Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“M” Quotations



  • The greatest task before civilization at present is to make machines what they ought to be, the slaves, instead of the servants of man. Havelock Ellis, in Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)
  • The Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again. George Orwell, “Review of We by E. I. Zamyatin,” Tribune (London; Jan. 4, 1946)

QUOTE NOTE: Writing about the dystopian novel We (1920), Orwell’s full comment was: “It is in effect a study of the Machine, the genie that….”

  • The machine threatens all achievement. Rainer Maria Rilke, in The Sonnets to Orpheus (1923)

MAD [as in ANGER]


  • I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me. E. B. White, in Paris Review interview (Fall, 1969)

White preceded the thought by writing: “Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation.”



  • No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. Aristotle, quoted by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), “On Tranquility of Mind,” in Sententiae (1st cent. B.C.)
  • Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion. Robertson Davies, in Marchbanks’ Almanack (1968)

Davies preceded the observation by writing: “Wisdom is a variable possession.”

  • Great wits are sure to madness near allied,/And thin partitions do their bounds divide. John Dryden, in Absalom and Achitophel (1681)
  • Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad. Euripides, a fragment (5th c. B.C.)
  • In a world that has gone mad, the sane will be persecuted and scorned as if they are the insane. Boris Glikman, an entry in “The Corona Diaries,” in Covid 19: An Extraordinary Time (a 2021 work-in-progress)
  • 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)
  • Everyone is more or less mad on one point. Rudyard Kipling, “On the Strength of a Likeness,” in Plain Tales From the Hills (1888)
  • What’s madness but nobility of soul/At odds with circumstance? Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time,” in The Far Field (1964)
  • Madness in great ones must not unwatched go. William Shakespeare, the character Claudius speaking, in Hamlet (1601)
  • Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. William Shakespeare, the character Polonius, commenting on the title character’s rambling speech, in Hamlet (1601)
  • What is madness? To have erroneous perceptions and to reason correctly from them. Voltaire, “Madness,” in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • Only the madman is absolutely sure. Robert Anton Wilson, the voice of the narrator, in Masks of the Illuminati (1981)



  • Magazines all too frequently lead to books and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)


(see also DECEPTION & DECEIT and [The] OCCULT and SORCERY)

  • Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth. Theodor Adorno, in Minima Moralia (1951)
  • Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical. Roger Bacon, quoted in Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: An Illustrated A to Z (1979)
  • Magic, n. An art of converting superstition into coin. There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us. Frances Hodgson Burnett, in The Secret Garden (1911)
  • Once in a while, when everything is just right, there is a moment of magic. People can live on moments of magic. Sarah Caldwell, quoted in a 1965 profile in Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination,” in Profiles of the Future (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This is commonly referred to as “Clarke’s Third Law.” For all three, as well as the story behind them, go to: Clarke’s Three Laws

  • Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. Roald Dahl, in The Minpins (1991)
  • Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable. Margot Fonteyn, quoted in James Randall Miller, Thoughts from Earth (2004)
  • Belief in magic is older than writing. So nobody knows how it started. Zora Neale Hurston, in Mules and Men (1935)
  • The desire for magic cannot be eradicated. Even the most supposedly rational people attempt to practice magic in love and war. We simultaneously possess the most primitive of brain stems and the most sophisticated of cortices. The imperatives of each coexist uneasily. Erica Jong, “Why I Want to Be a Witch,” in What Do Women Want? (1998)
  • Books are a uniquely portable magic. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (2000)
  • Children robbed of love will dwell on magic. Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal Dreams (1990)
  • The power of magic has no known limits. A person knows, in a fair way, his own physical capacities, the weight of the blows he can deal, the furthest range of his arrows, the strength of his voice, the speed and endurance of his running; but the reaches of his mind are indefinite and, to his feeling, infinite. Susanne K. Langer, in Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling (1967)
  • He turned over in his mind all he had read of that curious expression of human credulity called magic. Ngaio Marsh, in Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953)
  • We were not for underestimating magic—a life-conductor like the sap between the tree-stem and the bark. We know that it keeps dullness out of religion and poetry. It is probable that without it we might die. Freya Stark, in The Lycian Shore (1956)
  • Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic. Thomas Szasz, “Science and Scientism,” in The Second Sin‎ (1973). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth. Tennessee Williams, the character Blanche DuBois speaking, in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)



  • How eagerly in all times and all places, have people waited for mail from home! How wistfully have they repeated, over and over again, that old familiar question: “Any mail for me?” Lillian Eichler, in Standard Book of Letter Writing (1948)
  • Those who are absent, by its means, become present; it is the consolation of life. Voltaire, from “Post” entry, in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)



(see MEDIA)



  • There’s birth, there’s death, and in between there’s maintenance. Tom Robbins, a reflection of the protagonist, a wheelchair-bound CIA agent named Switters, in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000)
  • Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance. Kurt Vonnegut, a musing of protagonist Eugene Debs Hartke, in Hocus Pocus (1990)
  • Entropy requires no maintenance. Robert Anton Wilson, a postscript to a letter written by protagonist Markoff Chaney, in The Universe Next Door, the first novel in Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy (1979)



  • The minority of one generation is usually the majority of the next. Gertrude Atherton, in The Aristocrats (1901)
  • The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections. John Dalberg (Lord Acton), in review of Thomas Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe (1877); in The Quarterly Review (Jan. 1878)
  • A majority is always the best repartee. Benjamin Disraeli, the character Mr. Coningsby speaking, in Tancred (1847)
  • The Republicans love to say that the Democratic Party is ruled by “special interests.” But when pressed to name these “special interests,” the usual reply is women, blacks, teachers, and unions. Those are “special interests” to be proud of—because together they comprise the majority of Americans. What about the “special interests” that dominate the Republican Party—the oil companies, the banks, the gun lobby, and the apostles of religious intolerance? Geraldine A. Ferraro, in Ferraro: My Story (1985; with Linda Bird Francke)
  • Do you see any majority, anywhere, in this imperfect and irreligious world, admitting that the minority is precious? That any minority is precious? Katharine Fullerton Gerould, in Modes and Morals (1920)
  • Does history record any case in which the majority was right? Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1801)
  • The majority is the best way, because it is visible, and has strength to make itself obeyed. Yet it is the opinion of the least able. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • One, on God's side, is a majority. Wendell Phillips, in a lecture in Brooklyn, New York (Nov. 1, 1859)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation typically appears in quotation anthologies, but it was originally the conclusion of a larger observation: “In God's world there are no majorities, no minorities; one, on God's side, is a majority.”

  • The most sacred business of judges is not to ratify the will of the majority but to protect the minority from its tyranny. Anna Quindlen, in a 2008 “The Last Word” essay in Newsweek magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • A resolute minority has usually prevailed over an easygoing or wobbly majority whose primary purpose was to be left alone. James Reston, in Sketches in the Sand (1967)
  • Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • All politics are based on the indifference of the majority. James Reston, “New York,” in The New York Times (June 12, 1968)
  • No honest, clear-headed man, however great a lover of popular government, can deny that the unbridled expression of the majority of a community converted hastily into law or action would sometimes make a government tyrannical and cruel. William Howard Taft, in a statement vetoing the Arizona Enabling Act (Aug. 15, 1911)

QUOTE NOTE: Taft’s veto halted the admission of Arizona to the Union because of its constitution allowed popular recall of judges. Taft continued: “Constitutions are checks upon the hasty action of the majority. They are the self-imposed restraints of a whole people upon a majority of them to secure sober action and a respect for the rights of the minority.” 



  • Most women are not so young as they are painted. Max Beerbohm, “In Defense of Cosmetics,” in The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, Vol. I (April, 1894)
  • Wearing makeup is an apology for our actual faces. Cynthia Heimel, in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: Heimel may have been inspired by the Marie Shear quotation below.

  • God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking to Ophelia, in Hamlet (1601)
  • Makeup: Western equivalent of the veil. A daily reminder that something is wrong with women’s normal looks. A public apology. Marie Shear, in New Directions for Women (1986)
  • Makeup is not beauty. When artfully applied, it merely enhances what’s already there—the red paint on the fire engine. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It: The Autobiography of Mae West (1959)



  • A man marries a woman hoping she’ll never change—and she does. A woman marries a man hoping he will change—and he doesn’t. Author Unknown
  • Many men are deeply moved by the mere semblance of suffering in a woman; they take the look of pain for a sign of constancy or of love. Honoré de Balzac, the voice of the narrator, in A Woman of Thirty (1842)
  • Of all the objects of hatred, a woman once loved is the most hateful. Max Beerbohm, the voice of the third-person narrator, in Zuleika Dobson (1911)
  • Never dull your shine for somebody else. Tyra Banks, remark on broadcast of America’s Next Top Model (Oct. 17, 2007)
  • Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her. Agatha Christie, the character Sir Wilfrid speaking, in Witness for the Prosecution: A Play in Three Acts (1953)
  • In the sex-war thoughtlessness is the weapon of the male, vindictiveness of the female. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men. Joseph Conrad, a reflection of narrator Charles Marlow, in Chance: A Tale in Two Parts (1913)
  • Men and women belong to different species, and communication between them is a science still in its infancy. Bill Cosby, in Love and Marriage (1989)
  • If a man is vain, flatter. If timid, flatter. If boastful, flatter. In all history, too much flattery never lost a gentleman. Kathryn Cravens, in Pursuit of Gentlemen (1951)
  • Men want a woman whom they can turn on and off like a light switch. Ian Fleming, a notebook entry, quoted in John Pearson, The Life of Ian Fleming (1966)
  • A man is already halfway in love with any woman who listens to him. Brendan Francis (pen name of Edward F. Murphy), in Edward F. Murphy, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations (1978)
  • Men should come with instruction booklets. Cathy Guisewite, in Cathy Twentiteth Anniversary Collection (1996)
  • You have to penetrate a woman’s defenses. Getting into her head is a prerequisite to getting into her body. Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse magazine, quoted in Wendy Leigh, Speaking Frankly: What Makes a Woman Good in Bed (1978)
  • My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom. I said I’d hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit. Jerry Hall, on the secret of her relationship with Mick Jagger, quoted in The Observer (London; Oct. 6., 1985)
  • Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Khaled Hosseini, the character Nana speaking, in A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 2008 interview in London’s Guardian newspaper, Hosseini reprised the sentiment in a personal observation: “In many parts of the world, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. But I think we need women to solve the problems that men create.”

  • The first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it is boldness. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

The narrator continued: “It is the two sexes tending to approach each other, and each assuming the other’s qualities.”

  • The sorrows of beautiful women draw tears from our purses. Alphonse Karr, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Notable Thoughts About Women: A Literary Mosaic (1882)
  • It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. Sally Kempton, “Cutting Loose,” in Esquire magazine (July, 1970)
  • Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There is just too much fraternizing with the enemy. Henry Kissinger, quoted by President Gerald Ford, in remarks at meeting of the Washington Press Club (Sep. 18, 1974)
  • A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self—in the mirror of some woman’s eyes. Clare Booth Luce, the character Mrs. Morehead speaking, in The Women (1936)
  • Other wars end eventually in victory, defeat or exhaustion, but the war between men and women goes on forever. Alison Lurie, a reflection of the character Brian Tate, in The War Between the Tates (1974)
  • Maleness in America is not absolutely defined; it has to be kept and re-earned every day, and one essential element in the definition is beating women in every game that both sexes play. Margaret Mead, in Male and Female (1948)
  • The allurement that women hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence enormously fascinating. H. L. Menken, “The Incomparable Buzz-Saw,” in The Smart Set (1919)
  • There is no pain on this earth like seeing the same woman look at another man the way she once looked at you. Walker Percy, the title character, Lancelot Lamar, speaking, in Lancelot (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: A moment earlier, Lamar had observed: “There is no joy on this earth like falling in love with a woman and managing at the same time the trick of keeping just enough perspective to see her fall in love too.”

  • 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 whole world is strewn with snares, traps, gins and pitfalls for the capture of men by women. George Bernard Shaw, in “Epistle Dedicatory,” Man and Superman (1903)
  • When men and women pick one another up for just a bit of fun, they find they’ve picked up more than they bargained for, because men and women have a top story as well as a ground floor, and you can’t have the one without the other. George Bernard Shaw, the character Sergeant Fielding speaking, in Too True to Be Good (1932)
  • Man is the hunter; woman is his game:/The sleek and shining creatures of the chase. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “The Princess” (1847)

The poem continues: “We hunt them for the beauty of their skins;/They love us for it, and we ride them down.”

  • ’Tis strange what a man may do, and a woman yet think him an angel. William Makepeace Thackeray, the narrator, in The History of Henry Esmond (1852)
  • When the fine eyes of a woman are veiled with tears it is the man who no longer sees clearly. Achille Tournier, in Autumn Thoughts (1888)
  • God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly. Paul Valéry, “Moralités,” in Tel Quel (1941)
  • Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)


(see also BENEVOLENCE and EVIL and HATE and MALICE)

  • My specialty is detached malevolence. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, quoted in a 1966 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Much of the most important evils that mankind have to consider are those which they inflict upon each other through stupidity or malevolence or both. Bertrand Russell, in Unpopular Essays (1950)



  • Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Robert J. Hanlon, quoted in Arthur Bloch, Murphy’s Law, Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong (1980)

QUOTE NOTE: In Bloch’s book, this observation was simply referred to as “Hanlon’s Razor,” and for many years people thought Hanlon was a fictional creation of Bloch’s. After all, the observation bears a close resemblance to a famous line from “Logic of Empire,” a 1941 sci-fi story by Robert Heinlein: “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”

While doing the research for my 2011 Neverisms book, I discovered there is indeed a real person behind the quotation. You can read the complete backstory in my Neverisms book, but here are the essentials: After reading Bloch’s first Murphy’s Law book in 1977, Hanlon, a Pennsylvania computer programmer, accepted the publisher’s invitation for readers to submit “laws” of their own creation. Several months later, Hanlon was delighted to learn that his creation would be appearing in Murphy’s Law, Book Two. Hanlon received ten copies of the sequel when it was published in 1980, and there are friends and family members who still treasure the copies that he autographed for them.

  • Malice is of a low stature, but it hath very long arms. George Savile (Lord Halifax), “Of Malice and Envy,” in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • There is no possibility of being witty without a little ill-nature; the malice in a good thing is the barb that makes it stick. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the character Lady Sneerwell speaking, in The School for Scandal (1777)

MAN [as in Gender]

(see MEN & MALES)

MAN [as in Human Being]


  • Man is nothing but contradiction. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, an 1850 entry in his Journal Intime
  • Man is a history-making creature. W. H. Auden, “D. H. Lawrence,” in The Dyers Hand and Other Essays (1962)
  • Though in a wilderness, a man is never alone. Sir Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Man is a carnivorous production,/And must have meals, at least one meal a day;/He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,/But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan, Canto II (1823)

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

  • Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. Albert Camus, in the Introduction to The Rebel (1951)
  • If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (Aug. 30, 1833)
  • Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World. Charles Darwn, in On the Origin of Species (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: Arboreal is defined as “living in or among trees.” See ANCESTORS & ANCESTRY for a Robert Louis Stevenson thought that was stimulated by this Darwin observation.

  • 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)
  • A man is a god in ruins. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Nature (1836)
  • At twenty a man is a peacock, at thirty a lion, at forty a camel, at fifty a serpent, at sixty a dog, at seventy an ape, and at eighty nothing. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs. Aldous Huxley, quoted in a 1934 issue of Reader’s Digest
  • “What a strange machine man is!” he said, with astonishment. “You fill him with bread, wine, fish, radishes, and out of him come sighs, laughter and dreams.” Nikos Kazantzakis, the title character speaking, in Zorba the Greek (1946)
  • Men resemble great deserted palaces: the owner occupies only a few rooms and has closed off wings where he never ventures. François Mauriac, in Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and on Life (1961)
  • Man is what his dreams are. Benjamin E. Mays, in Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (1971)
  • Man is the yokel par excellence, the booby unmatchable, the king dupe of the cosmos. He is chronically and unescapably deceived, not only by the other animals and by the delusive face of nature herself,but also and more particularly by himself—by his incomparable talent for searching out and embracing what is false, and for overlooking and denying what is true. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices: Third Series (1922)
  • Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. Octavio Paz, in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950)
  • No man is defeated without until he has first been defeated within. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)
  • Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God. Benjamin Spock, in Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior (1970)

[Self-Made] MAN

(see MAN [as in Human Being] and MAN—THE ANIMAL)

  • There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. George Lakoff, in Don’t Think of an Elephant! (2004)


(see also HUMAN BEINGS and HUMAN CONDITION and MAN [as in Human Being] and MANKIND and MEN & MALES and MEN & WOMEN)

  • Man is by nature a political animal. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Man is a military animal, /Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade;/Prefers them to all things. Philip James Bailey, Lucifer speaking, in Festus: A Poem (1839)
  • My definition of man is “a cooking animal.” James Boswell, in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson (1785)

Boswell continued: “The beasts have memory, judgment, and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook.”

  • Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave. Thomas Browne, in Urn-Burial: Or, Hydriotaphia (1658)
  • Man is by his constitution a religious animal. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. Samuel Butler, “Mind and Matter,” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Man is the only animal that refuses to be what he is. Albert Camus, in Notebooks: 1942-1951 (1965)
  • Man is a tool-using animal. Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus (serialized in Fraser’s Magazine 1833-34; published as novel 1836)

Carlyle went on to write: “Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”

  • Man is a talking animal and he will always let himself be swayed by the power of the word. Simone de Beauvoir, in Les Belles Images (1966)
  • Man is a successful animal, that’s all. Remy de Gourmont, in Promenades Philosophiques (1908)
  • Man is a social animal who dislikes his fellow man. Eugène Delacroix, journal entry, in The Journal of Eugène Delacroix (1951)

Delacroix continued: “Explain this idiosyncrasy: the more intimately a man lives with another human being as foolish as himself, the more he appears to wish to harm this unfortunate individual; domestic bliss.”

  • Man is a tool-making animal. Benjamin Franklin, quoted in April 7, 1778 entry by James Boswell, in Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • 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)
  • Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can be discontented, that can feel evicted from paradise. Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself (1947)

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

  • Yet there is still this difference between man and all other animals—he is the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied. Henry George, in Progress and Poverty (1879)
  • Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be. William Hazlitt, “On Wit and Humor,” in Lectures on the English Comic Writers (1818)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it ended with the words and what they might have been.

  • Man is a make-believe animal—he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part. William Hazlitt, in Journey Through France and Italy (1826)
  • Man, the aristocrat among animals. Heinrich Heine, in City of Lucca (1830)
  • Man, biologically considered…is simply the most formidable of all the beasts of prey, and, indeed, the only one that preys systematically on its own species. William James, in Atlantic Monthly magazine (Dec., 1904)
  • Could anything be absurder than a man? The animal who knows everything about himself—except why he was born and the meaning of his unique life? Storm Jameson, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist (a man named Renn), in Before the Crossing (1947)
  • Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Col. Edward Carrington (Jan. 16, 1787)
  • Man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other. Charles Lamb, “Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist,” in The Essays of Elia (1823)
  • Many other animals have feelings. What distinguishes our species is thought. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)

Sagan continued: “The cerebral cortex is a liberation. We need no longer be trapped in the genetically inherited behavior patterns of lizards and baboons. We are, each of us, largely responsible for what gets put into our brains, for what, as adults, we wind up caring for and knowing about. No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves.”

  • Man is a clever animal, who behaves like an imbecile. Albert Schweitzer, quoted by Jane Goodall, in “Reason for Hope,” address at Quinnipiac University (Oct., 2005); reprinted in Reverence for Life Revisited (2007; D. Ives & D. A. Valone, eds.)
  • Man is a reasoning animal. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This familiar passage is really a prelude to Seneca’s more important thought, which immediately follows: “Therefore, man’s highest good is attained if he has fulfilled the good for which nature designed him at birth. And what is it which this reason demands of him? The easiest thing in the world—to live in accordance with his nature. But this has turned into a hard task by the general madness of mankind.”

  • Man is a social animal. Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)
  • I guess a man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, and then steps in it. John Steinbeck, the character Fauna speaking, in Sweet Thursday (1954)
  • We are, perhaps uniquely among the earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. Lewis Thomas, “The Youngest and Brightest Thing Around,” in The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979)

Thomas added: “We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.”

  • Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to. Mark Twain, in “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” Following the Equator (1897)
  • Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of Nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him. H. G. Wells, in A Modern Utopia (1905)
  • Man is a hating rather than a loving animal. Rebecca West, quoted in Peter Wolfe, Rebecca West: Artist and Thinker (1971)
  • One is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason. Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist,” in Intentions (1891). Also an example of Oxymoronica.

ERROR ALERT: Almost all of the major internet quotation sites—and even many respected quotation anthologies—mistakenly present the observation as: “Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.”



  • There are two essential rules to management: one, the customer is always right; and two, they must be punished for their arrogance. Scott Adams, in Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! (2007)
  • So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work. Peter Drucker, in The Practice of Management (1953)
  • The worker's effectiveness is determined largely by the way he is being managed. Peter Drucker, in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1973)
  • A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge. Peter Drucker in Post-Capitalist Society (1993)
  • Management manages by making decisions and by seeing that those decisions are implemented. Harold Geneen in Managing (1984)
  • Management is nothing more than motivating other people. Lee Iacocca, quoted in William Novak, Iacocca: An Autobiography (2011)
  • Effective management relies on the use of procedures—not rules. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds. Casey Stengel, widely attributed, not verified
  • Manage others the way you would like to be managed. Brian Tracy in FaceBook post (November 3, 2013)

Tracy referred to this as “The Golden Rule of Management.”




  • The true manipulator never has a reputation for manipulating. Martin Amis, “Claus von Bülow” (1983), in The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986)
  • When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown. Stephen Jay Gould, “The Quack Detector,” in New York Review of Books (Feb. 4, 1982); reprinted in An Urchin in the Storm (1987)
  • There’s nothing so dangerous for manipulators as people who think for themselves. Meg Greenfield, in a 1998 Newsweek article/

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended people who choose to think for themselves.


(includes HUMANKIND; see also HUMAN BEINGS and MAN [as in Human Being] and MAN-THE ANIMAL)

  • 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)
  • Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island (1955)



  • It is not ill-bred to adopt a high manner with the great and the powerful, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation almost certainly inspired the Roman writer Terence, who a few centuries later wrote in Adelphi (c. 160 B.C.): “Suit your manner to the man.” See also the related Shakespeare passage from As You Like It below.

  • The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any. Fred Astaire, quoted in a 1980 issue of The Royal Bank Letter (specific issue undetermined)
  • New York has always prided itself on its bad manners. That is the real source of our strength. Gertrude Atherton, the character Anna Goodrich speaking, in Black Oxen (1923)
  • Manners, courtesy, etiquette—whatever you choose to call it…is civilized social behavior, and, stuffy, though that sounds, it is the grease that makes it possible for all of us to rub together without unnecessary overheating. Russell Baker, “The Decline of Manners,” in The New York Times (Jan. 25, 1981)

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

  • Manners are the hypocrisy of a nation. Honoré de Balzac, a 1911 journal entry, in Journals, 1889–1949 (1951; Justin O’Brien, ed.)
  • Evil communications corrupt good manners. The Bible—1 Corinthians 15:33
  • I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. Humphrey Bogart, as private detective Philip Marlowe, in the film The Big Sleep (1943); screenplay by Wm. Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman (adapted from Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel).
  • Good general-purpose manners nowadays may be said to consist in knowing how much you can get away with. Elizabeth Bowen, “Manners,” in Collected Impressions (1950)
  • Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people's bad manners. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in P.S. I Love You (1990)
  • You can’t be truly rude until you understand good manners. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)
  • Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. Edmund Burke, in Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796)

Compared to laws, which only touch us “here and there, now and then” manners “give their whole form and color to our lives.” About them, Burke wrote: “Manners are what vex and soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

  • We are justified in enforcing good morals, for they belong to all mankind; but we are not justified in enforcing good manners, for good manners always mean our own manners. G. K. Chesterton, “Limericks and Counsels of Perfection,” in All Things Considered (1908)
  • The lie is the basic building block of good manners. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven: A Divine Guide to Good Behavior (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation appears on most internet sites, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Of course I lie to people. But I lie altruistically—for our mutual good. The lie is the basic building block of good manners. That may seem mildly shocking to a moralist—but then what isn’t?”

  • Manners are love in a cool climate. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven: A Divine Guide to Good Behavior (1984)
  • Morals refine manners, as manners refine morals. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Letters and Social Aims (1876)
  • Manners are the happy ways of doing things. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Manners are about making other people reasonably comfortable. If etiquette is, in part, about how to eat that artichoke, manners is knowing not to serve them if you suspect that someone at supper is going to be uncomfortable about being confronted with one. Mrs. Falk Feeley, in A Swarm of Wasps (1983)
  • Good manners are very important, particularly in the morning. Louise Fitzhugh, the character Ole Golly speaking, in Harriet the Spy (1964)
  • Morals are three-quarters manners. Felix Frankfurter, quoted in Harlan Phillips, Felix Frankfurter Reminiscences (1960)
  • A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Proverbs in Prose (1819)
  • In the days of old/Men made the manners;/manners now make men. George Gordon (Lord Byron), in Don Juan (1819–24)
  • A bad manner spoils everything, even reason and justice. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. Robert A. Heinlein, the boss of protagonist Friday Jones speaking, in Friday (1982)
  • Good Manners may in Seven Words be found:/Forget Yourself, and think of Those Around. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Like language, a code of manners can be used with more or less skill, for laudable or for evil purposes, to express a great variety of ideas and emotions. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)

Martin continued: “In itself, it carries no moral value, but ignorance in use of this tool is not a sign of virtue.”

  • The challenge of manners is not so much to be nice to someone whose favor and/or person you covet (although more people need to be reminded of that necessity than one would suppose) as to be exposed to the bad manners of others without imitating them. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium (1989)
  • To sacrifice the principles of manners, which require compassion and respect, and bat people over the head with their ignorance of etiquette rules they cannot be expected to know is both bad manners and poor etiquette. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)

Martin continued: “That social climbers and twits have misused etiquette throughout history should not be used as an argument for doing away with it.”

  • Manners are not just something to show off to the outside world. If you offend the head waiter, you can always go to another restaurant. If you offend the person you live with, it's very cumbersome to switch to a different family. Judith Martin, quoted in Susan Goodman, “Judith Martin,“ Modern Maturity magazine (1996)

Martin preceded the observation by saying: “The etiquette of intimacy is very different from the etiquette of formality.”

  • Good manners spring from just one thing—kind impulses. Elsa Maxwell, in Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book (1951)
  • Good manners—the longer I live the more convinced I am of it—are a priceless insurance against failure and loneliness. And anyone can have them. Elsa Maxwell, in Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book (1951)
  • A car is useless in New York, essential everywhere else. The same with good manners. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • “Manners, really good ones, make it possible to live with almost anyone, gracefully and pleasantly, but without them—one must pick one's friends with terrific discrimination. Margaret Mead, in a letter to her brother Richard (March 14, 1926), in To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead (2006; M. M. Caffrey and P. A. Francis, eds.)
  • Private problems don’t constitute an excuse for bad manners. Margaret Millar, the character Mrs. Fielding speaking, in A Stranger in My Grave (1960)
  • Good manners are the technique of expressing consideration for the feelings of others. Alice Duer Miller, “I Like American Manners,” in 1932 issue of The Saturday Evening Post (specific date not determined)
  • Manners and morals are twin shoots from the same root. Agnes H. Morton, in Introduction to Etiquette: Good Manners for All People (1892)

Earlier in the Introduction, Morton had written: “At times etiquette requires us to do things that are not agreeable to our selfish impulses, and to say things that are not literally true if our secret feelings were known. But there is no instance wherein the laws of etiquette need transgress the law of sincerity.”

  • Spiritual strength and passion, when accompanied by bad manners, only provoke loathing. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Will to Power (1888)
  • I admire people with gentle mannersmwho treat other people as human beings. I abhor quarrelsome people. David Ogilvy, quoted in Peter Krass, The Little Book of Business Wisdom (2000)
  • Good manners are a combination of intelligence, education, taste, and style mixed together so that you don’t need any of those things. P. J. O’Rourke, in Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People (1984)
  • Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. Emily Post, in Etiquette (1922)
  • What we need in the world is manners. I feel the nations of the world would not be half so warlike if they would just preserve the principles of good manners in their attitudes toward each other. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)

A moment later, Mrs. Roosevelt added: “I think that if, instead of preaching brotherly love, we preached good manners, we might get a little further. It sounds less righteous and more practical.”

  • The essence of good manners consists in making it clear that one has no wish to hurt. Bertrand Russell, “Good Manners and Hypocrisy,” in New York American (December 14, 1934); reprinted in Mortals and Others: American Essays, 1931–35 (1975)

Russell continued: “When it is clearly necessary to hurt, it must be done in such a way as to make it evident that the necessity is felt to be regrettable.”

  • They asked Lucman, the fabulist,m“From whom did you learn manners?” He answered: “From the unmannerly.” Saadi, in Gulistan (1258)
  • What once were vices, are now the manners of the day. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues/We write in water, William Shakespeare, the character Griffith speaking, in King Henry the Eighth (1613)
  • Bedside manners is no substitute for the right diagnosis. Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., quoted in Peter Drucker, “Why My Years with General Motors is Must Reading,”, in 1990 edition of

Sloan’s My Years with General Motors (orig, pub, in 1963)

QUOTE NOTE: This is exactly the way Drucker presents the quotation, but almost all quotation anthologies now present it this way: “Bedside manners are no substitute for the right diagnosis.”

  • The gentle mind by gentle deeds is known./For a man by nothing is so well bewrayed,/As by his manners. Richard Spenser, in The Faerie Queene (1590)

QUOTE NOTE: “Bewrayed” is an archaic word that is virtually synonymous with “betrayed” (the American Heritage defines it this way: “To reveal or disclose unintentionally or incidentally; show the presence or true character of; show or make visible”)

  • Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way in the world. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (July 1, 1748)
  • Manners indeed are like the cypher in arithmetic—they may not be much in themselves, but they are capable of adding a great deal to the value of everything else. Freya Stark, in East Is West (1945)
  • Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse, Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy, is the best bred in the company. Jonathan Swift, in A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding (1754)
  • The Japanese have perfected good manners and made them indistinguishable from rudeness. Paul Theroux, in The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (1975). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Good manners have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them. Amy Vanderbilt, in Introduction to New Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living (1963)
  • We must learn which ceremonies may be breached occasionally at our convenience and which ones may never be if we are to live pleasantly with our fellow man. Amy Vanderbilt, in Introduction to New Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living (1963)
  • Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything. Evelyn Waugh, quoted in The Observer (London; April, 15, 1962)
  • The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be? What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves and others into our hearts? Rebecca Wells, a reflection of the character Sidda Walker, in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1996)
  • Good manners are not bred in moments, but in years. Julia McNair Wright, in The Complete Home (1879)



  • The sisters walked back to Chinatown…. They walked past the vegetable, fish, and meat markets—not as abundant as in Canton, the carp not as red, the turtles not as old—and entered the cigar and seed shop. Brave Orchid filled her sister’s thin hands with carrot candy, melon candy, and sheets of beef jerky. Maxine Hong Kingston, in The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976)



  • Flea markets are a glorious thing if you are not a millionaire. There’s nothing quite like discovering lost treasures among life’s flotsam, unless it’s the pleasure of getting rid of rusty old shit and making a buck. It’s a win-win situation—kind of like recycling for poor people. Jonathan Evison, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Mike Muñoz, in Lawn Boy (2018)



  • Marketing is a contest for people’s attention. Seth Godin, quoted in William C. Taylor, “Permission Marketing,” Fast Company magazine (April/May, 1998)



  • Marriage, in life, is like a duel in the midst of a battle. Edmond About, quoted in Louis Kronenberger, The Cutting Edge (1970)
  • Marriage is like a warm bath. Once you get used to it, it’s not so hot. Cindy Adams, quoted in Joey Adams, Strictly for Laughs (1955)
  • When two people marry they become in the eyes of the law one person, and that one person is the husband! Shana Alexander, in the Introduction to State-by-State Guide to Women’s Legal Rights (1975)
  • Marriage, to women as to men, must be a luxury, not a necessity; an incident of life, not all of it. Susan B. Anthony, in an 1875 speech

Anthony continued: “And the only possible way to accomplish this great change is to accord to women equal power in the making, shaping and controlling of the circumstances of life.”

  • When I was young, if a girl married poverty, she became a drudge; if she married wealth, she became a doll. Susan B. Anthony, quoted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. II (1898)

Anthony, who never married, offered this thought on her 76th birthday in 1896. She continued with a laugh: “Had I married at twenty-one, I would have been either a drudge or a doll for fifty-five years. Think of it!”

  • To marry a man out of pity is folly; and, if you think you are going to influence the kind of fellow who has “never had a chance, poor devil,” you are profoundly mistaken. Margot Asquith, in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith (1920)

Asquith continued: “One can only influence the strong characters in life, not the weak, and it is the height of vanity to suppose you can make an honest man of anyone.”

  • There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves. Jane Austen, the character Mary Crawford speaking, in Mansfield Park (1814)

Mary goes on to describe marriage as a “a maneuvering business,” adding: “I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connection, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?”

  • A man marries a woman hoping she’ll never change—and she does. A woman marries a man hoping he will change—and he doesn’t. Author Unknown
  • In marriage there are no manners to keep up, and beneath the wildest accusations no real criticism. Each is familiar with that ancient child in the other who may erupt again. Enid Bagnold, in Autobiography (1969)
  • Marriage must constantly fight against a monster which devours everything: routine. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)
  • A man cannot marry before he has studied anatomy and has dissected at least one woman. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)
  • To be married is to be neither alone nor together. Natalie Clifford Barney, “Scatterings” (1910); reprinted in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992; in Anna Livia, ed.)
  • Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up. Joseph Barth, “Our Last Best Chance to Grow Up,” in The Ladies’ Home Journal (April 1961)
  • Marriage always demands the greatest understanding of the art of insincerity possible between two human beings. Vicki Baum, in And Life Goes On (1931)
  • Well-married, a man is winged; ill-matched, he is shackled. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Marriage, n. History’s first correctional institution. Mike Boyd, in a personal communication to the compiler (April 8, 2020)
  • Marriage is not just spiritual communion and passionate embraces; marriage is also three-meals-a-day and remembering to carry out the trash. Dr. Joyce Brothers, “When Your Husband’s Affection Cools,” in Good Housekeeping (May, 1972)
  • The only real argument for marriage is that it remains the best method for getting acquainted. Heywood Broun, in It Seems To Me, 1925–35 (1935)
  • One was never married, and that’s his hell; another is, and that’s his plague. Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621–51)
  • I can’t contradict what so oft has been said./“Though women are angels, yet wedlock’s the devil.” George Gordon, Lord Byron, in “To Eliza” (1806)
  • Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988)
  • The deep, deep peace of the double bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue. Mrs. Patrick Campbell, describing her recent marriage; quoted in Alexander Woollcott, “The First Mrs. Tanqueray,” While Rome Burns (1934)
  • To marry a woman you love and who loves you is to lay a wager with her as to who will stop loving the other first. Alfred Capus, in Notes et PenséesItalic Text (1926)
  • If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam. Johnny Carson, quoted in Jon Winokur, Return of the Portable Curmudgeon (1995)
  • It has been said, you know—and I think quite truly—that you can only really get under anybody’s skin if you are married to them. Agatha Christie, the character Miss Marple speaking, in The Body in the Library (1942)
  • Marriage is a feast where the grace is sometimes better than the dinner. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • The dread of loneliness is greater than the fear of bondage, so we get married. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Marriage is like a bank account. You put it in, you take it out, you lose interest. Professor Irwin Corey, from a 1979 comedy sketch, quoted in Bob Chieger, Was It Good for You, Too?: Quotations on Love and Sex (1983)
  • At what age should one marry? As a rule of thumb, perhaps not until you are past the age of feeling strongly that you must marry. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)

QUOTE NOTE: Coudert's book also contained these other memorable observations on the subject:

“Hardening of the hearteries is the most serious affliction besetting marriage, and warm, good-humored, approving words are the only effective preventive.”

“One does not marry to become a judge of the spouse’s behavior. If a marriage license is mistaken for a hunting license and disapproval, punishment, and threat of withdrawal of love are employed as weapons, all one bags is one’s own unhappiness.”

“Many people, if they were to treat other people as they treat their spouses, would soon have not a friend in the world. Why it is assumed that marriage is more impervious to the effects of discourtesy than friendship, I do not know.”

  • To keep the fire burning brightly, there’s one easy rule: keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart—about a finger’s breadth—for breathing room. Good fire, good marriage, same rule. Marnie Reed Crowell, in Greener Pastures (1973)
  • Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s not something you have, like a house or a car. It is not a piece of paper that proves you are husband and wife. Barbara De Angelis, in Ask Barbara: The 100 Most-Asked Questions About Love, Sex, and Relationships (1997)

De Angelis continued: “Marriage is a behavior. It is a choice you make over and over again, reflected in the way you treat your partner every day.”

  • The curse which lies upon marriage is that too often the individuals are joined in their weakness rather than in their strength—each asking from the other instead of finding pleasure in giving. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • The value of marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults. Peter De Vries, the voice of the unnamed narrator, in The Tunnel of Love (1954). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • For the whole thing about matrimony is this: We fall in love with a personality, but we must live with a character. Peter De Vries, a reflection of the title character, in Mrs. Wallop (1970)

Mrs. Wallop continued: “Behind the pretty wallpaper and the brightly painted plaster lurk the yards of tangled wire and twisted pipes, ready to run a short or spring a leak on us without a word of warning.”

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the following phrasing of the thought: “The difficulty with marriage is that we fall in love with a personality, but must live with a character.”

  • There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded. Diana, Princess of Wales, interview on “Panorama” (British television talk show; Nov. 20, 1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Princess Di was describing her marriage to Prince Charles, which had been complicated by his continued feelings for former romantic partner, Camilla Parker Bowles,

  • The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them, sometimes three. Alexandre Dumas, quoted in Léon Treich, L’Esprit d’Alexandre Dumas (1926)
  • Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract, and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • One of the differences between marriage and prostitution is that in marriage you only have to make a deal with one man. Andrea Dworkin, in speech at Hamilton College (April 8, 1983); reprinted as “Feminism: an Agenda,” in Letters From a War Zone: Writings 1976–1989 (1989)
  • It’s bad enough when married people bore one another, but it’s much worse when only one of them bores the other. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1905)
  • What could be more absurd than to assemble a crowd to witness a man and a woman promising to love each other for the rest of their lives, when we know what human creatures are—men so thoroughly selfish and unprincipled, women so vain and frivolous. Emily Eden, in The Semi-Attached Couple (1830)
  • Marriage is socialism among two people. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Socialism in One Household,” in Mother Jones (Jan, 1987); reprinted in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1991)
  • Marriage is the perfection which love aimed at, ignorant of what it sought. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Jan.-Feb, 1850)
  • It seemed to me that the desire to get married—which, I regret to say, I believe is basic and primal in women—is followed almost immediately by an equally basic and primal urge, which is to be single again. Nora Ephron, in Heartburn (1983)
  • Wasn’t marriage, like life, unstimulating and unprofitable and somewhat empty when too well ordered and protected and guarded? Edna Ferber, in Show Boat (1926)

Ferber added: “Wasn’t it finer, more splendid, more nourishing, when it was, like life itself, a mixture of the sordid and the magnificent; of mud and stars; of earth and flowers; of love and hate and laughter and tears and ugliness and beauty and hurt?”

