Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“I” Quotations


(see also COLD and FREEZING and FROST and ICEBERGS and [Thin] ICE and SNOW and WINTER)

  • Soul on Ice. Eldridge Cleaver, title of 1968 book
  • Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth. Søren Kierkegaard, an 1836 journal entry

[Thin] ICE

(see also COLD and FREEZING and DANGER and FROST and ICE and SNOW and SPEED and WINTER)

  • In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • And what would it be to grow old? For, after a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)



  • This iceberg cuts its facets from within./Like jewelry from a grave/It saves itself perpetually and adorns/Only itself. Elizabeth Bishop, in 1946 poem “The Imaginary Iceberg”
  • This island, floating in river water like a diamond iceberg. Truman Capote, “New York” (1946), in A Capote Reader (1987)

Capote continued: “Call it New York, name it whatever you like; the name hardly matters because, entering from the greater reality of elsewhere, one is only in search of a city, a place to hide, to lose or discover oneself, to make a dream wherein you prove that perhaps after all you are not an ugly duckling, and worthy of love.”

  • The mind is an iceberg—it floats with only one-seventh of its bulk above water. Sigmund Freud, quoted in his obituary in The New York Times (September 24, 1939)
  • I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know, you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. Ernest Hemingway, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1958)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a well-known example of what has become known as Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory of Writing. He first introduced the metaphor in Death in the Afternoon (1932), where he wrote: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

  • While they often operate unnoticed, analogies aren’t accidents, they’re arguments—arguments that, like icebergs, conceal most of their mass and power beneath the surface. In many arguments, whoever has the Best analogy wins. John Pollack, in Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas (2014)
  • Family life is something like an iceberg: most people are aware of only about one-tenth of what is going on—the tenth that they can see and hear. Virginia Satir, in The New Peoplemaking (1988)

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


(see also EATING and DESSERT and SWEETS)

  • I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream. Heywood Broun, “Holding a Baby,” in Seeing Things at Night (1921)
  • The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Wallace Stevens, in 1923 poem “The Emeror of Ice-Cream”
  • Is there any way to prove your “burning love” to a girl than to give her ice-cream? Richard D. Ware, the character Violet speaking, in Westward, Ho! (1894)
  • My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate—that’s my philosophy. Thornton Wilder, the character Sabina speaking, in The Skin of Our Teeth (1942)



  • It’s a mark of any icon that it should be open to iconoclasm. Charles Jencks, quoted in Robert Hardman, “From a Slag Heap to a Green Goddess,” in DailyMail.com (June 16, 2011)



  • When one looks into the window of a store which sells devotional art objects, one can’t help wishing the iconoclasts had won. W. H. Auden, “Christianity and Art,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • Zen is…joyous iconoclasm which respects nothing and no one, particularly itself. Dave Brandon, in Zen in the Art of Helping (1976)
  • Rough work, iconoclasm—but the only way to get at truth. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast Table (1860)

Holmes introduced the thought by writing: “Man is an idolater or symbol-worshipper by nature, which, of course, is no fault of his; but sooner or later all his local and temporary symbols must be ground to powder, like the golden calf.”




  • The brain can hold an idea in its stockroom for years, occasionally checking to see if it has changed at all, revising it a little, and then putting it back on the shelf, taking it down again when it seems to have evolved like a lemur from its original form. Diane Ackerman, in An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain (2004)

Ackerman added: “Then, the first version of an idea might look vanishingly small in thought’s mirror, where the most recent reflection looms largest.”

  • There’s no idea that’s so good you can’t ruin it with a few well-placed idiots. Scott Adams, quoted in Andy Meisler, “Dilbert Endures Workplace Absurdities,” in The New York Times (Feb. 16, 1995)
  • All great ideas look like bad ideas to people who are losers. It’s always good to test a new idea with known losers to make sure they don’t like it. Scott Adams, the title character speaking, in Dilbert cartoon (specific date undetermined; reprinted in Journey to Cubeville (1998)
  • The hours of a wise man are lengthened by his ideas. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (June 18, 1711)
  • Not to engage in this pursuit of ideas is to live like ants instead of like men. Mortimer J. Adler, quoted in Saturday Review (Nov. 22, 1958)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented: “Not to engage in the pursuit of ideas . . . .”

  • Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one. Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier), in Propos sur le Religion [Comments on Religion] (1938)
  • Ideas have consequences, and totally erroneous ideas are likely to have destructive consequences. Steve Allen, in More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality (1993)
  • Ideas are a dime a dozen, but the men and women who implement them are priceless. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one. Mary Kay Ash, in On People Management (1984)
  • A poor idea well written is more likely to be accepted than a good idea poorly written. Isaac Asimov, in a letter (Oct. 28, 1982), in Yours, Isaac Asimov (1995)
  • Ideas are like fleas, they jump from person to person, but they don’t bite everyone. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: On many internet sites, this observation is attributed to Stanislaus Levy, a totally non-existent figure. It’s yet another example of how notoriously unreliable internet quotation sites can be. The original author of the sentiment is the Polish aphorist Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, but he expressed the thought in a slightly different way in his book Unkempt Thoughts (1957): “Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don’t bite everybody.”

  • Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless unless we choose to use it. Richard Bach, in One (1988)
  • One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. Walter Bagehot, in Physics and Politics (1869)
  • All words are pegs to hang ideas on. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • You cannot force ideas. Successful ideas are the result of slow growth. Ideas do not reach perfection in a day, no matter how much study is put upon them. Alexander Graham Bell, “Bell Telephone Talk,” in Orison Swett Marden, How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901)
  • Our ideas are only intellectual instruments which we use to break into phenomena; we must change them when they have served their purpose, as we change a blunt lancet that we have used long enough. Claude Bernard, in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865)
  • A fact in itself is nothing. It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or for the proof which it furnishes. Claude Bernard, in The Art of Scientific Investigation (1865)
  • An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. William Bernbach, quoted in his New York Times obituary (Oct. 6, 1982)
  • If an idea does not appear bizarre, there is no hope for it. Niels Bohr, quoted in Ken Wilber, The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes (1985)
  • Ideas are to literature what light is to painting. Paul Bourget, in La Physiologie de l’Amour Moderne (1890)
  • One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it. Elizabeth Bowen, the protagonist Stella Rodney speaking, in The Heat of the Day (1949)
  • Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Ray Bradbury, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 2010)
  • I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them. If I had to work at it I would give it up. I don’t like working. Ray Bradbury, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 2010)
  • There is no adequate defense, except stupidity, against the impact of a new idea. Percy Williams Bridgman, quoted in Darryl J. Leiter, A to Z of Physicists (2003)
  • If you want to get across an idea, wrap it up in a person. Ralph J. Bunche, his favorite saying, quoted in Leonard Roy Frank, Quotationary (1999)
  • Every new idea has something of the pain and peril of childbirth about it. Samuel Butler, “New Ideas,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. John Cage, quoted in Richard Kostelanetz, ed., Conversing with Cage, 2nd ed. (2003)
  • Having lots of ideas doesn’t mean you’re clever, any more than having lots of soldiers means you’re a good general. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)

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

  • There are well-dressed foolish ideas just as there are well-dressed fools. Nicolas Chamfort, quoted in The Cynic’s Breviary: Maxims and Anecdotes from Nicolas de Chamfort (1902; Wm. G. Hutchinson, ed.)

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

  • One doesn’t “get” an “idea” for a novel. The “idea” more or less gets you. It uses you as a kind of culture, the way a pearl uses an oyster. Diana Chang, “Woolgathering, Ventriloquism and the Double Life,” in Dexter Fisher, The Third Woman (1980)
  • They [referring to “great ideas”] are the mightiest influence on earth. One great thought breathed into a man may regenerate him. William Ellery Channing, “On the Elevation of the Working Classes,” an 1840 lecture; reprinted in The Works of William E. Channing, Part 4 (1888)

ERROR ALERT: The quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it began: Great ideas are the mightiest influence on earth. For the full passage, go to Channing

  • The man strongly possessed of an idea is the master of all who are uncertain and wavering. Clear, deep, living convictions rule the world. James Freeman Clarke, “Salvation by Faith,” in Common-Sense in Religion: A Series of Essays (1875)

QUOTE NOTE: Clarke was a prominent Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and early exponent of what went on to be called the Social Gospel. He preceded the thought by writing: “He who believes is strong. he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions” (an observation that, by the way, is often mistakenly attributed to Louisa May Alcott).

  • A cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, and then quietly strangled. Sir Barnett Cocks, his definition of a committee, quoted in Tam Dalyell, “Following the Queen,” New Scientist (Nov. 8, 1973)
  • What threatens our security is not change but the inability to change; what threatens progress is not revolution but stagnation; what threatens our survival is not novel or dangerous ideas but the absence of ideas. Henry Steele Commager,“The University and the Community of Learning,” speech at Kent State University (April 10, 1971)
  • My ideas are my trollops. Denis Diderot, in Rameau’s Nephew (written 1762; first pub. posthumously in German in 1805)

The words come from the narrator, but they capture the beliefs of the author. The line comes from the story’s opening paragraph, which begins with the narrator saying that, rain or shine, he takes a walk around the Palais-Royal every day at five o’clock. He continues:

“I discuss with myself questions of politics, love, taste, or philosophy. I let my mind rove wantonly, give it free rein to follow any idea, wise or mad, that may come uppermost; I chase it as do our young libertines along Foy’s Walk, when they are on the track of a courtesan whose mien is giddy and face smiling, whose nose turns up. The youth drops one and picks up another, pursuing all and clinging to none: my ideas are my trollops.”

QUOTE NOTE: This is Jacques Barzun’s 1956 translation; some earlier translations rendered the final line as My ideas are my harlots.

  • A good idea is like a brilliant diamond; it has many facets. Brad Dixon, in a personal communication to the compiler (Aug. 4, 2019)
  • Ideas, like individuals, live and die. They flourish, according to their nature, in one soil or climate and droop in another. They are the vegetation of the mental world. William Macneile Dixon, quoted in Norman Cousins, Human Options (1981)
  • Neither man nor nation can exist without a sublime idea. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Diary of a Writer (1873)
  • A character or an idea has to grow like a seed and take possession. Daphne du Maurier, quoted in Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier (1993)
  • In the advertising business, a good idea can inspire a great commercial. But a good insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand commercials. Phil Dusenberry, in Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall-of-fame Career in Advertising (2005)
  • A man with lofty ideas is an uncomfortable neighbor. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880–93)
  • “When the mind is full of any one subject, that subject seems to recur with extraordinary frequency—it appears to pursue or to meet us at every turn; in every conversation that we hear—in every book we open—in every newspaper we take up, the reigning idea recurs, and then we are surprised, and exclaim at these wonderful coincidences. Maria Edgeworth, a reflection of the title character, in Harrington: A Tale (1817)

Harrington continued: “Probably such coincidences happen every day, but pass unobserved when the mind is not intent upon similar ideas, or wakened by any strong analogous feeling.”

  • An idea launched like a javelin in proverbial form strikes with sharper point on the hearer's mind and leaves implanted barbs for meditation. Desiderius Erasmus, in The Adages of Erasmus (2001; William Barker, ed.)

Erasmus added: “It will make far less impression on the mind if you say ‘Fleeting and brief is the life of man’ than if you quote the proverb ‘Man is but a bubble’.”

  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” in Esquire magazine (Feb., 1936)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is typically presented, but Fitzgerald immediately added a most interesting clarification: “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” Fitzgerald’s full article may be seen at: The Crack-Up.

  • What a heavy oar the pen is, and what a strong current ideas are to row in! Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet (Oct. 23, 1851)
  • My way of working was different years ago. I used to wait until an idea came to me. Now I go half-way to meet it, though I don’t know whether I find it any the quicker. Sigmund Freud, quoted in Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1, 1953)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the observation that inspired an erroneous quote commonly attributed to Freud: “When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

  • Only a crisis—real or perceived—produces real change. Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962; 40th Anniv. Ed., 2002)

Friedman continued: “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

  • An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor. Robert Frost, in interview in The Atlantic (Jan., 1962)
  • What we need is hatred. From it our ideas are born. Jean Genet, epigraph, The Blacks (1959)
  • Oh, would that my mind could let fall its dead ideas, as the tree does its withered leaves! André Gide, a journal entry (written between 1939-49); in The Journals of André Gide: 1939-1949 (1951; Justin O’Brien, ed & trans.)
  • A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. G. H. Hardy, in A Mathematician’s Apology (1940)
  • I am more interested in the high ideas of a feeble executant than in the high execution of a feeble thinker. Thomas Hardy, in letter to Dr. Arnaldo Cervesato (July 8, 1901). Also an example of chiasmus.

Hardy preceded the thought by writing: “My weakness has always been to prefer the large intention of an unskilful artist to the trivial intention of an accomplished one.”

  • Sometimes the best, and only effective, way to kill an idea is to put it into practice. Sydney J. Harris, in For the Time Being (1972)
  • Beware of people carrying ideas. Beware of ideas carrying people. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Foreign Bodies (1984). Another example of chiasmus.
  • Ideas move rapidly when their time comes. Carolyn Heilbrun, in Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1973)
  • If you happen to be one of the fretful who can do creative work, never force an idea; you’ll abort it if you do. Be patient and you’ll give birth to it when the time is ripe. Learn to wait. Robert A. Heinlein, “Intermission,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea. Ernest Hemingway, quoted in James R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company (1974)
  • Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Poet at the Breakfast Table (1872)

Holmes added: “That which was a weed in one intelligence becomes a flower in the other, and a flower, again, dwindles down to a mere weed by the same change. Healthy growths may become poisonous by falling upon the wrong mental soil, and what seemed a nightshade in one mind unfolds as a morning-glory in the other.”

  • Every idea is an incitement. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a dissenting opinion in Gitlow v. New York (1925)
  • Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books. bell hooks, in Outlaw Culture (1994)
  • One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas. Victor Hugo, in Histoire d’un Crime (1877)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of Hugo’s most famous observations, originally written in 1852, but first published in 1877. It is also commonly translated as: “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an invasion of ideas.”

ERROR ALERT: The observation is often mistakenly presented as: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Nothing in Hugo's original words would suggest the phrase whose time has come, but shortly after WWI, liberal translations with that wording began to appear (as in this version from a June 8, 1919 issue of the Atlanta Constitution: “There is one idea stronger than armies, and that is an idea whose time has come”).

During WWII, Mussolini’s propagandists appropriated the looser translation and presented it in the following way in a number of fascist publications: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

  • All ideas aspire to the condition of platitude. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • As soon as an idea is accepted it is time to reject it. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of a revelation. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all of the popular internet sites—and a number of otherwise reputable quotation anthologies—this quotation is presented as if it ended with force of revelation, and not force of a revelation.

  • The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. William James, in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907)
  • It is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life. Randall Jarrell, in Pictures From an Institution (1954)
  • He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Isaac McPherson (Aug. 13, 1813)
  • Ideas never lack for words. It is words that lack ideas. As soon as the idea has come to its last degree of perfection, the word blossoms; or, if you like, it blossoms from the word that presents it and clothes it. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • To stay ahead, always have your next idea waiting in the wings. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, quoted in Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time (1997; with Dori Jones Wang)
  • The attempt to suppress an idea has always and everywhere proved a failure. Helen Keller, in To Love This Life (2000)
  • To say that an idea is fashionable is to say, I think, that it has been adulterated to a point where it is hardly an idea at all. Murray Kempton, “The Day of the Locust,” in Part of Our Time (1955)
  • Ideas lose themselves as quickly as quail, and one must wing them the minute they rise out of the grass—or they are gone. Thomas F. Kennedy, quoted in The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life (1950)
  • If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Printer’s Ink magazine (Aug. 13, 1931)
  • The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones. John Maynard Keynes, in Preface to The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly presented as if it was worded: “The greatest difficulty lies not in persuading people to accept new ideas but in persuading them to abandon old ones.”

  • Ideas get substance and value not by being discussed but by being lived. Hugh Kingsmill, “Biography and Criticism,” in The Progress of a Biographer (1949)
  • Lying in bed just before going to sleep is the worst time for organized thinking; it is the best time for free thinking. Ideas drift like clouds in an undecided breeze, taking first this direction and then that. E. L. Konigsburg, the voice of the narrator, in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967)
  • Often the seed of a great and workable idea is inherent in an absurd one. Henriette Anne Klauser, in Writing on Both Sides of the Brain (1987)
  • Do you find yourself in the same unhappy situation again and again, wondering where you went wrong and why it happened again? It’s not always just bad luck—it may be bad ideas. Arnold A. Lazarus, quoted in Harold H. Bloomfield and Peter McWilliams, How to Heal Depression (1995)
  • In a war of ideas, it is people who get killed. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1957)
  • He arrived at ideas the slow way, never skating over the clear, hard ice of logic, nor soaring on the slipstreams of imagination, but slogging, plodding along on the heavy ground of existence. Ursula Le Guin, describing a character, in The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
  • We must rid ourselves of the view that only logical ideas can be political weapons. Ideas in politics are much like poetry; they need no inner logical structure to be effective. Max Lerner, in Introduction to the Transaction Edition of Ideas Are Weapons: The History and Uses of Ideas (1939; Transaction Publishers ed. in 1991)

QUOTE NOTE: Note also the metaphorical title of Lerner’s book.

  • There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt. Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in Chrysalis: A Magazine of Female Culture (1977; no. 3); reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984)
  • If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it. Thomas Mann, the title character speaking, in “Tonio Kröger,” in Death in Venice: And Seven Other Stories (1902)
  • Others go to bed with their mistresses; I with my ideas. José Marti, in an 1890 letter
  • Barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stones. José Martí, in Our America (1891)
  • An idea or institution may arise for one reason and be maintained for quite a different reason. Joseph McCabe, in The Psychology of Religion (1927)
  • No matter how brilliantly an idea is stated, we will not really be moved unless we have already half-thought of it ourselves. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it. Peter Medawar, in The Art of the Soluble (1967)
  • When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago. Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in W. H. Auden & Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection (1962)
  • I have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones. Linus Pauling, quoted in Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Pauling’s reply to former student David Harker, who had asked his professor, “Dr. Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas.”

  • If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away. Linus Pauling, quoted in Francis Crick, “The Impact of Linus Pauling on Molecular Biology,” a address at The Pauling symposium, Oregon State University (Feb. 28, 1995)
  • No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it. Fernando Pessoa, in The Book of Disquiet (1982; first Eng. trans., 1991)

QUOTE NOTE: The Book of Disquiet, published 47 years after Pessoa’s death in 1935, was presented to the world as the autobiography of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, an unmarried Portuguese bookkeeper named Bernardo Soares. The book was pieced together from thousands of pages of Pessoa’s diary entries, personal and philosophical ramblings, autobiographical vignettes, poems, and other literary fragments. For more on Pessoa, see this review of a new translation of The Book of Disquiet in The Guardian (June 21, 2001).

  • A writer didn’t need “an” idea for a book; she needed at least forty. And “get” was the wrong word, implying that you received an idea as you would a gift. Elizabeth Peters, in Naked Once More (1989)

Peters added: “You didn’t get ideas. You smelled them out, tracked them down, wrestled them into submission; you pursued them with forks and hope, and if you were lucky enough to catch one you impaled it, with the forks, before the sneaky little devil could get away.”

  • We are constantly hatching an enormous number of false ideas, conceits, Utopias, mystical explanations, suspicions, and megalomaniacal fantasies, which disappear when brought into contact with other people. Jean Piaget, “Egocentrism of Thought in the Child” (1924), in The Essential Piaget (1977)
  • How do ideas avoid discovery until the right time appears? Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Aug. 15, 2016)
  • An idea is a light turned on in a man’s soul. Ayn Rand, in The Objectivist (1967, Vol. 5, Issue 1)

QUOTE NOTE: In composing this thought, Rand was inspired by a feature commonly seen in comic strips. She wrote: “Comic-strip artists are in the habit of representing it by means of a light bulb flashing on, above the head of a character who has suddenly grasped an idea. In simple, primitive terms, this is an appropriate symbol.“

  • Nor are good ideas automatically adopted; they must be driven into practice with a sense of courageous impatience. And once implemented, they can be easily overturned or subverted through apathy or lack of follow-up. Hyman G. Rickover, “Economics of Defense Policy,” testimony before Joint Economic Committee of the U. S. Congress (Jan. 28,1982)
  • Ideas are a capital that bears interest only in the hands of talent. Antoine de Rivarol, in Discourse sur l’Universalité de la Langue Française (1784)
  • A war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships. Books, like ships, have the toughest armor, the longest cruising range, and mount the most powerful guns. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in Dec. 1, 1942 letter to W. W. Norton, chairman of the CBW (Council on Books in Wartime)
  • I had never been as resigned to ready-made ideas as I was to ready-made clothes, perhaps because, although I couldn’t sew, I could think. Jane Rule, in Lesbian Images (1975)
  • The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible. Salman Rushdie, “Do We Have to Fight the Battle for the Enlightenment All Over Again?” in The Independent (London; Jan. 22, 2005)
  • He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of his work, the greatest number of the greatest ideas. John Ruskin, in Modern Painters, Vol. I (1843)
  • To turn events into ideas is the function of literature. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)
  • Usually, the best ideas come from other people’s good ideas, which then, after a short gestation period, become your ideas. Amy Sedaris, in Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People (2010)
  • The best ideas are common property. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Ideas are everywhere, but knowledge is rare. Thomas Sowell, in Knowledge and Decisions (1980; rev. 1996)

Sowell went on to add: “Ideas, as the raw material from which knowledge is produced, exist in superabundance, but that makes the production of knowledge more difficult rather than easier.”

  • Every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea. Bret Stephens,“The Dying Art of Disagreement,” a lecture at the Lowy Institute Media Award dinner, Sydney, Australia (Sep. 23, 2017)
  • To have ideas is to gather flowers. To think is to weave them into garlands. Anne-Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • Delightful task! To rear the tender thought,/To teach the young idea how to shoot. James Thomson, “Spring,” in The Seasons (1746)
  • Ideas that enter the mind under fire remain there securely and for ever. Leon Trotsky, in My Life (1930)
  • Life is not an easy matter . . . You cannot live through it without falling into prostration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness. Leon Trotsky, diary entry (April 5, 1935), in Diary in Exile—1935 (1959)

ERROR ALERT: This is exactly how the quotation appears (including the ellipsis) in Trotsky’s book. Today, however, almost all internet sites and many published quotation anthologies present the quotation with the word prostration replaced by frustration. Thanks to Hugh Siegel for alerting me to the error.

  • An idea does not pass from one language to another without change. Miguel de Unamuno, in Preface to The Tragic Sense of Life (1913)
  • We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane. Kurt Vonnegut, Kilgore Trout’s epitaph, in Breakfast of Champions (1973)
  • Ideas Have Consequences. Richard M. Weaver, title of 1948 book
  • If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on its headstone might well be: “It seemed a good idea at the time.” Rebecca West, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, “Talk with Rebecca West,” in The New York Times Book Review (Oct. 2, 1977)
  • Ah, good conversation—there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing. Edith Wharton, the character Newland Archer speaking, in The Age of Innocence (1920)
  • Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new, its custodians have fervor, live for it, and, if need be, die for it. Alfred North Whitehead, journal entry (April 28. 1938); reprinted in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1953)

Whitehead continued: “Their inheritors receive the idea, perhaps now strong and successful, but without inheriting the fervor; so the idea settles down to a comfortable middle age, turns senile, and dies.”

  • All great ideas are dangerous. Oscar Wilde, in De Profundis (written 1897; pub. posthumously 1905)
  • When an idea reaches critical mass, there is no stopping the shift its presence induces. Marianne Williamson, in A Woman’s Worth (1993)
  • Unless you catch ideas on the wing and nail them down, you will soon cease to have any. Virginia Woolf, a 1924 remark, quoted in Nigel Nicolson, Virginia Woolf (2000)
  • There can be no two opinions as to what a highbrow is. He is the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea. Virginia Woolf, “Middlebrow,” (1932), in The Death of the Moth (1942)
  • An idea is salvation by imagination. Frank Lloyd Wright, in The Future of Architecture (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation became popular after the 1970 publication of Wright’s book, but he first introduced it forty years earlier in a lecture (titled “In the Realm of Ideas”), where he contrasted ideas with less serious mental processes. In that lecture, he said: “A fancy or conceit trifles with appearances as they are. An idea searches the sources of appearances…to give fresh proof of higher and better order in the life we live. Finally—an idea is salvation by imagination.”

  • The only people in the whole world who can change things are those who can sell ideas. Lois Wyse, in The Rosemary Touch (1974)



  • An ideal is a port toward which we resolve to steer. Felix Adler, in Life and Destiny (1903)

Adler continued: “We may not reach it. . .But surely we shall thus stand a better chance of making port in the end than if we drift about aimlessly, the sport of winds and tides, without having decided in our own minds in what direction we ought to bend our course.”

  • The Real, the sole foundation of the Ideal. Grace Aguilar, “Amête and Yafèh,” in The Vale of Cedars (1850)
  • Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your Ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Roger Angell, “On the Ball” in Five Seasons (1977)

Angell continued: “Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance—thrown hard and with precision.”

  • The ideal, after all, is truer than the real: for the ideal is the eternal element in perishable things. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (April 3, 1856)

Amiel added: “It is their type, their sum, their raison d’étre, their formula in the Book of the Creator, and therefore at once the most exact and the most condensed expression of them.”

  • Art is an infinitely precious good, a draught both refreshing and cheering which restores the stomach and the mind to the natural equilibrium of the ideal. Charles Baudelaire, in Salon of 1846 (1846); reprinted in Art in Paris, 1845–1862 (1981)
  • The great artist is the slave of his ideal. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. II (1862)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly presented as: “The great artist is a slave to his ideals”

  • What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty, and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice. Louis Brandeis, in “True Americanism, ” a speech at Fanueil Hall, Boston (July 4, 1915)
  • In art as in politics we must deal with people as they are not as we wish them to be. Only by working with the real can you get closer to the ideal. Rita Mae Brown, in In Her Day (1976)
  • The power of leadership is derived from perfecting ourselves. The closer we lead ourselves into becoming an ideal person, the greater our power to lead others. The foundation of leadership power is in striving toward perfection. Sylvia Bushell, in Paths to Leadership: Power Through Feminine Dignity (1987)
  • Booksellers, who are a race apart and one and all delightful company, as befits those in whom the ideal and the practical are so nicely blended. Cyril Connolly, in Previous Convictions (1963)
  • You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements. Norman Douglas, the Bishop speaking, in South Wind (1917)
  • From Plato to pinups, images of human beauty have catered to a limitless desire to see and imagine an ideal human form. Nancy L. Etcoff, in Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (1999)

Etcoff preceded the thought by writing: “Beauty ensnares hearts, captures minds, and stirs up emotional wildfires.”

  • It’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. Anne Frank, diary entry (July 15, 1944), in The Diary of a Young Girl (1952)
  • Ideals, like mountains, are best at a distance. Ellen Glasgow, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Michael Akershem, in The Descendant (1897)

Akershem preceded the thought by thinking: “Idealism, that gaudy coloring matter of passion, fades when it is brought beneath the trenchant white light of knowledge.”

  • I never will allow myself to form an ideal of any person I desire to see, for disappointment never fails to ensue. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Journal of Conversations With Lord Byron (1834)
  • Passion is always a search for the ideal, Dorothy Graham, in The French Wife (1928)
  • Setbacks in trying to realize the ideal do not prove that the ideal is at fault. Dag Hammarskjöld, quoted by Rolf Edberg, the Swedish Ambassador to Norway, on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Hammarskjöld, Oslo, Norway (Dec. 10, 1961)
  • Prayer is essentially a process by which ideals are enabled to become operative in our lives. It may be more than this, but it is at least this. Georgia Harkness, in The Recovery of Ideals (1937)
  • That fine problem of art—the finest of all, perhaps— truly to depict humanity by the enlargement of man: that is, to generate the real in the ideal.* Victor Hugo, in William Shakespeare (1864)
  • He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so. Walter Lippmann, in A Preface to Morals (1929)
  • Doubtless he had an ideal, but it was the ideal of a practical statesman—to aim at the best, and to take the next best, if he is lucky enough to get even that. James Russell Lowell, on Abraham Lincoln, in “Abraham Lincoln,” My Study Windows (1871)
  • The ideal has many names, and beauty is but one of them. W. Somerset Maugham, in Cakes and Ale (1930)

Later in the chapter, Maugham went on to write: “Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.”

  • 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. Benjamin E. Mays, in an interview with Bob Bradley (Aug. 7, 2007)

Mays preceded the though by saying: “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream.”

  • Art is the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal. Ayn Rand, in The Romantic Manifesto (1969)
  • All the higher forms of life have evolved from some one’s ideal of justice, liberty or beauty; and the belief that nothing is too good to be true. Alice Hegan Rice, in My Pillow Book (1937)

In her book, Rice also wrote on the subject: “The fascinating thing about ideals is that no sooner have we gained a desired peak than we find farther and higher peaks beyond. The thrilling adventure never ends.”

  • If a man does not have an ideal and try to live up to it, then he becomes a mean, base, and sordid creature, no matter how successful. Theodore Roosevelt, in letter to his son Kermit (Jan. 27, 1915)
  • We must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all, the power of devotion to a lofty ideal. Theodore Roosevelt, the concluding words of his inaugural address (March 4, 1905)
  • True Love can be no deeper than your capacity for friendship, no higher than your ideals, and no broader than the scope of your vision. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Ronald Reagan, quoting himself in a White House bill signing ceremony (August 10, 1988)

QUOTE NOTE: in signing a bill providing restitution for the WWII Internment of Japanese-American civilians, President recalled some remarks he had made as a young actor—and, at the time, also a U. S. Army captain—at a December 1945 ceremony that posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to a Japanese-American soldier who died in combat. Then-Captain Reagan continued: “Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.” For Reagan’s complete remarks at the 1988 signing ceremony, go: here.

  • Cultural ideals are powerful forces, shaping not only our ways of thinking and doing but our ways of being as well, giving form to both the conscious and unconscious content of our inner lives. Lillian Rubin, in Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together (1983)
  • There is no such thing as an ideal man. The ideal man is the man you love at the moment. Françoise Sagan, in Nightbird: Conversations With Françoise Sagan (1974)
  • Art is not a study of positive reality; it is a search after ideal truth. George Sand, “The Author to the Reader,” in introductory chapter to The Devil’s Pool (1851; later published in English under the title The Haunted Pool)
  • But, it is necessary to insist, to have ideals is not the same as to have impracticable ideals, however often it may be the case that our ideals are impracticable. L. Susan Stebbing, in Ideals and Illusions (1941)

Stebbing introduced the thought by writing: “We come to think of an idealist as one who seeks to realize what is not in fact realizable.”

  • To my way of thinking and working, the greatest service a piece of fiction can do any reader is to force him to lay it down with a higher ideal of life than he had when he took it up. Gene Stratton-Porter, quoted in Jeannette Porter Meehan, The Lady of the Limberlost: Life and Letters of Gene Stratton-Porter (1928)
  • An ideal wife is any woman who has an ideal husband. Booth Tarkington, “The Hopeful Pessimist,” in Looking Forward and Other Stories (1926)
  • Languor can only be conquered by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be kindled by two things: an ideal which takes the imagination by storm, and a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice. Arnold Toynbee, “The Education of Co-Operators,” an 1882 Oxford University lecture, reprinted in Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England (pub. posthumously in 1884)

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

  • When the gap between the ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down. Barbara W. Tuchman, in Foreward to A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)
  • It is at our mother’s knee that we acquire our noblest and truest and highest ideals, but there is seldom any money in them. Mark Twain, quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: a Biography (1912)
  • Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals. Samuel Ullman, from his prose-poem “Youth” (c. 1900), in the privately-printed From the Summit of Years, Four Score (1922)

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



  • There aren’t many idealists in politics. Evelyn Anthony, the character John Kidson speaking, in The Avenue of the Dead (1982)
  • Idealism is fine; but as it approaches reality, the cost becomes prohibitive. William F. Buckley, Jr., quoted in “Thoughts on the Business of Life,” Forbes magazine (Nov. 1, 1970)

QUOTE NOTE: Buckley may have been influenced by the John Galsworthy quotation below.

  • Idealism in the young, I guess I'm saying, is curiosity as well as goodness trying to express itself. Dorothy Day, quoted in Robert Coles, Dorothy Day (1987)
  • Cynics are, in the end, only idealists with awkwardly high standards. Alain de Botton, in Status Anxiety (2004)
  • Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem. John Galsworthy, quoted in Edmund Fuller, Thesaurus of Quotations (1941)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This has become one of Galsworthy’s most popular observations, but an original source for it has never been provided. It may have served as the inspiration for a popular William F. Buckley, Jr. observation, seen above.

  • Idealism, that gaudy coloring matter of passion, fades when it is brought beneath the trenchant white light of knowledge. Ideals, like mountains, are best at a distance. Ellen Glasgow, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Michael Akershem, in The Descendant (1897)
  • Children see things very well sometimes—and idealists even better. Lorraine Hansberry, the character Asagai speaking, in A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness. Sidney Hook, in Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (1987)
  • Idealism is the noble toga that political gentleman drape over their will to power. Aldous Huxley, quoted in his obituary in The New York Herald Tribune (Nov. 24, 1963)
  • Like other idealisms, patriotism varies from a noble devotion to a moral lunacy. W. R. Inge “Our Present Discontents,” in Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
  • Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine, or idealism. Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)
  • Idealist: a cynic in the making. Irving Layton, “Aphs,” in The Whole Bloody Bird (1969)
  • A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist. Jonathan Lynn and Anthony Jay, the character Sir Humphrey speaking, in a 1982 episode of Yes Minister, a BBC2 political satire
  • Children are great idealists, until the stupidity of their elders puts out the fires of the aspirations. Nellie McClung, in The Stream Runs Fast (1945)
  • An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing. H. L. Mencken, in A Little Book in C Major (1916)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original version of a saying that Mencken reprised a number of times in later writings, sometimes changing the ending to read it will also make better soup.

  • When they come downstairs from their Ivory Towers, Idealists are very apt to walk straight into the gutter. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Other People,” in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • “We come to think of an idealist as one who seeks to realize what is not in fact realizable. But, it is necessary to insist, to have ideals is not the same as to have impracticable ideals, however often it may be the case that our ideals are impracticable. L. Susan Stebbing, in Ideals and Illusions (1941)


(see also EGO and SELF)

  • We’ve all got an identity. You can’t avoid it. It’s what’s left when you take everything else away. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus (1997; with Doon Arbus)
  • The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this saying to Mohandas Gandhi, but there is no evidence he ever said anything like it. According to quotation sleuth Barry Popik, the saying “Lose yourself in the service of others” first appeared in print in 1908, and “Find yourself by losing yourself in the service of others” in 1932. In a 1971 syndicated column, Ann Landers offered this variation on the thought: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in something bigger than yourself.”

