  • To know perfect happiness a woman may be a mother, but must be a grandmother. Elizabeth Goudge, in Pilgrim’s Inn (1948)
  • Grandma…had a great deal to do with the education of her granddaughters. In general she not so much trained as just shed herself upon us. Bertha Damon, in Grandma Called It Carnal (1938)
  • On the way to the delivery room, I almost changed my mind about having a baby. I wouldn’t have found it so hard to go ahead with it if I had realized that having a baby was the only way I could ever become a grandmother. Phyllis Diller, quoted in Mary McBride, Grandma Knows Best, But No One Ever Listens! (1987)
  • Grandpa…was ever ready to cheer and help me, ever sure that I was a remarkable specimen. He was a dear old man who asked little from life and got less. Miles Franklin, in Childhood at Brindabella (1963)
  • In their own singular way, grandparents somehow sort of sprinkle a sense of stardust over grandchildren. Alex Haley, “We Must Honor Our Ancestors,” Ebony magazine (August 1986)

QUOTE NOTE: Haley expressed this notion on a number of occasions. In an Oct. 16, 1989 issue of Jet magazine, he was quoted as saying: “No one can do for children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of children.”

  • I love myself because my grandmother loved me. Ashley Judd, quoted in Jennifer Gates Hayes, Pearls of Wisdom From Grandma (1997)
  • A home without a grandmother is like an egg without salt. Florence King, in Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989)
  • No one…who has not known the inestimable privilege can possibly realize what good fortune it is to grow up in a home where there are grandparents. Suzanne La Follette, quoted in Alice S. Rossi, The Feminist Papers (1973)

La Follette continued: “Our parents were busy, hard-working people with a large family. They had little time and not much patience. But there was always Grandpa, who had both in abundance, who was gay, lovable and understanding and whose love never failed us. I shall never cease to be grateful for the sense of security he gave us.”

  • If grandparents want to have a meaningful and constructive role, the first lesson they must learn is that becoming a grandparent is not having a second chance at parenthood! Eda Le Shan, in Grandparenting in a Changing World (1993)
  • The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent. Sam Levenson, in You Don’t Have to Be in Who’s Who to Know What’s What (1979)
  • My mother wants grandchildren, so I said, “Mom, go for it!” Sue Murphy, quoted in Michael Cader, That’s Funny! (1996)
  • Grandmother was rather severe with us…. Inappropriate conduct was bad manners, bad manners were bad morals, and bad morals led to bad manners, and there you were, ringed with fire, and no way out. Katherine Anne Porter, in “Portrait: Old South” (1944), in The Days Before (1952)
  • Grandparents are the great equalizer in a child’s life; they are the strong safety in the “them versus us” game, which pairs grandparent and grandchild against the parent. Elaine Fantle Shimberg, in Blending Families (1999)

Shimberg continued: “Mindful of their own child-rearing errors (and acutely aware of those being made daily by their adult child), grandparents become a safe harbor when the sailing gets rough. It offer one that rarity in life—a second chance.”

  • I wish I could be a grandmother. It is wanton extravagance to have had a youth with no one to tell of it to when one grows old. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1928 letter, in The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995; Claire Harman, ed.)
  • My grandmother was unsurpassable at sitting. She would sit on tombstones, glaciers, small hard benches with ants crawling over them, fragments of public monuments, other people’s wheelbarrows, and when one returned one could be sure of finding her there, conversing affably with the owner of the wheelbarrow. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1948 letter, in Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982; William Maxwell, ed.)
  • If becoming a grandmother was only a matter of choice, I should advise every one of you straightway to become one. There is no fun for old people like it. Hannah Whitall Smith, an 1889 remark, quoted in Ray Strachey, A Quaker Grandmother: Hannah Whitall Smith (1914)
  • A mother becomes a true grandmother the day she stops noticing the terrible things her children do because she is so enchanted with the wonderful things her grandchildren do. Lois Wyse, in Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother (1988)
  • A child who has a grandparent has a softened view of life, the feeling that there is more to life than what we see, more than getting and gaining, winning and losing. Lois Wyse, in Grandchildren Are So Much Fun, I Should Have Had Them First (1992)



  • I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass (1891-92 ed.)

[Taking Things For] GRANTED

  • 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.”

  • Memories are short and our capacity for taking things for granted is almost infinite. Aldous Huxley, in Foreword to Cyril Bibby, T. H. Huxley: Scientist, Humanist and Educator (1959)
  • All your youth, you want to have your greatness taken for granted; when you find it taken for granted, you are unnerved. Elizabeth Bowen, the voice of the narrator, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • Love, like a running brook, is disregarded, taken for granted; but when the brook freezes over, then people begin to remember how it was when it ran, and they want it to run again. Kahlil Gibran, in letter to Mary Haskell; quoted in Suheil Bushrui, Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet (1998)
  • It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand. Madeleine L’Engle, in The Crosswicks Journal: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (1974)

L’Engle continued: “It stops us from taking anything for granted. It has also taught me a lot about living in the immediate moment. I am somehow managing to live one day, one hour at a time.”

  • [No] struggles are ever easy, and even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded, because it is so easy not to battle at all, to just accept and call that acceptance inevitable. Audre Lorde, in A Burst of Light: And Other Essays (1988)
  • When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren’t grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude Cynthia Ozick, “The Riddle of the Ordinary,” in Moment magazine (June, 1975); reprinted in Art and Ardor (1984)

Ozick continued: “And this is the chief vein and deepest point regarding the Ordinary: that it does deserve our gratitude. The Ordinary lets us live out our humanity; it doesn’t scare us, it doesn’t excite us.”



  • We live in an age of instant gratification. Spirituality represents the opposite to this in giving no immediate feedback but requiring, instead, a disciplined approach leading to long and silent growth. Sarah Anderson, in Heaven’s Face Thinly Veiled: A Book of Spiritual Writing by Women (1988)
  • Instant gratification takes too long. Carrie Fisher, protagonist Suzanne Vale’s reply to her mother, who had just remarked that she was too impatient and only interested in instant gratification, in Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • Shopping is dependable: You can do it alone, if you lose your heart to something that is wrong for you, you can return it; it’s instant gratification and yet something you buy may well last for years. Judith Krantz, in “Judith Krantz: Life is Even Better Than Fiction” (interview with Sandy Huseby), BookPage (May, 2000)
  • Advertising tries to be a pyromaniac, igniting conflagrations of desires for instant gratification. George F. Will, “The Madison Legacy,” in The Washington Post (Dec. 7, 1981); reprinted in The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses, 1981–1986 (1986)



  • There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Aug. 9, 1712)
  • Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Aesop, in “Androcles,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Gratitude, like love, is never a dependable international emotion. Joseph W. Alsop, Jr., quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 30, 1952)
  • My wish for you/Is that you continue/To let gratitude be the pillow/Upon which you kneel to/Say your nightly prayer. Maya Angelou, “On the Occasion of Oprah Winfrey’s Fiftieth Birthday,” in Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer (2006)
  • What soon grows old? Gratitude. Aristotle, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness. Author Unknown
  • Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul; and the heart of man knoweth none more fragrant. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, Vol. 6 (Feb. 18, 1854)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute the first portion of this observation to Henry Ward Beecher.

Ballou continued: “While its opponent, ingratitude is a deadly weed; not only poisonous in itself, but impregnating the very atmosphere in which it grows with fetid vapors.”

  • Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. Karl Barth, quoted in Richard E. Burnett, The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth (2013)
  • A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It’s very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe to others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in letter to his parents (Sep. 13, 1943); reprinted in Letters and Papers from Prison (1953)

QUOTE NOTE: Sadly, many quotation anthologies present only the first portion of this observation. In my view, its full impact can only be felt when it is read in its entirety. The first portion has also been commonly translated this way: “In normal life one is often not at all aware that we always receive infinitely more than we give, and that gratitude is what enriches life.”

