Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“K” Quotations



  • Envy the kangaroo. That pouch setup is extraordinary; the baby crawls out of the womb when it is about two inches long, gets into the pouch, and proceeds to mature. I’d have a baby if it would develop in my handbag. Rita Rudner, in Naked Beneath My Clothes: Tales of a Revealing Nature (1992)


(see also)

  • For man’s karma travels with him, like his shadow. Indeed, it is his shadow, for it has been said, “Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.” Alan Watts, in The Spirit of Zen (1936)





(see MURDER)





  • The kilt is an unrivaled garment for fornication and diarrhea. John Masters, in Bugles and a Tiger (1956)



  • The enmity of one’s kindred is far more bitter than the enmity of strangers. Democritus, quoted by T. V. Smith, “The Golden Sayings of Democritus,” in From Thales to Plato (1934)
  • The rich never want for kindred. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Happiness is a sunbeam which may pass through a thousand bosoms without losing a particle of its original ray: nay, when it strikes on a kindred heart, like the converged light on a mirror, it reflects itself with redoubled brightness. Happiness is not perfected till it is shared. Jane Porter, in Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss Porter (1807)



  • Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. Scott Adams, “A Kind Word,” in DNRC Newsletter, (Dec., 1995)

QUOTE NOTE: If you click no other hyperlink in this online database of quotations, I strongly urge you to see what Adams had to say about the power of a kind word in this 1995 edition of his DNRC (for Dogbert’s New Ruling Class) newsletter.

  • No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Aesop, “The Lion and the Mouse,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • As a result of half a century of Soviet rule people have been weaned from a belief in human kindness. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Only One Year (1969)
  • Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. Maya Angelou, quoted in USA Today (March 5, 1988)
  • We should not be ashamed about talking about loving kindness and compassion in political terms. Values like love and compassion should be part of politics because justice must always be tempered by mercy. Aung San Suu Kyi, quoted in Whitney Stewart, Aung San Suu Kyi: Fearless Voice of Burma (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: Aung San Suu Kyi (whose name is pronounced Ahn Sahn SOO Chee), added: “We prefer the word ‘compassion.’ That is warmer and more tender then ‘mercy.’”

  • Kindness is always fashionable, and always welcome. Amelia Barr, in All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913)
  • Can I see another’s woe,/And not be in sorrow too?/Can I see another’s grief/and not seek for kind relief? William Blake, “On Another’s Sorrow,” in Songs of Innocence (1789)
  • Every act of kindness and compassion toward others gets multiplied when they, in turn, pass it on. One by one the world becomes a better place. Joan Borysenko, in A Woman’s Book of Life (1994)

Borysenko added: “Service is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.”

  • We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over. James Boswell, in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • as much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many. Charlotte Brontë, the title character speaking, in Jane Eyre (1847)
  • If I have learned anything in my long life it is to be grateful for every occasion when I followed my sympathies and avoided my antipathies. Pearl S. Buck, from a character in Mandala: A Novel of India (1970)
  • You’ve got to try a little kindness/Yes, show a little kindness/Just shine your light for everyone to see/And if you try a little kindness/Then you’ll overlook the blindness/Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets. Glen Campbell, refrain of the 1969 song “Try a Little Kindness” (written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin)
  • When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them, as if their reason had left them. Willa Cather, the character Nellie Birdseye speaking, in My Mortal Enemy (1926)

Cather added: “When it has left a place where we have always found it, it is like shipwreck; we drop from security into something malevolent and bottomless.”

  • People are governed with the head; kindness of heart is little use in chess. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)
  • I still believe life is a short walk from the cradle to the grave and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another. Alice Childress, the father of protagonist Cora James speaking to his daughter, in A Short Walk (1979)
  • A kindly gesture bestowed by us on an animal arouses prodigies of understanding and gratitude. Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in Journey for Myself: Selfish Memories (1971)
  • That is the worst of kindness; people take advantage of it. Ivy Compton-Burnett, the character Mrs. Chattaway speaking, in A Family and a Fortune (1939)
  • Kindness eases everything almost as much as money does. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 9th Selection (1992)
  • I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. Roald Dahl, in a BBC radio interview with Brian Sibley (Nov., 1988)

QUOTE NOTE: After Dahl made this remark, interviewer Sibley quickly queried, “Or brains even?” Just as quickly, Dahl answered: “Oh, gosh, yes, brains are one of the least. You can be a lovely person without brains, absolutely lovely. Kindness—that simple word. To be kind—it covers everything in my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”

  • We more quickly forget kindnesses than offenses: caresses leave fewer traces than bites. Comtesse Diane, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • Kindness is love in action. Henry Drummond, in Natural Law in a Spiritual World (1884)

QUOTE NOTE: This lovely thought appeared in Drummond’s discussion of 1 Corinthians, where he presented the nine essential virtues all through the prism of love:

“Patience is love suffering; kindness is love in action; humility is love vaunting not itself; generosity is love envying not; courtesy is love acting properly; unselfishness is love seeking not her own; good temper is love not easily provoked; guilelessness is love thinking no evil; sincerity is love rejoicing not in iniquity, but in the truth.”

  • A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. Amelia Earhart, quoted in Victoria Garrett Jones, Amelia Earhart: A Life in Flight (2009)
  • Many think they have good hearts who have only weak nerves. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • It is safer to judge of people by their conduct to others than by their manners towards ourselves. Maria Edgeworth, the voice of the narrator, in The Absentee (1812)
  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? George Eliot, the character Dorothea Brooke speaking about Dr. Lydgate, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)

Dorothea continued: “I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and many reputable quotation anthologies mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended “less difficult for each other.”