  • A strong sense of identity gives man an idea he can do no wrong; too little accomplishes the same. Djuna Barnes, in Nightwood (1936)
  • Every loss recapitulates earlier losses, but every affirmation of identity echoes earlier moments of clarity. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life (1989)
  • I see fashion as a proclamation or manifestation of identity, so, as long as identities are important, fashion will continue to be important. Kate Bornstein, in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us (1994)
  • Instead of boiling up individuals into the species I would draw a chalk circle round every individuality and preach to it to keep within that, and preserve and cultivate its identity. Jane Welsh Carlyle, from 1845 letter to Thomas Carlyle, in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Vol. 1 (1883; James Anthony Froude, ed.)
  • If a man has a sense of identity that does not depend on being shored up by someone else, it cannot be eroded by someone else. If a woman has a sense of identity that does not depend on finding that identity in someone else, she cannot lose her identity in someone else. And so we return to the central fact: it is necessary to be. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • When sacrifices are made on the altar of love, it is characteristic that the person with a strong sense of identity volunteers them and the person with a weak sense of identity demands them. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)

Coudert continued: “The person with a flawed sense of identity intuits that the strong person’s love is not built on need, and because his own is and this is the way he interprets love, he is fearful that the love will go elsewhere, and he threatens to do what he fears the other person can do, that is, withdraw his love. He attempts to produce in the other the apprehension he feels. He maneuvers to undermine the other’s sense of self so that the other will become dependent on him and thus be bound to him.”

  • When established identities become outworn or unfinished ones threaten to remain incomplete, special crises compel men to wage holy wars, by the cruelest means, against those who seem to question or threaten their unsafe ideological bases. Erik Erikson, in “The Problem of Ego Identity,” in Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (1956, Vol 4)
  • The identity crisis…occurs in that period of the life cycle when each youth must forge for himself some central perspective and direction, some working unity, out of the effective remnants of his childhood and the hopes of his anticipated adulthood. Erik Erikson, in Young Man Luther 1958)

QUOTE NOTE: The is the first appearance of the concept of an identity crisis, now so popular, and so permanently ingrained in popular culture.

  • Long before we discovered mirrors and photographs, our mothers’ reflections provided us with the earliest glimpses of our female identity. Debra Evans, in Kindred Hearts: Nurturing the Bond Between Mother & Daughter (1997)
  • Feminism’s agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to “choose” between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women be free to define themselves—instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men. Susan Faludi, in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991)
  • This story of loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature. Northrop Frye, in The Educated Imagination (1963)
  • A sense of identity is the gift of love, and only love can give it. Elizabeth Goudge, in The Dean’s Watch (1960)
  • Identity is not found, the way Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the bulrushes. Identity is built. Margaret Halsey, on the so-called search for identity, in a 1978 issue of Newsweek (specific issue undetermined)
  • No yellow armband, no marked park bench, no Gestapo. Just here a flick and there another. Each unimportant. Each to be rejected as unimportant. But day by day the little thump of insult. Day by day the tapping on the nerves, the delicate assault on the proud stuff of a man’s identity. Laura Z. Hobson, a reflection on anti-semitism by protagonist Philip Green, in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
  • Memory is the crux of our humanity. Without memory we have no identities. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty (1994)

Jong continued: “That is really why I am committing an autobiography.”

  • In saying my prayers, I discovered the voice of an innermost self, the raw nerve of my identity. Gelsey Kirkland, in Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography (1986)
  • I believe that true identity is found…in creative activity springing from within. It is found when one loses oneself. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • One should not be assigned one’s identity in society by the job slot one happens to fill. If we truly believe in the dignity of labor, any task can be performed with equal pride because none can demean the basic dignity of a human being. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • It matters infinitely less what we do than what we are. Harriet Martineau, in Life in the Sick-Room (1844)
  • The loss of illusions and the discovery of identity, though painful at first, can be ultimately exhilarating and strengthening. Abraham Maslow, in Toward a Philosophy of Being (1962)
  • A writer soon discovers he has no single identity but lives the lives of all the people he creates and his weathers are independent of the actual day around him. I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen. Carson McCullers, in The Square Root of Wonderful (1958)
  • Any loss of identity prompts people to seek reassurance and rediscovery of themselves by testing, and even by violence. Marshall McLuhan, from a letter to Clare Westcott (November 26 1975), in Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987)
  • My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there. At least that’s what I would choose to believe. Barack Obama, in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995)
  • To me, a person’s identity is composed of both an “I” and a “we.” The “I” finds itself in love, work, and pleasure, but it also locates itself within some meaningful group identity—a tribe, a community, a “we.” Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (1991)

Pogrebin continued: “America is too big and bland a tribe for most of us.”

  • When you break up, your whole identity is shattered. That’s why it is like death. It is death. Dennis Quaid, on the end of his 13-year marriage to Meg Ryan in 2000, quoted in the Irish Examiner (July 17, 2001)
  • Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience. Anna Quindlen, “One View Fits All,” in a 1992 issue of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • Identity is much less a thing people “inherit” than it used to be. Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2004)
  • To be idle requires a strong sense of personal identity. Robert Louis Stevenson, quoted in A. N. P. Ummerkutty, Words of Wisdom and Quotable Quotes (2004)
  • If you made a mistake in the past and learn from it now, you are using clock time. On the other hand, if you dwell on it mentally, and self-criticism, remorse, or guilt come up, then you are making the mistake into “me” and “mine”: you make it part of your sense of self, and it has become psychological time, which is always linked to a false sense of identity. Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1997)
  • Who are we…but the stories we tell about ourselves, particularly if we accept them? Scott Turow, the character Gita Lodz speaking, in Ordinary Heroes (2007)
  • It would be curious to discover who it is to whom one writes in a diary. Possibly to some mysterious personification of one’s own identity. Beatrice Webb, in My Apprenticeship (1926)
  • Identity is not inherent. It is shaped by circumstance and sensitivity and resistance to self-pity. Dorothy West, in The Wedding (1995).



  • An ideologue may be defined as a mad intellectual. He is not interested in ideas, but—almost the exact contrary—in one idea. Clifton Fadiman, “Eggheads, Intellectuals, Ideologues, Highbrows,” in Any Number Can Play (1957)

Fadiman went on to add: “The ideologue is often brilliant. Consequently some of us distrust brilliance when we should distrust the ideologue…. The ideologue is often more persuasive than the intellectual because he has a simpler line of goods to sell and never questions its value.”

  • The best defense against a powerful and positive dynamic ideology is neither verbal attack nor criticism, which are useful, but to set up an equally powerful and dynamic ideology against it. Clare Boothe Luce, in Europe in the Spring (1940)
  • Ideological differences are no excuse for rudeness. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated (2005)
  • Wisdom never comes to the ideologue. He is shackled to his false beliefs. Richard Raymond III, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 10, 2022)
  • It seems that in the advanced stages of stupidity, a lack of ideas is compensated for by an excess of ideologies. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, an unnamed character speaking to protagonist David Martin, in The Angel’s Game (2008)



  • Trin Tragula—for that was his name—was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. Douglas Adams, the voice of the narrator, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)
  • People are idiots. Including me. Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only difference is that we're idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you are spending much of your day being an idiot. Scott Adams, in The Dilbert Principle (1996)

Adams continued: That’s the central premise of this scholarly work,”

  • There’s no idea that’s so good you can’t ruin it with a few well-placed idiots. Scott Adams, quoted in Andy Meisler, “Dilbert Endures Workplace Absurdities,” in The New York Times (Feb. 16, 1995)
  • There’s nothing more dangerous than a resourceful idiot. Scott Adams, in Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain (2007)
  • There is a special Providence that watches over idiots, drunken men, and boys. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Tom Bailey, in The Story of a Bad Boy (1870)
  • Ideology is the science of idiots. Author Unknown (but often mistakenly attributed to John Adams)
  • Never argue with an idiot—folks might not be able to tell the difference. Author Unknown
  • Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and then beat you with their experience. Author Unknown
  • You can’t make anything idiot-proof because idiots are so ingenious. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Ron Burns)
  • As soon as you make something idiot-proof, along comes a better idiot. Author unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying, in a number of variations, has become so popular in recent years that it has achieved the status of a modern proverb. The underlying idea emerged in the computing industry in the 1970s, and was already extremely well known when Tom Graves repeated it in the following way in his 1986 book Towards a Magical Technology: “As soon as you think you’ve made your program idiot-proof, along comes a better idiot.” My favorite version of the thought, though, comes from Monika S. Schmid in her 2011 book Language Attrition. In a clever tweak of an immortal Jane Austen line, she wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you try to make something idiot-proof, someone will immediately invent a better idiot (or turn themselves into one).”

  • Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

Bierce continued: The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but ‘pervades and regulates the whole.’ He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions of opinion and taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.”

  • An idiot/Will always/Talk a lot. Marie-Françoise-Catherine de Beauveau, “Strong Feelings,” in Joanna Bankier and Deirdre Lashgari, Women Poets of the World (1983)
  • When it comes to idiots, America’s got more than its fair share. If idiots were energy, it would be a source that would never run out. Lewis Black, in Bruce Dancis, “Meet Lewis Black, a Busy, Angry Man” (a syndicated McClatchy Newspapers article); in The Missoulian (Missoula, Montana; Aug. 19, 2007)
  • I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will. Warren Buffett, in a 2008 panel discussion; quoted in Jay Heinrichs, Word Hero (2011)
  • A man that extols himself is a fool and an idiot. John Calvin, in Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol 1 (1848; John Pringle, ed.)

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

  • Older boys often asked me to teach them “some bad words in your language.” At first I politely refused. My refusal merely increased their determination, so I solved the problem by teaching them phrases like “man kharam” which means “I’m an idiot.” Firoozeh Dumas, in Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (2003)

Dumas continued: “I told them that what I was teaching them was so nasty that they would have to promise never to repeat it to anyone. They would then spend all of recess running around yelling “I’m an idiot! I’m an idiot!.” I never told them the truth. I figured someday, somebody would.”

  • A fool or an idiot is one who expects things to happen that never can happen. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots. George Eliot, a reflection of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871-72)
  • Hundreds of wise men cannot make the world a heaven, but one idiot is enough to run it into a hell. Raheel Farooq, in Kalam (2018)
  • Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in. Gustave Flaubert, the voice of the narrator, in Sentimental Education (1869)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been translated this way: “There is nothing so humiliating as to see blockheads secceed in undertakings in which we fail.”

  • Take care not to step on the foot of a learned idiot. His bite is incurable. Paul Gauguin, an undated journal entry, in Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (1921; Van Wyck Brooks, trans.)
  • In the field of economics we maintain to this day some of the most primitive ideas, some of the most radically false ideas, some of the most absurd ideas a brain can hold. They do not fit the facts; they are not provable as true; but very promptly provable as false; they do not agree with such true ideas as we have, more even with each other; but all this give no uneasiness to the average brain. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Human Work (1904)

Gilman continued: “That long-suffering organ has been trained for more thousands of years than history can uncover to hold in unquestioning patience great blocks of irrelevant idiocy and large active lies.”

  • Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called inbreeding, from which comes idiot children and more lawyers. Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, in screenplay for the 1949 film Adam’s Rib (line delivered by actor David Wayne in the film).
  • How embarrassing. I’m surrounded by idiots and I’m the only one in the office. Cathy Guisewite, in A Hand to Hold, An Opinion to Reject: A Cathy Collection (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the concluding line in a Cathy cartoon. The previous panels included these exclamations: “Where’s my tax form? Where’s the file that’s supposed to hold my W-2 form and interest statement? Where’s the mileage log I specifically asked be kept last year? Where’s the monthly check summary? And who’s been stuffing Visa receipts in the aluminum foil drawer??!!”

  • There is no one thoroughly despicable. We cannot descend much lower than an idiot; and an idiot has some advantages over a wise man. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics: In the Manner of Rochefoucauld’s Maxims (1823)

QUOTE NOTE: in his book, Hazlitt used a spelling of idiot that is now considered archaic: ideot.

  • God preserve me from idiots and men in love, which is the same thing. M. V. Heberden, in Aces, Eights, and Murder (1941)
  • When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. Cynthia Heimel, “Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics,” in The Village Voice (Nov. 13, 1993)
  • Idiots are really/one hundred per cent/when they are also/intelligent. Piet Hein, “The Final Touch: Portrait of Nobody in Particular,” in Grooks (1966)
  • The humor of willful imbecility lives forever. Stephen Leacock, in My Remarkable Uncle (1924)
  • Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around. Herman Mankiewicz, in a 1925 telegram urging Ben Hecht to leave New York City and come to Hollywood as a screenwriter; quoted in Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century (1954)
  • I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you’re an idiot. Steve Martin, a Facebook post (Nov. 27, 2011)
  • Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot. Groucho Marx, in the role of Rufus T. Firefly, in the 1933 film Duck Soup (screenplay by Bert Kalman and Harry Ruby)
  • April/Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Spring,” in Second April (1921)
  • Did you ever read a love-letter that wasn’t an evidence of idiocy-except your own? Myrtle Reed, in A Weaver of Dreams (1911)
  • Motivation alone is not enough. if you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot. Jim Rohr, a Facebook post (Jan. 2, 2016)
  • Even idiots occasionally speak the truth accidentally. Dorothy L. Sayers, the character Lord Peter Wimsey speaking, in Whose Body? (1923)
  • Even if we accept, as the basic tenet of true democracy, that one moron is as good as one genius, is it necessary to go one step farther and hold that two morons are better than one genius? Leo Szilard, in The Voice of the Dolphins: And Other Stories (1961

QUOTE NOTE: A few months later, in a September, 1961 Life magazine profile (“Some Szilardisms on War, Fame, Peace”), Szilard offered this variant version of the thought: “I’m all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.”

  • Reasonable orders are easy enough to obey; it is capricious, bureaucratic, or plain idiotic demands that form the habit of discipline. Barbara W. Tuchman, in Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-1945 (1970)
  • In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. Mark Twain, quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (192)
  • Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain. It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object but not the details indicative of their nature. Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites present an abridged version of the observation: “Idiocy is the female defect. It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy.”


(see also INDOLENCE and LAZINESS and LOAFING and [Wasting] TIME)

  • I should enjoy but little comfort in a state of idleness and uselessness. Abigail Adams, in a 1776 letter to husband John Adams; quoted in John P. Kaminski, The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009)

In another letter, this one written in 1808, Mrs. Trump offered this additional thought on the subject: “May you never want either pleasure or amusement. We were made for active Life, and idleness and happiness are incompatible.”

  • A thought falls like a ripe fruit from the tree of idleness. Natalie Clifford Barney, in “Scatterings” (1910); reprinted in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992; Anna Livia, ed.)
  • It is a theory of mine…that we owe most of our great inventions and most of the achievements of genius to idleness—either enforced or voluntary. The human mind prefers to be spoon-fed with the thoughts of others, but deprived of such nourishment it will, reluctantly, begin to think for itself—and such thinking, remember, is original thinking and may have valuable results. Agatha Christie, the narrator Jerry Burton speaking, in The Moving Finger (1942)
  • I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention—invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. Agatha Christie, in An Autobiography (1977)
  • It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. Jerome K. Jerome, “On Being Idle,” in Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886)

Jerome continued: “There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then. and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.”

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

QUOTE NOTE: The word moodling eventually evolved into noodling, and that is the term in general use today for idle, aimless activity. In her book, Ueland also wrote:

“I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes to us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

  • Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)



  • There is not a more unhappy being than a superannuated idol. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (May 24, 1711)
  • It nourishes man’s ambition to domineer over his fellow man. Idolatry, therefore, is the source of all social and moral evil in the world. Abba Eban, in My People (1968)
  • Men are idolaters, and want something to look at and kiss and hug, or throw themselves down before; they always did, they always will; and if you don’t make it of wood, you must make it of words. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872)
  • Every idol, however exalted, turns out, in the long run, to be a Moloch, hungry for human sacrifice. Aldous Huxley, in The Devils of Loudon (1952)



  • When Did Ignorance Become a Point of View? Scott Adams, title of 2001 book of Dilbert cartoons
  • To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant. A. Bronson Alcott, “Conversation,” in Table Talk (1877)
  • There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Isaac Asimov, “A Cult of Ignorance,” in Newsweek magazine (Jan. 21, 1980)

QUOTE NOTE: The full article, as relevant today as when it was written nearly four decades ago, may be seen at Asimov/My Turn.

  • Against logic there is no armor like ignorance. Author Unknown, in Life magazine (Oct. 10, 1910)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites attribute this observation to Dr. Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle and some popular quotation anthologies, but the saying made its first appearance eighteen years before Peter’s birth in this Life magazine piece.

  • We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! Richard Bach, a reflection of the title character, in Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)
  • Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. James Baldwin, in No Name in the Street (1972)
  • Too many of our countrymen rejoice in stupidity, look upon ignorance as a badge of honor. They condemn everything they don’t understand. Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952)
  • A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is great. Saul Bellow, in To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976)
  • Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. William Beveridge, in Full Employment in a Free Society (1944)
  • Ignorance is the wet-nurse of prejudice. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in “‘Josh Billings’ in English,” The Spectator (London; June 27, 1874)

For the full article, which presents more quotes from Billings and decries the penchant for phonetic spelling among American humorists, go to Spectator “Josh Billings” article.

  • If you think education is expensive—try ignorance. Derek Bok, quoted in Paul Dickson, The Official Rules (1978)

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

  • The great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Discoverers

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present a mistaken version of this thought: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

  • Ignorance is not innocence but sin. Robert Browning, in The Inn Album (1875)
  • Ignorance is the only unpardonable sin. Luther Burbank, quoted in E. Y. Slusser, et. al., Stories of Luther Burbank and His Plant School (1920)
  • The truest characters of ignorance/Are vanity, and pride, and arrogance. Samuel Butler (1613–1680), “Miscellaneous Thoughts,” in The Genuine Poetical Remains of Samuel Butler (Rev. ed., 1827; Robert Thyer, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the portion of the couplet that is routinely presented these days, but it formally ended this way: “As blind men use to bear their noses higher/Than those that have their eyes and sight entire.”

  • Gross ignorance—144 times worse than ordinary ignorance. Bennett Cerf, in The Laugh’s on Me (1961)
  • Every mind was made for growth, for knowledge; and its nature is sinned against when it is doomed to ignorance. William Ellery Channing, “The Present Age,” an address at Mercantile Library Company, Philadelphia, PA (May 11, 1841); reprinted in The Complete Works of W. E. Channing, D.D. (1892)
  • The whole family of pride and ignorance are incestuous, and mutually beget each other. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon or star. Confucius, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)
  • It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. Charles Darwin, “Introduction,” in The Descent of Man (1871)
  • Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man (1872)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is often presented on internet sites, but it was originally part of the following fuller observation: “It has often and confidently been asserted that man’s origin can never be known; but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

  • The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance. Charles Darwin, in letter to F. W. Farrar (Aug. 28, 1881)
  • To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge. Benjamin Disraeli, the voice of the narrator, in Sybil (1845)
  • The highest form of ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about. Wayne W. Dyer, in Everyday Wisdom for Success (2006)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”

  • It was as useless to fight against the interpretations of ignorance as to whip the fog. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. George Eliot, in epigraph to Chapter XXI, Daniel Deronda (1874)

The epigraph continued: “Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations.” To see the full epigraph, go to “Power of Ignorance”

  • Ignorance gives one a large range of probabilities. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Daniel Deronda (1874)
  • Envy is ignorance. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

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

  • Life teaches us that we are never happy except at the price of some ignorance. Anatole France, in Preface to On Life & Letters (1914; A. W. Evans, trans.)
  • Stupidity’s the deliberate cultivation of ignorance. William Gaddis, the character McCandless speaking, in Carpenter’s Gothic (1985)
  • People are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say “I don’t know” more often. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)
  • Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Proverbs in Prose (1819)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is sometimes translated with the word frightful replacing the word terrible.

  • Where ignorance is bliss/’Tis folly to be wise. Thomas Gray, in Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742)

ERROR ALERT: This famous couplet is “almost always misunderstood as a paean to stupidity,” writes Bob Rosenberg, a language lover and historian who, among many other things, spent two decades at Rutgers University editing Thomas Edison’s papers. Rosenberg further explained that Gray’s poem “is about the blissful ignorance of youth, when one has no idea what life actually has in store—that specific situation where, indeed, ignorance is bliss.” The full poem may be seen at Thomas Gray Archive, but it concludes this way:

“Yet ah! why should they know their fate?

Since sorrow never comes too late,

And happiness too swiftly flies.

Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more; where ignorance is bliss,

’Tis folly to be wise.”

  • The little I know, I owe to my ignorance. Sacha Guitry, in Toutes réflexions faites (1947)
  • Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith (2004)
  • What the essential difference between the wise man and the ignorant man boils down to is this: the wise man will often know without judging, while the ignorant man will judge without knowing. Sydney J. Harris, in Leaving the Surface (1968). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • A man’s ignorance is as much his private property, and as precious in his own eyes, as his family Bible. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “The Young Practitioner,” in Medical Essays: 1842–82 (2nd ed.; 1883)
  • Contrary to popular superstition, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is impotence; it is fear; it is cruelty; it is all the things that make for unhappiness. Winifred Holtby, “The Right Side of Thirty” (1930), in Pavements at Anderby (1937)
  • The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and these are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. Elbert Hubbard, in The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest (Jan., 1905)
  • The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge. Elbert Hubbard, in The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest (May, 1907)
  • The pleasures of ignorance are as great, in their way, as the pleasures of knowledge. Aldous Huxley, “Meditation on El Greco,” in Music at Night (1931)
  • Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will which decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Aldous Huxley, in Ends and Means (1938)
  • Reality cannot be ignored except at a price; and the longer the ignorance is persisted in, the higher and the more terrible becomes the price that must be paid. Aldous Huxley, “Religion and Time,” in Vedanta for the Western World (1945; Christopher Isherwood, ed.)
  • Only the very ignorant are perfectly satisfied that they know. Robert G. Ingersoll, “Philosophy,” in Liberty in Literature (1890)

Ingersoll continued: “To the common man the great problems are easy. He has no trouble in accounting for the universe. He can tell you the origin and destiny of man and the why and wherefore of things.”

  • Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal. Samuel Johnson, the poet Imlac speaking, in The History of Rasselas (1759)

Imlac continued: “And he may properly be charged with evil, who refused to learn how he might prevent it.”

  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Col. Charles Yancey (Jan. 6, 1816)

QUOTE NOTE: In his letter, Jefferson also offered a thought about the best way to combat ignorance in the new American nation: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

  • Art hath an enemy called ignorance. Ben Jonson, the character Asper speaking, in Every Man Out of His Humour (1599)
  • Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind. Ryszard Kapuscinski, summarizing the thought of philosopher Karl Popper, in “The Philosopher as Giant-Slayer,” in The New York Times Magazine (Jan 1, 1995)

Kapuscinski went on to write that Popper rejected suggestions that citizens did not know about atrocities—such as concentration camps or Gulags—committed by their governments. “They did not want to know,” he asserted, adding: “In Popper’s philosophy, ignorance has an ethical dimension, and knowing is a moral obligation for human beings.”

  • Selective ignorance, a cornerstone of child rearing. You don’t put kids under surveillance: it might frighten you. Garrison Keillor, in Leaving Home‎ (1987)

Keillor continued: “Parents should sit tall in the saddle and look upon their troops with a noble and benevolent and extremely nearsighted gaze.”

  • So long as the mother, Ignorance, lives, it is not safe for Science, the offspring, to divulge the hidden causes of things. Johannes Kepler, author’s note to The Dream (written 1608; pub. 1634)
  • We find that in research a certain amount of intelligent ignorance is essential to progress; for, if you know too much, you won’t try the thing. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in T. A. Boyd, Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles Franklin Kettering (1957)
  • Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Strength to Love (1963). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Profound ignorance makes a man dogmatic. Jean de La Bruyère, in Characters (1688)

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

  • No man has the right to be ignorant. In a country like this, ignorance is a crime. Louis L’Amour, the character Tell Sackett speaking, in Sackett: A Novel (1961)

Sackett continued: “If a man is going to vote, if he’s going to take part in his country and his government, then it’s up to him to understand.”

  • The more one learns the more he understands his ignorance. I am simply an ignorant man, trying to lessen his ignorance. Louis L’Amour, the character Edmund Price speaking, in To the Far Blue Mountains (1976)
  • The great pleasure of ignorance is, after all, the pleasure of asking questions. The man who has lost this pleasure or exchanged it for the pleasure of dogma, which is the pleasure of answering, is already beginning to stiffen. Robert Lynd, in The Pleasure of Ignorance (1921)

Lynd preceded the thought by writing: “One of the greatest joys known to man is to take such a flight into ignorance in search of knowledge.”

  • Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up all the vacuities of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge. Horace Mann, in speech to the Massachusetts House of Representatives (Feb 23, 1849); reprinted in Slavery: Letters and Speeches (1853)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly have vacancies of the soul rather than the correct vacuities. Mann went on to state: “The man or the institution…that withholds knowledge from a child, or from a race of children, exercises the awful power of changing the world in which they are to live, just as much as though he should annihilate all that is most lovely and grand in this planet of ours, or transport the victim of his cruelty to some dark and frigid zone of the universe, where the sweets of knowledge are unknown, and the terrors of ignorance hold their undisputed and remorseless reign.”

  • I count religion but a childish toy,/And hold there is no sin but ignorance. Thomas Marlowe, the character Machevill speaking, in prologue to The Jew of Malta (c. 1592)
  • It’s innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn’t. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The know-nothings are, unfortunately, seldom the do-nothings. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Backward is just not a natural direction for Americans to look—historical ignorance remains a national characteristic. Larry McMurtry, in Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846–1890 (2005)

McMurtry preceded the observation by writing: “Americans” lack of passion for history is well known. History may not quite be bunk, as Henry Ford suggested, but there’s no denying that, as a people, we sustain a passionate concentration on the present and the future.”

  • Ignorance is the parent of fear. Herman Melville, the narrator Ishmael speaking, in Moby-Dick (1851)
  • The voice of the intelligence is soft and weak, said Freud. It is drowned out by the roar of fear. Karl A. Menninger, in The Progressive (Oct., 1955)

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

  • Ignorance is always afraid of change. It fears the unknown and sticks to its rut, however miserable it may be there. In its blindness it stumbles on anyhow. Jawaharlal Nehru, in Glimpses of World History: Being Further Letters to his Daughter, Written in Prison, and Containing a Rambling Account of History for Young People (1949)

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

  • No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. P. J. O’Rourke, in Give War a Chance (1992)
  • The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism. William Osler, “Chauvinism in Medicine,” address to Canadian Medical Association (Sep. 17, 1902)
  • Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance. Linus Pauling, “The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science,” in The Science Teacher (1933)
  • Refuse not to be informed: for that shows pride or stupidity. William Penn, in Some Fruits of Solitude (1693)
  • There is simple ignorance, which is the source of lighter offenses, and double ignorance, which is accompanied by a conceit of wisdom; and he who is under the influence of the latter fancies that he knows all about matters of which he knows nothing. Plato, in Laws, Book IX (4th c. B.C.)
  • Ignorance, like intelligence, should be measured on a sliding scale. Hart Pomerantz, in personal communication to the compiler (June 3, 2017)
  • To realize the extent of your ignorance requires great intelligence. Hart Pomerantz, tweaking the famous Confucius saying (to be seen above), in personal communication to the compiler (March 18, 2019)
  • Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind. Karl Popper, as paraphrased by Ryszard Kapuscinski, in “The Philosopher as Giant-Slayer,” The New York Times Magazine (Jan. 1, 1995)

Kapuscinski went on to add: “In Popper’s philosophy, ignorance has an ethical dimension, and knowing is a moral obligation for human beings.”

  • They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. Terry Pratchett, the character Granny tweaking the famous Alexander Pope saying about learning, in Equal Rites (1987)
  • Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. Will Rogers, “Defending My Soup Plate Position,” in The Illiterate Digest (1924)
  • When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds. Will Rogers, a 1926 remark, in Will Rogers Speaks (1995; Bryan & Frances Sterling, eds.)
  • Curiosity is a willing, a proud, an eager confession of ignorance. Leonard Rubinstein, “Writing: A Habit of Mind,” in Reader’s Digest (Oct., 1984)
  • Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to confute him. John Selden, in Table-Talk (1689)

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

  • There is no darkness but ignorance. William Shakespeare, the Clown speaking, in Twelfth Night (1601)
  • Ignorance is a self-generating state of mind; one of its characteristics is that it doesn’t recognize itself as ignorance. Jane Smiley, in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005)
  • There is nothing more powerful than ignorance, not even intelligence. Lillian Smith, in The Journey (1954)
  • There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance. Socrates, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Vol. 1 (3rd c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage is also commonly presented this way: “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

  • The people who are scariest to me are the people who don’t even know enough to realize how little they know. Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” in Townhall.com (May 1, 2007)
  • Our lives are universally shortened by our ignorance. Herbert Spencer, in The Principles of Biology (1864)
  • Blind and naked Ignorance/Delivers brawling judgments, unashamed,/On all things all day long. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in Idylls of the King (1859-1885)
  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. Mark Twain, in letter to Mrs. Foote (Dec. 2, 1887)
  • Somebody else’s ignorance is bliss. Jack Vance, spoofing the traditional saying [see the Thomas Gray entry above], in The Star King (1964)
  • Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. Oscar Wilde, the character Lady Bracknell speaking, in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
  • Ignorance is not bliss—it is oblivion. Determined ignorance is the hastiest kind of oblivion. Philip Wylie, in Generation of Vipers (1942)




  • Olga discovered that there are only two kinds of illness: those that are fatal and those that heal themselves in their proper time. Isabel Allende, the voice of the narrator, in The Infinite Plan (1991)
  • A man’s illness is his private territory and, no matter how much he loves you and how close you are, you stay an outsider. You are healthy. Lauren Bacall, in Lauren Bacall: By Myself (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Bacall was writing about husband Humphrey Bogart’s battle with esophageal cancer, which took his life in 1957 (at age 57), less than a year after it was diagnosed. Earlier, she had written: “Bogie had to go through it physically, and I had to watch—neither of us really knew what was going to happen until it did.”

  • Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health. Elisabeth Tova Bailey, in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (2010)
  • Given the ease with which health infuses life with meaning and purpose, it is shocking how swiftly illness steals away those certainties. Elisabeth Tova Bailey, in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (2010)

Bailey went on to add: “Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.”

  • There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation: the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. One cannot bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family cannot bear to watch. Elisabeth Tova Bailey, in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (2010)

Bailey went on to add: “An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are.”

  • When illness enters a home, not only does it take hold of a body. It also weaves a dark web between hearts, a web where hope is trapped. Muriel Barbery, in The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)
  • To array a man’s will against his sickness is the supreme art of medicine. Henry Ward Beecher, the voice of the narrator, in Norwood: Or, Village Life in New England (1868)
  • Her illness seemed to be one prolonged mistake. Her self looked, wildly smiling, out of her body: what was happening in here was too terrible to acknowledge; she had to travesty it and laugh it off. Unserene, she desperately kept her head. Elizabeth Bowen, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • A critical illness is like a great permission, an authorization or absolving. It’s all right for a threatened man to be romantic, even crazy, if he feels like it. All your life you think you have to hold back your craziness, but when you’re sick you can let it go in all its garish colors. Anatole Broyard, “Toward a Literature of Illness,” in Intoxicated By My Illness (pub. posthumously in 1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Broyard went on to write: “Every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness. I think that only by insisting on your style can you keep from falling out of love with yourself as the illness attempts to diminish or disfigure you.” A respected writer, critic, and editor of the New York Times Book Review, Broyard died of prostate cancer in 1990, only fourteen months after the original diagnosis of the disease.

  • If you treat a sick child like an adult and a sick adult like a child, everything usually works out pretty well. Ruth Carlisle, quoted in Reader’s Digest (Jan. 1969). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Serious illness doesn’t bother me for long because I am too inhospitable a host. Norman Cousins, in Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (1979)
  • The more serious the illness, the more important it is for you to fight back. You’ve got to mobilize all your resources—spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical. Norman Cousins, in Head First: The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit (1989)

Cousins continued: “Your heaviest artillery will be your will to live. Keep that big gun going.”

  • Can there be worse sickness, than to know/That we are never well, nor can be so? John Donne, in “An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary” (1612)
  • Illness is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are, rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, sick is sick. Fran Drescher, in Cancer Schmancer (2002)
  • Every sick man is a hero, if not to the world or even to the family, at last to himself. Finley Peter Dunne, “Going to See the Doctor,” in Mr. Dooley on Making a Will (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: Dunne originally presented the observation in Dooley’s characteristic phonetic dialect: “Ivry sick man is a hero, if not to th’ wurruld or even to th’ fam'ly, at laste to himself.”

  • Illness was a sort of occupation to me, and I was always sorry to get well. Maria Edgeworth, a reflection of the title character, in Ennui: Memoirs of the Earl of Glenthorn (1809)
  • We forget ourselves and our destinies in health, and the chief use of temporary sickness is to remind us of these concerns. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (March 25, 1821)

Emerson preceded the journal entry by writing: “I am sick—if I should die what would become of me?”

  • The seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time (1980)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them.”

  • To admit that disability and illness are hard doesn’t mean that they are wholly negative experiences, meaningless. Anne Finger, in Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and Birth (1990)
  • Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. Gillian Flynn, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Camille Preaker, in Sharp Objects (2006)

Preaker continued: “I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.”

  • People who praise illness as bringing out the best in people ought to have their heads examined. Rae Foley, in Put Out the Light (1976)

Foley continued: “Pain forces you to think about yourself, directs your interest to your own body and what is happening to it. You don’t reach out benevolently, filled with good will for others. You don’t seem to care enough. Pain makes you a little person, not a big one, and not a nice one, except perhaps in the case of saints, and I’ve never known one.”