  • I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. G. K. Chesterton, in A Short History of England (1917)
  • Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Pro Plancio (54 B.C)
  • To see life through the lens of death is to approach the condition of gratitude for the gift (or simply the fact) of our existence. Billy Collins, in online interview with Farideh Hassanzadeh, Kritya: A Journal of Poetry (specific date undetermined)
  • When you live with constant gratitude, your life will become a living prayer. Barbara De Angelis, in Real Moments: Discover the Secret for True Happiness (1994)
  • Gratitude is a burden, and all burdens are made to be cast off. Denis Diderot, in Rameau's Nephew (1805)
  • When gratitude has become a matter of reasoning, there are many ways of escaping from its bonds. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)
  • 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.”

  • To the generous mind/The heaviest debt is that of gratitude,/When ’tis not in our power to repay it. Thomas Francklin, the title character speaking, in Matilda (1775)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is widely misattributed to Benjamin Franklin.

  • With gratitude, optimism is sustainable. Michael J. Fox, in a CBS Sunday Morning interview with Jane Pauley (April 30, 2023)
  • Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep. Felix Frankfurter, “The Immigrant in the United States,” in Survey Graphic (Feb, 1939)
  • Sweet is the breath of vernal shower,/The bee’s collected treasures sweet,/Sweet music’s melting fall, but sweeter yet/The still small voice of gratitude. Thomas Gray, in “Ode for Music” (1769)
  • It seems like the first law of Nature is that everybody likes to receive things, but nobody likes to feel grateful. Zora Neale Hurston, a reflection of the title character, in Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people. Samuel Johnson, a Sep. 14, 1773 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)
  • One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. Carl Jung, “The Gifted Child,” (1942), in The Development of Personality (1954)

Jung continued: “The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

  • As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. John F. Kennedy, in Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (Nov. 4, 1963)
  • The gratitude of most men is merely a secret desire to receive greater benefits. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: Another popular translation of the maxim goes this way: “In most of mankind gratitude is merely a secret hope for greater favors.”

  • Gratitude is a very pleasant sensation, both for those who feel and to those who excite it. No one who confers a favor can say with truth that they “want no thanks.” They always do. Eliza Leslie, in Miss Leslie’s Behavior Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies (1859)
  • One single grateful thought raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer. G. E. Lessing, in Minna von Barnhelm (1767)

ERROR ALERT: On hundreds of internet sites, this beautiful sentiment is mistakenly attributed to the writer Doris Lessing, usually in the following phrasing: “A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer.”

  • Gratitude is the state of mind of thankfulness. As it is cultivated, we experience an increase in our “sympathetic joy,” our happiness at another’s happiness. Stephen Levine, in A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last (2009)

Levine went on to add: “Just as in the cultivation of compassion, we may feel the pain of others, so we may begin to feel their joy as well. And it doesn’t stop there.”

  • Gratitude is one of the happiest emotions of the human heart, one, in fact, of which every man may boast without being called conceited. Thomas Mann, in address at Princeton University (May 18, 1939); reported in “Princeton Honors Thomas Mann,” The Princeton Alumni Weekly (May 26, 1939)
  • To be grateful for all life’s blessings…is the best condition for a happy life. A joke, a good meal, a fine spring day, a work of art, a human personality, a voice, a glance—but this is not all. For there is another kind of gratitude…the feeling that makes us thankful for suffering, for the hard and heavy things of life, for the deepening of our natures which perhaps only suffering can bring. Thomas Mann, in address at Princeton University (May 18, 1939); reported in “Princeton Honors Thomas Mann,” The Princeton Alumni Weekly (May 26, 1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Gratitude is generally associated with “counting your blessings,” but Mann makes a strong case for being grateful for everything that results in our growth as human beings, including the suffering. Mann’s full remarks may be seen at Princeton Alumni Weekly.

  • Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. Jacques Maritain, in Reflections on America (1948)
  • Gratitude is the remembrance of the heart. Jean Massieu, quoted in Abbé Sicard, A Collection of the Most Remarkable Definitions and Answers of Massieu and Clerc (1815)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation was presented when first presented to an English audience in 1815. The saying went on to become proverbial in the form Gratitude is the memory of the heart. Massieu, born deaf in 1772, came under the tutelage of the Abbé Sicard, a pioneering deaf educator, and himself went on to become an influential teacher of the deaf.

  • If the only prayer you say in your entire life is “Thank You,” that would suffice. Meister Eckhart, quoted in Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart (1983)
  • Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. A. A. Milne, in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
  • We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. Thomas S. Monson, in “The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” an address at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (October 2010)

Monson continued: “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

  • If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac Newton, in letter to Robert Hooke (Feb. 5, 1676)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the modernized version of one of intellectual history’s most famous observations (Newton’s original wording was: If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants). The metaphor beautifully captures two notions of importance: (1) we all build on the efforts of those who preceded us, and (2) we are all in debt to those who provided assistance in our journey through life. The basic idea was not original with Newton, however. He was merely restating an observation from the twelfth-century French philosopher Bernard of Chartres: “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.” For more on the history of the quotation, go to: "Shoulders of Giants"

  • It takes a great nature to bear the weight of a great gratitude. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren’t grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude. Cynthia Ozick, “The Riddle of the Ordinary,” in Moment magazine (June, 1975); reprinted in Art and Ardor (1984)

Ozick continued: “And this is the chief vein and deepest point regarding the Ordinary: that it does deserve our gratitude. The Ordinary lets us live out our humanity; it doesn’t scare us, it doesn’t excite us.”

  • From the moment we expect gratitude, we forfeit it. Ivan Panin, in Thoughts (1886)
  • Because gratitude is the key to happiness, anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. Dennis Prager, in Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (1998)

Prager continued: “There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it.”

  • 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)
  • When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them. Proverb (Chinese)
  • Gratitude is the heart’s memory. Proverb (French)
  • Gratefulness is the poor man’s payment. Proverb (English)
  • Expressing gratitude seems like a cosmic invitation for all kinds of thankfulness and appreciation to pour in. Mary Anne Radmacher, in Live Boldly: Cultivate the Qualities That Can Change Your Life (2008)
  • There are—or there may be—/Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind/We feel for what we take, the larger kind/We feel for what we give. Edwin Arlington Robinson, “Captain Craig,” in Captain Craig: A Book of Poems (1902)
  • Gratitude is indeed a duty which we are bound to pay, but which benefactors cannot exact. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality (1754)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the traditional translation, but many internet sites present this more generous rendition of the sentiment: “Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect.”

  • In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer, in Memoirs of Childhood and Youth (1925)
  • He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), “On Benefits,” in Sententiae (1st. cent. B.C.)
  • Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone who has done a lot for you. Gladys Bronwyn Stern, in He Wrote Treasure Island: The Story of Robert Louis Stevenson (1954)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many published quotation anthologies mistakenly attribute this quotation to Gertrude Stein.

  • Gratitude is a debt which usually goes on accumulating like blackmail; the more you pay, the more is exacted. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924)
  • Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. William Arthur Ward, quoted in Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • It is necessary, then, to cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. Wallace D. Wattles, in The Science of Getting Rich (1910)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude. Elie Wiesel, in interview with Oprah Winfrey, O: The Oprah Magazine (Nov., 2000)
  • Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. So if you want to start being happy, get grateful first. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Alison Ashton, “The World According to Oprah,” Parade magazine (April 16, 2017)



  • As vivacity is the gift of women, gravity is that of men. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (July 27, 1711)
  • Levity is often less foolish and gravity less wise than each of them appears. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)



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

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

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

  • There are big men, men of intellect, intellectual men, men of talent and men of action; but the great man is difficult to find, and it needs—apart from discernment—a certain greatness to find him. Margot Asquith, in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith, Vol. I (1920)
  • The first element of greatness is fundamental humbleness…the second is freedom from self; the third is intrepid courage…and the fourth—the power to love—although I have put it last, is the rarest. Margot Asquith, in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith, Vol. I (1920)
  • All rising to great place is by a winding stair. Francis Bacon, “Of Great Place,” in Essays (1625)
  • Men in great places are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state, servants of fame, and servants of business. Francis Bacon, “Of Great Place,” in Essays (1625)
  • The less you speak of your greatness, the more I will think of it. Francis Bacon, a remark to the boastful Sir Edward Coke, in Joseph Sortain, The Life of Francis, Lord Bacon (1851)
  • Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1960)
  • All your youth, you want to have your greatness taken for granted; when you find it taken for granted, you are unnerved. Elizabeth Bowen, the voice of the narrator, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • An article of the democratic faith is that greatness lies in each person. Bill Bradley, in commencement address at Middlebury College (Middlebury, CT; May, 1989)
  • The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there. John Buchan, in speech at the University of St. Andrews (Jan. 27, 1930); reprinted in Montrose on Leadership (1930)

Buchan added: “I offer you that reflection as my last word on the subject this afternoon. I believe that it is profoundly true. It is a truth which is the basis of all religion. It is a truth which is the only justification for democracy. It is a truth which is at the foundation and the hope of our mortal lives.”

