Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“N” Quotations



  • A nagging woman is a bird beating her wings against the cage of matrimony. Henpecking is her revenge for her marital misery. Melvin B. Tolson, “Henpecked Husband: Comedy or Tragedy,” from his regular “Caviar and Cabbage” column, Washington Tribune (Jan. 20, 1940); reprinted in Caviar and Cabbage: Selected Columns by Melvin B. Tolson from the Washington Tribune, 1937–1944 (1982)
  • Nagging is the repetition of unpalatable truths. Edith Summerskill, in speech to the Married Women’s Association, House of Commons (July 14, 1960)


(see NUDITY)

[Good] NAME


  • A good name is better than precious ointment. The Bible—Ecclesiastes 7:1 (KJV)
  • A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.

Book of Proverbs 22:1 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: Passages like these went on to make the phrase good name synonymous with being well regarded or having a good reputation. Some modern translations of replace the phrase loving favor with to be esteemed.

  • I would to God thou and I knew where a commodity of good names were to be bought. William Shakespeare, Falstaff speaking, in King Henry IV, Part I (1597)

QUOTE NOTE: “Commodity” here means something close to supply.

  • Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;/’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:/But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him/And makes me poor indeed. William Shakespeare, Iago speaking, in Othello (1602-04)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking to Othello, Iago preceded the thought by offering a proverbial thought with biblical roots (see the Bible entry above): “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,/Is the immediate jewel of their souls.”


(includes SURNAMES; see also IDENTITY and [Good] NAME and NICKNAMES)

  • Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable. W. H. Auden, in A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970)
  • I have fallen in love with American names,/The sharp, gaunt names that never get fat,/The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,/The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,/Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat. Stephen Vincent Benét, in “American Names” (1927)
  • A good name is better than precious ointment. The Bible—Ecclesiastes 7:1 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: Passages like this went on to make the phrase good name synonymous with being well regarded or having a good reputation. The King James version of the Book of Proverbs 22:1 has a similar passage on the subject: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

  • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Dale Carnegie, in How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936; rev. ed., 1981)

A few pages earlier, Carnegie had written: “The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it—and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage.”

  • If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • What signifies knowing the Names/If you know not the Nature of things. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (November 1750)
  • These have been weeks when no one/calls me by name, and this is very simple:/The parrot in the kitchen of my house/has not yet learned it./People the breadth of the city/don't know it./It has no voice, no sound or note./Days. I go without a name/in the street whose name I know./I sit for hours without a name/before the tree whose name I know./Sometimes I think without a name/of him whose name I don't know. Leah Goldberg, the poem “Nameless Journey,” in Selected Poems (1976)
  • Men give different names to one and the same thing from the difference of their own passions. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan (1651)

Hobbes explained himself by continuing: “As they that approve a private opinion, call it Opinion; but they that mistake it, Heresy.”

  • Our names are our first gifts, and they bring a mixed legacy of burdens and hopes. Anndee Hochman, in Everyday Acts and Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community, and Home (1994)
  • To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary. When we take away the right to an individual name, we symbolically take away the right to be an individual. Erica Jong, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
  • One-way first-name calling always means inequality—witness servants, children, and dogs. Marjorie Karmel, in Thank You, Dr. Lamaze (1959)
  • This naming of things is so crucial to possession—a spiritual padlock with the key thrown irretrievably away—that it is a murder, an erasing, and it is not surprising that when people have felt themselves prey to it (conquest), among their first acts of liberation is to change their names. Jamaica Kincaid, “Flowers of Evil,” in The New Yorker (Oct. 5, 1992)
  • The Chinese give young children a milk name—a first name which they are at liberty to change, later on, for one of their own selection. Surely that custom is more civilized than ours. Princess Alexandra Kropotkin, “To the Ladies,” in 1938 issue of Liberty magazine (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: The daughter of the Russian anarchist prince Alexander Kropotkin, Alexandra wrote a regular “To the Ladies” column for Liberty magazine from the 1920s to the 1940s (under the byline Princess Alexandra Kropotkin). She continued the thought above by writing: “Many of us go through life detesting the names our parents inflicted upon us. Why not adopt the Chinese custom of the temporary name which children can drop if they want to when they grow up?”

  • The notion of giving something a name is the vastest generative idea that ever was conceived. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942)
  • Great names abase, instead of elevating, those who do not know how to bear them. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Hoary idea, in any case, expecting a woman to surrender her name to her husband's in exchange for his. Why? Would any man submerge his identity and heritage to the woman he wed? Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers. Marshall McLuhan, in Understanding Media (1964)
  • Once you name something, it stops you seeing the whole of it, or why it matters. You focus on the word, which is just the tiniest part, really, the tip of an iceberg. Alex Michaelides, a diary entry by the character Alicia, in The Silent Patient (2019)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the first entry in a diary Alica begins a month or so before killing her husband. She does not want to call it a diary, and is reflecting on the dangers inherent in the simple act of naming things.

  • From antiquity, people have recognized the connection between naming and power. Casey Miller, in Casey Miller and Kate Swift, Words and Women (1976; Rev. ed 2000)
  • Names govern the world. Hannah More, in Hints Towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805)
  • A name is a road. Iris Murdoch, in The Sea, The Sea (1978)
  • But names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit. Salman Rushdie, the voice of the narrator, in The Satanic Verses: A Novel (1988)

A few moments later, the narrator added: “The commonplace eventually becomes invisible.”

  • The way men usually are, it takes a name to make something visible for them. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science (1882)

Nietzsche preceded the observation by writing: “What is originality? To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us in the face.”

  • We humans have had from time unknown the compulsion to name things and thus to be able to deal with them. The name we give to something shapes our attitude toward it. Katherine Paterson, in Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for children (1981)

Paterson continued: “And in ancient thought the name itself has power, so that to know someone's name is to have a certain power over him. And in some societies, as you know, there was a public name and a real or secret name, which would not be revealed to others.”

  • A man that should call everything by its right name would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy. George Savile (Lord Halifax), “Of Caution and Suspicion,” in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare, Juliet speaking, in Romeo and Juliet (1595)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking about her beloved Romeo, Juliet continues: “So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,/Retain that dear perfection which he owes/Without that title.”