  • Old age and sickness bring out the essential characteristics of a man. Felix Frankfurter, in Felix Frankfurter Reminisces (1960)
  • Sickness is felt, but health not at all. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Those who have never been ill are incapable of real sympathy for a great many misfortunes. André Gide, journal entry (July 25, 1930)
  • Every day silence harvests its victims. Silence is a mortal illness. Natalia Ginzburg, in The Little Virtues (1962)
  • Telling a story of illness, one pulls a thread through a narrow opening flanked on one side by shame and the other by trivia. Susan Griffin, in What Her Body Thought: A Journey Into the Shadows (1999)
  • In the last states of a final illness, we need only the absence of pain and the presence of family. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life: Promises and Problems, Pains and Joys (1987; with Marion Glasserow Gladney)
  • The doctor may also learn more about the illness from the way the patient tells the story than from the story itself. James B. Herrick, in Memoirs of Eighty Years (1949)
  • To be sick and helpless is a humiliating experience. Prolonged illness also carries the hazard of narcissistic self-absorption. Richard Hofstader, in The American Political Tradition (1948)
  • What a strange distance there is between ill people and well ones. Winifred Holtby, quoted in Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby (1940)
  • Illness is regarded as a crime, and crime is regarded as illness Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Food, Flesh, and Fashion,” in An Accidental Autobiography (1996)

* My doctors made it clear that there were two kinds of illness: those they could identify, and those that didn’t exist. My symptoms were simply shadow puppets cast by a mind that couldn’t control itself. Kate Horowitz, “Performance of a Lifetime,” in Bitch (2017)

About her doctors, Horowitz went on to write: “They were wrong.”

  • Intellectual curiosity about one’s own illness is certainly born of a desire for mastery. If I couldn’t cure myself, perhaps I could at least begin to understand myself. Siri Hustvedt, in The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves (2009)
  • A long illness seems to be placed between life and death, in order to make death a comfort both to those who die and to those who remain. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Mankind,” in Characters (1688)
  • How sickness enlarges the dimensions of a man’s self to himself. Charles Lamb, “The Convalescent,” in Last Essays of Elia (1833)
  • Severe illness isolates those in close contact with it, because it inevitably narrows the focus of concern. To a certain extent this can lead to healing, but not if the circle of concern is so tight that it cannot be broken into, or out of. Madeleine L’Engle, in Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988)
  • The very worst thing that can happen to anyone, I am convinced, is any form of brain disease. Physical problems pilfer from the body, but mental problems are identity thieves. Intractable mental illness sucks the personality—the very soul—from human beings as tornadoes suck air from buildings, causing them to implode. Martha Mason, in Breath: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung (2003)
  • Recovery from illness often seems like beginning life all over again. Cornelia Meigs, in Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women (1933)
  • Illness is in part what the world has done to a victim, but in a larger part it is what the victim has done with his world, and with himself. Dr. Karl Menninger, quoted in Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Sontag dismissed this view as “preposterous and dangerous,” arguing: “Psychological theories of illness are a powerful means of placing the blame on the ill. Patients who are instructed that they have, unwittingly, caused their disease are also being made to feel that they have somehow deserved it.”

  • We are not sensible of the most perfect health as we are of the least sickness. Michel de Montaigne, “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • Another person’s illness is often harder to bear than one’s own. Iris Murdoch, the character Hannah Crean-Smith speaking, in The Unicorn (1963)

Hannah continued: “The other is all imagined suffering; with one’s own, one knows its ways and its limits.”

  • In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Flannery O'Connor, quoted in Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being (1979)

O’Connor continued: “Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies. ”

  • Severe illness has (I often think) on the frame the same effect that a severe storm has on the atmosphere. I myself am much better in every respect since my late indisposition than I was before; and the mind is never perhaps so serene and tranquil as when one is recovering from sickness. Amelia Opie, in an 1800 letter, quoted in Ada M. Ingpen, Women As Letter-Writers (1909)
  • Every illness has its natural course, with which it behooves the doctor to become acquainted. Phillipe Pinel, in Nosographic philosphique (1798)
  • Illness is friendship’s proving ground, the uncharted territory where one’s actions may be the least sure-footed but also the most indelible. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick (2013)

Pogrebin went on to write: “Illness tests old friendships, gives rise to new ones, changes the dynamics of a relationship, causes a shift in the power balance, a reversal of roles, and assorted weird behaviors.”

  • If illness is the embodiment of powerlessness, which, believe me, is true, then waiting is its temporal incarnation. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick (2013)

Pogrebin preceded the thought by writing: “It angers me that sick people have to wait for everything and everybody—doctors, nurses, callbacks, lab results, prescriptions, medications, technicians, treatment rooms.”

  • Grief is illness. You cannot breathe; you cannot walk or eat or sleep. The sickness is entire, the body and the spirit. Zelda Popkin, in Open Every Door (1956)
  • Neurosis has an absolute genius for malingering. There is no illness which it cannot counterfeit perfectly. Marcel Proust, in The Guermantes Way (1920-21; originally pub. as Le Côté de Guermantes)

Proust continued: “If it is capable of deceiving the doctor, how should it fail to deceive the patient?”

  • Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey. Marcel Proust, the voice of the narrator, in Cities of the Plain (1922; original French title Sodome et Gomorrhe)
  • In the midst of your illness you will promise a goat, but when you have recovered, a chicken will seem sufficient. Proverb (African)
  • Sickness comes on horseback and departs on foot. Proverb (Dutch)
  • Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived. Anna Quindlen, in A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)
  • In my grandparents’ house it was a distinction and a mournful pleasure to be ill. This was partly because my grandfather was always ill, and his children adored him and were inclined to imitate him; and partly because it was so delightful to be pitied and nursed by my grandmother. Gwen Raverat, in Period Piece (1952)
  • Illness is the opposite of freedom. It makes everything impossible. You lose so many things when you’re ill. Françoise Sagan, in Night Bird: Conversations with Françoise Sagan (1980; with Jean Jacques Pauvert)

Sagan was describing the anxiety often associated with a significant illness. She preceded the observation by saying: “But if you’re not certain that you’ll ever be yourself again, you begin to go mad with fear.”

  • Illness must be considered to be as natural as health. William Saroyan, in The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952)

Just prior to the observation, Saroyan had written about his life: “I have been more or less ill all my life. Illness is essentially discomfort, and it is not easy for anybody to be comfortable all the time—in his body, in his work, or in his soul.”

  • I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while. George Bernard Shaw, the character Lubin speaking, in Back to Methuselah, Pt. II (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: Just prior to this remark, Lubin offered what would become another widely quoted Shaw quotation: “Life is a disease; and the only difference between one man and another is the stage of the disease at which he lives.”

  • One evil in old age is, that as your time is come, you think that every little illness is the beginning of the end. When a man expects to be arrested, every knock at the door is an alarm. Sydney Smith, in letter to Sir Wilmot Horton (Feb. 8, 1836); quoted in Lady Holland (Saba Smith), A Memoir of The Reverend Sydney Smith: by His Daughter (1855)
  • Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Susan Sontag, in Illness as a Metaphor (1978)

Sontag continued: “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Sontag's book also contained these observations on the subject:

“The romantic treatment of death asserts that people were made singular, made more interesting, by their illnesses.”

“Fatal illness has always been viewed as a test of moral character, but in the nineteenth century there is a great reluctance to let anybody flunk the test.”

“Illnesses have always been used as metaphors to enliven charges that a society was corrupt or unjust.”

  • Illness may precipitate a spiritual crisis. Since illness is man’s reaction to disease, it is a time when men are brought face to face with the ultimate concerns of life. Samuel Southard, quoted in Sharon Fish and Judith Allen Shelly, Spiritual Care: The Nurse’s Role (1978)
  • Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness. Edward Stanley (Lord Derby), “The Conduct of Life,” address at Liverpool College (Dec. 20, 1873)
  • I dislike helplessness in other people and in myself, and this is by far my greatest fear of illness. John Steinbeck, in letter to Dr. Denton Sayer Cox (March 5, 1964); reprinted in Steinbeck: a Life in Letters (1975; Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten, eds.)

Steinbeck preceded the thought by writing: “I do not find illness an eminence, and I do not understand how people can use it to draw attention to themselves since the attention they draw is nearly always reluctantly given and unpleasantly carried out.”

  • Old age is an illness in itself. Terence, in Phormio (2nd c. B.C.)
  • The worst illness today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but the sense of being unwanted, of not being loved, of being abandoned by all. Mother Teresa, in Heart of Joy (1987)
  • The earliest sensation at the onset of illness, often preceding the recognition of identifiable symptoms, is apprehension. Something has gone wrong, and a glimpse of mortality shifts somewhere deep in the mind. It is the most ancient of our fears. Lewis Thomas, in The Fragile Species (1992)

Thomas continued: “Something must be done, and quickly. Come, please, and help, or go, please, and find help. Hence, the profession of medicine.”

  • Illness sets the mind free sometimes to roam and surmise. Alice B. Toklas, in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954)
  • He did not like illness, he distrusted it, as he distrusted the road without signposts. Eudora Welty, the narrator describing protagonist R. J. Bowman, in “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” from Manuscript (1936)
  • In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways. Edith Wharton, “A First Word,” in A Backward Glance: An Autobiography (1934)
  • Stop people dying of the illnesses they die of now, and they will die of something else later on, and the slower and the costlier. Katharine Whitehorn, quoted in The Observer (London; Feb. 3, 1991)
  • Even death after a long illness is without warning. The moment you had prepared for so carefully took you by storm. The troops broke through the window and snatched the body and the body is gone. Jeanette Winterson, in Written on the Body (1992)
  • Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes in literature. Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” in New Criterion (Jan., 1926); reprinted in The Moment: And Other Essays (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: Later in the century, medical historian Henry E. Sigerist agreed. In Civilization and Disease (1962), he wrote: “Illness, in general, is not a good literary subject.”

  • There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional), a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals. Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” in New Criterion (Jan., 1926); reprinted in The Moment: And Other Essays (1947)



  • There are few human beings who receive the truth complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellular, like a laborious mosaic. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (specific date undetermined), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin (1939–1944 (Vol. 3; 1966)
  • Sometimes illumination comes to our rescue at the very moment when all seems lost. Marcel Proust, in Time Regained (1926), Vol. VII of In Search of Lost Time (formerly Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the opening words of the novel’s final passage, which formally ended with this concluding line: “We have knocked at every door and they open on nothing until, at last, we stumble unconsciously against the only one through which we can enter the kingdom we have sought in vain a hundred years—and it opens.”



  • Illusion is the dust the devil throws in the eyes of the foolish. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Illusions (1901)
  • A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is great. Saul Bellow, in To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976)
  • We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality. Daniel J. Boorstin, in Preface to The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961)
  • The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Discoverers (1983)
  • The most all-around, practical, long-wearing illusions are the ones that you weave yourself. Peg Bracken, in A Window Over the Sink (1981)
  • But time strips our illusions of their hue,/And one by one in turn, some grand mistake/Casts off its bright skin yearly, like a snake. Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon), in Don Juan (1819–24)
  • Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life. Kate Chopin, the character Edna Pontellier speaking in The Awakening (1899)
  • We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind a feeling of freedom and relief. Martin Esslin, in Introduction to Absurd Drama (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: Esslin, the man who coined the term The Theatre of the Absurd, added: “And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.” Essler’s full Introduction may be seen at: Essler on Absurd Drama.

  • Reason dissipates the illusions of life, but does not console us for their departure. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • How strange when an illusion dies/It’s as though you’ve lost a child. Judy Garland, from the poem “An Illusion,” quoted by Anne Edwards, in Judy Garland (1975)
  • Life consists in molting our illusions. We form creeds today only to throw them away tomorrow. The eagle molts a feather because he is growing a better one. Elbert Hubbard, quoted in Alice Hubbard, An American Bible (1918)
  • Rob the average man of his life-illusion, and you rob him of his happiness at the same stroke. Henrik Ibsen, the character Relling speaking, in The Wild Duck (1884)
  • No death is so sad and final as the death of an illusion. Arthur Koestler, in Scum of the Earth (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: Scum of the Earth, a memoir written after Koestler escaped from occupied France to England in 1940, was the first book Koestler wrote in English (his earlier works, including his 1940 classic Darkness at Noon were originally written in German). In this observation, he might have been inspired by the title of Sigmund Frued’s The Future of an Illusion (1927).

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites and many published works mistakenly present the observation this way: “Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion.”

  • If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered. Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick Directs (1972)
  • No illusion is more crucial than the illusion that great success and huge money buy you immunity from the common ills of mankind. Larry McMurtry, a reflection of protagonist Danny Deck, in Some Can Whistle (1989)
  • An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted. Arthur Miller, “The Year it Came Apart,” in New York magazine (Dec. 30, 1974—Jan. 6, 1975)
  • Lost Illusion is the undisclosed title of every novel. André Maurois, in The Art of Writing (1960)
  • We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)
  • The notion that as man grows older his illusions leave him is not quite true. What is true is that his early illusions are supplanted by new and, to him, equally convincing illusions. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theater, the Drama, the Girls (1921)

Nathan continued: “The man of forty-five has just as many illusions as the boy of eighteen, but they are different illusions.”

  • Better a dish of illusion, one might say, and a hearty appetite for life, than a feast of reality and indigestion therewith. Harry A. Overstreet, in The Enduring Quest: A Search for a Philosophy of Life (1931)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present the quotation with the phrase one might say omitted.

  • Illusion is sunscreen for the soul. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 31, 2020)
  • Is it possible that reality is just another illusion? Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 31, 2020)
  • The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. Alexander Pushkin, quoted in Russian Short Stories (1941; S. S. Koteliansky, ed.)
  • Our experience comprises illusions lost, rather than wisdom gained. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)

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

  • Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • Although optimism is the result of an illusion, it is a desirable distortion of reality. Susan C. Vaughan, in Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism (2000)
  • Illusion is the first of all pleasures. Voltaire, in a 1756 edition of the satirical poem “The Maid of Orleans.”

ERROR ALERT: This observation is widely misattributed to Oscar Wilde.

  • It is notorious that illusions are shattered by conflict with reality, so no real happiness, no real wit, no real profundity are tolerated where the illusion prevails. Virginia Woolf, the voice of the narrator, in Orlando: A Biography (1928)
  • I believe that, though illusion often cheers and comforts, it ultimately and invariably weakens and constricts the spirit. Irvin D. Yalom, “Do Not Go Gentle,” in Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989)



  • Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Franklin Pearce Adams, in Half a Loaf (1927)
  • I like to have a thing suggested rather than told in full. When every detail is given, the mind rests satisfied, and the imagination loses the desire to use its own wings. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Leaves From a Notebook,” in Ponkapog Papers (1903)
  • The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling as the one which exists only in the mind’s eye. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • One of the nice things about problems is that a good many of them do not exist except in our imaginations. Steve Allen, in How to Make a Speech (1986)
  • If we don’t begin by imagining the perfect society, how shall we create one? Isabel Allende, the character Jacob Todd speaking, in Daughter of Fortune: A Novel (1999)
  • His writing is sharp, lucid and logical, embodying imagination in the true sense of the word: common sense with wings. Kingsley Amis, on Arthur C. Clarke, in The Spectator (London, August, 1973)
  • Some day you may learn that the curse of human nature is imagination. When a long anticipated moment comes, we always find it pitched a note too low, for the wings of imagination are crushed into its withering sides under the crowding hordes of petty realities. Gertrude Atherton, the unnamed padre speaking to Carmelita, in Los Cerritos: A Romance of the Modern Time (1890)
  • The only real rival of love is Art, for that in itself is a deep personal passion, its function an act of creation, fed by some mysterious perversion of sex, and demanding all the imagination’s activities. Gertrude Atherton, the voice of the narrator, in Julia France and Her Times (1912)
  • Writing was my real life and I was more at home with the people of my imagination than with the best I met in the objective world. Gertrude Atherton, in The Adventures of a Novelist (1932)
  • Imagination is the highest kite that can fly. Lauren Bacall, in Lauren Bacall by Myself (1979)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and most published quotation collections mistakenly present the observation as: Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.

  • Man is an imagining being. Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Reverie (1960)
  • The true voyage of the imagination is the voyage to the land, to the very domain of the imaginary. Gaston Bachelard, in On Poetic Imagination and Reverie: Selections from the Works of Gaston Bachelard (1971; Colette Gaudin, ed.)
  • Imagination is the air of mind. Phillip James Bailey, in Festus (1813)
  • The most important thing in life, without exception, is to step out of the magic circles of safety we create for ourselves. Tapping the same lever to get the same pellet day after day, safe as it is, is for the birds; security isn’t the best thing life has to offer and habit dulls both desire and imagination. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • What year is it in your imagination? Lynda Barry, in What It Is (2008)
  • The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

Beecher preceded the observation by writing: “The imagination is the secret and marrow of civilization. It is the very eye of faith.”

  • Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination. Daniel Bell, “What is Technology?” in The Winding Passage: Sociological Essays and Journeys (1980)

Bell went on to write: “Art is an end in itself; its values are intrinsic. Technology is the instrumental ordering of human experience with a logic of efficient means, and the direction of nature to use its powers for material gain.”

  • Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination. Ruth Benedict, an epigraph in Lily King’s 2014 novel Euphoria
  • Imagination has always had powers of resurrection that no science can match. Ingrid Bengis, “Monroe According to Mailer: One Legend Feeds on another,” in Ms. magazine (Oct., 1973)
  • A book is a device to ignite the imagination. Alan Bennett, the character Queen Elizabeth II speaking, in The Uncommon Reader: A Novella (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novella, the uncommon reader (a play on the phrase common reader) of the title is The Queen. One day, while walking her beloved corgis, she happens upon a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace. The fictional piece plays out the consequences as she becomes enthralled—even obsessed—with books.

  • The human imagination…has great difficulty in living strictly within the confines of a materialistic practice or philosophy. It dreams, like a dog in its basket, of hares in the open. John Berger, “The Soul and the Operator,” in Expressen magazine (Stockholm, Sweden; March 19, 1990); reprinted in Keeping a Rendezvous (1992)
  • To search for truth, one has to be drunk with imagination. Leonard Bernstein, in Findings: Fifty Years of Meditations on Music (1982)
  • The gift of imagination is by no means an exclusive property of the artist; it is a gift we all share; to some degree or other all of us, all of you, are endowed with the powers of fantasy. Leonard Bernstein, in Findings: Fifty Years of Meditations on Music (1982)
  • Imagination, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • What is now proved was once only imagined. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life. Daniel J. Boorstin, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, Living Philosophies: The Reflections of Some Eminent Men and Women (1990); reprinted in The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader (1995)
  • To imagine is the characteristic act, not of the poet’s mind, or the painter’s, or the scientist’s, but of the mind of man. Jacob Bronowski, in The Reach of Imagination (1967)

Later in the book, Bronowski offered this additional observation on the subject: “To imagine means to make images and to move them about inside one’s head in new arrangements.”

  • “Imagination” is a word which derives from the making of images in the mind, from what Wordsworth called “the inward eye.” Jacob Bronowski, in The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination (1978)
  • Imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? Charlotte Brontë, in letter to George Henry Lewes (Nov. 6, 1847); reprinted in The Letters of The Brontës: A Selection (1954; in Muriel Spark, ed.)

Brontë continued: “When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?”

  • I’ll borrow of imagination what reality will not give me. Charlotte Brontë, the title character speaking, in Shirley (1849)
  • The ultimate renewable human resource is imagination. Dan Brooks, in Brook’s Book (2017)
  • Of course imagination is the beginning of creation. Without imagination there can be no creation. Pearl S. Buck, the character Donald Sharpe speaking, in The Eternal Wonder (written circa 1972; first published 2013)
  • Imagination took the reins, and reason, slow-paced, though sure-footed, was unequal to a race with so eccentric and flighty a companion. Fanny Burney, the character Mr. Villars in a letter to the title character, in Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)

QUOTE NOTE: The Reverend Arthur Villars, Evelina’s guardian and a sort of father-figure to her, was concerned about his young charge’s fascination with a young gentleman. In expressing his concern about the “the ascendancy which Lord Orville has gained upon your mind,” he began the observation above by writing that she was “Young, animated, entirely off your guard, and thoughtless of consequences.” A bit earlier in the letter, he offered one of history’s best descriptions of innocence:

“Alas, my child!—that innocence, the first, best gift of Heaven—the most exposed to treachery—and the least able to defend itself, in a world where it is little known, less valued, and perpetually deceived!”

  • To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine your facts is another. John Burroughs, in The Heart of Burrough’s Journals (1928; Clara Barrus, ed.)
  • I by no means rank poetry high in the scale of intelligence—this may look like affectation but it is my real opinion. It is the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earthquake. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in letter to Annabelle Milbanke, later to become Lady Byron (Nov. 29, 1813)
  • When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning. Albert Camus, in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1961)
  • The word imagination derives from the idea of imaging. That is to say, you form an image either of fear or of release from fear. What you “image” (imagine) may ultimately become a fact if held mentally with sufficient faith. Dale Carnegie, in The Power of Positive Thinking (1952)

Carnegie introduced the thought by writing: “Imagination is a source of fear, but imagination may also be the cure of fear. ‘Imagineering’ is the use of mental images to build factual results, and it is an astonishingly effective procedure.”

  • A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves. Willa Cather, the voice of the narrator, in O Pioneers! (1913)
  • The function of imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange. G. K. Chesterton, “A Defense of China Shepherdesses,” in The Defendant (1901)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is almost always presented as if it began, “The function of the imagination…” Note that it is also a lovely example of chiasmus.

  • Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. Agatha Christie, the protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: Poirot is speaking to his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, who had recently drawn an erroneous conclusion from a limited piece of evidence. The legendary detective more fully said: “You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.”

  • Avarice is especially, I suppose, a disease of the imagination. Sara Coleridge, an 1848 observation, in Memoir and Letters of Sara Coleridge, Vol. 2 (1873; Edith Coleridge, ed.)
  • Before we love with our heart, we already love with our imagination. Louise Colet, in Lui, A View of Him (1859)
  • Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. Joseph Conrad, in A Personal Record (1912)
  • Imagination is the supreme endowment of the poet and romanticist. It is a kind of second sight, which conveys the owner of it to places he has never seen, and surrounds him with strange circumstances of which he is merely the spiritual eyewitness. Maria Corelli, “The Power of the Pen,” in Free Opinions (1905)
  • Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality. Jules de Gaultier, in Bovarysm (1902)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “In the war against reality, man has but one weapon—Imagination.

ERROR ALERT: Hundreds pf internet sites mistakenly attribute the observation to Lewis Carroll.

  • Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. John Dewey, in The Quest for Certainty (1929)
  • The Possible’s slow fuse is lit / By the Imagination. Emily Dickinson, in poem number 1687 (undated)
  • Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • When the past is recaptured by the imagination, breath is put back into life. Marguerite Duras, in Le Nouvel Observateur (Sep. 28, 1984); quoted in Alain Vircondelet, Duras: A Biography (1991; Eng. trans. in 1994)
  • Where there is no imagination there is no horror. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in A Study in Scarlet (1888)
  • I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. Albert Einstein, “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck,” in The Saturday Evening Post (Oct. 26, 1929)

QUOTE NOTE: Many Internet sites oversimplify Einstein’s thinking on the subject by only offering the Imagination is more important than knowledge portion of the full thought. Two years later, in his book Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), Einstein revisited the topic with a slightly differed phrasing, writing: “At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact, I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.” Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for his 2013 post on the quotation.

  • Imagination…is a very high sort of seeing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is generally presented (and often without the ellipsis), but it was originally part of the following larger observation: “This insight, which expresses itself by what is called imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study.”

  • What is the imagination? Only an arm or weapon of the interior energy; only the precursor of the reason. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss. Nora Ephron, in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman (2006)
  • With our progress we have destroyed our only weapon against tedium: that rare weakness we call imagination. Oriana Fallaci, in The Useless Sex (1964)
  • Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there. Richard Feynman, in The Character of Physical Law: The 1964 Messenger Lectures (1967)
  • The game I play [as a scientist] is a very interesting one. It’s imagination, in a tight straightjacket, which is this: that it has to agree with the known laws of physics. Richard Feynman, remark in a 1984 Esalen Institute workshop; reported by Faustin Bray and quoted in No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1994; Christopher Sykes, ed.)
  • It is splendid to be a great writer, to put men into the frying pan of your words and make them pop like chestnuts. Gustave Flaubert, in letter to Louise Colet (Nov. 3, 1851), in F. Steegmuller, Letters of Gustave Flaubert (1980)
  • Reading is an activity of the imagination, and the imagination in question is not the writer’s alone. Thomas C. Foster, in How to Read Literature Like a Professor (2003)
  • There’s no better way of exercising the imagination than the study of law. No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth. Jean Giraudoux, in Tiger at the Gates (1935)
  • There is nothing more fearful than imagination without taste. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Proverbs in Prose (1819)
  • Imagination comes from yourself and can deceive you, but vision is a gift from outside yourself—like light striking on your closed eyelids and lifting them to see what’s really there. Elizabeth Goudge, the character David speaking, in Pilgrim’s Inn (1948)
  • Imagination is new reality in the process of being created. Nancy Hale, in The Realities of Fiction: A Book About Writing (1962)

Earlier in the book, Hale wrote: “If it were possible to uncover the unknown by means other than imagination, it would no doubt have been done long ago. Imagination’s purpose is to express what is otherwise inexpressible—the stone that throbs, the ice that burns.”

  • The creative imagination can grasp characters and conditions not directly experienced, because the creator has access to all parts of his personality. To use the fashionable word, he has empathy with characters unlike him, because he knows that deep down he shares some of their unlovely traits. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • I don’t understand the process of imagination—though I know that I am very much at its mercy. I feel that these ideas are floating around in the air and they pick me to settle upon. Joseph Heller, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1974)

Heller continued: “The ideas come to me; I don’t produce them at will. They come to me in the course of a sort of controlled daydream, a directed reverie.”

  • Certainly I’ve lived my whole life through my imagination. But the world of imagination is there for all of us—a sense of play, of pretending, of wonder. It’s there with us as we live. Jim Henson, in It's Not Easy Being Green (2005; Cheryl Henson, ed.)

Henson preceded the thought by writing: “As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.”

  • Imagination isn’t merely a surplus mental department meant for entertainment, but the most essential piece of machinery we have if we are going to live the lives of human beings. Ted Hughes, “Myth and Education,” in Children’s Literature in Education (March, 1970)
  • Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a duchess. Samuel Johnson, a May 9, 1778 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Imagination is the eye of the soul. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl. G. Jung, in Psychological Types (1923)

Jung preceded the thought by writing: “Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth.”

  • Happiness is not an ideal of reason but of imagination. Immanuel Kant, in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics (1785)
  • A long poem is a test of invention which I take to be the polar star of poetry, as fancy is the sails, and imagination the rudder. John Keats, in letter to Benjamin Bailey (Oct. 8, 1817)
  • My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk. John Keats, in letter to Percy Bysshe Shelley (Aug. 16, 1820)
  • The opportunities of man are limited only by his imagination. But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer. Charles F. Kettering, in Prophet of Progress: Selections from the Speeches of Charles F. Kettering (1961; T. A. Boyd, ed.)

Kettering continued: “What I believe is that, by proper effort, we can make the future almost anything we want to make it.”

  • The old proverb, applied to fire and water, may, with equal truth, be applied to the imagination—it is a good servant, but a bad master. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality, Vol. I (1831)
  • Imagination is to love what gas is to the balloon—that which raises it from the earth. L. E. Landon, the character Edward Lorraine speaking, in Romance and Reality, Vol. II (1831)
  • I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties [of a mature human being] is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty…to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue. Ursula K. Le Guin, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” in Language of the Night (1979)

In that same essay, Le Guin wrote: “Now, I doubt the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, that child would grow up to be an eggplant.Like all our evil propensities, the imagination will out. But if it is rejected and despised, it will grow in to wild and weedy shapes.”

  • My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it. Ursula Le Guin, “The Creatures on My Mind,” in Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (1996)
  • Mediocrity is perhaps due not so much to lack of imagination as to lack of faith in the imagination, lack of the capacity for this abandon. Denise Levertov, “To Write Is to Listen,” in The Poet in the World (1973)
  • His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. Thomas Babington Macaulay, on John Dryden, “John Dryden,” in The Edinburgh Review (Jan., 1828)

Macaulay continued: “When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors.”

  • Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)

ERROR ALERT: A number of internet sites, and even a few published quotation anthologies, mistakenly attribute this thought to Paul McCartney.

  • If you turn the imagination loose like a hunting dog, it will often return with the bird in its mouth. William Maxwell, “The Front and Back Parts of the House,” in The New Yorker (Sep. 11, 1991); reprinted in All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories (1995)
  • Imagination is the voice of the daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything. Henry Miller, in Sexus (1949)
  • Imagination is a postcard that you send to yourself. Nadine Monfils, in Le Silence des canaux (2000) [quotation translation by Réjean Levesque]
  • A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. Caitlin Moran, “Alma Mater,” in The Times magazine (August 13, 2011)
  • The man of learning without imagination has feet but no wings. Hugo Münsterberg, “Connection in Science and Isolation in Art,” in Melvin Rader (ed.), A Modern Book of Esthetics: An Anthology (1952); originally from The Principles of Art Education (1905)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites attribute a very similar saying (“He who has learning without imagination has feet but no wings”), to a gentleman named Stanley Goldstein. I’ve been unable to locate any biographical information on Goldstein, but his observation—which first appeared in a 1993 issue of Forbes magazine—was simply a rephrasing of Münsterberg’s original thought.

  • Art is the sex of the imagination. George Jean Nathan, “Art,” in The American Mercury (July, 1926)
  • The imagination is far better at inventing tortures than life because the imagination is a demon within us and it knows where to strike, where it hurts. Anaïs Nin, in Winter of Artifice (1945); reprinted in Under a Glass Bell: And Other Stories (1948)

The unnamed narrator (a thinly disguised version of the author) continued: “It knows the vulnerable spot, and life does not, our friends and lovers do not, because seldom do they have the imagination equal to the task.”

  • IQ pales in comparison to Imagination Quotient. Peter A. Olsson, M.D. in a personal communication to the compiler (May 16, 2021)
  • At present we know only that the imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity. George Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature,” in Polemic magazine (Jan. 1946); reprinted in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (1950)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most famous passage from one of Orwell’s most famous essays. He preceded the thought by writing: “Literature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes. Not only is it doomed in any country which retains a totalitarian structure; but any writer who adopts the totalitarian outlook, who finds excuses for persecution and the falsification of reality, thereby destroys himself as a writer.”

  • To imagine the unimaginable is the highest use of the imagination. Cynthia Ozick, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1987)
  • The scientist, if he is to be more than a plodding gatherer of bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination. Linus Pauling, “Imagination in Science,” in Tomorrow magazine (Dec., 1943)

Pauling continued: “The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great are those who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers, and the part played by the imaginative faculty of his daily life is as least as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in any other field—much more important than for most.”

  • Imagination continually frustrates tradition; that is its function. John Pfeiffer, “Nature, the Radical Conservative,” in The New York Times (April, 29. 1979)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to Jules Pfeiffer. John Pfeiffer (1914-1999) was an American anthropologist, and his observation originally appeared in his review of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature (1979).

  • Imagination plus action equals creation. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 23, 2018)
  • Imagination is like a road map but without showing the streets. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 17, 2021)
  • Imagination continually outruns the creature it inhabits. Katherine Anne Porter, “Orpheus in Purgatory” (a review of Rilke and Benevenuta, by M. von Hattenberg), in The New York Times Book Review (Jan. 1, 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the concluding portion of a fuller thought that was more about love than imagination: “Since love is purely a creation of the human imagination, it is merely perhaps the most important of all the examples of how the imagination continually outruns the creatures it inhabits.”

  • Imagination, not intelligence, made us human. Terry Pratchett, in Foreword to David Pringle, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1998)
  • Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one. Terry Pratchett, in Foreword to David Pringle, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1998)
  • Readers themselves, I think, contribute to a book. They add their own imaginations, and it is as though the writer only gave them something to work on, and they did the rest. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, quoted in Rodger L. Tarr, Max and Marjorie (1999)
  • Imagination is and must be father to the deed. Richard Raymond III, in personal communication to the compiler.
  • A vision is something you see and others don’t. Some people would say that’s a pocket definition of lunacy. But it also defines entrepreneurial spirit. Anita Roddick, in Body and Soul (1991)
  • Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common sense. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • A man falls in love through his eyes, a woman through her imagination, and then they both speak of it as an affair of “the heart.” Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • The woman who appeals to a man’s vanity may stimulate him; the woman who appeals to his heart may attract him; but it’s the woman who appeals to his imagination who gets him. Helen Rowland, quoted in Franklin P. Adams et al., The Book of Diversion (1925)
  • The imagination is never governed, it is always the ruling and Divine power. John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, Vol. III (1853)

QUOTE NOTE: About the supremacy of the imagination—and it’s power to do good or bad—Ruskin added: “The rest of the man is to it only as an instrument which it sounds, or a tablet on which it writes; clearly and sublimely if the wax be smooth and the strings true, grotesquely and wildly if they are stained and broken.”

  • Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)
  • Worry is a misuse of the imagination. Marcus Sakey, an internet post from someone with the handle “BananaGirl,” in A Better World (2014)
  • I have imagination, and nothing that is real is alien to me. George Santayana, “Disinterested Interest in Life,” in Little Essays (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Santayana is tweaking a familiar saying from the Roman playwright Terence, who wrote in The Self-Tormentor (2nd c. B.C.): “I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.”

  • If the imagination is to yield any real product, it must have received a great deal of material from the external world. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Studies in Pessimism: Further Psychological Observations,” in Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer (1851; T. Bailey Sanders)
  • Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. George Scialabba, “Mindplay” (a review of Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind), in Harvard Magazine (March-April, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: These words, which have already achieved a taste of quotation immortality, were inspired by the following passage from D. H. Lawrence’s “Why the Novel Matters,” an essay in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (1936):

“Why should I look at my hand, as it so cleverly writes these words, and decide that it is a mere nothing compared to the mind that directs it? Is there really any huge difference between my hand and my brain? Or my mind? My hand is alive, it flickers with a life of its own. It meets all the strange universe in touch, and learns a vast number of things, and knows a vast number of things. My hand, as it writes these words, slips gaily along, jumps like a grasshopper to dot an i, feels the table rather cold, gets a little bored if I write too long, has its own rudiments of thought, and is just as much me as is my brain, my mind, or my soul.”

  • Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will. George Bernard Shaw, the Serpent speaking, in Back to Methuselah (1921)
  • The great instrument of moral good is the imagination. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in A Defense of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840)
  • 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)
  • Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. Adam Smith, in Theory of Moral Sentiments (2nd ed.; 1762)

Smith continued: “They never did and never can carry us beyond our own persons, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.”