  • It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact. Edmund Burke, in a House of Commons speech (April 19, 1774)
  • What millions died that Caesar might be great! Thomas Campbell, in the poem “The Pleasures of Hope” (1799)
  • No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men. Thomas Carlyle, “The Hero as Divinity,” in On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841)

In that same essay, Carlyle wrote, “No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men.”

  • I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man’s pleasure when they come a cropper. G. K. Chesterton, “What I Believe,” in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
  • The price of greatness is responsibility. Winston Churchill, in speech at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. (Sep. 6, 1943)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill was referring to America here. His belief resulted from America’s decision to enter WWII. He continued: “If the people of the United States had continued . . . absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”

  • To achieve great things, we must live as though we were never going to die. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (Sep. 1, 1832)
  • Greatness is always envied—it is only mediocrity that can boast of a host of friends. Marie Corelli, “The Happy Life,” in Free Opinions (1905)
  • Greatness is a road that leads toward something unknown. Charles de Gaulle, quoted in André Malraux, Felled Oaks: Conversation with De Gaulle (1972)

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites present the following abridged version of the thought: “Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown.”

  • It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Bleak House (1853)
  • 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.”

  • Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times (March 19, 1940)

QUOTE NOTE: Einstein was speaking in support of Bertrand Russell, whose appointment to a faculty position at the City University of New York had aroused the opposition of conservative religious groups. After a law suit was filed against Russell’s appointment, CUNY officials caved in to the pressure and rescinded the teaching contract. Einstein continued: “The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation with the word violent before the word opposition.

  • There is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering. Albert Einstein, a comment on W. White’s article “Why I Remain a Negro,” in Saturday Review (Nov. 11, 1947); reported in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • A great man is always willing to be little. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • To be great is to be misunderstood. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Emerson preceded the observation by writing: “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.”

  • The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Heroism,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Great men, great nations have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Here in Texas, maybe we’ve got into the habit of confusing bigness with greatness. Edna Ferber, the character Bob Dietz speaking, in Giant (1952)
  • I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man’s pleasure when they come a cropper. E. M. Forster “What I Believe,” in The Nation (July 16, 1938)
  • Mountains appear more lofty the nearer they are approached; but great men, to retain their altitude, must only be viewed from a distance. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Most internet sites and many published anthologies present the following translation of Lady Blessington’s thought: “Mountains appear more lofty the nearer they are approached; but great men resemble them not in this particular.” The better translation, I believe, formally lays out the essential idea that greatness must be viewed at a distance. It may be seen in the original 1839 edition of Desultory Thoughts and Reflections.

  • The lights of stars that were extinguished ages ago still reach us. So it is with great men who died centuries ago, but still reach us with the radiations of their personalities. Kahlil Gibran, in The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran (1995)
  • Few great men could pass Personnel. Paul Goodman, in Growing Up Absurd (1960)
  • A person who has no genuine sense of pity for the weak is missing a basic source of strength, for one of the prime moral forces that comprise greatness and strength of character is a feeling of mercy. The ruthless man, au fond, is always a weak and frightened man. Sydney J. Harris, in On the Contrary (1964)

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

  • True greatness is free, kind, familiar and popular; it lets itself be touched and handled, it loses nothing by being seen at close quarters; the better one knows it, the more one admires it. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Personal Merit,” in Characters (1688)

La Bruyère was contrasting true greatness with its contrary, which he described this way: “False greatness is unsociable and remote: conscious of its own frailty, it hides, or at least averts its face, and reveals itself only enough to create an illusion and not be recognized as the meanness that it really is.”

  • A great man does not leave behind him his genius, but its traces. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Lives of great men all remind us/We can make our lives sublime,/And, departing leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “A Psalm of Life” 1839)
  • If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work. Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)
  • Failure is the true test of greatness. Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” in The Literary World (August 1850)

QUOTE NOTE: The essay was originally written anonymously (by “A Virginian Spending July in Vermont”), and it was not until years later that Melville was formally identified as the author. vMelville preceded the observation above 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.

  • Since we cannot attain to greatness, let us revenge ourselves by railing against it. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580)
  • Fortunately there is excess in greatness: it can lose more than mediocrity possesses, and still be great. Virginia Moore, “Sappho,” in Distinguished Women Writers (1934)
  • It is the privilege of greatness to confer intense happiness with insignificant gifts. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon. Daniel Pink, in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009)
  • None are fit judges of greatness but those who are capable of it. Jane Porter, in Philip Sidney and Jane Porter, Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss Porter (1807)
  • Great men can’t be ruled. Ayn Rand, the character Ellsworth Toohey speaking, in The Fountainhead (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: Toohey, a power-hungry socialist created by Rand as an antagonist to the heroic individualism of protagonist Howard Roark, viewed great men as obstacles to his collectivist dream. He continued: “Therefore, we don’t want any great men.”

  • The greatest minds are marked by nothing more distinctly than an inconceivable humility, and acceptance of work or instruction in any form, and from any quarter. They will learn from everybody, and do anything that anybody asks, so long as it involves only toil, or what other men would think degradation. John Ruskin, in A Joy for Ever (1857)
  • Is it not true that the ability to apologize is one of the elements of true greatness? It is the small-souled man who will not stoop to apologize. J. Oswald Sanders, in Christ Incomparable (1953; rev. 1971)
  • Great souls endure in silence. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the Marquis speaking, in Don Carlos (1787)
  • Greatness is to take the common things of life, and walk truly among them. Olive Schreiner, the character Lyndall speaking, in The Story of an African Farm (1883; written under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • Depend upon it, of all vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness. Sir Walter Scott, quoted in John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of The Life of Sir Walter Scott, Vol 1 (1837 )
  • Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. William Shakespeare, the character Malvolio, quoting Maria’s letter, in Twelfth Night (1601)
  • Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time. Sydney Smith, quoted in Lady Holland (Saba Smith), A Memoir of The Reverend Sydney Smith: by His Daughter (1855)
  • Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory. John Steinbeck, the character Merlin speaking, in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976)
  • But if to be great means to do great things in the teeth of great obstacles, then none can refuse him a place in the temple of the Immortals. Stephen G. Tallentyre (pen name of Evelyn Beatrice Hall), on Denis Diderot, from “D’Alembert: The Thinker,” in The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: This may sound like a compliment, but Tallentyre preceded the thought by writing: “If to be great means to be good, then Denis Diderot was a little man.”

  • He is truly great that is great in charity. He is truly great that is little in himself, and maketh no account of any height of honors. Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ (c. 1420)
  • There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth. Leo Tolstoy, the voice of the narrator, in War and Peace (1860)
  • We have, I fear, confused power with greatness. Stewart Udall, in 1965 commencement speech at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
  • Failure is another stepping-stone to greatness. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)
  • Satisfaction may be the goal of the average person, but it is the enemy of greatness. Garrison Wynn, in The Real Truth About Success (2010)
  • Greatness has nothing to do with goodness—or very little. Frank Yerby, in Goat Song: A Novel of Ancient Greece (1966)



  • How is it possible, that the love of gain and the lust of domination should render the human mind so callous to every principle of honor, generosity, and benevolence? Abigail Adams, in letter to husband John (July 25, 1775)
  • Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed. Bhagavad Gita (16)

QUOTE NOTE: Lord Krishna, speaking to Prince Arjuna, adds: “For your own sake, Arjuna, give up these three.”