  • I would to God thou and I knew where a commodity of good names were to be bought. William Shakespeare, Falstaff speaking, in King Henry IV, Part I (1597)

QUOTE NOTE: “Commodity” here means something close to supply.

  • Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;/’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:/But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him/And makes me poor indeed. William Shakespeare, Iago speaking, in Othello (1602-04)

QUOTE NOTE: Speaking to Othello, Iago preceded the thought by offering a proverbial thought with biblical roots (see the Bible entry above): “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,/Is the immediate jewel of their souls.”

  • I’ve always thought my creative life began the moment my mother named me Twyla. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit (2003; with Mark Reiter)
  • If the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone. Henry David Thoreau, “The Ponds,” in Walden (1854)
  • Naming is a kind of possessing, of caressing and fondling. Jessamyn West, in Hide and Seek (1973)

West introduced the thought by writing: “I understand why one wants to know the names of what he loves.”

  • The child feels that in learning the names of persons and things he gains a marvelous power over them. When he calls the name of a person, does not that person come to him? When he calls the name of a thing, is it not supplied? Martha Wolfenstein, in Children’s Humor: A Psychological Analysis (1954)



  • A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a woman called by a devaluing name will only be weakened by the misnomer. Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
  • For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: This appeared in the oleaginous entry in Bierce’s classic work. He began with his definition: “Oleaginous, adj. Oily, smooth, sleek.” And he went on to add this comment: “Disraeli once described the manner of Bishop Wilberforce as ‘unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous.’ And the good prelate was ever afterward known as Soapy Sam. For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it.”

  • It is an easy thing to call names; any fool is equal to that. Martha Finley, the character Mr. Leland speaking, in Elsie’s Motherhood (1876)

Mr Leland offered these words to another character, Mr. Dinsmore, who replied: “True; and the weapon of vituperation is generally used by those who lack brains for argument or are upon the wrong side.”

  • When you cannot reply to a man’s arguments all is not lost—you can still call him vile names. Elbert Hubbard, “East of Suez,” in The Philistine (Dec., 1914)
  • Using insult instead of argument is the sign of a small mind. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes speaking, in O Jerusalem (1999)
  • It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. Harper Lee, the character Atticus Finch talking to his daughter Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

QUOTE NOTE: This interaction occurs just after Scout has heard her father referred to as a “nigger-lover.” He explains to her: “[It] is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything, like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”

  • There are worse words than cuss words, there are words that hurt. Tillie Olsen, “Hey Sailor, What Ship?” in Tell Me a Riddle (1956)
  • It is almost impossible to throw dirt on someone without getting a little on yourself. Abigail Van Buren, in a 1991 “Dear Abby” syndicated column


(includes CATNAP; see also DOZING and SIESTA and SLEEPING and RESTING and SNOOZING)

  • The more naps you take, the more awakenings you experience. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (1995)
  • The more naps you take, the more awakenings you experience. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (1995)
  • A nap is not to be confused with sleeping. We sleep to recharge our bodies. We nap to care for our souls. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (1995)

Breathnach continued: “When we nap, we are resting our eyes while our imaginations soar. Getting ready for the next round. Sorting, sifting, separating the profound from the profane, the possible from the improbable. Rehearsing our acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, our surprise on receiving the MacArthur genius award. This requires a prone position. If we’re lucky, we might drift off, but we won’t drift far. Just far enough to ransom our creativity from chaos.”

  • There is always time for a nap. Suzy Becker, in All I Need to Know I Learned From My Cat (1990)
  • Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces. Winston Churchill, in The Gathering Storm (1948), Vol. 1 of The Second World War series
  • I went to kindergarten as if into daily battle. There was only one respite: nap time, when we stretched out in rows of cots, like Civil War wounded. Laura Cunningham, in Sleeping Arrangements (1989)
  • There is no point at which you can say, “Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.” Carrie Fisher, widely attributed, never confirmed
  • Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1986)
  • Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking. William Gibson, on the role naps play in his writing efforts, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 2011)
  • Napping is too luxurious, too sybaritic, too unproductive, and it’s free; pleasures for which we don’t pay make us anxious. Besides, it seems to be a natural inclination. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)

Holland continued: “Fighting off natural inclinations is a major Puritan virtue, and nothing that feels that good can be respectable.”

  • I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and then the nap takes me. Samuel Johnson, a Dec. 5, 1775 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Mornings belong to whatever is new; the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (2000)
  • There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled. E. V. Lucas, in A Rover I Would Be: Essays and Fantasies (1928)

Later in the book, Lucas wrote: “The French say that every nap is a ‘little death’.”

  • Naps are nature’s way of reminding you that life is really kind of…nice. Like a beautiful, softly swinging hammock strung between birth and infinity. Peggy Noonan, in a 1998 Good Housekeeping magazine (specific issue undetermined)

A bit earlier in the article, Noonan wrote: “I have always believed that a nap is a short vacation, and wherever I have worked, I have always considered 4:00 PM to be lie-down-and-check-out time.”

  • No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap. Carrie Snow, in a 1969 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • I catnap now and then…but I think while I nap, so it’s not a waste of time. Martha Stewart, in a 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • May we learn to honor the hammock, the siesta, the nap and the pause in all its forms. Alice Walker, in The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way (2013)

Walker introduced the thought by writing: “People who work hard often work too hard. I’ve learned to take time out and swing in one of the many hammocks I have wherever I live. From a hammock the world seems quite doable, especially if one is listening to a good audiobook and having lemonade.”



  • Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. W. H. Auden, “Hic et ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)

Auden added: “If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading.”

  • Seeking admiration is like a drug for narcissists. In the long run it becomes difficult because others won’t applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix. Mitja D. Back, quoted in Scott Barry Kaufman, “How to Spot a Narcissist,” Psychology Today Online (July 5, 2011)
  • Narcissistic personality disorder is named for Narcissus, from Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own reflection. Freud used the term to describe persons who were self-absorbed, and psychoanalysts have focused on the narcissist’s need to bolster his or her self-esteem through grandiose fantasy, exaggerated ambition, exhibitionism, and feelings of entitlement. Donald W. Black and Jon E. Grant, in DSM-5: The Essential Companion to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2013)
  • As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. Daniel J. Boorstin, in the Image (1961)

Boorstin sontinued: “The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.”

  • Nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life in his own terms. Elizabeth Bowen, in The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • The selfie is the narcissistic mugshot of privilege. Dan Brooks, in Brook’s Book (2017)
  • 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.”

  • When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly (2012)
  • I have always been suspicious of romantic love. It looks too much like a narcissism shared by two. Rita Mae Brown, the protagonist Mary Frazier Armstrong speaking, in Venus Envy (1993)
  • The trademark of a narcissistic mother is her inability to give love or empathy to her child. One of the hallmark symptoms of a narcissist is her inability to perceive others as people with needs of their own. A narcissistic mother is only able to see her children as extensions of herself—little mirrors that reflect back to her. Alexander Burgemeester, “Do I Have a Narcissistic Mother?” a 2013 post on his The Narcissistic Life blog
  • Narcissus weeps to find that his Image does not return his love. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 2nd Selection (1985)
  • The narcissist enjoys being looked at and not looking back. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 3rd Selection (1986)
  • Withhold admiration from a narcissist and be disliked. Give it and be treated with indifference. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 10th Selection (1992)
  • The Narcissist's Creed: I am, therefore you’re not. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 13, 2022)
  • Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people. Andre Dubus, “Under the Lights,” in Broken Vessels: Essays (1994)
  • When you are 18, 19, 20, you’re used to being photographed all the time, in a certain way. So, the narcissism becomes almost out of control. And the way that young women are photographed, they become addicted to this feedback of the image. Marianne Faithfull, in “Reluctant Pin-Up,” The Independent (August 31, 2014)
  • Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism. Sigmund Freud, in “On Narcissism: An Introduction” (1914)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become the most popular translation of Freud’s thought, but an earlier rendition from James Strachey had it this way: “A person in love is humble. A person who loves has, so to speak, forefeited a part of his narcissism, and it can only be replaced by his being loved.”

  • Narcissism is the earliest stage of human development, and the person who in later life has returned to this stage is incapable of love; in the extreme case he is insane. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)
  • The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)
  • The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1956)

Fromm continued: “The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one's desires and fears.”

  • By narcissism is meant ceasing to have an authentic interest in the outside world but instead an intense attachment to oneself, to one's own group, clan, religion, nation, race, etc.—with consequent serious distortions of rational judgment. In general, the need for narcissistic satisfaction derives from the necessity to compensate for material and cultural poverty. Erich Fromm, in Credo (1965)
  • Though they are quick to put others down, unhealthy narcissists view themselves in absolutely positive terms. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman continued: “They are, understandably, happiest in a marriage with someone who will be unfailingly fawning. The slogan of the narcissist might be ‘others exist to adore me.’”

  • Narcissists alone are blatant in their self-inflation and braggadocio—leavened with a necessary dose of self-deception. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman added: “Their bias is firmly self-serving: they take credit for successes but never blame for failure. They feel entitled to glory, even blithely claiming credit for others’ work (but they see nothing wrong in this—nor in anything else they might do).”

  • A narcissist is someone who has a grandiose sense of self-importance, harbors obsessive fantasies of unbounded glory, feels rage or intense shame when criticized, expects special favors, and lacks empathy. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman added: “That deficiency in empathy means narcissists remain oblivious to the self-centered abrasiveness that others see in them so clearly.”

  • The narcissistic organization becomes a moral universe of its own, a world where its goals, goodness, and means are not questioned but taken as holy writ. It’s a world where doing whatever we need to, to get whatever we want, seems perfectly fine. Daniel Goleman, in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (2006)

Goleman continued: “The ongoing self-celebration fogs over how divorced from reality we’ve become. The rules don’t apply to us, just to the others.”

  • There’s a reason narcissists don’t learn from mistakes and that’s because they never get past the first step, which is admitting that they made one. It’s always an assistant’s fault, an adviser’s fault, a lawyer’s fault. Ask them to account for a mistake any other way and they’ll say, ‘What mistake?’” Robert Hogan, quoted in Jeffrey Kluger, The Narcissist Next Door (2014)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Jeffrey Kluger.

  • The fantasy world of Narcissists can have a seductive allure that promises to envelop you in its specialness. Their superficial charm can be enchanting, and they often appear complicated, colorful, and exciting as they draw you into their narcissistic web. Sandy Hotchkiss, in Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2002)

Hotchkiss continued: “Being singled out for attention can be an intoxicating sensation in any case, but when the admirer is a narcissist, that lovely feeling often ends abruptly and unexpectedly. When you cease to be of use in pumping up this person’s fragile ego, you, too, may feel that the air has suddenly been let out of your own ego.”

  • The persona that many narcissists present to the world often comes across to others as a “superiority complex.” But behind the mask of arrogance is a fragile internal balloon of self-esteem that is never satisfied with being good or even very good—if they are not better than, they are worthless. Sandy Hotchkiss, in Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2002)
  • But then, maybe a certain amount of narcissism is as essential to an actress as muscles are to a football lineman. Velda Johnston, in Flight to Yesterday (1991)
  • Narcissism is eye trouble, voluntary blindness, an agreement to keep up appearances (hence the importance of “style”) and not to look beneath the surface. Sam Keen, in The Passionate Life: Stages of Loving (1983)

Keen introduced the thought by writing: “The difference between narcissism and self-love is a matter of depth. Narcissus falls in love not with the self, but with an image or reflection of the self—with the persona, the mask. The narcissist sees himself through the eyes of another, changes his lifestyle to conform to what is admired by others, tailors his behavior and expression of feelings to what will please others.”

  • Narcissism is often the driving force behind the desire to obtain a leadership position. Manfred Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, “Narcissism and Leadership: An Object Relations Perspective.” Human Relations (June, 1985)

Kets de Vries and Miller continued: “Perhaps individuals with strong narcissistic personality features are more willing to undertake the arduous process of attaining a position of power.”