  • Marriage remains the most efficient engine of disenchantment yet invented. Caitlin Flanagan, in To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife (2006)
  • Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June, 1738)
  • Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it’s a common mistake nonetheless Charles Frazier, a remark from a character simply described as “the old woman,” in Cold Mountain (1997)
  • If ever there are lives led in “quiet desperation,” they are marriages without friendship, dignity, love, and passion. Dorothy Fuldheim, “Mrs. O'Grady,” in A Thousand Friends (1974)
  • Love-matches are made by people who are content, for a month of honey, to condemn themselves to a life of vinegar. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), referring to marriage, quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (1855)
  • Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Kahlil Gibran, “On Marriage,” in The Prophet (1923)
  • Marriage is the most delightful of the impermanencies of life. Anthony Gilbert, in Death Knocks Three Times (1949)
  • I can’t think why women want to marry men at all, they’re such fools. I suppose it’s because there's nothing else for them to marry. Anthony Gilbert, in The Voice (1964)
  • She thought she was married to him, but it turned out the warranty hadn't run out on his first wife. Sue Grafton, in “D” is for Deadbeat (1987)
  • Marriage is like a war. There are moments of chivalry and gallantry that attend the victorious advances and strategic retreats, the birth or death of children, the momentary conquest of loneliness, the sacrifice that ennobles him who makes it. But mostly there are the long dull sieges, the waiting, the terror and boredom. Women understand this better than men; they are better able to survive attrition. Helen Hayes, in On Reflection: An Autobiography (1968)
  • After marriage, all things change. And one of them better be you. Elizabeth Hawes, in Anything But Love (1948)
  • 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)
  • A man who marries a woman to educate her falls victim to the same fallacy as the woman who marries a man to reform him. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • Instead of leading to the high places of happiness, from which the world would seem to lie below one, so that one could look down with a sense of exaltation and advantage, and judge and choose and pity, it led rather downward and earthward, into realms of restriction and depression, where the sound of other lives, easier and freer, was heard as from above, and served to deepen the feeling of failure. Henry James, the character Isabel Archer, reflecting on the dismal state of her marriage, in The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
  • Perhaps this is in the end what most marriages are—gentleness, memory, and habit. Storm Jameson, in That Was Yesterday (1932)
  • Men often marry their mothers. Edna Ferber, the character Clio speaking, in Saratoga Trunk (1941)
  • The most successful marriages were always based on both partners feeling that they had done rather well for themselves. P. D. James, a reflection of the character Nathan Oliver, in The Lighthouse (2005)
  • There is no loneliness like the loneliness of a dead marriage. Erica Jong, the narrator and protagonist Isadora Wing, reflecting on her own marriage, in How to Save Your Own Marriage (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Here’s the full passage, which captures the essence—and the despairing quality—of relationship loneliness: “This was the bottom, the lowest point in marriage. Sleeping alone in the same house, unable to comfort each other. More alone than if we’d never met. Better to live in a cave like a hermit or to haunt singles’ bars, cruising for one-night stands. There is no loneliness like the loneliness of a dead marriage. The bed might as well be a raft in a shark-infested sea. You might as well have landed on a dead planet with no atmosphere. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere. The soul sinks like a stone.”

  • There is a rhythm to the ending of a marriage just like the rhythm of a courtship—only backward. Erica Jong, narrator and protagonist Isadora Wing, on the end of her own marriage, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)

Isadora added: “You try to start again but get into blaming over and over. Finally you are both worn out, exhausted, hopeless. Then lawyers are called in to pick clean the corpses.”

  • Marrying a man is like buying something you’ve been admiring for a long time in a shop window. You may love it when you get it home, but it doesn’t always go with everything else in the house. Jean Kerr, “The Ten Worst Things About a Man,” in The Snake Has All the Lines (1958)
  • Marriage is nature’s way of keeping people from fighting with strangers. Alan King, from his stand-up routine
  • In every house of marriage/there’s room for an interpreter. Stanley Kunitz, in “Route Six” (1979)
  • Marriage is not a reform school. Ann Landers, in Since You Ask Me (1961)
  • It is difficult to tell which gives some couples the most happiness, the minister who marries them, or the judge who divorces them. Mary Wilson Little, in A Paragrapher’s Reveries (1904)
  • A marriage is like a company with equal partners. No one rules. If there is a disagreement, the more intelligent of the two should override. Naguib Mahfouz, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 1992)
  • In married conversation, as in surgery, the knife must be used with care. André Maurois, in “Quotable Quotes,” Reader’s Digest (April, 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Reader’s Digest said the quotation originally appeared in an article by Frances Rodman in The New York Times Magazine, but no specific citation was provided. I have no reason to doubt the quotation's authenticity, but have so far been unable to find it in any of Maurois’s published works.

  • In a successful marriage, there is no such thing as one’s way. There is only the way of both, only the bumpy, dusty, difficult, but always mutual path! Phyllis McGinley, in The Province of the Heart (1959)
  • If you made a list of the reasons why any couple got married, and another list of the reasons for their divorce, you’d have a hell of a lot of overlapping. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

McLaughlin’s book also contained these other observations on the subject:

“If the second marriage really succeeds, the first one didn’t really fail.”

“A perfect marriage is one in which ‘I’m sorry’ is said just often enough.”

  • A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • Whenever a husband and a wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner’s inquest. H. L. Mencken, in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
  • Marriage is nine-tenths talk. H. L. Mencken, a diary entry (May 30, 1945)
  • Marriage involves big compromises all the time. International-level compromises. You’re the U.S.A., he’s the U.S.S.R., and you’re talking nuclear warheads. Bette Midler, quoted in Parade magazine (Feb. 5, 1989)
  • Marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house. John Stuart Mill, in The Subjection of Women (1869)
  • Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness of sins. Langdon Mitchell, in The New York Idea (1907)
  • We cannot do without it, and yet we disgrace and vilify the same. It may be compared to a cage, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair to get out. Michel de Montaigne, “Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” in Essays (1580–88)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also an example of chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus). In an essay in Representative Men (1850), Ralph Waldo Emerson piggy-backed on Montaigne’s observation when he wrote (also chiastically): “Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in.”

  • One doesn’t have to get anywhere in a marriage. It’s not a public conveyance. Iris Murdoch, in A Severed Head ( 1961)
  • To keep your marriage brimming,/With love in the loving cup./Whenever you’re wrong, admit it,/Whenever you’re right, shut up. Ogden Nash, “A Word to Husbands,” in Marriage Lines (1964
  • Marriage defeats and humbles the man since it soon or late robs him of his greatest bulwark, viz., vanity. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theater, the Drama, the Girls (1921)
  • Marriage is based on the theory that when a man discovers a particular brand of beer exactly to his taste he should at once throw up his job and go to work in the brewery. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theatre, The Drama, The Girls (1921)
  • Our marriage works because we each carry clubs of equal weight and size. Paul Newman, on his marriage to Joanne Woodward, quoted in Photoplay (April, 1987)
  • Marriage is like paying an endless visit in your worst clothes. J. B. Priestley, quoted in a 1954 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Successful marriage: The union of two good forgivers. Robert Quillen, quoted in a 1935 issue of Column Review (specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest version of a wry sentiment that is now almost always presented in the following way: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” See the Langdon Mitchell entry above for an even earlier observation on the importance of forgiveness in marriage.

  • 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)
  • Marriage is lonelier than solitude. Adrienne Rich, “Paula Becker to Clare Westhoff,” in The Dream of a Common Language (1978)
  • Though modern marriage is a tremendous laboratory, its members are often without preparation for the partnership function. How much agony and remorse and failure could have been avoided if there had been at least some rudimentary learning before they entered the partnership. Carl Rogers, in Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternatives (1972)
  • Marriage is the operation by which a woman’s vanity and a man’s egotism are extracted without an anaesthetic. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men (1922)
  • Men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry. Rita Rudner, in Tickled Pink (2001)
  • A good marriage shuts out a very great deal. May Sarton, a thought from the character Laura, after the death of her husband, in A Reckoning (1978)
  • To marry means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Of Women,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • When a marriage works, it is in no small part because a woman and a man have come to recognize in precise measure when enough has been said. Laurence Shames, the voice of the narrator, in Sunburn (1995)
  • Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. Simone Signoret, quoted in Daily Mail (London; July 4, 1978)

Signoret added: “That is what makes a marriage last—more than passion or even sex!”

  • There can be no summary and dramatic end to a marriage—only a slow and painful unraveling of a tangled skein of threads too stubborn to be broken. Wallis Warfield Simpson, in The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor (1956)
  • Did you ever hear my definition of marriage? It is, that it resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them. Sydney Smith, quoted in Lady Holland (Saba Smith), A Memoir of The Reverend Sydney Smith: by His Daughter (1855)
  • In a word, the married state, with and without the affection suitable to it, is the completest image of heaven and hell we are capable of receiving in this life. Sir Richard Steele, in The Spectator (London; Sep. 9, 1712)
  • In fact, women’s total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage. Gloria Steinem, “Night Thoughts of a Media Watcher,” in Ms. Magazine (Nov. 1982); reprinted in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)

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

  • Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes. Robert Louis Stevenson, in “Talk and Talkers” (1882); reprinted in Memories and Portraits (1887)
  • There is no road to wealth so easy and respectable as that of matrimony. Anthony Trollope, the voice of the narrator, in Dr. Thorne (1858)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation is frequently applied to women marrying wealthy men, but Trollope employed in a description of the 26-year-old Mr. Moffat, who is attempting to select a wife (he is deliberating between two women, the penniless Augusta Gresham, or Martha Dunstable, the heiress to an oil fortune. As a young man of ambition, he makes the latter choice (or, as the narrator of the novel puts it, he “brought himself to resolve that he would at any rate become a candidate for the great prize”).

  • It would seem that the full meaning of the word marriage can never be known by those who, at their first outspring into life, are surrounded by all that money can give. It requires the single sitting-room, the single fire, the necessary little efforts of self-devotion, the inward declaration that some struggle shall be made for that other one. Anthony Trollope, the voice of the narrator, in The Bertrams (1859)
  • Marriage isn’t a word—it’s a sentence! King Vidor, caption for the 1928 silent film The Crowd (screenplay by King Vidor)
  • Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly. Voltaire, quoted in W. H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection (1981)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation has never been found in any of Voltaire’s works, so it should be used with that fact in mind.

  • A great marriage is like two trees standing tall, side by side. Their branches intertwine so beautifully, so gracefully, they almost become one, yet they remain two. Standing together, they are strong, beautiful and better able to withstand the high winds of storms that come now and then. They are separate living things, yet so interdependent, growing more beautifully entwined year after year. Providing shade, comfort, and safety for each other and all who walk their way. Carl Walter, the Grand Prize winner in “Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week” 2015 Marriage Metaphor Competition
  • Marriage is a great institution—but I’m not ready for an institution. Mae West, as the character Tira, in 1933 film I’m No Angel (screenplay by Mae West)
  • I find to my astonishment that an unhappy marriage goes on being unhappy when it is over. Rebecca West, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987)
  • Every marriage is a battle between two families struggling to reproduce themselves. Carl A. Whitaker, quoted in his New York Times obituary (April 25, 1995)
  • Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or friendship, is conversation. Oscar Wilde, in De Profundis (1897)
  • Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she’s a householder. Thornton Wilder, the character Horace Vandergelder speaking, in The Matchmaker (1954)
  • The best part of married life is the fights. The rest is merely so-so. Thornton Wilder, the character Mrs. Molloy speaking, in The Matchmaker (1954)



  • R-E-M-O-R-S-E!/Those dry martinis did the work for me;/Last night at twelve I felt immense,/Today I feel like thirty cents. George Ade, the character Ki-Ram singing, in The Sultan of Sulu (1903)
  • A good martini, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman…or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand. George Burns, defining happiness, in Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness (1984)
  • Happiness is a Dry Martini. Johnny Carson, title of 1965 book
  • The Martini is a cocktail distilled from the wink of a platinum blonde, the sweat of a polo horse, the blast of an ocean liner’s horn, the Chrysler building at sunset, a lost Cole Porter tune, and the aftershave of quipping detectives in natty double-breasted suits. Barnaby Conrad III, “Martini Madness,” in Cigar Aficionado (Spring, 1996); originally published in Conrad’s The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic (1995)

This was the opening line of Conrad’s celebration of “The Great Martini Revival” of the mid-1990s. He continued: “It’s a nostalgic passport to another era—when automobiles had curves like Mae West, when women were either ladies or dames, when men were gentlemen or cads, and when a ‘relationship’ was true romance or a steamy affair.” Later in the article, Conrad went on to write:

“The Martini is to middle- and upper-class American society what peyote is to the Yaqui Indians: a sacred rite that affirms tribal identity, encourages fanciful thought and—let’s be honest here—delivers a whoppingly nice high.”

  • A word of caution to neophyte Martini drinkers: When taken to excess, this perfectly civilized drink can lead directly to uncivilized behavior. . . . The purpose of the Martini is to enhance the evening, not to obliterate it. Barnaby Conrad III, “Martini Madness,” in Cigar Aficionado (Spring, 1996)
  • A fine martini has a surface tension. It should stun, then cascade through your being. Richard Darcy, quoted in New York magazine (Dec. 20, 1993)
  • You can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there. The proper union of gin and vermouth is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth, and one of the shortest-lived. The fragile tie of ecstasy is broken in a few minutes, and thereafter there can be no remarriage. Bernard DeVoto, in The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto (1948)

QUOTE NOTE: DeVoto was disparaging the practice of mixing martinis in a pitcher and storing the contents in a refrigerator for later consumption. He continued: “The beforehander has not understood that what is left, though it was once a martini, can never be one again. He has sinned as seriously as the man who leaves some in the pitcher to drown.”

In his homage to this quintessentially American cocktail, DeVoto ranked the martini right up there with freedom, calling it “That other supreme American gift to world culture.” He also offered these other quotable observations on the drink:

“How fastidiously cold a second martini is to the palate but how warm to the heart, being drunk.”

“The martini is a city dweller, a metropolitan. It is not to be drunk beside a mountain stream or anywhere else in the wilds.”

“This perfect thing is made of gin and vermouth. They are self-reliant liquors, stable, of stout heart; we do not have to treat them as if they were plover’s eggs. It does not matter in the least whether you shake a martini or stir it.”

  • Well, with one martini ah feel bigger, wiser, taller, and with two it goes to the superlative, and ah feel biggest, wisest, tallest, and with three there ain’t no holdin’ me. William Faulkner, quoted in Lauren Bacall, By Myself (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the way Bacall originally recorded Faulkner’s drawling reply to her question, “Tell me, Bill, why do you drink?” Her autobiography was the first book to feature Faulkner’s quotable quotation about martinis, which is now almost always presented in standard English in quotation anthologies. That pattern appeared to start when, in William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist (1988), biographer Stephen B. Oates presented the quotation this way: “When I have one martini, I feel bigger, wiser, taller. When I have a second, I feel superlative. When I have more, there’s no holding me.”

  • As you get older you don’t drink all night, so you want a drink that lets you know you had a drink. Martin Hehman, on martinis, quoted in “Martini Redux: Yuppies Take Up a Classic,” Time magazine (Jan. 11, 1988)
  • They should always be stirred so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another. W. Somerset Maugham, on the proper way to mix martinis, quoted in Robin Maugham, Conversations with Willie: Recollections of W. Somerset Maugham (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the remark was first reported by Maugham’s nephew Robin, but most versions of the quotation on the internet today look something like this: “A martini should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another.”

  • The only American invention as perfect as a sonnet. H. L. Mencken, quoted in Alistair Cooke, Six Men (1977)
  • There is something about a Martini,/A tingle remarkably pleasant;/A yellow, a mellow Martini;/I wish that I had one at present. Ogden Nash, “A Drink with Something In It,” in The Primrose Path (1935)

Nash continued the verse this way: “There is something about a Martini,/Ere the dining and dancing begin,/And to tell you the truth,/It is not the vermouth—/I think that perhaps it’s the gin.”

  • The martini (a.k.a. The Silver bullet, The Cold War, White Lightning, Olive Soup, and See-Through) is not just a drink. It is the soul of cocktail—a liquid icon. Nannette Stone, the opening line of The Little Black Book of Martinis: The Essential Guide to the King of Cocktails (2004)

Stone continued: “It is a transparent razzle-dazzle concoction that implies glamour, style, and edgy wit. Though a martini enjoys a quiet evening at home, it gets invited to all the right parties, sports the most elegant accessories, and is surrounded by devoted movie stars, high rollers, statesmen, and literary pundits. From its humble gin and vermouth beginnings, this at first abrasive little drink has been polished, praised, decorated, and lifted to nearly legendary status. Without prejudice it plays muse to heroes, hedonists, rascals, and poets.”

  • The perfect martini is crystal clear to the eye, chilled to the lips, dry to the tongue. David Taylor, in Martini (2002)

Taylor continued: “Few drinks have come to signify so much to so many. Yet its sophistication lies in its sheer simplicity. Certain select ingredients, mixed to perfection and served with just a subtle hint of garnish. In short, class in a glass.”

  • One is all right, two is too many, and three is not enough. James Thurber, on martinis, quoted in Time magazine (Aug. 15, 1960)
  • I am prepared to believe that a dry martini slightly impairs the palate, but think what it does for the soul. Alec Waugh, in In Praise of Wine and Certain Noble Spirits (1959)
  • You ought to get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini. Mae West, the character Larmadou Graves speaking, in the film Every Day’s a Holiday (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Robert Benchley is often cited as this quotation’s author, but West, who wrote the screenplay for the film, deserves credit as the original creator (Fred Shapiro attributes it to her in his 2006 Yale Book of Quotations). As the film’s screenwriter, West gave the words to the character Larmadou Graves (played by actor Charles Butterworth in the film), who says it to Peaches O’Day (the Mae West character).

In the 1942 film The Major and the Minor, Benchley delivered a similar line (“Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”). Benchley never took credit for authorship, though, saying that he had found it several years earlier in a joke book. For more on Benchley’s history with the saying, see this 2016 post by Barry Popik.

  • Martinis . . . have a muting effect on the constant ringing in my ears, and as five o’clock approaches, my thoughts turn toward the elixir of quietude. Gin stops the bell from tolling. E. B. White, quoted in Barnaby Conrad III, “Martini Madness,” in Cigar Aficionado (Spring, 1996); originally published in Conrad’s The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic (1995)
  • This is an excellent martini, Mr, President. It sort of tastes like it isn’t there at all. Just a cold cloud. Herman Wouk, the character Victor “Pug” Henry speaking to FDR, in The Winds of War (1971)



  • Martyrs, cher ami, must choose between being forgotten, mocked, or made use of. As for being understood—never. Albert Camus, the narrator Jean-Baptiste speaking, in The Fall (1956)
  • The people who have really made history are the martyrs. Aleister Crowley, in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929)
  • The martyr cannot be dishonered. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • The torments of martyrdom are probably most keenly felt by the bystanders. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Courage,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Martrydom does not end something; it is only the beginning. Indira Gandhi, in Indira Gandhi Speaks on Genocide War and Bangladesh (1972; with Dhiren Mullick)
  • A self-made martyr is a poor thing. Ellen Glasgow, Ada’s father, John Fincastle, speaking, in Vein of Iron (1935)
  • The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Aldous Huxley, in The Doors of Perception (1954)
  • I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion—I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more—I could be martyred for my religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that. John Keats, in letter to fiancée Fanny Brawne (Oct. 13, 1819)
  • The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins. Søren Kierkegaard, an 1848 journal entry; reprinted in The Soul of Kierkegaard (1959; Alexander Dru, ed.)
  • Ideas grow quickly when watered with the blood of martyrs. Giuseppe Mazzini, quoted in The Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 10 (1907)
  • It is the cause, and not the death that makes the martyr. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), quoted in The Table Talk and Opinions of Napoleon Buonaparte (3rd. ed.; 1870; Edith Blumer, ed.)
  • Martyrdom…is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability. George Bernard Shaw, the character General Burgoyne speaking, in The Devil’s Disciple (1897)
  • Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins. Mark Twain, a Notebook entry (May 23, 1903)



(see MEDIA)


(see also CULTS)

  • When we lose ourselves in…a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to bully, lie, torture, murder, and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)



(see also ART and ARTISTS and CLASSIC and NOVEL)

  • A masterpiece doesn’t so much transcend its time as perpetuate it; it keeps its moment alive. Arlene Croce, in Afterimages (1976)
  • Nature’s great masterpiece, an Elephant,/The only harmless great thing. John Donne, in “The Progress of the Soul” (1601)
  • A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • When you hug someone, you want it to be a masterpiece of connection. Tess Gallagher, “The Hug,” in Willingly (1984)
  • A book is never a masterpiece; it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man Edmond and Jules Goncourt, journal entry (July 23, 1864); reprinted in Pages from the Goncourt Journal (1962; Robert Baldick, ed.)
  • The light that radiates from the great novels time can never dim, for human existence is perpetually being forgotten by man and thus the novelists’ discoveries, however old they may be, will never cease to astonish. Milan Kundera, quoted in The Guardian (London; June 3, 1988)
  • The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Friendship,” in Essays (1580-88)
  • To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Experience,” in Essays (1580-88)
  • An anthology of quotations is a museum of utterances. It collects and displays masterpieces of phrase and thought in a small space. Gary Saul Morson, in The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture (2011)
  • Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished manuscript. Vladimir Nabokov, “Commentary,” in Pale Fire (1962)
  • Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces. Marcel Proust, in The Guermantes Way (1920-21; originally pub. as Le Côté de Guermantes)

I’ve also seen the passage translated this way: “Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. The world will never realize how much it owes to them and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it.”

  • When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. Charles Reade, the narrator describing a creation of protagonist Henry Little, in Put Yourself in His Place, Vol. I (1870); originally published in shorter version in The Cornhill Magazine (April, 1869)

ERROR ALERT: In a March, 1911 issue, Camera Craft magazine mistakenly attributed the saying to English art critic John Ruskin, and that error has continued to the present day (almost all Internet sites currently attribute the saying to Ruskin). My heartfelt thanks to Osmund Bullock for helping to rectify this error.

  • Great imaginations are apt to work from hints and suggestions and a single moment of emotion is sometimes sufficient to create a masterpiece. Margaret Sackville, in Introduction to The Works of Susan Ferrier, Vol. 1 (1929)
  • The family is one of nature’s masterpieces. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)

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

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

  • A hen’s egg is, quite simply, a work of art, a masterpiece of design and construction with, it has to be said, brilliant packaging. Delia Smith, in How to Cook (1998)
  • One of the recognizable features of the authentic masterpiece is its capacity to renew itself, to endure the loss of some kinds of immediate relevance while still answering the most important questions men can ask including new ones they are just learning how to frame. Arnold Stein, quoted in Robert I. Fitzhenry, The Harper Book of Quotations (3rd ed.; 1993)
  • A masterpiece is…something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it’s there complete in the mind, if only at the back. Virginia Woolf, in a Jan. 1, 1933 letter; reprinted in The Sickle Side of the Moon (1979; Nigel Nicolson, ed.)
  • Respect the masterpiece—it is true reverence to man. There is no quality so great, none so much needed now. Frank Lloyd Wright, in Two Lectures in Architecture (1931)


(see also CLIMAX and ORGASM and SEX)

  • Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love. Woody Allen, as the character Alvy Singer, in the 1977 film Annie Hall (written with Marshall Brickman)
  • Physics is to mathematics what sex is to masturbation. Richard Feynman, quoted in Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)
  • I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught. Joycelyn Elders, in remarks at a 1994 United Nations conference on AIDS (specific date undetermined)
  • Masturbation never got anybody pregnant, does not make anybody go crazy, and what we’re about is preventing HIV in our bright young people. Joycelyn Elders, quoted in Laura Flanders, “Dr. Joycelyn Elders: Marijuana, Masturbation and Medicine,” The Nation (2010)
  • Masturbation is cheap, clean, convenient, and free of any possibility of wrongdoing—and you don’t have to go home in the cold. But it’s lonely. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • Writing is antisocial. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bit right to the bone…and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Richard Ames speaking, in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking to his companion, Gwen Novak, Richard continued: “There is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all…and, if you shake him at this stage, he bites.”

  • The act of writing itself is done in secret, like masturbation. Stephen King, the voice of the narrator, “The Body,” in Different Seasons (1982)

The narrator continued with this description of what writing has always been like for him: “For me, it always wants to be sex and always falls short—it’s always that adolescent handjob in the bathroom with the door locked.”

  • All self-hate tends to be projected, that is transferred to others. The mother of an illegitimate child will condemn sexual looseness in others. The teacher who has tried for years to conquer masturbation will cane children. The old maid who has sublimated sex, that is, repressed it, will show her self-hate in scandal-mongering and bitterness. All hate is self-hate. A. S. Neill, in Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing (1960)




  • Although I am not stupid, the mathematical side of my brain is like dumb notes upon a damaged piano. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. Albert Einstein, in address to the Prussian Academy of Sciences (Berlin; Jan. 27, 1921); reprinted in Sidelights on Relativity (1922)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation is a famous example of the literary device known as chiasmus.

  • Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. Albert Einstein, in “Letter to the Editor,” The New York Times (May 5, 1935)
  • I take a dose of mathematics every day to prevent my brain from becoming quite soft. George Eliot, in an 1849 letter; reprinted in J. W. Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885)
  • The mathematician has reached the highest rung on the ladder of human thought. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Thought (1923)
  • Physics is to mathematics what sex is to masturbation. Richard Feynman, quoted in Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)
  • Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank. Carl Friedrich Gauss, quoted in Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen, Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856)
  • 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)
  • Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable sub-human who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house. Robert A. Heinlein, “Intermission,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • Many persons who have not studied mathematics confuse it with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science. Actually, however, this science requires great fantasy. Sofia Kovalevskaya, quoted in Don H. Kennedy, Little Sparrow: A Portrait of Sophia Kovalevsky (1983)
  • I only know that when I study mathematics, I transport myself to another world, a world of exquisite beauty and truth. And in that world I am the person I like to be. Dora Musielak, a diary entry from August 30, 1791, in Sophie’s Diary: A Mathematical Novel (2008)

Sophie preceded the thought by writing: “Mathematics is a language that speaks to me in beautiful tones. However, I am too shy to express these feelings and thoughts to anyone.”

  • Mathematics rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. Bertrand Russell, “The Study of Mathematics” (1902); first published in New Quarterly (Nov. 1907); reprinted in Philosophical Essays (1910)
  • I see a certain order in the universe and math is one way of making it visible. May Sarton, in As We Are Now (1973)
  • Until I was thirty years old, I never even dated a scientist, an engineer, or a math major. My math avoidance extended even to my social life. Sheila Tobias, in Overcoming Math Anxiety (1978)
  • Math was my worst subject. I was never able to convince the mathematics teacher that many of my answers were meant ironically. Calvin Trillin, “Chubby” (1988) in Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (2011)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly phrase the observation in the following way: “Math was always my bad subject. I couldn’t convince my teachers that many of my answers were meant ironically.”




(includes GROWING UP; see also AGE & AGING and ADULTHOOD and IMMATURITY and YOUTH & AGE)

  • Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging. Maya Angelou, in Camille O. Cosby & Renee Poussaint, A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak (2004)
  • For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. Henri Bergson, in Creative Evolution (1907)
  • When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. The Bible—I Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)
  • There are some questions that shouldn’t be asked until a person is mature enough to appreciate the answers. Anne Bishop, the character Daemon speaking, in Daughter of the Blood (1998)
  • Throughout the whole vegetable, sensible, and rational world, whatever makes progress towards maturity, as soon as it has passed that point, begins to verge towards decay. Hugh Blair, “On Duties and Consolations of the Aged,” in Sermons, Vol. I (1822)

Blair added: “It is as natural for old age to be frail, as for the stalk to bend under the ripened ear, or for the autumnal leaf to change its hue. To this law all who went before you have submitted; and all who shall come after you must yield. After they have flourished for a season, they shall fade, like you, when the period of decline arrives, and bow under the pressure of years.”

  • Youth has its romance, and maturity its wisdom, as morning and spring have their freshness, noon and summer their power, night and winter their repose. Each attribute is good in its own season. Charlotte Brontë, writing as Currer Bell in “letter to an unknown admirer” (May 23, 1850), in Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Vol. 2 (1857)
  • Maturity means understanding, as much as possible, the different characters and modules that are active inside your own head. David Brooks, in The Social Animal (2011)

Brooks continued: “The mature person is like a river guide who goes over rapids and says, ‘Yes, I have been over these spots before.’”

  • The older I get the simpler the definition of maturity seems: It’s the length of time between when I realize someone is a jackass and when I tell them that they’re one. Brett Butler, quoted in Glibquips: Funny Words by Funny Women (1994)
  • Maturity is gratification delayed,/Self-confidence conveyed,/Opportunity parlayed,/Risk delayed,/Self-esteem displayed,/And self-denial repaid. Marlene Caroselli, in a personal communication to the compiler

QUOTE NOTE: This was the winning entry in a 2012 “Maturity Quotations Contest” sponsored through my weekly e-newsletter: Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week. To see the other top winners and twenty “Honorable Mentions” go to Dr. Mardy Newsletter.

  • What parent ever thought that a child had arrived at maturity? Mrs. Mary Clavers, the voice of the narrator, in A New Home—Who’ll Follow (1839)
  • Accumulating years in the act of living is no guarantee of maturity. In fact, it is possible to be born, grow old and die without ever maturing. Tian Dayton, in The Quiet Voice of Soul: How to Find Meaning in Ordinary Life (1995)
  • The person who will make the greatest contribution to a company is the mature person—and you cannot have maturity if you have no life or interest outside the job. Peter Drucker, in People and Performance (1977)
  • There is no gateway to maturity; there is no line that is crossed. Maturity is like a maze, one path leading to another; it is like a great building full of corridors, one turning into another. Mignon G. Eberhart, the voice of the narrator, in Another Man’s Murder (1957)

The narrator continued: “Did anybody ever reach the end, so there was a clear way ahead, so he could say, now I am rich with knowledge, now I know all the answers?”

  • At sixteen I was stupid, confused and indecisive. At twenty-five I was wise, self-confident, prepossessing, and assertive. At forty-five I am stupid, confused, insecure, and indecisive. Who would have supposed that maturity is only a short break in adolescence? Jules Feiffer, self-dialogue in a Feiffer cartoon; quoted in The Observer (London; Feb. 3, 1974)
  • I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. Carrie Fisher, in Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • To do the work that you are capable of doing is the mark of maturity. Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  • “Age” is the acceptance of a term of years. But maturity is the glory of years. Martha Graham, quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (May 25, 1979)
  • And is it true that for any person, man or woman, to develop full maturity it is necessary for both the masculine and the feminine parts to be brought up into consciousness? M. Esther Harding, in The Way of All Women: A Psychological Interpretation (1933)

ERROR ALERT: On most internet sites, the quotation appears as a declarative statement, not as a question, and it is almost always mistakenly worded: “If any human being is to reach full maturity it is necessary for both the masculine and feminine sides of the personality must be brought up to consciousness.”

  • Maturity includes discovering that even an opinion contrary to ours may contain a vein of truth we could profitably assimilate to our own views. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)

This is how the quotation is usually presented, but it was originally the concluding portion of this larger thought: “Youth finds no value in the views it disagrees with, but maturity includes discovering that even an opinion contrary to ours may contain a vein of truth we could profitably assimilate to our own views.”

  • Maturity begins when we’re content to feel we’re right about something without feeling the necessity to prove someone else wrong. Sydney J. Harris, in For the Time Being (1972)
  • I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us. Hermann Hesse, a reflection of the title character, in Peter Camenzind (1904)
  • Maturity comes in three stages: dependence, independence, and interdependence. Jenna Jameson, in How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (2004; with Neil Strauss)
  • One of the sure signs of maturity is the ability to rise to the point of self criticism. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” speech at National Urban League convention (Sep. 6, 1960)
  • Maturity is the ability to live in peace with that which we cannot change. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z (1979)
  • There is no such thing as maturity. There is instead an ever-evolving process of maturing. Because when there is a maturity, there is a conclusion and a cessation. That’s the end. That’s when the coffin is closed. Bruce Lee, in John Little, The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee (1996)
  • Unlearning is the choice, conscious or unconscious, of any real artist. And it is the true sign of maturity. Madeleine L’Engle, from a 1976 lecture, quoted in Carole F. Chase, Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life (2001)
  • I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Language of the Night (1979)

Le Guin continued: “I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination.”

  • But one of the hallmarks of emotional maturity is to recognize the validity of multiple realities and to understand that people think, feel, and react differently. Often we behave as if closeness means sameness. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Anger (1985)
  • The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt. Max Lerner, in The Unfinished Country: A Book of American Symbols (1959)
  • I believe that the experience of childhood is irretrievable. All that remains, for any of us, is a handful of frozen moments, already dangerously distorted by the wisdoms of maturity. Penelope Lively, in the Preface to Oleander, Jacaranda (1994)
  • Youth condemns; maturity condones. Amy Lowell, in Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1917)
  • There is no “trick” in being young: it happens to you. But the process of maturing is an art to be learned, an effort to be sustained. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger: Some Opinions, Uncensored and Unteleprompted (1958)

Mannes added: “By the age of fifty you have made yourself what you are, and if it is good, it is better than your youth. If it is bad, it is not because you are older but because you have not grown.”

  • Maturity: You have to grow up to go up. John C. Maxwell, in The Leadership Handbook: 26 Critical Lessons Every Leader Needs (2008)
  • While personal maturity may mean being able to see beyond yourself, leadership maturity means considering others before yourself. John C. Maxwell, in Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (2014)
  • There are books that one needs maturity to enjoy just as there are books an adult can come on too late to savor. Phyllis McGinley, “The Consolations of Illiteracy,” in Saturday Review (Aug. 1, 1953); reprinted in The Province of the Heart (1959)
  • One of the marks of maturity is the need for solitude. Lewis Mumford, “Planning for the Phases of Life,” in The Urban Prospect: Essays (1968)

MUmford continued: “A city should not merely draw men together in many varied activities, but should permit each person to find, near at hand, moments of seclusion and peace.”

  • A man’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • Mature people relate to each other without the need to merge. Anaïs Nin, a 1946 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • Compassion for our parents is the true sign of maturity. Anaïs Nin, journal entry (Summer, 1954), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Nin’s fuller set of reflections on the topic go a long way to explaining why many adult children lack compassion for aging parents. Here’s her full thought: “What blocks compassion often is an overestimation of the other’s power. Power does not inspire sympathy. But often this power is imagined, such as the power we imagine held by our parents. True, at one time they had power over us, power of life or death, but this does not mean that they themselves did not have fears, doubts, pains, troubles, tragedies, and that at any moment they might need us desperately. Their strength was relative to our childish helplessness, but later they had a claim to our acceptance of their human fallibilities. In fact, I would say that compassion for our parents is the true sign of maturity.”

  • The kind of child our society resembles just now is one whose intelligence far exceeds his maturity. Every teacher and every parent knows what a formula for disaster that can be. Sherwin B. Nuland, in The Uncertain Art: Thoughts on a Life in Medicine (2008)
  • That’s maturity—when you realize that you’ve finally arrived at a state of ignorance as profound as that of your parents. Elizabeth Peters, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Carol Farley, in The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits (1971)
  • When appropriate, the mature man puts himself second, first. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Sep. 5, 2020)
  • Maturity is the ability to reap without apology and not complain when things don’t go well. Jim Rohn, in FaceBook post (Oct. 24, 2016)
  • Maturity is the ability to joyfully live in an imperfect world. Richard Rohr, in Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (1996)
  • A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living (1960)
  • Maturity is not a matter of age. You have matured when you are no longer concerned with showing how clever you are, and give your full attention to getting the job done right. Many never reach that stage, no matter how old they get. Thomas Sowell, in a Tweet (May 27, 2018)
  • I would say that the surest measure of a man or woman’s maturity is the harmony, style, joy, dignity he creates in his marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse. An immature person may achieve great success in a career but never in marriage. Benjamin Spock, in Decent and Indecent (1968)
  • When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. I fear the disease is incurable/ John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley (1962)
  • Age is a high price to pay for maturity. Tom Stoppard, quoted in David Bailey & Peter Evans, Goodbye Baby and Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically presented, but it was originally part of larger thought offered by Stoppard in an interview with Peter Evans: “It is a very immature thing to worry about one’s stinking youth, but I don’t care: I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity.” Stoppard liked the observation enough to put a modified version of it into the mouth of one of his fictional characters. In Where Are They Now?, a 1970 play originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3, the character Gale, now in his 30s, says at a school reunion: “Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up.”

  • That the world can be improved and yet must be celebrated as it is are contradictions. The beginning of maturity may be the recognition that both are true. William Stott, in Documentary Expression and Thirties America (1973)
  • Intellectual maturity is being able to take an opposing idea into the mind and examine it from all angles without feeling threatened. Devin Swallow, in a personal communication to the compiler (April 13, 2020)
  • One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Charles R. Swindoll, in The Grace Awakening: Believing in Grace Is One Thing. Living it Is Another (2006)
  • It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • The awareness of the ambiguity of one’s highest achievements (as well as one’s deepest failures) is a definite symptom of maturity. Paul Tillich, quoted in Time magazine (May 17, 1963)
  • It may almost be a question whether such wisdom as many of us have in our mature years has not come from the dying out of the power of temptation, rather than as the results of thought and resolution. Anthony Trollope, a reflection of the narrator, in The Small House at Allington (1864)
  • Maturity…is fatal to so many enchantments. Mark Twain, in “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut,” in the Atlantic Monthly (June 1876)

QUOTE NOTE: this fascinating observation appeared in a larger observation in which Twain was describing a letter he’d recently received from his loving Aunt Mary. Here’s the full passage: “The had been my boyhood’s idol; maturity, which is fatal to so many enchantments, had not been able to dislodge her from her pedestal.”

  • Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another, and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other. Desmond Tutu, in God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Times (2011)
  • Maturity is the ability to do a job whether you’re supervised or not; finish a job once it’s started; carry money without spending it; and the ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even. Abigail Van Buren, in a 1974 “Dear Abby” column
  • Maturity…is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything. Kurt Vonnegut, an observation from the character Bokonon, in Cat’s Cradle (1963)
  • To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with poise, to receive honors with humility—these are marks of maturity and graciousness. William Arthur Ward, in Thoughts of a Christian Optimist: The Words of William Arthur Ward (1968)
  • To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity. William Arthur Ward, in Thoughts of a Christian Optimist: The Words of William Arthur Ward (1968)
  • To live with fear and not be afraid is the final test of maturity. Edward Weeks, “A Quarter Century: Its Retreats,” in Look magazine (July 18, 1961)
  • One sign of maturity is knowing when to ask for help Dennis Wholey, quoted in Cleveland Amory, Are You Happy? Some Answers to the Most Important Question in Your Life (1986)
  • The proof of spiritual maturity is not how pure you are but awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door to grace. Philip Yancey, in Grace Notes (2009)
  • For I suspect that maturity’s reached the day we don’t need to be lied to about anything, when we can accept, or at least endure, truth’s atrociously appalling ugliness! Frank Yerby, the character Philippe speaking, in The Girl From Storyville (1972)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it began: “Maturity is reached the day….”




  • Men’s maxims reveal their character. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage has also been translated this way: “The maxims of men reveal their hearts.”

  • 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.”

  • Maxims are to the intellect what laws are to actions; they do not enlighten, but they guide and direct; and although themselves blind, are protective. They are like the clue in the labyrinth, or the compass in the night. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1864)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage has also been translated this way: “Maxims are to the intelligence what laws are to action: they do not illuminate, but they guide, they control, they rescue blindly. They are the clue in the labyrinth, the ship’s compass in the night.”

  • Maxims are the condensed good sense of nations. James Mackintosh, in Progress of Ethical Philosophy (1830)
  • A good maxim is too hard for the teeth of time and whole millennia cannot consume it, even though it serves to nourish every age. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)

Nietzsche continued: “It is thus the great paradox of literature, the imperishable in the midst of change, the food that is always in season. Like salt—though, unlike salt, it never loses its savor.”