  • The love of money is the root of all evil. The Bible—I Timothy 6:10

ERROR ALERT: This famous passage is often mistakenly presented as simply Money is the root of all evil. The saying has inspired numerous spin-offs (many may be seen in ROOT & BRANCH METAPHORS)

  • There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. Frank Buchman, in Remaking the World (1947)
  • A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful. Warren Buffett, in a 1986 letter to shareholders; reprinted in L. A. Cunningham, Essays of Warren Buffett (1998)
  • Greed, like the love of comfort, is a kind of fear. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944; rev. 1951)
  • Classism and greed are making insignificant all other kinds of isms. Ruby Dee, quoted in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World (1989)
  • Not even a Harvard School of Business can turn greed into a science. W. E. B. Du Bois, in In Battle for Peace (1952)
  • To have and not to give is often worse than to steal. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. Erich Fromm, in Escape From Freedom (1941)
  • Clarity and perseverance are difficult in American society because the basis of capitalism is greed and dissatisfaction. Natalie Goldberg, in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (1990)
  • Being rich has never stopped anyone from being greedy. Tami Hoag, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Elena Estes, in Dark Horse (2002)
  • Having too much is never enough. Arianna Huffington, in Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America (2003). Also an example of oxymoronica.
  • Christmas, that annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed. P. D. James, the character Jasper Palmer-Smith speaking, in The Children of Men (1992)
  • Global commerce is driven by a single conviction: the inalienable right to earn profit, regardless of any human cost. Barbara Kingsolver, from title essay, in Small Wonder (2002)
  • Greed can be very dangerous because you sacrifice your soul for the sake of something material, and then you start sacrificing people in order to keep that which is material. Eartha Kitt, quoted in Christine Dugas, “Kitt Takes Down-To-Eartha Approach to her Finances,” USA Today (July 16, 2001)
  • Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches. Don Marquis, in archy and mehitabel (1927)
  • Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. Erich Fromm, in Escape from Freedom (1941)
  • We’re all born brave, trusting, and greedy, and most of us remain greedy. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • One of the key problems of the business world is that greed has become culturally acceptable. Anita Roddick, in Business As Unusual (2000)
  • The trouble with the new world we have watched being created over the past decade is that it sees no further than money. People have always been obsessed with money, of course—greed is as old as history. But when the institutions that govern all our lives forget there was ever anything else, then it gets dangerous. Anita Roddick, in Take It Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World (2001)
  • Greed’s worst point is its ingratitude. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Greed stains our culture, soaks our sensibilities and has replaced grace as a sign of our intimacy with the divine. Jennifer Stone, “Epilogue,” in Mind Over Media (1988)
  • To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. Gore Vidal, “Comment, July 1961,” in Esquire magazine (May 19, 2008)
  • Accursed greed for gold,/To what dost thou not drive the heart of man. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Some folk are always thirsting for water from other people’s wells, but they have no real thirst. Jessamyn West, in Leafy Rivers (1967)



  • Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding and softens the heart. John Adams, in letter to Thomas Jefferson (May 6, 1816)
  • Grief is just love with no place to go. Jamie Anderson, “As the Lights Wink Out,” a 2014 blog post

Anderson preceded the thought by writing: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot give. The more you loved someone, the more you grieve. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes and in that part of your chest that gets empty and hollow feeling. The happiness of love turns to sadness when unspent.”

  • I have always fought for ideas—unti I learned that it isn’t ideas but grief, struggle, and flashes of vision which enlighten. Margaret Anderson, in The Strange Necessity: The Autobiography (1969)
  • Grief is no more necessary when we understand death than fear is necessary when we understand flying. Richard Bach, in Running From Safety (1994)
  • For there is no aristocracy in grief, no privilege of purple in the aches of the heart, and though certain blood may plume itself on its blueness, common salt is the scalding quality of all tears. Frank Binder, in A Journey in England (1931)

QUOTE NOTE: Binder was inspired to compose this thought after visiting Lincoln Castle, where he was touched by the site of an ancient graveyard—adjacent to a crumbling gallows—containing rows of unkempt and disheveled graves of poor English souls who had met their death by hanging. Reflecting on the site, he recalled Macaulay’s History of England, where the great English writer said “there is no sadder spot than that little cemetery” in the Tower of London containing the remains of the many eminent historical figures who were imprisoned in the Tower and executed for their offenses against crown and country. Binder preceded the thought above by writing about Lincoln Castle’s disheveled graveyard: “This burial spot of those who went down with dirty hands and in darkness to their graves has a sadness beyond that of the Tower.”

  • Can I see another’s woe,/And not be in sorrow too?/Can I see another’s grief,/And not seek for kind relief? William Blake, “On Another’s Sorrow,” in Songs of Innocence (1789)
  • The finer the nature, and the higher the level at which it seeks to live, the lower in grief it not only sinks but dives. Elizabeth Bowen, in The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • When we grieve, tears and guilt get mixed together. Art Buchwald, in Leaving Home: A Memoir (1993)
  • Since every death diminishes us a little, we grieve—not so much for the death as for ourselves. Lynn Caine, in Widow (1974)
  • The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course. Gail Caldwell, in Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (2010)

Before the death of her dear friend Caroline Knapp, Caldwell had only a superficial understanding of the true nature of grief, writing: “I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity.”

  • Grief doesn’t necessarily make you noble. Sometimes it just makes you crazy, or primitive with fear. Gail Caldwell, “What Grief Is Really Like”, in The New York Times Book Review (April 15, 2011)

QUOTE NOTE: Caldwell offered this thought in her review of Meghan O’Rourke’s 2011 memoir The Long Goodbye. In 2005, O’Rourke was a fifty-three-year old writer and critic when she was diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer. She died less than three years later, leaving behind a husband and three children.

  • Grief rarely attacks from the front. It prefers to sneak up on you when you least expect it. Harlan Coben, a reflection of narrator and protagonist David Burroughs, in I Will Find You (2023)
  • Grief is itself a med’cine. William Cowper, “Charity,” in Poems by William Cowper (1794)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the line usually appears in quotation collections, but it was originally part of this longer passage: “Grief is itself a med’cine, and bestow’d/T’improve the fortitude that bears the load,/To teach the wand’rer, as his woes increase,/The path of wisdom, all whose paths are peace.”

  • Grief is the price Love pays for being in the same world with Death. Margaret Deland, in Golden Yesterdays, Vol. 2 (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a beautiful sentiment, but it is not completely original. Ueland might have been inspired by an earlier observation by Mary Ridpath-Mann, to be seen below.

  • I measure every Grief I meet/With narrow, probing, eyes—/I wonder if It weighs like Mine—/Or has an Easier size. Emily Dickinson, in Poem #561 (c. 1862)

This quatrain introduces the poem, which goes on to explore a number of aspects of grief. The poem can be seen in full at: Poem 561.