  • Narcissists are afflicted with a bottomless appetite…for recognition, attention, glory, rewards. And it’s a zero-sum thing. Every moment a narcissist spends listening to another party guest tell a story is a moment in which the stage has been surrendered. Jeffrey Kluger, in The Narcissist Next Door (2014)

Kluger went on to cleverly tweak a popular Dylan Thomas line when he wrote: “The Narcissist withers in—and rages against—any dying of the light.”

  • For narcissists, setbacks are not opportunities to learn; they’re problems caused by somebody else who got in their way or sabotaged their plans. Jeffrey Kluger, in The Narcissist Next Door (2014)
  • Narcissism is actually a clever guise adopted to mask its exact opposite, which is a deep well of self-loathing, a well of low self-esteem, rather than high self-esteem. Jeffrey Kluger, in “Jeffrey Kluger Thinks This Interview Is All About Him” (an interview with Brendan Francis Newman), in a post on www.DinnerPartyDownload.org (Aug. 28, 2014)

Kluger was explaining the “Mask Theory“ of narcissism, which he said “helps explain why narcissists are so sensitive to criticism, why narcissists tend to break into outrage if they’re criticized, because their self-esteem is actually much more brittle than it seems, and once they’re challenged, that mask falls apart.”

  • Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities. Jeffrey Kluger, “Inside the Mind of a Narcissist,” in a 2014 Time magazine article (specific issue undetermined)
  • Cats are narcissistic. Their needs come before ours. They don’t understand the word “No.” They carry themselves with that aloof, arrogant sense of perpetual entitlement, they will jump up and insinuate themselves wherever they please–on your lap, on your newspaper, on your computer keyboard–and they really couldn’t care less how their behavior affects the people in their lives. I’ve had boyfriends like this; who needs such behavior in a housepet? Caroline Knapp, “Lucille Versus Stumpy: The (Real) Truth About Cats and Dogs,” in The Merry Recluse (2004)

QUOTE NOTE: Knapp’s essay, originally published in 1998, was written in response to an article (“Stumpy Versus Lucille: The Great Pet Debate”) that her friend and fellow journalist Ron Rosenbaum had written in his regular column in the New York Observer (Aug. 8, 1998). Rosenbaum, in proclaiming the superiority of cats—particularly his cat Stumpy—over dogs, had disparaged canines as “the pathetic transparent brown-nosers of the domestic animal kingdom” (see more on Rosenbaum’s views in DOGS and in CATS & DOGS). Knapp’s essay, a rejoinder to Rosenbaum’s thesis, proclaimed the superiority of dogs—particularly her dog Lucille—over cats.

  • A false image is, of course, a work of art, an idol. And a lie. A narcissist identifies with this image, not his true inner self. So, all he cares about is his image, not what kind of person he really is. Indeed, the latter has no real existence in his world. Kathleen Krajco, in What Makes Narcissists Tick: Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder (2004)

Krajco continued: “In identifying with his image, he’s identifying with an ephemeral figment that has but virtual reality, a purely immanent existence as a reflection in the attention shone on him by others. No attention, no image. No image, no self!”

  • I devoured books like a person taking vitamins, afraid that otherwise I would remain this gelatinous narcissist, with no possibility of ever becoming thoughtful, of ever being taken seriously. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
  • Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. Christopher Lasch, in The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

In the book, Lasch continued: “His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free hime to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attention of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma.”

Later in the book, Lasch offered this remarkably prescient thought: “The narcissist admires and identifies with ‘winners’ out of his fear of being labeled a loser. He seems to warm himself in their reflected glow; but his feelings contain a strong admixture of envy, and his admiration often turns to hatred if the object of his attachment does something to remind himself of his own insignificance.”

  • I’m a recovering narcissist. I didn’t know I was a narcissist, actually. I thought narcissism meant you love yourself, and then someone told me there’s a flip side to it. So it’s actually drearier than self-love; it’s unrequited self-love. Emily Levine, “A Theory of Everything,” TED talk (April, 2009)
  • He who is enamored of himself will at least have the advantage of being inconvenienced of rivals. G. C. Lichtenberg, in “Notebook H' of his Aphorisms (1784-17880
  • Simple narcissism gives the power of beasts to politicians, professional wrestlers, and female movie stars. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)
  • Vanity and narcissism—the compulsive need to be admired and praised—undermine one’s courage, for one then fights on someone else’s conviction rather than one’s own. Rollo May, in Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
  • Reality television, which turned its eye on people who were doing nothing but being themselves, was the perfect expression of this trend [of narcissism]. Let's look at ourselves, it said. Aren't we fascinating? Alexander McCall Smith, in Espresso Tales (2008)
  • All of nationalism can be understood as a kind of collective narcissism. Geoff Mulgan, “Because You’re Worth It,” in The Guardian (London; June 12, 2006)

Mulgan went on to write: “A modest dose of self-love is entirely healthy—who would want to live in a world where everyone hated themselves? But taken too far it soon becomes poisonous.”

  • The dynamics of narcissism are poignantly applicable to a study of powerful cult leaders as well as to the loyalty and devotion found in their followers. Peter A. Olsson, in Malignant Pied Pipers: A Psychological Study of Destructive Cult Leaders from Rev. Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden (2018)
  • A narcissist wants you to adopt his version of himself. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 20, 2017)
  • Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed. Leo Rosten, in The Return of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n (1959)
  • The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • Although narcissists don’t (or won’t) show it, all perceived criticism feels gravely threatening to them (the reason that their inflamed, over-the-top reactions to it can leave us so surprised and confused). Deep down, clinging desperately not simply to a positive but grandiose sense of self, they’re compelled at all costs to block out any negative feedback about themselves. Leon F. Seltzer, “The Narcissist’s Dilemma: They Can Dish it Out, But….” in Psychology Today Online (Oct. 12, 2011)
  • If narcissistic adults project an air of importance, superiority, entitlement, and grandiosity, it’s a pronounced reaction (or over-reaction) to the massive self-doubt that, frankly, they keep well-hidden beneath the self-satisfied façade they present to others. Leon F. Seltzer, “The Narcissist’s Dilemma: They Can Dish it Out, But….” In Psychology Today Online
  • Narcissists, when their position has been exposed as false, arbitrary, or untenable, will suddenly become evasive, articulate half-truths, lie (actually, as much to themselves as others), flat-out contradict themselves (and to a degree that can leave the other person gaping!), and freely rewrite history (literally—and audaciously—making things up as they go along). Leon F. Seltzer, “The Narcissist’s Dilemma: They Can Dish it Out, But….” In Psychology Today Online
  • There’s a definition of narcissism that when a parent is narcissistic, instead of the child seeing himself reflected in the mother’s face and the mother’s joy, the child of the narcissistic parent feels like, “What can I do to make her okay, to make her happy?” Susan Sullivan, quoted in Rob Kendt, “Performance Focus: Reflections in “Glass,” Backstage magazine (Feb. 21, 2001)
  • Narcissists are said to be in love with themselves. But this is a fallacy. Narcissus is not in love with himself. He is in love with his reflection. There is a major difference between one’s True Self and reflected-self. Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999)
  • Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence. Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999)
  • A narcissist is someone better looking than you are. Gore Vidal, quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle (April 12, 1981)
  • None so empty as those who are full of themselves. Benjamin Whichcote, in Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1753)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Whichcote is playing off “None so blind as those that will not see,” a proverbial English saying popularized by Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible (1708)