  • My imagination longs to dash ahead and plan developments; but I have noticed that when things happen in one's imaginings, they never happen in one’s life, so I am curbing myself. Dodie Smith, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Cassandra Mortmain, in I Capture the Castle (1948)
  • The imagination of the actor adorns the text of the playwright with fanciful patterns and colors from his own invisible palette. Konstantin Stanislavsky, in Creating a Role (1961)
  • The imagination is man’s power over nature. Wallace Stevens, “Adagia,” in Opus Posthumous (1959)
  • Fasting was good for the imagination but bad for logic. Josephine Tey, the voice of the narrator, in A Shilling for Candles (1936)
  • Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art. Tom Stoppard, the character Donner speaking, in Artist Descending a Staircase (1972)
  • 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 (2010)

Theroux contined: “I was no exception. My early dreams did not materialize.”

  • This world is but canvas to our imaginations. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Let us not fear occasional error—the imagination is only free when fear of error is temporarily laid aside. Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock (1970)

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

  • The power of imagination illuminates all human lives in common. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: Journal of an Artist (1996)
  • What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. Barbara W. Tuchman, “Can History Be Served Up Hot?” in The New York Times Book Review (March 8, 1964)
  • So you see the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: The word moodling eventually evolved into noodling, and that is the term in general use today for idle, aimless activity.

  • Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them. Jules Verne, quoted in I. O. Evans, Jules Verne and His Work (1966)
  • Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real. Jules Verne, widely attributed, but never confirmed

ERROR ALERT: I’m still researching the matter, but I do not believe Verne ever wrote such a thing. The earliest appearance of the saying (along with the Verne attribution) seems to be in a 1964 speech by NASA’s Wernher von Braun. Here are his exact words: “But we may be certain of one thing—today’s predictions will become tomorrow's accomplishments. For as Jules Verne, who wrote of an imaginary trip to the Moon 100 years ago, said, ‘Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.’” It appears that von Braun was summarizing what Verne believed, not what he actually wrote or said.

  • Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination. Ludwig Wittgenstein, in Philosophical Investigations (1953)
  • An idea is salvation by imagination. Frank Lloyd Wright, in The Future of Architecture (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation became popular after the 1970 publication of Wright’s book, but he first introduced it forty years earlier in a lecture (titled “In the Realm of Ideas”), where he contrasted ideas with less serious mental processes. In that lecture, he said: “A fancy or conceit trifles with appearances as they are. An idea searches the sources of appearances…to give fresh proof of higher and better order in the life we live. Finally—an idea is salvation by imagination.”

  • Whatever we build in the imagination will accomplish itself in the circumstances of our lives. William Butler Yeats, in a 1901 letter, quoted in Joseph M. Hassett, W. B. Yeats and the Muses (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: The letter was formally written in a letter of application for membership in “The Order of the Golden Dawn,” an organization devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal. The full passage read: “We who are seeking this great Order must never forget that whatever we build in the imagination will accomplish itself in the circumstances of our lives.”




  • Imitation is the sincerest of flattery. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the first appearance of an observation that evolved into the proverbial saying: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  • Nature, who permits no two leaves to be exactly alike, has given a still greater diversity to human minds. Imitation, then, is a double murder; for it deprives both copy and original of their primitive existence. Germaine de Staël, the title character speaking, in Corinne, or Italy (1807)
  • Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (London; July 2, 1751)
  • To do the opposite of something is also a form of imitation, namely an imitation of its opposite. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Aphorisms: Notebook “D” (written between 1776–1779)
  • Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies? Edward Young, in Conjectures on Original Compositions (1759)

Young preceded the thought by writing: “By a spirit of Imitation, we counteract nature, and thwart her design. She brings us into the world all Originals: No two faces, no two minds, are just alike; but all bear nature’s evident mark of separation on them.”




(see also EVIL and MORALITY and SIN and VICE and WICKEDNESS)

  • I think it was Father Huntington who once said that the essence of immorality is to make an exception of one’s self. Jane Addams, “The Home and the Special Child,” a 1908 address to the National Education Association; reprinted in The Jane Addams Reader (2002; J. B. Elshtain, ed.)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly presented as a direct Addams observation and phrased this way: “The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” The source of the error appears to be a 1983 anthology of women speakers (We Shall be Heard), edited by Patricia Scileppi Kennedy and Gloria Hartmann.

  • What they need is a little immorality in their lives. Then they wouldn’t be so busy looking for it in other people’s. Agatha Christie, the character Griselda speaking, in Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
  • He’s always had something for nothing That is the one immorality that damns. Margaret Deland, the character Sarah Maitland speaking, in The Iron Woman (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: Mrs. Maitland is speaking about her spoiled son Blair, who has been indulged his entire life. She preceded the observation by saying: “Look at his whole life: what has he done? Received—received! Given nothing…you can’t fool God: you’ve got to give something! A privilege means an obligation—the obligation of sweat! Sweat of your body or your brains. Blair has never sweated.”

  • You see it is wiser to be conventionally immoral than unconventionally moral. It isn’t the immorality they object to, but the originality. Ellen Glasgow, the character Driscoll speaking, in The Descendant (1897)
  • The more immoral we become in big ways, the more puritanical we become in little ways. Florence King, in Lump It Or Leave It (1990)
  • Immorality. The morality of those who are having a better time. H. L. Mencken, in A Book of Burlesques (1920)
  • The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry “Harry” Wotton speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)



  • If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone. Mitch Albom, a remark from Morrie Schwartz, in Tuesdays With Morrie (1997)
  • I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books. Isaac Asimov, in his regular column in American Way magazine (Aug. 10, 1985); reprinted in Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime of Letters (1995; Stanley Asimov, ed.)
  • A red-hot belief in eternal glory is probably the best antidote to human panic that there is. Phyllis Bottome, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a Viennese psychoanalyst who fled to England in the 1930s, in Survival (1943)
  • Immortality is a by-product of good work. Mel Brooks, quoted in Biography News (May-June, 1975)
  • To live in hearts we leave behind/Is not to die. Thomas Campbell, from the poem “Hallowed Ground” (1825), in The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell (1827)
  • If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality. Norman Cousins, in The Celebration of Life (1974)



  • The business of the immune system is to defend the body against foreign intruders, such as microbes, and it does so with a huge onslaught of cells and whole cascades of different molecular weapons. The complexity, and diversity, of the mobilization is overwhelming. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (2009 )

Ehrenreich added: “Whole tribes and subtribes of cells assemble at the site of the infection, each with its own form of weaponry, resembling one of the ramshackle armies in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia. Some of these warrior cells toss a bucket of toxins at the invader and then move on; others are there to nourish their comrades with chemical spritzers.”



  • We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions, to which I know that I do not belong, we are influenced, and sometimes strongly, by our personal bias; and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we have to defend. August Krogh, in 1929 address at the XIII International Congress of Physiological Sciences, quoted in Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen, August and Marie Krogh: Lives in Science (1995)



  • I have been devoured all my life by an incurable and burning impatience: and to this day find all oratory, biography, operas, films, plays, books, and persons, too long. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. W. H. Auden, “The I Without a Self,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)

Auden added: “Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”

  • The cat always catches the impatient mouse. Proverb (Moroccan)
  • Impatience is incurable. Proverb (Welsh)
  • Nor are good ideas automatically adopted; they must be driven into practice with a sense of courageous impatience. And once implemented, they can be easily overturned or subverted through apathy or lack of follow-up. Hyman G. Rickover, “Economics of Defense Policy,” testimony before Joint Economic Committee of the U. S. Congress (Jan. 28,1982)



  • Every one has his flaws and weaknesses; nay, the greatest blemishes are often found in the most shining characters; but what an absurd thing it is to pass over all the valuable parts of a man, and fix our attention on his infirmities! To observe his imperfections more than his virtues. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Dec. 15, 1711)
  • A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason. Think of it as the altar of the Muse Oblivion, to whom you sacrifice your botched first drafts, the tokens of your human imperfection. Margaret Atwood, in Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose, 1983-2005 (2006)

Atwood continued: “She is the tenth Muse, the one without whom none of the others can function. The gift she offers you is the freedom of the second chance. Or as many chances as you’ll take.”

  • The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. Jane Austen, the character Mr. Darcy speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Your imperfections are what make you beautiful. Sandra Bullock, quoted in a 2002 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK—and That’s OK. William Sloane Coffin, title of book he said he would like to write, offered in a Riverside Church sermon (July 12, 1987)
  • Ring the bells that still can ring,/Forget your perfect offering,/There is a crack in everything,/That’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen, refrain from the song “Anthem,” on the album The Future (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Cohen wrote many memorable lyrics in his career, but few rival the power of this simple refrain about imperfection in human life. To see Cohen deliver a live performance of the song go to Anthem.

  • Even imperfection itself may have its ideal or perfect state. Thomas De Quincey, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” in Blackwood’s Magazine (Feb., 1827)
  • We learn as much by others’ failings as by their teachings. Examples of imperfection are just as useful for achieving perfection as are models of competence and perfection. Madeleine de Souvré (Madame de Sablé), in The Maxims of Madame de Sablé (1678)
  • When one’s outward lot is perfect, the sense of inward imperfection is the more pressing. George Eliot, in an 1872 letter; quoted in J. W. Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885)
  • It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of others. François Fénelon, in Reflections and Meditations Selected from the Writings of Fenelon (1864)
  • Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer: Thoughts On the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)
  • We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hope for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. John Lennon, in In His Own Write (1964)

Lennon preceded the thought by writing: “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”

  • Usefulness is not impaired by imperfection. You can drink from a chipped cup. Gretel K. Nagel, quoted in a 2000 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • It’s the imperfections in a diamond which afford its sparkle, hence its value. Richard Raymond III, in a personal communication to the compiler (Sep. 17, 2018)
  • Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, Vol. II (1853)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet site mistakenly present this observation as if it ended “know in life.”

Ruskin continued: “It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change, Nothing that lives is, or can be rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent.” A moment later, Ruskin went on to add: “In all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty.”

  • No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, Vol. II (1853)

Ruskin added: “All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed.”

  • Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly. Robert H. Schuller, in Move Ahead with Possibility Thinking (1986)
  • No perfection is so absolute/That some impurity doth not pollute. William Shakespeare, in The Rape of Lucrece (1594)
  • Men are much more unwilling to have their weaknesses and their imperfections known than their crimes. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Sep. 5, 1748)

Lord Chesterfield continued: “And if you hint to a man that you think him silly, ignorant, or even ill-bred, or awkward, he will hate you more and longer, than if you tell him plainly, that you think him a rogue. Never yield to that temptation, which to most young people is very strong, of exposing other people’s weaknesses and infirmities.”

  • All perfection in this life is accompanied by a measure of imperfection, and all our knowledge contains an element of obscurity. Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ (c. 1420)
  • It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Our divine perfection—not registered by the physical eye but only by the heart’s knowing—is who we truly are. Our mortal imperfections—registered by the physical senses—are not who we truly are. Yet we keep trying, in love, to find each other’s perfection within the world of imperfection. And it simply is not there. Marianne Williamson, a Facebook post (June 2, 2013)



  • The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks. Douglas Adams, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)
  • Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible. Cherie Carter-Scott, in Negaholics: How to Overcome Negativity and Turn Your Life Around (1999)
  • The impossible talked of is less impossible from the moment words are laid to it. Storm Jameson, the character Macdougal speaking, in Three Kingdoms (1926)



  • Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul. Henri Matisse, quoted in Pierre Schneider, Matisse (1984)


(see also ETIQUETTE and TASTE and [Bad] TASTE and WIT)

  • Impropriety is the soul of wit. W. Somerset Maugham, the narrator playing off the classic line from Polonius in Hamlet, in The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is almost always presented, but it originally appeared in a larger description about a London luncheon attended by a number of artists and writers. About one of guests, the narrator wrote: “Mrs. Jay, aware that impropriety is the soul of wit, made observations in tones hardly above a whisper that might well have tinged the snowy tablecloth with as rosy hue.” The meaning of the final portion of the passage is that tasteless remarks delivered with flair might even embarrass a white tablecloth. The full original Shakespeare quotation may be seen in BREVITY. See also the Dorothy Parker entry in LINGERIE.



  • No great improvement in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought. John Stuart Mill, in Autobiography (1873)



  • Improvisation is the essence of good talk. Heaven defend us from the talker who doles out things prepared for us! Max Beerbohm, “Lytton Strachey,” in Mainly On the Air (1946)




  • The touchstone of a free act—from the decision to get out of bed in the morning or take a walk in the afternoon to the highest resolutions by which we bind ourselves for the future—is always that we know that we could also have left undone what we actually did. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Sadly, most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • Nothing wilts faster than a laurel rested upon. Mary Kay Ash, in You Can Have It All (1995)
  • Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Edmund Burke

ERROR ALERT: This quotation—sometimes with the phrasing nobody made—appears in hundreds of books and thousands of websites, but it has never been found in Edmund Burke’s writings or speeches. For an even more famous misattribution regarding Burke, see the entry below.

  • The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Edmund Burke

ERROR ALERT: This quotation—in a number of slightly differing versions—is one of history’s most famous observations. Citing Burke as the author is also one of quotation history’s most common erroneous attributions. In The Quote Verifier (2006), Ralph Keyes reports that even the folks at Bartlett’s helped to perpetuate the error. In 1968, the fourteenth edition of the esteemed quotation anthology cited a 1795 letter as the source (a retraction was issued in the fifteenth edition in 1980). About the quotation, Keyes concludes: “Despite diligent searching by librarians and others, no one has ever found these words in the works of Edmund Burke, or anyone else.” The underlying idea about good men doing nothing was originally expressed by John Stuart Mill in 1867 (see his entry below)

  • He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • There is nothing I fear so much as idleness, the want of occupation, inactivity, the lethargy of the faculties; when the body is idle, the spirit suffers painfully. Charlotte Brontë, in an 1844 letter to Constantin Héger, quoted in Muriel Spark, The Letters of The Brontës: A Selection (1954)
  • Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind. Leonardo da Vinci, a circa 1500 entry, in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1957; Robert Newton Linscott, ed.)
  • Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. Sydney J. Harris, in Strictly Personal (1953)
  • It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. Jerome K. Jerome, “On Being Idle,” in Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886)

Jerome continued: “There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then. and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.”

  • The biggest sin is sitting on your ass. Florynce R. Kennedy, in Ms. magazine (March 1973)
  • A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing. John Stuart Mill, in “On Education,” his inaugural address as rector of St. Andrews (Feb. 1, 1867)
  • It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,/That lays eggs under your skin. Ogden Nash, in “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man” (1959)
  • The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • It is always easier to do nothing than to try a new line of action. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • What you don't do can be a destructive force. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)

QUOTE NOTE: Eleanor Roosevelt may have been thinking about a famous Voltaire observation when she wrote this (see the Voltaire entry below).

  • Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. Haile Selassie, in remarks at meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jan. 28, 1972)

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

  • Heaven never helps the men who will not act. Sophocles, a 5th century fragment, in Sophocles: Tragedies and Fragments (1865; trans. by E. H. Plumptre)
  • The most ominous of fallacies—the belief that things can be kept static by inaction. Freya Stark, in Dust in the Lion’s Paw: An Autobiography (1961)
  • Perhaps…it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the character Miss Ophelia speaking, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1856)
  • The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a reflection of the narrator, an unnamed pastor, in Little Foxes (1866; orig. published under the pen name Christopher Crowfield)

QUOTE NOTE: After ticking off some typical statements of regret (like “He never knew what he was to me” and “I always meant to make more of our friendship”), the narrator continued: “How much more we might make of our family life, of our friendships, if every secret thought of love blossomed into a deed!” And then a moment after that, the narrator continued: “There are words and looks and little observances, thoughtfulnesses, watchful little attentions, which speak of love, which make it manifest, and there is scarce a family that might not be richer in heart-wealth for more of them.”

  • A life which does not go into action is a failure. Arnold Toynbee, in A Study of History (1954)
  • Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do. Voltaire, a liberal translation of something he wrote in Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752):

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation has become very popular, but Voltaire never exactly wrote it in this way. Here’s a more faithful translation of his original words: “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.” I originally found the more quotable version in Sydney J. Harris's 1972 book For the Time Being, where he wrote: “If mankind collapses, it will be for sins of omission rather than of commission; as Voltaire put it long ago, ‘Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.’”

  • For of all sad words of tongue or pen,/The saddest are these: “It might have been.” John Greenleaf Whittier, in “Maud Miller” (1854)
  • Things said or done long years ago,/Or things I did not do or say/But thought that I might say or do,/Weigh me down, and not a day/But something is recalled,/My conscience or my vanity appalled. William Butler Yeats, in “Vacillation” (1933)


(see also ABILITY and COMPETENCE and INCOMPETENCE and INEPTITUDE and [Lack of] SKILL and [lack of] TALENT)

  • How easy it is, how dangerously easy it is to hate a man for one's own inadequacies. Grace Metalious, a reflection of the character Seth Buswell, in Peyton Place (1956)






  • If you want to know who your friends are, get yourself a jail sentence. Charles Bukowski, in Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
  • Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo—obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other. Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Roles in the Community of Slaves,” in Black Scholar (Dec., 1971); reprinted in An Autobiography (1974)
  • It was better to be in a jail where you could bang the walls than in a jail you could not see. Carson McCullers, the voice of the narrator, in The Member of the Wedding (1946)
  • It might be hard to believe, but the air in prison is different. There’s like one thousand people sucking on the one little piece of fresh air until it turns stale. Sister Souljah (Lisa Williamson), in The Coldest Winter Ever (1999)
  • Prisons are to crime what greenhouses are to plants. Harry Whittington, quoted in Simon Romero, “A Red-Stater Even Before There Was Such a Thing,” in The New York Times (Feb. 15, 2006)

QUOTE NOTE: Whittington, a Republican lawyer appointed to the Texas Board of Corrections by Democratic Gov. Lyndon B. Johnson, made this remark in the 1980s. Whittington occupies a footnote in history as the man who was accidentally shot in the face by Vice President Dick Cheney in a 2006 hunting accident.





  • Exclusion is always dangerous. Inclusion is the only safety if we are to have a peaceful world. Pearl S. Buck, in A Bridge for Passing (1962)
  • Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. Verna Myers, in Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing (2011)


(see also ABILITY and COMPETENCE and INADEQUACY and INEPTITUDE and [Lack of] SKILL and {lack of] TALENT)

  • Every year, it takes more brains to navigate this complicated world. More people are falling below what I call the “incompetence line” through no fault of their own. Scott Adams, in The Dilbert Future: Thriving on Business Stupidity in the 21st Century (1997)
  • The price of loyalty is incompetence. Issues don’t get aired; downside risks remain unassessed. Jonathan Alter, in Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, People, and Culture (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Alter was referring to the George W. Bush presidency, but his observation applies to any U. S. President who expects or demands loyalty from his cabinet and top aides.

  • Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Isaac Asimov, a favorite saying of the character Mayor Salvor Hardin, in Foundation (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: Hardin liked the saying so much that he had it framed and placed on a wall in his office.

  • A certain combination of incompetence and indifference can cause almost as much suffering as the most acute malevolence. Bruce Catton, in A Stillness at Appomattox (1953)
  • Arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence. Not a pretty cocktail of personality traits in the best of situations. No sirree. Not a pretty cocktail in an office-mate and not a pretty cocktail in a head of state. In fact, in a leader, it’s a lethal cocktail. Graydon Carter, in a Tweet (Dec. 10, 2018)
  • Useful men, who do useful things, don’t mind being treated as useless. But the useless always judge themselves as being important and hide all their incompetence behind authority. Paulo Coelho, the grandfather speaking, in “Incompetence Behind Authority,” in Like The Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections (2006)
  • In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. Laurence J. Peter, in The Peter Principle (1969; with Raymond Hull)

In the book, Peter also offered these additional thoughts on the subject:

“In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

“Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

  • Incompetence is the disease of idiots. Overconfidence is the disease of experts. Incompetence annoys me. Overconfidence terrifies me. Malcolm Gladwell, in 2010 talk at the University of Tennessee—Chattanooga; reported in “Gladwell Packs UTC Venue,” Chattanooga Times Free Press (Oct. 6, 2010)

Gladwell introduced the thought by saying: “When experts make mistakes…they may be really good at what they do, but they think they’re really, really really good at what they do. And in that gap is an extraordinary opportunity for failure.” He concluded his talk by saying: “In times of crisis, we think we need to rely on the expertise of our leaders. We don’t. We need to rely on the humility of our leaders.”

  • Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Josh Marshall, “I Was Finally Able,” in TalkingPointsMemo.com (Jan. 17, 2006)

Marshall continued: “Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power.”

  • Incompetents invariably make trouble for people other than themselves. Larry McMurtry, the voice of the narrator, in Lonesome Dove (1985)
  • One of the chief features of incompetence was an inability to see it in oneself. Kim Stanley Robinson, the voice of the narrator, in Galileo’s Dream: A Novel (2008)
  • Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists,” in Man and Superman (1903)



  • An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. G. K. Chesterton, “On Running After One’s Hat,” in All Things Considered (1908). Also an example of chiasmus.



  • A wrong decision isn’t forever; it can always be reversed. The losses from a delayed decision are forever; they can never be retrieved. John Kenneth Galbraith, in A Life in Our Times (1981)
  • Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping. Julius C. & Augustus W. Hare, in Guesses at Truth (1827)
  • There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision. William James, in The Principles of Psychology (1890)



  • Independence is a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more. Maya Angelou, in Mom & Me & Mom (2013)
  • I’ve lived a life that’s full,/I’ve traveled each and ev’ry highway,/And more, much more than this,/I did in my way. Paul Anka, lyrics to the 1969 song “My Way”
  • Independence is happiness. Susan B. Anthony, in “Social Purity” speech in Chicago (Spring, 1875); reprinted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. 2 (1898)
  • Woman must have a purse of her own. Susan B. Anthony, an 1853 remark, quoted in Annie Laurie Gaylor, Women Without Superstition “No Gods—No Masters”: The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1997)
  • Never sing in chorus, if you want to be heard. Jules Archibald, quoted in The Big Book of Business Quotations (2003)
  • How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • It is in the nature of a group and its power to turn against independence, the property of individual strength. Hannah Arendt, in On Violence (1970)
  • Those who really desire to attain an independence, have only [to] set their minds upon it, and adopt the proper means, as they do in regard to any other object which they wish to accomplish, and the thing is easily done. P. T. Barnum, in Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum (1869)
  • In her there appeared the charm one finds in independent women at whom “society” has thrown up its hands and who have responded to “society” with total indifference. Nina Berberova, in The Accompanist (1988)
  • Abnormal, adj. Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will. 1847, the title character speaking, in Jane Eyre (1847)
  • I'll walk where my own nature would be leading: / It vexes me to choose another guide. Emily Brontë, in “Selections From the Literary Remains of Ellis and Acton Bell,” (1850; Charlotte Brontë, ed.)
  • A true leader is constantly providing tools that enable independence. The timing and the selection of the presented tools is the exercise of leadership or wisdom. Sylvia Bushell, in Paths to Leadership: Power Through Feminine Dignity (1987)
  • An authentic leader helps others increase their own independence, and…does not actually give direction or assert authority. Sylvia Bushell, in Paths to Leadership: Power Through Feminine Dignity (1987)

Bushell preceded the thought by writing: “The highest type of leadership is serving other people in such a way that they lead themselves, that they develop spiritually.”

  • A craving for freedom and independence is generated only in a man still living on hope. Albert Camus. a reflection of protagonist Patrice Mersault, in La mort heureuse [in English, A Happy Death] (written circa 1937; pub. posthumously in 1971)
  • The world looks with some awe upon a man who appears unconcernedly indifferent to home, money, comfort, rank, or even power and fame. The world feels not without a certain apprehension, that here is someone outside its jurisdiction; someone before whom its allurements may be spread in vain; some one strangely enfranchised, untamed, untrammelled by convention, moving independent of the ordinary currents of human action. Winston Churchill, at 1936 unveiling of memorial to T. E. Lawrence; quoted in Jeremy M. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T. E. Lawrence (1989)
  • To be poor and independent is very nearly an impossibility. William Cobbett, in Advice to Young Men (1829)
  • I learned that in each of us there burns a flame of independence that must never be allowed to go out. That as long as it exists within us we cannot be destroyed. Bryce Courtenay, in The Power of One (1989)
  • A man may own a ship, but unless he is captain of a crew he goes where the ship goes. Gordon Daviot, the voice of the narrator, in The Privateer (1952)
  • Nature never said to me: Do not be poor; still less did she say: Be rich; her cry was always: Be independent. Nicolas de Chamfort, in Maxims and Consideration (1796)
  • Be thine own palace, or the world’s jail. John Donne, in “To Sir Henry Wotten” (1633)
  • The finest inheritance you can give to a child is to allow it to make its own way, completely on its own feet. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence—these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it. Albert Einstein, in The World as I See it (1934)
  • We must be our own before we can be another’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841
  • It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • There is a great deal of self-will in the world, but very little genuine independence of character. Frederick W. Faber, in Spiritual Conferences (1859)

Faber continued: “All imitation of others is more or less an untruth. We are ourselves, and we must act as ourselves, and must be like ourselves, and consistent with ourselves; and this is hardly what any of us ever are. We go about like weather-cocks, ascertaining for ourselves and indicating to others the outlying quarters from which the wind comes. We have no ascertained principles of our own.”

  • Content to live, content to die unknown,/Lord of myself, accountable to none. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Sep., 1742)
  • Independence means voluntary restraints and discipline, voluntary acceptance of the rule of law. Mahatma Gandhi, in The Quintessence of Gandhi in His Own Words (1984; Shakti Batra, ed.)
  • Teenagers crave independence. The more self-sufficient we make them feel, the less hostile they are toward us. Haim G. Ginott, in Between Parent and Teenager (1969
  • The first of earthly blessings, independence. Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life and Writings (1796))
  • There is no support so strong as the strength that enables one to stand alone. Ellen Glasgow, “The Difference,” in The Shadowy Third (1923)
  • A tragic irony of life is that we so often achieve success or financial independence after the chief reason for which we sought it has passed away. Ellen Glasgow, in The Woman Within (1954)
  • He alone is great and happy who fills his own station of independence, and has neither to command nor to obey. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in the play Götz von Berlichingen (1773)
  • A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • He sympathizes with every sect, but belongs to none. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • It is easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing—that’s the Lord’s test. Mahalia Jackson, in Movin’ On Up (1966; with Evan McLeod Wylie)
  • If ever there was a holy war, it was that which saved our liberties and gave us independence. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John W. Eppes (November 6, 1813)
  • I am a sect by myself, as far as I know. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Rev. Ezra Stiles (June 25, 1819)
  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs, Commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005)
  • Passivity is the dragon every woman has to murder in her quest for independence. Jill Johnston, in Lesbian Nation (1973)
  • Life calls us forth to independence, and anyone who does not heed this call because of childish laziness or timidity is threatened with neurosis. And once this has broken out, it becomes an increasingly valid reason for running away from life and remaining forever in the morally poisonous atmosphere of infancy. Carl Jung, in The Development of Personality (1910)

Jung preceded the thought by writing: “It is not possible to live too long amid infantile surroundings, or in the bosom of the family, without endangering one’s psychic health.”

  • Freedom is independence of the compulsory will of another, and in so far as it tends to exist with the freedom of all according to a universal law, it is the one sole original inborn right belonging to every man in virtue of his humanity. Immanuel Kant, in Philosophy of Law (1887)
  • Get up, lad, and be a man for yourself. It’s the man who dares to take, who is independent, not he who gives. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to John Middleton Murry (November 1913); quoted in Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (1961; Diana Trilling, ed.)
  • We commonly confuse closeness with sameness and view intimacy as the merging of two separate ‘I’s into one worldview. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Intimacy (1989)
  • Love is generally confused with dependence; but in point of fact, you can love only in proportion to your capacity for independence. Rollo May, in Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
  • If you are not your own agent, you are someone else’s. Alice E. Molloy, in In Other Words (1973)
  • The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Solitude,” in Essays (1588)
  • A wise man never loses anything if he have himself. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Solitude,” in Essays (1588)
  • No one can be free unless he is independent. Maria Montessori, in The Montessori Method (1912)
  • Human dignity…is derived from a sense of independence. Maria Montessori, in The Child in the Family (1929)
  • Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • Mature people relate to each other without the need to merge. Anaïs Nin, a 1946 entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • 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, Part 2 (1792)
  • I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me. Anna Quindlen, “At the Beach,” in Living Out Loud (1988)
  • To conquer Fortune and everything else, begin by independence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Emile (1762)
  • The best kind of leader: one who creates independence, not dependence. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution From Within (1993)
  • Though all humans need both intimacy and independence, women tend to focus on the first and men on the second. It is as if their lifeblood ran in different directions. Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (2013)
  • She had the air of someone who walked among her own thoughts and found them sufficient company. Patricia Wentworth, in Out of the Past (1953)
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. Oscar Wilde, in De Profundis (pub. posthumously in 1905)

Wilde preceded the thought by writing: “It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their souls’ before they die. ‘Nothing is more rare in any man’ says Emerson, ‘than an act of his own.’ It is quite true.”

  • What is independence? Freedom from all laws or bonds except those of one’s own being, control’d by the universal ones. Walt Whitman, in Democratic Vistas (1871)
  • Independence I have long considered as the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue. Mary Wollstonecraft, in Dedication to A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

Later in the book, Wollstonecraft underscored the point by saying, “How can a rational being be ennobled by anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?”





  • The greatest tragedy is indifference. An Advertising Slogan for The Red Cross’s 1961 fund-raising appeal (created by Young & Rubicam); reported in The New York Times (Feb. 9, 1961)
  • Indifference breeds animosity. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self (1998)
  • Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference, which is, at least, half infidelity. Edmund Burke, in a letter to William Smith (Jan. 29, 1795)
  • When people are long indifferent to us, we grow indifferent to their indifference. Charlotte Brontë, in Shirley (1849)
  • I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. Albert Camus, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a French-Algerian named Meursault, in The Stranger (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: This is perhaps the most familiar quotation on the indifference of the universe, but it is not the first. See the Charles Dickens entry below.

  • A certain combination of incompetence and indifference can cause almost as much suffering as the most acute malevolence. Bruce Catton, in A Stillness at Appomattox (1953)
  • Indifference is the acid of life. It erodes all the spirit that’s in us and makes us useless to anyone else. We all have to stand for something, or our souls cease to breathe. Joan Chittister, In a High Spiritual Season (1995)
  • In our time all it takes for evil to flourish is for a few good men to be a little wrong and have a great deal of power, and for the vast majority of their fellow citizens to remain indifferent. William Sloane Coffin, in Once to Every Man: A Memoir (1977)
  • Lukewarmness I account a sin,/As great in love as in religion. Abraham Cowley, from the poem “The Request,” first published in The Mistress (1647)
  • One must be very strong, or very stupid, or completely exhausted to face life with indifference. Alexandra David-Néel, a 1914 remark, in La Lampe de Sagesse (1986)
  • “The universe,” he observed, “makes rather an indifferent parent, I am afraid.” Charles Dickens the character Mr. Jarndyce speaking, in Bleak House (1853)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Jarndyce’s reply to Esther Summerson, who had just said to him about a young woman named Ada, “She is the child of the universe.” I believe this is the first observation ever made on the indifference of the universe. For two more, see the Camus and Holmes entries.

  • Catholics and Communists have committed great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside, like an established society, and been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate. Graham Greene, in The Comedians (1966)
  • Poise and indifference so often look the same. Sue Grafton, in “J” Is for Judgment (1993)
  • The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent. John H. Holmes, in The Sensible Man’s View of Religion (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: It is possible that Holmes was inspired by a passage from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (presented above)

  • The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. Robert M. Hutchins, in Great Books: The Foundation of a Liberal Education (1954)
  • Familiarity breeds, not contempt, but indifference. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Sometimes it was worth all the disadvantages of marriage just to have that: one friend in an indifferent world. Erica Jong, a reflection of protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)

Wing introduced the thought this way: “Coupling doesn’t always to do with sex…Two people holding each other up like flying buttresses. Two people depending on each other and babying each other and defending each other against the world outside.”

  • It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon at National Cathedral, Washington, DC (March 31, 1968)
  • The tragedy of love is indifference. W. Somerset Maugham, the character Nielson speaking, in the short story “Red,” in The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands (1921)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the concluding line of a longer reflection on the the real tragedy of love. The full passage goes this way: “The tragedy of love is not death or separation. How long do you think it would have been before one or other of them ceased to care? Oh, it is dreadfully bitter to look at a woman whom you have loved with all your heart and soul, so that you felt you could not bear to let her out of your sight, and realize that you would not mind if you never saw her again. The tragedy of love is indifference.”

  • The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference. Bess Myerson, quoted in Claire Safran, “Impeachment?” Redbook magazine (April 1974)
  • Not to him who is offensive to us are we most unfair, but to him who doth not concern us at all. Friedrich Nietzsche, a saying of the title character, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)
  • By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy–indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self-satisfaction. William Osler, in Aphorisms from His Bedside Teachings and Writings (1961; R. B. Bean, ed.)
  • Indifference is the invincible giant of the world. Ouida, a reflection of the character Pippa, in Signa: A Story (1875)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have invisible rather than invincible.

  • Love and hate always remember; it is only indifference that forgets. Myrtle Reed, in The Myrtle Reed Year Book (1911)
  • All politics are based on the indifference of the majority. James Reston, “New York,” in The New York Times (June 12, 1968)
  • Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. J. K. Rowling, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  • Most of us have no real loves and no real hatreds. Blessed is love, less blessed is hatred, but thrice accursed is that indifference which is neither one or the other. Mark Rutherford, in The Deliverance of Mark Rutherford (1893)
  • Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. Haile Selassie, in remarks at meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jan. 28, 1972)

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

  • The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. George Bernard Shaw, the character Anthony Anderson speaking, in The Devil’s Disciple (1897)
  • Men are accomplices to that which leaves them indifferent. George Steiner, “A Kind of Survivor,” in Language and Silence (1967)
  • I am a man, and nothing that concerns a man do I deem a matter of indifference to me. Terence, in the play Heauton Timorumenos (263 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is an earlier translation of a famous passage that is now generally presented in this way: “I am human, and think nothing human is alien to me.”