  • What are the proper proportions of a maxim? A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in More Tramps Abroad (1897)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the official version of the quotation, as it appears in the book and as it is posted on Barbara Schmidt’s authoritative website www.twainquotes.com. In Mark Twain at Your Fingertips (1948), however, Caroline Harnsberger provided a slightly different phrasing (“The proper proportions of a maxim: A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense”), and she reported that it came from a “Mark Twain holograph, written, Dec. 12, 1897”). A holograph is a handwritten note—not unlike an autograph or a brief personal note—that authors of a previous era often scribbled off and gave to friends or fans.


(see also NASTY and MAlICIOUS and OFFENSIVE )

  • I’ve seen the meanness of humans till I don’t know why God ain’t put out the sun and gone away. Cormac McCarthy, the character known as the Tinker speaking, in Outer Dark (1968)



  • Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. Hannah Arendt, “Isak Dinesen 1885-1963,” in Men in Dark Times (1970)
  • Throughout the life cycle we consciously and unconsciously edit the events of our life, trying to give them meaning. Joan Borysenko, in A Woman’s Book of Life (1994)
  • This struggle of people against their conditions, this is where you find the meaning in life. Rose Chernin, quoted in Kim Chernin, In My Mother’s House (1983)
  • The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Albert Einstein, “Is There a Jewish Point of View?” (Aug. 3, 1932); orig pub. in Mein Weltbild (1934); reprinted in Ideas and Opinions (1954)
  • The spiritual quest begins, for most people, as a search for meaning. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946; first English version, 1959)

Frankl continued: “There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

  • If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946; English version, 1959)
  • Everybody, whether or not he puts the question vocally, wants to know whether life has any meaning, what his relation is to “whatever gods there be,” why he is here, what his destiny is, how sin and pain may be overcome, whether prayer matters, what lies beyond death for himself and his loved ones. Georgia Harkness, in The Gospel and Our World (1949)
  • What Man seeks, to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food. François Jacob, in The Statue Within: An Autobiography (1988)

Jacob, the recipient of the 1965 Nobel Prize for medicine, continued: “He denies that life bounces along at random, at the mercy of events, in sound and in fury. He wants it always to be directed, aimed toward a goal, like an arrow.”

  • The need to find meaning in the universe is as real as the need for trust and for love, for relations with other human beings. Margaret Mead, in Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival (1972)
  • There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life. Anaïs Nin, a 1935 entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 (1967)

Nin went on to add: “To seek a total unity is wrong. To give as much meaning to one’s life as possible is right to me.”

  • For me, the meaning of life is the next generation. The meaning of life is the child. The meaning of life is the seedling: a tree seed, a flower seed. It holds true for everything that is alive on this earth. Not just me. Grace Paley, “An Interest in the World,” in Beth Benatovich, What We Know So Far: Wisdom Among Women (1995)
  • Our counselling was based on the conviction that life held an ultimate meaning, and that this was knowable by any individual who was prepared to seek it out. Meg Patterson, in Dr. Meg (1994)
  • All is pattern, all life, but we can’t always see the pattern when we’re part of it. Belva Plain, the voice of the narrator, in Crescent City (1984)
  • The secret in the search for meaning is to find your passion and pursue it. Gail Sheehy, in New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time (1995)
  • There are no meaningless experiences. Susan L. Taylor, in Lessons in Living (1995)
  • People and societies who cannot see any purpose in their existence beyond the material and the tangible must live chartlessly, and must live in spiritual misery, because they cannot overcome the greatest fact and mystery of human life, next to birth, which is death. Dorothy Thompson, in The Courage to Be Happy (1957)
  • Meaning is what you give to an idea or object, not what you take from it. William Flynn Wallace, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 8, 2023)
  • The search for meaning, much like the search for pleasure, must be conducted obliquely. Meaning ensues from meaningful activity: the more we deliberately pursue it, the less likely are we to find it. Irving D. Yalom, in Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989)




  • Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. H. James Harrington, in The Improvement Process: How America’s Leading Companies Improve Quality (1987)

QUOTE NOTE: Harrington was almost certainly inspired by a famous 1883 observation from William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), to be seen below.

  • I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind. William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), from 1883 lecture titled “Electrical Units of Measurement”; first published in Lord Kelvin’s 1889 book Popular Lectures and Addresses

Kelvin continued: “It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.”



  • Media is the plural of mediocre. Jimmy Breslin, in a 1978 interview with New York State governor Mario Cuomo
  • Among all the complaints you hear these days about the crimes of the media, it seems to me the critics miss the big one. It is that especially TV, but also we of the print press, tend to reduce mess and complexity and ambiguity to a simple story line that doesn’t reflect reality so much as it distorts it. Meg Greenfield, in a 1991 essay in Newsweek magazine (specific issue undetermined)

Greenfield went on to add: “What bothers me about the journalistic tendency to reduce unmanageable reality to self-contained, movielike little dramas is not just that we falsify when we do this. It is also that we really miss the good story.”

  • Our media, which is like a planetary nervous system, are far more sensitive to breakdowns than to breakthroughs. Barbara Marx Hubbard, in Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential (1998)

Hubbard continued: “They filter out our creativity and successes, considering them less newsworthy than violence, war, and dissent. When we read newspapers and watch television news, we feel closer to a death in the social body than to an awakening.”

  • In order to fuel the engines of publicity the media suck so much love and adulation out of the atmosphere that unknown men must gasp for breath. Lewis H. Lapham, “Sculpture in Snow,” in Harper’s magazine (June, 1981)
  • The more we think we're not affected by media—stereotypes, advertising—the more potential those forms of media have. Jennifer L. Pozner, in a 2013 issue of Bitch magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • 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)
  • Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic. Thomas Szasz, “Science and Scientism,” in The Second Sin‎ (1973). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • 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. Something must be done, and quickly. Come, please, and help, or go, please, and find help. Hence, the profession of medicine. Lewis Thomas, in The Fragile Species (1992)



  • There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Leaves From a Note-Book,” in The Century Magazine (May, 1900)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Paul Gauguin.

  • People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents. Author Unknown, but commonly attributed to Andrew Carnegie
  • We have been drowning in mediocrity for too many years. Lauren Bacall, in Now! (1994)
  • That in all times, mediocrity has dominated, that is indubitable; but that it reigns more than ever, that it is becoming absolutely triumphant and inhibiting, this is what is as true as it is distressing. Charles Baudelaire, “Salon of 1859” (1859); reprinted in Art in Paris, 1845–1862 (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage has also been translated this way: “It cannot be doubted that at all times mediocrity has dominated; but that it should be more than ever on the throne, that its encumbrance should have turned into an absolute triumph—it is this fact that is as true as it is distressing.”

  • Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best. Max Beerbohm, in obituary for Dan Leno, in Saturday Review (Nov. 4, 1904)

QUOTE NOTE: When I found this quotation in S. N. Behrman’s, Conversations with Max (1960), I had no idea that it originally appeared 56 years earlier, in an obituary Beerbohm wrote about the British comedian Dan Leno. According to quotation expert Nigel Rees, the sentiment ultimately evolved into the modern proverb, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” That proverb, by the way, is commonly misattributed to Jean Giraudoux (for more, see the American Proverbs entry below).

In the Cassell Companion to Quotations (1997), Rees not only identified the original source of the observation, but he pointed out that it was originally embedded in the following fuller remarks about Dan Leno: “Often, even in his heyday, his acting and his waggishness did not carry him very far. Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at his best. [italics mine] Genius must always have lapses proportionate to its triumphs.”

  • What is responsible for the success of many works is the rapport between the mediocrity of the author’s ideas and the mediocrity of the public’s. Nicolas Chamfort, in Maxims and Considerations (1796)

QUOTE NOTE: I've also seen the observation translated as follows: “A good number of works owe their success to the mediocrity of their authors’ ideas, which match the mediocrity of those of the general public.”

  • Democracy, that festival of mediocrity. E. M. Cioran, in History and Utopia (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation often appears in a looser translation: “Democracy is a festival of mediocrity.”

  • A man who fears ridicule will never go far, for good or ill: he remains on this side of his talents, and even if he has genius, he is doomed to mediocrity. Emile Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1976)
  • It is a great sign of mediocrity to praise always moderately. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Mediocre men sometimes fear great office, and when they do not aim at it, or when they refuse it, all that is to be concluded is that they are aware of their mediocrity. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Attaining even mediocrity is often a struggle. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 6th Selection (1989)‬
  • Greatness is always envied—it is only mediocrity that can boast of a host of friends. Marie Corelli, “The Happy Life,” in Free Opinions (1905)
  • It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us. Isaac D’Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 2 (1793)
  • Everyone wants a prodigy to fail; it makes our mediocrity more bearable. Rita Dove, “Either I’m Nobody, or I’m a Nation,” in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (1987; Vol. 14, No. 1)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Harold Bloom.

  • Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius. Arthur Conan Doyle, the narrator Dr. Watson speaking, in The Valley of Fear (1915)
  • The mediocre always feel as if they’re fighting for their lives when confronted by the excellent. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times (March 19, 1940)

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

  • Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike. Margot Fonteyn, in Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography (1976)
  • Mediocrity is safe. Nikki Giovanni, quoted in Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work (1983)
  • I shouldn’t mind it if I saw the admirable sweep on to success, or immortality, but always it seems to be the ordinary, the vulgar, and the average, or the lower average, that triumphs. Nothing would astonish me, after all these years, except to be understood. Ellen Glasgow, in Letters of Ellen Glasgow (1958)
  • In our desire to please everyone, it's very easy to end up being invisible or mediocre. Seth Godin, “Critics that Matter,” in Seth’s Blog (Aug. 13, 2009)
  • Finding security in mediocrity is an exhausting process…. You’re always looking over your shoulder, always trying to be a little less mediocre than the guy next to you. It wears you out. Seth Godin, in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (2010)
  • A brand new mediocrity is thought more of than accustomed excellence. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • To me, the only sin is mediocrity. Martha Graham, in “Martha Graham Reflects on Her Art and a Life in Dance,” The New York Times (March 31, 1985)
  • “Elitism” is the slur directed at merit by mediocrity. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Joseph Heller, the narrator playing off the famous Shakespeare line about greatness, in Catch-22 ( 1961)

The narrator continued: “Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”

  • As a rule, the man who can do all things equally well is a very mediocre individual. Elbert Hubbard, quoted in the Utah Independent (May 25, 1911)
  • Such a superiority do the pursuits of literature possess above every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them, merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions. David Hume, in The History of England, Vol. 1 (1762)
  • In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous. Robert G. Ingersoll, in “Liberty in Literature” (speech in Philadelphia, Oct. 21, 1890); reprinted in The Writings of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. III (1900)
  • Mediocrity is excellence to the mediocre. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • Aspiring only to second-place goals is a first-rate way to hedge our bets. Among the least appreciated reasons for doing superficial, second-rate work of any kind is the comfort of knowing that it’s not our best that’s on the line. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear (1995)

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

  • There are certain things in which mediocrity is intolerable: poetry, music, painting, public eloquence. What torture it is to hear a frigid speech being pompously declaimed, or second-rate verse spoken with all a bad poet’s bombast! Jean de La Bruyère, “Of Books,” in Characters (1688)
  • It is the habit of mediocre minds to condemn all that is beyond their grasp. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • 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)
  • It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late. W. Somerset Maugham, the character Monsieur Foinet speaking, in Of Human Bondage (1915)
  • Do you know what happens when you spend all your time working on your weaknesses and never developing your strengths? If you work really hard, you might claw your way all the way to mediocrity! But you’ll never get beyond it. John C. Maxwell, in The Leadership Handbook: 26 Critical Lessons Every Leader Needs (2015)
  • Intolerance of mediocrity has been the main prop of my independence. Elsa Maxwell, in R.S.V.P. (1954)
  • Women want mediocre men, and men are working to be as mediocre as possible. Margaret Mead, quoted in Quote magazine (May 15, 1958)
  • A fellow of mediocre talent will remain a mediocrity whether he travels or not; but one of superior talent (which without impiety I cannot deny that I possess) will go to seed if he always remains in the same place. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in a letter to his father, Leopold (Sep. 11, 1778)

QUOTE NOTE: The 22-year-old Mozart was not simply talking about sightseeing in this observation, but about a deep exposure to the arts and cultural contributions of other nations. The knowledge that came from such travel, he suggested, was not only essential for superior individuals to fully develop their talents, but also contributed substantially to human happiness. He preceded the thought above by writing “I assure you that people who do not travel (I mean those who cultivate the arts and learning) are indeed miserable creatures.”

  • Fortunately there is excess in greatness: it can lose more than mediocrity possesses, and still be great. Virginia Moore, “Sappho,” in Distinguished Women Writers (1934)
  • When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to the level of their mediocrity. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)
  • To the mediocre, mediocrity is a form of happiness. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Antichrist (written 1888; published 1895)

About mediocre people, Nietzsche continued: “They have a natural instinct for mastering one thing, for specialization. It would be altogether unworthy of a profound intellect to see anything objectionable in mediocrity in itself. It is, in fact, the first prerequisite to the appearance of the exceptional: it is a necessary condition to a high degree of civilization. When the exceptional man handles the mediocre man with more delicate fingers than he applies to himself or to his equals, this is not merely kindness of heart—it is simply his duty.”

  • What makes a nation great is not primarily its great men, but the stature of its innumerable mediocre ones. José Ortega y Gasset, in On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme (1957)
  • Nothing is thoroughly approved but mediocrity. The majority has established this, and it fixes its fangs on whatever gets beyond it either way. Blaise Pascal, in Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (1849)
  • The thing I fear most is being mediocre. I like to excel. Gregory Peck, quoted in Hal Boyle, “Meet Gregory Peck: His Big Fear is Mediocrity,” an Associated Press syndicated article appearing in many newspapers, including the Plainfield Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey; Aug. 22, 1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Peck was responding to a question about what he feared. His full remark was as follows: “I don’t have much time to speculate on what I’m afraid of, but I suppose the thing I fear most is being mediocre. I like to excel. I like to make the most out of life and get the most out of it.”

  • Golf asks something of a man. It makes one loathe mediocrity. It seems to say, “If you are going to keep company with me, don’t embarrass me.” Gary Player, quoted in Maxine Block, et. al., Current Biography Yearbook 1961 (1962)
  • Only the mediocre are always at their best. Modern Proverb (American)

ERROR ALERT: In his The 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1983), Robert Byrne attributed this remark to the French playwright Jean Giraudoux. As a result, the saying is often attributed to him. It has not, however, been found in any of his writings. The saying appears to have evolved from a 1904 comment that Max Beerbohm made in an obituary about British comedian Dan Leno.

  • “Mediocrity” does not mean an average intelligence; it means an average intelligence that resents and envies its betters. Ayn Rand, in The New Left (1971)

In her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, Rand had the character Dr. Robert Stadler offer a similar thought: “Do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement.”

  • Oh, doubtless a mediocre man copying nature will never produce a work of art; because he really looks without seeing, and though he may have noted each detail minutely, the result will be flat and without character. But the profession of artist is not meant for the mediocre, and to give them the best counsels will never succeed in giving them talent. Auguste Rodin, in L’Art: Entretiens réunis par Paul Gsell [Art: Interviews Brought Together by Paul Gsell] (1911; trans. in 1912 by Romilly Fedden)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1984 translation of the book, Jacques de Caso and Patricia B. Sanders offered this version of the thought: “the commonplace man can never, by copying, produce a masterpiece; he notes every detail but he does not really see—the artist penetrates below the surface into the very heart of nature; for him everything is beautiful because beauty in art consists of character.”

  • Great innovators and original thinkers and artists attract the wrath of mediocrities as lightning rods draw the flashes. Theodor Reik, in The Need to Be Loved (1963)

Reik added: “The originality of their thought is as provoking as the prominence of the lightning conductor which directs the electricity to the salient point on the roof.”

  • One form of the death wish is the embracing of mediocrity. Theodore Roethke, a notebook entry, first published in Straw for the Fire (1972; David Wagoner, ed.)
  • It isn’t evil that is ruining the earth, but mediocrity. Ned Rorem, in The Final Diary (1974)

Rorem added: “The crime is not that Nero played while Rome burned, but that he played badly.”

  • The mediocrity of everything in the great world of today is simply appalling. We live in intellectual slums. George Santayana, in letter to Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (Nov. 5, 1934)
  • Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius. Fulton J. Sheen, quoted in Daniel P. Noonan, The Passion of Fulton Sheen (1972)
  • The real geniuses know where their writing has to be good and where they can get away with some mediocrity. Dmitri Shostakovich, a remark to Isaac Glikman (July 4, 1966); quoted in Josiah Fisk, Composers On Music: Eight Centuries of Writings (2nd ed., 1997)
  • Most of our pocket wisdom is conceived for the use of mediocre people, to discourage them from ambitious attempts, and generally console them in their mediocrity. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Crabbed Age and Youth,” in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • I thought I might teach philosophy but the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me; the few islands of greatness seemed to be washed by seas of pettiness and mediocrity. The smell of a newsroom was more attractive. I. F. Stone, in a Dec. 14, 1971 column, reprinted in The Best of I. F. Stone’s Weekly (1971)
  • The price of excellence is discipline. The cost of mediocrity is disappointment. William Arthur Ward, in Thoughts of a Christian Optimist: The Words of William Arthur Ward (1968)
  • I worry about being a success in a mediocre world. Jane Wagner, in Appearing Nitely (1977)
  • Indifference is the revenge the world takes on mediocrities. Oscar Wilde, the character Prince Paul speaking, in Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880)
  • Mediocrity always detests ability, and loathes genius. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (1916)
  • Caricature is the tribute which mediocrity pays to genius. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (1946)

According to Pearson, the epigram “was loudly applauded” when Wilde delivered it in an 1895 lecture. In his Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro offered what looks like the earliest germ of the thought. After he was satirized in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1881 opera Patience, Wilde was quoted in The New York Daily Tribune (Jan. 6, 1882) as saying: “This is one of the compliments that mediocrity pays to those who are not mediocre.”



  • I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.

Kurt Vonnegut, in “The Noodle Factory,” speech at the dedication of the Shain Library, Connecticut College, New London, CT (Oct. 1, 1976)



  • Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate. Dave Barry, in Turning 40 (1991)
  • Meetings that do not come off keep a character of their own. They stay as they were projected. Elizabeth Bowen, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • Meetings…are rather like cocktail parties. You don’t want to go, but you’re cross not to be asked. Jilly Cooper, in How to Survive From Nine to Five (1970)
  • A lot of meetings are held to arrange when to have meetings. Jilly Cooper, in How to Survive From Nine to Five (1970)

Cooper went on to add: “Meetings today are usually called conferences to make them sound more significant.”

  • Committee meetings are always held at inconvenient times and usually take place in dark, dusty rooms the temperatures of which are unsuited to the human body. Virginia Graham, in Say Please (1949)
  • Remember this great teaching axiom: only dull people are at their best during faculty meetings. Susan Ohanian, in Ask Ms. Class (1996)

In the book, Ohanian also wrote: “If enough meetings are held, the meetings become more important than the problem.”

  • I wonder how many of our tombstones will have to be inscribed with the epitaph “Died of too many meetings”? Hannah Whitall Smith, in an 1891 letter, quoted in Logan Pearsall Smith, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H.W.S.”(1949)
  • Writers are notorious for using any reason to keep from working: overresearching, retyping, going to meetings, waxing the floors—anything. Gloria Steinem, in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
  • Most meetings are too long, too dull, too unproductive—and too much a part of corporate life to be abandoned. Lois Wyse, in Company Manners (1987)



  • As a confirmed melancholic, I can testify that the best and maybe the only antidote for melancholia is action. However, like most melancholics, I suffer also from sloth. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Melancholy sees the worst of things—things as they may be, and not as they are. It looks upon a beautiful face, and sees but a grinning skull. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. II (1862)
  • If there be a hell upon earth it is to be found in a melancholy man’s heart. Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621–51)
  • Melancholy is as seductive as Ecstasy. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 8th Selection (1991)
  • To win one’s joy through struggle is better than to yield to melancholy. André Gide, journal entry (May 12, 1927)
  • There’s not a string attuned to mirth/But has its chord in melancholy. Thomas Hood, in Ode to Melancholy (1827)
  • Employment, sir, and hardships, prevent melancholy. Samuel Johnson, a 1777 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)



  • Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes. Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Meme,” Time magazine (April 19, 1999)



  • I have no guarantee of what is written here but memory, a known cheat. Lucy M. Boston, on her memoir, Perverse and Foolish: A Memoir of Childhood and Youth (1979)
  • A lot of trouble has been caused by memoirs. Indiscreet revelations, that sort of thing. People who have been close as an oyster all their lives seem positively to relish causing trouble when they themselves shall be comfortably dead. Agatha Christie, in The Secret of Chimneys (1925)
  • This is something like digging for oil, finding it, and then noticing a diamond mine at the same site. Edward M. Cifelli, on writing his memoir, in Random Miracles: A Memoir (2011)

Cifelli prefaced his remark with this comment: “What I have learned, happily and unexpectedly, is that from the back end of my life I can see patterns that were in it, arcs that connected people and events—even purpose that held it all together. I have learned that life may seem chaotic as you live it, but with the distance of the right number of years, a lot of it gets clarified into a satisfying and calming orderliness.”

  • Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained. Thomas M. Cirignano, in The Constant Gardener: Memoirs of a South Boston Mechanic (2009)
  • You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arms, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.” Annie Dillard, “To Fashion a Text,” in William Zinsser, Inventing the Truth (1987)
  • The chief danger memoirists face is starring in their own stories, and becoming fascinated. Annie Dillard & Cort Conley, in Introduction to Modern American Memoirs (1995)
  • But that perhaps is the point of any memoir—to walk with the dead and yet see them with our eyes, from our vantage point. Margaret Forster, in Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir (1995)
  • The memoir is an artful dodger, slip-sliding through the facts of autobiography and journalism into the techniques of fiction. It is the most rhetorically dramatic of forms, in the way it shines full-glare lights on some episodes, while others are left in haunting, suggestive shadows. Brigitte Frase, “Wreckage and High Romance,” in a 1997 article in the Hungry Mind Review (specific issue undetermined)

In the article, Frase also wrote: “The best way to read a memoir, I have found, is with an open mind, an investigative nose, a psycholinguist’s interest in stylistic close reading, and with a shit detector close at hand.”

  • I will try to cram these paragraphs full of facts and give them a weight and shape no greater than that of a cloud of blue butterflies. Brendan Gill, describing his approach to his 1975 memoir Here at the New Yorker

According to critic John Leonard, Gill succeeded. In a New York Times Book Review (May 15, 1975), he matched Gill’s metaphorical goal for his memoir with a figurative flourish of his own: “His memoir is a splendid artichoke of anecdotes, in which not merely the heart and leaves but the thistles as well are edible.”

  • Memoirists, unlike fiction writers, do not really want to “tell a story.” They want to tell it all— the all of personal experience, of consciousness itself. That includes a story, but also the whole expanding universe of sensation and thought. Patricia Hampl, in I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory (1999)

Hampl went on to add: “Memoirists wish to tell their mind. Not their story.”

  • The memoir walks a fuzzy line between autobiography, travelogue, essay and diary. Nancy Hendrickson, in a 2004 issue of Writer’s Digest (specific date undetermined)
  • A memoirist is really like any other con man; if he’s convincing, he’s home. If he isn’t, it doesn’t really matter whether it happened, he hasn’t succeeded in making it feel convincing. Samuel Hynes, quoted in Deborah Caulfield Ryback, “Taking Liberties: Memoirs as Fact, Memoirs as Fiction,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (July 27, 2003)

Hynes, a professor emeritus at Princeton and author of several memoirs, offered this comment in the wake of the controversy over James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces. He said: “When you’re writing a book that is going to be a narrative with character and events, you’re walking very close to fiction…. In the end it comes down to the readers. If they believe you, you’re OK.”

  • At this point in literary history, it’s understood that memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt. Mary Karr, “The Liar’s Club,” in a Slate.com post (March 27, 2007)
  • Memoir is the speaking “I” of a trusting author, walking hand in hand with the reader down a path both know well. Thomas Larson, in The Memoir and the Memoirist (2007)

Larson continued: “It mirrors the open-faced trait of Americans and their speech. It remains open to the nostalgic and the sentimental. It personalizes horror. It belongs equally to a professional writer and a dockworker, a home health-care nurse and your Uncle Donny.”

  • Memoirs…the backstairs of history. George Meredith, in Rhoda Fleming (1865)
  • Even the most meticulous memoirist is an unreliable narrator, recalling the patchwork of the past through personal filters and biases. Daniel J. Millman, in the Preface to Peaceful Heart, Warrior Spirit: The True Story of My Spiritual Quest (2021)

Millman continued: “As the protagonist of my own life, it would be easy to paint a self-portrait in colors made more rosy, witty, or significant with the passing of time. Still, I’ve related events as accurately as I can, checking my memories with those of friends and family. I hope authenticity and candor have compensated for any shortcomings.”

  • When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do—well, that’s Memoirs. Will Rogers, in The Autobiography of Will Rogers (1949)
  • A memoir is an exercise in vulgarity, candor, excess, and overkill. Liz Smith, in Natural Blonde (2001)
  • I’ll be eighty this month. Age, if nothing else, entitles me to set the record straight before I dissolve. I’ve given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book. Gloria Swanson, quoted in a 1979 issue of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • In his work, every memoirist leaves behind a better or worse likeness of the people he knew, alongside two self-portraits. The first of these two is painted intentionally, while the second is unplanned, accidental. It goes without saying that the first is more flattering than the second, and the second is more faithful than the first. Wisława Szymborska, “The Courtier's Inferno,” in Nonrequired Reading (2002)
  • Such is the memoir’s tone. Noble and touching. But is it sincere? Oh, let’s not be petty, seeking sincerity in memoirs doesn’t make much sense. Wisława Szymborska, “Blowing Your Own Horn,” in Nonrequired Reading (2002)
  • Memoir in America is an atrocity arms race. A memoir that reveals incest is trumped by one that reveals bestiality, and that, in turn, is driven from the bestseller list by one that reveals incestuous bestiality. Calvin Trillin, “Chubby” (1998), in Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin (2011)

This was the conclusion of the essay’s opening paragraph, which began this way: “It’s common these days for memoirs of childhood to concentrate on some dark secret within the author’s ostensibly happy family. It’s not just common; it’s pretty much mandatory.”

  • Memoir is like a patchwork quilt—a log cabin pioneer way of piecing together experience. It satisfies our need for gossip and intimacy, for testimony and confessional, and in this world of spin, offers a truthful account of what it means to succeed or fail, to love and lose, to break your heart and mend it again. Jeanette Winterson, quoted in Thomas Okes, “The Best Memoirs of 2013,” O: The Oprah Magazine (Jan., 2014)
  • Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition. It may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction. William Zinsser, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

After pointing out that Thoreau’s Walden was “painstakingly pierced together” in seven drafts over eight years, Zinsser added: “To write a good memoir you must become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events a narrative shape and an organizing idea. Memoir is the art of inventing the truth.”



  • A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer. Dean Acheson, quoted in The Wall Street Journal (Sep. 8, 1977)



  • Memorial services are the cocktail parties of the geriatric set. Harold Macmillan, quoted in Alistair Horne, Macmillan (1989; Vol. 2)



  • Memory is the mother of all wisdom. Aeschylus, in Prometheus Bound (5th c. B.C.)
  • Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these. Susan B. Anthony, Ph.D., in The Ghost in My Life (1971)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly attributed to the famous American suffragist by the same name. The Susan B. Anthony who penned this memorable memory observation is the grandniece of the iconic historical figure.

  • The older one becomes the quicker the present fades into sepia and the past looms up in glorious technicolor. Beryl Bainbridge, quoted in The Observer (1998; specific date undetermined)
  • I wear the key of memory, and can open every door in the house of my life, even to its first exquisite beginnings. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913)
  • God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December. J. M. Barrie, in rectorial address at St. Andrews University (May 3, 1922)
  • Some of my old memories feel trapped in amber in my brain, lucid and burning, while others are like the wing beat of a hummingbird, an intangible, ephemeral blur. Mira Bartók, in The Memory Palace: A Memoir (2011)

Bartók added: “Neuroscientists say that is how memory works—it is complex and mercurial, a subterranean world that changes each time we drag something up from below. Every sensation, thought, or event we recall physically changes the neuroconnections in our brain. And for someone who suffers from brain trauma, synapses get crossed, forcing their dendritic branches to wander aimlessly down the wrong road.”

  • Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. Saul Bellow, the character Wallace speaking, in Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  • I have no guarantee of what is written here but memory, a known cheat. Lucy M. Boston, on her memoir, Perverse and Foolish: A Memoir of Childhood and Youth (1979)
  • The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy, chancy and temperamental; it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust. Elizabeth Bowen, interview in Vogue magazine (Sep. 15, 1955)
  • In the era of an aging population, memory is the new sex. David Brooks, “The Great Forgetting,” in The New York Times (April 11, 2008)
  • It is especially painful when narcissists suffer memory loss because they are losing parts of the person they love most. David Brooks, “The Great Forgetting,” in The New York Times (April 11, 2008)

Brooks continued: “First they lose the subjects they’ve only been pretending to understand—chaos theory, monetary policy, Don Delillo—and pretty soon their conversation is reduced to the core stories of self-heroism.”

  • Memories are reliably fickle. (How’s that for an oxymoron?) We lose track of memories we don’t need. We purge memories we don’t want. Frank Bruni, in The New York Times (Feb. 29, 2024)

Bruni continued: “Consciously or unconsciously, we edit our memories into narratives that conform to our chosen senses of ourselves. They’re two-thirds documentary, one-third historical fiction. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

  • Life without memory is no life at all, just as an intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing. Luis Buñuel, in My Last Sigh (1983)

Buñuel preceded the thought by writing: “You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives.”

  • The kitchen was small and dark and the memory of chopped onions clung to the walls like paint. Liza Cody, in Stalker (1984)
  • Our memories are card-indexes, consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Vanity plays lurid tricks with our memory. Joseph Conrad, the voice of the narrator, Charles Marlowe, in Lord Jim (1900)
  • In plucking the fruit of memory one runs the risk of spoiling the bloom. Joseph Conrad, in Preface to The Arrow of Gold (1919)
  • Whenever I try to recall that long-ago first day at school only one memory shines through: my father held my hand. Marcelene Cox, in a 1954 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific date unknown)
  • The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. Salvador Dali, in The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942; republished 1993)
  • You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory preserved since childhood, is perhaps the best education of all. If a man carries such memories into life with him, he is saved for the rest of his days. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the character Alyosha Karamazov speaking, in The Brothers Karamazov, Vol. 2 (1880)

Karamazov continued: “And even if only one good memory is left in out hearts, it may also be the instrument of our salvation one day.”

  • Do not trust your memory; it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes slip through it. Georges Duhamel, in The Heart’s Domain (1919)
  • As to memory, it is known that this frail faculty naturally lets drop the facts which are less flattering to our self-love—when it does not retain them carefully as subjects not to be approached, marshy spots with a warning flag over them. George Eliot, “The Wasp Credited with the Honey-Comb,” in Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)

QUOTE NOTE: There are two complete thoughts in this observation, and both are interesting. The first is an intrapersonal one: we often tend to forget things that are inconsistent with (or worse, unflattering to) the way we view ourselves. The second is interpersonal: when we do remember these less flattering things about ourselves, other people can only mention them at some risk to themselves.

  • It sometimes occurs that memory has a personality of its own and volunteers or refuses its information at its will, not at mine. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Memory,” in Natural History of the Intellect (1893)
  • Love and memory last, and will so endure till the game is called because of darkness. Gene Fowler, in Skyline: A Reporter’s Reminiscence of the 1920s (1961)
  • Spring is the season of hope, and autumn is that of memory. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • “Memory seldom fails when its office is to show us the tombs of our buried hopes. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (1855)
  • Memory is a skilled seducer. Christina Garcia, in Dreaming in Cuban (1992)
  • When we live with a memory we live with a corpse; the impact of the experience has changed us once but can never change us again. Dorothy Gilman, in A New Kind of Country (1978)
  • O Memory! Thou fond deceiver. Oliver Goldsmith, “Song,” in The Captivity: An Oratorio (1764)
  • The memory is like orbiting twin stars, one visible, one dark, the trajectory of what’s evident forever affected by the gravity of what's concealed. Sue Grafton, in “O” Is for Outlaw (1999)
  • When pestered with questions, memory is like an onion that wishes to be peeled so we can read what is laid bare letter by letter. It is seldom unambiguous and often in mirror writing or otherwise disguised. Günter Grass, in Peeling the Onion (2006)

Grass went on to write: “Beneath its dry and crackly outer skin we find another, more moist layer, that once detached, reveals a third, beneath which a fourth and fifth wait whispering. And each skin sweats words too long muffled.“

  • The onion has many skins. A multitude of skins. Peeled, it renews itself; chopped, it brings tears; only during peeling it speaks the truth. Günter Grass, on the onion as a metaphor for memory, in Peeling the Onion (2006)
  • What was the worst part of going to school? Being called on by the teacher. A sudden rush of blood to the brain when your name was called invariably erased all memory, like a computer when the power fails. Helen Hayes, in Loving Life (1987; with Marion Glasserow Gladney)
  • Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • The faculty of memory cannot be separated from the imagination. Siri Hustvedt, in The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves (2009)

Hustvedt went on to add: “To one degree or another, we all invent our personal pasts.”

  • Each man’s memory is his private literature, and every recollection affects us with something of the penetrative force that belongs to the work of art. Aldous Huxley, in Texts and Pretexts (1932)
  • Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you! John Irving, a reflection of narrator John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
  • To look back on one’s life is to experience the capriciousness of memory. P. D. James, in Time to Be in Earnest (1999)

James went on to add, “The past is not static. It can be relived only in memory, and memory is a device for forgetting as well as remembering. It, too, is not immutable. It rediscovers, reinvents, reorganizes. Like a passage of prose it can be revised and repunctuated. To that extent, every autobiography is a work of fiction and every work of fiction an autobiography.”

  • The true art of memory is the art of attention. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Sep. 15, 1759)

Johnson concluded the essay by writing: “What is read with delight is commonly retained, because pleasure always secures attention; but the books which are consulted by occasional necessity, and perused with impatience, seldom leave any traces on the mind.”

  • Memory is the crux of our humanity. Without memory we have no identities. That is really why I am committing an autobiography. Erica Jong, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Fifty (1994)

Later in the novel, Isadora also offered this thought: “Memory is the most transient of all possessions. And when it goes, it leaves as few traces as stars that have disappeared.”

  • Memories are simply moments that refuse to be ordinary. Diane Keaton, quoting one of her mother’s favorite sayings, in Then Again (2011)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation is often attributed directly to Keaton, but she was quoting a saying she found Scotch-taped to the wall in her mother’s workroom. It is not clear if Keaton’s mother—who was fond of taping adages and aphorisms all around her house—authored the saying or was simply displaying a quotation she admired.

  • Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin. Barbara Kingsolver, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Cosima “Codi” Noline, in Animal Dreams (1990)

Later in the novel, Codi also offered this additional thought on the subject: “It’s surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”

  • The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Milan Kundera, a reflection of the character Mirek, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979)
  • No memory is ever alone, it’s at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations. Louis L’Amour, in Ride the River (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation almost always appears these days, but in the novel it is part of a fuller passage in which the character Dorian reflects on a life lesson learned from his father: “As youngsters we were taught not just to learn something but to learn something else that went with it. Pa, he used to say that no memory is ever alone, it’s at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations.” The trail of memories phrase went on to become so closely associated with L’Amour that, after his death, his daughter Angelique chose it as the title of a quotation compilation: A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour (1988).

  • Memory is so much better at unhappiness than happiness. Jane Miller, in Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old (2010)
  • Memory is each man’s own last measure, and for some, the only achievement. William Least Heat Moon (pen name of William Trogdon), in Blue Highways: A Journey into America (1982)
  • Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved (1988)

Levi, a Jewish-Italian chemist who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and eventually chronicled his experiences, continued: “The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.”

  • Memory is more indelible than ink. Anita Loos, in Kiss Hollywood Goodbye (1974)
  • Show Miss Manners a grown-up who has happy memories of teenage years, with their endless round of merry-making and dancing the night away, and Miss Manners will show you a person who has either no heart or no memory. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children (1984)
  • Memory is a great artist. For every man and for every woman it makes the recollection of his, or her, life a work of art and an unfaithful record. André Maurois, in Aspects of Biography (1929)
  • Without our knowing it, we see reality through glasses colored by the subconscious memory of previous experiences. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island (1955)
  • The selective memory isn't selective enough. Blake Morrison, quoted in the Independent of Sunday (June 16, 1991)
  • Memory is history recorded in our brain. Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses), in My Life’s History (1952)
  • Memory is so crazy! It's like we’ve got these drawers crammed with tons of useless stuff. Meanwhile, all the really important things we just keep forgetting, one after the other. Haruki Murakami, the character Korogi speaking, in After Dark (2004)
  • People's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Haruki Murakami, the character Korogi speaking, in After Dark (2004)

Korogi continued: “Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as their maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel.”

  • A great memory does not make a philosopher, any more than a dictionary can be called a grammar. John Henry Newman, in The Idea of a University (1853–58)
  • Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • For a purely untrustworthy human organ, the memory is right in there with the penis. P. J. O’Rourke, in Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1995)
  • What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, imprinted, eternally seen. Cynthia Ozick, “The Shock of Teapots,” in Metaphors & Memory (1989)
  • The repressed memory is like a noisy intruder being thrown out of the concert hall. You can throw him out, but he will bang on the door and continue to disturb the concert. Theodor Reik, in Saturday Review (Jan.11, 1958)

Reik, one of the most prominent psychoanalysts of his era, continued: “The analyst opens the door and says, ‘If you promise to behave yourself, you can come back in.’”

  • Memory is a nutriment, and seeds stored for centuries can still germinate. Adrienne Rich, in 1983 lecture at Scripps College, Claremont, CA; reprinted in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979–1985 (1994)
  • Memory is a slick politician who will support either side of the argument loyally. Margaret Lee Runbeck, in Miss Boo Is Sixteen (1957)
  • We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection. Oliver Sacks, in Hallucinations (2012)
  • A man’s memory may almost become the art of continually varying and misrepresenting his past, according to his interests in the present. George Santayana, “The Latin School,” in Persons and Places: The Background of My Life (1944)
  • Some men’s memory is like a box, where a man should mingle his jewels with his old shoes. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • Memory is the personal journalism of the soul. Richard Schickel, in review of a new production of Harold Pinter’s play Old Times (1971), Time magazine (Jan. 23, 1984)

Schickel continued: “From eyewitness accounts of yesterday’s melodrama’s and mundanities, it fashions plausible, self-serving reports that it passes off as truth. Indeed, polished by repetition, they become truth.”

  • To expect a man to retain everything that he has ever read is like expecting him to carry about in his body everything that he has ever eaten. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parega and Paralipomena (1851)
  • Memory, the warder of the brain. William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth speaking, in Macbeth (1606)
  • It's a pleasure to share one's memories. Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious. At least the past is safe–though we didn't know it at the time. We know it now. Because it's in the past; because we have survived.
  • I have always had a bad memory, as far back as I can remember. Lewis Thomas, opening line of “Amity Street,” in The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher (1983)
  • My memory was never loaded with anything but blank cartridges. Mark Twain, in Life on the Mississippi (1874-75)
  • When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter. Mark Twain, quoted in A. E. Paine, Mark Twain, A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Vol. 3 (1912)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most famous version of an oxymoronic sentiment that Twain expressed on a number of occasions. The very first came in a March 1907 article in The North American Review (titled “Memories of a Southern Farm: A Chapter From Mark Twain’s Autobiography”), where Twain wrote: “When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that happened.” For more, see this excellent 2013 post by Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator.