  • Never Say “No” to a Narcissist Unless You’re Prepared for the Consequences. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, title of article, MaplewoodWellnessCenter.com (June 18, 2018)

In the article, Dr. Krauss Whitbourne wrote: “There are many words people high in narcissism don’t want to hear, but perhaps the worst involve a ‘no,’ as in ‘No, you can’t,’ ‘No, you’re wrong,’or—even worse—‘No I won’t.’ This makes it difficult to go about your ordinary business with the people in your life, who understand the give-and-take of normal social interactions.”

  • To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. Oscar Wilde, “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” in Chameleon magazine (December, 1894)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilde reprised the line in his 1895 play An Ideal Husband when he had the character Lord Goring say the same line.

  • Self-awareness is not self-centeredness and spirituality is not narcissism. Know thyself is not a narcissistic pursuit. Marianne Williamson, quoted in Lynda Gorov, “Faith: Marianne Williamson is Full of It,” in Mother Jones magazine (Nov.-Dec, 1997)



  • Nations touch at their summits. Walter Bagehot, in The English Constitution (1867)
  • A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbors. W. R. Inge, “The Curse of War,” in The End of an Age (1948)
  • The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes. Stanley Kubrick, quoted in The Guardian (London; June 5, 1963)
  • Nations, like men, have their various ages—infancy, maturity, old age. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), an 1815 reflection, in The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words (1955; J. Christopher Herold, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Napoleon, a student of history, may have been familiar with a similar observation offered more than six decades earlier by Lord Bolingbroke (see the Henry St. John entry below).

  • Nations, like men, have their infancy. Henry St. John (Lord Bolingbroke), in Letters on Study and Use of History (1752)



  • Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill. Richard Aldington, the character Mr. Purfleet speaking, in The Colonel’s Daughter (1931)
  • The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? Pablo Casals, in Joys and Sorrows (1974; with A. E. Kahn)
  • I love my country too much to be a nationalist. Albert Camus, from a 1944 essay; reprinted in Lyrical and Critical Essays (1968; Philip Thody, ed.)
  • “My country, right or wrong” is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” G. K. Chesterton, in The Defendant (1901)
  • It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. Arthur C. Clarke, in The Exploration of Space (1951)
  • Nationalism at the expense of another nation, is just as wicked as racism at the expense of another race. In other word, good patriots are not nationalists. A nationalist is a bad patriot. William Sloane Coffin, in Credo (2004)
  • Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first. Charles de Gaulle, in remarks on leaving his presidency, quoted in Life magazine (May 9, 1969)
  • Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. Albert Einstein, “What Life Means to Einstein” (an interview by George Sylvester Viereck), in The Saturday Evening Post (Oct. 26, 1929); later reprinted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930)
  • I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult. Albert Einstein, in My Credo (1932)
  • Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship. Erich Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955)
  • The nationalist has a broad hatred and a narrow love. André Gide, a 1918 journal entry (specific date undetermined)
  • Nationalism and extremism…are spreading today like a cancerous growth in the fabric of people’s national self-awareness. Raisa Gorbachev, in I Hope: Reminiscences and Reflections (1991)
  • The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war. Sydney J. Harris, “Purely Personal Prejudices, in Strictly Personal (1953)
  • The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag. Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, in Abe Martin’s Sayings (1915)
  • Nationalism will keep its venom until we succeed in creating an image of the nations of the whole world as so many provinces. Storm Jameson, in Journey From the North: Autobiography of Storm Jameson, Vol. 2 (1970)
  • All of nationalism can be understood as a kind of collective narcissism. Geoff Mulgan, “Because You’re Worth It,” in The Guardian (London; June 12, 2006)

Mulgan went on to write: “A modest dose of self-love is entirely healthy—who would want to live in a world where everyone hated themselves? But taken too far it soon becomes poisonous.”

Orwell’s essay was written just as WWII was coming to an end, but his observations on nationalism and patriotism seem as relevant today as when they were originally written. Here are some other quotes from the essay:

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved….”

“By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

  • Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead. Arundhati Roy, “Come September,” a speech at Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, NM (2002); reprinted in War Talk (2003)

Roy continued: “When independent, thinking people . . .begin to rally under flags, when writers, painters, musicians, film makers suspend their judgment and blindly yoke their art to the service of the nation, it’s time for all of us to sit up and worry.”