  • After the first blush of sin comes its indifference. Henry David Thoreau, in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849)
  • Indifference is the strongest force in the universe. It makes everything it touches meaningless. Love and hate don’t stand a chance against it. Joan D. Vinge, in The Snow Queen (2015)
  • Wherever the citizen becomes indifferent to his fellows, so will the husband be to his wife, and the father of a family towards the members of his household. Karl Wilhelm Von Humboldt, in Limits of State Action (1792)
  • The opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Elie Wiesel, quoted in U. S. News & World Report (Oct. 27, 1986)

QUOTE NOTE: Wiesel preceded the remark by saying: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The oopposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.” Wiesel was almost certainly influenced by Shaw’s line above from The Devil’s Disciple, which was well known at the time.

In the article, Wiesel also offered these observations on the subject:

“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”

“Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.”

  • Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own. Elie Wiesel, in “Perils of Indifference,” an address on at the White House (April 12, 1999)
  • I am never deliberately cruel. But after my morning’s work, I have little to give but indifference to people. Tennessee Williams, in The New Yorker (July 15, 1994)



  • A man who cannot get angry is like a stream that cannot overflow, that is always turbid. Sometimes indignation is as good as a thunder-storm in summer, clearing and cooling the air. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things. G. K. Chesterton, in remarks on Prohibition, quoted in The New York Times (Nov. 21, 1930)
  • What arouses the indignation of the honest satirist is not, unless the man is a prig, the fact the people in positions of power or influence behave idiotically, or even that they behave wickedly. It is that they conspire successfully to impose upon the public a picture of themselves as so very sagacious, honest and well-intentioned. Claud Cockburn, “The Worst Possible Taste,” in Cockburn Sums Up (1981)
  • Indignation at literary wrongs I leave to men born under happier stars. I cannot afford it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Biographia Literaria (1817)
  • A good indignation brings out all one’s powers. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Oct. 24, 1841)
  • Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indignation which arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely assailed. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

QUOTE NOTE: Reflecting on what makes for greatness in a man, Emerson went on to write: “When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill.”

  • A good indignation makes an excellent speech. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Eloquence,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is commonly remembered, but the underlying sentiment was inspired by Horace and originally expressed by Emerson this way: “If ‘indignation makes verses,’ as Horace says, it is not less true that a good indignation makes an excellent speech.”

  • There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as “moral indignation,” which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue. Erich Fromm, in Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics (1947)
  • In its sentimental mode, compassion is an exercise in moral indignation, in feeling good rather than doing good. Gertrude Himmelfarb, in Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (1991)

Himmelfarb went on to add: “In its unsentimental mode, compassion seeks above all to do good.”

  • Moral indignation is a pleasure, often the only pleasure, in many lives. It’s also one of the few pleasures people feel obliged to force on other people. Barbara Holland, from “Wearing Fur,” in Endangered Pleasures (1995)

Holland preceded the thought by writing: “Of course, there are those who don’t eat lamb chops, for moral reasons. There are also those who rise before daybreak and leap into a cold shower in February; those hwo disapprove of idleness, gin rummy, slang, dancing, unauthorized sex, naps, socialism, and Jacuzzis for moral reasons. They enjoy it.”

  • Incivility is contagious—often spreading by way of righteous indignation until even those without legitimate grievance have come down with symptoms and taken sides. Diane Kalen-Sukra, in Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What to Do about It (2019)
  • Envy has always hidden behind moral indignation. Doris Lessing, in Walking in the Shade, 1949-1962, Vol. 2 (1997)
  • Envy coexists only too easily with righteous disapproval. Ursula K. Le Guin, in No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (2017)
  • What actually fills you with indignation as regards suffering is not suffering in itself but the pointlessness of suffering. Friedrich Nietzsche, in On the Genealogy of Morals (1881)
  • I have been into many of the ancient cathedrals—grand, wonderful, mysterious. But I always leave them with a feeling of indignation because of the generations of human beings who have struggled in poverty to build these altars to the unknown god. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an 1882 observation, quoted in Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters, Diary. and Reminiscences, Vol. 2 (1922)
  • An attitude of permanent indignation signifies great mental poverty. Politics compels its votaries to take that line and you can see their minds growing more and more impoverished every day, from one burst of righteous anger to the next. Paul Valéry, in Tel Quel (1943)
  • Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. H. G. Wells, the voice of the narrator, in The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman (1914)
  • 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)



  • Anger can offer a sense of indignity to replace a sense of shame, and offer a voice—raised above others—which can finally be heard. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)

Barreca continued: “Those voices are most effective when they are raised in unison, when they have mercy as well as anger behind them, and when, instead of roaring at the anger of old pain, they sing about the glorious possibilities of a future where anger has a smaller house than hope.”

  • Nobody ever dies of an indignity. Elizabeth Bowen, “Ivy Compton-Burnett,” in Collected Impressions (1950)
  • The ultimate indignity is to be given a bedpan by a stranger who calls you by your first name. Maggie Kuhn, quoted in The Observer (London; Aug. 20, 1978)



  • The graveyards are full of indispensable people. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this saying to Charles de Gaulle, but many other people have also been cited, including Winston Churchill, Georges Clemenceau, Chuck Hagel, Phil Gramm, and even James Carville. Thanks to the work of quotation sleuth Garson O’Toole, the original sentiment has been found. It was offered by Elbert Hubbard—but without the actual word indispensable—in a May, 1907 issue of The Philistine: A Journal of Protest: “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” As the years passed, the Hubbard saying morphed into the modern version that has become so popular.



  • Life is a strange affair. We all try to be alike in our youth, and individual in our middle age. As we grow up we endeavor to shake ourselves out of the jelly-mold shape into which school education forces us, although we sometimes mistake eccentricity for individuality. Mrs. [Ethel] Alec-Tweedie, the voice of the narrator, in Behind the Footlights (1904)
  • The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. Saul Alinsky, in Rules for Radicals (1971)
  • Nature made him, and then broke the mold. Ludovico Ariosto, the narrator describing the title character, in Orlando Furioso [The Frenzy of Orlando] (1532)

QUOTE NOTE: The expression After him [or her], they broke the mold is now routinely used to characterize a truly unique individual, but that was not Ariosto’s meaning when he first offered the metaphor in his classic work. Describing Roland, the most celebrated of the knights—or paladins—of Charlemagne, he wrote: “There never was such beauty in another man./Nature made him, and then broke the mold.” In sixteenth-century Italy, the famous knight was known as Orlando, but when Ariosto’s Furioso was translated into French—and then later into English—he became known as Roland (following the pattern set in the epic poem The Song of Roland).

  • If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world, it will come through the expression of your own personality—that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature. Bruce Barton, in It’s a Good Old World (1920)
  • A child develops individuality long before he develops taste. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • True individuality can be lonely. Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All the Rules (1999)
  • Instead of boiling up individuals into the species, I would draw a chalk circle round every individuality and preach it to keep within that, and preserve and cultivate its identity. Jane Welsh Carlyle, 1845 remark to Thomas Carlyle, quoted in J. A. Froude, Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Vol. 1 (1883)
  • No man should part with his individuality and aim to become another. No process is so fatal as that which would cast all men into one mold. William Ellery Channing, in speech to the American Unitarian Association (May 26, 1829); reprinted in The Works of William Ellery Channing (1835)

Channing added: “Every human being is intended to have a character of his own, to be what no other is, to do what no other can do.”

  • Nature made us individuals, as she did the flowers and the pebbles; but we are afraid to be peculiar, and so our society resembles a bag of marbles, or a string of mould candles. Lydia Maria Child, in Letters From New York, 1st Series (1842)

Child continued: “Why should we all dress after the same fashion? The frost never paints my windows twice alike.”

  • The boughs of no two trees ever have the same arrangement. Nature always produces individuals; She never produces classes. Lydia Maria Child, in Letters From New York. 2nd Series (1845)
  • Each human is uniquely different. Like snowflakes, the human pattern is never cast twice. Alice Childress, “A Candle in a Gale Wind,” in Black Women Writers (1950–1980) (1984; Mari Evans, ed.)
  • To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting. e. e. cummings, quoted in Charles Norman, The Magic Maker: E. E. Cummings (1958)

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

  • Individuality is freedom lived. John Dos Passos, the opening line of “A Question of Elbow Room,” in The National Review (Jan. 25, 1958); reprinted in Felix M. Morley, Essays in Individuality (1958)

Dos Passos continued: “When we use the word individuality we refer to a whole gamut of meanings. Starting from the meanings which pertain to the deepest recesses of private consciousness, these different meanings can be counted off one by one like the skins in the cross section of an onion, until we reach the everyday outer hide of meaning which crops up in common talk.”

  • When you’re young, and even at times when you’re older, it’s hard to fathom this: What needs to be nurtured is the stuff that’s different, that sets you apart from the pack, rather than the stuff that helps you blend in. Maureen Dowd, “My Deathless Passion,” in The New York Times (July 3, 2010)

Dowd preceded the thought by writing: “Sometimes the thing that’s weird about you is the thing that’s cool about you.”

  • One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946; English version, 1959)
  • Man may be defined as the animal that can say “I,” that can be aware of himself as a separate entity. Erich Fromm, “Sense of Identity,” in The Sane Society (1955)
  • Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the road less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost, in “The Road Not Taken” (1916)
  • The best things and best people rise out of their separateness. I’m against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise. Robert Frost, quoted in Forbes magazine (Sep., 1980)
  • The individual man tires to escape the race. And as soon as he ceases to represent the race, he represents man. André Gide, journal entry (undated, 1889), in Journals, 1889–1913 (1949; Justin O’Brien, ed.)
  • Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. We should not be pleased if old friends were to lay aside certain peculiarities. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Elective Affinities (1809)
  • You can’t change the music of your soul. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Lee Israel, “Last of the Honest-To-God Ladies,” Esquire magazine (Nov., 1967)
  • our golden opportunity with children lies in recognition and appreciation of their individual differences developed and fused with a social purpose. Helen Gibson Hogue, in Untying Apron Strings: The Story of Personality Development (1936)

Hogue continued: “We do not in our gardens try to make a calendula into a rose. We try to learn the needs of calendulas and help them grow into the best calendulas possible. If we are true gardeners we have a sort of uprush of happiness in the individual beauty of each variety of flower.”

  • If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes. T. H. Huxley, “Administrative Nihilism” (1871), in Methods and Results: Essays (1898)
  • The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. Carl Jung, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933)
  • The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Rudyard Kipling, quoted in Arthur Gordon, “Interview with an Immortal,” Reader’s Digest (June, 1935)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often misattributed to Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Individualism is rather like innocence; there must be something unconscious about it. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)

Kronenberger went on to add: “True individualists tend to be quite unobservant; it is the snob, the would-be sophisticate, the frightened conformist, who keeps a fascinated or worried eye on what is in the wind.”

  • All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)

Lamott added: “Some people will sing it spontaneously, with a lot of soulful riffs, while others are going to practice until they could sing it at the Met.”

  • The only good thing we can do, the only goodness we can be sure of, is our own goodness as individuals and the good that we can individually do. Marghanita Laski, the voice of the narrator, in Little Boy Lost (1949)

The narrator continued: “As groups we often do evil that good may come and very often the good does not come and all that is left is the evil we have pointlessly done.”

  • There’s a point, around the age of twenty…when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Bedap speaking, in The Dispossessed (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Bedap makes this remark to the character Shevek, who replies: “Or at least accept them with resignation.” The Dispossessed is one of LeGuin’s most acclaimed works, one of a small number of sci-fi novels to win the Hugo, Lotus, and Nebula Awards for Best Novel.

  • Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. Doris Lessing, quoted in Amanda Craig, “Grand Dame of Letters Who’s Not Going Quietly,” The Times (London; Nov. 23, 2003)
  • The recognition of personal separateness—of others having their own concepts, different from his, because they see things from their position and condition as individuals and not from his own—is not ordinarily possible before a child is seven. Miriam Lindstrom, in Children’s Art (1962)

Lindstrom added: “Immaturity in adults reveals itself clearly in the retention of this infantile orientation.”

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

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

  • Others can give you a name or a number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you yourself can only discover from within. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island (1955)
  • How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life? Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1962)

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

  • Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)

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

  • Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. John Stuart Mill, 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.”

  • 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 (1962)
  • At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique human being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874), in Untimely Meditations (1876)

Nietzsche continued: “He knows this, but hides it like an evil conscience—and why? From fear of his neighbor, who looks for the latest conventionalities in him, and is wrapped up in them himself.” The complete essay may be seen at ”Schopenhauer as Educator”.

  • The man who does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: “Be your self!” Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator,” in Untimely Meditations (1876)
  • There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (June, 1935), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1934–1939 (Vol. 2, 1967)
  • Individuality is everywhere to be preserved and respected, as the root of everything good. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), the protagonist Albano de Cesara speaking, in Titan: A Romance (1800-03)
  • If a life can have a theme song, and I believe every worthwhile one has, mine is a religion, an obsession, or a mania or all of these expressed in one word: individualism. Ayn Rand, in a 1936 biographical statement, quoted in Anne Conover Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009)

QUOTE NOTE: The thirty-one-year-old Rand offered this self-description in a four-page biographical sketch she wrote to promote the British edition of We the Living. She added: “I was born with that obsession and have never seen and do not know now a cause more worthy, more misunderstood, more seemingly hopeless and more tragically needed.”

  • There is no hope for the world unless and until we formulate, accept and state publicly a true moral code of individualism, based on man’s inalienable right to live for himself. Neither to hurt nor to serve his brothers, but to be independent of them in his function and in his motive. Neither to sacrifice them for himself nor to sacrifice himself for them in selfless service. Ayn Rand in letter to Tom Girdler, chairman of the board of Republic Steel (July 12, 1943); reprinted in Letters of Ayn Rand (1995; Michael S. Berliner, ed.)
  • What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Unpopular Opinions (1946)
  • To have one’s individuality completely ignored is like being pushed quite out of life. Like being blown out as one blows out a light. Evelyn Scott, in Escapade (1923)
  • To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Royal Sport Nautique,” in An Inland Voyage (1877)
  • We humans are herd animals of the monkey tribe, not natural individuals as lions are. Our individuality is partial and restless; the stream of consciousness that we call “I” is made of shifting elements that flow from our group and back to our group again. Always we seek to be ourselves and the herd together, not One against the herd. Anna Louise Strong, in I Change Worlds: The Remaking of an American (1935)
  • We all know we are unique individuals, but we tend to see others as representatives of groups. Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990)
  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. Oscar Wilde, in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
  • Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies? Edward Young, in Conjectures on Original Compositions (1759)

Young preceded the thought by writing: “By a spirit of Imitation, we counteract nature, and thwart her design. She brings us into the world all Originals: No two faces, no two minds, are just alike; but all bear nature’s evident mark of separation on them.”



  • The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. Saul Alinsky, in Rules for Radicals (1971)
  • The boughs of no two trees ever have the same arrangement. Nature always produces individuals; She never produces classes. Lydia Maria Child, in Letters From New York. 2nd Series (1845)

* The bigger the crowd, the more negligible the individual. Carl Jung, in The Undiscovered Self (1958)

  • There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (June, 1935), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1934–1939 (Vol. 2, 1967)
  • What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Unpopular Opinions (1946)


(see also IDLENESS and LAZINESS and SLOTH)

  • Indolence is the sleep of the mind. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880)
  • Indolence and stupidity are first cousins. Antoine de Rivarol, quoted in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)
  • I look upon indolence as a sort of suicide; for the man is effectually destroyed, though the appetite of the brute may survive. Phillip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Feb. 26, 1754)




  • In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity. John Barth, quoted in Charles B. Harris, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth (1983)
  • My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity. John Barth, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” in Atlantic Monthly (Aug., 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: The phrase passionate virtuosity, which Barth offered on a number of occasions over the years, became so singularly associated with him that Charles B. Harris selected it as the title of his 1983 critical study of Barth’s work (the Harris book also presented Barth’s most quotable version of the sentiment). Barth introduced the idea in an August, 1967 Atlantic Monthly article (“The Literature of Exhaustion”), in which he wrote: “My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity.” He reprised the sentiment in his 1972 novel Chimera, where he had The Genie say to another character: “Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity.”

QUOTE NOTE: Barth reprised the sentiment in his 1972 novel Chimera, where he had The Genie say to another character: “Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity.” The phrase went on to become so singularly associated with Barth that Charles B. Harris selected it as the title of his 1983 critical study of the author’s works: Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth.

  • The most important quality of an inept person is to rely on popular belief and hearsay. Marie de Gournay, in The Equality of Men and Women (1622)
  • Self-confidence is a healthy quality when it is grounded in competence, but a disabling one when one uses it to try to bolster ineptitude and succeeds only in compounding it.  Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Oct. 23, 1985)
  • Many are saved from sin by being so inept at it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • The adversary she found herself forced to fight was not worth matching or beating; it was not a superior ability which she would have found honor in challenging; it was ineptitude Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)



  • How can one not speak about war, poverty, and inequality when people who suffer from these afflictions don’t have a voice to speak? Isabel Allende, in an interview; quoted in Marie-Lise Gazarian-Gautiez, Interviews with Latin American Writers (1989)
  • Inequality…has the natural and necessary effect, under the present circumstances, of materializing our upper class, vulgarizing our middle class, and brutalizing our lower class. Matthew Arnold, “Equality,” in Mixed Essays (1879)
  • All inequality that has no special utility to justify it is injustice. Jeremy Bentham, in Supply Without Burthen (1795)
  • Our intuitive beliefs about how capitalism works haven’t caught up with the reality. In fact, surging income inequality is such a strong violation of our expectations that most of us don’t realize it is happening. Chrystia Freeland, in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012)
  • Poverty doesn’t cause the societal disintegration that leads to most crime, it turns out: inequality does. And America is now, far and away, the most unequal developed country in the entire world. Thom Hartmann, “Unveiling the Actual, Shocking Driver of Crime in America,” The Hartmann Report (April 23, 2024)

Hartmann continued: “So how does inequality provoke criminality? The research on the topic is pretty exhaustive, albeit poorly publicized, and the simplest explanation is among the most easily understood: humans are wired to rebel against unfairness. Unfairness thus destroys social trust.”

  • One-way first-name calling always means inequality—witness servants, children and dogs. Marjorie Karmel, in Thank You, Dr. Lamaze (1959)
  • This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one white, one black—separate and unequal. Otto Kerner, Jr., in the Introduction to Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968)
  • The most common and durable source of factions has been the unequal distribution of property. James Madison, in The Federalist, No. 10 (1787)
  • Nature distributes her favors unequally. George Sand, an 1837 journal entry; in The Intimate Journal of George Sand (1929; Marie Jenney Howe, ed.)
  • Can one preach at home inequality of races and nations and advocate abroad good-will towards all men? Dorothy Thompson, in Let the Record Speak (1939)
  • Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Earl Warren, writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court Decision Brown v. Board of Education (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Brown v. Board of Education was the decision that ruled as unconstitutional the idea of “separate but equal” schools for whites and blacks. Earlier in the opinion, Warren wrote: “To separate them [black children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”



  • We are riveted by the soap operas of public lives. We admire the famous most for what makes them infamous: it reassures us that they are not better and no happier than all the people with their noses pressed hard against the glass. Maureen Dowd, “No Grand Illusion,” in The New York Times (2000)

Dowd continued with this tweak of the popular saying: “Misery loves celebrated company.”

  • Custom…changes the very nature of things; and what was honorable a thousand years ago, may probably be looked upon as infamous now. Charlotte Lennox, the voice of the narrator, in The Female Quixote, or The Adventures of Arabella (1752)



  • He who can live in infamy is unworthy of life. Pierre Corneille, the character Don Diego speaking, in El Cid (1636)

This passage has also been translated this way: “He who lives dishonored is unworthy of life.”

  • Pride breakfasted with plenty, dined with poverty, and supped with infamy. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June, 1757)
  • From fame to infamy is a beaten road. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • There’s no difference between fame and infamy now. There’s a new school of professional famous people that don’t do anything. They don’t create anything. Ricky Gervais, in interview with Scott Raab, www.esquire.com (Jan. 12, 2012)
  • Know what is evil, no matter how worshipped it may be. Let the man of sense not mistake it, even when clothed in brocade, or at times crowned in gold, because it cannot thereby hide its hypocrisy, for slavery does not lose its infamy, however noble the master. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • There is a heroism in crime as well as in virtue. Vice and infamy have their altars and their religion. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Those who say that life is worth living at any cost have already written an epitaph of infamy, for there is no cause and no person that they will not betray to stay alive. Sidney Hook “A History of Hypocrisy,” in S. Hook, V. Bukovsky, & P. Hollander Soviet Hypocrisy and Western Gullibility (1987)
  • The technique of infamy is to start two lies at once and get people arguing heatedly over which is the truth. Ezra Pound, in D. G. Bridson, “An Interview with Ezra Pound,” BBC-Radio (July, 1959); quoted in Peter Makin, Ezra Pound’s Cantos: A Casebook (2006)
  • Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the Unites States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in message to Congress (Dec. 8, 1941)
  • We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. Theodore Roosevelt in Nobel Lecture (May 5 2010)
  • In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable. Lionel Shriver, a reflection of protagonist Eva Khatchadourian, in We Need to Talk about Kevin (2003)
  • When men of infamy to grandeur soar, They light a torch to show their shame the more. Edward Young, in “Love of Fame, the Universal Passion” (1728)



  • Lord knows what incommunicable small terrors infants go through, unknown to all. We disregard them, we say they forget, because they have not the words to make us remember, because they cannot torment our consciences with a recital of their woes. Margaret Drabble, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Rosamund Stacey, in The Millstone (1965)

Stacey continued: “By the time they learn to speak they have forgotten the details of their complaints, and so we never know. They forget so quickly, we say, because we cannot contemplate the fact that they never forget.”

  • Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five our of the adults who prattle and play to it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Infants, I note with envy, are receptive to enjoyment in a degree not attained by adults this side of the new Jerusalem. Margaret Halsey, in Some of My Best Friends Are Soldiers (1944)
  • Deep in the cavern of the infant’s breast/The father’s nature lurks, and lives anew. Horace, in Odes (1st c. A.D.)
  • It didn’t take elaborate experiments to deduce that an infant would die from want of food. But it took centuries to figure out that infants can and do perish from want of love. Louise J. Kaplan, in Lost Children: Separation and Loss Between Children and Parents (1995)
  • It is characteristic of the emotions of the very young infant that they are of an extreme and powerful nature. Melanie Klein, “Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant” (1952), in Envy and Gratitude & Other Works, 1946-1963 (1975)
  • No animal is so inexhaustible as an excited infant. Amy Leslie, in Amy Leslie at the Fair (1893)
  • Infants are interesting only to their parents. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • In point of fact, we are all born rude. No infant has ever appeared yet with the grace to understand how inconsiderate it is to disturb others in the middle of the night. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • Infants simply pour out love. They shine with it. Their affection is uncomplicated and without ulterior motive. We don't earn it or deserve it. Love is just what they do. It is a blessing, unbidden, freely given. Margaret McGirr, in letter to The New York Times (Dec. 28, 2004)
  • The way in which each human infant is transformed into the finished adult, into the complicated individual version of his city and his century is one of the most fascinating studies open to the curious minded. Margaret Mead, a 1929 remark, quoted in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait (1979)


(see also AFFECTION and LOVE and [Puppy] LOVE)

  • People usually undergo a series of crushes, infatuations, and loves between infancy and adulthood. They learn to make magnetic attachments, whose power they feel in their cells, in their bones. Thinking about the loved one steers their every thought, and they would die rather than break the force field of their devotion. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)

Ackerman continued: “It is as if they were two stars, tightly orbiting each other, each feeding on the other’s gravity. Because nothing and no one in time or creation seems to matter more, a broken relationship rips the lining from the heart, crushes the rib cage, shatters the lens of hope, and produces a drama both tragic and predictable. Wailing out loud or silently, clawing at the world and at one’s self, the abandoned lover mourns.”

  • No one can understand love who has not experienced infatuation. And no one can understand infatuation, no matter how many times he has experienced it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic's Notebook (1963)
  • Infatuation is when you think that he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Connors. Love is when you realize that he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger, and nothing like Robert Redford—but you’ll take him anyway. Judith Viorst, in a 1975 issue of Redbook (specific issue undetermined)



  • It is not the inferiority of women that has caused their historical insignificance; it is rather their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Jealousy is the homage that inferiority pays to merit. Madeleine d'Arsant de Puisieux, quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1886)
  • If I could only fancy myself clever, it would be better, but to be a failure of Nature and to know it is not a comfortable lot. It is the last lesson one learns, to be contented with one’s inferiority—but it must be learned. George Eliot, in an 1854 letter, in The George Eliot Letters, Vol. 2 (1954; Gordon S. Haight, ed.)
  • Are you not justified in feeling inferior, when you seek to cover it up with arrogance and insolence? Malcolm Forbes, in 1994 issue of Forbes magazine
  • In our society to admit inferiority is to be a fool, and to admit superiority is to be an outcast. Those who are in reality superior in intelligence can be accepted by their fellows only if they pretend they are not. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • Such men as he be never at heart’s ease/Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,/And therefore are they very dangerous. William Shakespeare, the title character referring to Cassius, in Julius Caesar (1599)
  • People hate those who make them feel their own inferiority. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (April 30, 1750)



  • Sara could commit adultery at one end and weep for her sins at the other, and enjoy both operations at once. Joyce Cary (penname of Arthur Joyce Lunel), describing a character, in The Horse’s Mouth (1944)
  • It is the fear of middle-age in the young, of old-age in the middle-aged, which is the prime cause of infidelity, that infallible rejuvenator. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded. Princess Diana, quoted in Max Frankel, “No Pix, No Di,” The New York Times Magazine (Sep. 21, 1997)
  • The infidelity itself is small potatoes compared to the low-level brain damage that results when a whole chunk of your life turns out to have been completely different from what you thought it was. Nora Ephron, the voice of the narrator, in Heartburn (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from Rachel Samsat, the narrator and protagonist of Ephron’s bestselling roman à clef, who added: “It becomes impossible to look back at anything that’s happened—from the simplest exchange between the two of you at a dinner party to the horrible death of Mr. Abbey—without wondering what was really going on.” Reflecting on the affair of her husband Mark Samsat (a thinly-disguised version of Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein), Rachel began by thinking: “When something like this happens, you suddenly have no reality at all. You have lost a piece of your past.”

  • No adultery is bloodless. Natalia Ginzburg, in The City and the House (1985)
  • Infidelity is such a pretty word, so light and delicate. Whereas the act itself is dark and thick with guilt, betrayal, confusion, pain, and (okay) sometimes enormous pleasure. Cynthia Heimel, in If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? (1991)
  • For that is what adultery is, a meanness and a stealing, a taking away from someone what should be theirs, a great selfishness, and surrounded and guarded by lies lest it should be found out. Rose Macaulay, in The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

In this observation, the narrator appears to be walking down one path, but abruptly goes down another by adding: “And out of this meannness and this selfishness and this lying flow love and joy and peace, beyond anything that can be imagined.”

  • Adultery. Democracy applied to love. H. L. Mencken, “Sententiae,” in A Book of Burlesques (1920)

ERROR ALERT: In most internet sites and in many quotation anthologies, the quotation is mistakenly presented: “Adultery is the application of democracy to love.”

  • Physical infidelity is the signal, the notice given, that all the fidelities are undermined. Katherine Anne Porter, “Marriage is Belonging,” in The Days Before (1952)
  • Divorce is the sacrament of adultery. Proverb (French)
  • The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop. John Updike, the narrator speaking, in Couples: A Novel (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: I can’t be certain, but I’ve got to believe that Updike was inspired by a similar sentiment from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856). Speaking about the growing emptiness of the title character’s affair with Léon Dupuis, the narrator says: “She was as sated with him as he was tired of her. Emma had rediscovered in adultery all the banality of marriage.”

  • Adultery is an evil only inasmuch as it is a theft; but we do not steal that which is given to us. Voltaire, “Adultery,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)



  • A dollar saved is a quarter earned. John Ciardi, in his “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (May 26, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Ciardi piggybacks on the English proverb “A penny saved is a penny earned” to cleverly describe the effect of inflation on money saved. The proverb was first expressed as “A penny saved is a penny gained” in Thomas Fuller’s The Worthies of England (1662). Thanks to Garson O’Toole, The Quote Investigator, for helping source this observation.

  • Having a little inflation is like being a little pregnant. Leon Henderson, quoted in John Kenneth Galbraith, IN A Life in Our Times (1981)
  • Inflation takes from the ignorant and gives to the well informed. Venita VanCaspel, in The Power of Money Dynamics (1983)



  • When a spirit of private animosity is permitted to influence the mind, it always produces an illiberal conduct. Abigail Adams, in a 1799 letter; in New Letters of Abigail Adams: 1788-1801 (1973)
  • It is easier to influence strong than weak characters in life. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • Influencing people…is so dangerous. Their acts and thoughts become your illegitimate children. You can’t get away from them and Heaven knows what they mayn’t grow up into. Elizabeth Bibesco, in The Fir and the Palm (1924)
  • Influence is a key leadership skill. The power of influence is greater than position power. Sylvia Bushell, in Paths to Leadership: Power Through Feminine Dignity (1987)

Bushell went on to add: “Positive influence is the fruit of actualizing dreams and visions.”

  • One life stamps and influences another, which in turn stamps and influences another, on and on, until the soul of human experience breathes on in generations we’ll never even meet. Mary Kay Blakely, in Wake Me When It's Over (1989)
  • That’s the way it is with influence, you know; if you don’t use it all the time, people will forget you have it. Mary Deasy, in The Boy Who Made Good (1955)
  • Money buys access; access buys influence. Elizabeth Drew, on campaign contributions, in a 1997 interview on KQED Radio, San Francisco
  • Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another! George Eliot, “Janet’s Repentance,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • A woman’s head is always influenced by her heart, but a man’s heart is always influenced by his head. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington) quoted in R.R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 2 (1855)
  • Despite the negative connotations of the word, power (or influence) is something that everyone exerts a good deal of the time. Ann Harriman, in Women/Men/Management (1985)

Harriman went on to add: “It is the coercive or abusive use of power, not power itself, that we find offensive.”

  • A person needs at intervals to separate himself from family and companions and go to new places. He must go without his familiars in order to be open to influences, to change. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • The real power, the real influence, is not what people do when you are with them; it is what they do when you are not. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • Influence which is given on the side of money is usually against truth. Harriet Martineau, “On Moral Independence,” in Miscellanies, Vol. 1 (1836)
  • The influence of a beautiful, helpful, hopeful character is contagious, and may revolutionize a whole town. Eleanor H. Porter, in Pollyanna (1912)
  • Happiness is a duty, not only because of its effect upon us but because of its influence upon others. Alice Hegan Rice, in Happiness Road (1942)
  • We sometimes forget the influence of action upon thought. Alice Hegan Rice, in Happiness Road (1942)

A moment later, Rice added: “Smile, whistle, sing, play the part you want to be until you become the part you play.”

  • It is one mark of a superior mind to understand and be influenced by the superiority of others. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The Mayflower (1834)
  • Poetry has a small audience, but a large influence. Genevieve Taggard, in Introduction to Calling Western Union (1936)
  • It is the trifles that make up the sum of existence, and every act of ours, however slight, has an influence, direct or indirect, over all our life. We make ourselves by our deeds. Frances E. Willard, in Occupations for Women (1897)



  • What a miserable thing life is: you’re living in clover, only the clover isn’t good enough. Bertolt Brecht, the character Shlink speaking, in In the Jungle of Cities (1923)
  • We set ourselves to bite the hand that feeds us. Edmund Burke, in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of biting the hand that feeds you, the most popular catchphrase about ingratitude. Burke was referring to England’s poor, taking the conservative position in his country’s great debate over the role of the government in dealing with poverty. Liberals argued that government had a important role in assisting the poor; Burke and fellow conservatives took the position that such efforts fostered dependency and ultimately resulted in ingratitude. A quarter of a century later, in a 1795 memorandum to British Prime Minister William Pitt, Burke returned to the theme when he wrote: “And having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.”

  • Our gratitude to most benefactors is the same as our feeling for dentists who have pulled our teeth. We acknowledge the good they have done and the evil from which they have delivered us, but we remember the pain they occasioned and do not love them very much. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • Ingratitude is surely the chief of the intellectual sins of man. G. K. Chesterton, in Robert Browning (1903)
  • Most people return small favors, acknowledge middling ones, and repay great ones with ingratitude. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (April, 1751)
  • The ingratitude of the world can never deprive us of the conscious happiness of having acted with humanity ourselves. Oliver Goldsmith, the character Sir William Honeywood speaking, in The Good-Natur'd Man (1768)
  • Of all crimes that human creatures are capable of committing, the most horrid and unnatural is ingratitude, especially when it is committed against parents. David Hume, “Of Morals,” in A Treatise of Human Nature (1839)
  • Too great haste in paying off an obligation is a kind of ingratitude. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Every time I fill an office, I make a hundred malcontents and one ingrate. Louis XIV, quoted in Voltaire, Siècle de Louis XIV (1753)
  • Ingratitude, more strong than traitor’s arms,/Quite vanquished him: then burst his mighty heart. William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar (1599)

QUOTE NOTE: The words comes from the funeral oration, where Marc Antony is describing the stabbing of Caesar by his former protege, Marcus Brutus. He preceded the observation by saying of the stabbing: “This was the most unkindest cut of all.” Ever since, the phrase the most unkindest cut of all has been used to describe a major act of ingratitude or even betrayal on the part of people who have previously received many favors and other goodies from benefactors.

  • Blow, blow, thou winter wind!/Thou art not so unkind/As man’s ingratitude. William Shakespeare, the first words of a song sung by Lord Amiens, in As You Like It (1599)
  • I hate ingratitude more in a man/Than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness,/Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption/Inhabits our frail blood. William Shakespeare, the character Viola speaking to Antonio, in Twelfth Night (1601)
  • How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Lear (1605–06)
  • Never enter into a league of friendship with an ungrateful person. That is, plant not thy friendship upon a dunghill. It is too noble a plant for so base a soil. Robert South, “Of the Odious Sin of Ingratitude,” sermon at Christ Church, Oxford (Oct. 17, 1675); reprinted in Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions (1866)

South went on to write: “He who does a kindness to an ungrateful person sets his seal to a flint and sows his seed upon the sand; on the former he makes no impression, and from the latter finds no production.”

  • If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul abhors [more], than that black and detestable one, ingratitude. George Washington, in letter to Gov. Dinwiddie (May 24, 1754)
  • Ingratitude is the frost that nips the flower even as it opens, that shrivels the generous apple on the branch, that freezes the fountain in mid-flow and numbs the hand, even in the very act of giving. Ann Wroe, “Ingratitude Is the Deadliest Sin,” in Intelligent Life magazine (May/June, 2014)

Wroe continued: “It is a sin of silence, absence and omission, as winter’s sin is a lack of light; a sin against charity, which otherwise warms the heart and, in the truest sense, makes the world turn.”