  • Ignorant kindness may have the effect of cruelty. George Eliot, in Daniel Deronda (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from the narrator, who quickly adds about ignorant kindness: “But to be angry with it as if it were direct cruelty would be an ignorant unkindness.”

  • The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey. Sarah Fielding, in The Adventures of David Simple (1744)

AUTHOR NOTE: Sarah Fielding (1710–1768) was the younger sister of the English novelist Henry Fielding (1707–1754).

  • Kindness is the shadow of God in man. Kahlil Gibran, quoted in Joseph Sheban, The Wisdom of Gibran (1966)
  • True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s own the suffering and joys of others. André Gide, “Portraits and Aphorisms,” in Pretexts (1903)
  • Life is mostly froth and bubble,/Two things stand like stone,/Kindness in another’s trouble,/Courage in your own. Adam Lindsay Gordon, “Ye Wearie Wayfarer” (1866); in Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)

ERROR ALERT: The revised and enlarged 10th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1919) mistakenly ended the quatrain with the phrase in our own, and the error continues to show up on many internet quotation sites.

  • In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths. Graham Greene, the character Henry Scobie thinking about his own life and his relationship to wife Louise, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)

Just prior to this thought, the narrator had written about Scobie: “The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being—it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue.”

  • I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. Stephen Grellet, attributed in W. Gurney Benham, Benham’s Book of Quotations, Proverbs, and Household Words (1907)

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

  • This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness (1990, Sidney Piburn, ed.)

In that same work the spiritual leader also said: “Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.”

  • Wise sayings often fall on barren ground; but a kind word is never thrown away. Arthur Helps, the closing words of Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd (1883)
  • When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Abraham Joshua Heschel, quoted in Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (1986)
  • Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • To a haughty belly, kindness is hard to swallow and harder to digest. Zora Neale Hurston, the character Joshua speaking, in Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • There is nothing to make you like other human beings so much as doing things for them. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (1942)
  • It is a little embarrassing that, after forty-five years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other. Aldous Huxley, quoted in Laura Archera Huxley, This Timeless Moment: A Personal View of Aldous Huxley (1963)
  • Be sure your kindness is not cowardice. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. Henry James, a 1902 remark, overheard by his nephew, Billy James; quoted in Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life [Volume V: The Master 1901-1916] (1972)
  • Human kindness is like a defective tap, the first gush may be impressive but the stream soon dries up. P. D. James, Jonah the tramp speaking, in Devices and Desires (1989)
  • Kindness, at least actual, is in our power, but fondness is not. Samuel Johnson, in letter to James Boswell (Sep. 7, 1782); reprinted in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE; Johnson’s letter was written shortly after the death of Boswell’s father. The two men had a longstanding troubled relationship, leading Johnson to write that the father was kind to his son, even though he may not have felt great fondness for him. In the letter, Johnson continued with this straightforward message: “If by negligence or imprudence you had extinguished his fondness, he could not at will rekindle it. Nothing then remained between you but mutual forgiveness of each other’s faults, and mutual desire of each other’s happiness.”

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites and in most books, Johnson’s observation is mistakenly presented as: “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”

  • A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • Surely there is no road of effort so steep but a loving deed may soften its harshness. Helen Keller, Helen Keller’s Journal (1938)
  • What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. Barbara Kingsolver, the character Hallie, in a letter to her sister, the protagonist Codie Noline, in Animal Dreams (1990)

Hallie, an American aide worker in Nicaragua, preceded the thought by writing: “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

  • It is curious how inseparable eating and kindness are with some people. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • Kindness in ourselves is the honey that blunts the sting of unkindness in another. Walter Savage Landor, the character Epicurus speaking, in Imaginary Conversations (1824–53)
  • It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. Ursula K. Le Guin, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Gently Ai, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

Ai continued: “We who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give.”

  • After years of living with the coldest realities I still believe that one reaps what one sows and that to sow kindness is the best of all investments. Joseph W. Martin, Jr., in My First Fifty Years in Politics (1960)
  • When you are young you take the kindness people show you as your right. W. Somerset Maugham, in Cakes and Ale (1930)
  • There is a rollicking kindness that looks like malice. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Maxims and Interludes,” in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • Kindness. The most unkind thing of all. Edna O'Brien, in August Is a Wicked Month: A Novel (1965)
  • Good works may only be beautiful sins, if they are not done in a true spirit. Margaret Oliphant, the character Miss Lenora speaking, in The Perpetual Curate (1870)
  • Tact is not only kindness, but kindness skillfully extended. J. G. Randall, in Mr. Lincoln (1957; posthumously edited by Richard N. Current)

QUOTE NOTE: Randall described President Lincoln as “regularly and consciously” tactful in his dealing with people. And about the quality, he wrote: “Tact is not one thing only. It is a number of qualities working together: insight into the nature of men, sympathy, self control, a knack of inducing self control in others, avoidance of human blundering, readiness to give the immediate situation an understanding mind and a second thought.”

  • I would like to have engraved inside every wedding band, Be kind to one another. This is the Golden Rule of marriage, and the secret of making love last through the years. Randolph Ray, in My Little Church Around the Corner (1957)
  • To be civilized is to be incapable of giving unnecessary offense, it is to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our path. Agnes Repplier, “A Question of Politeness,” in Americans and Others (1912)
  • When the milk of human kindness turns sour, it is a singularly unpalatable draught. Agnes Repplier, in To Think of Tea! (1932). NOTE: See Shakespeare entry below for the original metaphor.
  • Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Emile: Or, On Education (1762)

QUOTE NOTE: In early translations of the famous treatise, the word humane was often used instead of kind. Here’s an example from an 1892 English translation by William H. Payne: “O men, be humane; it is your foremost duty. Be humane to all classes and to all ages, to everything not foreign to mankind. What wisdom is there for you outside of humanity?”

  • Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in One to One: Understanding Personal Relationships (1983)
  • Guard within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness. George Sand, letter to her son (Summer, 1835); quoted in Bertha Thomas, George Sand (1883)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all quotation anthologies mistakenly have the quote as if it began this way: “Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness.”

  • Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. Albert Schweitzer, in The Teaching of Reverence for Life (1965)

Schweitzer added: “The kindness a man pours out into the world affects the hearts and the minds of men.”

  • I must be cruel only to be kind. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Hamlet (1601). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Yet do I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way. William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth speaking, in Macbeth (1606)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the expression milk of human kindness to describe compassion, mercy, and sympathy for one’s fellow human beings. The ambitious and scheming Lady Macbeth fears her husband has too much of it to catch the nearest way, which means to kill Duncan, the King of Scotland, and replace him as monarch. Macbeth, a general in the king’s army, proves her wrong, however, and assumes the throne after murdering the king.

  • Kind hearts are the gardens,/kind thoughts are the roots,/kind words are the blossoms,/kind deeds are the fruits. D. Hayden Sloyde, lyrics from the song “Walk in Love” (c. 1875)

ERROR ALERT: These words are often attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Ruskin, but they have never been found in their writings. In The Sunny Side, an 1875 book of religious songs, Charles William Wendte and Henry Southwick Perkins provided the exact words and the sheet music, attributing them to D. Hayden Sloyde. To see both, go here.

  • Kindness gives birth to kindness. Sophocles, in Ajax (5th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This ancient observation almost certainly evolved into the modern proverb: “Kindness begets kindness.”

  • The same quickness which makes a mind buoyant in gladness often makes it gentlest and most sympathetic in sorrow. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in The Mayflower; or, Tales and Pencilings (1834)
  • There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness; and this is the great poverty. Mother Teresa, in A Gift for God (1975)
  • I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness. Mother Teresa, in a 1959 letter to her religious order, quoted in Georges Gorrée and Jean Barbier, The Love of Christ (1982)
  • Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. Mother Teresa, quoted in Angelo Devananda, Mother Teresa: Contemplative in the Heart of the World (1983)
  • Kindness, I think, comes from learning hard lessons well, from falling and picking yourself up. It comes from surviving failure and loss. It implies an understanding of the human condition, forgives its many flaws and quirks. Lisa Unger, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Ridley Jones, in Beautiful Lies (2006)

Jones preceded the thought by saying: “Sexy doesn’t impress me. Smart impresses me; strength of character impresses me. But most of all, I’m impressed by kindness.”

  • I seem to use this word “kind” very frequently. When one is unhappy or anxious it is a quality one dwells on. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in letter to Joy and Marchette Chute (Dec. 24, 1968), in Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982; William Maxwell, ed.)
  • If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path. Mary Webb, in Precious Bane (1924)
  • The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • So many gods, so many creeds,/So many paths that wind and wind,/While just the art of being kind/Is all the sad world needs. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The World’s Need,” in Custer and Other Poems (1896)
  • ’Tis a curious fact that a generous act/Brings leisure and luck to a day. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Time Enough,” in Poems of Progress (1909)
  • One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • That best portion of a good man’s life,/His little, nameless, unremembered, acts/Of kindness and of love. William Wordsworth, in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (July 13, 1798)
  • If all the good people were clever,/And all clever people were good,/The world would be nicer than ever/We thought that it possibly could./But somehow ’tis seldom or never/The two hit it off as they should,/The good are so harsh to the clever,/The clever, so rude to the good! Elizabeth Wordsworth, “Good and Clever” (1890), in Poems and Plays (1931)


(see also AFFECTION and FOREPLAY and INTIMACY and LOVE and [Making] LOVE and PASSION and ROMANCE and SEX)

  • A kiss is like singing into someone’s mouth. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of the Senses (1990)

In the book, Ackerman also wrote: “We shelter under a warm net of kisses. We drink from the well of each other’s mouth.”

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

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

  • Isn’t it strange how one man’s kiss can grow/To be like any other's—or a woman’s/To be like any woman’s? Maxwell Anderson, the title character speaking, in Elizabeth the Queen: A Play in Three Acts (1930)
  • A kiss is the outward visible sign of an inward fever. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Phases, Mazes, and Crazes of Love (1904)
  • Smiles are the soul’s kisses. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Naked Truth and Veiled Illusions (1901)
  • A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Viva magazine (May, 1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Bergman was almost certainly inspired by a similar observation offered decades earlier by the American humorist Oliver Herford (see below)

  • You can’t analyze a kiss any more than you can the breath of a flower. Josh Billings (penname of Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Josh Billings’ Wit and Humor (1874)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the following version of the thought: “You cannot analyze a kiss any more than you can dissect the fragrance of flowers.”

QUOTE NOTE: Billings observation was originally written in his characteristic phonetic style: “Yu kant analize a kiss enny more than yu kan the breath ov a flower.” To see the entire original piece, go to Josh Billings on Kissing.