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

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

  • Nationalism is a heretical religion based on the erroneous doctrine that nations have a soul and that this soul is more permanent, more “eternal,” so to speak, than the soul of an individual. Franz Werfel, in Between Heaven and Earth (1944)
  • Nationalism has two fatal charms for its devotees: it presupposes local self-sufficiency, which is a pleasant and desirable condition, and it suggests, very subtly, a certain personal superiority by reason of one’s belonging to a place which is definable and familiar, as against a place which is strange, remote. E. B. White, “Imitations,” in One Man’s Meat (1944)





  • There are no vacant lots in nature. Edward Abbey, in Desert Solitaire (1969)
  • There is a way of beholding nature that is itself a form of prayer. Diane Ackerman, in The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
  • Nature neither gives nor expects mercy. Diane Ackerman, in The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
  • Life is ruthless. Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, “I’m going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that’s tough. I am going to snow anyway.” Maya Angelou, in “Maya Angelou: An Interview,” Playgirl (Oct., 1974); reprinted in Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989)
  • Nature is a tenacious recycler, every dung heap and fallen redwood tree a bustling community of saprophytes wresting life from the dead and discarded, as though intuitively aware that there is nothing new under the sun. Throughout the physical world, from the cosmic to the subatomic, the same refrain resounds. Conservation: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. Natalie Angier, in The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (2007)
  • Nature is to zoos as God is to churches. Margaret Atwood, the character Crake speaking, in Oryx and Crake (2003)
  • Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)

QUOTE NOTE: Novum Organum was originally written in Latin, and then translated into English. This passage has also been translated: “We cannot command nature except by obeying her.” However, expressed, though, it’s a perfect example of Oxymoronica.

  • Nature is a labyrinth in which the very haste you move with, will make you lose your way. Francis Bacon, in Apophthegms (1624)
  • Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished. Francis Bacon, “Of Nature in Men,” in Essays (1625)
  • It is the end of art to inoculate men with the love of nature. Henry Ward Beecher, in Star Papers, or, Experiences of Art and Nature (1855)

Beecher added: “But those who have a passion for nature in the natural way, need no pictures nor galleries. Spring is their designer, and the whole year their artist.”

  • Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature. Jacob Bronowski, “The Creative Mind” (lecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Feb 26, 1953); reprinted in Science and Human Values (1961)
  • Nature is the art of God. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation usually appears these days; the fuller passage was: “All things are artificial, for nature is the art of God.”

  • Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay-fields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education. Luther Burbank, in The Training of the Human Plant (1907)

Burbank continued: “By being well acquainted with all these they come into most intimate harmony with nature, whose lessons are, of course, natural and wholesome.”

  • The place to observe nature is where you are: the walk you take to-day is the walk you took yesterday. You will not find just the same things. John Burroughs, in Signs and Seasons (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: All over the internet, you will find a paraphrased version of this sentiment (“To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday.”) as an actual quotation by Burroughs. It is not.

  • Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral. John Burroughs, in Time and Change (1912)
  • There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder (1965)
  • I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune Him in. George Washington Carver, quoted in Lawrence Elliott, George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame (1966)
  • Nature is but a name for an effect,/Whose cause is God. William Cowper, “Winter Walk at Noon,” in The Task: A Poem, in Six Books (1785)
  • Nature never breaks her own laws. Leonardo da Vinci, in Notebooks (1508–18)
  • Americans are nature-lovers: but they only admit of nature proofed and corrected by man. Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day (1948)
  • I always think of Nature as a great spectacle, something like the opera. Bernard de Fontenelle, in Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (1686); quoted in S. P. Langley, “The First ‘Popular Scientific Treatise,’” in The Popular Science Monthly (April, 1877)
  • Nature’s silence is its one remark, and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block. Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982)
  • In every true searcher of Nature there is a kind of religious reverence. Albert Einstein, a 1920 remark, quoted in Alexander Moszkowski, Conversations with Einstein (1970)

Einstein continued: “For he finds it impossible to imagine that he is the first to have thought out the exceedingly delicate threads that connect his perceptions.”

  • Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster. Albert Einstein, in letter to Oscar Veblen (April 30, 1930)
  • Natures abhors the old and old age seems the only disease; all others run into this one. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts. William Hazlitt, “On Taste,” in Sketches and Essays (1839)
  • We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.  Werner Heisenberg, in Physics and Philosophy (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Heisenberg is alluding here to one of his most important principles, that there is “a subjective element” in even the most objective of pursuits. He went on to pay tribute to Neils Bohr, who, he wrote, “reminds us…of the old wisdom that when searching for the harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence, we are ourselves both players and spectators.”

  • You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will always return. Horace, in Epistles (1st c. B.C.)
  • In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments—there are consequences. Robert G. Ingersoll, “The New Testament,” in Some Reasons Why (1881)
  • Nature does not proceed by leaps. Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), in Philosophia Botanica (1750)
  • If nature be regarded as the teacher and we poor human beings as her pupils, the human race presents a very curious picture. We all sit together at a lecture and possess the necessary principles for understanding it, yet we always pay more attention to the chatter of our fellow students than to the lecturer’s discourse. G. C. Lichtenberg, quoted in W. H. Auden, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970)

Lichtenberg added: “Or, if our neighbor copies something down, we sneak it from him, stealing what he himself may have heard imperfectly, and add it to our own errors of spelling and opinion.”

  • I am following Nature without being able to grasp her. Claude Monet, in letter to Gustave Geffroy (April 24,1889); quoted in Richard Friedenthal, Letters of the Great Artists: From Blake to Pollock (1963)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites present this quotation as if it were immediately followed by, “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” Monet did make this latter remark, but he did it in 1924 (see the Monet entry in FLOWERS). The two observations were separated by thirty-five years and do not belong together.

  • Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. John Muir, in The Yosemite (1920)

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

  • If you have got a living force and you’re not using it, nature kicks you back. The blood boils just like you put it in a pot. Louise Nevelson, in Dawns + Dusks (1976)
  • That man can interrogate as well as observe nature was a lesson slowly learned in his evolution. William Osler, “The Evolution of the Idea of Experiment in Medicine,” in Transactions of the Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons (May May 7–9,1907)

Dr. Osler added: “Of the two methods by which he can do this, the mathematical and the experimental, both have been equally fruitful—by the one he has gauged the starry heights and harnessed the cosmic forces to his will; by the other he has solved many of the problems of life and lightened many of the burdens of humanity.” As you read this, bear in mind that Osler said this in 1907. His remarks bring to mind only one word: prescient. To read the entire speech, go to Experiment in Medicine.