  • Memory performs the impossible for man; holds together past and present, gives continuity and dignity to human life. This is the companion, this is the tutor, the poet, the library, with which you travel. Mark Van Doren, in Liberal Education (1960)
  • Memory is a magnet. It will pull to it and hold only material nature has designed it to attract. Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived: A Novel (1979)
  • Archer hung a moment on a thin thread of memory, but it snapped and floated off with the disappearing face. Edith Wharton, describing a fleeting memory moment for Newland Archer, in The Age of Innocence (1920)

QUOTE NOTE: in Metaphors Dictionary (1996), Elyse Sommer summarizes the precise nature of the moment: “Archer has the common experience of seeing someone he feels he has met before, but unable to connect the sense of recognition with a concrete memory.”

  • That is my major preoccupation—memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and serve it. Elie Wiesel, in Paris Review interview (Spring 1984)
  • Memory…is the diary that we all carry about with us. Oscar Wilde, the character Miss Prism speaking, in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

ERROR ALERT: A 1979 issue of Reader’s Digest mistakenly attributed this observation (without the word that) to the English aphorist Mary H. Waldrip. As a result, the saying is often misattributed to her. Almost all internet sites present an abridged version of the line. In Wilde’s play, Miss Prism actually says: “Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.”

  • In memory everything seems to happen to music. Tennessee Williams, the character Tom speaking, in The Glass Menagerie (1944)
  • Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going. Tennessee Williams, the character Mrs. Goforth speaking, in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963)
  • One of the poets, whose name I cannot recall, has a passage, which I am unable at the moment to remember, in one of his works, which for the time being has slipped my mind, which hits off admirably this age-old situation. P. G. Wodehouse, a reflection of the narrator, known only as the Oldest Member, in the short story “The Long Hole,” in The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922)
  • The memory of most men is an abandoned cemetery where lie, unsung and unhonored, the dead whom they have ceased to cherish. Marguerite Yourcenar, the voice of the title character, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951; Grace Frick, trans.)



  • Memorizing the work of others definitely made me a better writer. James Arthur, in undated interview with Emilia Phillips, “Poetry As a Way of Thinking: An Interview with James Arthur,” www.32poems.com

QUOTE NOTE: In the interview, Arthur revealed that he also committed his own poems to memory and enjoyed reciting them in his readings:

“When I started reciting my own poems in public, I worried that it would seem too theatrical, but now I find recitation very natural, because it allows me to address audiences directly. When you recite you’re giving a performance, in the way that an actor or a singer performs…in my case, performance is part of the medium. Sometimes I feel that it’s my main medium, and that the presentation of my poems on the page is secondary.”

  • Such memorization is a lost art, and much substance was lost with it. In high school and college, I used to memorize hours of stage dialogue and long passages from the Bible, which were a great comfort to me in times of stress. Ron Charles, in The Washington Post Book Club Newsletter (April 27, 2024)

In this passage, Charles was referring to Judi Dench’s remarkable ability to correctly recite lengthy passages from Shakespeare plays she had appeared in decades ago (as reported in her 2024 book Shakespeare: The Man who Pays the Rent). Charles continued:

“These days, only the stress remains. Most nights, staring at the ceiling for hours, my mind is a tangle of bits of string, and all I can come up with is something like: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff?’”

This is an absolutely brilliant line, creatively blending the legendary Psalms 23 passage with a far more recent lyric from Lindsey Buckingham’s song “Second Hand News” (from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Rumours album).

  • Knowledge may enable you to memorize the whole of Gray's Anatomy and Osler's Principles and Practice of Medicine, but only wisdom can teach you what to do with what you have learned. Robertson Davies, in The Merry Heart (1996)
  • I learned three important things in college—to use a library, to memorize quickly and visually, to drop asleep at any time given a horizontal surface and fifteen minutes. What I could not learn was to think creatively on schedule. Agnes de Mille, in Dance to the Piper (1952)
  • Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • You can memorize your way through a labyrinth if it is simple enough and you have the time and urge to escape. But the learning is of no use for the next time when the exit will be differently placed. David R. Hawkins, in The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human Nature (2007)
  • To this generation I would say:/Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty./It may serve a turn in your life Edgar Lee Masters, “Mrs. George Reece,” in Spoon River Anthology (1992)
  • I am very interested in memorization which is the process of incorporating a poem, so, I would say the kind of poetry I write is the kind that emphasizes the physical qualities of the words. Robert Pinsky, in an interview with Grace Cavalieri on WPFW-FM (Washington, DC; 1995/96 season)



  • The time of the psychological passing over from boyhood to manhood is a movable feast. The legal date fixed on the twenty-first birthday has little or no connection with it. There are men in their teens, and there are boys in their forties. James Weldon Johnson, in Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson (1933)

Johnson continued: “This passing over is really not across a line, but across a zone. There are some who are driven across early in life by the steady pressure of responsibility. A few, projected by some sudden stroke of fate, take the zone in a single leap. But most of us wander across…and a good many of us grow old without ever getting completely over.”

  • The beauty of stature is the only beauty of men. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Presumption,” in Essays (1580–88)



  • When a man drinks too much at a cocktail party, he becomes tight. When a woman does—she becomes loose. Joey Adams, in Strictly for Laughs (1981)
  • As vivacity is the gift of women, gravity is that of men. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (July 27, 1711)
  • No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent. Susan B. Anthony, quoted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1898)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Anthony was piggybacking on Abraham Lincoln’s legendary anti-slavery line (offered in a Peoria, Illinois speech on Oct. 16, 1854): “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”

  • Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can./Seldom found in woman, never found in man. Author Unknown
  • Hogamus, Higamus,/Man is Polygamous/Higamus, Hogamus,/Woman is Monogamous. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: While this piece of verse has been attributed to many famous people, including William James, Ogden Nash, and Dorothy Parker, an original author has never been found. For more, see The Quote Investigator.

  • The commitment problem has caused many women to mistakenly conclude that men, as a group, have the emotional maturity of hamsters. Dave Barry, in “The Greatest Invention in the History of Mankind is Beer” (2001)

Barry continued: “This is not the case, A hamster is much more capable of making a lasting commitment to a woman, especially if she gives it those little food pellets. Whereas a guy, in a relationship, will consume the pellets of companionship, and he will run on the exercise wheel of lust, but as soon as he senses the door of commitment is about to close and trap him in the wire cage of true intimacy, he’ll squirm out, scamper across the kitchen floor of uncertainty, and hide under the refrigerator pf non readiness.”

  • Guys are like dogs…keep coming back. Ladies are like cats. Yell at a cat one time…they’re gone. Lenny Bruce, quoted in Ronald L. Smith, Comedy on Record: The Complete Critical Discography (1988)
  • A good cigar is as great a comfort to a man as a good cry to a woman. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the character Mainwaring speaking, in The House of Darnley (1877; play completed by C. F. Coghlan after Lord Lytton's death)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is usually presented as if it ended “as a good cry is to a woman.”

  • Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,/’Tis woman’s whole existence. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan canto I (1818)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Lord Byron was inspired by a remarkably similar observation made two decades earlier by Madame de Staël (see her entry below).

  • Men find danger in many ways—women are reduced to finding their danger mostly in affairs of sex. That is why, perhaps, they welcome the hint of the tiger—the sheathed claws, the treacherous spring. The excellent fellow who will make a good and kind husband—they pass him by. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in Curtain (1975)
  • Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men. Joseph Conrad, a reflection of narrator Charles Marlow, in Chance: A Tale in Two Parts (1913)
  • American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough. Pat Conroy, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jack McCall, in Beach Music: A Novel (1995)
  • Love is the whole history of a woman’s life, it is but an episode in a man’s. Germaine de Staël, in The Influence of the Passions (1796)
  • Man and woman are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other. Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), “A Consolatory Tale,” in Winter’s Tales (1942)
  • Women are affected by lunar tides only once a month; men have raging hormones every day. Maureen Dowd, in Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide (2005)

In a New York Times article some months later (Feb. 8, 2006), Dowd reprised the theme in a more specific observation: “As the G.O.P. tars Hillary as hysterical, it is important to note that women are affected by lunar tides only once a month, while Dick Cheney has rampaging hormones every day.”

  • A woman who has known but one man is like a person who has heard only one composer. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. Irina Dunn, graffito (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, but it was originally authored by Dunn, an Australian writer, filmmaker, and politician. In 1970, Dunn scrawled the bicycle analogy on the walls of two women’s restrooms in Sydney, Australia. A few years ago, she told a reporter, “I only wrote it in those two spots, and it spread around the world.” The quotation is a wonderful example of how a well-crafted analogy can take on a life of its own and capture the imagination of millions.

  • A man’s idea in a card game is war—cruel, devastatin’, and pitiless. A lady’s idea of it is a combination of larceny, embezzlement, an’ burglary. Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley speaking (originally in his phonetic dialect), in Mr. Dooley on Making a Will (1919)
  • While gossip among women is universally ridiculed as low and trivial, gossip among men, especially if it is about women, is called theory, or idea, or fact. Andrea Dworkin, in Right-Wing Women (1978)
  • Men live by forgetting—women live on memories. T. S. Eliot, in The Elder Statesman (1958)
  • Charm is a woman’s strength, just as strength is a man’s charm. Havelock Ellis, in The Task of Social Hygiene (1912). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • If men and women are to understand each other, to enter into each other’s natures with mutual sympathy, and to become capable of genuine comradeship, the foundation must be laid in youth. Havelock Ellis, in The Task of Social Hygiene (1912)
  • The feminine in the man is the sugar in the whiskey. The masculine in the woman is the yeast in the bread. Without these ingredients the result is flat, without tang or flavor. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • If men ever discovered how tough women actually are, they would be scared to death. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook E,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • 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.”

  • A man has every season, while a woman only has the right to spring. That disgusts me. Jane Fonda, quoted in The Daily Mail (London; Sep. 13, 1989)
  • Women lead in ways different from men’s. Men, I think, have been programmed to give orders. Women have been programmed to motivate people, to educate them, to bring out the best in them. Ours is a less authoritarian leadership. Muriel Fox, quoted in Marilyn Loden, Feminine Leadership (1985)

Fox continued: “I think women tend to play hardball less often. This is the trend of office politics anyway: the days of warring factions are over. We’re talking now in terms of cooperation, and I think that is the game women play best.”

  • 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. 1 (1855). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. John Gray, title of 1992 book
  • Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished. John Gray, in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992)
  • On Venus it is considered a loving gesture to offer advice. But on Mars it is not. Women need to remember that Martians do not offer advice unless it is directly requested. John Gray, in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Gray also explained the phenomenon without using the Mars/Venus metaphor: “To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own.”

  • Men are more sentimental than women. It blurs their thinking. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough For Love (1973)
  • Men greet each other with a sock on the arm, women with a hug, and the hug wears better in the long run. Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature,” in Harper’s magazine (March, 1988); reprinted in Heart’s Delight (1988)
  • Men are never as crazy about the women as the women think they are. Edgar Watson Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever woman to manage a fool. Rudyard Kipling, in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)
  • Men kick friendship around like a football, but it doesn’t seem to crack. Women treat it like glass and it goes to pieces. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1974)
  • If American men are obsessed with money, American women are obsessed with weight. The men talk of gain, the women talk of loss, and I do not know which talk is the more boring. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • A man of strong opinions is defined as having “deep convictions.” A woman so constituted is merely “opinionated,” and always “aggressive.” Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)

Mannes preceded the thought by writing: “A critical, strong speech made by a man is ‘blunt,’ or ‘outspoken’ or ‘pulls no punches.’ A speech of similar force and candor made by a woman is ‘waspish,’ ‘sarcastic,’ or ‘cutting’.”

  • Women are the right age for just a few years; men, for most of their lives. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

In her book, McLaughlin also offered these thoughts:

“The trouble with women is men; the trouble with men, men.”

“Men who don’t like girls with brains don’t like girls.”

  • Women want mediocre men, and men are working to be as mediocre as possible. Margaret Mead, quoted in Quote magazine (May 15, 1958)
  • In the duel of sex woman fights from a dreadnaught, and man from an open raft. H. L. Mencken, in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: A dreadnaught (also spelled dreadnought) is a class of battleship that was first introduced by the British Royal Navy in 1906. The ship was so technically advanced and, with its huge guns, so deadly that it immediately made all previous battleships obsolete. By comparison, a raft is a pretty flimsy craft, so it is clear in Mencken’s view who has the upper hand.

  • Because of our social circumstances, male and female are really two cultures and their life experiences are utterly different. Kate Millet, in Sexual Politics (1970)
  • A woman is a foreign land,/Of which, though there he settle young,/A man will ne’er quite understand,/The customs, politics, and tongue. Coventry Patmore, “The Foreign Land,” in The Angel in the House (1854)
  • When men do the dishes it’s called helping. When women do dishes, it’s called life. Anna Quindlen, in New Woman magazine (Jan., 1993)
  • Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both. Jeannette Rankin, quoted in Esther Stineman, American Political Women (1980)
  • Ever since Eve gave Adam the apple, there has been a misunderstanding between the sexes about gifts. Nan Robertson, “‘Misunderstood’ Men Offer Words on Gifts; Most Bought Presents,” The New York Times (Nov. 28, 1957)
  • Women speak in estrogen and men listen in testosterone. Richard Roeper, written in 1986, reported in Roeper’s 2001 book, Hollywood Urban Legends: The Truth Behind All Those Delightfully Persistent Myths of Film, Television, and Music

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is commonly misattributed to The Simpson’s creator Matt Groening, an error Roeper was happy to point out in his book. Titled “It’s Time to Face the Facts: Men and Women Are Different,” the article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 11, 1986.

  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: Rowland’s observation spawned a number of related observations over the years, and it may be seen as the inspiration for a saying that has become a modern proverb: “A man falls in love through his eyes, a woman through her ears.”

  • A woman flees from temptation, but a man just crawls away from it in the cheerful hope that it may overtake him. 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)
  • Commitment is different in males and females. In females it is a desire to get married and raise a family. In males it means not picking up other women while out with one’s girlfriend. Rita Rudner, quoted in Des MacHale, in Ready Wit (2006)
  • Men are like the earth and we are the moon; we turn always one side to them, and they think there is no other, because they don’t see it—but there is. Olive Schreiner, the character Lyndall speaking, in The Story of an African Farm: A Novel (1883; orig. published under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • Women might be able to fake orgasms, but men can fake whole relationships. Sharon Stone, quoted in James Cameron-Wilson, Film Review 2001–2002 (57th ed.; 2001)
  • The little rift between the sexes is astonishingly widened by simply teaching one set of catchwords to the girls and another to they boys. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • How men hate waiting while their wives shop for clothes and trinkets; how women hate waiting, often for much of their lives, while their husbands shop for fame and glory. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • 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)
  • It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs. Margaret Thatcher, in remarks to a group of London business people, quoted in Wall Street Journal (May 12, 1987)
  • In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman. Margaret Thatcher, address to National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds (London; May 20, 1965)
  • The difference between men and women is inalienable. It is not a political fact, subject to cultural definition and redefinition, but a physical verity. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: Journal of an Artist (1996)

Truitt continued: “We do truthfully experience our lives differently because our bodies are different. It is in what we do with our experience that we are the same. We feel, absorb and examine with the same intensity, and intense experience honestly examined informs the art of both sexes equally.”

  • The power of imagination illuminates all human lives in common. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: Journal of an Artist (1996)
  • Women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are. That is the difference between the two sexes. Oscar Wilde, the character Mrs. Cheveley speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)
  • A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction. Oscar Wilde, quoted in H. Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde (1976)
  • At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies. P. G. Wodehouse, the voice of the narrator, in Uneasy Money (1916)



  • Men have two basic needs. Neither of them, no matter what they say, is sex. They need love and they need work. And work takes priority over love. If a woman could know only one fact about men and work, it should be that work is the most seductive mistress most men ever have. Joyce Brothers, in What Every Woman Should Know About Men (1981)
  • That’s what a man wants in a wife, mostly; he wants to make sure o’ one fool as ’ull tell him he’s wise. George Eliot, the character Mrs. Poyser speaking, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • Men should come with instruction booklets. Cathy Guisewite, in Cathy Twentiteth Anniversary Collection (1996)
  • All men are not slimy warthogs. Some men are silly giraffes, some woebegone puppies, some insecure frogs. But if one is not careful, those slimy warthogs can ruin it for all the others. Cynthia Heimel, “When in Doubt, Say No,” in Ms. Magazine (Feb., 1984)
  • Men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry. Rita Rudner, in Tickled Pink (2001)
  • Men are not given awards and promotions for bravery in intimacy. Gail Sheehy, in Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976)



  • American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough. Pat Conroy, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jack McCall, in Beach Music: A Novel (1995)
  • The great majority of men, especially in France, both desire and possess a fashionable woman, much in the way one might own a fine horse—as a luxury befitting a young man. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in On Love (1822)



  • When friends and lovers are the same, things get more complicated still. The English artists and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group—who, in the old line, “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”—included some math whizzes, and they, too, struggled with the geometry of their loves and loyalties. Kwame Anthony Appiah, in his regular “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times (April 23, 2023)



  • Menopause. A pause while you reconsider men. Margaret Atwood, “Weight,” in Wilderness Tips (1991)
  • The first indication of menopause is a broken thermostat. It’s either that or your weight. In any case, if you don’t do something, you could be dead by August. Dorothea Benton Frank, the character Maggie speaking, in Sullivan’s Island (1999)
  • With the onset of menopause one thing becomes clear, that is, that we must work at being healthy. We can no longer abuse the organism and get away with it. Germaine Greer, in The Change: Women, Aging and the Menopause (1991)

In her book on the subject, Greer also offered this thought: “Menopause is a dream specialty for the mediocre medic. Dealing with it requires no surgical or diagnostic skill. It is not itself a life-threatening condition, so a patient’s death is always somebody else’s fault. There is no scope for malpractice suits. Patients must return again and again for a battery of tests and check-ups, all of which earn money for the medic.”

  • The change of life is the time when you meet yourself at a crossroads and you decide whether to be honest or not before you die. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • It seems a pity to have a built-in rite of passage and to dodge it, evade it, and pretend nothing has changed. Ursula Le Guin, “The Space Crone,” in The Co-Evolution Quarterly (Summer 1976)

Le Guin continued: “That is to dodge and evade ones’s womanhood, to pretend one’s like a man. Men, once initiated, never get the second chance. They never change again. That’s their loss, not ours. Why borrow poverty?”

  • Women have always been seen as waiting: waited to be asked, waiting for our menses, in fear lest they do or do not come, waiting for men to come home from wars, or from work, waiting for children to grow up, or for the birth of a new child, or for menopause. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born (1976)


(includes PERIOD)

  • A Period is Just the Beginning of a Life Long sentence. Cathy Crimmins, title of essay, in Rosalind Warren, Women's Glib (1991)
  • Ever notice how whenever you're in pain, guys think you've got your period? You're lying on the floor with a spear coming out of your chest, and he says, “What's the matter, you got cramps?” Marjorie Gross, quoted in Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alpern, Humor at Work (1994)
  • Remember when you were eleven years old and you thought how great it would be to get your period? And then you got it? That's what planning a wedding is like. Mimi Pond, in A Groom of One's Own and Other Bridal Accessories (1993)
  • Women have always been seen as waiting: waited to be asked, waiting for our menses, in fear lest they do or do not come, waiting for men to come home from wars, or from work, waiting for children to grow up, or for the birth of a new child, or for menopause. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born (1976)
  • A woman's body works as if it knew something she didn't, and does not have her best interests at heart. If you need to look your best it will deliver you a pimple; if you don't want it to, your period will start early; if you want a baby badly your body refuses to give you one; if you are content in your life, lo, you are pregnant. Fay Weldon, in Auto da Fay (2002)


(see MERCY)



  • We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • A person who has no genuine sense of pity for the weak is missing a basic source of strength, for one of the prime moral forces that comprise greatness and strength of character is a feeling of mercy. The ruthless man, au fond, is always a weak and frightened man. Sydney J. Harris, in On the Contrary (1964)

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

  • Teach me to feel another’s woe,/To hide the fault I see;/That mercy I to others show,/That mercy show to me. Alexander Pope, in “The Universal Prayer” (1738)
  • One time you smash a bug with no mercy. Another time you find one helpless on his back with his legs flailing the air, and you flip him over and let him go on his way. The struggle that touches the heart. Charles Portis, a reflection of protagonist Jimmy Burns, in Gringos (1991)
  • A gracious sovereign throws his portals wide,/Admitting every guest, excluding none;/As freely as the firmament the world,/So mercy must encircle friend and foe. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the title character, Johanna, speaking, in The Maid of Orleans (1801)

QUOTE NOTE: In Schiller’s retelling of the Joan of Arc legend, he has the heroine continuing: “Impartially the sun pours forth his beams/Through all the regions of infinity;/The heaven’s reviving dew falls everywhere,/And brings refreshment to each thirsty plant.” I’ve also seen this beautiful passage translated in the following way:

“A gracious master opens wide his gates/To every guest that comes—he turns from none:/Free as the firmament circles round the globe,/Mercy must take in all, both friend and foe:/The sun sends forth his beams alike on all;/On all alike the dew of Heaven drops down,/On every plant, and tree, and thirsty flower.”

  • Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge. William Shakespeare, the character Tamora speaking, in Titus Andronicus (1593–94)

Giving advice to the title character, a general in the Roman army who has become Emperor, Tamora preceded the thought by saying: “Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods? Draw near them then in being merciful.”

  • There is no more mercy in him than there is in a male tiger. William Shakespeare, the character Menenius describing the title character, in Coriolanus (1607-08)



  • 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)
  • The silence that accepts merit as the most natural thing in the world is the highest applause. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in speech at Harvard University Divinity School (July 15, 1838); reprinted in Addresses and Lectures (1849)
  • Praises from an enemy imply real merit. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • “Elitism” is the slur directed at merit by mediocrity. Sydney J. Harris, in Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • The world more often rewards the appearances of merit than merit itself. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;/Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul. Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock (1712)
  • True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Some Cautions Offered to the Consideration of Those Who Are to Choose Members to Serve in the Ensuing Parliament (1699)
  • Merit and knowledge will not gain hearts, though they will secure them when gained. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Nov. 24, 1749)



  • Today we frankly recognize that democracy can be no more than aspiration, and have rule not so much by the people as by the cleverest people; not an aristocracy of birth, not a plutocracy of wealth, but a true meritocracy of talent. Michael Young, in The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Young, an English sociologist, coined the term meritocracy and formally introduced it in this book.



  • A noble metaphor, when it is placed to an advantage, casts a kind of glory around it, and darts a luster through a whole sentence. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (July 3, 1712)
  • The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars. Aristotle, in Poetics (4th c. B.C.)
  • There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors. Mary Catherine Bateson, quoted in Bill Moyers, The World of Ideas (1989)
  • If I were to give off-the-cuff advice to anyone trying to institute change, I would say, “How clear is the metaphor?” Warren Bennis, “Why Leaders Can’t Lead,” in The Unconscious Conspiracy: Why Leaders Can’t Lead (1976)
  • People reveal how ordinary their minds are by the metaphors they use. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of protagonist Carole Hanratty, in In Her Day (1976)

A moment later, professor Hanratty built on the thought by thinking, “Adjectives are the curse of America.”

  • Metaphor is a device for seeing something in terms of something else. It brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this. Kenneth Burke, “Four Master Tropes,” in The Kenyon Review (Autumn 1941)

In describing the nature of metaphor, Burke found it helpful to use another fascinating literary device: chiasmus. He went on to add, “To consider A from the point of view of B is, of course to use as B a perspective upon A.”

Metaphor, Burke wrote, is essential when people are confronted with something new and unknown. He explained: “If we are in doubt as to what an object is, for instance, we deliberately try to consider it in as many different terms as its nature permits: lifting, smelling, tasting, tapping, holding in different lights, subjecting to different pressures, dividing, matching, contrasting, etc.”

  • Scratch the simplest expressions, and you will find the metaphor. Samuel Butler, in “Thought and Language,” a 1890 London lecture
  • Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. Orson Scott Card, the character Becca speaking, in Alvin Journeyman (1995)
  • The coldest word was once a glowing new metaphor. Thomas Carlyle, “The Beginnings,” in Past and Present (1843)
  • I would like him to use certain words in a metaphorical sense, whenever it is appropriate, putting them to novel use like a gardener grafting a branch on to a healthier trunk, and so increasing their attractiveness and beauty. Baldesar Castiglione, quoting Count Lodovico on one of the characteristics of an ideal courtier, in The Book of the Courtier (1528)

QUOTE NOTE: The Book of the Courtier is a classic in the world of courtesy literature, the forerunners of today’s etiquette guides. Courtesy books, often referred to as Books of Manners, emerged in Italy and Germany in the thirteenth century, originally addressed to those serving in or near royal courts. The books were much more than simple etiquette guides, however, offering advice and admonitions about morals as well as manners. In the quotation above, Count Lodovico is describing how an ideal courtier should use language at court. Using words metaphorically, he added, was a way of “increasing their attractiveness and beauty, so that what is said or written makes us seem to experience things at first hand and greatly increases our enjoyment.”

  • All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. G. K. Chesterton, “Defense of Slang,” in The Defendant (1901)
  • All of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them. George Eliot, in Middlemarch (Book I, 1871)
  • 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)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is generally presented, but it was originally part of a fuller remark in which Frost said: “If you remember only one thing I’ve said, remember that an idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor. If you have never made a good metaphor, then you don’t know what it’s all about.”

  • I love metaphor the way some people love junk food. I think metaphorically, I feel metaphorically, see metaphorically. William Gass, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 1977)

Gass added: “If anything in writing comes easily, unbidded, often unwanted, it is metaphor.” And while some are brilliant, they are not generally of fine quality. “Most of these metaphors are bad and have to be thrown away,” he continued, adding, “I have to beat the comparisons back into the holes they pour from.”

  • A metaphor is both detour and destination, a digression that gets to the point. James Geary, in I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor (2011)

Geary introduced the point by writing: “Understanding a metaphor…is a seemingly random walk through a deep, dark forest of associations. The path is full of unexpected twists and turns, veering wildly off into the underbrush one minute and abruptly disappearing down a rabbit hole the next. Signposts spin like weather vanes. You can’t see the wood for the trees. Then, suddenly, you step into the clearing.”

  • The metaphor is a shorter simile, or rather a kind of magical coat, by which the same idea assumes a thousand different appearances. Oliver Goldsmith, “On the Use of Metaphors,” in The Miscellaneous Essays of Oliver Goldsmith (James Prior, ed., Vol. 1, 1750)
  • When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor…because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition. Stephen Jay Gould, “Glow, Big Glowworm,” in Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991)
  • Yesterday’s daring metaphors are today’s clichés. Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)
  • We are a people captivated by the power and romance of metaphor, forever seeking the invisible through the image of the visible. Lewis H. Lapham, “Balzac’s Garrett,” in Waiting for the Barbarians (1997)
  • I love metaphor. It provides two loaves where there seems to be one. Sometimes it throws in a load of fish. Bernard Malamud, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1975)
  • Effective metaphor does more than shed light on the two things being compared. It actually brings to the mind’s eye something that has never before been seen. It’s not just the marriage ceremony linking two things; it’s the child born from the union. Rebecca McClanahan, in Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively (1999)
  • Metaphor is the energy charge that leaps between images, revealing their connections. Robin Morgan, in Anatomy of Freedom (1982)
  • The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man. José Ortega y Gasset, in The Dehumanization of Art (1925)
  • Metaphor relies on what has been experienced before; it transforms the strange into the familiar. Cynthia Ozick, in Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character (1996)

Ozick added: “This is the rule even of the simplest metaphor—Homer’s wine-dark sea, for example. If you know wine, says the image, you will know the sea.”

  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures. Daniel H. Pink, in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2005)
  • Metaphors and similes (puns, too, I might add) extend the dimensions and expand the possibilities of the world. When both innovative and relevant, they can wake up a reader, make him or her aware, through elasticity of verbiage, that reality—in our daily lives as well as in our stories—is less prescribed than tradition has led us to believe. Tom Robbins, “What Is the Function of Metaphor?” in Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005)
  • Late last night, upon the stair/I metaphor that wasn’t there./But if it’s not there, how can I quote it?/“AHA!” I told myself—and wrote it. K. C. Rourke, playing off the William Hughes Mearns poem “Antigonish”, in personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 24, 2016)
  • Metaphors are the diplomats of rhetoric; they lead you urbanely to the brink, but it is you who states some unique conclusion to your own discovering self. Margaret Lee Runbeck, the voice of the narrator, in Miss Boo is Sixteen (1956)

Runbeck preceded the observation by writing: “Metaphors are as tactful as they are informative, for if you know nothing at all about the subject, you are not offended or rebuked, because they offer your eye an agreeable still life, valuable for itself.”

  • Everything is arbitrary except metaphor, which detects the essential kinship of all things. Charles Simic, in The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry (1986)
  • The highest stretch of improvement a single word is capable of, is a high metaphor. Laurence Sterne, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1762)
  • Half the wrong conclusions at which mankind arrive are reached by the abuse of metaphors, and by mistaking general resemblance of imaginary similarity for real identity. Henry John Temple (Lord Palmerston), in letter to Henry Bulwer (Sep. 1, 1839)
  • Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit (2003; with Mark Reiter)

Tharp continued: “Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we’re experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It’s not only how we express what we remember, it’s how we interpret it—for ourselves and others.”




  • Some people avoid Florida in July because of its scorching heat. But July was when I first saw Miami, and I knew at once it was for me. Edna Buchanan, the opening words of “Paterson, New Jersey,” in The Corpse Had a Familiar Face (1897)

In the opening paragraph, Buchanan continued: “That first deep breath of steamy summer air, heat waves shimmying off the sizzling pavement, palm fronds feathered against a sharp and brilliant blue sky—it was like coming home at last.”

  • Miami Beach is where neon goes to die. Lenny Bruce, quoted by Barbara Gordon, in Saturday Review (May 20, 1972)
  • In Miami Beach the air conditioning is pushed to that icy point where women may wear fur coats over their diamonds in the tropics. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)
  • Miami is more American than America. Garry Wills, in Nixon Agonistes (1970)
  • Miami is not so attractive—it is, in fact, of an unimaginable awfulness—much like other American seaside resorts but on an unprecedented scale: acres of cheap white shops, mountain ranges of white hotels. Edmund Wilson, in letter to Elena Wilson (Nov. 26, 1949)




  • Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool. Agatha Christie, Miss Marple speaking, in The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

QUOTE NOTE: Miss Marple was cleverly replying to another character, Raymond West, who had just pontificated about a local school, “I regard St. Mary Mead as a stagnant pool.” She preceded her retort by saying, “That is really not a good simile, dear Raymond.”

  • “Faith”is a fine invention/When Gentlemen can see—/But microscopes are prudent/In an Emergency. Emily Dickinson, a circa 1860 poem; quoted in Thomas H. Johnson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960)
  • Don’t forget that the bacteria watch us from the other end of the microscope. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in More Unkempt Thoughts (1964)
  • Did you ever look through a microscope at a drop of pond water? You see plenty of love there. All the amoebae getting married. I presume they think it very exciting and important. We don’t. Rose Macaulay, the character Humphrey Gresham speaking, in Crewe Train (1926)

Gresham preceded the thought by offering one of the most quoted of all passages from Macaulay’s works: “Love’s a disease. But curable. It passes.”




  • The Midwest is exactly what one would expect from a marriage between New England puritanism and rich soil. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • In the Middle West, the high school is where the band practices. Robert M. Hutchins, in New York Herald Tribune (April 22, 1963)


(see also CLOCK and NOON and TIME and TODAY and TOMORROW)

  • There is a budding morrow in midnight. John Keats, in the poem “To Homer” (1818)



  • I’ve always had the impression that real militants are like cleaning women, doing a thankless, daily but necessary job. François Truffaut, in letter to Jean-Luc Godard (May/June, 1973)



  • Man is a military animal,/Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade;/Prefers them to all things. Philip James Bailey, the character Lucifer speaking, in Festus: A Poem (1839)
  • Military justice is to justice as military music is to music. Georges Clemenceau, attributed in United States Law Week (June 3, 1969)
  • 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.”

  • Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war. Paul Fussell, “Chickenshit: An Anatomy,” in Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (1989)

ERRROR ALERT: Historian Stephen E. Ambrose presented the first portion of this quotation—with full attribution to Fussell—in his WWII book Band of Brothers (1992), but many internet sites now mistakenly attribute the observation directly to Ambrose.

QUOTE NOTE: The quotation above is the concluding portion of a fuller passage that began this way: “Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

  • There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. John F. Kennedy, in a press conference (April 21, 1961)

QUOTE NOTE: In a press conference held three months after his inauguration as president, JFK said this about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (over the years, he employed variations of the saying, sometimes replacing victory/defeat with success/failure). If JFK had known more, he might have chosen not to use the metaphor, for it was a popular saying with Italian and German military officers in WWII. The inspiration for the sentiment came from Mussolini’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who had written in a 1942 diary entry: “Victory has a hundred fathers, but no one wants to recognize defeat as his own.”

  • Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Men in condition do not tire. Gen. George S. Patton, in a U. S. Army Letter of Instruction (March 6, 1944); reprinted in War As I Knew It (1947)

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

  • Our shouting is louder than our actions,/Our swords are taller than us,/This is our tragedy./In short /We wear the cape of civilization/But our souls live in the stone age. Nizar Qabbani, in “Footnotes to the Book of Setback” (1967); reprinted in Modern Poetry of the Arab World (1986; Adbullah al-Udhari, trans. & ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Qabbani, a beloved Syrian poet, wrote the poem immediately after the Israeli defeat of Arab military forces in the Six-Day War (commonly described in Arabic as an-Naksah, or “The Setback”). The poem, which took the Arab world by storm, resulted in an immediate ban of Qabbani’s works by Eqyptian authorities (they also revoked his visa to enter the country). After the Syrian poet appealed directly to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, all restrictions were lifted.

  • As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he’s a great military man. Norman Schwarzkopf, in Gulf War press briefing (Feb 28, 1991)
  • It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle. Norman Schwarzkopf, in ABC television interview with Barbara Walters (March 15, 1991); later in Schwarzkopf’s It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman Schwarzkopf (1992; with Peter Petre)


(see also MONEY and RICHES & THE RICH)

  • I am a Millionaire. That is my Religion. George Bernard Shaw, the character Undershaft speaking, in Major Barbara (1907)



  • Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order. John Adams, quoted in Lydia Maria Child, Looking Toward Sunset (1865)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation is widely quoted, but has not been found in Adams’s speeches or writings.

  • My mind is not a bed to be made and re-made. James Agate, diary entry (June 9, 1943)
  • Whatever most captures your mind controls your life. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)
  • A man is known by the company his mind keeps. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, tweaking the popular saying, in “Leaves From a Notebook,” in Ponkapog Papers (1903)
  • What a surprise to find you could shift the contents of your head like rearranging furniture in a room. Lisa Alther, a thought from protagonist Caroline Kelley, as she reflects on her experience in therapy, in Other Women (1984)
  • By words the mind is winged. Aristophanes, in The Birds (414 B.C.)
  • It turns out that once your mind is expanded it is very hard to shrink it back down again. Lynda Barry, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Roberta Rohbeson, in Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel (1999)
  • The thing I call “my mind” seems to be kind of like a landlord that doesn’t really know its tenants. Lynda Barry, in What It Is (2008)
  • The mind, of course, is just what the brain does for a living. Sharon Begley, “Gray Matters,” in Newsweek (March 26, 1995)
  • It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles. Claude Bernard, in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865)
  • The most potent weapon in the in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Steve Biko, “White Racism and Black Consciousness” (Jan., 1971); reprinted in I Write What I Like: Selected Writings (1978, A. Stubbs, ed.)
  • 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)
  • Measure your mind’s height by the shade it casts. Robert Browning, in Paraclesus (1835)
  • A mind once cultivated will not lie fallow for half an hour. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, “Hints on Mental Culture,” in Caxtoniana: A Series of Essays on Life, Literature, and Manners (1862)
  • The march of the human mind is slow. Edmund Burke, in his parliamentary “Speech on Conciliation with America” (March 22, 1775)
  • 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)
  • He thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurable convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. G. K. Chesterton, on Henry James, in G. K. Chesterton: The Autobiography (1936)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and many published quotation anthologies—mistakenly present this observation as if it read: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” One other similar observation that is erroneously attributed to Chesterton is as follows: “An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.”

QUOTE NOTE: Chesterton first explored the idea about opening the mind in order to “shut it again on something solid” a few decades earlier (in an essay in his 1909 book Tremendous Trifles). See the Chesterton entry in INTELLECT.

  • The empires of the future are the empires of the mind. Winston Churchill, in speech at Harvard University (Sep., 6, 1943)
  • The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (Sep. 1, 1832)
  • Certain it is that minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Barnaby Rudge (1841)
  • 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)

Mr. 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.”

  • 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.”

  • Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays, First Series (1841)
  • Thoughts come into our minds by avenues which we never left open, and thoughts go out of our minds through avenues which we never voluntarily opened. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul,” in Essays, First Series (1841)
  • 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)
  • An open mind, to be sure, should be open at both ends, like the food pipe, and have a capacity for excretion as well as intake. Northrop Frye, in The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (1982)
  • The mind is not, I know, a highway, but a temple, and its doors should not be carelessly left open. Margaret Fuller, in Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844)
  • 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)
  • Wit is the lightning of the mind, reason the sunshine, and reflection the moonlight. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Active minds that think and study,/Like Swift Brooks are seldom muddy. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • There are no chaste minds. Minds copulate wherever they meet. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • 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)
  • Some minds improve by travel—others,/Rather, resemble copper wire or brass,/Which gets the narrower by going farther! Thomas Hood, in poem “Ode to Rae Wilson, Esquire” (1837)
  • Rule your mind, which, if it is not your servant, is your master. Horace, in Odes (1st c. B.C.)
  • A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind. Eugène Ionesco, “Address Delivered to a Gathering of French and German Writers” (Feb., 1960), in Notes and Counter-Notes (1962).
  • The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as the sculptor works on his block of stone. William James, in Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (1890)
  • The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong. C. G. Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)
  • Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Profile of America: An Autobiography of the U.S.A. (1954; Emily Davie, ed.)
  • A quick mind is worthless unless you can control the emotions with it as well. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes, speaking to protagonist Mary Russell, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
  • 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, whe who speaks in whispers and half-seen images.”

  • 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)
  • A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner, so if one’s life is cold and bare he can blame none but himself. You have a chance to select from some pretty elegant furnishings. Louis L’Amour, the character Drake Morrell speaking, in Bendigo Shafter (1979)

QUOTE NOTE: For similar furnishing metaphors, see the Peter Ustinov entry below and the Arthur Conan Doyle entry in Brain.

  • A sword is never enough. The mind is also a weapon, but like the sword it must be honed and kept sharp. Louis L’Amour, the protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • Money can be lost or stolen, health and strength may fail, but what you have committed to your mind is yours forever. Louis L’Amour, the character John of Seville speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • In the cellars of the night, when the mind starts moving around old trunks of bad times, the pain of this and the shame of that, the memory of a small boldness is a hand to hold. John Leonard, “Private Lives”, in The New York Times (Feb. 2, 1977)

Leonard introduced the thought by writing, “It was a small boldness, but they count too.”

  • The mind can weave itself warmly in the cocoon of its own thoughts, and dwell a hermit anywhere. James Russell Lowell, “On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners,” in My Study Windows (1870)
  • A man’s mind is known by the company it keeps. James Russell Lowell, tweaking the familiar proverb “A man is known by the company he keeps,” in “Pope” essay, The North American Review (Jan., 1871)

QUOTE NOTE: Lowell was no fan of Alexander Pope, writing of him: “Pope had a sense of the neat rather than of the beautiful. His nature delighted more in detecting the blemish than in enjoying its charm.” And regarding “The Dunciad,” one of Pope’s most famous pieces of verse, Lowell wrote that it was “even nastier than it was witty. It is filthy even in a filthy age.” He concluded about the piece: “One’s mind needs to be sprinkled with some disinfecting fluid after reading it.”