  • Pride had made Prue grow stubbornly silent, more silent than Ted wanted; and because women must lead up to love-making by conversation, beause kisses only seem natural to them after tender words, Prue had grown extremely cold to Ted. Phyllis Bottome, the voice of the narrator, in “The Gate,” in Innocence and Experience (1934)
  • There is always one who kisses, and one who turns the cheek. Mariel Brady, in McBride’s Magazine (1916)
  • I’ve enjoyed all my first kisses. Dudley Crawford, in a personal communication to the compiler (Dec. 5, 2021)
  • A forbidden kiss can never be forgotten. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (Aug. 8, 2023)
  • All I have to say is, if kissing invites germs, a large proportion of us are gratifyingly germ-proof! Josephine Daskam, in The Memoirs of a Baby (1904)
  • Ruby wasn’t particular whom she kissed. In fact she led a regular mouth-to-mouth existence. Lillian Day, in Kiss and Tell (1931)
  • There are as many kinds of kisses as there are people on earth, as there are permutations and combinations of those people. No two people kiss alike—no two people fuck alike—but somehow the kiss is more personal, more individualized than the fuck. Diane di Prima, in Memoirs of a Beatnik (1998)
  • Lovers can find nothing to say to each other that has not been said and unsaid a thousand times over. Kisses were invented to translate such nothings into wounds. Lawrence Durrell, in Mountolive (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Yes, the passage ends with wounds and not words, which is what the reader expects from the complete flow of the sentence. The narrator is describing a tender scene in which David and Leila, who had recently become lovers, are touching knees as they ride on horseback alongside each other. I’ve read the passage a hundred times, and my natural reaction is always one of surprise when I see the word wounds at the end.

  • All other caresses are valueless without a kiss; for is not a kiss the very autograph of love? Henry T. Finck, in Romantic Love and Personal Beauty (1887)
  • The kiss originated when the first male reptile licked the first female reptile, implying in a subtle, complimentary way that she was as succulent as the small reptile he had for dinner the night before. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • For ’twas not into my ear you whispered but into my heart./’Twas not my lips you kissed, but my soul. Judy Garland, in “My Love is Lost” (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage comes from a poem that appeared in a volume of poetry Garland published privately in 1939 and distributed to a number of friends. For the complete poem, and others in the volume, go to: Garland Poems.

  • The kiss. There are all sorts of kisses, lad, from the sticky confection to the kiss of death. Of them all, the kiss of an actress is the most unnerving. How can we tell if she means it or if she’s just practicing? Ruth Gordon, the character Benjy speaking, in The Leading Lady: Play in Three Acts (1948)
  • The state induced by the kiss is actually self-induced, of course, for few lips are so gifted with electric and psychedelic possibilities. Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970)

Greer preceded the observation by writing: “The first kiss ideally signals rapture, exchange of hearts, and imminent marriage. Otherwise it is a kiss that lies. All very crude and nonsensical, and yet it is the staple myth of hundreds of comics called Sweethearts, Romantic Secrets, and so forth.”

  • Oh, innocent victims of Cupid,/Remember this terse little verse;/To let a fool kiss you is stupid,/To let a kiss fool you is worse. E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, “Inscription On A Lipstick,” in a 1941 issue of The Garment Worker; reprinted in Rhymes for the Irreverent (1965)

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

  • Oh what lies there are in kisses!/And their guile so well prepared!/Sweet the snaring is; but this is/Sweeter still, to be ensnared. Heinrich Heine, “The Home-Coming, Poem 74,” in Poems of Heinrich Heine (1917: Louis Untermeyer, trans. & ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: The first line of the poem has also been translated: “Oh what lies lurk in kisses!”

  • Kiss: a course of procedure, cunningly devised, for the mutual stoppage of speech at a moment when words are superfluous. Oliver Herford, in Cupid’s Cyclopedia (1910)
  • The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1859)
  • A kiss involves all the senses. Kisses are like snowflakes. Can you imagine how many billions of kiss equations there have been since the beginning of time? Karla Kuban, in Marchlands (1998)
  • So I really think American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very very good but a diamond and safire bracelet lasts forever. Anita Loos, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)
  • A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true. Steve Martin, as the character Harris K. Telemacher, in the 1991 film L. A. Story (screenplay by Steve Martin)
  • When women kiss it always reminds one of prize-fighters shaking hands. H. L. Mencken, in A Little Book in C Major (1916); reprinted in “Sententiae” in A Book of Burlesques (1920)
  • A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point. That’s basic spelling that every woman ought to know. Mistinguett, quoted in Theatre Arts magazine (Dec., 1955)

AUTHOR NOTE: Long before Cher and Madonna, a French woman with a single name was the world’s most famous female entertainer. Mistinguett (pronounced miss-tin-GET) was a French singer and dancer who rose from poverty to become the highest-paid female entertainer of her time. More on her may be found at: Mistinguett.

  • “He kissed me and now I am somebody else. Gabrielle Mistral, “He Kissed Me,” in Desolación (1922)
  • If a kiss could be seen I think it would look like a violet. L. M. Montgomery, in Anne of Avonlea (1909)
  • The kiss is a wordless articulation of desires whose object lies in the future, and somewhat to the south. Lance Morrow, in a 1986 Time magazine article (specific date undetermined)

ERROR ALERT: On most internet collections of quotations, the word desires is mistakenly presented as the singular desire.

Morrow preceded the observation by writing: “Kissing is, among other things, a subtle and civilized medium of expression. It is a preliminary and surrogate for sex, an enticement that is also provisional. Kissing is a promise that preserves the right of refusal. A kiss is mute, and highly articulate. It involves a brief fusion of two heads, the head being the residence of mind and soul. The mouth is simultaneously the front office of language and of hunger.”

Many thanks to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, for his research on this quotation. For more go here.

  • When he kissed you, you stayed kissed! Edna May Oliver, as the character Mrs. McKlennar, in director John Ford’s 1939 film Drums Along the Mohawk (screenplay by Sonya Levien and Lamar Trotti; adapted from a 1936 novel of the same title by Walter D. Edmonds)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance of a saying that went on to become an American catchphrase (it does not appear in the novel on which the film is based). Mrs. McKlennar is a crusty widow who is fond of making references to her deceased husband, Barney. At a community celebration, Mrs. McKlennar is given a huge bear hug by the swarthy Adam Hartmann (played by Ward Bond), and then suddenly kissed. Hartman, who had been playfully flirting with the widow in earlier scenes, kisses her on the lips for a full six seconds—an astonishingly long screen kiss in that era—and concludes his romantic overture by asserting, “I’ll bet Barney never kissed you like that.” Without missing a beat, the widow replies: “Barney McKlennar was a real man. When he kissed you, you stayed kissed.”