  • It is far from easy to determine whether she has proved to man a kind parent or a merciless stepmother. Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), describing Nature, in Natural History (1st. c. A.D.)
  • Nature is the common, universal language, understood by all. Kathleen Raine, in Selected Poems (1988)
  • Whether man is disposed to yield to nature or to oppose her, he cannot do without a correct understanding of her language. Jean Rostand, in The Substance of Man (1962)
  • Nature distributes her favors unequally. To some of her creatures she gives intelligence, to others beauty. George Sand, journal entry (undated, 1837), in The Intimate Journal of George Sand (M. J. Howe, ed., 1929)
  • Art speaks only to the mind, whereas nature speaks to all the faculties. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • Repetition is the only form of permanence that nature can achieve. George Santayana, “Aversion from Platonism,” in Soliloquies in England (1922)
  • Nature abhors a vacuum. Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)
  • I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Jan. 3, 1853)

In another entry that same day, Thoreau wrote: “I have a room all to myself: it is nature.”

  • However much you knock at nature’s door, she will never answer you in comprehensible words. Ivan Turgenev, in On the Eve (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from the character Shubin, who has been frustrated in his attempts to win the affection of the woman he desires, the beautiful Elena. The goal of understanding nature, he suggests here, is equally frustrating.

  • I am called a mother, but I am a grave. Alfred de Vigny, Nature describing herself, in La Maison du Berger (1864)
  • 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)
  • Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative. H. G. Wells, in Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945)
  • Nature is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first/ Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,/I swear to you there ate divine things more beautiful than words can tell. Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass (1856)
  • After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons—the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night. Walt Whitman, an 1876-77 notebook entry, in Specimen Days and Collect (1882)
  • Nature never did betray/The heart that loved her. William Wordsworth, in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (1798)

[Human] NATURE


[Mother] NATURE


  • Blizzards, floods, volcanos [sic], hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. Dean Koontz, the voice of the narrator, in The Taking (2004)



  • What do we plant when we plant the tree?/We plant the ship which will cross the sea. Henry Abbey, the opening lines of “What Do We Plant?” (Feb., 1890) in The Poems of Henry Abbey, 4th Ed. (1918)

QUOTE NOTE: Abbey is an American poet who has been largely forgotten, but this poem of his lives on as a lasting legacy. It has been widely anthologized, recited at many an Arbor Day celebration, and in 1941 even set to music by Aaron Copland. The poem continues: “We plant the mast to carry the sails;/We plant the plank to withstand the gales.” The poem goes on to celebrate the use of trees in the creation of “A thousand things that we daily see.” The full poem may be seen at: ”What Do We Plant?

  • The President may indeed in one respect resemble the commander of an army in peace, but in another and more essential sense he resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek. Henry Brooks Adams, in Historical Essays (1891)

Adams continued: “He must sooner or later be convinced that a perpetual calm is as little to his purpose as a perpetual hurricane, and that without headway the ship can arrive nowhere.”

  • I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship. Louisa May Alcott, the character Amy speaking, in Little Women (1868–1869)
  • We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: According to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, the earliest version of this saying appeared in a March 4, 1882 issue of Grip, a Toronto, Canada satirical periodical (their use of the saying acknowledged an unnamed Philadelphia newspaper as the source): “‘Though we cannot control the wind, we can adjust our sails so as to profit by it,’ says a philosopher. A good many so-called Independent papers are run on the same principle.—Phila. News.”

  • Nothing comes from a life of ease./The good sailor hails from the stormy seas. Author Unknown
  • Move not in your anger; it is like putting to sea in a tempest. Amelia E. Barr, in The Maid of Maiden Lane (1900)
  • The methods by which men have met and conquered trouble, or been slain by it, are the same in every age. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)

Beecher continued: “Some have floated on the sea, and trouble carried them on its surface as the sea carries cork. Some have sunk at once to the bottom as foundering ships sink. Some have run away from their own thoughts. Some have coiled themselves up into a stoical indifference. Some have braved the trouble, and defied it. Some have carried it as a tree does a wound, until by new wood it can overgrow and cover the old gash.” Beecher went on to describe how some very few people are even able to view trouble as a “wonderful food” or “an invisible garment that clothed them with strength.” The full passage may be seen at: Life Thoughts

  • It is not the going out of port, but the coming in, that determines the success of a voyage. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • One leak will sink a ship, and one sin will destroy a sinner. John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)
  • The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder; a waif, a nothing, a no-man. Thomas Carlyle, quoted in James Brand, The Beasts of Ephesus (1892)

According to Brand, Carlyle said this to a University of Edinburgh student who had not yet made up his mind about a course of study. Carlyle added: “Have a purpose in life, if it is only to kill and divide [meaning, “to butcher”] and sell oxen well. But have a purpose, and having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.” In most anthologies, the quotation is presented as if the middle oxen portion never appeared.

  • Love is a sometimes breathless sigh, a sometimes gasping cry, a moaning plea, a lonely ship on an angry sea, calling out for an SOS, or just a helping hand to guide her home. Natalie Cole, quoted in Ebony magazine (Aug. 1981)
  • If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (March 18, 1831); published in Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1835; Henry Nelson Coleridge, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Coleridge first advanced this idea more than a decade earlier, writing in October, 1820 : “To most men, experience is like the stern lights of a ship, which illumine only the track it has passed.” (Source: Letters and Conversations of S. T. Coleridge, Vol I (1836; Thomas Allsop, ed.)

  • A modern fleet of ships does not so much make use of the sea as exploit a highway. Joseph Conrad, in The Mirror of the Sea (1906)
  • Time is the reef upon which all of our frail mystic ships are wrecked. Noël Coward, Madame Arcati speaking, in Blithe Spirit (1941)
  • It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage. George William Curtis, “The Public Duty of Educated Men,” Commencement address at Union College (Schenectady, NY; June 27, 1877); reprinted in Opinions and Addresses of George William Curtis (1894)
  • Those who fall in love with practice without science are like a sailor who enters a ship without helm or compass, and who never can be certain whither he is going. Leonardo da Vinci, in Notebooks (1508–18)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation appeared in the “World Classics Edition” of Leonardo’s notebooks, published by Oxford University Press in 1952. Recent translations make the observation a contrast between theory and practice rather than science and practice: “He who loves practice without theory is like a seafarer who boards a ship without wheel or compass and knows not whither he travels.”