  • 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 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)
  • The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. John Milton, in Paradise Lost (1667). Also an example of chiasmus
  • That’s the classical mind at work, runs fine inside but looks dingy on the surface. Robert T. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  • Is there no way out of the mind? Sylvia Plath, in “Apprehensions” (1971)
  • The mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth. Plutarch, in Moralia (c. 100 A.D)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated as follows: “The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting—no more—and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth.” An abridged version of the thought currently enjoys enormous popularity: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

ERROR ALERT: William Butler Yeats is widely cited as the author of a similar observation (“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire”), but it has never been found in his writings or speeches.

  • If any part of your uncertainty is a conflict between your heart and your mind—follow your mind. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • Walks. The body advances, while the mind flutters around it like a bird. Jules Renard, journal entry (Dec., 1907), in The Journals of Jules Renard (1964; Louise Bogan & Elizabeth Roget, eds.)
  • The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted, and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched with foreign matter. Joshua Reynolds, in lecture at the Royal Academy (London; Dec. 10, 1774)
  • Your minds are endowed with a vast number of gifts of totally different uses—limbs of mind as it were, which, if you don’t exercise, you cripple. John Ruskin, “Influence on Imagination in Architecture,” an 1859 lecture, in Lectures on Art (1870)

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

  • The mind is a strange machine which can combine the materials offered to it in the most astonishing ways, but without materials from the external world it is powerless. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • Mind does dominate body. We are superior to the house in which we dwell. Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, in Winsome Womanhood (1900)
  • ’Tis the mind that makes the body rich. William Shakespeare, the character Petruchio speaking to Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew (1592)
  • My mind is like a rowboat out on the stormy sea,/He’s with me right now, in the morning, where will he be? Bessie Smith, lyrics in “Lonesome Desert Blues” (1925)
  • A strong mind sees things in their true proportions; a weak one views them through a magnifying medium; which, like the microscope, makes an elephant of a flea; magnifies all little objects, but cannot receive great ones. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Jan. 10,1749)

ERROR ALERT: The second portion of this observation is often mistakenly presented as: “A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things, but cannot receive great ones.”

  • It can never be satisfied, the mind, never. Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard” (1941), in Collected Poems (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: In 1955, Stevens was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems.

  • A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)
  • Untilled soil, however fertile it may be, will bear thistles and thorns; and so it is with man’s mind. St. Teresa of Avila, in “Maxims for Her Nuns” (c. 1566), in Selected Writings of St. Teresa of Avila (1950; W. J. Doheny, ed.)
  • A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a retainer to any emperor. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)
  • Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our one duty is to furnish it well. Peter Ustinov, in Dear Me (1977)
  • Think of the old cliché about the mind being “an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and banal on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. David Foster Wallace, in a 2005 Commencement Address at Kenyon College; reprinted in This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)
  • When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun with nettles. Horace Walpole, in letter to Countess Caroline of Ailesbury (July 10, 1779)
  • The mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running. Bill Watterson, in commencement address at Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio; May 20, 1990)

Watterson preceded the observation by saying: “We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating.” The full address may be seen at Watterson Commencement Address.

  • The mind can also be an erogenous zone. Raquel Welch, quoted in J. R. Colombo, Colombo’s Hollywood: Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979)
  • The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it. H. G. Wells, “Scepticism of the Instrument” (portion of paper read to Oxford Philosophical Society, Nov. 8, 1903), in Appendix to A Modern Utopia (1905)
  • Mind at the End of Its Tether. H. G. Wells, title of 1945 book
  • 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, in Orlando (1928)

Orlando, who is reflecting on life, began by thinking: “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.”

  • Strongest minds/Are often those of whom the noisy world/Hears least. William Wordsworth, in The Excursion (1814)


(see also BODY and BRAIN and MIND)

  • Mind and body are not to be taken lightly. Their connection is intimate and mysterious, and better mapped by poets than pornographers. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • How many people realized that body and mind were two separate entities that had to be reconciled, enemies that had to learn how to come to terms, lovers that could not exist without each other? F. Tennyson Jesse, in A Pin to See the Peepshow (1934)
  • Volumes are now written and spoken about the effect of the mind upon the body. Much of it is true. But I wish a little more was thought of the effect of the body on the mind. Florence Nightingale, in Notes on Nursing (1859)
  • Poetry is the connecting link between body and mind. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae (1990)




  • The minority of one generation is usually the majority of the next. Gertrude Atherton, in The Aristocrats (1901)
  • The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities. John Dalberg (Lord Acton), “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” address at Bridgnorth Institute (Feb. 26, 1877)

QUOTE NOTE: Lord Acton, a Catholic who was not permitted to attend university at Cambridge because of his religion, was thinking about religious minorities when he wrote this. He continued: “Liberty, by this definition, is the essential condition and guardian of religion.”

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it were phrased “by which we can judge.”

  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson, in first Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801)
  • Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • The most sacred business of judges is not to ratify the will of the majority but to protect the minority from its tyranny. Anna Quindlen, in a 2008 “The Last Word” essay in Newsweek magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • A resolute minority has usually prevailed over an easygoing or wobbly majority whose prime purpose was to be left alone. James Reston, in Sketches in the Sand (1967)
  • No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in letter to the NAACP (June 25, 1938)



  • There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Albert Einstein.

ERROR ALERT: Almost every internet site wrongly attributes this observation to Albert Einstein. Nothing close to it has been found in Einstein’s writings and speeches, and it has been declared as “Probably Not by Einstein” in Alice Calaprice’s The New Quotable Einstein (2005)

  • Where there is great love, there are always miracles. Willa Cather, the character Bishop Jean Marie Latour speaking, in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
  • Picasso said that everything is a miracle, that it’s a miracle that we don’t dissolve in our baths. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1952)
  • It is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that generates miracles. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the voice of the narrator, describing the position of a realist, in The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  • Miracles are God’s coups d’état. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)



  • One never again quite trusts human happiness, I find, after one has experienced great misery. Mary Adams, in Confessions of a Wife (1902)
  • Misery no longer loves company. Nowadays it insists upon it. Russell Baker, in Washingtonian magazine (Nov. 1978)
  • Misery generates hate. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • Misery is a guest that we are glad to part with, however certain of her speedy return. Fanny Burney, a 1769 diary entry, in The Early Diary of Frances Burney, Vol. 1 (1889; Annie Raine Ellis, ed.)
  • Unsentimental, unheroic, some will say unchristian, as it may sound, our right or wrong use of money is the utmost test of character, as well as the root of happiness or misery, throughout our whole lives. Dinah Mariah Mulock Craik, “About Money,” in About Money: And Other Things (1887)
  • Misery won’t touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes it leaves them for others to see, sometimes for nobody but you to know of. Edwidge Danticat, in The Farming of Bones (1998)
  • If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. Charles Darwin, “Mauritius to England,” in The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)
  • Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail. Theodore Dreiser, in Life, Art, and America (1917)
  • 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)
  • Her own misery filled her heart; there was no room in it for other people’s sorrow. George Eliot, the narrator describing the character Hetty, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. The one who says nothing good comes of this is not yet listening. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in Woman Who Run With the Wolves (1992)
  • Our sympathy is cold to the relation of distant misery. Edward Gibbon, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. VI (1788)
  • To drink for pleasure may be a distraction, but to drink from misery is always a danger. Ellen Glasgow, a reflection of protagonist Ada Fincastle, in Vein of Iron (1935)
  • Misery is a communicable disease. Martha Graham, quoted in John Heilpern, “The Amazing Martha,” The Observer (London; 1979; specific date not determined)

Graham preceded the observation by saying: “If you feel depressed you shouldn’t go out on the street because it will show on your face and you’ll give it to others. Misery is a communicable disease.”

  • There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight. Vaclav Havel, in “The Power of the Powerless” (1978), reprinted in Living in Truth (1986)
  • At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice, and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism, and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols. Aldous Huxley, in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1956)
  • Life is so full of miseries, minor and major; they press so close upon us at every step of the way, that it is hardly worthwhile to call one’s attention to their presence. Agnes Repplier, “The Gayety of Life,” in Compromises (1904)
  • Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. William Shakespeare, the character Trinculo speaking, in The Tempest (1611)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original strange bedfellows observation, later extended to many other topics, including money, adversity, and, of course, politics (see the William Gifford entry in POLITICS).

  • Extreme happiness invites religion almost as much as extreme misery. Dodie Smith, the character known as the Vicar speaking, in I Capture the Castle (1948)
  • I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds wherever we go. Martha Washington, in letter to Mercy Otis Warren (Dec. 26, 1789); reprinted in Joseph E. Fields, Worthy Partner: The Papers of Martha Washington (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the version of the letter that remains after biographers and historians corrected a number of Mrs. Washington’s original spelling errors (misary, for example).



  • Better be wise by the misfortunes of others than by your own. Aesop, “The Lion, the Ass, and the Fox Hunting,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • The human heart harbors two conflicting sentiments. Everyone of course sympathizes with people who suffer misfortunes. Yet when those people manage to overcome their misfortunes, we feel a certain disappointment. We may even feel (to overstate the case somewhat) a desire to plunge them back into those misfortunes. And before we know it, we come (if only passively) to harbor some degree of hostility toward them. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the voice of the narrator, “The Nose,” in Roshomon: And Seventeen Other Stories (2006; Jay Rubin, trans.)
  • Children sweeten labors; but they make misfortunes more bitter. Francis Bacon, “Of Parents and Children,” in Essays (1625)
  • Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others. Edmund Burke, in A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1756)
  • Ignorance of one’s misfortunes is clear gain. Euripides, in Antiope (5th c. B.C.)
  • Misfortunes tell us what fortune is. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Rich men feel misfortunes that fly over poor men’s heads. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes. Victor Hugo, the narrator describing the situation of Marius Pontmercy, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • If a man talks of his misfortunes there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him. Samuel Johnson, a 1780 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Johnson continued: “For where there is nothing but pure misery there never is any recourse to the mention of it.”

  • Happiness is the sum total of misfortunes avoided. Alphonse Karr, in Les Guêpes (Jan., 1842)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation is also commonly translated: “Happiness is composed of misfortunes avoided.“

  • We all have enough strength to bear the misfortunes of others. François, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • In the misfortune of our best friends, we always find something which is not displeasing to us. François, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • I never knew any man in my life who could not bear another’s misfortune perfectly like a Christian. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Pope was clearly inspired by a 1665 La Rochefoucauld observation, seen above.

  • Misfortunes when asleep are not to be awakened. Proverb (English)
  • To be brave in misfortune is to be worthy of manhood; to be wise in misfortune is to conquer fate. Agnes Repplier, “Strayed Sympathies,” in Under Dispute (1924)
  • Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us. Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle), a journal entry (Dec. 10, 1801)

He continued: “To know men thoroughly, to judge events sanely, is, therefore, a great step towards happiness.”

  • Every misfortune is to be subdued by patience. Virgil, in The Aeneid (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Misfortunes leave wounds which bleed drop by drop even in sleep; thus little by little they train man by force and dispose him to wisdom in spite of himself. Simone Weil, in The Greek Source (1953)
  • Misfortunes one can endure—they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults—ah! There is the sting of life. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Windermere speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)
  • One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph. Virginia Woolf, diary entry (Aug. 13, 1921) in A Writer’s Diary (1954; Leonard Woolf, ed.)



  • That from small fires comes oft no small mishap. George Herbert, “The Temple, Artillierie,” quoted in Hoyt’ s New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922)
  • Of all failures, to fail in a witticism is the worst, and the mishap is the more calamitous in a drawn-out and detailed one. Walter Savage Landor the character Lord Chatham speaking, in “Chesterfield and Chatham,” Imaginary Conversations (1824-1829)
  • Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle. James Russell Lowell, in “Cambridge Thirty Years Ago,” Literary Essays, Vol. I (1864-1890)
  • Mishaps happen when you work; it is in the nature of things. Proverb (Finnish)
  • Mishaps are mastered by advice discrete,/And counsel mitigates the greatest smart. Edmund Spenser, in The Faerie Queene, Book I (1590)



  • The information war is about territory—just not the geographic kind. Renée DiResta, “The Digital Maginot Line,” a Nov. 28, 2018 post on www.ribbonfarm.com

Diresta continued: “In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics.”

  • Disinformation is the deliberate use of lies to manipulate people, whether to extract profit or to advance a political agenda. Barbara McQuade, in Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America (2024)

In the book, McQuade continued: “Its unwitting accomplice, misinformation, is spread by unknowing dupes who repeat lies they believe to be true. In America today, both forms of falsehood are distorting our perception of reality.”



  • It will generally be found that men who are constantly lamenting their ill luck are only reaping the consequences of their own neglect, mismanagement, and improvidence, or want of application. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)



  • Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. Richard Bach, in Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977)
  • 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. Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946)

Frankl continued: “Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

  • Ask how you’d live your life differently if you knew you were going to die soon, then ask yourself who those people you admire are and why you admire them, and then ask yourself what was the most fun time in your life. The answers to these questions, when seen, heard, and felt, provide us with an open doorway into our mission, our destiny, our purpose. Thom Hartmann, in The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now (1998; rev. ed. 2004)
  • When you fully dedicate yourself to a good mission, the floodgates of heaven open up for you, beads or no beads, sending you whatever luck and resources you need. Doris Haddock, in Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year (2001; with Dennis Burke)

Haddock continued: “If you can make a creative crack in the crust of the world’s deadly abstractions, the divine will rush up, bringing great bounty with it.”



  • It was the East that should have sent us missionaries. Jean Cocteau, in Diary of an Unknown (1952)
  • All the imagery for opening up a mind must be sexual, it’s the same process. So all intellectual missionaries tend to lechery. Marian Engel, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Sarah Bastard, in No Clouds of Glory (1968)
  • I can’t seem to fathom that the things important to me are not important to other people as well, and so I come off sounding like a missionary, someone whose job it is to convert rather than listen. David Sedaris, “Put a Lid On It,” in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004)
  • Once divested of missionary virus, the cult of our gods gives no offense. It would be a peaceful age if this were recognized, and religion, Christian, communist or any other, were to rely on practice and not on conversion for her growth. Freya Stark, in Ionia: A Quest (1954)
  • A person is either a missionary or a mission field. Corrie ten Boom, in Each New Day (1977)






(see also BLUNDERS and ERROR and TRUTH & ERROR)

  • Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Scott Adams, in Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain (2007)
  • It is precisely the stupidest people who are most sincere in their mistaken beliefs. Norman Angell, quoted in Louis Bisceglia, Norman Angell and Liberal Internationalism in Britain, 1931–35 (1982)
  • The higher your position, the more mistakes you’re allowed. In fact, if you make enough of them, it’s considered your style. Fred Astaire, as the character Franklyn Ambruster, in the 1962 film The Notorious Landlady (screenplay by Blake Edwards and Larry Gilbert).

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites attribute this quotation directly to Astaire, but he was in fact delivering a scripted line. To compound the error, almost every site also presents a wrongly phrased version of the quotation (“The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style”). In the film, Astaire plays the boss of an American diplomat (Jack Lemmon) who falls in love with a beautiful young woman (Kim Novak) who is suspected of killing her husband.

  • More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying that they made them. Author Unknown
  • There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. Richard Bach, in The Bridge Across Forever (1984)
  • I have known men who could see through the motivations of others with the skill of a clairvoyant; only to prove blind to their own mistakes. I have been one of those men. Bernard Baruch, entered in The Congressional Record (June 22, 1965)
  • Men don’t make different mistakes at different periods of their lives. They make the same mistake over and over again and they pay a bigger and bigger price for it. Vicki Baum, a maxim of the character named Thumbs, in Written on Water: A Novel (1956)
  • You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of the first half. Saul Bellow, the character Wilhelm Adler speaking, in Seize the Day (1956)
  • Positive, adj. Being mistaken at the top of one’s voice. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • There’s nothing final about a mistake, except its being taken as final. Phyllis Bottome, “The Plain Case,” in Strange Fruit (1928)
  • It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake, but it argues an infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. II (1862)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Adela Rogers St. Johns, citing her 1974 book Some Are Born Great.

  • A sound discretion is not so much indicated by never making a mistake, as by never repeating it. Christian Nestell Bovee, quoted in Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine (Sep. 1887)
  • Mistakes are a form of feedback. Every error tells us what we need to correct. John Bradshaw, in Bradshaw On: Healing the Shame That Binds You (rev. & exp. ed, 2005; orig pub. in 1988)

Bradshaw continued: “As we correct each mistake, we get nearer to the behavioral sequence that works best.” In his book, he also offered these other thoughts on the subject:

“Mistakes are information about what works and what doesn’t work. They have nothing to do with your worth or intelligence. They are merely steps to a goal.”

“Reframing mistakes means learning to think about them in ways that remove their catastrophic qualities. Instead of awful catastrophes, you view your mistakes as natural and valuable components of your life.”

“To know you can and will make mistakes allows you to live your life with vitality and spontaneity…. Knowing you will make mistakes allows you to seek new information and new solutions. It keeps you from believing that you know it all.”

  • 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 his entry in INACTION.

  • Three-fourths of the mistakes a man makes are made because he does not know the things he thinks he knows. James Bryce, quoted in The Santa Fe Magazine (Jan., 1915)
  • Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1943)
  • 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)
  • Sometimes we don’t understand or we forget that there are no mistakes, only lessons. Chérie Carter-Scott, in If Success Is a Game, These Are the Rules (2000)
  • Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else. But do you think a man might make a mistake and not make anything else? Do you think he could die having missed the chance to live? G. K. Chesterton, the character Mr. Herne adding his thoughts to a proverbial saying, in The Return of Don Quixote (1927)
  • Half of our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel. John Churton Collins, quoted in Edmund Fuller, Thesaurus of Quotations (1941). Also an example of the literary device of chiasmus.
  • A man who knows he has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.); reprinted in The Wisdom of Confucius (1938; Lin Yutang, ed.)
  • It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose. Joseph Conrad, the character Captain Lingard speaking, in An Outcast of the Islands (1896)

See the similar T. H. Huxley observation below (and the related one by Samuel Smiles).

  • I never think over my mistakes. I just live up to them. Marjorie Benton Cooke, the title character speaking, in Bambi (1914)
  • Mistakes are the only universal form of originality. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms: 3rd Selection (1986)
  • It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another thing not to admit it. People will forgive mistakes, because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. But people will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intention, the bad motives, the prideful, justifying coverup of the first mistake. Stephen R. Covey, in The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey (2012)
  • America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still. e. e. cummings, “Why I Like America,” in Vanity Fair magazine (May, 1927)
  • Every decision you make is a mistake. Edward Dahlberg, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book: An Irreverent Companion to Social History (1976)
  • This is a hard and precarious world, where every mistake and infirmity must be paid for in full. Clarence Day, in This Simian World (1920)
  • Always make new mistakes! Esther Dyson, in Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age (1997)

Dyson continued: “This is my all-time favorite rule for living. I like it so much that I use it as my sig file—the little quote that gets inserted along with my address and other coordinates at the end of each of my e-mails.” In a 2002 Harvard Business Review article, Professor Dyson went a step further: “My motto is, ‘Always Make new mistakes.’ There’s no shame in making a mistake, But then learn from it and don’t make the same one again. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned by making mistakes.”

  • It doesn't matter how many times you fall down. What matters is how many times you get up. Marian Wright Edelman, in The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Edelman was likely inspired by a famous 1934 observation from Mary Pickford, to be seen below.

  • Some people learn from books, some listen to the advice of others, some learn from mistakes. I fit into the last category. So sue me. Janet Evanovich, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Stephanie Plum, in Two for the Dough (1996)
  • About mistakes it’s funny. You got to make your own; and not only that, if you try to keep people from making theirs they get mad. Edna Ferber, the character Aug Hempel speaking, in So Big (1924)
  • I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes. Gene Fowler, in Skyline: A Reporter’s Reminiscence of The 1920s (1961)
  • Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Al Franken, in Oh, the Things I Know (2003)

Franken added: “Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.”

  • One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. Milton Friedman, in interview with Richard Heffner on WETA-TV’s The Open Mind program (Dec. 7, 1975)
  • The man who never makes a mistake never makes anything. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), a character passing along a proverbial saying, in Death in the Wrong Room (1947)
  • Mistakes are a fact of life/It is the response to error that counts. Nikki Giovanni, “Of Liberation,” in Black Feeling/Black Talk/Black Judgement (1970)
  • Our “mistakes” become crucial parts, sometimes the best parts, of the lives we have made. Ellen Goodman, “Reunion of the Ungeneration,” in The Washington Post (June 11, 1988)
  • True Success is that which makes/Building Stones of Old Mistakes. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Mistakes fail in their mission of helping the person who blames them on the other fellow. Henry S. Haskins, in Meditations in Wall Street (1940)
  • We are a people who do not want to keep much of the past in our heads. It is considered unhealthy in America to remember mistakes, neurotic to think about them, psychotic to dwell upon them. Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976)
  • Men heap together the mistakes of their lives and create a monster which they call Destiny. John Oliver Hobbes (pen name of Pearl Craigie), the voice of the narrator, in The Sinner’s Comedy (1892)
  • Mistakes are doorways to discovery. Sam Horn, in Tongue Fu!: Get Along Better With Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere (1996)
  • To make mistakes is human, but to profit by them is divine. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra: A Magazine of Business Inspiration (May, 1915)
  • The greatest mistake you can make in this life is to be continually fearing you will make one. Elbert Hubbard, quoted in Felix Shay, Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora (1926)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, a strikingly similar observation is attributed to John C. Maxwell. In fact, Maxwell dis write something that came dangerously close to plagiarism in his popular 2001 book The Power of Thinking Big: “The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”

  • The only people, scientific or other, who never make mistakes are those who do nothing. T. H. Huxley, in Aphorisms and Reflections (1907)

Joseph Conrad made a similar observation a decade earlier; see his entry above. See also the Samuel smiles entry.

  • If you haven’t made any mistakes lately, you must be doing something wrong. Susan Jeffers, in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (1987)
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. James Joyce, the character Stephen Dedalus speaking, in Ulysses (1922)

ERROR ALERT: Many books and quotation anthologies wrongly present this observation as: Mistakes are the portals of discovery. Another common mistaken version is: A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.

  • Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not. Carl Jung, “The Structure and Dynamics of the Self,”in Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self (1951)
  • I make mistakes; I’ll be the second to admit it. Jean Kerr, in The Snake Has All the Lines (1958)
  • I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards. Rudyard Kipling, the character Lucy Hauksbee speaking, in the short story “The Education of Oris Year,” in Under the Deodars (1888)
  • If only one could have two lives: the first, in which to make one’s mistakes, which seem as if they had to be made; and the second in which to profit by them. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell (May 24, 1928)
  • When you make a mistake, don’t make a second one—keeping it to yourself. Own up. The time to sort out rotten eggs is at the nest. The deeper you hide them in the case the longer they stay in circulation, and the worse impression they make when they finally come to the breakfast table. 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)

Graham also wrote this on the subject: “There is one excuse for every mistake a man can make, but only one. When a fellow makes the same mistake twice he’s got to throw up both hands and own up to carelessness or cussedness.”

  • The etiquette business has its emergencies, heaven knows, but it is in the nature of etiquette emergencies that once one realizes what one has done, it is too late. One might as well get a good night’s sleep and send flowers with an apology in the morning. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Basic Training: Communication (1997)
  • A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them. John C. Maxwell, in The Power of Leadership (2001)
  • To be a victim of one’s own mistakes is bad enough, but to be a victim of the other fellow’s mistakes as well is too much. Henry Miller, in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)
  • Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? Lucy Maud Montgomery, the title character speaking, in Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  • The important thing in my view is not to pin the blame for a mistake on somebody, but rather to find out what caused the mistake. Akio Morita, in Made in Japan (1986)
  • Just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake. Georgette Mosbacher, in Feminine Force: Release the Power Within You to Create the Life You Deserve (1993)
  • Your best teacher is your last mistake. Ralph Nader, quoted in Thomas Whiteside, “Profiles: Ralph Nader,” The New Yorker (Oct. 15, 1973)
  • If we do not always see our own mistakes and omissions we can always see those of our neighbors. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • Mistakes are the adolescence of experience. Robert Orben, in 2400 Jokes to Brighten Your Speeches (1984)
  • Living is like working out a long addition sum, and if you make a mistake in the first two totals you will never find the right answer. Cesare Pavese, diary entry (May 5, 1936), in This Business of Living: Diaries 1935–1950 (1952)
  • If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down. Mary Pickford, in Why Not Try God? (1934)
  • A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)
  • A “mistake” is a declaration of the way I am, a jolt to the way I intend, a reminder that I am not dealing with the facts. When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown. Hugh Prather, in Notes to Myself (1983)
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)
  • I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being–forgive me–rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger. J. K. Rowling, the character Dumbledore speaking, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  • In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes. John Ruskin, in Modern Painters (1856)
  • Back of every mistaken venture and defeat is the laughter of wisdom, if you listen. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us. Carl Sandburg, in Incidentals (1904)
  • If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (1st c. A.D.)
  • A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. George Bernard Shaw, in “The Technical Problem,” a preface to The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911)
  • My mistakes loom large and reign ignoble, but my takeaways thread veins of iron into my fabric. Theresa Smildsin, personal communication to the compiler (March 6, 2015)
  • We learn wisdom from failure more than from success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. Samuel Smiles, in Self-Help (1859)
  • There is no person, no group of people, no nation, that does not make grave mistakes. The test is: can they rectify their mistake? Lillian Smith, in Now Is the Time (1955)
  • It is the greatest of all mistakes, to do nothing because you can only do little. Sydney Smith, in Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1850)

ERROR ALERT: A very similar saying is commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, but there is no evidence that he ever said or wrote such a thing. Many thanks to Garson O’Toole for tracking down the source of this quotation. See his Quote Investigator post here.

  • It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions—especially selfish ones. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1974; Leopold Labedz, ed.)
  • She had a genius for forgetting her own mistakes as well as other people’s, which is in its way a form of generosity. Freya Stark, describing a friend, in Traveller’s Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 (1950)
  • I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge. Igor Stravinsky, “Contingencies,” in Themes and Episodes (1966; with Robert Craft)
  • Mistakes live in the neighborhood of truth/and therefore delude us. Rabindranath Tagore, in Fireflies (1928)
  • Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom. Phyllis Theroux, in Night Lights: Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark (1987)
  • Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done. Lewis Thomas, “To Err is Human,” in The Medusa and the Snail (1979)

Thomas continued: “We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones. We get along in life this way. We are built to make mistakes, coded for error.”

  • Children are so afraid of us because they know we may try to keep them from making their biggest and most important mistakes. Brenda Ueland, in Me: A Memoir (1939)
  • An error becomes a mistake when we refuse to admit it. Marilyn Vos Savant, in Parade magazine (Nov. 22, 1987)
  • It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes. George Washington, in letter to James McHenry (Aug. 10, 1798)
  • It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)
  • Experience, the name men give to their mistakes. I never commit any. Oscar Wilde, Prince Paul speaking, in Vera; or The Nihilists (1880)

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

  • Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • Multi-tasking means you can make five mistakes in the time it used to take to make just one! Tom Wilson, caption for a Ziggy cartoon (May 30, 2000)
  • The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted in The New York Times magazine (Oct. 4, 1953)



  • Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)
  • We have to mistrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal. Tennessee Williams, the character Marguerite Gautier speaking, in Camino Real (1953)



  • In the strange heat all litigation brings to bear on things, the very process of litigation fosters the most profound misunderstandings in the world. Renata Adler, in Reckless Disregard (1986)
  • To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (May 27, 1849)
  • Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus (1995)
  • They stared at each other, wanting each other, drawn to each other, but their silent shout of love went unheard in the roar of misunderstanding, and the clatter of culturally ingrained beliefs. Jean Auel, in The Mammoth Hunters (1985)
  • One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. Jane Austen, the title character speaking, in Emma (1815)
  • Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. Diane Arbus, quoted in Patricia Bosworth, Diane Arbus (1995)
  • The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)
  • You can explain things to people, but you cannot understand things to people. Jeff Bezos, in Business Insider interview with Mathias Döpfner (April 28, 2018)
  • 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)
  • For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. Willa Cather, a reflection of protagonist Godfrey St. Peter as he thinks about his wife Lillian, in The Professor’s House (1925)
  • The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood. Jean Cocteau, in Le Rappel à l’Ordre (1926)
  • Most trouble is unnecessary. Between the indignity of being born and the agony of dying enough bad things must of necessity happen to people. But we can't be satisfied with that. We have to go to work and see how much additional trouble we can create. Misunderstanding, turmoil, effort put on all the wrong things, and then more misunderstanding. Elizabeth Corbett, in Eve and Christopher (1949)
  • No marriage can be completely successful without a reasonable amount of misunderstanding. Lillian Day, in Kiss and Tell (1931)

Day preceded the thought by writing: “Harold and I didn't get along badly for married people, but the trouble was I didn't misunderstand him.”

  • Men tighten the knot of confusion/Into perfect misunderstanding. T. S. Eliot, in The Family Reunion (1939)
  • To be great is to be misunderstood. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

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

  • All persons are puzzles until at last we find in some word or act the key to the man, to the woman; straightway all their past words and actions lie in light before us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, undated journal entry (Sep., 1842)
  • We do know that no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try. Louise Erdrich, the voice of the narrator, in The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • It is better to understand little than to misunderstand a lot. Anatole France, in Revolt of the Angels (1914)
  • Most quarrels amplify a misunderstanding. André Gide, a 1920 journal entry, in The Journals of André Gide: 1914¬–1927 (1951; Justin O’Brien, trans. & ed.)
  • The most familiar facts are often hardest to understand. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Human Work (1904)
  • No one would talk much in society if he knew how often he misunderstands others. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Elective Affinities (1809)
  • Sometimes I feel that every word spoken and every gesture made merely serve to exacerbate misunderstandings. Then what I would really like is to escape into a great silence and impose that silence on everyone else. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • When however small a measure of jealousy is mixed with misunderstanding, there is going to be trouble. John Irving, the narrator John Wheelright speaking, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel (1989)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have the quotation end with “always going to be trouble.”

  • When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? Franz Kafka, in letter to Oskar Pollak (Nov. 8, 1903)

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

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

  • Misunderstanding is my cornerstone. It’s everyone’s, come to think of it. Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are what we call civilization. Barbara Kingsolver, a reflection of the character Adah Price, in The Poisonwood Bible (1998)

Adah is reflecting on her relationship with her sister Leah. She preceded the thought by thinking: “Such childhood energy I spent on feeling betrayed. By the world in general, Leah in particular. Betrayal bent me in one direction while guilt bent her the other way. We constructed our lives around a misunderstanding, and if ever I tried to pull it out and fix it now I would fall down flat.”

  • We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding. Rudyard Kipling, the character Dick speaking, in The Light That Failed (1890)
  • Whatever people in general do not understand, they are always prepared to dislike; the incomprehensible is always the obnoxious. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Harper Lee, the character Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Capable people do not understand incapacity; clever people do not understand stupidity. Doris Lessing, in Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (1994)
  • You have to be grown up, really grown up, not merely in years, to understand your parents. Doris Lessing, in Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949–1962 (1997)
  • Until we know what motivates the hearts and minds of men we can understand nothing outside ourselves, nor will we ever reach fulfillment as that greatest miracle of all, the human being. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • To love is easy and therefore common—but to understand—how rare it is! L. M. Montgomery, in Emily of New Moon (1923)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, the narrator is describing how wonderful the title character feels about being fully understood by her new beau. The narrator preceded the thought by writing: “In Dean Priest Emily found, for the first time since her father had died, a companion who could fully sympathize. She was always at her best with him, a delightful feeling of being understood.”

  • In even the closest human relationships a vast amount of time and of affection is drained away in minor misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and failures in consideration or understanding. Iris Origo, in Images and Shadows: Part of a Life (1970)
  • And a great misunderstanding is that children think their parents are grown-up, and parents feel obliged to act as if they were. Anna Quindlen, in a 1993 issue of Writer’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Ever since Eve gave Adam the apple, there has been a misunderstanding between the sexes about gifts. Nan Robertson, “‘Misunderstood’ Men Offer Words on Gifts; Most Bought Presents,” The New York Times (Nov. 28, 1957)
  • Is an intelligent human being likely to be much more than a large-scale manufacturer of misunderstanding? Philip Roth, the character Nathan Zuckerman speaking, in The Counterlife (1986)
  • Good conversation can…erase misunderstandings, and bring you closer to those you love. Dorothy Sarnoff, in Speech Can Change Your Life (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: Here is the full quotation, from which the foregoing snippet was taken: “Good conversation can leave you more exhilarated than alcohol; more refreshed than the theater or a concert. It can bring you entertainment and pleasure; it can help you get ahead, solve problems, spark the imagination of others. It can increase your knowledge and education. It can erase misunderstandings, and bring you closer to those you love.”

  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Upton Sinclair, a favorite line during his unsuccessful run for governor of California in 1934, in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935)
  • To try to understand another human being, to grapple for his ultimate depths, that is the most dangerous of human endeavors. Irving Stone, the voice of the narrator, in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961)
  • The wedding night! The comedies, the tragedies, the subterfuges, the unexpecteds, the misunderstandings, the surprises, and the joys! These are the unpublished stories of centuries. Frances Bruce Strain, in Love at the Threshold: A Book on Social Dating Romance and Marriage (1943)
  • Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood. Lionel Trilling, “Art and Fortune,” in The Liberal Imagination (1950)
  • There was a strange kind of comfort in misunderstandings and differences that were old enough to have lost their teeth. Faith Sullivan, in Gardenias (2005)
  • I wonder if we are all wrong about each other, if we are just composing unwritten novels about the people we meet? Rebecca West, in a 1917 letter, selected as an epigraph to Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987)



  • Mobs will never do to govern states or command armies. John Adams, in letter to Benjamin Hichborn (Jan. 27, 1787)
  • It is an easy and vulgar thing to please the mob, and no very arduous task to astonish them; but essentially to benefit and to improve them is a work fraught with difficulty, and teeming with danger. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • The mob is the mother of tyrants. Dionysius Laertius, in Antiquities of Rome (2nd c. B.C.)
  • The mob is man voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Emerson preceded the thought by writing: “A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason, and traversing its work.”

  • In the hands of vicious men/a mob will do anything. But under good leaders/it’s quite a different story. Euripides, in Orestes (408 B.C.)
  • Mobs in their emotions are much like children,/subject to the tantrums and fits of fury. Euripides, in Orestes (408 B.C.)
  • Religion is the idol of the mob; it adores everything it does not understand. Frederick II (Frederick the Great), in a letter to Voltaire (July 6, 1737)
  • The mob, which everywhere is the majority, will always let itself be led by scoundrels. Frederick II (Frederick the Great), in a letter to Jean Rond d'Alembert (Sep. 8, 1782)
  • There’s something in all of us that wants to drift toward a mob, where we can all say the same thing without having to think about it, because everybody is all alike except people that we can hate or persecute. Northrop Frye, “The Vocation of Eloquence,” in The Educated Imagination (1963)

Frye continued: “Every time we use words, we’re either fighting against this tendency or giving in to it. When we fight against it, we’re taking the side of genuine and permanent human civilization.”

  • The mob has many heads, but no brains. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia (1732)
  • The mob that would die for a belief seldom seldom hesitates to inflict death upon any heretical groups. Ellen Glasgow, “I Believe,” in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1938)
  • Isolation from power makes men look for a mob in which they can be strong. Herbert Gold, in The Magic Will (1971)
  • The mob has many heads, and therefore many eyes for malice, and many tongues for slander. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • A man of rectitude clings to the sect of right with such tenacity of purpose that neither the passions of the mob nor the violence of the tyrant can ever cause him to transgress the bounds of right. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • A many-headed beast. Horace, describing a mob, in Epistles (1st c. B.C.)
  • Every man has a mob self and an individual self, in varying proportions. D. H. Lawrence, in Pornography and Obscenity, This Quarter (1929)
  • Every mob, in its ignorance and blindness and bewilderment, is a League of Frightened Men that seeks reassurance in collective action. Max Lerner, in The Unfinished Country (1959)
  • There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. Abraham Lincoln, in address to Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois (Jan. 27, 1838)
  • The mad mob does not ask how it could be better, only that it be different. Martin Luther, in Whether Soldiers Can Also Be in a State of Grace (1526)

Luther continued: “And when it then becomes worse, it must change again. Thus they get bees for flies, and at last hornets for bees.”

  • Many sensible things banished from high life find asylum among the mob. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator, in White-Jacket (1850)
  • I never saw a mob rush across town to do a good deed. Wilson Mizner, quoted in John Burke, Rogue's Progress: The Fabulous Adventures of Wilson Mizner (1975)
  • The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led. Edgar Allan Poe, in Southern Literary Messenger (June 1849); reprinted in Marginalia (1844-49)
  • The mob is easily led and may be moved by the smallest force, so that its agitations have a wonderful resemblance to those of the sea. Polybius, in Histories (2nd c. B.C.)
  • A mob is a group of hate-minded people. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 10, 2021)
  • Neither intelligence nor culture can prevent a mob from acting as a mob. The wise man and the knave lose their identity and merge themselves into a new being. Thomas B. Reed, in speech at Bowdoin College ( July 25, 1902)
  • You can talk a mob into anything. John Ruskin, in Sesame and Lilies (1865)
  • It is the proof of a bad cause when it is applauded by the mob. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), De Vita Beata [“On the Happy Life”] (1st c. AD)
  • Nothing is so valueless as the sentiments of the mob, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), quoted in Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is also commonly presented this way: “Nothing is so contemptible as the sentiments of the mob.”

  • He whose honor depends on the opinion of the mob must day by day strive with the greatest anxiety, act and scheme in order to retain his reputation. Baruch Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)

Spinoza continued: “For the mob is varied and inconstant, and therefore if a reputation is not carefully preserved it dies quickly.”

  • Our supreme governors, the mob. Horace Walpole, in letter to Horace Mann (Sep. 7, 1743)
  • I am not fond of mobs, madam. Horace Walpole, in letter to the Countess of Upper Ossory (Feb. 17, 1779)
  • A mob is a degeneration of humanity. A mob is humanity going the wrong way. Frank Lloyd Wright, in interview with Mike Wallace, on “Mike Wallace Asks” (CBS-TV; Sep. 1, 1957)



  • She’s engaged in a business that’s plainly unlawful:/Making dresses look good that on others look awful. Richard Armour, “The Model,” in Nights with Armour: Lighthearted Light Verse (1958)
  • Models are supposed to be dumb. Sometimes it helps to be as numb and dumb as I was at the beginning. If you knew what was really going on, you might be too embarrassed to breathe. Carolyn Kenmore, in Mannequin: My Life as a Model (1969)





  • Whether zeal or moderation be the point we aim at, let us keep fire out of the one, and frost out of the other. Joseph Addison, in The Tatler (Sep. 5, 1710)

Addison introduced the thought by writing: “We should be careful not to overshoot ourselves in the pursuits even of virtue.”

  • Moderation in all things. And even moderation in moderation. Don’t get too much moderation, you know? Maya Angelou, in a 2013 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I’m the foe of moderation, the champion of excess. If I may lift a line from a die-hard whose identity is lost in the shuffle, “I’d rather be strongly wrong than weakly right. Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952)
  • In my opinion, moderation is a vastly overrated virtue, particularly when applied to work. Barbara Taylor Bradford, a remark from protagonist Emma Harte, as quoted by the character David Kallinski, in A Woman of Substance (1979)
  • There is nothing wrong with sobriety in moderation. John Ciardi, tweaking the common saying about “drinking in moderation,” in “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (Sep. 24, 1966)

Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for helping source this observation.

  • Moderation is the inseparable companion of wisdom, but with it genius has not even a nodding acquaintance. Charles Caleb Colton, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)

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

  • Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation. William Lloyd Garrison, on abandoning moderation in the fight against slavery, in The Liberator (Jan. 1, 1830)

Garrison introduced the thought by writing: “I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation.”