  • Lips that taste of tears, they say/Are the best for kissing. Dorothy Parker, from the poem “Threnody,” in Enough Rope: Poems (1926)
  • Kissing someone out of pity is always a mistake. Elizabeth Peters, in The Falcon at the Portal (1999)
  • A kiss is the act of tasting another to determine if further consumption is warranted. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Dec. 12, 2016)
  • Kiss. n. Upper persuasion for lower invasion. Richard Raymond III, in personal communication to the compiler (Aug. 7, 2018)
  • Kissing is our greatest invention. On the list of great inventions, it ranks higher than the Thermos bottle and the Airstream trailer; higher, even, than room service. Tom Robbins, “The Kiss,” in Playboy (Feb., 1990); reprinted under the title “Kissing” in Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)

QUOTE NOTE: These were the opening lines of the essay, one of the most entertaining pieces ever written on the subject. Robbins went on write: “Kissing . . . didn’t imitate nature so much as it restructured it. Kissing molded the face into a brand-new shape, the pucker shape, and then, like some renegade scientist grafting plops of sea urchin onto halves of ripe pink plums, it found a way to fuse the puckers, to meld them and animate them, so that one pucker rubbing against another generates heat, moisture, and a luminous neuro-muscular friction. Thomas Edison, switch off your dim bulb and slink away.” Robbins continues in this way for three pages. I can’t recall a more enjoyable expositions on the subject of kissing. To see the entire essay, go to KISSING.

  • A kiss, when all is said, what is it?/An oath sworn nearer by; a promise made/With greater certainty;/a vow which seeks/To make itself more binding; a rosy dot/Placed on the “i” in loving; 'tis a secret/Told to the mouth instead of to the ear. Edmond Rostand, the title character speaking, in Cyrano de Bergerac (1897)

This may be history’s most famous passage on the subject of kisses, delivered by Cyrano in a famous exchange with the beloved Roxane. Cyrano continued: “A moment of the infinite, which makes/A sound like to the humming of bees’ wings;/A greeting like the sweet breath of a flower;/A way to feel the heart beat for a space,/And taste the soul a moment on the lips.”

QUOTE NOTE: The foregoing passage is from the very first English translation of Rostand’s classic play, an 1898 rendition that was “Done into English Verse” by Howard Thayer Kingsbury. The play was originally written in blank verse, a form Kingsbury attempted to reproduce (although he may have taken a few liberties). Later translations were often presented in prose form, as in the following two examples (notice that nothing close to the remarkable secret told to the mouth metaphor appears in either one of them):

A kiss! When all is said, what is a kiss? An oath of allegiance taken in closer proximity, a promise more precise, a seal on a confession, a rose-red dot upon the letter i in loving; a secret which elects the mouth for ear; an instant of eternity murmuring like a bee; a balmy communion with a flavor or flowers; a fashion of inhaling each other’s heart, and of tasting, on the brink of the lips, each other’s soul. [a 1937 translation by Gertrude Hall].

And what is a kiss, specifically? A pledge properly sealed, a promise seasoned to taste, a vow stamped with the immediacy of a lip, a rosy circle drawn around the verb “to love.” A kiss is a message too intimate for the ear, infinity captured in the bee’s brief visit to a flower, secular communication with an aftertaste of heaven, the pulse rising from the heart to utter its name on a lover's lip: “Forever.” [a 1975 translation by Christopher Fry].

  • Why does a man take it for granted that a girl who flirts with him wants him to kiss her—when nine times out of ten, she only wants him to want to kiss her. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Marriage is the miracle that transforms a kiss from a pleasure into a duty Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • He took the bride about the neck/And kiss'd her with such a clamorous smack/That, at the parting, all the church did echo. William Shakespeare, the character Gremio, describing the marriage ceremony kiss of Petruchio and Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew (1592)
  • As in the soft and sweet eclipse,/When soul meets soul on lovers’ lips. Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Moon speaking to the Earth, in Prometheus Unbound (1820)
  • Lord, I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing! Jonathan Swift, in Polite Conversation (1798)
  • “Once he drew/With one long kiss my whole soul through/My lips. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in the poem “Fatima” (1833)
  • Kissing was like death from lightning. If it happened, you didn't know it. And vice versa. Jessamyn West, Leafy Rivers (1967)
  • And if kissing and being engaged were this inflammatory, marriage must burn clear to the bone. I wondered how flesh and blood could endure the ecstasy. How did married couples manage to look so calm and unexcited? Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived (1979)
  • A man’s kiss is his signature. Mae West, as Miss Flower Belle Lee, in the film My Little Chickadee (1940; screenplay by Mae West)
  • It was like kissing over the telephone—it didn’t get you anywhere, but it had a cunning sound. Margaret Widdemer, in The Wishing-Ring Man (1917)
  • A kiss may ruin a human life. Oscar Wilde, the character Mrs. Arbuthnot speaking, in A Woman of No Importance (1893)


(see CATS)



  • A knave is one who disobeys the imperative of conscience; a fool is one who cannot hear or understand them. W. H. Auden, “Balaam and His Ass,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon. Samuel Butler (1612-1680), in The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler (1759; Robert Thyer, ed.)
  • No greater curse in life can be found than knavery that wears the mask of wisdom. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Officiis (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Power, when invested in the hands of knaves or fools, generally is the source of tyranny. Charlotte Charke, in A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke (1755)
  • Knaves imagine nothing can be done without Knavery. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Zeno first started that doctrine, that knavery is the best defence against a knave. Plutarch, in Moralia (2nd c. A.D.)
  • But so long as women are slaves, men will be knaves. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an 1890 observation; quoted in Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters Diary and Reminiscences, Vol. 2 (1922)



  • My wish for you/Is that you continue/To let gratitude be the pillow/Upon which you kneel to/Say your nightly prayer. Maya Angelou, “On the Occasion of Oprah Winfrey’s Fiftieth Birthday,” in Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer (2006)

Angelou continued: “And let faith be the bridge/You build to overcome evil/And welcome good.”