  • Say not you know another entirely till you have divided an inheritance with him. Johann Kaspar Lavater, in Aphorisms on Man (1788)
  • The first reading of a Will, where a person dies worth anything considerable, generally affords a true test of the relations' love to the deceased. Samuel Richardson, the voice of the narrator, in Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1748)



  • Injustice is a sixth sense, and rouses all the others. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • When one has been threatened with a great injustice, one accepts a smaller as a favor. Jane Carlyle, an 1855 journal entry, in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Vol. 2 (1883; J. A. Froude, ed.)
  • I don’t have general views about anything, except social injustice. Marguerite Duras, in Practicalities (1987)
  • Tyranny and injustice always produce cunning and falsehood. Maria Edgeworth, the title character speaking, “Lame Jervas,” in Popular Tales (1804)
  • I have come to believe that the one thing people cannot bear is a sense of injustice. Poverty, cold, even hunger, are more bearable than injustice. Millicent Fenwick, in Speaking Up (1982)
  • You can’t remain inactive in the face of injustice without, to some extent, being guilty of it. Rae Foley (pen name of Elinore Denniston), in Where Is Mary Bostwick? (1958)
  • Those who are unjust in one thing, will be so in others. Eliza Haywood, in Love-Letters on All Occasions (1730)
  • Since when do we have to agree with people to defend them from injustice? Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976)
  • When once a social order is well established, no matter what injustice it involves, those who occupy a position of advantage are not long in coming to believe that it is the only possible and reasonable order. Suzanne La Follette, “The Beginnings of Emancipation,” in Concerning Women (1926)
  • Injustice alone can shake down the pillars of the skies, and restore the reign of Chaos and Night. Horace Mann, in A Few Thoughts for a Young Man (1850)
  • An unrectified case of injustice has a terrible way of lingering, restlessly, in the social atmosphere like an unfinished equation. Mary McCarthy, “My Confession” (1953); reprinted in On the Contrary (1961)
  • Injustice experienced in the flesh, in deeply wounded flesh, is the stuff out of which change explodes. Margaret Mead, quoted in Edward Rice, Margaret Mead: A Portrait (1979)
  • Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices, Third Series (1922)
  • Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr, in Foreword to The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)
  • I think if I was dying and I heard of an act of injustice, it would start me up to a moment’s life again. Olive Schreiner, in letter to Mrs. Francis Smith (May 8, 1912) in The Letters of Olive Schreiner, 1876-1920 (1924; S.C. Cronwright-Schreiner, ed.)

Schreiner introduced the thought by writing: “The only things that still seem great to me are injustice and love. They are great, and can move me as much as ever. If I left off feeling those real and great [things], then I would be dead to everything.”

  • Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. Voltaire, in Questions sur les miracles (1765)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it ended “make you commit atrocities.”

  • There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if we only know how to find it. Ida B. Wells, a 1900 remark, quoted in Alfreda M. Duster, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (1970)

According to Duster, Wells also offered this 1892 thought on the subject: “One had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”



  • There is no aphrodisiac like innocence. Jean Baudrillard, in Cool Memories (1987)
  • Innocence, the first, best gift of Heaven. Fanny Burney, the character Mr. Villars, in a letter to the title character, in Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)

QUOTE NOTE: This beautiful phrase appears in a longer passage that went this way: “Alas, my child!—that innocence, the first, best gift of Heaven—the most exposed to treachery—and the least able to defend itself, in a world where it is little known, less valued, and perpetually deceived!” The Reverend Arthur Villars, Evelina’s guardian and a sort of father-figure to her, was concerned about his young charge’s fascination with a young gentleman. In expressing his concern about the “the ascendancy which Lord Orville has gained upon your mind,” he worried that she was “Young, animated, entirely off your guard, and thoughtless of consequences.”

  • Evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin. G. K. Chesterton, “What is Eugenics?” in Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State (1922)
  • All things to be truly wicked must start from an innocence. Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast (pub. posthumously in 1964)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet quotation sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “All things truly wicked start from innocence.” The error appears to have originated with Carlos Baker, who offered this version in his Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (1969)

  • Individualism is rather like innocence; there must be something unconscious about it. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners (1954)
  • It’s innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn’t. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • To vice, innocence must always seem only a superior kind of chicanery. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • The innocent and the beautiful/Have no enemy but time. William Butler Yeats, “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” (1927), in The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)



  • Inquiry is fatal to certainty. Will and Ariel Durant, in The Age of Napoleon: A History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815 (1975)

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

  • It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. Albert Einstein, quoted in Paul Schilpp, Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: See also the Einstein entry in CURIOSITY.

  • The world is but a school of inquiry. Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Art of Discoursing,” in Essays (1580)
  • It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. Thomas Paine, in “Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation” (1792)
  • All inquiries carry with them some element of risk. Carl Sagan, in Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1970)



  • Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Rita Mae Brown, in Sudden Death (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: All over the internet, this observation—in a number of slightly different phrasings—is mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein (there is absolutely no evidence, however, that he ever wrote or said anything even similar to it). In Brown's novel, the narrator is describing a character, Susan Reilly, who repeatedly makes the same mistakes, saying about her: “Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what Jane Fulton once said. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’”

Brown was not the original author of the saying, but was simply passing along a mantra that first emerged in Recovery circles in the early 1980s. Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator traced the original saying to a 1981 Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet, which stated: “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” The sentiment went on to become so popular that a 2013 Salon magazine article called it “the most overused cliché of all time.”

  • Linda began to feel even more sharply that she was going insane. She wondered if she had already had a nervous breakdown and just didn’t have time to notice it. Susan Cheever, in A Woman’s Life (1994)
  • Of all the calamities to which humanity is subject, none is so dreadful as insanity. Dorothea Dix, in an 1846 speech; quoted in Judith Anderson, Outspoken Women (1984)

Dix went on to add: “All experience shows that insanity seasonably treated is as certainly curable as a cold or a fever.”

  • That’s the truest sign of insanity—insane people are always sure they’re just fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit they’re crazy. Nora Ephron, the character Arthur speaking, in Heartburn (1983)
  • That’s what falling in love really amounted to, your brain on drugs. Adrenaline and dopamine, oxytocin and rotonin. Chemical insanity celebrated by poets. Tess Gerritsen, in Last to Die (2012)
  • Writers…I think…live on that fine line between insanity and genius. Nikki Giovanni, in Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983)
  • Insanity is a lack of proportion. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Italian Days (1989)
  • Failure to adjust to an insane world does not constitute insanity. Linda Grover, in August Celebration: A Molecule of Hope for a Changing World (1993)
  • Insanity is contagious. Joseph Heller, the protagonist Frank Yossarian speaking, in Catch-22 (1961)
  • Writing and the hope of writing pulls me back from the edges of despair. I believe insanity and despair are at times one and the same. bell hooks, “Writing From the Darkness” Triquarterly magazine (Spring-Summer, 1989); reprinted in Wendy Martin, The Beacon Book of Essays by Contemporary American Women (1996)
  • Acting is a way of living out one’s insanity. Isabelle Huppert, quoted in Ronald Warren Deutsch, Inspirational Hollywood (1997)
  • Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast. I’m not talking about onset or duration. I mean the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts. Susanna Kaysen, in Girl, Interrupted (1993)
  • Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops! Joseph Kesselring, the character Mortimer speaking, in Arsenic and Old Lace (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: Mortimer says this to his sweetheart Elaine as he explains why he cannot marry her—shortly after he has proposed to her. He introduced the remark by saying, “I love you so much I can’t marry you.”

  • What does it mean, to lose one’s mind? Where does it go? If a man is out of his mind, where is he? What is insane when the world is mad by contrast? Laurie R. King, a diary entry from the character Desmond Newborn, in Folly: A Novel (2001)
  • Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children. Sam Levenson, quoted in Connie Nelson, “Strayed from the Heard,” The Ada Weekly News (Ada, Oklahoma; April 6, 1961); reprinted in You Can Say That Again, Sam! (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest appearance of a saying that, in a number of similar phrasings, has been repeated by many other people, including Erma Bombeck, Ann Landers, Oscar Levant, and others. The saying now enjoys the status of a modern proverb.

  • How crazy craziness makes everyone, how irrationally afraid. The madness hidden in each of us, called to, identified, aroused like a lust. And against that the jaw sets. The more I fear my own insanity the more I must punish yours. Kate Millett, in The Loony-Bin Trip (1990)
  • You don’t have to be sincere yourself to recognize sincerity when you see it. Any more than you have to be insane to recognize insanity. Susan Moody, in Mosaic (1991)
  • Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation. Liane Moriarty, in The Husband’s Secret (2015)
  • What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book: An Irreverent Companion to Social History (1976)
  • The insane person is running a private unapproved film which he happens to like better than the current cultural one. Robert M. Pirsig, in Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (1991)



  • I'm always described as “cocksure” or “with a swagger,” and that bears no resemblance to who I feel like inside. I feel plagued by insecurity. Ben Affleck, a remark made about his experience directing his first feature film, “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
  • Jealousy is conceived only in insecurity and must be nourished in fear. Maya Angelou, in Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas (1976)
  • It is in meeting the great tests that mankind can most successfully rise to great heights. Out of danger and restless insecurity comes the force that pushes mankind to newer and loftier conquests. Isaac Asimov, in The Far Ends of Time and Earth (1979)
  • Night will always be a time of fear and insecurity, and the heart will sink with the sun. Isaac Asimov, in Prisoners of the Stars (1979)
  • Any fool knows that bravado is always a cover-up for insecurity. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Countless Internet sites misattribute this saying to Bobby Darin, with many having him adding: “That’s the truth. And on that note I’ll say goodnight. God love you.”

  • Imitation is the sincerest form of insecurity. Polly Bergen, in Polly’s Principles (1974)
  • True security lies in the unrestrained embrace of insecurity—in the recognition that we never really stand on solid ground, and never can. Oliver Burkeman, in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (2012)
  • It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity. Jimmy Carter, in speech at Liberal Party dinner, New York City (Oct. 14, 1976)

Carter preceded the thought by saying: “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others.”

  • A bad earthquake at once destroys the oldest associations: the world, the very emblem of all that is solid, has moved beneath our feet like a crust over a fluid; one second of time has conveyed to the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would never have created. Charles Darwin, in Journal of Researches Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World (1839)
  • The very fact that the youthful soul feels insecure strengthens its active aspiration to master its insecurity. Helene Deutsch, in The Psychology of Women: Girlhood (1954)
  • Only the insecure strive for security. Wayne W. Dyer, in Your Erroneous Zones (1976)
  • If men as individuals surrender to the call of their elementary instincts, avoiding pain and seeking satisfaction only for their own selves, the result for them all taken together must be a state of insecurity, of fear, and of promiscuous misery. Albert Einstein, in Out of My Later Years (1950)
  • Belligerence is the hallmark of insecurity—the secure nation does not need threat to maintain its position. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in What Eisenhower Thinks (1952; Allan Taylor, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Eisenhower’s observation—made before his presidency—applies equally well to individuals.

  • The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity, without panic and undue fear. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1956)

The italics in the observation were present in the original observation. Fromm introduced the thought by writing: “Just as a sensitive and alive person cannot avoid being sad, he cannot avoid feeling insecure.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, as well as in numerous quotation anthologies, the observation is mistakenly presented this way: “The task we must set is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”

  • I’m also a guy who has had to tangle with insecurities so ugly that some days they make me feel like I’m not even a Christian, let alone a pastor. Steven Furtick, in Greater (2014)
  • How much of fashion is fueled by insecurity—for better or worse? Robin Givhan, in a 2012 issue of Newsweek (specific issue undetermined)
  • Never underestimate the insecurity of a star. William Goldman, in Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983)
  • Insecure people have a special sensitivity for anything that finally confirms their own low opinion of themselves. Sue Grafton, the character Mrs. Ochsner speaking, in “B” is for Burglar (1985)
  • Insecurity is the worst sense that lovers feel: sometimes the most humdrum desireless marriage seems better. Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust. Graham Greene, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Maurice Bendrix, in The End of the Affair (1951)
  • The only perfect love to be found on earth is not sexual love, which is riddled with hostility and insecurity, but the wordless commitment of families, which takes as its model mother-love. Germaine Greer, in the Introduction to The Madwoman’s Underclothes (1986)
  • Fear has been a staple of advertisers and politicians for so long that you'd think we would have become better at detecting their use of it. But fear and insecurity can still cloud our judgment. To put the lesson in a nutshell, “If it’s scary, be wary.” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007)
  • A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • Insecurity breeds treachery: if you are kind to people who hate themselves, they will hate you as well. Florence King, in With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy (1992)

King went on to add: “Insecure people are dangerous and it is best to stay away from them. Especially now, when there are so many of them, only a misanthrope can avoid being exsanguinated by their emotional demands.”

  • He prefers the security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity. Sheldon Kopp, in If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him (2013)
  • As we willingly enter each place of fear, each place of deficiency and insecurity in ourselves, we will discover that its walls are made of untruths, of old images of ourselves, of ancient fears, of false ideas of what is pure and what is not. Jack Kornfield, in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (2009)
  • Sarcasm is a subtle form of bullying and most bullies are angry, insecure, cowards. Clifford N. Lazarus, “Think Sarcasm is Funny? Think Again,” in Psychology Today (June 26, 2012)
  • Work is life, you know, and without it, there’s nothing but fear and insecurity. John Lennon, in interview on BBC-TV’s “Twenty-Four Hours” (Dec. 15, 1969)
  • Self-help books for women are part of a multibillion-dollar industry, sensitively attuned to our insecurities and our purses. Harriet Lerner, “When Bad Books Happen to Good People” in Ms. Magazine (November/December 1993)
  • The finest people, as people go, cannot help but betray a fair portion of fear and insecurity, even full-blown panic. Thomas Ligotti, in My Work Is Not Yet Done (2011)
  • With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. Walter Lippmann, “The Decline of the West,” in Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Not much was known of this now-famous observation by Lippmann until the following year when it was quoted in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage. In Lippmann’s original essay, he continued: “They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies.”

  • The fashion industry keeps us on a roller coaster of expectation and disappointment. It's built on, and thrives on, our collective insecurity. Stacy London, in The Truth About Style (2012)
  • My thought is always, “It’s only downhill from here.” That’s how I’ve always operated, ever since I began Family Guy. I had the crippling fear that I used up all the funny last week. That crippling insecurity really drives you to do your best. Your moments of pure joy are few and far between, but they do exist. Seth MacFarlane, in “Crippling Insecurity Drives You to do Your Best,” Inside Movies (October 2, 2012)
  • Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the “divine madness” to borrow the term used by the classical Greeks. Rollo May, in Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1967)

May continued: “They do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being. They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean.”

  • Jealousy is not a barometer by which the depth of love can be read. It merely records the degree of the lover’s insecurity. Margaret Mead, “Jealousy: Primitive and Civilized,” in Samuel D. Schmalhausen and V. F. Calverton (eds.), Women’s Coming of Age: A Symposium (1931; rev. editions in 1948 & 1968)

Mead went on to add: “It is a negative miserable state of feeling having its origin in the sense of insecurity and inferiority.”

  • Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is presented on almost all internet sites, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “Now anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. It is the fruit of unanswered questions. But questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked.”

  • Many [creative individuals] present a confident, calm, or even aloof appearance to mask an underlying insecurity. Their competitive nature stems from their fear of inferiority. They may act independent, but they may fear that they “can’t make it” on their own. Dan Millman, in The Life You Were Born to Live (1993)

In the book Millman also offered these other observations on the subject:

“If insecurity gets in your way, move through it.”

“Overcome insecurity by seeing it as a hurdle that challenges you to leap over it.”

“To overcome insecurity, we need to acknowledge our vulnerability but act with confidence.”

  • Insecurity’s best cover is perfectionism. That's where it becomes an art form. Beth Moore, in So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us (2010)

In the book, Moore also wrote: “I am convinced now that virtually every destructive behavior and addiction I battled off and on for years was rooted in my (well-earned) insecurity.”

  • Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. Toni Morrison, the voice of the narrator, in The Bluest Eye (1970)
  • Power has to be insecure to be responsive. It’s got to have something to lose. Ralph Nader, in interview with Joe Klein, Rolling Stone magazine (Nov. 20, 1975)

Nader continued: “And the definition of perfect tyranny is an institution that really has nothing to lose. And that’s the problem with a government bureaucracy—it has nothing to lose.”

  • Insecurity refers to a profound sense of self-doubt—a deep feeling of uncertainty about our basic worth and our place in the world. Insecurity is associated with chronic self-consciousness, along with a chronic lack of confidence in ourselves and anxiety about our relationships. Joseph Nowinski, in The Tender Heart: Conquering Your Insecurity (2001)
  • The insecure man or woman lives in constant fear of rejection and a deep uncertainty about whether his or her own feelings and desires are legitimate. Joseph Nowinski, in The Tender Heart: Conquering Your Insecurity (2001)

Nowinski continued: “In men as well as women, insecurity comes from a combination of a sensitive disposition and experiences of loss, abuse, rejection, or neglect.”

  • Insecurity, commonly regarded as a weakness in normal people, is the basic tool of the actor’s trade. Miranda Richardson, quoted in The Guardian (London; Dec. 5, 1990)
  • [Alan] Watts published a luminous book entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity that ought to be required reading for every high school senior. Watts elaborates beautifully on what I've learned from observation and personal experience: namely, that security is an illusion. Tom Robbins, in The Syntax of Sorcery (2012)
  • A society in which there is widespread economic insecurity can turn freedom into a barren and vapid right for millions of people. Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted in Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972)
  • Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself. Roger Rosenblatt, in Rules for Aging: A wry and Witty Guide to Life (2000)
  • With girls, there’s an insecurity that starts early on. It hangs around them, like some annoying kid from down the block who won’t take the hint and go home when dinnertime comes. And moms are usually not great at giving their daughters confidence. Steve Schirripa, in Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters Is Tougher Than I Look (2014)
  • I think hubris comes from insecurity. Confidence comes in a more rooted sense; part of being confident is being able to say, “I can be really shitty,” and to accept that. But also not to crumble under it. Bill Skarsgård, in interview with his older brother Alexander, in “Interview Newsletter” interview, InterviewMagazine.com (June 5, 2017)
  • Since the arrogant person can think of power only in terms of being more powerful than other people, he will always be fearful that that somebody else will threaten his power. To cover his insecurity, he becomes even more arrogant, and is ready to use any means to make his power more secure. Lewis B. Smedes, in Love Within Limits (1978)
  • My sense of insecurity keeps me alert, always ready to correct my errors. George Soros, in Soros on Soros: Staying Ahead of the Curve (1995)
  • It is a great law of social development that the movement from slavery to freedom is also a movement from security to insecurity of maintenance. Arnold G. Toynbee, in Lectures on The Industrial Revolution in England (1884)
  • Arrogance really comes from insecurity, and in the end our feeling that we are bigger than others is really the flip side of our feeling that we are smaller than others. Desmond Tutu in God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2003)
  • Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love (1992)
  • Success can make you go one of two ways. It can make you a prima donna, or it can smooth the edges, take away the insecurities, let the nice things come out. Barbara Walters, quoted in Newsweek magazine (May 6, 1974)
  • Writers are made—forged, really, in a kiln of their own madness and insecurities. Chuck Wendig, in 250 Things You Should Know About Writing (2011)
  • Autonomous people, nations, and systems can promote each other’s welfare; they do not have to fight each other like those whose inner insecurity and immaturity continually demand the demarcation of limits and postures of intimidation. Christa Wolf, in Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays (1984)
  • Lack of self-worth is the fundamental source of all emotional pain. A feeling of insecurity, unworthiness, and lack of value is the core experience of powerlessness. Gary Zukav, in Thoughts From The Heart Of The Soul: Meditations On Emotional Awareness (2012)



  • Old men tend to forget what thought was like in their youth; they forget the quickness of the mental jump, the daring of the youthful intuition, the agility of the fresh insight. Isaac Asimov, in Pebble in the Sky (1950)

QUOTE NOTE: The words are from the novel’s narrator, who added: “They become accustomed to the more plodding varieties of reason, and because this is more than made up by the accumulation of experience, old men think themselves wiser than the young.”

  • The human mind works at low efficiency. Twenty percent is the figure usually given. When, momentarily, there is a flash of greater power, it is termed a hunch, or insight, or intuition. Isaac Asimov, “The Eureka Phenomenon,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1971)
  • The history of science is full of revolutionary advances that required small insights that anyone might have had, but that, in fact, only one person did. Isaac Asimov, “The Three Numbers” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (September 1974); reprinted in More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)
  • Excellence is a better teacher than is mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary. Warren G. Bennis, in Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (1997; with Patricia Ward Biederman)
  • To the artist is sometimes granted a sudden, transient insight…. A flash, and where previously the brain held a dead fact, the soul grasps a living truth! At moments we are all artists. Arnold Bennett, journal entry (March 18, 1897); in The Journals of Arnold Bennett (1932)
  • Why do other people rob you with their understanding, stealing your discoveries and your guesses, invading the special domain of your insight? Elizabeth Bibesco, in The Fir and the Palm (1924)
  • We are trapped by language to such a degree that every attempt to formulate insight is a play on words. Niels Bohr, quoted in Niels Blaedel, Harmony and Unity: The Life of Niels Bohr (1988)
  • It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary. Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992)

Cameron introduced the observation by writing: “Creativity—like human life itself—begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!”

  • The first flash of insight which persuades human beings to change their basic assumptions is usually contained in a few phrases. Kenneth Clark, in Ruskin Today (1964)

Clark preceded the thought by writing: “Changes in the structure of society are not brought about solely by massive engines of doctrine.”

  • Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • An insight is a new way of looking at something, creating a new frame of reference or a new understanding. Edward de Bono, in Serious Creativity (1992)
  • I’m absolutely convinced that the pleasure of a real scientific insight—it doesn’t have to be a great discovery—is like an orgasm. Carl Djerassi, quoted in L. Wolpert and A. Richards, Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997)
  • My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining lights as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid? I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • In the advertising business, a good idea can inspire a great commercial. But a good insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand commercials. Phil Dusenberry, in Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall-of-fame Career in Advertising (2005)
  • It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness. Loren Eiseley, in The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1959)
  • Once one has achieved a relative mastery over one’s craft, the pleasures of composition are like few others: certainly none that I have known. Constructing well-made sentences, in which words and thought appear to make a seamless fit, causing the small but intense light of insight to click on, can only be compared, I should imagine, to the delight of dancing faultlessly to one’s own choreography. Joseph Epstein, “Writing on the Brain,” in Commentary magazine (April, 2004)
  • Insight improves your outlook. C. K. Garabed (pen name of Charles Kasbarian), quoted in Ara Baliozian, Dictionary of Armenian Quotations (1999)
  • Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)

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

  • It was a bitter truth of experience, she perceived with sudden insight, that the shape of things returns again and again in the same pattern. Ellen Glasgow, the narrator describing a character, in In This Our Life (1941)

The narrator is describing a woman known only as Roy, who has just come to a new and bleak understanding of some unhealthy patterns in her life. Just prior this observation, she reflected: “‘It is in myself’ she said aloud. ‘It is not anything outside. It is something deep down in my own nature that makes things happen to me. And they will always happen no matter what I do….’” [ellipsis in original]

  • More than a burial ground for unacceptable ideas and wishes, the unconscious is the spawning ground of intuition and insight, the source of humor, of poetic imagery, and of scientific analogy. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • There are no shortcuts to moral insight…. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us—the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus. Stephen Jay Gould, “Kropotkin Was No Crackpot,” in Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991)
  • Insights are easy to come by, but they can be deceptive. We tend to think we have done something when we have had an insight. But insights not acted on are a bit of a fraud. Edward T. Hall, in An Anthropology of Everyday Life: An Autobiography (1992)
  • I struck the usual bargain, paying for flattery by calling it insight. Patricia Hampl, in Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life (1992)
  • You cannot transmit wisdom and insight to another person. The seed is already there. A good teacher touches the seed, allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children (2011; Sister Jewel, ed.)
  • Conventional seeing, operating as it does with patterns and coherences, is a way of seeing the present in the past tense. Insight is an attempt to think in the present. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in the Introduction to The Prophets (1962)
  • Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin. Hermann Hesse, the character Erwin speaking, in the short story “Inside and Outside” (1920)
  • A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860)

Holmes preceded the thought by writing: “Poets are never young, in one sense. Their delicate ear hears the far-off whispers of eternity, which coarser souls must travel towards for scores of years before their dull sense is touched by them.”

  • Insight is “mental vision,” one of the ways in which the mind escapes the limits of the obvious or the familiar. Jennifer James, in Thinking in the Future Tense (1996)
  • Intuition is a combination of insight and imagination that was once attributed to spiritual communication. Mathematicians call it “fuzzy logic,” drawing conclusions from vague or subjective input. Jennifer James, in Thinking in the Future Tense (1996)

James continued: “The mind becomes aware without the direct intervention of reasoning. Once you can imagine something you can begin the process of creating it.”

  • You reach a point in life where you realize that you might as well do what you need to do, because your being loved or not being loved is really a function of the people you encounter and not of yourself. That is an immensely liberating insight. Erica Jong, quoted in Beth Benatovich, What We Know So Far (1995)
  • The mind has an amazing ability to continue worrying away at a problem all on its own, so that when the “Eureka!” comes it is as mysterious as if it were God speaking. Laurie R. King, a reflection of protagonist Mary Russell, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: Russell was marveling over Sherlock Holmes’s ability to “still the noise of the mind” by smoking his pipe or playing his violin. She continued the thought above by thinking: “The words given voice inside the mind are not always clear, however; they can be gentle and elliptical, what the prophets called the bat gol, the daughter of the voice of God, she who speaks in whispers and half-seen images.”

  • The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of a new insight, is an act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous flashes, or short-circuits of reasoning. Alfred Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)

Koestler continued: “In fact they may be likened to an immersed chain, of which only the beginning and ends are visible above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links.”

  • Insight: the appearance of a complete solution with reference to the whole lay-out of the field. Wolfgang Köhler, in The Mentality of Apes (1927)
  • Insight is the first condition of Art. George Henry Lewes, in The Principles of Success in Literature (1891)

In the book, Lewes also wrote: “All bad Literature rests upon imperfect insight, or upon imitation, which may be defined as seeing at second-hand.”

  • Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in “religion” mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity (1952)

Lewis precede the thought by writing: “If conversion to Christianity makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions—if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his “conversion” was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply.”

  • The highest exercise of imagination is not to devise what has no existence, but rather to perceive what really exists, though unseen by the outward eye—not creation, but insight. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “Table-Talk”
  • The larger the field of activity the personality has, the greater will be its insights into reality. William F. Lynch, in Thought magazine (September 1950)
  • Art forms render ideas accessible to readers who could not receive those insights in any other format. Sara Maitland, quoted in Zoë Fairbairns et. al., in Tales I Tell My Mother (1978)
  • The evidence in studies of creative people is that they get their important insights on those particular problems on which they have wrestled with perseverance and diligence, even though the insight itself may come at a moment of lull. Rollo May, in Man's Search for Himself (1953)
  • Insight is the spark that ignites the fire of innovation. Phil McKinney, in Beyond The Obvious (2012)
  • It’s the ability to see things a new way, and from that insight to produce something that didn’t exist before—something original. It sometimes means piercing the mundane to find the marvelous—or looking beyond the marvelous to find the mundane. Bill Moyers, on creativity, “Sources of Creativity,” in The Writer (April 7, 1983)

ERROR ALERT: Moyers offered this thought in response to the question, “What is creativity?” On almost all internet sites and in most published books, the quotation is mistakenly presented: “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

  • From time immemorial artistic insights have been revealed to artists in their sleep and in dreams, so that at all times they ardently desired them. Paracelsus, quoted in Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus (1941; Henry E. Sigerist, ed.)
  • He who wants to govern must have insight into the hearts of men and act accordingly. Paracelsus, quoted in Frank Geerk, Paracelsus: Doctor of Our Time (1992)
  • Self examination is the key to insight, which is the key to wisdom. M. Scott Peck, in The Different Drum (1987)
  • No deep insight into human minds is possible without unconscious comparisons with our own experiences. Theodor Reik, in Listening with the Third Ear (1948)
  • Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding. Agnes Repplier, in In Pursuit of Laughter (1936)
  • It is often possible to gain more real insight into human beings and their motivation by reading great fiction than by personal acquaintance. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
  • Humor is the affectionate communication of insight. Leo Rosten, in The Many Worlds of L*e*o R*o*s*t*e*n (1964)

Rosten went on to add: “Humor is, I think, the subtlest and chanciest of literary forms. It is surely not accidental that there are a thousand novelists, essayists, poets, journalists for each humorist. It is a long, long time between James Thurbers.”

  • Students and scholars of all kinds and of every age aim, as a rule, only at information, not insight. They make it a point of honor to have information about everything, every stone, plant, battle, or experiment and about all books, collectively and individually. It never occurs to them that information is merely a means to insight, but in itself is of little or no value. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • Trauma reflected upon in tranquility can produce morally stunning insights—literary light! It can also produce maudlin rubbish. Jennifer Stone, in Telegraph Avenue Then (1992)
  • Zen masters use the word satori to describe a flash of insight, a moment of no-mind and total presence. Although satori is not a lasting transformation, be grateful when it comes, for it gives you a taste of enlightenment. You may, indeed, have experienced it many times with-out knowing what it is and realizing its importance. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)
  • If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time insight into and understanding of many things. Vincent van Gogh, in Dear Theo: An Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh (1937)
  • Intuition is not opposed to reason, but works with it in a complementary fashion. Typically, flashes of intuitive insight follow the exhaustive use of logic and reason. Frances E. Vaughan, in Awakening Intuition (1979)
  • It is true that the present is powerfully shaped by the past. But it is also true that circumstances of every stage of development can shake up and revise the old arrangements. And it’s true that insight at any age keeps us from singing the same sad songs again. Judith Viorst, in Necessary Losses (1986)
  • Consistency is a virtue for trains: what we want from a philosopher is insights, whether he comes by them consistently or not. Stephen Vizinczey, in The Times (Sep. 21 1970)
  • Deeper insights into the nature of things are best achieved with distance from daily experience. Victor Weisskopf, in The Privilege of Being a Physicist (1989)
  • Insight doesn’t happen often in the click of the moment, like a lucky snapshot, but it comes in its own time and more slowly and from nowhere but within. Eudora Welty, in the Preface to One Time, One Place (1971)
  • The first act of insight is to throw away the labels. Eudora Welty, “Must the Novelist Crusade?” in The Eye of the Story (1978)
  • Real genius of moral insight is a motor which will start any engine. Edmund Wilson, “Marxism and Literature,” in The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subjects (1938; rev. 1956)



  • Avoid that romantic trap: saying more than you feel, forcing yourself to feel more than you’ve said! Natalie Clifford Barney, in “Scatterings” (1910; orig. published in France under the title Éparpillements)
  • The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • But in my life, in my personality, there is an essence of falseness and insincerity. A thin, fine vapor of fraud hangs always over me and dampens and injures some things in me that I value. Mary MacLane, in The Story of Mary MacLane (1902)
  • The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” in Horizon magazine (April, 1946); reprinted in Shooting an Elephant (1950)

QUOTE NOTE: It was in the same essay—perhaps the most famous of all his essays—that Orwell also wrote: “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”



  • Hatred grows into insolence when we desire to excel the rest of mankind and imagine we do not belong to the common lot; we even severely and haughtily despise others as our inferiors. John Calvin, in Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (1551)
  • Are you not justified in feeling inferior, when you seek to cover it up with arrogance and insolence? Malcolm Forbes, in 1994 issue of Forbes magazine



  • Insomnia is only mind over mattress. Jane Ace, quoted in Goodman Ace, The Fine Art of Hypochondria (1966)
  • Insomnia, a dreaded blight,/Might well become a boon/If it could be transferred from night/To afternoon. Richard Armour, “Observations of an Office Worker,” in Nights with Armour: Lighthearted Light Verse (1958)
  • A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow. Charlotte Brontë, a reflection of narrator and protagonist William Crimsworth, in The Professor: A Tale (1846; pub. posthumously in 1857)
  • In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in The Other One (1929)
  • I don't trust these insomniacs. They sleep a lot more than they think they do. Elizabeth Daly, the protagonist Henry Gamadge speaking, in The House Without the Door (1945)
  • One of the cruelties of insomnia is that the effort to escape ensures its failure because there’s a part of our brains that keeps checking to see if we are accomplishing our aims, thereby keeping us awake. Kat Duff, in The Secret Life of Sleep (2014)
  • It appears that every man’s insomnia is as different from his neighbor’s as are their daytime hopes and aspirations. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Sleeping and Walking,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • Mr. Goodwin was filled with the profound bitterness found only in an insomniac contemplating a sleeping fellow human. Margaret Millar, in Fire Will Freeze (1944)
  • He never attempted to sleep on his left side, even in those dismal hours of the night when the insomniac longs for a third side after trying the two he has. Vladimir Nabokov, the narrator describing the title character, in Pnin (1957)



  • Inspiration never arrived when you were searching for it. Lisa Alther, in Bedrock (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation appeared in a longer passage in which the narrator is describing an artistic dry spell on the part of the character Elke, a sculptor from Germany. Here’s the full passage, which ends with a memorable metaphor: “She’d spend her afternoons walking the city, hoping for a flicker of inspiration. But inspiration never arrived when you were searching for it. Rather, it seeped in when you were fully absorbed while scrubbing the bathtub. So she’d return to her apartment and perform every chore she could think of. But there were still no stirrings in her heart. All she could do was wait, hands extended, a midwife unable to locate the fetus.”

  • Inspiration is a farce that poets have invented to give themselves importance. Jean Anouilh, in Introduction to Becket (1959)

Anouilh preceded the observation by writing: “Talent is like a faucet; while it is open, one must write.”

  • Inspiration is the richest nation I know, the most powerful on earth. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, in Myself (1967)

Ashton-Warner continued: “Sexual energy Freud calls it; the capital of desire I call it; it pays for both mental and physical expenditure.”

  • Here is a simple recipe to begin with. Get up every morning with the set intention of writing and go to your desk and sit there for three hours, whether you accomplish anything or not. Before long you will find that you are writing madly, not waiting for inspiration. Gertrude Atherton, in Black Oxen (1923)
  • Without inspiration the best powers of the mind remain dormant; there is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Johann Gottfried von Herder)

ERROR ALERT: This beautifully-phrased observation has become very popular in recent years. While it shows up all over the internet and in many published books, no source information has ever been provided. It is doubtful the words come from von Herder.