QUOTE NOTE: These stirring words appeared in the inaugural issue of The Liberator, which went on to become America’s most influential abolitionist publication. The magazine continued for thirty-five years, ending with a valedictory issue at the end of 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. It continued to be published as The Nation, which now describes itself as America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine.

  • I see no objection to stoutness, in moderation. W. S. Gilbert, the Fairy Queen speaking, in Iolanthe (1882)
  • I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Barry Goldwater, in speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, San Francisco, CA (July 16, 1964)

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

  • This much I think I do know—that a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that in a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save. Learned Hand, in “The Contribution of an Independent Judiciary to Civilization,” a speech in Boston, Mass. (Nov. 21, 1942)
  • Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks. Robert A. Heinlein, an aphorism from “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • If I were to put it into a very few words, my dear sir, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excesses of all lands—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself. James Hilton, the character Chang explaining the guiding principle of Shangri-La, in Lost Horizon (1933)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often presented with the mistaken phrasing excesses of all kinds.

  • Thou shalt not carry moderation into excess. Arthur Koestler, quoted in George Mikes, Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship (1983)
  • Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • Fear and dull disposition, lukewarmness and sloth, are not seldom wont to cloak themselves under the affected name of moderation. John Milton, in An Apology for Smectymnuus (1642)
  • Wisdom hath her excesses, and no less need of moderation than folly. Michel de Montaigne, “Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” in Essays (1580-88)
  • A thing moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is always a vice. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1792)

QUOTE NOTE: Paine’s observation—famous in its own right—also served as an inspiration for the Barry Goldwater line that played such an important role in the 1964 U. S. presidential election (see Goldwater entry above).

  • Practice moderation in all things, including moderation. Gaius Petronius Arbiter, in The Satyricon (1st c. A.D.). Also an example of Oxymoronica.

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has become known as Petronius’ Paradox.

  • A great soul prefers moderation to excess. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • The immediate present belongs to the extremists, but the future belongs to the moderates. Helen Suzman, a 1964 remark about South Africa, in In No Uncertain Terms (1993)
  • There is a limit to enjoyment, though the sources of wealth be boundless,/And the choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation. Martin F. Tupper, “Of Compensation,” in Proverbial Philosophy (1838–42)
  • The world acquires value only through its extremes and endures only through moderation; extremists make the world great, the moderates give it stability. Paul Valéry, in The Nation (Jan. 5, 1957)
  • Modern life is given over to immoderation. Immoderation invades everything: actions and thought, public and private life. Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace (1947)



  • A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off every great talent which a man can be possessed of. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (London, Nov. 24, 1711)

Addison continued: “It brightens all the virtues which it accompanies; like the shades in paintings, it raises and rounds every figure, and makes the colors more beautiful, though not so glaring as they would be without it.”

  • Nothing is more amiable than true modesty, and nothing is more contemptible than the false. The one guards virtue, the other betrays it. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (London, Aug. 15, 1712)
  • You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty. Louisa May Alcott, Mrs. March chastising daughter Amy, in Little Women (1868)

QUOTE NOTE: Mrs. March was reproaching Amy for a recent school incident in which she had been disciplined for rather brazenly breaking a teacher’s rule. She began by saying, “You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it.”

  • Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (May 17, 1750)


(see also DATES and HOURS and MINUTES and [Defining] MOMENTS and MOMENTS [of Truth] and SECONDS and TIME)

  • People forget years and remember moments. Ann Beattie, the voice of the narrator in the short story “Snow,” in Where You’ll Find Me: And Other Stories (1986)

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

(Defining) MOMENTS

(see also DATES and HOURS and MINUTES and MOMENTS and MOMENTS [of Truth] and SECONDS and TIME)

  • The defining moments in our lives often don’t come with advance warning. Sally Yates, in Class Day speech at Harvard Law School (May 24, 2017)



  • Money is a needful and precious thing—and, when well used, a noble thing—but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mrs. March speaking, in Little Women (1868)

Mrs. March is giving advice to her daughters about their future plans, and especially about what to look for in a husband. She continued: “I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.”

  • Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes. Louisa May Alcott, the voice of the narrator, in Little Men (1871)
  • Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons. Woody Allen, “The Early Essays,” in Without Feathers (1976)
  • Workers earn it,/Spendthrifts burn it,/Bankers lend it,/Women spend it,/Forgers fake it,/Taxes take it,/Dying leave it,/Heirs receive it,/Thrifty save it,/Misers crave it,/Robbers seize it,/Gamblers loose it…/I could use it. [ellipsis in original] Richard Armour, “Money,” in Going Like Sixty: A Lighthearted Look at the Later Years (1974)
  • That money talks/I'll not deny,/I heard it once,/it said goodbye. Richard Armour, quoted in L. Dunkling & A. Room, Guinness Book of Money (1990)
  • Money cannot buy/The fuel of Love/But is excellent kindling. W. H. Auden, in Postscript to “The Cave of Nakedness” (1963), in Collected Poems: W. H. Auden (1976; Edward Mendelson, ed.)
  • When money is once parted with, it can never return. Jane Austen, Mrs. Dashwood speaking, in Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does. Jane Austen, the character John Knightley speaking, in Emma (1816)
  • Money may buy the husk of things but not the kernel. It brings you food but not appetite, medicine but not health, acquaintances but not friends, servants but not faithfulness, days of joy but not peace or happiness. Author Unknown, but widely misattributed to Henrik Ibsen

ERROR ALERT: This observation (phrased in exactly this way) was attributed to Ibsen in Lillian Eichler Watson’s 1947 quotation anthology Light from Many Lamps. It has never been found in any of Ibsen’s works, however, and should be regarded as apocryphal. Most internet sites continue to perpetuate the error, and they take it one step further by beginning the observation as if it were phrased, “Money may be the husk of things….”

  • Money is like muck, not good except it be spread. Francis Bacon, “Of Seditions and Troubles,” in Essays (1625)
  • Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did. James Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” in Esquire magazine (May, 1961); reprinted in Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961)
  • Money is in some respects like fire—it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. P. T. Barnum, in Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum (1869)

Barnum continued: “When you have it mastering you, when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world.”

QUOTE NOTE: For centuries, fire had been described as a bad, a cruel, and a fearful master, but an 1838 essay by James Fenimore Cooper looks like the earliest appearance in print of the phrase terrible master (and he was applying it to “the press”). Barnum, who was writing three decades after Cooper, was likely inspired by his observation (which may be seen in the PRESS section).

  • Get money—but stop once in a while to figure what it is costing you to get it. Bruce Barton, in More Power to You (1917)

Barton continued: “No man gets it without giving something in return. The wise man gives his labor and ability. The fool gives his life.”

  • You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity. O. A. Battista, in Quotoons: A Speaker’s Dictionary (1981)

ERROR ALERT: This observation has been commonly misattributed to Thomas Wolfe. For more on the quotation, see this 2011 QUOTE INVESTIGATOR post.

  • The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less. Brendan Behan, quoted in Jon Winokur, Return of the Portable Curmudgeon (1995)
  • Money speaks sense in a language all nations understand. Aphra Behn, the character Willmore speaking, in The Rover, Part 2 (1681)

QUOTE NOTE: This is generally regarded as the inspiration for the money talks proverb. However, in the Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro points out that “Money talks” first appeared in print in a Dec. 8, 1883 issue of the National Police Gazette.

  • I’m tired of Love: I’m still more tired of Rhyme./But Money gives me pleasure all the time. Hilaire Belloc, in “Fatigued” (1923)
  • The love of money is the root of all evil. The Bible—I Timothy 6:10

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

  • Mammon, n. The god of the world’s leading religion. His chief temple is in the holy city of New York. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation was inspired by the Matthew 6:24 biblical passage: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

  • Money, n. A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it. An evidence of culture and a passport to polite society. Supportable property. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Whether he admits it or not, a man has been brought up to look at money as a sign of his virility, a symbol of his power, a bigger phallic symbol than a Porsche. Victoria Billings, in The Womansbook (1974)
  • The ‘almighty dollar’ is the true divinity, and its worship is universal. Isabella L. Bird, in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1880)
  • Those who have some means think that the most important thing in the world is love. The poor know that it is money. Gerald Brenan, in Thoughts in a Dry Season (1978)
  • A fool and his money are soon parted. John Bridges, in Defence of the Government (1587)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first appearance in print of a saying that went on to become one of history's most popular proverbs.

  • And is it not the chief good of money, the being free from the need of thinking of it? Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in an 1845 to Robert Browning; reprinted in The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1845-1846, Vol. 1 (1898)
  • There are only two things wrong with money: too much or too little. Charles Bukowski, an undated diary entry, in The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998)
  • It has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil. The want of money is so quite as truly. Samuel Butler [1835-1902], the voice of the narrator, in Erewhon (1872)
  • Ready money is Aladdin’s lamp. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan (1819–24)
  • We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation. Anthony Burgess, in an interview in The Face (Dec., 1984)
  • It has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil. The want of money is so quite as truly. Samuel Butler, the voice of the narrator, in Erewhon (1872)
  • Born to wealth that he believed would make him always independent, [Robert] Moses felt no compulsion to turn associates into friends; arrogance is, after all, one of the coefficients of money. Robert A. Caro, in The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974)
  • Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world except money. Johnny Cash, quoted in a 1969 issue of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • Money is a protection, a cloak; it can buy one quiet, and some sort of dignity. Willa Cather, the character Mrs. Henshawe speaking, in My Mortal Enemy (1926)
  • Gentility is what is left over from rich ancestors after the money is gone. John Ciardi, quoted in a 1966 issue of Saturday Review (specific issue undetermined)
  • Where large sums of money are concerned it is advisable to trust nobody. Agatha Christie, the character Andrew Lippincott speaking, in Endless Night (1967)
  • Unsentimental, unheroic, some will say unchristian, as it may sound, our right or wrong use of money is the utmost test of character, as well as the root of happiness or misery, throughout our whole lives. Dinah Mariah Mulock Craik, “About Money,” in About Money: And Other Things (1887)
  • To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)

Davis continued: “As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.”

  • When money talks, few are deaf. Earl Derr Biggers, the title character speaking, in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938)
  • Money is coined liberty, and so it is ten times dearer to the man who is deprived of freedom. If money is jingling in his pocket, he is half consoled, even though he cannot spend it. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the narrator, reflecting on the role of money among prison inmates, in The House of the Dead (1862)
  • Money doesn’t talk, it swears. Bob Dylan, lyric from the song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”; on the album Bringing it all Back Home (1965)
  • Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nominalist and Realist,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • Money often costs too much, and power and pleasure are not cheap. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in The Conduct of Life (1860; rev. ed. 1876)
  • Money helps, though not so much as you think when you don’t have it. Louise Erdrich, in The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • Money is the sinews of love, as of war. George Farquhar, the character Roebuck speaking, in Love and a Bottle (1698)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Farquhar piggybacks on one of history’s most famous observations, from Cicero’s Fifth Philippic oration (44 B.C.): “The sinews or war, unlimited money.”

  • Money, the most charming of all things; money, which will say more in one moment than the most elegant lover can in years. Henry Fielding, the character Mariane speaking, in The Miser (1733)
  • Money is the fruit of evil, as often as the root of it. Henry Fielding, the character Sancho Panza tweaking the biblical passage (I Timothy 6:10), in Don Quixote in England (1734)
  • If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. Henry Ford, in My Life and Work (1922; with Samuel Crowther)
  • Money is like an arm or a leg, use it or lose it. Henry Ford, in an interview (November, 1931); quoted in The Bib Book of Business Quotations (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: I believe this is the first appearance of the now-popular phrase “use it or lose it.”

  • If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time. Lefty Frizzell, title of 1950 song
  • Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man’s greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce. John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Age of Uncertainty (1977)
  • But money, wife, is the true Fuller’s Earth for reputations, there is not a spot or a stain but what it can take out. John Gay, the character Peachum speaking, in The Beggar’s Opera (1728)

QUOTE NOTE: For more on the product mentioned here, go to Fuller’s Earth.

  • The most popular labor-saving device is still money. Phyllis George, quoted in a 1983 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • If you can count your money you don't have a billion dollars. J. Paul Getty, quoted in The Chicago Daily Tribune (Oct. 28, 1957)
  • Money is like a stringed instrument; he who does not know how to use it properly will hear only discordant music. Money is like love; it kills slowly and painfully the one who withholds it, and enlivens the other who turns it on his fellow man. Kahlil Gibran, the former “Gold-Hoarder” speaking, “Yesterday and Today,” in A Treasury of Kahlil Gibran (1974)
  • Being moderate with oneself and generous with others; this is what is meant by having a just relationship with money, by being free as far as money is concerned. Natalia Ginzburg, in The Little Virtues (1962)

In the book, Ginzburg also wrote: “The true defense against wealth is not a fear of wealth—of its fragility and of the vicious consequences that it can bring—the true defense against wealth is an indifference to money.”

  • The charms of money are distinctly under-represented in literature. There are no songs or poems extolling its virtues. This seems on the face of it strange. The claims of money to be celebrated in verse might well seem to be no less than those of faithful dogs, beautiful women, or jugs of wine. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
  • Money does not corrupt people. Money is simply the bandage which wounded people put over their wounds. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)
  • To me, money is alive. It is almost human. If you treat it with real sympathy and kindness and consideration, it will be a good servant and work hard for you, and stay with you and take care of you. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)

Hathaway continued: “If you treat it arrogantly and contemptuously, as if it were not human, as if it were only a slave and could work without limit, it will turn on you with a great revenge and leave you to look after yourself alone.”

  • Money is not free speech. Money is the volume control on the speech that is not free. Mark Holmboe, “Letter to the Editor,” in The Rockford [Illinois] Register Star (Jan. 31, 2010)
  • When a feller says, “It hain’t the money, but th’ principle o’ the thing,” it’s th’ money. Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, quoted in The Rockford [Illinois] Morning Star (Nov. 23, 1916)
  • Money and art/are far apart. Langston Hughes, “Plaint” (1955); in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1994; A. Rampersad & D. Roessel, eds.)
  • Some people think they are worth a lot of money just because they have it. Fannie Hurst, quoted in a 1952 issue of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (specific issue undetermined)

See also the Mary Pettibone Poole entry for a slightly different version of the thought.

  • We all know how the size of sums of money appear to vary in a remarkable way according as they are paid in or out. Julian Huxley, in Essays of a Biologist (1923)
  • The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy; for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that money would solve their problems—but the rich know better. Sydney J. Harris, in Majority of One 1957)

QUOTE NOTE: For a quotation with strikingly similar phrasing, see the Jean Kerr entry below.

  • 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)
  • Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet. Henry James, the character Gilbert Osmond speaking, in The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
  • The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Charles McPherson (Bec. 25, 1773)
  • The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyment and realities of life—will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi criminal semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. John Maynard Keynes, in Essays in Persuasion (1931)
  • You don’t seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help. Jean Kerr, the character Sydney speaking, in Poor Richard (1965)

Sydney continued: “I tell you there is no despair like the despair of the man who has everything.”

QUOTE NOTE: In crafting this observation for her play, Kerr was almost certainly inspired by Sydney J. Harris, who offered a thought with strikingly similar phrasing in Majority of One (1957): “The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy; for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that money would solve their problems—but the rich know better.”

  • Once you have money, you can quite truthfully affirm that money isn’t everything. Louis Kronenberger, in The Cart and the Horse (1964)
  • Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralizing as earth, air and water. Men can employ it as a tool or they can dance around it as if it were the incarnation of a god. Lewis H. Lapham, in Money and Class in America (1988)

Lapham continued: “Money votes socialist or monarchist, finds a profit in pornography or translations from the Bible, commissions Rembrandt and underwrites the technology of Auschwitz. It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.”

  • There are people enough who despise money, but few who know how to bestow it. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the maxim has been traditionally presented, but a modern translation goes this way: “Plenty of people despise money, but few know how to give it away.”

  • It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy. George Horace Lorimer, the title character writing in a letter to his son, in Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • Money poisons you when you’ve got it, and starves you when you haven’t. D. H. Lawrence, an observation from gamekeeper Oliver Mellors in a letter to the title character, in Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928)
  • Money is always on its way somewhere; we are only a way station. What we do with it while it’s in our keeping will say much about us—as will the direction it takes after we speed it on its way. Rosalie Maggio, in Introduction to Money Talks (1997)
  • Money is not an aphrodisiac; the desire it may kindle in the female eye is more for the cash than the carrier. Marya Mannes, in But Will it Sell? (1964)
  • I must say I hate money, but it’s the lack of it I hate most. Katherine Mansfield, quoted in Antony Alpers, Katherine Mansfield (1954)
  • Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. W. Somerset Maugham, the character Monsieur Foinet speaking, in Of Human Bondage (1915)
  • People keep telling us about their love affairs, when what we really want to know is how much money they make and how they manage on it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • When you let money speak for you, it drowns out anything else that you meant to say. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • It was a mistake to think that only the really poor have money-hunger. It can gnaw at quite well-fed stomachs. Indeed Now I think that money is an acquired taste that grows as it is fed. Helen McCloy, a reflection of protagonist Harry Vaughn, in The Slayer and the Slain (1957)
  • Money is a poor man’s credit card. Marshall McLuhan, quoted in Maclean’s magazine (June, 1971)
  • 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)
  • Money couldn’t buy friends but you got a better class of enemy. Spike Milligan, the voice of the narrator, in Puckoon (1963)
  • Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it does a lot of good. But if you pile it up in one place, it stinks like hell. Clint W. Murchison, Jr., quoting his father, in Time magazine (June 16, 1961)

QUOTE NOTE: The idea was not original with Murchison. The original idea came from Francis Bacon (see above), and credit for the specific money as manure metaphor goes to Thornton Wilder (see below)

  • If you don’t want to work, you have to work to earn enough money so that you won’t have to work. Ogden Nash, “More About People,” in Many Long Years Ago (1945)
  • The only people who claim that money is not important are people who have enough money so that they are relieved of the ugly burden of thinking about it. Joyce Carol Oates, quoted in Barbaralee Diamonstein, Open Secrets (1972)
  • I have come to think that money is very much like a person, and it will respond when you treat it as you would a cherished friend—never fearing it, pushing it away, pretending it doesn’t exist, or turning away from its needs, never clutching it so hard that it hurts. Suze Orman, in Nine Steps to Financial Freedom (1997)

Orman went on to add about money: “But if you tend it like the living entity it is, then it will flourish, grow, take care of you for as long as you need it, and look after the loved ones you leave behind.”

  • Money doesn’t bring courage, I learned. It’s the other way around. Once I took that lesson to heart, I began to rebuild my life. Suze Orman, in The Courage to Be Rich (1999)
  • It is true that money attracts; but much money repels. Cynthia Ozick, the voice of the narrator, in Trust: A Novel (1966)
  • If you would learn what God thinks about money, you have only to look at those to whom he has given it. Dorothy Parker, “The Little Hours,” in The New Yorker (Aug. 19, 1933)

QUOTE NOTE: This famous observation from Parker is about as dangerously close to plagiarism as you can get. You be the judge. In his Thoughts of Various Subjects (1711), Jonathan Swift wrote: “We may see the small value God has for riches, by the people he gives them to.”

  • Some people confuse having a lot of money with being worth a lot of money. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)

See also the Fannie Hurst entry for a slightly different version of the thought.

  • Money never remains just coins and pieces of paper. Money can be translated into the beauty of living, a support in misfortune, an education, or future security. It also can be translated into a source of bitterness. Sylvia Porter, in Sylvia Porter’s Money Book (1975)
  • If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil. Proverb (English), first chronicled in Thomas Fielding, Select Proverbs of All Nations (1824)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to the English writer Henry Fielding (1707-54). In 1824, Thomas Fielding (no relation) included the saying in his Select Proverbs of All Nations. When subsequent reference works included the proverb, they followed the common practice of the time by attributing it simply to “Fielding.” Most readers naturally assumed that Henry Fielding was the author, and thus began his association with an observation he never authored. The error stubbornly continues to the present day.

  • With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome, and you sing well too. Proverb (Jewish)
  • Money has value only when converted into useful service, and success consists in doing common things uncommonly well. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., quoted in a 1922 issue of The Santa Fe Magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Having money is rather like being a blonde. It is more fun but not vital. Mary Quant, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 2, 1986)
  • Whatever resources of good health, character, and fortitude you bring to retirement, remember, also, to bring money. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)

Quinn preceded the thought by writing: “It’s daring and challenging to be young and poor, but never to be old and poor.”

  • Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Ayn Rand, the character Francisco d’Anconia in his famous “money speech,” in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

QUOTE NOTE: The money is only a tool metaphor is not original to Rand. In an 1870 Contemprary Review article (titled “What is Money?”), the British economist Bonamy Price wrote: “If once the mind is thoroughly penetrated with the knowledge that money is only a tool, invented for one specific purpose, the heavy cloud of obscurity, may I add, of repulsiveness which lowers over currency will vanish away.”

  • Money is the seed of money. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Discourse On the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind (1754)

Rousseau continued: “And the first guinea is sometimes more difficult to acquire than the second million.”

  • Always try to rub up against money, for if you rub up against money long enough some of it may rub off on you. Damon Runyon, the character Feet Samuels talking, “A Very Honorable Guy,” in Guys and Dolls (1931). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • No one talks about money more than people who have too much of it. Françoise Sagan, quoted in Douglas Hofstadter, That Mad Ache (1965)
  • Money is human happiness in the abstract. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

Schopenhauer continued: “He, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes his heart entirely to money.”

  • Money is a kind of poetry. Wallace Stevens, “Adagia,” in Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose (1957)
  • The price we have to pay for money is paid in liberty. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Henry David Thoreau: His Character and Opinions,” in Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882)

Stevenson was stimulated by an observation Thoreau made in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” Stevenson went on to add: “A man may pay too dearly for his livelihood by giving in, in Thoreau’s terms, his whole life for it, or, in mine, bartering for it the whole of his available liberty, and becoming a slave till death.”

  • Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul. Henry David Thoreau, “Conclusion,” in Walden (1854)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have necessity of the soul. Thoreau preceded the thought by writing: “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.”

  • Unexpected money is a delight. The same sum is a bitterness when you expected more. Mark Twain, in letter to Orion Clemens (Mar. 23, 1878)
  • I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, Vol I (1835)
  • Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Jesse Unruh, quoted in Time magazine (Dec. 14, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: At the time, the 40-year-old Unruh (pronounced UN-rue) was a major force in California’s Democratic Party, Speaker of the State Assembly, and one of California's most colorful and flamboyant politicians (his 265-pound frame inspired Raquel Welch to give him the nickname “Big Daddy”). The remark, which captured the increasingly influential role of Big Money in politics, immediately caught fire, went on to become one of the most popular quotes of the era, and earned Unruh an entry in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. By the end of the century, as Unruh’s observation began to suffer from overexposure, another colorful state politician—Jim Hightower of Texas—stepped up to the plate with an updated version: “Money is the crack cocaine of politics.”

  • When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion. Voltaire, in letter to Mme. Louise d'Épinal (Dec. 26, 1760)
  • He held up his watch to sunlight, letting it drink in the wherewithal that was to solar watches what money was to Earth men. Kurt Vonnegut, the voice of the narrator, in Sirens of Titan (1959)
  • A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees. Kurt Vonnegut, the opening line of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater (1965)
  • Money is only useful when you get rid of it. It is like the odd card in “Old Maid”; the player who is finally left with it has lost. Evelyn Waugh, “Kicking Against the Goad,” in Commonweal (March 11, 1949); reprinted in The Essays, Articles, and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (1983)
  • Money destroys human roots wherever it is able to penetrate, by turning desire for gain into the sole motive. Simone Weil, in The Need for Roots (1949)

Weil continued: “It easily manages to outweigh all other motives, because the effort it demands of the mind is so very much less. Nothing is so clear and so simple as a row of figures.”

  • A fool and his money are soon married. Carolyn Wells, in The Lover’s Baedeker and Guide to Arcady (1912)
  • Money is of value for what it buys, and in love it buys time, place, intimacy, comfort, and a private corner alone. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It! (1959)
  • The easiest way for your children to learn about money is for you not to have any. Katharine Whitehorn, in How to Survive Children (1975)
  • Money—pardon my expression—money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow. Thornton Wilder, the character Mrs. Dolly Levi speaking, in The Matchmaker (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: In a line that was clearly inspired by the Francis Bacon saying above, Mrs. Levi says this near the end of a famous monologue that begins with her addressing an imaginary Ephraim Levi, her deceased husband, and ends in direct remarks to the audience. To see the full passage, in which she announces an important decision (“I’m marrying Horace Vandergelder for his money”), go to Money is Like Manure.

  • You can be young without money but you can't be old without it. Tennessee Williams, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  • A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One's Own (1929),



  • Higamous hogamous, woman’s monogamous./Hogamous higamous, man is polygamous. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: For many years, this saying was attributed to William James, who reportedly said that it had come to him after an experiment with a hallucinogenic drug. This is now believed to be false.

  • Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This is the female version of the saying, and the one offered by Erica Jong in an epigraph to a chapter in her classic Fear of Flying (1973). There is a male version of the saying is well, the wording of which replaces husband with wife.

  • Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts”, it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available.  Ross Douthat, “The Marriage Ideal.” in The New York Times (Aug. 8, 2010)
  • Lifelong monogamy is a maniacal idea. Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970)
  • Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you. Especially do all stories of monogamy end in death, and your man who is monogamous while he often lives most happily, dies in the most lonely fashion. There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it. Ernest Hemingway, in Death in the Afternoon (1932)

This is one of Hemingway’s most famous passages, a somber reminder about the ultimate fate of even the happiest and most blissful love affairs.

  • Love has been in perpetual strife with monogamy. Ellen Key, in Love and Marriage (1911)
  • Monogamous heterosexual love is probably one of the most difficult, complex, and demanding of human relationships. Margaret Mead, in Male and Female (1949)
  • Monogamy and prostitution go together. Kate Millett, in The Prostitution Papers (1971)
  • Woman wants monogamy;/Man delights in novelty. Dorothy Parker, “General Review of the Sex Situation,” in Enough Rope (1926

Parker’s verse continued:

Love is woman's moon and sun; Man has other forms of fun. Woman lives but in her lord; Count to ten, and man is bored. With this the gist and sum of it, What early good can come of it.

  • Accursed from birth they be/Who seek to find monogamy,/Pursuing it from bed to bed—/I think they would be better dead. Dorothy Parker, “Reuben’s Children,” in Sunset Gun (1928)



  • Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Note that the concluding line is a famous example of chiasmus.




  • The May of life blooms once, and not again. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, in the poem “Resignation” 1788)




  • Pale January lay/In its cradle day by day,/Dead or living, hard to say. Alfred Austin, “Primroses,” in Lyrical Poems (1891)
  • Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January. Hal Borland, in Sundials of the Seasons (1964)
  • January is the month for dreaming. Jean Hersey, in A Sense of Seasons (1964)
  • January has only one thing to be said for it: it is followed by February. Nothing so well becomes it as its passing. Katharine Tynan Hinkson, in Twenty-Five Years (1913)
  • Here then we are—arrived at another spin of the wheel. Another January; another new year; presently another quickening of the sap in the trees, of green in the undergrowth, of the blood in man’s veins, of activity among publishers and birds; in brief, another year. Rose Macaulay, the opening words of A Casual Commentary (1925)
  • And what does January hold? Clean account books. Bare diaries. Three hundred and sixty-five new days, neatly parceled into weeks, months, seasons. A chunk of time, of life, waiting to be filled. Phyllis Nicholson, in Country Banquet (1947)

Nicholson continued: “One thing is certain. There will be more newness than ever before. All the world over men and women are facing changed values, an altered lay-out of life.”

  • You’d be so lean, that blasts of January/Would blow you through and through. William Shakespeare, the character Perdita speaking to Camillo, in The Winter’s Tale (1623)
  • January is my favorite month, when the light is plainest, least colored. And I like the feeling of beginnings. Anne Truitt, in Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (1982)


  • February is the tag end of Winter—we hope. But in our hearts we know it isn’t Spring, not by several weeks and at least a dozen degrees. Hal Borland, in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)

Borland continued: “There’s no evidence to support it in the dictionaries, but some say that February’s name comes from an ancient and forgotten word meaning “a time that tries the patience.”

  • Here comes February, a little girl with her first valentine , a red bow in her windblown hair, a kiss waiting on her lips, a tantrum just back of her laughter. Hal Borland, in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)
  • In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to in this world is each other. Linda Ellerbee, in Move On (1991)
  • The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February. Joseph Wood Krutch, in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • Punch after punch after punch. February is a mean bully. Nothing could be worse—except August. Katherine Paterson, in Jacob Have I Loved (1980)
  • February is a short month, often bitter and wild, but it also has the Thaw, which is the promise of spring to come. Gladys Taber, in Country Chronicle (1974)


  • March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes, and a laugh in her voice. Hal Borland, in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)
  • March brings breezes loud and shrill, / Stirs the dancing daffodil. Sara Coleridge, “The Months,” in Pretty Lessons in Verse for Good Children (1843)
  • It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it summer in the light, and winter in the shade. Charles Dickens, the voice of the narrator, in Great Expectations (1860–61)
  • In March winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too. Jean Hersey, in The Shape of a Year (1967)
  • In our hearts those of us who know anything worth knowing know that in March a new year begins, and if we plan any new leaves, it will be when the rest of Nature is planning them too. Joseph Wood Krutch, in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • When rough and wild the March winds blow,/Beneath the ice we look, and lo!/We see the brooks begin to flow. Nora Perry, “March Winds,” in Songs and Ballads (1887)
  • A windy March is lucky. Every pint of March dust brings a peck of September corn, and a pound of October cotton. Julia Peterkin, in Black April (1927)
  • That’s the trouble with March—the warmth never lasts. There’s that narrow stretch when it parades as spring, just enough for you to thaw if you’re sitting in the sun, but then it’s gone. V. E. Schwab, a reflection of the protagonist, in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020)


  • That enchantment that I lightly took/Out of the lovely April is for ever. Leonie Adams, “An Old Spell,” in Those Not Elect (1925)
  • April is a promise that May is bound to keep, and we know it. Hal Borland, in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)

Borland preceded the observation by writing: “No Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn.”

  • April is the two-week-old kitten, the month-old lamb, the six-month-old heifer, the two-year-old girl. Too young to know it has either past or future, it wears the ribbon of the fleeting present as part of itself. Gladys Hasty Carroll, in Only Fifty Years Ago (1962)
  • April brings the primrose sweet,/Scatters daisies at our feet. Sara Coleridge, “The Months,” Pretty Lessons in Verse for Good Children (1843)
  • “April’s rare capricious loveliness. Julia Dorr, “November,” in Poems (1892)
  • April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with Spring rain. T. S. Eliot, in “The Waste Land” (1922)
  • Ah March! we know thou art/Kind-hearted, spite of ugly looks and threats,/And, out of sight, art nursing April’s violets! Helen Hunt Jackson, “April,” in Poems (1893)
  • April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote, by which I think he meant (among other things) that springtime makes people crazy. We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can’t keep, all passion is really a setup, and we’re doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. Barbara Kingsolver, “Springing Forward,” in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007; with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)

Kingsolver continued: “I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go out there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally.”

  • In childhood we all have…a far higher sensibility for April and April evenings—a heartache for them, which in riper years is gradually and irretrievably consoled. Alice Meynell, “In July,” in Essays (1914)
  • April was a deceitful month, full of brief glory, and promises it did not keep. Anne Perry, in Angels in the Gloom (2005)
  • A mark was on him from the day’s delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the voice of the narrator, in The Yearling (1938)
  • April the angel of the months, the young/Love of the year. Vita Sackville-West, “Spring,” in The Garden (1946)
  • Old Mother Nature, with strident muttering, had set about her annual house cleaning. With her efficient broom, the March wind, she was sweeping every nook and cranny clean. With her scrub-bucket overflowing with April showers, she was washing the face of all creation, and if these measures failed to produce cleanliness to her satisfaction, she gave a final polish with storms of hail. Gene Stratton-Porter, in The Song of the Cardinal (1903)
  • April/Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Spring,” in Second April (1921)
  • April is hope. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)
  • April is a promise of what’s to come. Gladys Taber, in Still Cove Journal (1981)
  • “When I am dead and over me bright April/Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,/Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,/I shall not care. Sara Teasdale, “I Shall Not Care,” in Rivers to the Sea (1915)


  • It was one of those beautiful, lengthening days, when May was pressing back with both hands the shades of the morning and the evening. Amelia E. Barr, the opening lines of The Bow of Orange Ribbon: A Romance of New York (1886)
  • May is fulfillment compounded with immediate expectation and ultimate hope. May is like the first rising of the curtain before the play, the first measures of the orchestral overture. No moment afterward comes up to that. Bertha Damon, on the importance of May to gardeners, in A Sense of Humus (1943)
  • May is much sunshine through small leaves. Amy Lowell, “May,” in What’s O’Clock? (1925)
  • Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate:/Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,/And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18, in Sonnets (1609)

QUOTE NOTE: It comes as a surprise to many when they first learn that this famous romantic sentiment was addressed to a man! In fact, the first 126 (out of the total of 154) sonnets are addressed to a beautiful and charming young nobleman—never formally identified—who Shakespeare clearly loved. Norrie Epstein says in The Friendly Shakespeare (1993): “No other straight poet has ever written such ardent poems to a man.” Was Shakespeare gay? Or bisexual (since he was, after all, married and a father)? The question has intrigued Shakespeare fans for centuries. Nowadays, most scholars would probably agree with Epstein, who concluded: “We’ll probably never know Shakespeare’s sexual preferences, though it’s likely he was bisexual.”


  • Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January. Hal Borland, in Sundials of the Seasons (1964)
  • June is the time for being in the world in new ways, for throwing off the cold and dark spots of life. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)

Chittister continued: “Life is physically easier now and spiritually pregnant with possibility. Warmth becomes a way of life that makes us open to new people and new experiences; flowers confront us with our responsibility for beauty.”

  • June is the month that calls us out of our houses, out of ourselves, to become one with nature. It sweeps us up into the noise of life, into the warmth of life, into the community of life. Joan Chittister, in In a High Spiritual Season (1995)
  • June is the gateway to summer. Jean Hersey, in A Sense of Seasons (1964)
  • What is one to say about June—the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade? Gertrude Jekyll, “Rain After Drought,” in Home and Garden (1900)
  • No price is set on the lavish summer;/June may be had by the poorest comer. James Russell Lowell, in “The Vision of Sir Launfal” (1848)


  • The torpor of July is upon us. July is to summer what February is to winter, with three extra days tacked on to make us more miserable. John Nagy, “July is As Cloying As Evel, ABBA, Yacht Rock,” in The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC; July 8, 2018)

Nagy continued: “Each of those two months is sort of a bridge through its season. February gets us to the moderating days of March. July gets us to, well, August’s agonizing heat as we begin our back-to-school shopping trips. July just sort of squats on your sunburned shoulders.”


  • Oh, these damp, sultry days of August! How oppressive they are to mind and body! Lydia Maria Child, in Letters From New York, 1st Series (1842)
  • August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied. Joseph Wood Krutch, in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • Punch after punch after punch. February is a mean bully. Nothing could be worse—except August. Katherine Paterson, in Jacob Have I Loved (1980)
  • August is a month when if it is hot weather it is really very hot. Gertrude Stein, in Ida (1941)
  • Breathe the sweetness that hovers in August. Denise Levertov, “Luxury,” in a 1961 issue of Quarterly Review of Literature (specific issue undetermined)
  • New Orleans could wreck your liver and poison your blood. It could destroy you financially. It could shun you or embrace you, teach you tricks of the heart you thought Tennessee Williams was just kidding about. And in August it could break your spirit. Julie Smith, in The Axeman's Jazz (1992)


  • I am of many moods and many shapes;/I strip the chestnut and I tread the grapes./The pulse of life runs high within my veins;/My hands and lips are red with berry stains./I bid the leaves from all their dances cease/And die a sudden death. And I release/The spell of summer, so that all remember/Winter and death at beck of me, September. Nora Chesson, “September,” in Selected Poems (1906)
  • How smartly September comes in, like a racing gig, all style, no confusion. Eleanor Clark, in Eyes, Etc. (1977)
  • September is different from all other months. It is more magical. I feel the strange chemical change in the earth which produces mushrooms is the cause, too, of the extra “life” in the air—a resilience, a sparkle. Katherine Mansfield, an undated journal entry, in Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927)
  • The autumn garden is a machete garden. Anyone still trying to control or tame it in September is either hopelessly deluded or has a strange need to use large cutting tools from the jungle. Lauren Springer, “The Arrival of Fall,” quoted in Jane Garmey, The Writer in the Garden (1999)
  • September is the month of maturity; the heaped basket and the garnered sheaf. It is the month of climax and completion. Patience Strong, in The Glory of the Garden (1951)

Strong continued: “September! I never tire of turning it over and over in my mind. It has warmth, depth and color. It glows like old amber.”

  • September is summer without the crowds. Katie Tamony, in Sunset (2004)
  • September is like a quiet day after a whole week of wind. Mildred Walker, in Winter Wheat (1944)
  • Autumn is full of leave-taking. In September the swallows are chattering of destination and departure like a crowd of tourists, and soon they are gone. Mary Webb, in The Spring of Joy: A Little Book of Healing (1917)


  • October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wide horizon more clearly seen. Hal Borland, in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)

Borland continued: “It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.”

  • Fresh October brings the pheasant,/Then to gather nuts is pleasant. Sara Coleridge, “The Months,” in Pretty Lessons in Verse for Good Children (1843)
  • As golden, as mature, as voluptuous as a Roman matron fresh from the bath, the October morning swept with indolent dignity across the land. Mazo de la Roche, in Jalna (1927)
  • October was always the least dependable of months…full of ghosts and shadows. Joy Fielding, in Tell Me No Secrets (1993)
  • October arrives in a swirl of fragrant blue leaf smoke, the sweetness of slightly frosted MacIntosh apples, and little hard acorns falling. We are in the midst of cool crisp days, purple mists, and Nature recklessly tossing her whole palette of dazzling tones through fields and woodlands. Jean Hersey, in The Shape of a Year (1967)
  • Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter. Carol Bishop Hipps, “October,” in In a Southern Garden (1995)
  • The October breeze catches the cold wet sheets you are hanging on the line. Leaves fall, and trees keep up a gentle undulating dance of branches, like old people nodding their heads in resignation as the children leave home. Marjorie Holmes, in Love and Laughter (1967)
  • O suns and skies and clouds of June,/And flowers of June together,/Ye cannot rival for one hour/October's bright blue weather. Helen Hunt Jackson, “October’s Bright Blue Weather,” in Poems (1893)
  • The fields are harvested and bare,/And Winter whistles through the square./October dresses in flame and gold/Like a woman afraid of growing old. Anne Mary Lawler, “October,“ in George William Douglas, The American Book of Days (1937)
  • What of October, that ambiguous month, the month of tension, the unendurable month? Doris Lessing, in Children of Violence: Martha Quest (1952)
  • I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. L. M. Montgomery, the title character speaking, in Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  • October was at the gates and autumn was in full retreat. Patricia Moyes, in Johnny Under Ground (1961)

Moyes preceded the thought by writing: “Some brave chrysanthemums still stood in the country gardens, but they looked like bedraggled survivors of a battle, barely able to hold their tattered banners upright.”

  • October is a symphony of permanence and change, of one rich mood played off against another, of silence played off against earth's flutes and trumpets and violins. Bonaro Overstreet, “Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness,” in Jean Beaven Abernethy, Meditations for Women (1947)


  • November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year. Louisa May Alcott, in Little Women (1868)
  • Dull November brings the blast,/Then the leaves are whirling fast. Sara Coleridge, “The Months,” in Pretty Lessons in Verse for Good Children (1843)
  • November has a way of her own. Crisp air, swaying Spanish needles, echo of honking geese held in memory from the night, motors passing on the radio. Blanche H. Dow, “Roads and Vistas,” quoted in Jean Beaven Abernethy, Meditations for Women (1947)

Dow went on to add: “To take to the road, that would be the thing.”