  • When life knocks you to your knees, which it always does and always will—well, that’s the best position in which to pray, isn’t it? Ethel Barrymore, in Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Ethel Barrymore—Queen Once More,” Reader’s Digest (Nov., 1943)
  • Kneeling with others can be an uplifting experience. Monroe Gaultney, in Proverbs for Christian Living (2005)
  • Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love. Kahlil Gibran, in The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul (1994)
  • A desire to kneel down sometimes pulses through my body, or rather it is as if my body had been meant and made for the act of kneeling. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)

Hillesum continued: “Sometimes, in moments of deep gratitude, kneeling down becomes an overwhelming urge, head deeply bowed, hands before my face.”

  • There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. Victor Hugo, the character Marius speaking, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • The surest way to hit a woman’s heart is to take aim kneeling. Douglas Jerrold, in Specimens of Douglas Jerrold’s Wit (3rd ed.; 1859; Blanchard Jerrold, ed.)



  • Our biggest problem as human beings is not knowing that we don’t know. Virginia Satir, quoted in Jane Howard, Please Touch (1970)


  • Those who always/know what’s best/are/a universal pest. Piet Hein, “Those Who Know,” in Grooks (1966)



  • Knowledge is, indeed, that which, next to virtue, truly and essentially raises one man above another. Joseph Addison, in The Guardian (London; July 18, 1713)

QUOTE NOTE: Addison offered this thought after reading a letter in which Alexander the Great had written to Aristotle: “For my own part, I declare to you, I would rather excel others in knowledge than in power.”

  • The greatest weapons in the conquest of knowledge are an understanding mind and the inexorable curiosity that drives it on. Isaac Asimov, in Asimov’s New Guide to Science (1984)
  • The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Stephen Hawking

ERROR ALERT: According to Garson O’Toole, AKA The Quote Investigator, this saying—attributed to Stephen Hawking—first appeared in print in the “Daily Almanac” section of The Daily Ardmoreite, the local newspaper in Ardmore, Oklahoma (August 6, 2001). The saying has never been found in any of Hawking’s writings or speeches, and attributions to him should be considered spurious. The original author of the “illusion of knowledge” sentiment appears to be Daniel J. Boorstin (see his entry below). O’Toole’s original post may be seen here.

  • For also knowledge itself is power. Francis Bacon, “Of Heresies,” in Religious Meditations (1597)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage is regarded as the origin of the popular modern expression knowledge is power. In Dialogues et Fragments Philosophiques (1876), the French writer Ernest Renan wrote: “‘Knowledge is power’ is the finest idea ever put into words.”

  • Knowledge hath in it somewhat of the serpent, and therefore where it entereth into a man it makes him swell. Francis Bacon, in Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • Many men are stored full of unused knowledge. Like loaded guns that are never fired off, or military magazines in times of peace, they are stuffed with useless ammunition. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • The fact that knowledge endlessly recedes as the investigator is about to grasp it is what constitutes at the same time his torment and happiness. Claude Bernard, quoted in René Dubos, The Dreams of Reason (1961)
  • Knowledge is like money, the more a man gits the more he hankers for. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Josh Billings’ Wit and Humor (1874)
  • Like many features of a landscape, knowledge looks different from different angles. David Bloor, in Knowledge and Social Imagery (2nd ed., 1991)

Bloor added: “Approach it from an unexpected route, glimpse it from an unusual vantage point, and at first it may not be recognizable.”

  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress when his book was written, went on to employ similar versions of the sentiment in later interviews and speeches. in a January 29, 1984 article in The Washington Post (titled “The Six O’Clock Scholar”), reporter Carole Krucoff wrote that Boorstin, who had been trained in the law, viewed himself as an amateur historian. And, about himself, he reprised—and slightly streamlined—his original “illusion of knowledge” sentiment:

“What an amateur is, is a lover of a subject. I’m a lover of facts. The fact is the savior, as long as you don’t jam it into some preconceived pattern. The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Thanks to Quote Investigator Garson O’Toole, literary history’s greatest quotation sleuth, for his meticulous and masterful research on this quotation.

  • Human knowledge is personal and responsible, an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. Jacob Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: In one of his Dune novels, Frank Herbert put this observation into the mouth of one of his characters (see the Herbert entry below).

  • A single hour in the day, steadily given to the study of an interesting subject, brings unexpected accumulations of knowledge. William Ellery Channing, in address on “Self-Culture,” American Unitarian Conference, Boston, MA (Sep., 1838)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often inaccurately reported. The errors are slight (A single hour a day and some interesting subject), but they are errors nonetheless.