  • Grief is the agony of an instant; the indulgence of Grief the blunder of a life. Benjamin Disraeli, the character Mr. Beckendorff speaking, in Vivian Grey (1826)
  • O the anguish of the thought that we can never atone to our dead for the stinted affection we gave them. George Eliot, a reflection of the title character, in “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. George Eliot, the narrator describing Dorothea Brande, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • Grief could, if left unfettered, become the purpose of a life rather than a tribute to lost love. Virginia Ellis, the voice of the narrator, in The Wedding Dress (2002)
  • Man sheds grief as his skin sheds rain. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (May, 1843)
  • Grief is, of all the passions, the one that is the most ingenious and indefatigable in finding food for its own subsistence. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in The Governess (1840)
  • It is not until we have lost those we loved that we feel all their value. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 2 (1855)
  • The most courageous people in the world are the people who go on after their children have died. Mary Gordon, in Good Boys and Dead Girls: and Other Essays (1991)
  • I feel like grief is an illness I can’t recover from. Sue Grafton, the character Glen speaking, in “C” is for Corpse (1986)

Glen is speaking to private detective Kinsey Millhone about the recent death of her twenty-three-year-old son, Bobby. She continues: “What worries me is I notice there’s a certain attraction to the process that’s hard to give up. It’s painful, but at least it allows me to feel close to him. Once in a while, I catch myself thinking of something else, and then I feel guilty. It seems disloyal not to hurt, disloyal to forget even for a moment that he’s gone.”

  • Grieving is like being ill. You think the entire world revolves around you and it doesn’t. Sue Grafton, the character Nora Vogelsang speaking, in “V” Is for Vengeance (2011)
  • In all the silent manliness of grief. Oliver Goldsmith, in the poem “The Deserted Village” (1770)
  • There are few sensations more painful, than, in the midst of deep grief, to know that the season which we have always associated with mirth and rejoicing is at hand. Sarah Josepha Hale, in Traits of American Life (1835)
  • Grief is the most solitary emotion; it makes islands of us all. Greg Iles, the opening line of Mississippi Blood (2017)
  • The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound, we seek to heal—every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open—this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude. Washington Irving, in The Sketch Book (1819–20
  • What was so terrible about grief was not grief itself, but that one got over it. P. D. James, the voice of the narrator, in Innocent Blood (1980)
  • While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert it only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it. Samuel Johnson, an April 10, 1776 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? Franz Kafka, in letter to Oskar Pollak (Nov. 8, 1903)

Kafka continued: “And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful?”

QUOTE NOTE: Kafka returned to the theme in his 1915 classic The Metamorphosis, when he had protagonist Gregor Samsa say plaintively: “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

  • How futile are words in the ears of those who mourn. Helen Keller, in We Bereaved (1929)
  • It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don't agree. The wounds remain. Time—the mind, protecting its sanity—covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone. Rose Kennedy, in Times to Remember (1974)
  • For the first time she knew what it meant to be bereft: You had something to tell, and the only one in the world to tell it to, was gone. Ardyth Kennelly, the narrator describing protagonist Dorney Leaf after the death of Grandpa Bannon, in Good Morning, Young Lady (1953)
  • To everyone else, the death of that being you love for his own sake, for her own sake, is an event that occurs on a certain day. For you, the death only begins that day. It is not an event: it is only the first moment in a process that lives in you, springing up into the present, engulfing you years, decades, later, as though it were the first moment again. Alice Koller, in The Stations of Solitude (1990)
  • Grief is the healing process of the heart, soul, and mind; it is the path that returns us to wholeness. It shouldn’t be a matter of if you will grieve; the question is when you will grieve. And until we do, we suffer from the effects of that unfinished business. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, in On Grief and Grieving (2005)
  • The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, in On Grief and Grieving (2005)
  • No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. C. S. Lewis, the opening words of A Grief Observed (1961)

QUOTE NOTE: Originally published under the pen name N. W. Clerk, A Grief Observed was a chronicle of Lewis’s attempt to cope with the death of his wife Joy Davidman in 1961 (it was re-issued in 1963 under his real name). In the opening paragraph, he continued: “I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”

  • Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone, his own burden, his own way. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “Theodore,” in Dearly Beloved (1962)
  • There is no aristocracy of grief. Grief is a great leveler. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929–1932 (1973)
  • Oh, well it has been said, that there is no grief like the grief which does not speak. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Hyperion (1839)
  • The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. Colin Murray Parkes, in Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life (1972)
  • Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Grief is a circular staircase. Linda Pastan, from the title poem, in The Five Stages of Grief: Poems (1978)

This is the way the quotation typically appears on internet sites, but it was originally part of a powerful poem inspired by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s theoretical formulation about the stages of grief. The full poem may be seen at Pastan “Circular Staircase” Poem

  • Joy is a brief spark,/A flashing light./But grief is fire/Burning everything in sight. Louis Phillips, “What’s An Old Man To Do,” in Sunlight Falling to the Lake (2020)
  • Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind. Marcel Proust, in The Past Recaptured (1927)
  • Grief can sometimes only be expressed in platitudes. We are original in our happy moments. Sorrow has only one voice, one cry. Ruth Rendell, the protagonist Chief Inspector Wexford reflecting on the words of a grieving husband, in Shake Hands Forever (1975)
  • A dead grief is easier to bear than a live trouble. Agnes Repplier, “Allegra,” in Compromises (1904)
  • Grief is the price we pay for Love. Mary Ridpath-Mann, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Virginia Leith, in The Unofficial Secretary (1912)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the first appearance of a sentiment that evolved into a modern proverb (and appropriately acknowledged as such in The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs). In a 2001 memorial service to honor British victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack, Queen Elizabeth said: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

  • The light has gone out of my life. Theodore Roosevelt, an 1884 diary entry, referring to wife Alice Lee, who died two days after the birth of their daughter; reported in Peter Collier, “The Goodness of Badness,” Audubon magazine (Jan–Feb., 1993).
  • Grief. The state of mind brought about when love, having lost to death, learns to breathe beside it. Roger Rosenblatt, in Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats (2012)
  • There are some griefs so loud/They could bring down the sky,/And there are griefs so still/None knows how deep they lie. May Sarton, “Of Grief,” in A Durable Fire (1972)
  • Nothing becomes so offensive so quickly as grief. When fresh it finds someone to console it, but when it becomes chronic, it is ridiculed, and rightly. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Honest plain words best pierce the ear of grief. William Shakespeare, the character Berowne speaking, in Love’s Labour Lost (1595)
  • Every one can master a grief but he that has it. William Shakespeare, the character Benedick speaking, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  • Grief makes one hour ten. William Shakespeare, the character Bolingbroke speaking, in Richard II (1595)
  • Patch grief with proverbs. William Shakespeare, Leonato speaking to Antonio, in Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

QUOTE NOTE: Patch here is used in the sense “to mend,” making this one of history’s most succinct sayings on the soothing power of words.

  • Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief the enemy to the living. William Shakespeare, the character Lafew speaking, in All’s Well That Ends Well (1603-03)
  • Day doth daily draw my sorrow’s longer,/And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem longer. William Shakespeare, in Sonnets (1609)
  • I sometimes hold it half a sin/To put in words the grief I feel;/For words, like Nature, half reveal/And half conceal the Soul within. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” (1850)

QUOTE NOTE: Tennyson’s poem was written in memory his great and dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly and unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1833.

  • That was the way with grief: it left you alone for months together until you thought that you were cured, and then without warning it blotted out the sunlight. Josephine Tey, in The Singing Sands (1952)

QUOTE NOTE: I believe this observation came from the protagonist Inspector Allan Grant, but I’ve been unable to confirm.

  • Those who love us never leave us alone with our grief. Alice Walker, in the Foreword to the 2018 edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” (published posthumously in 2018)
  • Total grief is like a minefield. No knowing when one will touch the tripwire. Sylvia Townsend Warner, a 1969 diary entry, in The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995; Claire Harman, ed.)



  • The feminists have a legitimate grievance. But so does everyone else. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal (1989)
  • We live in an era defined and overwhelmed by grievance—by too many Americans’ obsession with how they’ve been wronged and their insistence on wallowing in ire. Frank Bruni, “The Most Important Thing I Teach My Students Isn’t on the Syllabus,” in The New York Times (April 20, 2024)

Bruni ended his article this way: “While grievance blows our concerns out of proportion, humility puts them in perspective. While grievance reduces the people with whom we disagree to caricature, humility acknowledges that they’re every bit as complex as we are—with as much of a stake in creating a more perfect union.”

  • Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. Frederick Buechner, in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (1973); reissued in 1993 as Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

Buechner said many highly quotable things in his career, and this was one of his best. He concluded the observation with this verbal equivalent of a maraschino cherry: “The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

  • Long marriages have ended in ruin over tiny and insignificant grievances that were never properly aired and instead grew into a brittle barnacle of hatred. Augusten Burroughs, in This Is How (2012)
  • War is a severe doctor; but it sometimes heals grievances. Edward Counsel, in Maxims: Political, Philosophical, and Moral (2nd ed., 1892)
  • It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. Alexis de Tocqueville, in letter to Pierre Freslon (Sep. 23, 1853)

De Tocqueville concluded his observation by writing: “The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable.”

  • There have always been grievances and youth has always been the agitator. William O. Douglas, in Points of Rebellion (1970)

In the book, Douglas also wrote: “Violence has no constitutional sanction; and every government from the beginning has moved against it. But where grievances pile high and most of the elected spokesmen represent the Establishment, violence may be the only effective response.”

  • Seek happiness and you may or may not find it; seek grievances and you are guaranteed success. Gregg Easterbrook, in The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (2003)
  • Grievance does not make for great art. Eva Figes, in Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society (1970)
  • She released her grievances like handfuls of birdseed: They are there, and they are gone. Gillian Flynn, in Gone Girl (2012)
  • A party whose mission is to live entirely upon the discovery of grievances are apt to manufacture the element upon which they subsist. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (The Third Marquess of Salisbury), in speech at Edinburgh, Scotland (Nov. 24, 1882); quoted in Gwendolyn Cecil, The Life of Robert, Marquis of Salisbury. by His Daughter Vol/ III (1921)
  • Grievance isn’t about grieving. In fact, it’s the opposite. Grievance is the narrative of getting even. Seth Godin, in a blog post (May 31, 2021)

Godin preceded the thought by writing: “Grievance and possibility have confusing roots.”

  • How close beneath the surface, even in the happiest family, is the chronic grievance! Margaret Halsey, in This Demi-Paradise (1960)

Halsey continued: “I sometimes think that tinderboxes are inert and powder kegs mere talcum compared to the explosive possibilities in the most commonplace domestic situation.”

  • We are the ones who suffer when we hold on to past grievances. Louise Hay, in Life! (1995)
  • The secret of wisdom is never to get lost in a momentary mood or passion, never to forget a friendship over a momentary grievance, never to lose sight of the lasting values over a transitory episode. Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Holy Dimension,” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays (1997)
  • No person with a grievance can be also a person with an attractive personality! Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success: The 16 Secrets for Achieving Wealth & Prosperity (1925)
  • To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • I tried not to run Phil down too much—I felt bad enough as it was, what with screwing his girlfriend and all. But it became unavoidable, because when Jackie expressed doubts about him, I had to nurture those doubts as if they were tiny, sickly kittens, until eventually they became sturdy, healthy grievances, with their own cat doors, which allowed them to wander in and out of our conversation at will. Nick Hornby, the voice of narrator and protagonist, Rob Fleming, in High Fidelity (1995)
  • I distrust the rash optimism in this country that cries, “Hurrah, we’re all right! This is the greatest nation on earth,” when there are grievances that call loudly for redress. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)
  • Punishment is not prevention. History offers cold comfort to those who think grievance and despair can be subdued by force. Robert F. Kennedy, in To Seek a Newer World (1967)
  • Francesca's was a grievance of which most of her sex have to complain; a man’s letter is always the most unsatisfactory thing in the world. There are none of those minute details which are such a solace to feminine anxiety; the mere fact of writing, always seems sufficient to content a masculine conscience. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Francesca Carrara (1834)
  • Perhaps one of the more noteworthy trends of our time is the occupation of buildings accompanied by the taking of hostages. The perpetrators of these deeds are generally motivated by political grievance, social injustice, and the deeply felt desire to see how they look on TV. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment. C. S. Lewis, in Preface to The Screwtape Letters (1960)
  • There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (January 27, 1838)

QUOTE NOTE: In the speech, now generally referred to as “The Lyceum Address,” Lincoln continued: “In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.”

  • It is the worst humiliation and grievance of the suffering, that they cause suffering. Harriet Martineau, in Life in the Sick-Room (1844)
  • The stems of grievance put down their heavy roots/And by the end of summer crack the pavement. Josephine Miles, “Grievances,” in Kinds of Affection (1967)
  • In Russia, writers with serious grievances are arrested, while in America they are merely featured on television talk shows, where all that is arrested is their development. Neil Postman, in Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (1988)
  • Abroad it is our habit to regard all other travelers in the light of personal and unpardonable grievances. They are intruders into our chosen realms of pleasure, they jar upon our sensibilities, they lessen our meager share of comforts, they are everywhere in our way, they are always an unnecessary feature in the landscape. Agnes Repplier, in Compromises (1904)
  • To foment grievance and to set men at variance is the trade by which agitators thrive and journalists make money. Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” in Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine (2004)

Sayers preceded the thought by writing: “It is very well known to the more unscrupulous part of the press that nothing pays so well in the newspaper world as the manufacture of schisms and the exploitation of wrath. Turn over the pages of the more popular papers if you want to see how avarice thrives on hatred and the passion of violence.”

  • This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw, “Epistle Dedicatory,” in Man and Superman (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Shaw’s most popular quotations. He continued with this less familiar thought: “And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base.”

  • This, it seemed, was one of those angry natures that feeds on grievance; nothing would madden her more than to know that what she complained of had been put right. Mary Stewart, in Airs Above the Ground (1965)
  • There is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance; a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour, allowing him to plead his own cause in his own court, within his own heart—and always to plead it successfully. Anthony Trollope, the voice of the narrator, in Orley Farm: A Novel (1862)
  • If they have real grievances redress them, if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it at the moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. George Washington, in letter to Henry Lee (Oct. 31, 1786)
  • History does not eliminate grievances. It lays them down like landmines. A. N. Wilson, in The Victorians (2002)
  • If there is one thing I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine. P. G. Wodehouse, the narrator Jeremy Garnet speaking, in Love Among the Chickens (1906)
  • It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. P. G. Wodehouse, the voice of the narrator, in Blandings Castle (1935)
  • I was so obsessed and consumed with my grievances that I could not get away from myself and think things out in the light. I was in the grip of that blinding, destructive, terrible thing—righteous indignation. Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water,” in Hungry Hearts (1920)




  • Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey, quoted in Les Standiford, “Desert Places: An Exchange with Edward Abbey,” in Western Humanities Review (Autumn, 1970); reprinted as “Arizona: How Big is Enough?” in One Life at a Time, Please (1988)

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

  • Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth. Mary Antin, in The Promised Land (1912)

Antin preceded the observation by writing: “We are not born all at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later; and the birth and growth of the spirit, in those who are attentive to their own inner life, are slow and exceedingly painful.”

  • Life is growth and motion; a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one. Brooks Atkinson, in Once Around the Sun (1951)
  • The minute a man ceases to grow—no matter what his years—that minute he begins to be old. Bruce Barton, “I Dread the End of the Year,” in More Power to You (1917)
  • A blossom must break the sheath it has been sheltered by. Phyllis Bottome, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • Growth itself contains the germ of happiness. Pearl S. Buck, “To the Young,” in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • Love dies only when growth stops. Pearl S. Buck, “What Shall I Tell My Daughter,” in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • All spiritual growth takes place by leaps and bounds, both in the individual and…in the community. The crisis is to be regarded as a new nexus of growth. Jacob Burkhardt, in Force and Freedom: Reflections on History (1943)

Burkhardt continued: “Crises clear the ground…of a host of institutions from which life has long since departed, and which, given their historical privilege, could not have been swept away in any other fashion.”

  • Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back. Remember that and be very gentle with yourself. Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way (1992)
  • The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us. G. K. Chesterton, “The Romance of Thyme,” in Fancies Versus Fads (1923)
  • Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’€s growth without destroying his roots. Frank A. Clark, in a 1974 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment. Stephen R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites, including the respected Wikiquote, mistakenly present the quotation with higher instead of greater.

  • Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us; there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Silas Marner (1861)
  • I say that the strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. George Eliot, the character Mordecai speaking, in Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In some ways, spiritual growth resembles a game of leapfrog. As soon as we’ve got past one puzzling question, we discover we’re faced with another. Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, in Something More (1991)
  • All change is not growth; all movement is not forward. Ellen Glasgow, quoted in Barbara Jean Ringheim, Ellen Glasgow’s Interpretation of Human Action and Ethics As Reflected in Her Novels and Essays (1948)
  • Our only purpose in life is growth. There are no accidents. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in The Wheel of Life (1997)
  • Stop growing and you’re in the casket. Jack LaLanne, in Playboy interview (October 1984)
  • Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc., at times before they’re worn out and at times—and this is the worst of all—before we have new ones. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms: 1765–1799
  • Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future (1940)
  • Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit. Norman Mailer, “Hip, Hell, and the Navigator,” in Western Review (Winter 1959); reprinted in J. Michael Lennon, Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988)
  • One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again. Abraham Maslow, in The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance (1966)
  • One does not become fully human painlessly. Rollo May, in Foreword to Ronald S. Valle and Mark King, Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology (1978)
  • All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience. Henry Miller, “The Absolute Collective,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)
  • The development of the individual can be described as a succession of new births at consecutively higher levels. Maria Montessori, quoted in E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work (1957)
  • Growth is the only evidence of life. John Henry Newman, in Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying is almost always attributed directly to Cardinal Newman, but in his 1864 religious classic he was merely summarizing a doctrine of the English preacher and biblical scholar Thomas Scott (1747–1821). Newman admired the thought and adopted it as a kind of motto. Thanks to David Evans for alerting me to this fact.

  • The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled (1978)

Peck continued: “If this path is followed long enough, the pieces of knowledge begin to fall into place. Gradually things begin to make sense.”

  • As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fault to grow in discipline, love, and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Developing an understanding of the world and our place in it was so important that Peck concluded: “This understanding is our religion.”

  • Great oaks from little acorns grow. Proverb (English)
  • The body grows by food and work, the mind by use, and the soul through joy and pain. Myrtle Reed, the character Martin Chandler speaking, in A Weaver of Dreams (1911)
  • The base from which all growth is predicated then, is in the future, not from the past. Growing is always into, not away from. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Answer Without Ceasing (1949)
  • Growth is exciting; growth is dynamic and alarming. Growth of the soul, growth of the mind; how the observation of last year seems childish, superficial; how this year—even this week—even with this new phrase—it seems to us that we have grown to a new maturity. Vita Sackville-West, in Twelve Days in Persia (1928)

Sackville-West continued: “It may be a fallacious persuasion, but at least it is stimulating, and so long as it persists, one does not stagnate.”

  • We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean. The lobster grows by developing and shedding a series of hard, protective shells. Each time it expands from within, the confining skin must be sloughed off. It is left exposed and vulnerable until, in time, a new covering grows to replace the old. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)

Sheehy continued: “With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next we, too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable—but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.”

  • If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)

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

  • Men may rise on stepping-stones/Of their dead selves to higher things. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” (1850)
  • The shell must break before the bird can fly. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “The Ancient Sage” (1885)
  • What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows—it must grow; nothing can prevent it. Mark Twain, “Consistency” paper read in Hartford, Connecticut in1884 and published in 1923; reprinted in Complete Essays (1963; Charles Neider, ed.)
  • Growth occurs when individuals confront problems, struggle to master them, and through that struggle develop new aspects of their skills, capacities, views about life. Barbara Walker, “The Humanistic/Person-Centered Theoretical Model,” in Stephanie J. Hanrahan and Mark B. Andersen (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology (2010)

ERROR ALERT: Walker was describing the position of American psychologist Carl Rogers, not directly quoting him. Nonetheless, this observation is now commonly misattributed to him.



  • To be attentive to our guests is not only true kindness, but true politeness. Abigail Adams, in letter to granddaughter Caroline Smith (Aug. 30, 1808)

Adams continued: “For if there is a virtue which is its own reward, hospitality is that virtue. We remember slight attentions, after we have forgotten great benefits.”

  • When you put a seed in the ground, the ground doesn’t say “Well, in eight hours I'm going to stop growing.” Ruth Asawa, quoted in Robert Snyder’s documentary film “Ruth Asawa, Of Forms and Growth” (2015)

Asawa, a popular San Francisco artist and teacher, went on to add that, from the moment a bulb is placed in the soil, “every second that bulb grows. Every second it is attached to the Earth. That’s why I think that every second we are attached to this Earth, we should be doing something.”

A bit later in the film, Asawa also said: “You plant the seed, you have to care for it, you have to water it, you have to weed it. And then you enjoy eating it. That whole experience has to be given to every person.”

  • It is difficult to get rid of people when you once have given them too much pleasure. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in an 1845 letter; reprinted in The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846, Vol. 1 (1898)
  • I hate guests who complain of the cooking and leave bits and pieces all over the place and cream-cheese sticking to the mirrors. Colette, the title character speaking, in Cheri (1920)
  • After three days men grow weary of a wench, a guest, and rainy weather. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June, 1733)

QUOTE NOTE: In a January, 1736 issue of the Almanack, Franklin offered a more familiar observation on the subject: “Fish and visitors stink in three days.” He likely borrowed this latter observation from English writer Thomas Fuller, M.D., who presented a very similar English proverb in a 1732 book (see the Fuller entry below).

  • Fish and guests smell at three days old. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)

QUOTE NOTE: The notion that fish and guests go bad after three days was first presented by English writer John Lyly in a 1579 book (see the Lyly entry below)

  • If it were not for guests all houses would be graves. Kahlil Gibran, in Sand and Foam (1926)
  • A guest should be permitted to graze, as it were, in the pastures of his host’s kindness, left even to his own devices, like a rational being, and handsomely neglected. Louise Imogen Guiney, in Goose-Quill Papers (1885)
  • House guests (I don’t care who they are, how much I like them, or how long it’s been since I last saw them) are pests, much like roaches and mice. But there are differences. You can trap roaches and mice. And they don’t want you to drive them to Disneyland. Margo Kaufman, in 1-800-Am-I-Nuts? (1992)
  • Fish and guests in three days are stale. John Lyly, in Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1579)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation quickly evolved into a proverbial saying (see the Thomas Fuller entry above) that inspired Benjamin Franklin’s well known maxim on the subject (see the Franklin entry above). The underlying sentiment is not original with Lyly, however, for he was almost certainly familiar with an observation made seventeen centuries earlier (see the Plautus entry below)

  • Dolores greeted the guest effusively enough to make it clear she wasn’t really welcome and made a great fuss of getting her seated. Charlotte MacLeod, the voice of the narrator, in The Palace Guard (1981)
  • It is a widespread and firm belief among guests that their departure is always a matter of distress to their hosts, and that in order to indicate that they have been pleasantly entertained, they must demonstrate an extreme unwillingness to allow the entertainment to conclude. This is not necessarily true. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium (1989)
  • We never sit down to our pottage,/We never go calm to our rest,/But lo! at the door of our cottage,/The knock of the Guest. Phyllis McGinley, “Elegy from a Country Dooryard,” in Bernard Smith and Philip Van Doren Stern, The Holiday Reader (1947)
  • Concocting a good guest list is like seasoning a gourmet sauce. Too many similar ingredients and it’s bland. Too much variety in the seasoning and the result may be overpowering. Sheila Ostrander, in Etiquette, Etc. (1967)
  • No guest is so welcome in a friend’s house that he will not become a nuisance after three days. Titus Maccius Plautus, in Miles Gloriosus (3rd c. B.C.)
  • One uncongenial guest can ruin a dinner more easily than a poor salad—and that is saying a great deal. Myrtle Reed, the character Colonel Kent speaking, in Old Rose and Silver (1909)
  • Guests are the delight of leisure, and the solace of ennui. Agnes Repplier, “Guests,” in In the Dozy Hours (1894)



  • Where all, or almost all, are guilty, nobody is. Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)

In the same book, Arendt wrote: “It is quite gratifying to feel guilty if you haven’t done anything wrong: how noble! Whereas it is rather hard and certainly depressing to admit guilt and to repent.”