  • Here’s November,/The year’s sad daughter. Eleanor Farjeon, “Enter November,” in The Children’s Bells (1957)
  • In November you begin to know how long the winter will be. Martha Gellhorn, “November Afternoon,” in The Heart of Another (1941)
  • November at its best—with a sort of delightful menace in the air. Anne Bosworth Greene, in The Lone Winter (1923)
  • November is chill, frosted mornings with a silver sun rising behind the trees, red cardinals at the feeders, and squirrels running scallops along the tops of the gray stone walls. Jean Hersey, in The Shape of a Year (1967)
  • It was one of those wet, miserable evenings, gratis copies distributed by November through the year. L. E. Landon, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • November’s night is dark and drear,/The dullest month of all the year. L. E. Landon, “Frances Beaumont,” in Traits and Trials of Early Life (1837)
  • Some of the days in November carry the whole memory of summer as a fire opal carries the color of moonrise. Gladys Taber, in Stillmeadow Daybook (1955)
  • Long cold nights mark November’s return, grey rains fall, wind walks in the bronze oak leaves. Gladys Taber, in Still Cove Journal (1981)

In the book, Taber also wrote: “November wind has a sound different from any other. It is easy to imagine the cave of the winds in some mythical Northland where the winds are born and the gods send them out to conquer the quiet air.”

  • Why has no one written a November rhapsody with plenty of lilt and swing? The poets who are moved at all by this month seem only stirred to lamentation, giving us year end and 'melancholy days' remarks, thereby showing that theory is stronger than observation among the rhyming brotherhood, or else that they have chronic indigestion and no gardens to stimulate them. Mabel Osgood Wright, in The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1905)


  • Yet my heart loves December’s smile/As much as July’s golden beam;/Then let us sit and watch the while/The blue ice curdling on the stream. Emily Brontë, poem XXI, in Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and Anne Brontë, Poems (1902)
  • December is a month that is rife with nostalgia. If there’s anything deep in your heart that you want to keep buried, you can count on December to bring it to the surface. Lois Duncan, in Don’t Look Behind You (1989)
  • Deep in December it’s nice to remember/The fire of September that made us mellow/Deep in December our hearts should remember. Tom Jones, lyrics to the song “Try to Remember” (1960
  • In cold December fragrant chaplets blow,/And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow. Alexander Pope, in Book I of The Dunciad (1728-1743)
  • In December people give no thought to the Past or the Future. They think only of the Present. Carolyn Wells, “December,” in The Carolyn Wells Year Book of Old Favorites and New Fancies for 1909 (1908)
  • As the dead year is clasped by a dead December, / So let your dead sins with your dead days lie. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Resolve,” in Poems of Pleasure (1888)



  • No man who needs a monument ever ought to have one. Nathaniel Hawthorne, an entry in English Note-Books (Nov. 12, 1857)

Hawthorne preceded the thought by writing: “The marble keeps merely a cold and sad memory of a man who would else be forgotten.”

  • The capital city specializes in ballooning monuments and endless corridors. It uses marble like cotton wool. It is the home of government of, for, and by the people, and of taste for the people—the big, the bland, and the banal. Ada Louise Huxtable, on Washington, D.C., in a 1971 issue of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • When smashing monuments, save the pedestals—they always come in handy. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1962)
  • The erection of a monument is superfluous; our memory will endure if our lives have deserved it. Pliny the Younger, in Letters (1st c. A.D.)
  • The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • The Wall became a magnet for citizens of every generation, class, race, and relationship to the war perhaps because it is the only great public monument that allows the anesthetized holes in the heart to fill with a truly national grief. Adrienne Rich, on the Vietnam War Memorial, in What is Found There (1993)


(see also ASTRONOMY and PLANETS and SPACE and STARS and SUN and MOON and UNIVERSE)

  • I consulted the moon/like a crystal ball. Diane Ackerman, in The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (1976)
  • Moonlight lined the windowsills like a fall of snow. Beryl Bainbridge, in Another Part of the Wood (1968)
  • The moon develops the imagination, as chemicals develop photographic images. Sheila Ballantyne, in Norma Jean the Termite Queen (1975)
  • The summer moon hung full in the sky. For the time being it was the great fact of the world. Willa Cather, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all of the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery. Joseph Conrad, the character Marlow speaking, in Lord Jim (1900)
  • We have seen/The moon in lonely alleys make/A grail of laughter of an empty trash can. Hart Crane, in “Chaplinesque” (1926)
  • I saw the radiant Queen of Night/Walking in brightness through the sky. Charlotte Elliott, “The Setting Moon,” in Leaves From the Unpublished Journals, Letters, and Poems of Charlotte Elliott (1874)
  • The astronomers tell us that other planets are gifted with two—four—even nine lavish moons. Imagine the romantic possibilities of nine moons. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • The moon is nothing/But a circumambulating aphrodisiac/Divinely subsidized to provoke the world/Into a rising birth-rate. Christopher Fry, the character Thomas Mendip speaking, in This Lady’s Not for Burning (1949)
  • In the window, the moon is hanging over the earth,/meaningless but full of messages./It’s dead, it’s always been dead,/but it pretends to be something else,/burning like a star, and convincingly, so that you feel sometimes/it could actually make something grow on earth. Louise Glück, the title poem, in A Village Life (2009)
  • You moon, have you done something wrong in heaven/That God has hidden your face? Jean Ingelow, “Seven Times One,” in Songs of Seven (1885)
  • I am convinced that the first lyric poem was written at night, and that the moon was witness to the event and that the event was witness to the moon. For me, the moon has always been the very embodiment of lyric poetry. Mary Ruefle, in Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012)
  • The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to. Carl Sandburg, “Moonlight and Maggots” (1950), in Complete Poems (1955)
  • The moon is the mother of pathos and pity. Wallace Stevens, “Lunar Paraphrase,” in Harmonium (1931)
  • Men are like the earth and we are the moon; we turn always one side to them, and they think there is no other, because they don’t see it—but there is. Olive Schreiner, the character Lyndall speaking, in The Story of an African Farm: A Novel (1883; orig. published under the pen name Ralph Iron)
  • The Desert has its own moon/which I have seen with my own eye/There is no flag on it. Alice Walker, “On Sight,” in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens (1983)
  • The moonlight lay upon the hills like snow. Dorothy Wordsworth, an undated journal entry, in Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 1 (1897; William Knight, ed.)



  • Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it. Lewis Carroll, the Duchess speaking to Alice, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)



  • Morale is the greatest single factor in successful war. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Crusade in Europe (1948)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites present the quotation as if the final word was wars.



  • A group of politicians deciding to dump a President because his morals are bad is like the Mafia getting together to bump off the Godfather for not going to church on Sunday. Russell Baker, “The Morals Charge,” in The New York Times (May 14, 1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Many people think this analogy is about the attempt of House Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998, but it was written almost a quarter of a century earlier in response to calls from House Democrats to impeach Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal.

  • What the moral army needs just now is more rank and file and fewer brigadier generals. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Fred Lewis Pattee, A History of American Literature (1915)
  • We are justified in enforcing good morals, for they belong to all mankind; but we are not justified in enforcing good manners, for good manners always mean our own manners. G. K. Chesterton, “Limericks and Counsels of Perfection,” in All Things Considered (1908)
  • When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something…but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen…and then is when we are in bad trouble. Joan Didion, “On Morality,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • Morals are three-quarters manners. Felix Frankfurter, quoted in Harlan Phillips, Felix Frankfurter Reminiscences (1960)
  • There are moral imbeciles just as there are mental imbeciles; but while the latter are recognized as having an inborn defect and are put away where they can do no harm, the former often acquire great power in the world—yet the man born with a deficient moral sense is a thousand times more dangerous than the mental defective. Sydney J. Harris, in Last Things First (1961)
  • Be not too hasty to trust, or to admire, the teachers of morality: they discourse like angels, but they live like men. Samuel Johnson, the character Imlac speaking, in Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinnia (1759)
  • Your morals are like roads through the Alps. They make these hairpin turns all the time. Erica Jong, a remark from narrator and protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)
  • Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness. Immanuel Kant, in Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
  • Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals. H. L. Mencken, in A Book of Prefaces (1917)
  • All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)

Mencken preceded the thought by writing: “Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong.”

  • On the whole, we need not hesitate to assert, that in the long course of events, nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right. Nothing, that is inequitable, can be finally successful. Hannah More, in Hints Toward Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1837)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, William E. Gladstone is mistakenly credited with saying “Nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right.” He never said anything of the sort. More is the legitimate author of the sentiment.

  • Manners and morals are twin shoots from the same root. Agnes H. Morton, in Introduction to Etiquette: Good Manners for All People (1892)

Earlier in the Introduction, Morton had written: “At times etiquette requires us to do things that are not agreeable to our selfish impulses, and to say things that are not literally true if our secret feelings were known. But there is no instance wherein the laws of etiquette need transgress the law of sincerity.”

  • If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Christmas Sermon,” in Across the Plains (1892)

Stevenson added: “I do not say ‘give them up,’ for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.”

  • It is curious—curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940; Bernard DeVoto, ed.)



  • The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected. Proverb (Swedish)
  • Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)



  • You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know—morons. Mel Brooks, in screenplay for the 1974 film Blazing Saddles (line delivered in the film by Gene Wilder, in the role of the Waco Kid)
  • As democracy is perfected, the office [of U. S. President] represents more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. H. L. Mencken, “Bayard v. Lionheart,” in The Baltimore Evening Sun (July 26, 1920)

ERROR ALERT: This observation has been faithfully and accurately reported for many years, but after the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump as U. S. President, an erroneous version began to show up in internet postings all around the world. Almost all of the incorrect versions change the final portion of Mencken’s observation to read will be adorned by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron. Given the lightning speed with which errors get repeated on the internet, this mistaken version will likely supplant the correct original observation in the popular mind.

  • 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.”



  • The first step in understanding a people is to know the extent of their mortality, the things from which they suffer and die. Gertrude Diamant, in The Days of Ofelia (1942)
  • There is nothing in nature that can’t be taken as a sign of both mortality and invigoration. Gretel Ehrlich, in The Solace of Open Spaces (1985)
  • Personally, I don’t endorse the notion of mortality. It’s fine for other folk, but I disapprove of the concept for me and my loved ones. Sue Grafton, the narrator and protagonist Kinsey Millhone speaking, in “V” Is for Vengeance (2011)
  • Parents, however old they and we may grow to be, serve among other things to shield us from a sense of our doom. As long as they are around, we can avoid the fact of our mortality; we can still be innocent children. Jane Howard, in A Different Woman (1973)
  • The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all. William Dean Howells, in letter to Charles Eliot Norton (April 6, 1903)
  • Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us. Anna Quindlen, in A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)
  • Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical mortality. Herbert Spencer, in Education (1861)
  • 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. Something must be done, and quickly. Come, please, and help, or go, please, and find help. Hence, the profession of medicine. Lewis Thomas, in The Fragile Species (1992)
  • We do not take much warning of our own mortality in seeing others die, nor of our own weakness in seeing others break down: we think we feel the springs of life stronger in us. Julia McNair Wright, in The Complete Home (1879)
  • Adults who are racked with death anxiety are not odd birds who have contracted some exotic disease, but men and women whose family and culture have failed to knit the proper protective clothing for them to withstand the icy chill of mortality. Irvin D. Yalom, in Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (2008)




  • However kind sons may be disposed to be, they cannot be daughters to a Mother. Abigail Adams, in letter to husband John (Feb. 11, 1784); in The Quotable Abigail Adams (2009; John P. Kaminski, ed.)
  • To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
  • I…have another cup of coffee with my mother. We get along very well, veterans of a guerilla war we never understand. Joan Didion, “On Going Home,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • My mother is a poem I’ll never be able to write/though everything I write is a poem to my mother. Sharon Doubiago, in Tillie Olsen, Mother to Daughter, Daughter to Mother (1984). The couplet is an example of chiasmus, as is the title of the book.
  • Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met. Marguerite Duras, “House and Home,” in Practicalities (1987)

Duras began by writing: “I believe that always, or almost always, in all childhoods and in all the lives that follow them, the mother represents madness.”

  • I want to lean into her the way wheat leans into wind. Louise Erdrich, on her mother, in The Beet Queen (1986)
  • I am a piece of machinery which, not understanding, my mother winds up the wrong way, setting all the wheels of my composition going in creaking discord. Miles Franklin (pen name of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin), in My Brilliant Career (1901)

Franklin, a trailblazing Australian writer and early feminist voice, captured a common mother-daughter dynamic in this observation, which she began this way: “My mother is a good woman—a very good woman—and I am, I think, not quite all criminality, but we do not pull together.”

  • Blaming mother is just a negative way of clinging to her still. Nancy Friday, in My Mother/My Self (1977)
  • After my mother’s death, I began to see her as she had really been . . .It was less like losing someone than discovering someone. Nancy Hale, “A Good Light,” in The Life in the Studio (1957)
  • My mother was my first jealous lover. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Foreign Bodies (1984)
  • My mother has been dead for several years. But old mothers never die, and they never fade away. They are too complicated for either. Anne Lamott, in Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007)
  • I carry her with me now like a loose sweater that sucks out the chill on a snowy winter night. Pinkie Gordon Lane, on her mother, “Prose Poem: Portrait,” in Girl at the Window: Poems (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the conclusion to a moving tribute Lane wrote nearly half a century after her mother’s death. The full portrait may be seen at ”Prose Poem:Portrait”

  • I am a reflection of my mother’s secret poetry as well as of her hidden angers. Audre Lorde, in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
  • Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)
  • Mothers and daughters have always exchanged with each other—beyond the verbally transmitted lore of female survival—a knowledge that is subliminal, subversive, preverbal: the knowledge flowing between two alike bodies, one of which has spent nine months inside the other. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)
  • We are, none of us, “either” mothers or daughters; to our amazement, confusion, and greater complexity, we are both. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)
  • A daughter is a mother’s gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters’ role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships. Victoria Secunda, in Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life (1992)
  • Whenever I’m with my mother, I feel as though I have to spend the whole time avoiding land mines. Amy Tan, in The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991)
  • In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own. Alice Walker, title essay, in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983)
  • She is my bridge. When I needed to get across, she steadied herself long enough for me to run across safely. Renita Weems, on her mother, from “Hush, Mama’s Gotta Go Bye-Bye,” in Patricia Bell-Scott, et. al., Double Stitch (1991)



  • What do girls do who haven’t any mothers to help them through their troubles? Louisa May Alcott, the character Jo March speaking, in Little Women (1869)

QUOTE NOTE: Jo’s remark appears in the novel's very first chapter, when she and sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy are bemoaning the fact that the March family’s financial struggles will prevent them from having a grand Christmas celebration.

  • There is no division nor subtraction in the heart-arithmetic of a good mother. There are only addition and multiplication. Bess Streeter Aldrich, the protagonist Abbie Deal speaking, in A Lantern in Her Hand (1928)
  • Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease. Lisa Alther, the character Caroline Kelley, musing about her life as a mother, in Other Women (1984)

Caroline began by thinking: “When she’d given birth to Jackie and Jason, she’d had no idea she’d spend her next twelve years scheduling—meals, rides, babysitters, dentists appointments, hockey practices. And juggling her work hours, and enduring the anxiety when everything fell through and the boys ended up alone.”

  • This is the reason why mothers are more devoted to their children than fathers: it is that they suffer more in giving them birth and are more certain that they are their own. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Hard labor: A redundancy, like “working mother.” Joyce Armor, in The Dictionary According to Mommy (1990)
  • God can’t be always everywhere: and so/Invented mothers. Sir Edward Arnold, “Mothers,” in Potiphar’s Wife, and Other Poems (1892)

ERROR ALERT: Almost everywhere the first line is mistakenly presented as: God can’t always be everywhere.

  • What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. Margaret Atwood, the protagonist Iris Chase musing on motherhood, in The Blind Assassin (2000)

Iris continued: “We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves—our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies. Now that I’ve been one myself, I know.”

  • What tigress is there that does not purr over her young ones, and fawn upon them in tenderness? Saint Augustine, in The City of God (5th c.); cited in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)
  • A mother’s life, you see, is one long succession of dramas, now soft and tender, now terrible. Not an hour but has its joys and fears. Honoré de Balzac, in Letters of Two Brides (1842)
  • The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness. Honoré de Balzac, attr.

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation appears in almost all quotation anthologies on the subject of motherhood, but never with an original source provided—and so far I’ve been unable to authenticate it.

  • She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along. Margaret Culkin Banning, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury, 1455–1955 (1955)
  • The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • When God thought of Mother, he must have laughed with satisfaction, and framed it quickly—so rich, so deep, so divine, so full of soul, power and beauty was the conception! Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • What the mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

QUOTE NOTE: Beecher may have been inspired by: “For the hand that rocks the cradle/Is the hand that rules the world,” a couplet from the 1865 poem What Rules the World, written by the American lawyer and poet, William Ross Wallace.

  • There is no slave out of heaven like a loving woman; and of all loving women, there is no such slave as a mother. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • A mother is never cocky or proud, because she knows the school principal may call at any minute to report that her child has just driven a motorcycle through the gymnasium. Mary Kay Blakely, “The Pros and Cons of Motherhood,” in Gloria Kaufman and Mary Kay Blakely, Pulling Our Own Strings (1980)
  • Families don't always realize that mother is exhausted, because mother is always exhausted. Exhausted is what looks normal. Mary Kay Blakely, in a 1989 interview in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (specific issue undetermined)
  • Mothers are likely to have more bad days on the job than most other professionals, considering the hours: round-the-clock, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Mary Kay Blakely, in the Prologue to American Mom (1994)

Blakely went on to add: “You go to work when you’re sick, maybe even clinically depressed, because motherhood is perhaps the only unpaid position where failure to show up can result in arrest.”

  • Being asked to decide between your passion for work and your passion for children was like being asked by your doctor whether you preferred him to remove your brain or your heart. Mary Kay Blakely, in American Mom (1994)
  • Mothers are not the nameless, faceless stereotypes who appear once a year on a greeting card with their virtues set to prose, but women who have been dealt a hand for life and play each card one at a time the best way they know how. Erma Bombeck, in the Introduction to Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession (1983)

Bombeck continued: “No mother is all good or all bad, all laughing or all serious, all loving or all angry. Ambivalence rushes through their veins.”

  • It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding. Erma Bombeck, in Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (1983)
  • The term “working mother” is redundant. Erma Bombeck, in a 1983 issue of New Woman magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I have reached the age when a woman begins to perceive that she is growing into the person she least plans to resemble: her mother. Anita Brookner, in Incidents in the Rue Laugier (1995)
  • Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together. Pearl S. Buck, “To You on Your First Birthday,” in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • Nature’s loving proxy, the watchful mother. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the character Austin Caxton speaking, in The Caxtons: A Family Picture (1848–¬49)
  • Mothering has left me with stretch marks. I have been stretched beyond what I could have imagined in helping another be who they were called to be in relation to life. The stretch marks are not only on my body; they are on my heart, head, imagination, and on my spirit. Kathy Callahan, “Reflections on Mother and Mothering,” in M. P. Erickson & B. Kling, Streams From the Sacred River: Women’s Spiritual Wisdom (1998)
  • There are lots of things that you can brush under the carpet about yourself until you're faced with somebody whose needs won’t be put off. Angela Carter, on becoming a mother for the first time, at age 43; in an interview in Marxism Today (January 1985)
  • There is no other closeness in human life like the closeness between a mother and her baby—chronologically, physically, and spiritually they are just a few heartbeats away from being the same person. Susan Cheever, in A Woman’s Life (1994)
  • In the land of Cheerios, dirty diapers, fleeting naps and interrupted sleep, other mothers are a lifeline. Susan Chira, “Girls,” in The New York Times Review of Books (Jan. 11, 2013)
  • A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. Agatha Christie, “The Last Séance,” in The Hound of Death (1933)
  • Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy—the mother. Claudette Colbert, quoted in Time magazine (Sep. 14, 1981)
  • A mother is a mother still,/The holiest thing alive. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in “The Three Graves” (1818)
  • Labor is not as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Sure, it hurts like hell. But then it’s over. What you should really worry about are the next eighteen years—they’re painful in a much slower way, like peeling a huge adhesive bandage off your brain, cell by cell. Cathy Crimmins, in Madonna and Child, a Maternally Hip Baby Book: A Parody (1996)
  • Take motherhood: Nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Premature Pragmatism,” New York magazine (1986); reprinted in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1991)
  • Mighty is the force of motherhood! It transforms all things by its vital heat. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in “Janet’s Repentance,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Oh, what a power is motherhood, possessing/A potent spell. All women alike/Fight fiercely for a child. Euripides, in Iphigenia in Aulis (5th c. B.C.)
  • A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Her Son’s Wife (1926)
  • Blaming mother is just a negative way of clinging to her still. Nancy Friday, in My Mother/My Self: The Daughter’s Search for Identity (1977)
  • The mother-child relationship is is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955)
  • The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat. Robert Frost, in Paris Review interview (Summer-Fall, 1960)

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

  • Every mother is a working mother. Theresa Funicello, in Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America (1993)
  • All that remains to the mother in modern consumer society is the role of the scapegoat. Germain Greer, in The Change: Women, Aging and the Menopause (1991)

Greer continued: “Psychoanalysis uses huge amounts of money and time to to persuade analysands to foist their problems on the absent mother, who has no opportunity to utter a word in her own defense.”

  • The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother—which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician. Sydney J. Harris, in Majority of One (1957)
  • Motherhood today is a high risk profession. Charges of malpractice have not been reserved for doctors and lawyers alone. Mothers have had firsthand experience with the peculiar belief in our culture that if something goes wrong, someone is at fault. Elaine Heffner, in Mothering: The Emotional Experience of Motherhood After Freud and Feminism (1978)

Heffner continued: “We do not suffer gladly human frailty or the limitations of life itself. We need someone to blame for whatever frustration or deprivation we may have experienced in our lives. Too often that someone is mother.”

  • We don’t get enough pampering. If we were once the only child of an adoring mother, we developed a taste for it; if not, we developed a thirst for it. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)
  • The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men—from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860)
  • Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall;/A mother’s secret hope outlives them all. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “A Mother’s Secret,” in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860)

ERROR ALERT: Dozens of published books celebrating motherhood, and almost all internet sites, mistakenly present the second line this way: “A mother’s secret love outlives them all.” The couplet is actually the conclusion to a longer poem, which may be seen in full at”A Mother’s Secret”

  • Motherhood is like Albania—you can’t trust the descriptions in the books, you have to go there. Marni Jackson, in The Mother Zone (1992)
  • Now, as always, the most automated appliance in a household is the mother. Beverly Jones, “The Dynamics of Marriage and Motherhood,” in The Florida Paper on Women's Liberation (1970)
  • Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not. James Joyce, the character Cranly speaking, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  • For me, motherhood has been the one true, great, and wholly successful romance. It is the only love I have known that is expansive and that could have stretched to contain with equal passion more than one object. Irma Kurtz, in Beds of Nails and Roses (1983)
  • Mother’s love grows by giving. Charles Lamb, from the undated poem “The Gipsy’s Malison”, in “Album Verses, with a Few Others,” in The Life of Charles Lamb (1838)
  • Feeling inadequate is an occupational hazard of motherhood. Harriet Lerner, in Live Preservers: Good Advice When You Need It Most (1996)
  • By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • I should like to be a full-time Mother and a full-time Artist and a full-time Wife-Companion and also a “Charming Woman” on the side! And to be aware and record it all. I cannot do it all. Something must go—several things probably. The “charming woman” first! Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in War Within and War Without (1980)
  • Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother. W. Somerset Maugham, an 1896 entry in A Writer’s Notebook (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: First appearing as an 1896 Notebook entry, the line was reprised by the character Hayward in Maugham’s classic 1915 novel Of Human Bondage. When I recently asked ChatGPT to explain the meaning of the line, I got this fascinating response:

“The quote is often misunderstood, and it is important to read it in context to fully grasp its meaning. In the novel, Maugham explores the life of Philip Carey, a young boy who is orphaned at an early age and sent to live with his emotionally distant uncle and aunt. Philip longs for love and affection, and he finds it in his first love, Mildred, who uses him and abuses his affection for her.

“Later in the novel, Philip’s friend Hayward observes that Philip’s life has been shaped by the absence of his mother, who might have given him the love and affection he so desperately craved. Hayward’s statement is what Maugham is commenting on with the quote you mentioned.

“Maugham is not suggesting that having an affectionate mother is a misfortune in and of itself. Rather, he is saying that if a boy is raised with an abundance of affection and protection, he may not develop the independence and resilience necessary to navigate the challenges of life.”

  • The only mothers it is safe to forget on Mother’s Day are the good ones. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • At work, you think of the children you’ve left at home. At home, you think of the work you’ve left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself: your heart is rent. Golda Meir, quoted in Oriana Fallaci, L’Europeo (1973)
  • Two new beings are brought forth during childbirth: a newborn and a mother. Anne Marie Nelson, quoted in Karen Casey, A Woman’s Spirit (1994)
  • It’s like being grounded for 18 years. New York City Board of Education, saying on poster warning against teen pregnancy; pictured in The New York Times (Oct. 12, 1986)
  • God is a Mother. Eugene O’Neill, the character Nina speaking, in Strange Interlude (1928)
  • No joy in nature is so sublimely affecting as the joy of a mother at the good fortune of a child. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Hesperus (1795)
  • Every mother is like Moses. She does not enter the promised land. She prepares a world she will not see. Pope Paul VI, quoted in Jean Guitton, Conversations with Pope Paul (1967)
  • It is a little considered fact that simply in the process of becoming a mother, one does not automatically become a saint. Eugenie Price, in Woman to Woman (1959)
  • An ounce of mother is worth a ton of clergy. Proverb (Spanish)
  • God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers. Proverb (Yiddish)
  • Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)

Rich added: “The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.”

  • The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born (1976)

Rich continued: “Our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.”

  • Nothing could have prepared me for the realization that I was a mother…when I knew I was still in a state of uncreation myself. Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born (1976)
  • Motherhood is the great mesh in which all human relations are entangled, in which lurk our most elemental assumptions about love and power. Adrienne Rich, “The Contemporary Emergency and the Quantum Leap,” in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979)
  • Mothers are the only race of people that speak in the same tongue. A mother in Manchuria could converse with a mother in Nebraska and never miss a word. Will Rogers, in syndicated radio broadcast (May 11, 1930)
  • I doubt if a charging elephant, or a rhino, is as determined or as hard to check as a socially ambitious mother. Will Rogers, in his syndicated “Daily Telegrams” newspaper column (May 10, 1932)
  • Women have childbearing equipment. For them to choose not to use the equipment is no more blocking what is instinctive than it is for a man who, muscles or no, chooses not to be a weightlifter. Betty Rollin, “Motherhood: Who Needs It?” in Look magazine (May 16, 1971)

Rollin introduced the observation by writing: “Biological possibility and desire are not the same as biological need.”

  • Unlike a disappointing marriage, disappointing motherhood cannot be terminated by divorce. Betty Rollin, “Motherhood: Who Needs It?” in Look magazine (May 16, 1971)
  • Into the woman’s keeping is committed the destiny of the generations to come after them. Theodore Roosevelt, speech at Mother’s Congress, Washington DC (March 13, 1905)
  • We have not outgrown a servant society; we’ve just rebaptized “cook,” “governess,” “maid” and called her “mother.” Amélie Rorty, in S. Ruddick and P. Daniels, Working It Out: 23 Women Writers, Artists, Scientists, and Scholars Talk About Their Lives and Work (1977)
  • Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers. Sheryl Sandberg, in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013)
  • The ideal mother, like the ideal marriage, is a fiction. Milton R. Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life (1955)
  • It is impossible for any woman to love her children twenty-four hours a day. Milton R. Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life (1955)
  • No matter how old a mother is she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement. Florida Scott-Maxwell, in Measure of My Days (1968)
  • For the mother is, and must be, whether she knows it or not, the greatest, strongest, and most lasting teacher her children have. Hannah Whitall Smith, in Child Culture: Or the Science of Motherhood (1894)

Smith added: “Other influences come and go, but hers is continual; and by the opinion men have of women we can generally judge of the sort of mother they had.”

  • Over the years I have learned that motherhood is much like an austere religious order, the joining of which obligates one to relinquish all claims to personal possessions. Nancy Stahl, in If It’s Raining This Must Be the Weekend (1979)
  • Mothers of the race, the most important actors in the grand drama of human progress. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in History of Woman Suffrage (1881)
  • Motherhood is the most important of all professions—requiring more knowledge than any other department in human affairs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters Diary and Reminiscences (1922; Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, eds.,)
  • Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father. Gloria Steinem, quoted in The New York Times (Aug. 26, 1971)
  • Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. Elizabeth Stone, quoted in Ellen Cantarow, “No Kids,” The Village Voice (Jan. 15, 1985)
  • Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. Meryl Streep, quoted in E. E. Pfaff and M. Emerson, Meryl Streep: A Critical Biography (1987)
  • Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children. William Makepeace Thackeray, the voice of the narrator, in Vanity Fair (1848)
  • It must be said that the most important feature in a woman’s history is her maternity. Frances Trollope, in Domestic Manners of the Americans, Vol. 2 (1932)
  • The hand that rocks the cradle/Is the hand that rules the world. William Ross Wallace, in “What Rules the World” (1865)
  • Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse. Rebecca West, in an 1859 letter, quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987)
  • I say it as as great to be a woman as to be a man,/And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of a man. Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass (1855)



  • A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conquerer, that confidence of success that often induces real success. Sigmund Freud, in “A Childhood Recollection of Dichtung und Warheit” (1917); reprinted in Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1 (1961)
  • My early life was a series of fierce battles, from which my mother invariably emerged the victor. Bernard Law Montgomery, in The Memoirs of Field-Marshall Montgomery (1958)

Montgomery introduced the observation by writing: “Certainly I can say that my own childhood was unhappy. This was due to a clash of wills between my mother and myself.”

  • My mother preferred the simpler relationship which existed between donor and recipient to the more complicated one between mother and child. Anthony Eden, quoted in William Douglas Home, The Prime Ministers: Stories and Anecdotes From Number 10 (1987)
  • A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it’s too late to let her know that he sees it. William Dean Howells, the title character speaking, in The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
  • Every man must define his identity against his mother. If he does not, he just falls back into her and is swallowed up. Camille Paglia, “Homosexuality at the Fin de Siècle,” in Esquire (Oct., 1991); reprinted in Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992)
  • Breaking free from the delicious security of mother love can be a painful rupture for either mother or son. Frank Pittman, in Man Enough (1993)

Pittman continued: “Some boys can’t do it. Some mothers can’t let it happen because they know the boy is not ready to leave her; others are simply not ready to give up their sons.”



  • All that we do is done with an eye to something else. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own. J. M. Barrie, in rectorial address at St. Andrews University (May 3, 1922)
  • ’Tis e’er the wont of simple folk to prize the deed and o’erlook the motive, and of learned folk to discount the deed and lay open the soul of the doer. John Barth, the character McEvoy speaking, in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960)
  • I have known men who could see through the motivations of others with the skill of a clairvoyant; only to prove blind to their own mistakes. In fact, I have been one of those men. Bernard Baruch, quoted in Robert T. Harris, Social Ethics (1962)
  • You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. William S. Burroughs, in Junky (1977)
  • Wisdom is the sad smile with which we recognize our own motives in a fool. John Ciardi, in his regular Saturday Review column (May 21, 1966)
  • The true motives of our actions, like the real pipes of an organ, are usually concealed. But the gilded and the hollow pretext is pompously placed in the front of show. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. Stephen R. Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)

Covey continued: “But it takes time and patience, and it doesn’t preclude the necessity to train and develop people so that their competency can rise to the level of that trust.”

  • Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly. Stephen R. Covey, in The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey (2012)
  • We know nothing about motivation. All we can do is write books about it. Peter Drucker, “The Sayings of Chairman Peter,” in John J. Tarrant, Drucker: The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society (1976)
  • Distrust your judgment the moment you can discern the shadow of a personal motive in it. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880–93)
  • A whole industry has grown up to promote positive thinking, and the product of this industry, available at a wide range of prices, is called “motivation.” Barbara Ehrenreich, in Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (2009)
  • What makes life dreary is the want of motive. George Eliot, the title character speaking, in Daniel Deronda (1876)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking to Gwendolyn, Deronda continued: “But once beginning to act with that penitential, loving purpose you have in your mind, there will be unexpected satisfactions—there will be newly opening needs—continually coming to carry you on from day to day. You will find your life growing like a plant.”

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites present the opening quotation without a the (“What makes life dreary is want of motive”).

  • I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I don't know why I do things. J. B. S. Haldane, an epigraph to Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man (1972)
  • There is a stage in any misery when the victim begins to find a deep satisfaction in it. Storm Jameson, the voice of the narrator, in That Was Yesterday (1932)
  • Motivation is not a thinking word; it’s a feeling word. John Kotter, in Introduction to The Heart of Change (2002)
  • We should often feel ashamed of our best actions if the world could see all of the motives which produced them. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: The aphorism has also been popularly translated this way: “We should often be ashamed of our finest actions if the world understood all the motives behind them.”

  • There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. John Lennon, in In His Own Write (1964)

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

  • Until we know what motivates the hearts and minds of men we can understand nothing outside ourselves, nor will we ever reach fulfillment as that greatest miracle of all, the human being. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • We are all motivated far more than we care to admit by characteristics inherited from our ancestors which individual experiences of childhood can modify, repress, or enhance, but cannot erase. Agnes E. Meyer, in Out Of These Roots (1953)
  • There are only two forces that unite men—fear and interest. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)
  • Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes. Robert Orben, in 2400 Jokes to Brighten Your Speeches (1984)
  • Your elephant seal has an issue with motivation: he is not a natural self-starter. Start him, however, and he goes, not like a rocket, but a sort of turbo-charged mega-caterpillar. Matthew Parris, “Another Voice” in The Spectator (London, June 17, 2000)

Parris, a British politician who had just returned from a elephant seal-watching trip, described his experiences with the animal in a metaphor-rich essay. He continued: “Have you ever seen an elephant seal running? The earth shakes as great rolls of leather-bound blubber go rippling down his 12ft [read twelve-foot] frame and he buckles and unbuckles along the beach. You too would move like this if someone tied your legs together and your hands to your sides and swaddled you in black foam-rubber.” For several other delightful elephant seal metaphors, see the entire article at: The Spectator.

  • People become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization. Anita Roddick, in Body and Soul (1991)
  • 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)
  • What we believe to be the motives of our conduct are usually but the pretexts for it. Miguel de Unamuno, in The Tragic Sense of Life (1912)
  • Too great a preoccupation with motives (especially one’s own motives) is liable to lead to too little concern for consequences. Katharine Whitehorn, in Roundabout (1962)
  • Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • The Light of Lights/Looks always on the motive, not the deed./The Shadow of Shadows on the deed alone. William Butler Yeats, “The Countess Cathleen” (1892)
  • Motivation is the fuel necessary to keep the human engine running. Zig Ziglar, in Breaking Through to the Next Level (1998)



  • The ordinary man looking at a mountain is like an illiterate person confronted with a Greek manuscript. Aleister Crowley, in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929)
  • Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments. Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Notch of the White Mountains,” in Sketches From Memory (1835)

Hawthorne continued: “They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their own age, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.”

  • In solo climbing the whole enterprise is held together with little more than chutzpah, not the most reliable adhesive. Jon Krakauer, on mountain climbing, in Into the Wild (1996)
  • Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. John Muir, “Yellowstone National Park,” in Our National Parks (1901)



  • In the hour of bereavement we feel most acutely what Swift called “the sting of perishable things.”  At the moment of deep hurt it appears indeed that there is no balm for our gaping wounds.  We tend to despair of ever regaining our emotional equilibrium. Sidney Greenberg, “Time—The Gentle Healer,” in A Treasury of Comfort (1954)

This is a lovely way to begin an essay, and it is made more special by the apt inclusion of a beautiful phrase from Jonathan Swift (one most readers have likely never before seen). Rabbi Greenburg continued: “At such a time we are scarcely amenable to solace. Words of comfort ring hollow in the dark night of sorrow. That is why an ancient sage counseled wisely: ‘Do not comfort they friend when his deceased is still lying before him.’ Premature comfort can often be more harmful than no comfort because it seems to mock the hurt, to make light of our torment.”

  • I did not know the work of mourning/Is a labor in the dark/We carry inside ourselves. Edward Hirsch, in Gabriel: A Poem (2014)

QUOTE NOTE: Hirsch’s book of poetry—an attempt to capture sorrow after the death of his son—is written entirely in three-line stanzas. In the work, Hirsch also incorporates the stories of other poets over the centuries who also experienced the death of children. A bit earlier in the poem, he had written: “I did not know the work of mourning/Is like carrying a bag of cement/Up a mountain at night.”

  • The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound, we seek to heal—every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open—this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude. Washington Irving, in The Sketch Book (1819–20)
  • To mourn is to be extraordinarily vulnerable. It is to be at the mercy of inside feelings and outside events in a way most of us have not been since early childhood. Christian McEwen, “The Color of the Water, the Yellow of the Field,” in Christian McEwen and Sue O'Sullivan, Out the Other Side (1988)
  • Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved. Iris Murdoch, the character Montague Small speaking, in The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974)



  • Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • Social movements are at once the symptoms and the instruments of progress. Ignore them and statesmanship is irrelevant; fail to use them and it is weak. Walter Lippmann, “Revolution and Culture,” in A Preface to Politics (1914)
  • It takes six simpletons and one zealot to start a movement. Anzia Yezierska, “One Thousand Pages of Research,” in Commentary magazine (July 1963)



  • Life ain’t the movies. Dorothy Allison, in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995)
  • Hickeys are like PG-13 movies. You think they’re pretty hot stuff after being limited to G and PG, but you never bother with them once you’re seriously into R. Judy Markey, in You Only Get Married for the First Time Once (1988)
  • Occasionally life can be like a movie you’d much rather not be in. Antonia Quirke, in Choking on Marlon Brando (2007)
  • Life is a movie, and you’re the star. Give it a happy ending. Joan Rivers, in Bouncing Back (1997)
  • Life is a movie. Death is a photograph. Susan Sontag, in The Benefactor (1963)
  • Movies have mirrored our moods and myths since the century began. They have taken on some of the work of religion. Jennifer Stone, “Epilogue,” in Mind Over Media (1988)
  • I thought movie making might be for the twentieth century what cathedral building was for the Middle Ages. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)



  • Most movies are not very good. Most people know it and like to see them anyway. Renata Adler, in A Year in the Dark (1969)
  • Real Movies…all involve intense involvement with their characters. All do something that is perhaps the most important thing a movie can do: They take us outside our personal box of time and space, and invite us to empathize with those of other times, places, races, creeds, classes, and prospects. Roger Ebert, in Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2011 (2010)

Ebert concluded by saying: “I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”

  • One cannot overstate the potential for hysteria on a movie set. Everyone always acts as if making the movie is as important as eradicating malaria. Delia Ephron, in Sister Mother Husband Dog, Etc. (2013)
  • NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess—and, if you’re lucky, an educated one. William Goldman, in Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983)
  • If screenplays are about structure, and they are, then movies are story. William Goldman, in Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Skin Trade (2000)
  • The words “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. Pauline Kael, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most familiar version of the shorthand phrase for movies, but it was first advanced in print nearly twenty years earlier, When Hortense Powdermaker wrote in Hollywood, The Dream Factory: “South Sea natives who have been exposed to American movies classify them into two types, ‘kiss-kiss’ and ‘bang-bang.’”

  • Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them. Pauline Kael, in Going Steady (1970)

Later in the book, Kael expressed the thought more succinctly: “We learn to settle for so little, we moviegoers.”