  • Knowledge is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns. J. M. Clarke, “Overhead Costs in Modern Industry,” Journal of Political Economy (Oct., 1927)
  • Knowledge will…appear in turn the merest ignorance to those who come after us. Yet it is not to be despised, since by it we reach up groping fingers to touch the hem of the garment of the Most High. Mary Agnes Clarke, in A Popular History of Astronomy During the Nineteenth Century (1908)
  • The well-marked path to knowledge is open to anyone willing to make the effort to follow it, though no one will ever quite reach its end. Hans Cloos, in Conversation with the Earth (1954)
  • The fruits of the tree of Knowledge are various; he must be strong indeed who can digest all of them. Mary Coleridge, in Gathered Leaves (1910)
  • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • Knowledge is a plant of slow growth. Thomas Cooper, in The Introductory Lecture of Thomas Cooper, Esq. (1812)

QUOTE NOTE: For another plant of slow growth metaphor, see George Washington at FRIENDSHIP

  • All our knowledge originates in opinion. Leonardo da Vinci, a circa 1500 notebook entry, in Leonardo da Vinci’s Note-Books (1906, Edward MacCurdy, ed.)
  • The more we know, the better we realize that our knowledge is a little island in the midst of an ocean of ignorance. Theodosius Dobzhansky, quoted by Robert Hutchins & Mortimer J. Adler, in The Great Ideas Today (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: For similar metaphors, see the Henry Miller and Ralph W. Sockman entries below.

  • Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in A Study in Scarlet (1887)
  • Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind. All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew more and more about less and less, and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Will Durant, in Preface to The Story of Philosophy (1926)
  • Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. Albert Einstein, in Out of My Later Years (1950)
  • To be proud of knowledge is to be blind with light. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (specific date undetermined)
  • An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Benjamin Franklin, in The Way to Wealth (1758)
  • If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it. Margaret Fuller, quoted in Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book (1923)
  • Action is the proper fruit of knowledge. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle. Kahlil Gibran, in A Second Treasury of Kahlil Gibran (1962; Anthony R. Ferris, trans. & ed.)
  • Knowledge is Life with wings. Kahlil Gibran, in The Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell (1970, Annie Salem Otto, ed.)

Gibran preceded the thought by writing: “I feel now that I want to know all things under the sun—and the moon too. For all things are beautiful in themselves, and are more beautiful when known to man.”

  • The grain of real knowledge is concealed in a vast deal of esoteric chaff. Alfred Rupert Hall, in The Scientific Revolution, 1500–1800 (1954)
  • Every judgment teeters on the brink of error. To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. Frank Herbert, the character Leto speaking, in Children of Dune (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Herbert borrowed the adventure at the edge of uncertainty expression from Jacob Bronowski, who employed it a few years earlier in his 1973 classic The Ascent of Man (see the Bronowski entry above).

  • This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge, but no power. Herodotus, in The Histories of Herodotus (5th c. B.C.)
  • Knowledge and timber shouldn’t be much used till they are seasoned. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • The air we breathe is made up of four elements, at least: oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic acid gas, and knowledge. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • The aim is to bite good and hard on the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Fred Hoyle, in Ten Faces of the Universe (1977)
  • Knowledge stirs the imagination, drives away the nightmares of superstition. Edwin P. Hubble, in The Nature of Science and Other Lectures (1954)
  • If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger? T. H. Huxley, “On Elementary Instruction in Physiology” (an 1877 paper), in Science and Culture (1881)

QUOTE NOTE: Huxley is playing of the famous Alexander Pope line about learning (see his entry in LEARNING), which has often been mistakenly presented as a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  • The fruit of the tree of knowledge always drives man from some paradise or another. W. R. Inge, “The Idea of Progress,” a May 27, 1920 lecture, reprinted in Outspoken Essays: Second Series (1922)

Inge added: “And even the paradise of fools is not an unpleasant abode while it is habitable.”

  • Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility. P. D. James, quoted by Molly Ivins in a Dallas Times Herald column (May 3, 1992); reprinted in Molly Ivins, Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead (1993)
  • The pursuit of knowledge is an intoxicant, a ure that scientists and explorers have known from ancient times; indeed, exhilaration in the pursuit of knowledge is part of what has kept our species so adaptive. Kay Redfield Jamison, in Exuberance: The Passion for Life (2004)
  • Knowledge is more than equivalent to force. The master of mechanics laughs at strength. Samuel Johnson, in Rasselas (1759)
  • Knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge—broad, deep knowledge—is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1903)

Keller continued: “To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked man's progress is to feel the great heart-throbs of humanity through the centuries; and if one does not feel in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.”

  • We can add to our knowledge, but we cannot subtract from it. Arthur Koestler, in The Sleep Walkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959)
  • Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value. Louis L’Amour, in Education of a Wandering Man (1989)
  • If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole world of new questions. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key (1942)
  • Human knowledge behaves like a growing sphere; the more it expands, the more points of its surface touch the unknown. Willy Ley, in The Lungfish, the Dodo, and the Unicorn: An Excursion Into Romantic Zoology (1948)
  • The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it. John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)
  • I made the journey to knowledge like dogs who go for walks with their masters, a hundred times forward and backward over the same territory; and when I arrived I was tired. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Lichtenberg: Aphorisms & Letters (1969)
  • Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps. Thomas Babington Macaulay, in Edinburgh Review (May, 1828)
  • In expanding the field of knowledge, we but increase the horizon of ignorance. Henry Miller, title essay, in The Wisdom of the Heart (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: The Theodosius Dobzhansky entry above is very similar, but Miller appears to be the original author of the sentiment.