  • A poor American feels guilty at being poor, but less guilty than a rentier who has inherited wealth but is doing nothing to increase it; what can the latter do but take to drink and psychoanalysis? W. H. Auden, in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: Rentier is a word you don’t see very often. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way: “A person who lives on income from property or investments.”

  • Guilt is the major motivating force in my life. Linda Barnes, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Carlotta Carlyle, in Steel Guitar (1991)
  • Probably the only thing my mom and dad agreed on was the vital importance of guilt. Linda Barnes, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Carlotta Carlyle, in Hardware (1995)
  • For the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769)
  • Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving. Erma Bombeck, quoted in John Skow, “Erma in Bomburbia,” Time magazine cover story (July 2, 1984)
  • Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the lesson. Joan Borysenko, title of 1990 book
  • Guilt is a Jewish invention improved upon by Christians for the last two thousand years. Rita Mae Brown, the character Carole Hanratty speaking, in In Her Day (1976)
  • Mother believed in enjoying herself. Aunt Mimi believed in enjoying herself, then feeling guilty about it. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)
  • Without the spice of guilt, sin cannot be fully savored. Alexander Chase, in Perspectives (1966)
  • The guilty think all talk is of themselves. Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Cannon Yeoman’s Prologue,” in The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387)
  • Guilt always hurries toward its complement, punishment; only there does its satisfaction lie. Lawrence Durrell, the voice of the narrator, in Justine (1957)
  • Guilt hath very quick ears to an accusation. Henry Fielding, the character William Booth speaking, in Amelia (1751)
  • Food, love, mother and career—the four guilt groups. Cathy Guisewite, quoted in The Dallas Morning News (Oct. 5, 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: This was one of the earliest variations of an observation Guisewite made many times over the years. For more, see this 2012 post from quotation researcher Barry Popik.

  • A great many people feel “guilty” about things they shouldn’t feel guilty about, in order to shut out feelings of guilt about the things they should feel guilty about. Sydney J. Harris, in a 1971 “Strictly Personal” column (specific issue undetermined)
  • I am suspicious of guilt in myself and other people: it is usually a way of not thinking, or of announcing one’s own fine sensibilities the better to be rid of them fast. Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976)
  • Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I’ll show you a man. Erica Jong, the protagonist Isadora Wing speaking, in Fear of Flying (1973)
  • “No disease of the imagination,” answered Imlac, “is so difficult to cure, as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt: fancy and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so often shift their places, that the illusions of one are not distinguished from the dictates of the other.” Samuel Johnson, in The History of Rasselas (1759)
  • Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in On Death and Dying (1969)
  • True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself. False guilt is guilt felt at not being what other people feel one ought to be or assume that one is. R. D. Laing, in The Self and Others (1961)
  • Guilt is a pollutant and we don’t need any more of it in the world. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees. Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger,” a 1981 speech, reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984)

In that same speech, Lorde said: “Guilt and defensiveness are bricks in a wall against which we all flounder; they serve none of our futures.”

  • Sin, guilt, neurosis—they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Henry Miller, “Creative Death,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)
  • You may not be able to change the world but at least you can embarrass the guilty. Jessica Mitford, in The Making of a Muckraker (1979)

Mitford preceded the thought by writing: “The whole point of muckraking, apart from all the jokes, is to try to do something about what you’ve been writing about.”

  • Those who have the greatest cause for guilt and shame/Are quickest to besmirch a neighbor’s name. Molière [Jean-Baptiste Poquelin], the character Dorine speaking, in Tartuffe (1664)
  • Guilt is the one burden human beings can’t bear alone. Anaïs Nin, the voice of the narrator, in A Spy in the House of Love (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the second appearance of the sentiment in the novel. Early in the story, we learn that Sabina, the protagonist, calls random telephone numbers in the middle of the night when she cannot sleep. In one conversation, a man who calls himself “the lie detector” says to her: “You wouldn’t have called me if you were innocent. Guilt is one burden human beings can’t bear alone. As soon as a crime is committed, there is a telephone call, or a confession to strangers.”

  • Guilt is a rope that wears thin. Ayn Rand, the character James Taggart speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation typically appears, but it originally showed up in this exchange between the characters James Taggart and Lillian Reardon:

“You didn’t think that guilt is a rope that wears thin, did you Lillian?”

She looked at him, startled, then answered stonily, “I don’t think it does.”

“It does, my dear—for men such as your husband.”

  • Guilt implanted at a tender age is not easy to destroy. A weed, it sprouts in unexpected places. Caryl Rivers, “Growing Up Catholic in Midcentury America,” in New York Times Magazine (Oct. 10, 1971)
  • My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. Anna Sewell, from an unnamed character, in Black Beauty (1877)
  • Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;/The thief doth fear each bush an officer. William Shakespeare, the character Richard of Gloucester speaking to the title character, in Henry VI (1590–91)
  • Ah! it is well for the unfortunate to be resigned, but for the guilty there is no peace. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the protagonist Victor speaking in Frankenstein (1818)
  • We hate those faults most in others which we are guilty of ourselves. William Shenstone, “Of Men and Manners,” in Essays on Men and Manners (1804)
  • He who helps the guilty, shares the crime. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae [Moral Sayings], (1st. c. B.C.)
  • A guilty conscience is the mother of invention. Carolyn Wells, playing of the familiar saying, in “Maxioms,” Folly for the Wise (1904)



  • Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life—except religion. Christopher Hitchens, in “The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s magazine (July, 1982)
  • In its more authoritarian forms, religion punishes questioning and rewards gullibility. Wendy Kaminer, “The Last Taboo: Why America Needs Atheism,” in The New Republic (Oct. 14, 1996)

Kaminer continued: “Faith is not a function of stupidity, but a frequent cause of it.”




(includes ARMS and FIREARMS; see BULLETS and GUN CONTROL and PISTOLS and RIFLES and WEAPONS and [Automatic] WEAPONS)

  • If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Author Unknown
  • Guns have no eyes, no friends. You never know if they’ll protect your life or take it. Edna Buchanan, the character Onnie speaking, in The Ice Maiden (2002)
  • The good people of this world are very far from being satisfied with each other and my arms are the best peacemakers. Samuel Colt, in letter to Charles Manby (May 18, 1852)
  • Despite this mounting, and incontrovertible, evidence, the pro-gun forces in our country still mumble such cliches as “Gun laws won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals.” Of course they won’t; nobody says they will–but they can successfully keep guns out of the hands of juveniles, mental patients, drunks, jealous suitors, estranged husbands, disgruntled employees, and nuts who disagree with the umpire. Sydney J. Harris in Strictly Personal syndicated column (March 31, 1975).
  • One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to George Washington (June 19, 1796)
  • Guns know no policy except destruction. Clare Boothe Luce, in Europe in the Spring (1940)
  • No country that permits firearms to be widely and randomly distributed among its population—especially firearms that are capable of wounding and killing human beings—can expect to escape violence, and a great deal of violence. Margaret Mead, in a 1972 issue of Redbook magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Mao Zedong (formerly Mao Zedong), in Quotations from Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung (1966)

In his book, Mao also wrote: “War can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

  • Men are not killed because they get mad at each other. They’re killed because one of them has a gun in any dispute. Jeannette Rankin, a 1966 remark, quoted in Hannah Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: First Lady in Congress (1974)



  • Real guts are nothing more than developing your inner voice to the point where it is louder and stronger than the voice of your fear. Georgette Mosbacher, in Feminine Force: Release the Power Within You to Create the Life You Deserve (1993)

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