  • Movies, far more than the traditional arts, are tied to big money. Without a few independent critics, there’s nothing between the public and the advertisers. Pauline Kael, Deeper Into Movies (1973)
  • There is something spurious about the very term “a movie made for TV,' because what you make for TV is a TV program. Pauline Kael, in Reeling (1976)
  • Movies that are consciously life-affirming are to be consciously avoided. Pauline Kael, in Hooked (1989)
  • An avidity for more is built into the love of movies. Something else is built in: you have to be open to the idea of getting drunk on movies. (Being able to talk about movies with someone—to share the giddy high excitement you feel—is enough for a friendship. Pauline Kael, in Movie Love (1991)
  • Ego problems are endemic in every walk of life, but in the movie business egomaniacs are megalomaniacs. Lynda Obst, in Hello, He Lied—And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (1996)

In her memoir about life in Hollywood, Obst wrote more personally on the theme: “My goal has been to learn how to get movies made without losing sight of the reasons I began. I have had to learn to recognize the insidious nature of the beast without becoming one.”

  • Other than life experience, nothing left a deeper imprint on my formative self than the movies. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (1991)
  • Great villains make great movies. Staton Rabin, in scr(i)pt (2002)
  • Even at the movies, we laugh together, we weep alone. James Richardson, in Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
  • Do you know what makes a movie work? Moments. Give the audience half a dozen moments they can remember, and they’ll leave the theatre happy. Rosalind Russell, quoted in William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983)
  • Movies elevate our sights, enlarge our imagination. Film, like poetry, is one of our heart’s most subtle agents. It reminds us of what we know, helps us stretch and change. Marsha Sinetar, in Reel Power: Spiritual Growth Through Film (1993)
  • Movies have mirrored our moods and myths since the century began. They have taken on some of the work of religion. Jennifer Stone, “Epilogue,” in Mind Over Media (1988)
  • The art of these Fifties movies was in sustaining forever the moment before sex. Twyla Tharp, in Push Comes to Shove (1992)
  • I thought movie making might be for the twentieth century what cathedral building was for the Middle Ages. Jessamyn West, in To See the Dream (1957)

In her memoir, West also wrote: “A movie is a guess at an echo. We guess at the reverberation of its impact upon an audience.”


(see also ART and ARTISTS and PAINTING and PAINTERS)

  • The murals in restaurants are on a par with the food in museums. Peter De Vries, the character Pomfret speaking, in Madder Music (1977)



  • When I kill a man, I do it with my sword, but people like you don’t use swords. You gentlemen kill with your power, with your money, and sometimes just with your words: you tell people you’re doing them a favor. True, no blood flows, the man is still alive, but you’ve killed him all the same. I don’t know whose sin is greater―yours or mine. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the bandit Tajōmaru offering testimony in a criminal investigation, from “In a Bamboo Grove” (1922) in Roshomon: And Seventeen Other Stories (2006; Jay Rubin, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: “In a Bamboo Grove” (originally titled “In a Grove”) is one of the great short stories in literary history. Originally published in a 1922 edition of the Japanese literary magazine Shinchō, the tale became legendary for a plot device in which different characters present differing accounts of what looks like the murder of a man and the sexual assault of his wife. The story formed the basis for Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film classic Rashomon. You should know, however, that the film was a portrayal of the “In a Grove” story. Kurosawa selected Rashomon—the title of another Akutagawa short story—as the title of his film, presumably because it had more appeal.

  • Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
  • Murder is not perpetrated in a vacuum. It is a product of greed, avarice, hate, revenge, or perhaps fear. As a splashing stone sends ripples to the farthest edges of the pond, murder affects the lives of many people. Erle Stanley Gardner, the voice of the narrator, in The Case of the Horrified Heirs (1964)
  • There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it and isolate it, and expose every inch of it. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Holmes, speaking to Dr. Watson, began by thanking his sidekick for putting him on to a case, saying, “I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across—a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn’t we use a little art jargon?”


(see also INSPIRATION)

  • Why does my Muse only speak when she is unhappy?/She does not, I only listen when I am unhappy/When I am happy I live and despise writing/For my Muse this cannot but be dispiriting. Stevie Smith, title poem, in My Muse (1960)
  • Perversity is the muse of modern literature. Susan Sontag, “Camus’ Notebooks” (1963), in Against Interpretation (1966)



  • Music, the greatest good that mortals know,/And all of heaven we have below. Joseph Addison, in “A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, at Oxford” (c. 1700)
  • Music keeps time and defies time, simultaneously. Susan Wittig Albert, in Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story (1996)
  • Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. Maya Angelou, in Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976)
  • Music is the best means we have of digesting time. W. H. Auden, quoted in Robert Craft, Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship (1972)
  • The purpose of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought. Author Unknown
  • Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Berthold Auerbach, the Countess Irma speaking, in On the Heights (1865)

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, an almost identical version of this thought—but about art as opposed to music—is attributed to Pablo Picasso (see the Picasso entry in ART). Auerbach is the original creator of the magnificent metaphor, though, and Picasso clearly “borrowed” it from him. Originally title Auf der Höhe, Auerbach’s 1865 novel was translated into English in 1867, and went on to become one of the German writer’s most popular works. Many thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for his assistance in researching this quotation.

  • The one universal form of art is music. Faith Baldwin, “Communication,” in Face Toward the Spring (1956)
  • Music appeals to the heart, whereas writing is addressed to the intellect; it communicates ideas directly, like perfume. Honoré de Balzac, in Massimilla Doni (1839)
  • Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory. Thomas Beecham, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; Sep. 16, 1962)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Beecham was piggybacking on a remark he had made nearly a decade earlier (Nov. 17, 1953) on a BBC-radio broadcast: “Good music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty.”

  • Music, verily, is the mediator between the life of the mind and the senses. Ludwig van Beethoven, quoted by Bettina von Arnim in a letter to Goethe (May 28, 1810); cited in William Kinderman, Beethoven (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Today, the Beethoven observation is almost always presented in the following way: “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life.” This modern translation may have been inspired in part by Dr. Johnson’s legendary observation about music, to be seen below.

  • Poetry and music—but especially music, because of its specific and far-reaching metaphorical powers—can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable. Leonard Bernstein, in The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard (1976)

A moment earlier, Bernstein had written: “In any sense in which music can be considered a language (and there are some senses in which it cannot be so considered) it is a totally metaphorical language.”

  • Music is a part of us, and either ennobles or degrades our behavior. Boethius, in De Institutione Musica (6th c. A. D.)
  • Music…will help to dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibility, and in times of care and sorrow will keep a ground-bass of joy alive in you. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge” (May, 1944), in Letters and Papers from Prison, 1943–1944 (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Recent translations render the final portion this way: “will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

  • Who hears music, feels his solitude/Peopled at once. Robert Browning, in “Balaustion’s Adventure” (1871)
  • Music is not technique and melody, but the meaning of life itself, infinitely sorrowful and unbearably beautiful. Pearl S. Buck, in The Exile (1936)
  • Music, once admitted to the soul…never dies. It wanders perturbedly through the halls and galleries of the memory, and is often heard again, distinct and living as when it first displaced the wavelets of the air. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a reflection of the title character, in Zanoni (1842)
  • Music is edifying, for from time to time it sets the soul in operation. John Cage, “Forerunners of Modern Music” (1949), in Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961)
  • Music is a means of rapid transportation. John Cage, “Composition as Process” (1958) in Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961)
  • Music is well said to be the speech of angels. Thomas Carlyle, in The Opera (1852)

Carlyle added: “In fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.”

  • While I listened, music was to my soul what the atmosphere is to my body; it was the breath of my inward life. I felt, more deeply than ever, that music is the highest symbol of the infinite and holy. Lydia Maria Child, in Letters From New York, (2nd Series; 1845)

Child added: “With renewed force I felt what I have often said, that the secret of creation lay in music. ‘A voice to light gave being.’ Sound led the stars into their places.”

  • Music is the art of thinking with sounds. Jules Combarieu, quoted in Edward Joseph Dent, Mozart’s Opera (1913)
  • Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,/To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak. William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride (1697)

ERROR ALERT: This is the exact phrasing of Congreve’s famous couplet about the calming and restorative powers of music (it was the very first line of the play, delivered by the character Almeria). In everyday use these days, though, savage beast has almost completely supplanted savage breast (and hath commonly replaces has). I long believed that the dropping of the “r” in breast was an example of what linguists call elision or syncope, but I now have a plausible alternative explanation for the shift. In 1718, twenty-one years after the first performance of Congreve’s play, a contemporary English poet named Matthew Prior came out with an epic prose-poem titled Solomon, on the Vanity of the World. That work contained a piece of verse that appears to make an allusion to Congreve’s couplet:

“Often our seers and poets have confess’d,/That music’s force can tame the furious beast;/Can make the wolf, or foaming boar restrain/His rage.”

It’s easy to understand how savage breast and furious beast could get intermixed in popular discourse as the years went by, resulting in the current savage beast saying.

  • Writing about music is like dancing about architecture—it’s a really stupid thing to want to do. Elvis Costello, in Musician magazine interview (Oct., 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Variations of this observation have been attributed to many others, including Steve Martin, Martin Mull, and Frank Zappa. Costello appears to be the original author of the sentiment.

  • Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light. Claude Debussy, quoted in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1980)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation, while widely quoted and included in many respected quotation anthologies, has never, to my knowledge, been authenticated.

  • Music is an outburst of the soul. Frederick Delius, quoted in Eric Fenby, Delius as I Knew Him (1936; rev. 1981)
  • The memories which come to us through music are not accompanied by any regrets. For a moment, music gives us back the pleasures it retraces, and we feel them again rather than recollect them. Germaine de Staël, in Letters on Rousseau (1788)
  • Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking to Dr. Watson, in A Study in Scarlet (1888)

Holmes continued: “Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.”

  • Music is the eye of the ear. Thomas Draxe, in Bibliotheca (1616)
  • It is generally recognized that music gives access to regions of the subconscious that can be reached in no other way. Sophie Drinker, in Music and Women (1948)

Earlier in the book, Drinker wrote: “Great music has always been rooted in religion—when religion is understood as an attitude toward superhuman power and the mysteries of the universe.”

  • As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes. John Dryden, in Preface to Henry Purcell’s The Prophetess (1690)
  • What passion cannot Music raise and quell? John Dryden, in A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day (1687)
  • Music is only love looking for words. Lawrence Durrell, from “Conon in Alexandria” (1945), in Collected Poems, 1931–1974 (1980)
  • Music was invented to confirm human loneliness. Lawrence Durrell, in Clea (1960)
  • Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one. Duke [Edward Kennedy] Ellington, in his autobiography Music is My Mistress (1973)

Ellington preceded this thought by writing: “I am almost a hermit, but there is a difference, for I have a mistress. Lovers have come and gone, but only my mistress stays. She is beautiful and gentle. She waits on me hand and foot. She is a swinger. She has grace. To hear her speak, you can’t believe your ears. She is ten thousand years old. She is as modern as tomorrow, a brand-new woman every day, and as endless as time mathematics [sic]. Living with her is a labyrinth of ramifications. I look forward to her every gesture.”

  • She sat very still, listening, and the past-that-might-have-been, and the future-that-was-to-be, stretched behind and before her, as is strangely often the case when we are listening to music. Edna Ferber, the narrator describing protagonist Emma McChesney, in Roast Beef Medium (1913)
  • Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune. Thomas Fuller, in Worthies of England: Musicians (1662)
  • We can never rely on inspiration. Making music is actually little less than a matter of invention aided and abetted by emotion. George Gershwin, quoted in Edward Jablonski, George Gershwin (1962)
  • The hills are alive with the sound of music. Oscar Hammerstein II, opening lyric to the 1959 song “The Sound of Music” (music by Richard Rodgers)
  • In its origin, modern blues music is the expression of the emotional life of a race. W. C. Handy, “The Heart of the Blues,” in Etude Music Magazine (March, 1940)

QUOTE NOTE: Handy, who said that the study of the blues “has been most of my life’s work” is often described as “The Father of the Blues.” He continued: “In the south of long ago, whenever a new man appeared for work in any of the laborers’ gangs, he would be asked if he could sing. If he could, he got the job. The singing of these working men set the rhythm for the work, the pounding of the hammers, the swinging of scythes; and the one who sang most lustily soon became strawboss.”

  • Music is a strange thing. I would almost say it is a miracle. For it stands halfway between thought and phenomenon, between spirit and matter, a sort of nebulous mediator. Heinrich Heine, in Letters of the French Stage (1837)
  • Where words leave off, music begins. Heinrich Heine, quoted by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, in 1878 letter to Nadezhda von Meck
  • Take a music-bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. Victor Hugo, in William Shakespeare (1864)

QUOTE NOTE: The title of this work—one of Hugo’s least successful books—is misleading, for it provided a critical appraisal of many other literary luminaries as well (it also included so many personal observations that one French critic quipped that a more appropriate title for the book would have been Myself). Despite the book’s critical failings, it provided some memorable quotations, including this one. An 1887 translation of the book by Melville B. Anderson offered a slightly different rendition of the thought: “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and which cannot be suppressed.”

  • After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Aldous Huxley, “The Rest is Silence,” in Music at Night and Other Essays (1931)
  • It is the only sensual pleasure without vice. Samuel Johnson, on music, quoted in European Magazine (Feb., 1795)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. See also the Beethoven entry above.

  • Lots has been said about the tenacity of music in the brain. I saw the truth of that one day at a nursing home where my ukulele band was playing for residents. There was a guy lying on a gurney who appeared dead and was completely out of it. Then as we played one of his feet began to gently rock back and forth right on the beat. Pretty soon there were no dry eyes among us. Margaret Kendall, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 29, 2020)
  • Scales are the grammar of music. Frances Parkinson Keyes, in Roses in December (1960)
  • We would liken music to Aladdin’s lamp—worthless in itself, not so for the spirits which obey its call. We love it for the buried hopes, the garnered memories, the tender feelings, it can summon with a touch. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)

QUOTE NOTE: Some of the phrases in this observation also show up in the popular Picasso quotation which took Berthold Auerbach’s words about music and applied them to art (see the Picasso entry in ART). Many thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for pointing out the similarity between the Landon and Picasso quotations.

  • Music is the universal language of mankind—poetry their universal pastime and delight. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Outre-Mer, a Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (1835)
  • There are two kinds of music—good music and bad music. Good music is music that I want to hear. Bad music is music that I don’t want to hear. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1974)
  • What good is music? None…and that is the point. To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, “You are irrelevant;” and, arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering man it says only, “Listen.” Ursula K. Le Guin, “An die Musik,” in Western Humanities Review (1961)

Le Guin continued: “For being saved is not the point. Music saves nothing. Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky.”

  • It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Very Far Away from Anywhere Else (1976)
  • And as I play the game of life/I try to make it better each and every day/And when I struggle in the night/The magic of the music seems to light the way. John Lennon, lyrics to the song “Intuition,” on the 1973 Mind Games album
  • Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep, and college students studying with music as a background. Daniel J. Levitin, in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (2006)

Levitin went on describe music as “part of the fabric of everyday life,” and added: “Throughout most of the world and for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and everyone participated.”

  • Surely the hold of great music on the listener is precisely this: that the listener is made whole; and at the same time part of an image of infinite grace and grandeur which is creation. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • Music is a form of spiritual carbon dating. Lance Morrow, “They’re Playing Ur-Song,” in Fishing in the Tiber (1988)
  • Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness. George Jean Nathan, “Intelligence and Drama,” in The American Mercury (December 1925); reprinted in The World of George Jean Nathan: Essays, Reviews, & Commentary (1998; C. S. Angoff, ed.)
  • Without music life would be a mistake. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Maxims and Arrows,” in Twilight of the Idols (1889)
  • God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up, or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble. Friedrich Nietzsche, in an 1858 autobiographical fragment, quoted in Julian Young, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: Nietzsche was talking about “Church music” when he wrote this. He continued: “The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart.” Nietzsche was puritanical in his attitude toward music, however, as reflected in his next words on the subject: “If, however, music serves only as a diversion or as a kind of vain ostentation it is sinful and harmful.”

  • Music melts all the separate parts of our bodies together. Anaïs Nin, the voice of the narrator, in Winter of Artifice (1945 ed.)
  • All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. Walter Pater, “The School of Giorgione,” in Studies in the History of The Renaissance (1873)
  • Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life. Jean Paul (pen name of Johann Paul Richter), in Titan (1800-3)
  • Music resembles poetry; in each/Are nameless graces which no methods teach,/And which a master-hand alone can reach. Alexander Pope, in An Essay of Criticism (1711)
  • Music rots when it gets too far from the dance. Ezra Pound, in The ABC of Reading (1934)

Pound continued: “Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.”

  • Music my rampart, and my only one. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven,” in The Buck in the Snow (1928)

In the poem, she also wrote: “Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!”

  • Without music I should wish to die. Even poetry, sweet patron muse forgive me the words, is not what music is. Edna St. Vincent Millay, in a 1920 letter to Allan Ross MacDougall, in Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1952; Allan Ross Macdougall, ed.)
  • It is extraordinary how music sends one back into memories of the past. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • If music be the food of love, play on. William Shakespeare, Duke Orsino delivering the opening line of the play, in Twelfth Night (1601)
  • Give me some music—music, moody food/Of us that trade in love. William Shakespeare, Cleopatra speaking, in Antony and Cleopatra (1606–07)
  • Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception. Carnegie Hall enhances the music. Isaac Stern, quoted in John Rockwell, “Carnegie Hall to Close for 7 Months Next Year,“ The New York Times (May 17. 1985). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Music is feeling, then, not sound. Wallace Stevens, in “Peter Quince at the Clavier” (1923)
  • As oil will find its way into crevices where water cannot penetrate, so song will find its way where speech can no longer enter. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856)
  • I think of music as fuel, its spectrum of energy governed by tempi, volume, and heart. Twyla Tharp, in Push Comes to Shove (1992)
  • Although I was well past my teenage troubles, our music was specifically designed to lubricate the passage from adolescence to adulthood. Pete Townshend, quoted in BBC News: World Edition (Jan. 12, 2003)
  • Great music is in a sense serene; it is certain of the values it asserts. But it is also in great terror, because those values are threatened, and it is not certain whether they will triumph in this world, and of course music is a missionary effort to colonize earth for imperialistic heaven. Rebecca West, in This Real Night (1985)
  • Good music is wine turned to sound. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Choosing of Esther,” in Poems of Progress (1909)
  • In the evenings the art of building gave way to that of music, which is architecture, too, though invisible. Marguerite Yourcenar, the title character describing his music-filled evenings, in Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)
  • Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid. Frank Zappa, in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989; with Peter Occhiogrosso)

Zappa introduced the observation by writing: “A composer’s job involves the decoration of fragments of time.”

  • Music is the only religion that delivers the goods on earth. Frank Zappa, quoted in Rafael Alvarez, “A Musician Who Went to Work Every Day,” The Baltimore Sun (Dec. 8, 1993)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Zappa’s most popular quotations, although it is almost always presented without the final on earth words. Alvarez was recalling a 1991 interview conducted with Zappa, who grew up in Baltimore. His full article, which came just after Zappa’s death at age 53, may be seen at Music is the Only Religion



  • I don’t make music for eyes. I make music for ears. Adele, quoted in Touré, “Adele Opens Up,” Rolling Stone magazine (April 28, 2011)
  • Dancing is What Music was Created For. Advertising Slogan, for Arthur Murray dance studios
  • A sense of religion is something one is born with, like a musical ear. One can develop it, cultivate it, enrich it, but if one hasn’t got its seed to begin with, no powers of the intellect, no sophistication of “evidence” can awaken it. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Only One Year (1969)
  • Sadly, most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try. Mary Kay Ash, in Mary Kay (1981)
  • Conversation is the music of the mind, an intellectual orchestra, where all the instruments should bear a part, but where none should play together. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

Colton added: “Each of the performers should have a just appreciation of his own powers, otherwise an unskillful novice, who might usurp the first fiddle, would infallibly get into a scrape. To prevent these mistakes, a good master of the band will be very particular in the assortment of the performers, if too dissimilar, there will be no harmony, if too few, there will be no variety, and if too numerous, there will be no order.”

  • I have always been driven by some distant music—a battle hymn no doubt—for I have been at war from the beginning. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • The actor must know that since he, himself, is the instrument, he must play on it to serve the character with the same effortless dexterity with which the violinist makes music on his. Uta Hagen, in A Challenge for the Actor (1991)
  • Apathy is the death knell of any order. Once a system has degenerated to the point that apathy is the only thing holding it in place it, it is in its twilight phase. Then one day the music stops. John Berling Hardy, in Have We Been Played? The Hidden Game Revealed (2010)
  • My dance is a sacred poem in which each movement is a word and whose every word is underlined by music. Mata Hari, quoted in John S. Craig, Peculiar Liaisons: in War, Espionage, the Terrorism in the Twentieth Century (2004)

The legendary dancer/spy added: “The temple in which I dance can be vague or faithfully reproduced, for I am the temple.”

  • She poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of his spirit. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator describing Georgiana’s singing to her husband Aylmer, in “The Birth-Mark,” a short story originally published in The Pioneer (March, 1843); reprinted in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846)
  • You can’t change the music of your soul. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Lee Israel, “Last of the Honest-To-God Ladies,” Esquire magazine (November 1967)
  • Take a music-bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in Over the Teacups (1891)
  • It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf. Walter Lippmann, “The Moralist in an Unbelieving World,” in A Preface to Morals (1929)
  • In old age our bodies are worn-out instruments, on which the soul tries in vain to play the melodies of youth. But because the instrument has lost its strings, or is out of tune, it does not follow that the musician has lost his skill. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • For my own epitaph, I ask that it be: “I loved and was loved and all the rest was background music.” Estelle R. Ramey, quoted in Erica Goode, Letters for Our Children (1996)
  • Architecture in general is frozen music. Friedrich von Schelling, in Philosophie der Kunst (1809)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is often attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and it is true that Goethe did describe architecture as frozen music (or petrified music in some translations) in an 1829 letter, according to Johann Peter Eckermann in Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life, Vol. II (1836). Schelling should be regarded as the original author of the thought.

  • The bagpipe occupies the strangest rung on the musical ladder, shaped like an octopus in plaid pants, sounding to some like a goose with its foot caught in an escalator and played during history’s most lopsided battles—by the losing side. Josh Shaffer, the opening paragraph of “Zebulon Now Boasts North America’s Only Crafter of Bagpipes,” in News & Observer [Raleigh, NC] (Jan. 24, 2023)

QUOTE NOTE: In this article about piper Roddy MacLellan and “the only North American studio that makes, sells and teaches the Scottish national instrument,” Shaffer continued: “Add to this the bagpipe’s cantankerous nature, fashioned from some of the world’s rarest wood, a combination of cracking pipes and leaking bags that strain all but the heartiest lungs.”

In his career, Shaffer has crafted many memorable opening paragraphs—commonly referred to as ledes in the world of journalism—and two of them are unforgettable descriptions of musical instruments (for the other one, see his entry in TUBA).

  • Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy. Siegbert Tarrasch, in The Game of Chess (1931)

[Gospel] MUSIC


  • Gospel singing…is the rawest, sweetest, uninhibited and exquisite sounds a person can make or hear. It isn’t music, it’s an entire experience you feel and live. A sound to rise you up again. Lynda Barry, in The Good Times Are Killing Me (1988)



  • A musician, if he’s a messenger, is like a child who hasn’t been handled too many times by man, hasn’t had too many fingerprints across his brain. Jimi Hendrix, quoted in Life magazine (Oct. 3, 1969)
  • Musicians want to be the loud voice for so many quiet hearts. Billy Joel, commencement address at Berklee College of Music (Boston; May 8, 1993)

Joel went on to add: “We know what it is like to be completely alone, to be unemployed, to have to struggle. Historically, musicians know what it is like to be outside the norm—walking the high wire without a safety net. Our experience is not so different from those who march to the beat of different drummers. We experience similar difficulties, weaknesses, failures, and sadness, but we also celebrate the joys and successes—these are the things that we translate and express in music.”



  • In music, instruments perform the functions of the colors employed in painting. Honoré de Balzac, the title character speaking, in Gambara (1839)


(see also sections devoted to specific musical instruments: PIANO and TUBA and VIOLIN)


  • Accordion, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • The vile belchings of lunatic accordions. Arthur Honegger, in I am a Composer (1951


  • I got to try the bagpipes. It was like trying to blow an octopus. James Galway, in An Autobiography (1978)
  • Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise. E. K. Kruger, quoted in Des McHale, Wit (2003)


  • The bassoon in the orchestra plays the same role as Gorgonzola among cheeses—a figure of fun. Cecil Gray, in Notebooks (1989; Pauline Gray, ed.)

Gray continued: “Actually the bassoon can be the most romantic and passionate of instruments and Gorgonzola can be the finest of cheeses—but they must both be treated properly.”


  • Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands–and all you can do is scratch it. Thomas Beecham, an attributed remark, quoted in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations (1991; Derek Watson, ed.)
  • The cello is like a beautiful woman who has not grown older, but younger with time, more slender, more supple, more graceful. Pablo Casals, quoted in Time magazine (April 29, 1957)


  • A drum is a woman. Duke Ellington, quoted in Valerie Wilmer, Jazz People (1970)
  • You're not supposed to rape the drums, you make love to them as far as I’m concerned. Billy Higgins, quoted in Valerie Wilmer, Jazz People (1970)
  • There is no instrument the sound of which proclaims such vast internal satisfaction as the drums. George Meredith, in Sandra Belloni (1886)


  • The soft complaining flute/In dying notes discovers/The woes of hopeless lovers. John Dryden, in “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” (1697)


  • My guitar and singing was my way of crying. Gloria Estefan, in Grace Catalano, Gloria Estefan (1991)


  • The sound of a harpsichord: Two skeletons copulating on a galvanized tin roof. Thomas Beecham, quoted in Nat Hentoff, An Encyclopedia of Quotations About Music (1978)


  • The oboe is an ill wind that nobody blows good. Author Unknown, quoted in Nat Hentoff, An Encyclopedia of Quotations About Music (1978)


  • A pianoforte is a harp in a box. Lee Hunt, in The Seer (1840


  • I'm the saxophone / that wails all night / outside your bedroom window. Grace Bauer, “So You Want to Hear the Blues,” in Emilie Buchwald and Ruth Roston, Mixed Voices (1991)


  • The viola is a philosopher. sad, helpful; always ready to come to the aid of others, but reluctant to call attention to himself. Albert Lavignac, quoted in Nat Hentoff, An Encyclopedia of Quotations About Music (1978)



  • What we play is life. Louis Armstrong, in Edward R. Murrow’s documentary film Satchmo The Great (1957)
  • It seems to me that of those songs that have been any good, I have not had much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. Joan Baez, in Phillip L. Berman, The Courage of Conviction (1985)

ERROR ALERT: This is the accurate version of a quotation that is often mistakenly phrased on many internet sites. Many thanks to Garson O'Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, for tracking down the original phrasing as well as the original source.

  • I want to seize fate by the throat. Ludwig van Beethoven, in letter to Dr. Franz Wegeler (Nov. 16, 1801)
  • The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun. Ludwig van Beethoven, in letter to a young girl (July 17, 1812); quoted in Michael Hamburger, Beethoven: Letters, Journals, and Conversations (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Beethoven was replying to a young aspiring pianist named Emilie, who had recently sent him a fan letter and a hand-embroidered gift. He preceded the thought above by writing: “Do not only practice art, but get at the very heart of it; this it deserves, for only art and science raise men to the God-head. If, my dear Emilie, you at any time wish to know something, write without hesitation to me.”

  • Once we—meaning Black performers—crossed the line, we could see our remnant shadows in the best of them! Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen for openers, and then all the thousands who followed in their wake who emerged from the great encompassing Black Shadow of American culture. James Brown, in I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul (2005)
  • I release feelings inside me through my songs. I take some of the sadness, some of the heartache, and turn it out. I’m able to stave off the severity. By expressing myself in music, I can soften the blow. But those melodies and rhythms can only do so much. Ray Charles, in Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story (1978; with David Ritz)

Charles wrote that music had eased the deep pain in his life, but didn’t make it go away. He concluded: “An aspirin can cure a headache for an hour or two, but if the pain’s really deep, nothing short of brain surgery is going to make it go away.”

  • I opened the door for a lot of people and they just ran through and left me holding the knob. Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel), on the appropriation of his style by other (mainly white) musicians, in interview in Melody Maker magazine (Dec. 18, 1971)
  • Chaos is a friend of mine. Bob Dylan, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 9, 1985)
  • It’s not me. It’s the songs. I’m just the postman. I deliver the songs. Bob Dylan, quoted in Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (1986)
  • It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in. It’s not that easy. You want to write songs that are bigger than life. You want to say something about strange things that have happened to you, strange things you have seen. You have to know and understand something and then go past the vernacular. Bob Dylan, in Chronicles (2004)
  • I don’t write jazz, I write Negro folk music. Duke Ellington, quoted in Derek Jewell, Duke: A Portrait of Duke Ellington (1977)
  • Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one. Duke [Edward Kennedy] Ellington, in his autobiography Music is My Mistress (1973)

Ellington preceded this thought by writing: “I am almost a hermit, but there is a difference, for I have a mistress. Lovers have come and gone, but only my mistress stays. She is beautiful and gentle. She waits on me hand and foot. She is a swinger. She has grace. To hear her speak, you can’t believe your ears. She is ten thousand years old. She is as modern as tomorrow, a brand-new woman every day, and as endless as time mathematics [sic]. Living with her is a labyrinth of ramifications. I look forward to her every gesture.”

  • I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline. Duke [Edward Kennedy] Ellington, quoted in Ken Vail, Duke’s Diary: The Life of Duke Ellington, 1950–1974 (2002)
  • It’s a folksinger’s job to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable. Woody Guthrie, quoted by Arlo Guthrie in “Thanksgiving Message From Arlo Guthrie,” Rising Son Record News (Nov. 23, 2016)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, the elder Guthrie was playing off the popular chiastic saying that the primary mission of newspapers is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (see the Finley Peter Dunne entry in NEWSPAPERS). In his Thanksgiving Day message, Arlo described how his family and faith community were continuing traditions set for them by his father and Pete Seeger.

  • We want our sound to go into the soul of the audience, and see if it can awaken some little thing in their minds. Jimi Hendrix, in an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (Sep. 9, 1969)

Hendrix went on to add: “‘Cause there are so many sleeping people.”

  • I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill, or exercise or yodeling or something, not music. Billie Holiday, in Lady Sings the Blues (1956; with William Duffy)
  • I’ve learned to live with my rage. In some ways, it’s my rage that keeps me going. Without it, I would have been whipped long ago. With it, I got a lot more songs to sing. Etta James, in Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (1995; with David Ritz)
  • When I write a song, it’s like a child to me. Elton John, in an interview (Nov., 2000), quoted in Susan Ratcliffe: People on People (2001)
  • Singing in AC/DC is not like singing in any other band. There are no ballads. There’s no saving your voice for the next song. Every moment, you’re standing your ground. It’s attack. Like singing with a fixed bayonet. Brian Johnson, in The Lives of Brian: A Memoir (2022)
  • Being a blues singer is like being black two times. B. B. King, in Tom Wheeler, “B. B. King: ‘Playing the Guitar Is Like Telling the Truth,’” Guitar Player magazine (Sep., 1980 cover story)
  • I am the architect of rock and roll! I am the originator! Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman), remark at Grammy Awards ceremony (March 2, 1988); quoted in The New York Times (March 3, 1988)
  • You can’t hide when you sing. You can try to, but you always end up telling some kind of truth about who you are. Taylor Mac, quoted in Jennifer Schuessler. “A Wilder Socrates? No Question,” The New York Times (January 21, 2022)
  • I think all my albums are sort of emotional postcards of where I am in my life. Sarah McLachlan, in Associated Press article (July 1, 2010)

QUOTE NOTE: Most Internet sites present the following version of this thought: “My music and my lyrics are essentially emotional postcards” (I have not been able to verify this version, however).

  • I need to play the piano every day. It’s like, some people have a glass of wine, I go play the piano, and it just calms me right down. Sarah McLachlan, in interview with Anthony Mason, on CBS Sunday Morning (July 27, 2015)
  • Music is my church. It’s been my comfort and salvation, and it’s always been there for me, like a true friend. It’s shown what it’s like to be part of something bigger than myself. Because of music, my life has deeper meaning, and a powerful sense of purpose. Music just makes our world so much better. Sarah McLachlan, in remarks at her induction into The Canadian Music Hall of Fame (April, 4, 2017)
  • Something touched me deep inside/The day the music died. Don Mclean, on the death of Buddy Holly in 1959, lyric from the 1972 song “American Pie”
  • “I am Melba. I shall sing when and where I like and I shall sing in my own way.” It may sound arrogant, but arrogance of that sort is not a bad way to get things done. Nellie Melba, in Melodies and Memories (1925)
  • I hang my laundry on the line when I write. Joni Mitchell, quoted in Leonore Fleischer, Joni Mitchell 1976)
  • My family consists of pieces of work that go out into the world. Instead of hanging around for nineteen years they leave the nest early. Joni Mitchell, quoted in Mark Bego, Joni Mitchell (2005)
  • We hide ourselves in our music to reveal ourselves. Jim Morrison, quoted in ASCAP Today (Winter, 1975)
  • Music is spiritual. The Music Business is not. Van Morrison, quoted in The Times (London; July 6, 1990)
  • Time has passed through me and become a song. Holly Near, in Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm (1990; with Derk Richardson)
  • Music has been my playmate, my lover, and my crying towel. Buffy Sainte-Marie, quoted in 1975 Ms. Magazine article (specific date undetermined)
  • My voice had a long, nonstop career. It deserves to be put to bed with quiet and dignity, not yanked out every once in a while to see if it can still do what it used to do. It can’t. Beverly Sills, three years after her retirement at age 51, quoted in Time magazine (July 18, 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Sills, 54 when she made the remark, retired from her singing career in 1980 to become General Manager of The New York City Opera. She went on to also serve as Chairman of the Board for both Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera. The Time profile reported that “she does not sing at all now, not even in the shower.”

  • Although I was well past my teenage troubles, our music was specifically designed to lubricate the passage from adolescence to adulthood. Pete Townshend, quoted in BBC News: World Edition (Jan. 12, 2003)



  • You look like a boy, dress like a boy, and sing like a bird. Roy Acuff, to K. D. Lang after her Grand Ole Opry debut (June, 1990); quoted in David Bennahum, K. D. Lang (1993)
  • Armstrong is to music what Einstein is to physics and the Wright Brothers are to travel. Ken Burns, on Louis Armstong, in the PBS documentary film Jazz (2001)
  • Mick’s genius was in his lyrics, but his great talent has always been artifice, inflation and swagger and gradually he developed his by now well-known pneumatic personality, a flexible and cartoon-like envelope that eventually became his all-purpose self. Marianne Faithfull, on Mick Jagger, in Faithfull (1995; with David Dalton)
  • Miles cried like a singer, and Billie sang like an instrumentalist, everything they did was wrapped in the blues. Marvin Gaye, on Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in Divided Soul (1985)
  • She’s a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. Boy George, on Madonna, in Take It Like a Man (1995)
  • The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in a car with my mother listening to WMCA and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked in the door to your mind: Like a Rolling Stone. Bruce Springsteen, introducing Bob Dylan at Dylan’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan. 20, 1988); reprinted in Racing in the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader (2004; J. S. Sawyers, ed.)

Springsteen, who was fifteen when he first heard the song, went on to say: “Dylan was a revolutionary. Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body. He showed us that just because music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual. He had the vision and the talent to make a pop record that contained the whole world.”

  • Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. John Steinbeck, on Woody Guthrie, in Introduction to Alan Lomax, Peter Seeger, & Woody Guthrie, Hard-Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (1962)

Steinbeck continued: “But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.”



  • To the intelligent man or woman, life appears infinitely mysterious. But the stupid have an answer for every question. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1990)
  • The very commonplaces of life are components of its eternal mystery. Gertrude Atherton, in The Conqueror (1902)
  • Good and evil are so interwoven in life that every good, traced up far enough, is found to involve evil. This is the great mystery of life. Amelia E. Barr, the character Doctor Moran speaking, in The Maid of Maiden Lane: A Love Story (1900)
  • No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye. Elizabeth Bowen, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • Every mystery solved brings us to the threshold of a greater one. Rachel Carson, a 1954 observation, in Linda Lear, Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1998)
  • In the little grey cells of the brain lies the solution of every mystery. Agatha Christie, the narrator and protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The King of Clubs (1926)
  • Mystery magnifies danger as the fog the sun Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon 1825)

In the book, Colton also wrote: “Mystery is not profoundness.”

  • The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. Albert Einstein, “What I Believe,” in Ideas and Opinions (1954)

QUOTE NOTE: The essay in Ideas and Opinions was an updated version of a similarly-titled essay Einstein had written in an October 1930 issue of the journal Forum and Century.

  • They are powers which are imperfectly developed in this life, but one cannot help the thought that the mystery of this world may be the commonplace of the next. Sarah Orne Jewett, the character Kate speaking, in Deephaven (1877)

She preceded the thought by saying: “We have these instincts which defy all our wisdom and for which we never can frame any laws. We may laugh at them, but we are always meeting them, and one cannot help knowing that it has been the same through all history.”

  • The ultimate gift of conscious life is a sense of the mystery that encompasses it. Lewis Mumford, “Orientation to Life,” in The Conduct of Life (1951)
  • We spend our lives talking about this mystery: our life. Jules Renard, journal entry (August 1906), in Journal (1964; L. Bogan & E Roget, eds.)
  • Our dream dashes itself against the great mystery like a wasp against a window pane. Less merciful than man, God never opens the window. Jules Renard, journal entry (August 1906), in Journal (1964; L. Bogan & E Roget, eds.)
  • There is no escape from mystery. It is the character of our being. Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)



  • What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order. P. D. James, quoted in Face magazine (Dec. 1986)

QUOTE NOTE: James returned to the theme in the 2009 book Talking About Detective Fiction, in which she wrote: “Detective fiction is in the tradition of the English novel, which sees crime, violence, and social chaos as an aberration, virtue and good order as the norm for which all people strive, and which confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe.”

  • I’m an incredibly promiscuous reader, a slut of literature. I read two to four mysteries a week. I don’t care who did it. I read them for the soothing prose. Fran Lebowitz, quoted in The Advocate (May 28, 1996)
  • Make no mistake about it, the detective-story is part of the literature of escape, and not of expression. Dorothy L. Sayers, in Omnibus of Crime (1929)



  • Being an American means reckoning with a history fraught with violence and injustice. Ignoring that reality in favor of mythology is not only wrong but also dangerous. Ken Burns, in a Washington Post Op-Ed column (Nov. 22, 2021)

Burns continued: “The dark chapters of American history have just as much to teach us, if not more, than the glorious ones, and often the two are intertwined.”

  • Religion is applied mythology. Northrop Frye, a “Notebook 21” entry (1969–76); reprinted in Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts (2003; Robert D. Denham, ed.)

Frye preceded the thought by writing: “The disinterested imaginative core of mythology is what develops into literature, science, philosophy.”

  • Mythology is the crop which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” an essay published posthumously in The Atlantic Monthly (June, 1862)



  • Myth is other people’s religion. Joseph Campbell, quoted in Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1983)
  • Myths are fun, as long as you don’t confuse them with the truth. Richard Dawkins, in The Magic of Reality (2012)
  • A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes. James K. Feibleman, in Understanding Philosophy (1973)
  • Myths are early science, the result of men’s first trying to explain what they saw around them. Edith Hamilton, in Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (1942)
  • When myth meets myth, the collision is very real. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1957)
  • A person who had never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and spiritual heights and depths, would not know quite fully what it is to be human. Ursula K. Le Guin, “Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing,” in The Living Light (Fall, 1970); reprinted in Language of the Night (1979

Le Guin continued: “For the story—from ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ to ‘War and Peace’—is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

  • There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Bertrand Russell, in Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954)
  • There is no escape from mystery. It is the character of our being. Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)

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