  • Sin, guilt, neurosis—they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Henry Miller, “Creative Death,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)
  • A man may hear a thousand lectures, and read a thousand volumes, and be at the end of the process very much where he was, as regards knowledge. Something more than merely admitting it in a negative way into the mind is necessary, if it is to remain there. It must not be passively received, but actually and actively entered into, embraced, mastered. The mind must go half-way to meet what comes to it from without. John Henry Newman, “Discipline of Mind,” in The Idea of a University (1852)
  • Knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Louis Pasteur, remarks at banquet during 1876 meeting of the International Congress of Sericulture (Milan, Italy)
  • Knowledge is the treasure, but judgment the treasurer, of a wise man. William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1682)
  • Knowledge is the food of the soul. Plato, in Protagoras (4th c. B.C.)
  • Imparting knowledge is only lighting other men’s candles at our lamp, without depriving ourselves of any flame. Jane Porter, in Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, With Remarks by Miss Porter (1807)
  • When knowledge comes in at the door, fear and superstition fly out of the window. Mary Roberts Rinehart, a journal entry from narrator and protagonist Professor William Porter, in The Red Lamp (1925)

Safire continued: “What we don't need to know for achievement, we need to know for our pleasure. Knowing how things work is the basis for appreciation, and is thus a source of civilized delight.”

  • The struggling for knowledge hath a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Reflections (1750)

In the observation just prior to this one, Lord Halifax offered another well known observation on the subject: “The knowledge that is got without pains is kept without pleasure.”

  • The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder. Ralph W. Sockman, in The Dog and the Manger (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation was brought to the attention of a popular audience when Rachel Carson included it in her 1965 book A Sense of Wonder. Ever since, most books and anthologies have repeated the quotation in this exact way. It is an impressive observation as presented, but I believe you will be even more impressed when you see the full passage in which it appears: “The field of knowledge which even the best of us can master is like an island surrounded by a limitless ocean of mystery. And the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” For two similar metaphors, see the Theodosius Dobzhanski and Henry Miller entries above.

  • 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.”

  • Knowledge may be enjoyed as a speculative diversion, but it is needed for decision making. Thomas Sowell, in Knowledge and Decisions (1980; rev. 1996)
  • 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)
  • The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Oct. 4, 1746)
  • Knowledge is a comfortable and necessary retreat and shelter for us in advanced age. If we do not plant it while young, it will give us no shade when we grow old. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), on knowledge, in letter to his son (Oct. 4, 1746)
  • Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. Like a great rough diamond, it may do very well in a closet by way of curiosity, and also for its intrinsic value; but it will never be worn, nor shine, if it is not polished. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (July 1, 1748)
  • Desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it. Laurence Sterne, the title character describing his uncle Toby’s studies, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)
  • 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)
  • Knowledge is the most democratic source of power. Alvin Toffler, “The Democratic Difference,” in Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (1990)
  • An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge. John Wesley, quoted in Robert Southey The Life of John Wesley (1820)

Wesley had introduced the thought by warning: “Beware you be not swallowed up in books!”

  • Knowledge is a potent and subtle distillation of experience, a rare liquor, and it belongs to the person who has the power to see, think, feel, taste, smell, and observe for himself, and who has hunger for it. Thomas Wolfe, the voice of the narrator, in The Web and the Rock (pub. posthumously in 1939)

The narrator preceded the thought by observing: “This is what knowledge really is. It is finding out something for oneself with pain, with joy, with exultancy, with labor, and with all the little ticking, breathing moments of our lives, until it is ours as that only is ours which is rooted in the structure of our lives.”



  • The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Stephen Hawking

ERROR ALERT: According to Garson O’Toole, AKA The Quote Investigator, this saying—attributed to Stephen Hawking—first appeared in print in the “Daily Almanac” section of The Daily Ardmoreite, the local newspaper in Ardmore, Oklahoma (August 6, 2001). The saying has never been found in any of Hawking’s writings or speeches, and attributions to him should be considered spurious. The original author of the “illusion of knowledge” sentiment appears to be Daniel J. Boorstin (see his entry below). O’Toole’s original post may be seen here.

  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress when his book was written, went on to employ similar versions of the sentiment in later interviews and speeches. in a January 29, 1984 article in The Washington Post (titled “The Six O’Clock Scholar”), reporter Carole Krucoff wrote that Boorstin, who had been trained in the law, viewed himself as an amateur historian. And, about himself, he reprised—and slightly streamlined—his original “illusion of knowledge” sentiment:

“What an amateur is, is a lover of a subject. I’m a lover of facts. The fact is the savior, as long as you don’t jam it into some preconceived pattern. The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Thanks to Quote Investigator Garson O’Toole, literary history’s greatest quotation sleuth, for his meticulous and masterful research on this quotation.

  • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • The more we know, the better we realize that our knowledge is a little island in the midst of an ocean of ignorance. Theodosius Dobzhansky, quoted by Robert Hutchins & Mortimer J. Adler, in The Great Ideas Today (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: For a remarkably similar metaphor, see the Henry Miller entry below. Also see the Ralph W. Sockman entry in KNOWLEDGE.

  • 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”

  • What you know is a club for yourself, and what you don’t know is a meat-ax for the other fellow. George Horace Lorimer, the character John Graham writing, in a letter to his son, in Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • In expanding the field of knowledge, we but increase the horizon of ignorance. Henry Miller, title essay, in The Wisdom of the Heart (1941)

QUOTE NOTE: The Theodosius Dobzhansky entry above is very similar, but Miller appears to be the original author of the sentiment.

  • 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.”

  • There is a chasm between knowledge and ignorance which the arches of science can never span. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)



  • Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;/Wisdom is humble that he knows no more. William Cowper, “Winter Walk at Noon,” in The Task: A Poem in Six Books (1785)

A bit earlier in the same work, Cowper offered this other comparison of knowledge and wisdom: “Knowledge dwells/in heads replete with thoughts of other men,/Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.”

  • Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. Hermann Hesse, the title character speaking, in Siddhartha (1922)
  • It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872)
  • Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “Locksley Hall” (1842)
  • Knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows. Alfred North Whitehead, “The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline,” in The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929)

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