  • Inspiration always comes when a man really wants it to, but it doesn't always go when he wants. Charles Baudelaire, quoted in Poison and Vision: Poems and Prose of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud (1996; DAvid Paul, ed.)
  • I long to speak out about the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women. They have made of their lives an intense adventure. Ruth Benedict, quoted in Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (1959)
  • To the artist is sometimes granted a sudden, transient insight which serves in this manner for experience. A flash, and where previously the brain held a dead fact, the soul grasps a living truth! At moments we are all artists. Arnold Bennett, journal entry (March 18, 1897), in The Journals of Arnold Bennett (1932)
  • It’s lack that gives us inspiration. It’s not fullness. Ray Bradbury, in 1988 interview with Terry Gross (KCUR-Radio; Philadelphia, PA)
  • When you do not know what you are doing and what you are doing is the best—that is inspiration. Robert Bresson, in Notes on the Cinematographer (1975)
  • A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)
  • Thought is a form of love, if it be inspired. Benjamin N. Cardozo, in remarks at a wedding he officiated in 1931, quoted in Andrew L. Kaufman, Cardozo (1998)
  • We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. Winston Churchill, in BBC broadcast (Sep. 11, 1940); quoted in Colin R. Coote (ed.), Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait (1954)
  • Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness—I wouldn't know; but I am sure that it is the antithesis of self-consciousness. Aaron Copland, in Music and Imagination (1952)
  • Beauty arises out of human inspiration. Richard Dawkins, in 1984 Now interview with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio (PBS-Radio; Dec. 3, 2004)
  • If you wait for inspiration or that thing to hit you, you’re dead. Action breeds inspiration more than inspiration breeds action. Willem Dafoe, in Laura Barton, “From Jesus to Antichrist,” in The Guardian (London; May 27, 2009)
  • Inspiration impels us to experience what has not yet occurred, but is already known. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 8, 2018)
  • Whatever a poet writes with enthusiasm and a divine inspiration is fine. Democritus, in Fragments (5th c. B.C.)
  • I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. Peter De Vries, quoted in The Observer (London; Sep. 28, 1980)
  • Ninety eight per cent of genius is hard work. As for genius being inspired, inspiration is in most cases another word for perspiration. Thomas Edison, quoted in The Delphos (Ohio) Daily Herald (May 18, 1898).

QUOTE NOTE: This is a variation on an observation that has become something a signature line for Edison, to be found in Genius.

  • Do we not all agree to call rapid thought and noble impulse by the name of inspiration? After our subtlest analysis of the mental process, we must still say…that our highest thoughts and our best deeds are all given to us. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • Books are for nothing but to inspire. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in The American Scholar (1837)
  • It is a fact often observed, that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion who cannot write well under other circumstances. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Love,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • The most wonderful inspirations die with their subject, if he has no hand to paint them to the senses. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Intellect,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is—I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it. William Faulkner, in Paris Review interview (Fall 1956)

This was Faulkner’s famous answer to the question: “You mentioned experience, observation, and imagination as being important for a writer. Would you include inspiration?”

  • When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it. Sigmund Freud

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the quotation appears in every quotation collection I’ve seen, but it is an abridgment and, in fact, a slight misrepresentation of Freud’s original thought. In a Dec. 11, 1914 letter to Karl Abraham, Freud wrote: “My way of working was different years ago. I used to wait until an idea came to me. Now I go half-way to meet it, though I don’t know whether I find it any the quicker.” (source: Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1, 1953)

  • Fill every glass, for wine inspires us,/And fires us/With courage, love, and joy. John Gay, Matt of the Mint speaking, in The Beggar’s Opera (1728)
  • A great man is a torch in the darkness, a beacon in superstition’s night, an inspiration and a prophecy. Robert G. Ingersoll, in Voltaire: A Lecture (1895)
  • The ultimate inspiration is the deadline. That’s when you have to do what needs to be done. Steve Karmen, quoted in Roger Von Oech, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants (1986)

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

  • Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
  • We may give advice, but we cannot inspire conduct. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been commonly translated this way: “We give advice, but we do not inspire conduct.”

  • Inspiration comes during work, not before it. Madeleine L’Engle, in The Irrational Season: The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3 (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: In A Circle of Quiet (1972), the first book in her Crosswicks Journal series, L’Engle offered a related thought on the same theme: “Inspiration does not always precede the act of writing; it often follows it.”

  • I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write. Elmore Leonard, quoted in S. Jean Mead, Maverick Writers (1989)
  • Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it. Jack London, “Getting Into Print,” in The Editor magazine (1903)

ERROR ALERT: All over the Internet, this quotation is mistakenly presented in the following way: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

  • You can’t always sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. Amateurs wait for inspiration. The real pros get up and go to work. Harvey Mackay, “What Drives Creativity,” in Early to Rise website (Nov. 17, 2010)
  • I could never tell where inspiration begins and impulse leaves off. I suppose the answer is in the outcome. If your hunch proves a good one, you were inspired; if it proves bad, you are guilty of yielding to thoughtless impulse. Beryl Markham, in West With the Night (1942)
  • If you can’t find your inspiration by walking around the block one time, go around two blocks—but never three. Robert Motherwell, quoted in a 2008 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Better beware of notions like genius and inspiration; they are a sort of magic wand and should be used sparingly by anybody who wants to see things clearly. Jose Ortega y Gasset, “Decline of the Novel,” in The Dehumanization of Art and Ideas About the Novel (1925)
  • Wit invents; inspiration reveals. Octavio Paz in Sor Juana (1982)
  • Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Ned Rorem, “Four Questions Answered,” in Music From Inside Out (1967)

In the same piece, Rorem added about the sporadic nature of inspiration: “Divine fires do not blaze each day, but an artist functions in their afterglow hoping for their recurrence.”

  • We all run the risk of declining, if somebody does not rise to tell us that life is on the heights, and not in the cesspools. George Sand, in letter to M. Charles Edmond (Jan. 9, 1858); reprinted in Letters of George Sand, Vol II (2009; R. L. De Beaufort, ed.)
  • Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light. Albert Schweitzer, quoted in Erica Anderson, The World of Albert Schweitzer: A Book of Photographs (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Anderson, this now-famous quotation first appeared in Schweitzer’s Memoirs of Childhood and Youth (1924). Over the years, the passage has been rendered in a variety of slightly different ways, but this is the version I like best. Special thanks to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, for his typically brilliant research on the quotation. See his post here.

  • Inspiration is the greatest gift because it opens your life to many new possibilities. Each day becomes more meaningful and your life is enhanced when your actions are guided by what inspires you. Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, in 101 Exercises for the Soul: Simple Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind, and Spirit (2009)

Siegel went on to add: “True inspiration overrides all fears. When you are inspired, you enter a trance state and can accomplish things that you may never have felt capable of doing.”

  • Inspiration cannot be willed, although it can be wooed. Anthony Storr, in Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind (1988)
  • So-called “inspiration” is no more than an extreme example of a process which constantly goes on in the minds of all of us. Anthony Storr, in Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind (1988)
  • Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning. Igor Stravinsky, in An Autobiography (1936)
  • My greatest inspiration…is memory. Paul Theroux, “”My Secret Life,” in The Independent (London; Feb. 7 2009)
  • Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Sep. 7, 1851)
  • I cannot summon up inspiration; I myself am summoned. P. L. Travers, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1982)
  • Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)

Ueland preceded the thought by writing: “When we hear the word ‘inspiration’ we imagine something that comes like a bolt of lightning, and at once with a rapt flashing of the eyes, tossed hair, and feverish excitement, a poet or artist begins furiously to paint or write. At least I used to think sadly that this was what inspiration must be, and never experienced a thing that was one book like it.”

  • Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. Brenda Ueland, in If You Want to Write (1938)
  • Many a witty inspiration is like the surprising reunion of befriended thoughts after a long separation. Friedrich von Schlegel, Aphorism No. 37, in Aphorisms from the Athenaeum (1798)
  • Inspiration descends only in flashes, to clothe circumstances; it is not stored up in a barrel, like salt herrings, to be doled out. Patrick White, the voice of the narrator, in Voss (1957)




  • It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. Albert Einstein, quoted in Paul Schilpp, Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: See also the Einstein entry in CURIOSITY.

  • All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shriveled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Anne Brontë, the opening line of Agnes Grey (1847)
  • We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005)
  • Men should come with instruction booklets. Cathy Guisewite, in Cathy Twentiteth Anniversary Collection (1996)
  • He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Isaac McPherson (Aug. 13, 1813)
  • Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction. They will educate themselves under right conditions. Annie Sullivan, quoted in Van Wyck Brooks, Helen Keller (1956)



  • An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (a series of lectures delivered in Boston in 1836-37); first published in Essays: First Series (1841)

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson used a number of historical examples to make his point (the Roman Empire being the lengthened shadow of Caesar, Christianity of Jesus, the Reformation of Luther). I picked up on the observation in Leadership seminars I did for CEOs for many years, using more recent examples (e.g., Apple Computer of Steve Jobs). Emerson went on to add: “All history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites and even some currently popular books on leadership mistakenly present Emerson’s observation as if it read: “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. His character determines the character of the organization.”

  • Institutions are crystallized ideas; they stand still: people grow—grow beyond and outside of them. Yet there they remain, unwieldy, mischief-breeding; to get rid of them at all is to tear them out by the roots at great cost of life and suffering. Lizzie M. Holmes, “Woman’s Future Position in the World,” in The Arena (1898)

Holmes continued: “The bonds made ages ago, by economic conditions prevailing at the time, have become sacred; they bear another strength than that which they possessed when first formed. Though no longer with any economical basis for existing, they are even more effective in power than when first established.”

  • Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue. Robert K. Merton, in The Sociology of Science (1973)
  • An idea or institution may arise for one reason and be maintained for quite a different reason. Joseph McCabe, in The Psychology of Religion (1927)



  • Blacks concede that hurrawing, jibing, jiving, signifying, disrespecting, cursing, even outright insults might be acceptable under particular conditions, but aspersions cast against one’s family call for immediate attack. Maya Angelou, in All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986)
  • I once met a man who had forgiven an injury. I hope some day to meet the man who has forgiven an insult. Charles Buxton, in Notes of Thought (1873)
  • He who is affected by an insult is infected by it. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1988)
  • That’s the point of quotations, you know: one can use another’s words to be insulting. Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun), the protagonist professor Kate Fansler speaking, in The Theban Mysteries (1971)
  • An insult is twice as deep as an apology. Charles William Day, in The Maxims, Experiences, and Observations of Agogos (1844)

Day continued: “An insult strikes to the heart, and rankles there; whilst an apology merely skins over the surface, but never heals the wound.”

  • It is when people are told their own thoughts that they think they are being insulted. Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), the character Elishama speaking, in the short story “The Immortal Story” (1953), in Anecdotes of Destiny (1958)
  • Donald Trump is a compulsive insulter. When faced with any criticism or opposition, he resorts instinctively to taunts and put-downs. His smears and invective are so unremitting that they no longer shock. It’s simply a given: If you spar with Trump, you’ll be slandered by Trump. Jeff Jacoby, “In Extolling 'Honorable' Tyrants, Trump Shames America,” in The Patriot Post (Jan 17, 2019)
  • Using insult instead of argument is the sign of a small mind. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes speaking, in O Jerusalem (1999)
  • If you go through life looking for insults, you may be comfortably assured of finding them. Ngaio Marsh, in Artists in Crime (1938)
  • Honesty has come to mean the privilege of insulting you to your face without expecting redress. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • The greatest insult came at the marriage ceremony when the minister asked “who giveth this woman?” and some brother, or father or other man, unblushingly said he did, as though it were entirely a commercial transaction between men. Nellie McClung, a 1915 remark, quoted in Linda Rasmussen et al., A Harvest Yet to Reap: A History of Prairie Women (1976)
  • Because it expresses intense feelings in words rather than actions, Freud commented that the first man to hurl an insult rather than a spear was the founder of civilization. Dr. Walt Menninger, “Profanity is Laden with Profundity,” in Cleveland Plain Dealer (Aug. 26, 1976)

ERROR ALERT: As a result of Dr. Menninger’s Plain Dealer piece, Sigmund Freud has been routinely credited with the observation the first man to hurl an insult rather than a spear was the founder of civilization. This is a mistake, however, for Menninger was simply paraphrasing a passage from an 1893 article in which Sigmund Freud and Josef Bruer credited an unnamed English wit as the author of a somewhat similar sentiment. They had written: “As an English writer has wittily remarked, the man who first flung a word of abuse at his enemy instead of a spear was the founder of civilization. Thus words are substitutes for deeds.” Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for clearing up the longstanding mystery surrounding this quotation.



  • He sicken’d at all triumphs but his own. Charles Churchill, on Thomas Franklin, in The Rosciad (1761)
  • He is loyal to his own career but only incidentally to anything or anyone else. Hugh Dalton, on Richard Crossman, in a diary entry (Sep. 17, 1941)
  • If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day. Molly Ivins, on Texas congressman James M. Collins, in Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? (1991)
  • Never trust a man who combs his hair straight from his left armpit. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, on Gen. Douglas MacArthur, quoted in Michael Teague, Mrs. L.: Conversations With Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1981)
  • His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. Thomas Babington Macaulay, on John Dryden, “John Dryden,” in The Edinburgh Review (Jan., 1828)

Macaulay continued: “When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors.”

  • J. M. Barrie—The triumph of sugar over diabetes. George Jean Nathan, in Comedians All (1919)
  • They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge. Thomas B. Reed, on two fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives, quoted in Samuel W. McCall, The Life of Thomas Brackett Reed(1914)


(includes [Auto] INSURANCE and [Health] INSURANCE and [Life] INSURANCE)

  • When the praying does no good, insurance does help. Bertolt Brecht, the title character speaking, in The Mother (1932)
  • I detest life-insurance agents; they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so. Stephen Leacock, “Insurance Up To Date,” in Literary Lapses (1910)
  • Poor kids are much more likely to become sick than their richer counterparts, but much less likely to have health insurance. Talk about a double whammy. Anna Quindlen, “The War We Haven’t Won,” a Newsweek magazine “Last Word” essay (Sep. 19, 2004)
  • Life insurance can be numbingly complicated. Clients often turn off their brains and surrender their judgment to the very agent or planner who brought on their coma in the first place. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)
  • Auto insurance is a toll bridge, over which every honest driver has to pass. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)



  • It has always seemed to me that the test of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. Chinua Achebe, in The Trouble with Nigeria (1983)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotation in the following way: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”

  • To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity. Donald A. Adams, in a 1927 issue of Commercial West magazine (specific issue undetermined)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly attributed to the English writer Douglas Adams.

  • When the entire moral energy of an individual goes into the cultivation of personal integrity, we all know how unlovely the result may become; the character is upright, of course, but too coated over with the result of its own endeavor to be attractive. Jane Addams, in Democracy and Social Ethics (1907)
  • A righteous man who walks in his integrity—blessed are his sons after him! The Bible—Proverbs 20:7 (RSV)

The King James Version (KJV) has the passage this way: “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.”

  • It is better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be stupid and speak lies. The Bible—Proverbs 19:1

The KJV is: “Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.”

  • Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. Sissela Bok, in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978)
  • Honor your commitments with integrity. Les Brown, quoted in a 2006 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you. H. Jackson Browne, Jr., in Life’s Little Instruction Book (1991)
  • Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. Warren Buffet, quoted in Robin Gerber, Katherine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon (2005)

Buffett continued: “If you hire somebody without the first, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

  • Integrity has no need of rules. Albert Camus, in the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942; Eng. trans., 1955)
  • There is no better test of a man’s ultimate chivalry and integrity than how he behaves when he is wrong. G. K. Chesterton, “The Real Dr. Johnson,” in The Common Man (1950)
  • Men of integrity are generally pretty obstinate in adhering to an opinion once adopted. William Cobbett, the voice of the narrator, in Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine (1927)
  • Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Nothing so completely baffles one who is full of trick and duplicity himself than straightforward and simple integrity in another. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Living with integrity means: not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships; asking for what you want and need from others; speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension; behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values; and making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe. Barbara de Angelis, in Real Moments: Discover the Secret for True Happiness (1994)
  • Integrity means that everything fits together. It means there are no parts that do not fit. When something has integrity, every part fits with the others in the right way. Brad Dixon, the character Barnabas speaking, in Rebuilding a Broken Man (2015)
  • I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. Frederick Douglass, in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845)
  • In order to be a leader, a man must have followers; to have followers, a leader must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose. Dwight D. Eisenhower, quoted in Clarence Poe, My First Eighty Years (1963)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the original source—and the complete original phrasing—of a quotation that has become very popular. John Maxwell and Steven Covey have used slightly different versions of it in a number of their books, and James Comey included a portion of the observation in his 2018 book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Poe, a southern journalist, served as editor of The Progressive Farmer for 65 years. He died a year after My First Eighty Years was published.

  • Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In failing circumstances no man can be relied on to keep his integrity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

ERROR ALERT: Most quotation anthologies present the quotation in exactly this way—which is technically accurate—but they are mistaken in suggesting it was something Emerson believed. In the fuller passage, it is clear that Emerson was describing a cynical belief of the moneyed men of Wall Street. Here’s the full passage: “Poverty demoralizes. A man in debt is so far a slave; and Wall-street thinks it easy for a millionaire to be a man of his word, a man of honor, but, that, in failing circumstances, no man can be relied on to keep his integrity.”

  • A little integrity is better than any career.Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Integrity simply means a willingness not to violate one’s identity, in the many ways in which such violation is possible. Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology (1968)
  • On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate. Buckminster Fuller, in Critical Path (1981)
  • Men of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. John W. Gardner, “The Aims of a Free People,” in Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? (1961)
  • Eternal vigilance, as they say, is the price of freedom. Add intellectual integrity to the cost basis. Stephen Jay Gould, “The Tallest Tale,” in Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (2011)

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

  • A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions. Lillian Hellman, in letter to U. S. congressman John S. Wood (May 19, 1952), quoted in The Nation (May 31, 1952)

QUOTE NOTE: Wood was chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and Hellman’s letter was a formal refusal to testify against colleagues accused of past affiliations with the Communist Party. Hellman preceded her famous remark with the words: “To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable.”

  • I am sure that in estimating every man’s value either in private or public life, a pure integrity is the quality we take first into calculation, and that learning and talents are only the second. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Garland Jefferson (June 15, 1792)
  • Nothing but good can result from an exchange of information and opinions between those whose circumstances and morals admit no doubt of the integrity of their views. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Elbridge Gerry (May 13, 1797)
  • Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Samuel Johnson, the astronomer speaking, in The History of Rasselas (1759)
  • Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain. Chris Karcher, in Relationships of Grace (2003)
  • Sin is a queer thing. It isn’t the breaking of divine commandments. It is the breaking of one’s own integrity. D. H. Lawrence, in Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)
  • Integrity, like humility, is a quality which vanishes the moment we are conscious of it in ourselves. We see it only in others. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Circle of Quiet (1972)
  • Some persons are likeable in spite of their unswerving integrity. Don Marquis, quoted in Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis (1962)
  • If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in The Misanthrope (1666)
  • It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794)
  • If a man can reach the latter days of his life with his soul intact, he has mastered life. Gordon Parks, citing a lesson he learned from his father, in To Smile in Autumn: A Memoir (1979)
  • Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. James Patterson, a diary entry of the title character, written for her infant son to read when he is older, in Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas (2001)

Suzanne concluded her diary entry by writing: “And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginning of balance in your life.”

  • Difficult though integrity may be to achieve, the test for it is deceptively simple. If you wish to discern either the presence or absence of integrity, you need to ask only one question. What is missing? Has anything been left out? M. Scott Peck, in The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (1987)
  • There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity. Tom Peters, in The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations (1994)
  • A house can have integrity, just like a person. Ayn Rand, the character Howard Roark speaking, in The Fountainhead (1943)

Roark added, “And just as seldom.”

  • Integrity is so perishable in the summer months of success. Vanessa Redgrave, quoted in David Bailey & Peter Evans, Goodbye Baby and Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties (1969)
  • Necessity may well be called the mother of invention—but calamity is the test of integrity. Samuel Richardson, Mr. Belford describing how Mrs. Smith tweaked a familiar proverb in a letter she had written to Robert Lovelace, in Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748)
  • This above all: to thine own self be true,/And it must follow as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man. William Shakespeare, Polonius giving advice to Laertes , in Hamlet (1601)
  • If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. Alan Simpson, quoted in David Gergen, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton (2001)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Gergen, the Wyoming senator said this in 2001 while introducing former president Gerald Ford before an address at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In Arthur Milnes’s 2009 book In Roosevelt’s Bright Shadow, Milnes (who was teaching at Harvard at the time) recalled the quotation slightly differently: “If you have integrity in politics, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”

  • Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)
  • This is excellence—the following of anything for its own sake and with its own integrity. Freya Stark, “Decadence, or The Bed of Procrustes,” in The Arch of the Zodiac (1968)
  • Integrity pays, but not in cash. Jennifer Stone, in Mind Over Media (1988)
  • Integrity and firmness of purpose are all I can promise. These, be the voyage long or short, shall never forsake me. George Washington, in letter to Henry Knox (April 1, 1789), twenty-nine days before his inauguration as the first U.S. President
  • Integrity can be neither lost nor concealed nor faked nor quenched nor artificially come by nor outlived, nor, I believe, in the long run, denied. Eudora Welty, “Must the Novelist Crusade,” in The Eye of the Story (1978)
  • You don’t just luck into integrity. You work at it. Betty White, in If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) (2011)
  • Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Tuchy Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)
  • The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity. Zig Ziglar, in Life Wisdom: Quotes from Zig Ziglar (2014)



  • There is nothing more perplexing in life than to know at what point you should surrender your intellect to your faith. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • My friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening’s sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. G. K. Chesterton, “The Extraordinary Cabman,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)

QUOTE NOTE: This the first appearance of a popular Chesterton thought: opening the mind in order to shut it again on something solid. To see how he expressed the idea a few decades later in his 1936 autobiography, see the Chesterton entry in MIND.

  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Karl von Clausewitz, in On War (1832-34)

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

  • The extravagance of intellect outstrips the extravagance of desire. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 9th Selection (1992)
  • The errors of the intellect are fatal, still more dangerous than those of the heart. Eugénie de Guérin, in letter to Louise de Bayne (Jan. 2, 1835), in Letters of Eugénie de Guérin (1865; G. S. Trébutien, ed.)
  • We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. Albert Einstein, in Out of My Later Life (1950)
  • Intellect annuls fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: The intellect, according to Emerson, gave human beings a transcending power over Fate and Destiny (he went on to write: “The revelation of Thought takes man out of servitude into freedom”). See the full essay at “Fate”.

  • The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endlessly repeated rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points in which it may be optimistic about the future of mankind. Sigmund Freud, in The Future of an Illusion (1927)
  • A towering intellect, grand in its achievements, and glorious in its possibilities, may, with the moral and spiritual faculties held in abeyance, be one of the most dangerous and mischievous forces in the world. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “A Factor in Human Progress,” in an 1885 issue of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Review (specific date undetermined)
  • [There are] one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872)

QUOTE NOTE: This thought came to Holmes just after an intriguing metaphor had popped into his mind: “Minds with skylights—yes—stop, let us see if we can’t get something out of that.” He went on to add: “All fact-collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination comes from above, through the skylight.” To see how he carried on the metaphor, go to Minds with Skylights.

  • Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie its pleasure. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • The naked intellect is an extraordinarily inaccurate instrument. Madeleine L’Engle, the character Meg Burry speaking, in A Wind in the Door (1973)
  • The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect. Carson McCullers, in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941)
  • The intellect is a very nice whirligig toy, but how people take it seriously is more than I can understand. Ezra Pound, in undated letter to his mother; quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character (1988)
  • Our intellect is not the most subtle, the most powerful, the most appropriate, instrument for revealing the truth. It is life that, little by little, example by example, permits us to see that what is most important to our heart, or to our mind, is learned not by reasoning but through other agencies. Marcel Proust, the voice of the narrator, in The Fugitive (1925; title sometimes presented as The Sweet Cheat Gone); volume six of In Search of Lost Time (formerly Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27)

The narrator added: “Then it is that the intellect, observing their superiority, abdicates its control to them upon reasoned grounds and agrees to become their collaborator and lackey.”

  • For the ordinary business of life, an ounce of habit is worth a pound of intellect. Thomas B. Reed, in speech at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine; July 25, 1902)
  • Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Susan Sontag, title essay, in Against Interpretation (1966)
  • It belongs to the self-respect of intellect to pursue every tangle of thought to its final unravelment. Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World (1925)
  • Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies. Alfred North Whitehead, a June 10, 1943 remark, quoted in Lucien Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954)

Whitehead introduced the thought by saying: “Ninety percent of our lives is governed by emotion. Our brains merely register and act upon what is telegraphed to them by our bodily experience.”

  • The intellect is not a serious thing, and never has been. It is an instrument on which one plays, that is all. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A woman of No Importance (1893)
  • The intellect, divine as it is, and all worshipful, has a habit of lodging in the most seedy of carcasses, and often, alas, acts the cannibal among the other faculties so that often, where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe. Virginia Woolf, the voice of the narrator, in Orlando: A Biography (1928)



  • To me, being an intellectual doesn't mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them. Chinua Achebe, quoted in Chukwuemeka Bosah (ed.), Celebrating Chinua Achebe: Essays in His Life, Legacy and Works (2013)
  • I have never been an intellectual but I have this look. Woody Allen, quoted in International Herald-Tribune (Paris; March 18, 1992)
  • I didn’t consider intellectuals intelligent, I never like them or their thoughts about life. I defined them as people who care nothing for argument, who are interested only in information; or as people who have a preference for learning things rather than experiencing them. Margaret Anderson, in The Fiery Fountains (1953)
  • To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say,/Is a keen observer of life,/The word “Intellectual” suggests straight away/A man who’s untrue to his wife.
W. H. Auden, in “New Year Letter” (1941); reprinted in Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957 (1966)
  • An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This quotation, sometimes with a slightly different wording, is widely misattributed to Aldous Huxley. The false attribution appears to have originated with Katharine Whitehorn in 1968 (see her entry below), but no evidence exists that Huxley ever said or wrote it. The sentiment may have been inspired by an observation from English writer Edgar Wallace, who offered a similar thought in a 1932 New York Times interview (see the Wallace entry below).

  • I’ve been called many things, but never an intellectual. Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah (1952)
  • Even intellectuals should have learned by now, post-postmodernism, that objective rationality is not the default position of the human mind, much less the bedrock of human affairs. Roy Blount, Jr., “Why I’m Not an Outsider Artist,” in Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South (2006)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present the quotation without the post-postmodernism phrase (and with no ellipsis to indicate its omission).

  • The intellectual is a middle-class product; if he is not born into the class he must soon insert himself into it, in order to exist. He is the fine nervous flower of the bourgeoisie. Louise Bogan, “Some Notes on Popular and Unpopular Art” (1943); reprinted in Selected Criticism (1955)

In that same essay, Bogan offered this observation: “Intellectuals range through the finest gradations of kind and quality: from those who are merely educated neurotics, usually with strong hidden reactionary tendencies, through mediocrities of all kinds, to men of real brains and sensibility, more or less stiffened into various respectabilities or substitutes for respectability. The number of Ignorant Specialists is large. The number of hysterics and compulsives is also large.”

  • I think that “intellectuals” cause a great deal of trouble trying to do it all with the mind. It is the heart that counts. Louise Bogan, in a 1955 letter, quoted in Ruth Limmer, What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920-1970 (1973)
  • The decision to speak out is the vocation and life-long peril by which the intellectual must live. Kay Boyle, quoted in James Vinson, Contemporary Novelists (1976)
  • Intellectuals are people who believe that ideas are of more importance than values; that is to say, their own ideas and other people’s values. Gerald Brenan, “Life,” in Thoughts in a Dry Season (1978)
  • To me, being an intellectual doesn’t mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them. Jacob Bronowski, in Magic, Science, and Civilization (1978)
  • An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. Albert Camus, in Notebooks 1935–1942 (1962)

Camus went on to write: “I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched.”

  • Intellectual sodomy, which comes from the refusal to be simple about plain matters, is as gross and abundant today as sexual perversion and they are nowise different from one another. Edward Dahlberg, in Alms for Oblivion (1964)
  • “Intellectual” is not always a synonym for “intelligent.” Alexandra David-Neel, a 1952 remark, in La Lampe de Sagesse (1986)
  • But, of course only morons would ever think or speak of themselves as intellectuals. That’s why they all look so sad. Ellen Glasgow, in letter to Daniel Longwell (May 24, 1934); reprinted in Letters of Ellen Glasgow (1958; Blair Rouse, ed.)

Glasgow continued: ” It’s a tremendous effort to be either a natural moron, apparently, or a false intellectual.

  • I remember being very smart, which is a form of stupidity. I try not to remember it, but it occurs to me that I may have felt intellectual. I entertained views too noble or too bitter to be true. I must have done some soul-stretching of my mental neck. Corra Harris, in As A Woman Thinks (1925)
  • Intellectuals can tell themselves anything, sell themselves any bill of goods, which is why they were so often patsies for the ruling classes in nineteenth-century France and England, or twentieth-century Russia and America. Lillian Hellman, in An Unfinished Woman (1969)
  • An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex. Aldous Huxley, quoted by Katharine Whitehorn, in The Observer (London; March 3 1968)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has not been found in any of Huxley’s works, and it is possible that Whitehorn was mistakenly attributing a sentiment to Huxley that was originally offered by Edgar Wallace more than three decades earlier (see the Wallace entry below).

  • Blind commitment to a theory is not an intellectual virtue; it is an intellectual crime. Imre Lakatos, in Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (1978)
  • The intellectual may be defined, broadly, as a person for whom thinking fulfills at once the function of work and play. Christopher Lasch, in The New Radicalism in America, 1889-1963: The Intellectual as a Social Type (1965)
  • The intellectual is constantly betrayed by his vanity. God-like, he blandly assumes that he can express everything in words; whereas the things one loves, lives, and dies for are not, in the last analysis, completely expressible in words. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith (1940)
  • The chief difference is that a low-brow tells you what he thinks and a high-brow tells you what somebody else thinks. Martha Lupton, quoted in The Speaker’s Desk Book (1937)
  • I would call an intellectual one whose instrument of work—his mind—is also his major source of pleasure; a man whose entertainment is his intelligence. Marya Mannes, in But Will It Sell? (1964)
  • Friendship…is essential to intellectuals. You can date the evolving life of a mind, like the age of a tree, by the rings of friendship formed by the expanding central trunk. Mary McCarthy, in How I Grew (1987)
  • Intellectuals incline to be individualists, or even independents, are not team conscious and tend to regard obedience as a surrender of personality. Harold Nicolson, quoted in The Observer (London; Oct. 12, 1958)
  • Professional intellectuals are the voice of a culture and are, therefore, its leaders, its integrators and its bodyguards. Ayn Rand, “For the New Intellectual,” introductory essay in For the New Intellectual (1961)
  • Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God. Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” in Townhall.com (May 1, 2007)
  • It’s no surprise to me that intellectuals commit suicide, go mad or die from drink. We feel things more than other people. We know the world is rotten and that chins are ruined by spots. Sue Townsend, a reflection of the title character, in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4 (1982)
  • Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the lifeblood of real civilization. G. M. Trevelyan, in Introduction to English Social History (1942)
  • What is a highbrow? He is a man who has found something more interesting than women. Edgar Wallace, in interview with The New York Times (Jan. 24, 1932)

QUOTE NOTE: Wallace’s observation may have stimulated a similar thought from Aldous Huxley, offered several decades later (see above)

  • The job of intellectuals is to come up with ideas, and all we’ve been producing is footnotes. Theodore H. White, quoted in Joe Flaherty, Managing Mailer (1970)
  • This passionate yearning for solitude, so necessary to genius yet so difficult to obtain, is perhaps the very cause of the strange, irritable, cynical eccentricities of temper and manner so often observable in the priesthood of intellect. Lady Speranza Wilde, “Miss Martineau,” in Notes on Men, Women, and Books (1891)
  • There can be no two opinions as to what a highbrow is. He is the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea. Virginia Woolf, “Middlebrow,” in Death of the Moth (1942)
  • People who refer to themselves as intellectuals are automatically commiting a social crime and, also, an error. Tracy Young, in a 1984 Vanity Fair article; quoted in Fred Metcalf, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (1986)



  • I happen to feel that the degree of a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes she can bring to bear on the same topic, I announced, resolutely parroting Miss Head. Lisa Alther, the protagonist Ginny Babcock speaking, in Kinflicks (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: All internet sites—and all of the major print quotation collections—present only the first portion of the observation, omitting Ginny’s announcement that she is parroting a remark from her former teacher. What did Miss Head actually say? Earlier in the novel, she said to Ginny: “I’ve always felt that a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic.” The inspiration for both observations was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose classic offering on the subject may be found just below.

  • Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings. Author Unknown (but widely attributed to Salvador Dali)

QUOTE NOTE: For more on this quotation as well as a peek at how the concept of a bird without wings has shown up in metaphorical observations about other subjects, see this 2015 post by Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator.

  • You don’t realize that you’re intelligent until it gets you into trouble. James Baldwin, quoted in Julius Lester, “James Baldwin: Reflections of a Maverick,” in The New York Times (May 27, 1984)
  • Comprehension, inventiveness, direction, and criticism: intelligence is contained in these four words. Alfred Binet, in Les idées modernes sur les enfants (1909)

In the book, Binet also wrote: “Some recent philosophers seem to have given their moral approval to these deplorable verdicts that affirm that the intelligence of an individual is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be augmented. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we will try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing.”

  • Intelligence in chains loses in lucidity what it gains in intensity. Albert Camus, “Absolute Negation,” in The Rebel (1951)
  • Your intelligence often bears the same relation to your heart as the library of a château does to its owner. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • We’ve reached a truly remarkable situation: a grotesque mismatch between the American intelligentsia and the American electorate. A philosophical opinion about the nature of the universe which is held by the vast majority of top American scientists, and probably the majority of the intelligentsia generally, is so abhorrent to the American electorate that no candidate for popular election dare affirm it in public. Richard Dawkins, in “Militant Atheism,” a TED talk (February 2002)

In his talk, Dawkins continued:

“If I’m right, this means that high office in the greatest country in the world is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it—the intelligentsia—unless they are prepared to lie about their beliefs. To put it bluntly American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.”

  • Wit makes its own welcome and levels all distinctions. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Comic,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: Emerson was writing when wit was used to mean intelligence, and it is clear from his writing that he viewed intelligence as always welcome and a trait that superseded class and social status.

  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” in Esquire magazine (Feb., 1936)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is typically presented, but Fitzgerald immediately added a most interesting clarification: “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” Fitzgerald’s full article may be seen at: The Crack-Up

  • An intelligent man neither allows himself to be controlled nor attempts to control others; he wishes reason alone to rule, and that always. Jean de La Bruyère, “Of the Affections,” in Characters (1688)
  • The sign of an intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • The voice of the intelligence is soft and weak, said Freud. It is drowned out by the roar of fear. Karl A. Menninger, in The Progressive (Oct., 1955)

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

  • One of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely to the intelligence. Lewis Mumford, in The Transformations of Man (1956)
  • Intelligence, then, is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles by means of decisions based on rational (truth-obeying) rules. Steven Pinker, in How the Mind Works (1997)
  • Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are. George Santayana, “Against Prying Biographers,” in Little Essays (1920)
  • The intelligent man does not feel his intelligence or the introvert his introversion. B. F. Skinner, in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971)
  • Intelligence…is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964), in Against Interpretation (1966)

QUOTE NOTE: For the full observation, see the Sontag entry in TASTE.

  • The intelligent man who is proud of that intelligence is like the condemned man who is proud of his large cell. Simone Weil, in Simone Petrément, Simone Weil: A Life (1976)
  • Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended. Alfred North Whitehead, remark in conversation (Dec. 15, 1939), in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954; Lucien Price, ed.)



  • When we speak of emotional intelligence, we are alluding—in a humanistic rather than a scientific way—to whether someone understands key components of emotional functioning. de Botton, in The School of Life: an Emotional Education (2020)

In the book, de Botton continued: “We are referring to their ability to introspect and communicate, to read the moods of others, to relate with patience, charity, and imagination to the less edifying moments of those around them.”

  • There is an old-fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: character. Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995)
  • Emotional Intelligence' refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. It describes abilities distinct from, but complementary to, academic intelligence, the purely cognitive capacities measured by IQ. Daniel Goleman, in Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998)



  • Men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters. Edmund Burke, in A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791).
  • A sensual and intemperate youth hands over a worn-out body to old age. Marcus Tullius Cicero in Cato the Elder on Old Age (1st c. BC)
  • Intemperance of any sort is an evil, not so much in a narrow moral sense, but because it frustrates its own original end, which is pleasure. Sydney J. Harris in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Aug. 16, 1973)
  • The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one of us but can call to mind some relative more promising in youth than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity? Abraham Lincoln, in “The Cause of Temperance,” a speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society (Feb. 22, 1842)
  • Boundless intemperance/In nature is a tyranny, it hath been/ Th' untimely emptying of the happy throne,/And fall of many kings. William Shakespeare, the character Macduff speaking, in Macbeth (1605)
  • Intemperance in eating is one of the most fruitful of all causes of disease and death. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, American Woman’s Home (1869)
  • A physician is an unfortunate gentleman who is every day required to perform a miracle; namely to reconcile health with intemperance. Voltaire, widely attributed, never verified

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation first appeared in an 1833 publication “Bubbles from the Brunens of Nassau,” anonymously authored “By an Old Man.” It has been widely quoted ever since, but has not been found in any of Voltaire’s writings.


  • Ecstasy is what everyone craves—not love or sex, but a hot-blooded, soaring intensity, in which being alive is a joy and a thrill. That enravishment doesn’t give meaning to life, and yet without it life seems meaningless. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)
  • The full life depends, not on the range of experience but on the intensity of the interest, the emotion involved, and on its being a personal interest. Ann Bridge, in Singing Waters (1946)
  • Intensity is not the same as intimacy, although we tend to confuse these two words. Harriet Lerner, in Life Preservers: Good Advice When You Need It Most (1996)
  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are filled with a passionate intensity. W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming,” written in 1919, first published in The Dial (November 1920); reprinted in Yeats’s 1921 book of verse, Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
  • It’s often been remarked that every human activity, whether it be love, philosophy, art, or revolution, is carried on with a special intensity in Paris. Rebecca West, the character Vassili Iulievitch speaking, in The Birds Fall Down (1966)



  • A good intention clothes itself with sudden power. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

Emerson continued: “When a god wishes to ride, any chip or pebble will bud and shoot out winged feet, and serve him for a horse.”

  • Everything in life must be intentional, and the will constantly taut like a muscle. André Gide, a journal entry (July 14, 1893), in The Journals of Andre Gide: Vol. I, 1889-1913 (1948; Justin O’Brien, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Gide, who was twenty-three when he wrote this, was not particularly happy with himself and how his life was going. He preceded the thought by writing: “I have lost the habit of lofty thought; this is a most regrettable thing. I live in a facile manner, and this must not go on.” A moment later, he added: “I know that everything can be turned to advantage, provided one is conscious about it. And I have lived much. But one must certainly pull oneself together”.

  • What throws a monkey wrench in/A fella’s good intention?/That nasty old invention—/Necessity! E. Y. Harburg, in “Necessity” (1947)
  • No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved. William James, “Habit,” in The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (1890)

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

  • The smallest deed is greater than the grandest intention. Patti LaBelle, in Patti’s Pearls (2001; with Laura Randolph Lancaster)
  • The mind sins, not the body; if there is no intention, there is no blame. Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (1st. c. B.C.)
  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Proverb (English)
  • If the way ahead is not clear, time is often the best editor of one’s intentions. Jacqueline Winspear, the protagonist Maisie Dobbs, recalling words of advice from her mentor Maurice Blanche, in The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)



  • No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. John Donne, in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)



(see also INTERESTS)

  • If I had/The power,/I would/Give you/The ability/To be/Interested. Sondra Anice Barnes, in Life Is the Way It Is (1978)
  • I'm only interested in two kinds of people, those who can entertain me and those who can advance my career. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in a 1986 edition of The New York Times Book Review (specific issue undetermined)
  • Interested people are happy people. Luella B. Cook, in Using English: Book Two (1935)
  • There is nothing inherently wrong with a brain in your nineties. If you keep it fed and interested, you’ll find it lasts you very well. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Voice of the River (1987; with John Rothchild)
  • Being interested is more important than being interesting. Ann Landers, in a 1997 syndicated column (specific issue undetermined)
  • There are few better ways to cultivate one’s own conversational powers than to become an interested and sympathetic listener. Lillian Eichler, in The Book of Conversation, Vol. 1 (1927)

Eichler continued: “But it is not enough to remain silent while others are talking; that is not listening in any true sense. One must be manifestly attentive to the speaker, asking an occasional question, commenting upon what has been said. The good listener brings out the best in people. He is responsive. His eyes lights up occasionally with interest and pleasure. Not for an instant does he permit his attention to wander.”

  • For ninety-one years, he did something remarkable. He stayed interested. Ellen Goodman, on Pablo Picasso, in At Large (1981)
  • When someone asks, “Why do you think he’s not calling me?” there’s always one answer—“He’s not interested.” There’s not ever any other answer. Fran Lebowitz, in Mirabella (1992)
  • A bore is a person not interested in you. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)
  • The point of living in the world is just to stay interested. Kathleen Rooney, a reflection of the 85-year-old narrator and protagonist, in Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017)
  • There is perhaps only one human being in a thousand who is passionately interested in his job for the job’s sake. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Unpopular Opinions (1946)

Sayers continued: “The difference is that if that one person in a thousand is a man, we say, simply, that he is passionately keen on his job; if she is a woman, we say she is a freak.”


(see also [Being] INTERESTED)

  • Almost all of my many passionate interests, and my many changes of mind, came through books. Books prompted the many vows I made to myself. Annie Dillard, quoted in Willian Zinsser, Inventing the Truth (1987)
  • People are much more fascinated by your interests than they are by your opinions. Arlene Francis, in That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm (1960)
  • No matter who you are, your joie de vivre mostly derives from paying attention to someone or something that interests you. Winifred Gallagher, in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life (2009)
  • If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Sheridan Morley, Katharine Hepburn: A Celebration (1999)
  • A hobby is, of course, an abomination, as are all consuming interests and passions that do not lead directly to large, personal gain. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • And there’s one strange thing: when you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)

Mrs. Roosevelt preceded the observation by writing: “One thing life has taught me: if you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you. They will gravitate as automatically as the needle to the north. Somehow, it is unnecessary, in any cold-blooded sense, to sit down and put your head in your hands and plan them. All you need to do is to be curious, receptive, eager for experience.”

  • Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. Bertrand Russell, from the “How to Grow Old,” in Portraits from Memory: And Other Essays (1956)
  • He could not read more than a few consecutive sentences in any book or newspaper unless they referred immediately to himself or his interests. Christina Stead, in A Little Tea, A Little Chat (1948)



  • The test of interesting people is that subject matter doesn’t matter. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)



  • Insistent advice may develop into interference, and interference, someone has said, is the hind hoof of the devil. Carolyn Wells, in The Rest of My Life (1937)



  • And now we have the World Wide Web (the only thing I know of whose shortened form—www—takes three times longer to say than what it’s short for). Douglas Adams, in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (pub. posthumously in 2002)
  • The Internet should be an ally of freedom and a gateway to knowledge; in some cases, it is neither. Madeleine Albright, in Fascism: A Warning (2018)

Albright preceded the thought by writing: “This is the first rule of deception: repeated often enough, almost any statement, story, or smear can start to sound plausible.

  • The Internet has always been, and always will be, a magic box. Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, in SpiegelOnline interview (Feb. 22, 2008)
  • The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of “call waiting.” Dave Barry, in Dave Barry in Cyberspace (1996)
  • What, exactly, is the Internet?  Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a “modem” can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.  Dave Barry, in Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down (2000)
  • Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. Nicholas Carr, in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: Carr, whose book was a New York Times bestseller as well as a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, added: “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

  • The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment. Nicholas Carr, in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2010)
  • The Internet is like a vault with a screen on the back. I don’t need hammers and bombs to get in when I can walk in through the door. William R. Cheswick, quoted in Joshua Quitter, “Cracks in the Net,” Time magazine (Feb., 1995)
  • The Internet is an elite organization; most of the population of the world has never even made a phone call. Noam Chomsky, quoted in The Observer (London; Feb. 18, 1996)
  • The Internet has made me very casual with a level of omniscience that was unthinkable a decade ago. I now wonder if God gets bored knowing the answer to everything. Douglas Coupland, “Transience is Now Permanence & the Fate of the Middle Classes (Doomed),” answer to the question, “How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think,” in The Edge Annual Question (Jan., 2010)
  • The Internet is like alcohol in some sense.  It accentuates what you would do anyway.  If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone.  If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.  Esther Dyson, in “Technology and Us” Forum, Time magazine (Nov. 9, 2005)
  • Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. Roger Ebert, in Yahoo! Internet Life (Sep. 1998)
  • The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow. Bill Gates, in Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999)
  • A “killer app” will not be just a shrink-wrapped program that sells millions of copies. A killer app will be any Web site that touches millions of people and helps them to do what they want to do. Lou Gerstner, a 1996 remark, in “Quintessential Quotes,” The IBM Corporate Archives (undated)
  • That’s the beauty of the Web: You can roll around in a stranger’s obsession without having to smell his or her house. You can amscray whenever you want without being rude. The site gets its “hit” and you know more about our species’ diversity. Penn Jillette, “Free Celebrity Nudes!” in a Penn’s Columns post (Oct. 15, 1997)
  • My favorite thing about the Internet is that you get to go into the private world of real creeps without having to smell them. Penn Jillette, quoted in “Thoughts on the Business of Life,” Forbes magazine (Nov. 12, 2007)
  • Library-denigrators, pay heed: suggesting that the Internet is a viable substitute for libraries is like saying porn could replace your wife. Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat), a Tweet (Feb. 13, 2013)
  • Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. Mitch Kapor, quoted in H. Brown, Internet Tools (2001)
  • Information on the Internet is subject to the same rules and regulations as conversation at a bar. George D. Lundberg, M.D., quoted in Ralph W. Moss, Alternative Medicine Online (1997)
  • That’s what’s so great about the internet: it enables pompous blowhards to connect with other pompous blowhards in a vast circle-jerk of pomposity. Bill Maher, in interview with Bill Forman, “Spiel Time with Bill Maher,” Colorado Springs Independent (July 18, 2012)
  • This is a little-known technological fact about the Internet. . .the Internet is actually made up of words and enthusiasm. Erin McKean, “The Joy of Lexicography,” in a TED Talk (March, 2007)
  • The Internet has come to resemble an enormous used book store with volumes stacked on shelves and tables and overflowing onto the floor, and a continuous stream of new books being added helter-skelter to the piles. Robert Pool, “Turning an Info-glut Into a Library,” in Science magazine (Oct. 7, 1994)

Pool added: “Almost overnight we’ve gone from a high-mass paper-based world to an almost massless, paperless world.”

  • It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an “information highway,” but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies. Mike Royko, in his syndicated newspaper column, Chicago Tribune (Nov. 13, 1996)

In a column written two and one-half years earlier (Feb. 10, 1994), Royko offered another memorable observation from the early days of the internet: “You have to be a full-fledged computer nerd to navigate it. I have been there. It’s like driving a car through a blizzard without windshield wipers or lights, and all of the road signs are written upside down and backwards. And if you stop and ask someone for help, they stutter in Albanian.”

  • The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. Eric Schmidt, in speech at JavaOne conference (April, 1997)

QUOTE NOTE: In his 2013 book The New Digital Age (written with Jared Cohen), Schmidt adapted his original view, saying that the internet was not the first thing, but “among the few” things humanity built that it didn’t understand, including nuclear weapons, steam power, and electricity.

  • The Internet, the world’s largest ungoverned space. Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen, in The New Digital Age (2013)
  • The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom. Jon Stewart, in Wired magazine interview (Sep., 2005)
  • The story of the internet is of tribes hurling rocks over the horizon at targets they cannot see, doing damage that they do not care to measure. Mark Warren, “Right-Wing Media and the Death of an Alabama Pastor: An American Tragedy,” Esquire magazine (April 3, 2024)
  • The Internet is the Viagra of big business. Jack Welch, in speech at World Business Forum (New York City; Oct. 5, 2010); reported in Brian O’Connor, “Got Your Biz Cranking? You Don’t Know Jack,” DJ Times (Oct. 5, 2010)



  • Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Susan Sontag, title essay, in Against Interpretation (1966)

Sontag went on to write: “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.”



  • There cannot be a greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his discourse. John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

Locke continued: “For if there be not impertinent folly in answering a man before we know what he will say, yet it is a plain declaration that we are weary to hear him talk any longer, and have a disesteem of what he says.”



  • Intimacies between women often go backwards, beginning in revelations and ending in small talk without loss of esteem. Elizabeth Bowen, in The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • Most beds aren't as intimate as people think they are. Malcolm Bradbury, the character Howard speaking, in The History Man (1975)
  • You can’t find any true closeness in Hollywood…because everybody does the fake closeness so well. Carrie Fisher, the protagonist Suzanne Vale speaking, in Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • Every intimacy carries, secreted somewhere below its initial lovely surfaces, the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe. Elizabeth Gilbert, in Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (2010)
  • The married are those who have taken the terrible risk of intimacy and, haven taken it, know life without intimacy to be impossible. Carolyn Heilbrun, “Marriage is the Message,” Ms. magazine (Aug., 1974)
  • Don’t flatter yourselves that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. On the contrary, the nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Intimacy is not an industry; it’s not fast food. Dr. Virginia E. Johnson, on the recent popularity of best-selling relationship books, in radio interview on WAMU—Washington, DC (March 28, 1994)
  • Intimate relationships cannot substitute for a life plan. But to have any meaning or viability at all, a life plan must include intimate relationships. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Intimacy (1989)
  • Intimacy without commitment is like icing with no cake. It’s going to make you sick, sooner or later. Dandi Daley Mackall, the character Mattie, quoting her best friend Emma, in Love Rules (2005)
  • Intimacy requires courage because risk is inescapable. We cannot know at the outset how the relationship will affect us. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)

May continued: “Like a chemical mixture, if one of us is changed, both of us will be. Will we grow in self-actualization, or will it destroy us? The one thing we can be certain of is that if we let ourselves fully into the relationship for good or evil, we will not come out unaffected.

  • Men are not given awards and promotions for bravery in intimacy. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)
  • Though all human beings need both intimacy and independence, women tend to focus on the first and men on the second. It is as if their lifeblood ran in different directions. Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand (1990)
  • Intimacy is a difficult art. Virginia Woolf, “Geraldine and Jane,” in The Common Reader, 2nd Series (1932)
  • It is one of the ironies of life that our intimates often provoke us more than our enemies. Edward W. Ziegler, “How to Get Along with People You Love,” in Reader’s Digest (Nov., 1944)



  • The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence. Ayn Rand, “The Argument from Intimidation,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)

Rand began the essay by writing: “There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a message of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure.”



  • Man has been warring against his own lower nature ever since he found out he had one, and the battle against intolerance is part of the same old struggle between good and evil that has preoccupied us ever since we gave up swinging from trees. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)
  • Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting. Sydney J. Harris, in “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (specific date undetermined); quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote (1977)



  • Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection. Lawrence Durrell, in Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island (1957)

Durrell preceded the thought by writing the following, the opening lines of the book: “Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures—and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well.”

  • It is through introspection that we obtain the self-knowledge allowing us to bring positive change to our lives. By engaging in it, you will be able to see when it is not the world that needs to reform but yourself. P. M. Forni, in The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction (2011)

Forni went on to add: “Your introspection may lead you to realize that you cannot take care of your problems on your own. This is not a defeat. This is introspection serving you well.”

  • The philosophy of the wisest man that ever existed is mainly derived from the act of introspection. William Godwin, in Thoughts on Man: His Nature, Productions, and Discoveries (1831)

Godwin continued: “We look into our own bosoms, observe attentively everything that passes there, anatomize our motives, trace step by step the operations of thought, and diligently remark the effects of external impulses upon our feelings and conduct. Philosophers ever since the time in which Socrates flourished…have found that the minds of men in the most essential particulars are framed so far upon the same model that the analysis of the individual may stand in general consideration for the analysis of the species.”

  • Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • Introspection is the process of self-examination. It occurs naturally over the life span, although some people are naturally more introspective than others. James Thorson, in Aging in a Changing Society (2000)
  • Introspection is a devouring monster. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (April, 1936), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934—1939 (1967)

Nin continued: “You have to feed it with much material, much experience, many people, many places, many loves, many creations, and then it ceases feeding on you.”

  • One advantage of introspection is self-appraisal. Monitoring my behavior makes me behave better. When I err I’m forced to explain. Carll Tucker, in privately-circulated e-missive (Nov. 3, 2018)



  • There are plenty of people in the world, solitary by temperament, who try to retreat into their shell like a hermit crab or a snail. Anton Chekhov, the character Burkin speaking, in “The Man in a Case,” a short story originally published in The Little Trilogy (1898)
  • The intelligent man does not feel his intelligence or the introvert his introversion. B. F. Skinner, in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971)



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

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

  • I call intuition cosmic fishing. You feel a nibble, then you’ve got to hook the fish. Buckminster Fuller, quoted in Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers, Creativity in Business (1986)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation has become very popular—in several slightly varying forms—but an original source has not been found.

  • More than a burial ground for unacceptable ideas and wishes, the unconscious is the spawning ground of intuition and insight, the source of humor, of poetic imagery, and of scientific analogy. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • Intuition is reason in a hurry. Holbrook Jackson, “Maxims and Precepts,” in a circa 1920 issue of To-Day magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I have defined intuition as “perception via the unconscious.” Carl Jung, “Conscious, Unconscious, and Individuation” (1939), in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959)
  • The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of a new insight, is an act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous flashes, or short-circuits of reasoning. Alfred Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)

Koestler continued: “In fact they may be likened to an immersed chain, of which only the beginning and ends are visible above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links.”

  • You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)
  • What passes for woman’s intuition is more often intrinsically nothing more than man’s transparency. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theater, the Drama, the Girls (1921)

ERROR ALERT: Most Internet sites present the quote as if it were phrased this way: “What passes for women’s intuition is often nothing more than than man’s transparency.”

  • Intuition is not infallible; it only seems to be the truth. It is a message which we may interpret wrongly. Christina Stead, “About Women’s Intuition There is a Sort of Folklore We Inherit,” in Vogue magazine (1971; specific issue undetermined)
  • Intuition is not opposed to reason, but works with it in a complementary fashion. Typically, flashes of intuitive insight follow the exhaustive use of logic and reason. Frances E. Vaughan, in Awakening Intuition (1979)



  • Every invalid is a prisoner. Marguerite Yourcenar, the title character speaking, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: Gravely ill, under “constant surveillance” from friends, and too weak to take his own life, Hadrian continues: “I no longer have the force which it would take to drive the dagger in at the exact place, marked at one time with red ink under my left breast.” Unable to end his own life, he comes to a realization: “To prepare a suicide I needed to take the same precautions as would an assassin to plan his crime.”



  • A bad memory is the mother of invention. Gerald Brenan, playing off the proverbial saying, in Thoughts in a Dry Season (1978)
  • Want, the Mistress of Invention, still tempts me on. Susanna Centlivre, the character Charles speaking, in The Busy Body: A Comedy (1709)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Charles uses the word want not in the modern sense of desiring something, but in the old-fashioned sense of lacking something (in this case, money).

  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Richard Franck, the character Arnoldus speaking, in Northern Memoirs (1658)

QUOTE NOTE: The Yale Book of Quotations identifies this as the first appearance of the saying—in these exact words—in English, but the sentiment goes back to ancient times (see the Plato entry below). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations helpfully points out that Franck’s book, while written 1658, was not published until 1694.

  • Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. Ernest Hemingway, on invention in writing, in letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (May 10, 1934)
  • The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention. Plato, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.; Benjamin Jowett, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the origin of the proverbial saying necessity is the mother of invention, which made its first formal appearance in the Latin proverb Mater artium necessitas. In the 1st c. A.D., the Roman poet Persius may have been inspired by the Plato observation when he wrote in his Satires: “The stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of invention.”

  • I don’t know if fury can compete with necessity as the mother of invention, but I recommend it. Gloria Steinem, in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • A guilty conscience is the mother of invention. Carolyn Wells, playing of the familiar saying, in “Maxioms,” Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention. Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World (1925)



  • I’ve always believed that our inventions mirror our secret wishes. Lawrence Durrell, the character Clea speaking, in Mountolive (1958)
  • There is no monster more destructive than the inventive mind that has outstripped philosophy. Ellen Glasgow, in a March 2, 1943 letter; reprinted in Letters of Ellen Glasgow (1958)



  • I call investing the greatest business in the world…because you never have to swing. You stand at the plate, the pitcher throws you General Motors at 47! U.S. Steel at 39! and nobody calls a strike on you. There’s no penalty except opportunity lost. All day you wait for the pitch you like; then when the fielders are asleep, you step up and hit it. Warren Buffett, in interview in Forbes magazine (Nov. 1, 1974)
  • Success in investing doesn’t correlate with I.Q. once you’re above the level of 125. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing. Warren Buffett, quoted in Amy Stone, “Homespun Wisdom from the ‘Oracle of Omaha,’” Business Week magazine (June 5, 1999)
  • The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. Warren Buffett, in 2000 Chairman's Letter

Buffett continued: “They know that overstaying the festivities—that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future—will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands.”

  • Lethargy, bordering on sloth, should remain the cornerstone of an investment style. Warren Buffett, quoted in Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus Publishing; 2002)
  • Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful. Warren Buffett, in 2004 Chairman's Letter. Also an example of chiasmus.
  • It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked. Warren Buffett, quoted in Mary Buffett and David Clark, The Tao of William Buffett (2006)
  • Successful Investing takes time, discipline and patience. No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. Warren Buffett, quoted in Autumn Rose, “10 Billionaires Give Their Best Advice on Getting—and Staying—Rich,” www.businessinsider.com (April 20, 2016)
  • If, instead of playing the horses, an individual chooses to play the market, that is his own affair. Only he must understand that speculating in stocks is gambling, not investing. Catherine Crook de Camp, in The Money Tree (1972)
  • The higher the yield, the higher the risk. A high yield is designed to attract investors. An outrageously high yield attracts fools. Nancy Dunnan, in Never Call Your Broker on Monday (1997)
  • An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Benjamin Franklin, in The Way to Wealth (1758)
  • Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all our happiness from one quarter alone. Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930; Joan Riviere, trans.)
  • The investor's chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself. Benjamin Graham, in The Intelligent Investor (1973, 4th ed.; orig. pub. 1949)
  • At heart, “uncertainty” and “investing” are synonyms. Benjamin Graham, in The Intelligent Investor (1973, 4th ed.; orig. pub. 1949)
  • Confronted with a challenge to distill the secret of sound investment into three words, we venture the motto, Margin of Safety. Benjamin Graham, in The Intelligent Investor (1973, 4th ed.; orig. pub. 1949)
  • Investment is most intelligent when it is most businesslike. Benjamin Graham, in The Intelligent Investor (1973, 4th ed.; orig. pub. 1949)

A bit later in the chapter, Graham went on to add: “To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most people realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks.”

  • The secret to investing is to figure out the value of something—and then pay a lot less. Joel Greenblatt, in The Big Secret for the Small Investor (2011)
  • Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others. John Maynard Keynes, quoted in Gregory Bergman, Isms (2006)
  • If you’re prepared to invest in a company, then you ought to be able to explain why in simple language that a fifth grader could understand, and quickly enough so the fifth grader won’t get bored. Peter Lynch, in Beating the Street (2003; with John Rothchild)
  • Never invest in any ideas you can’t illustrate with a crayon. Peter Lynch, in Beating the Street (2003; with John Rothchild)
  • There is a secret to investing that cuts a path directly to the profits that you’re looking for. The secret is simplicity. The more elementary your investment style, the more confident you can be of making money in the long run. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)
  • Quinn’s First Law of Investing is never to buy anything whose price you can’t follow in the newspapers. An investment without a public marketplace attracts the fabulists the way picnics attract ants. Stock brokers and financial planners can tell you anything they want, because no one really knows what's true. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)

Quinn continued: “The First Corollary to Quinn’s First Law states that, even when the price is in the newspapers, you shouldn’t buy anything too complex to explain to the average 12-year-old.”

  • Most successful investors, in fact, do nothing most of the time. Jim Rogers, in Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets (2013)
  • Never invest your money in anything that eats or needs repainting. Billy Rose, quoted in the New York Post (Oct. 26, 1957)
  • Investing should be dull. It shouldn’t be exciting. Investing should be more like watching paint dry or grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas. Paul Samuelson, quoted by Larry Swedroe in a /CBS News broadcast (Dec. 17, 2009)
  • If investing is entertaining, if you’re having fun, you’re probably not making any money. Good investing is boring. George Soros, quoted in Mark Tier, The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros (2006)
  • Goodness is the only investment that never fails. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • One of the greatest deterrents to successful investing is the three-letter word ego. Venita VanCaspel, in The Power of Money Dynamics (1983)
  • It is very much easier for a rich man to invest and grow richer than for the poor man to begin investing at all. And this is also true of nations. Barbara Ward, in The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations (1962)



  • In the theme park of finance, angel investing is the fun house. John O. Huston, in 100 Hustonisms (privately printed; 2017)



  • It is a fact of life that people give dinner parties, and when they invite you, you have to turn around and invite them back. Often they retaliate by inviting you again, and you must then extend another invitation. Laurie Colwin, in Home Cooking (1988)

Colin continued: “Back and forth you go, like Ping-Pong balls, and what you end up with is called social life.”

  • Unexpected invitations are dancing lessons from the Divine. Gary Jaron, in Find Your Way (2018)
  • Invitation is the sincerest flattery. Carolyn Wells, “More Mixed Maxims,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1948 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal Marcelene Cox crafted a similar tweak of the famous imitation saying: “Invitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”



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

  • Not in vain is Ireland pouring itself all over the earth. Divine Providence has a mission for her children to fulfill; though a mission unrecognized by political economists. There is ever a moral balance preserved in the universe, like the vibrations of the pendulum. Lydia Maria Child, in a letter (Dec. 8, 1842); reprinted in Letters From New York, Vol. 1 (1843)

Child continued: “The Irish, with their glowing hearts and reverent credulity, are needed in this cold age of intellect and skepticism.”

  • The Irish aren’t great singers, but they have great songs. Bernadette Devlin, in The Price of My Soul (1969)
  • The Irish are a fair people; they never speak well of one another. Samuel Johnson, a 1775 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • The Irish have a flair for wringing from death the last drop of emotion and they do not quite understand those who react otherwise. Dervla Murphy, in Wheels Within Wheels (1979)
  • We Irish are a queer unbalanced lot, but God knows what a cold, hard place the world would be without us! Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Little Ships (1925)
  • We Irish are too poetical to be poets; we are a nation of brilliant failures; but we are the greatest talkers since the Greeks. Oscar Wilde, an 1888 remark to William Butler Yeats; quoted in Richard Ullman, Oscar Wilde (1987



  • Irony is the hygiene of the mind. Elizabeth Bibesco, in Haven: Short Stories, Poems, and Aphorisms (1951)
  • Irony and pity are two good counselors: one, in smiling, makes life pleasurable; the other who cries, makes it sacred. Anatole France, in Le jardin d’Epicure (1895)
  • Irony is bitter truth/wrapped up in a little joke. Hilda Doolittle, in The Walls Do Not Fall (1944; published under the pen name H.D.)
  • Far more quickly than reason and logic, irony can penetrate rage and puncture self-pity. Moss Hart, in Act One (1959)

Hart preceded the observation by writing: “A sharp sense of the ironic can be the equivalent of the faith that moves mountains.”

  • Irony isn’t a loner; it spends a lot of time in the company of a shady relative with a checkered reputation. The nature of their relationship, however, is obscure. Sarcasm could be thought of an irony’s evil twin. Roger Kreuz, in Irony and Sarcasm (2020)

Kreuz continued: “Or perhaps they are described as siblings, or simply as cousins. Sarcasm is also a bit two-faced, with a penchant for hostility as well as humor.”

  • The spirit of irony…the whiskey of the mind. J. B. Priestley, in Margin Released: A Writer’s Reminiscences and Reflections (1962)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many books mistakenly present an abridged version of the thought: Irony is the whiskey of the mind. Here's the complete original passage from Priestley's book: “Man has his hopes and visions. But better than these, more gallantly defiant, is his sense of irony. If there are no gods to enjoy it with us, then so much the worse for the rest of the cosmos. Here at least, out of the amino-acids, has been distilled the spirit of irony. And I suggest that an English writer in his middle sixties cannot be blamed for relishing this particular spirit—the whiskey of the mind.”

  • Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding. Agnes Repplier, in In Pursuit of Laughter (1936)
  • Irony: Do not let yourself be governed by it, especially not in unproductive moments. In productive ones try to make use of it as one more means of seizing life. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Franz Xaver Kappus (April 5, 1903); published posthumously in Letters to a Young Poet (1929)
  • Experience insists that irony is Fate’s most common figure of speech. Trevanian, the voice of the narrator, in Shibumi: A Novel (1979)
  • The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching searchlights. Edith Wharton, reflecting on her friendship with Henry James, in A Backward Glance (1934)

Wharton, who said that James was “perhaps the most intimate friend I ever had,” introduced the thought by writing: “Perhaps it was our common sense of fun that first brought about our understanding.”

  • A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor—for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)
  • Irony is an insult conveyed in the form of a compliment; insinuating the most galling satire under the phraseology of panegyric. Edwin Percy Whipple, in Literature and Life: Lectures (1851)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation appeared in a discussion of Jonathan Swift, about whom Whipple had written: “His most effective weapon was irony,” a type of wit containing elements of humor (but “without its geniality”) but steeped in vitriol. After adding some other thoughts on the essence of irony, Whipple wrote: “Wit, in this form, cannot be withstood, even by the hardest of heart and the emptiest of head. It eats and rusts into its victim. Swift used it with incomparable skill.” The full original passage may be seen at Whipple on Swift.

  • It is one of the ironies of life that our intimates often provoke us more than our enemies. Edward W. Ziegler, “How to Get Along with People You Love,” in Reader’s Digest (Nov., 1944)




  • ISIS is not the “J. V. team” President Obama once called it. It’s actually the Jihadist All-Star team. Thomas L. Friedman, “Putin’s Syrian Misadventure,” in The New York Times (Dec. 2, 2015)

Friedman continued: “It combines the military efficiency of Iraqi ex-Baathist army officers with the religious zealotry and prison-forged depravity of its ‘Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,’ the Web-savvy of Arab millennials and a thrill-ride appeal to humiliated young Muslim males, who’ve never held power, a decent job or a girl’s hand.”



  • If any individual live too much in relations, so that he becomes a stranger to the resources of his own nature, he falls, after a while, into a distraction, or imbecility, from which he can only be cured by a time of isolation, which gives the renovating fountains time to rise up. Margaret Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
  • Humor is an antidote to isolation. Elizabeth Janeway, in Improper Behavior (1987)
  • I have always taken pictures the way other people keep journals and diaries. It's a way of ordering my reactions to the world, of placing my ideas and feelings in a concrete form outside myself, of breaking my isolation. Diane Michener, quoted in Sara Ruddick and Pamela Daniels, Working It Out (1977)
  • No one can help us to achieve the intimate isolation by which we find our secret worlds, so mysterious, rich and full. If others intervene, it is destroyed. Maria Montessori, IN The Child in the Family (1929)

Montessori continued: “This degree of thought, which we attain by freeing ourselves from the external world, must be fed by the inner spirit, and our surroundings cannot influence us in any way other than to leave us in peace.”

  • A great love is an absolute isolation and an absolute absorption. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • We love as soon as we learn to distinguish a separate “you” and “me.” Love is our attempt to assuage the terror and isolation of that separateness. Judith Viorst, in Necessary Losses (1986)



  • The man who uses italics is like the man who raises his voice in conversation and talks loudly in order to make himself heard. H. H. Asquith, a remark to Oscar Wilde regarding Wilde’s fondness for italicization, quoted in Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: This remark, delivered in the presence of others, was intended as a put-down. According to Ellmann, Wilde rose to the occasion, replying: “Just as the orator marks his good things by a dramatic pause, or by raising and lowering his voice, or by gesture, so the writer marks his epigrams with italics, setting the little gem, so to speak, like a jeweler.”

Page Tools