  • A man may own a ship, but unless he is captain of a crew he goes where the ship goes. Gordon Daviot, the voice of the narrator, in The Privateer (1952)
  • Old age is a shipwreck. Charles de Gaulle, quoted in Don Cook, Charles de Gaulle: A Biography (1983)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The words do come from De Gaulle, but he was not describing his own aging process, as is suggested in many quotation anthologies. Rather, they appeared as part of a fuller observation de Gaulle made about the aging French military leader, Marshal Pétain: “The old man is losing his sense of proportion. Nothing and nobody will stop the marshal on the road to senile ambition. Old age is a shipwreck.”

  • Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Emerson continued: “He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “Each man has his own vocation; his talent is his call.”

  • A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope. Epictetus, a second century fragment; reprinted in The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (1909; Hastings Crossley, ed.)
  • The art of writing fiction is to sail as dangerously close to the truth as possible without sinking the ship. Kinky Friedman, in Cowboy Logic: The Wit and Wisdom of Kinky Friedman (2006)
  • The worse the Passage, the more welcome the Port. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • It is a well provisioned ship this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch and there is a new supply of which before we never dreamed. Henry George, on earth, in Progress and Poverty (1879)
  • The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators. Edward Gibbon, in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. VI (1788)
  • Prejudice is a raft onto which the shipwrecked mind clambers and paddles to safety. Ben Hecht, in A Guide to the Bedevilled (1944)
  • My heart is like the ocean,/With tempest, ebb, and flow,/And many pearls full precious/Lie in its depths below. Heinrich Heine, in Return Home (1823)
  • Show me a completely smooth operation and I’ll show you someone who's covering mistakes. Real boats rock. Frank Herbert, in Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
  • When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal. Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich (1937)

Hill continued: “If you give up before your goal has been reached, you are a ‘quitter.’”

  • To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. Zora Neale Hurston, in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • The art of life is the art of avoiding pain; and he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Maria Cosway (Oct. 12, 1786)
  • 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.”

  • A long poem is a test of invention which I take to be the polar star of poetry, as fancy is the sails, and imagination the rudder. John Keats, in letter to Benjamin Bailey (Oct. 8, 1817)
  • No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit. Helen Keller, in Optimism: An Essay (1903)
  • The first goal need not be the final one, for a sailing ship sails first by one wind, then another. The point is that it is always going somewhere, proceeding toward a final destination. Louis L’Amour, the protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard speaking, in The Walking Drum (1984)
  • Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing;/Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;/So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,/Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the character Elizabeth speaking, in Tales of a Wayside Inn (1874)

QUOTE NOTE: Even though the phrases speak each other and speak one another look wrong to a modern eye, this is how they originally appeared. The first line is the origin of the popular simile like two ships passing in the night to describe people who are so busy with their individual lives they rarely have time to get together.

  • The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven. Martin Luther, in Preface to Psalms (1534)
  • Never dream with thy hand on the helm. Herman Melville, from the character Ismael, in Moby-Dick (1851)
  • 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)
  • 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.

  • The nature of not only politics but, I think, social change of any sort is that it doesn’t move in a straight line, and that those who are most successful typically are tacking like a sailor toward a particular direction. Barack Obama, quoted in David Remnick, “Going the Distance,” The New Yorker magazine (Jan. 27, 2014)

President Obama continued the sailing metaphor by adding that those steering the ship of state “have to take into account winds and currents and occasionally the lack of any wind, so that you’re just sitting there for a while, and sometimes you’re being blown all over the place.”

  • Unless your campaign has a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. David Ogilvy, in Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963)
  • There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful; nor is there any port of call where it is possible to forget. Fernando Pessoa, in a letter to Mário de Sá-Carneiro (March 14, 1916)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly identify the source as Pessoa’s classic The Book of Disquiet. To see the entire letter, written when Pessoa was “at the bottom of a bottomless depression,” see Pessoa 1916 Letter.

  • For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea. Enoch Powell, quoted in The Guardian (London; Dec. 3, 1984)

Powell is also widely credited with another popular—but so far unverified—observation about politicians: “No one is forced to be a politician. It can only be compared with fox hunting and writing poetry. These are two things that men do for sheer enjoyment, too.”

  • A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. Proverb (English)
  • Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous anthologies mistakenly present this observation as if it began “If you fail to pilot….”

  • A war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships. Books, like ships, have the toughest armor, the longest cruising range, and mount the most powerful guns. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in Dec. 1, 1942 letter to W. W. Norton, chairman of the CBW (Council on Books in Wartime)
  • Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), Letter LXXI, in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been commonly presented this way: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

  • A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. John A. Shedd, in Salt from My Attic (1928)

QUOTE NOTE: Many Internet sites attribute a very similar saying to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper, who offered a similar thought in a profile in The San Diego Union (Feb. 3, 1981): “A motto that has stuck with me is: A ship in port is safe. But that’s not what ships are for.” While Mr. Shedd, a completely unknown author at the time, should be regarded as the author of the saying, the essential idea had been in currency for some time. In a 2013 Quote Investigator post, Garson O’Tooole found a 1901 article in the Duluth News-Tribune [Minnesota] that attributed the underlying sentiment to Theodore Roosevelt: “President Roosevelt thinks that warships are not built to rust and rot in harbor. He wants them kept moving so that crews can keep in full practice at their seamanship, gunnery, etc. That sounds like hard sense.”

  • Bringing up teenagers is like sweeping back ocean waves with a frazzled broom—the inundation of outside influences never stops. Mary Ellen Snodgrass, in “Motherhood or Bust” in On the Issues (1990)

Snodgrass continued: “Whatever the lure—cars, easy money, cigarettes, drugs, booze, sex, crime—much that glitters along the shore has a thousand times the appeal of a parent’s lecture.”

  • It had thundered on the Friday night, but the sun rose on Saturday without a cloud. We were at sea—there is no other adequate expression—on the plains of Nebraska. Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Plains of Nebraska,” in Across the Plains: With Other Memories and Essays (1892)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of my all-time favorite metaphors, and it came at the beginning of a travel vignette Stevenson wrote in 1879 while on a train from New York City to San Francisco. If you’ve ever lived in The Great Plains—or traveled through the area during the summer months—you will appreciate the similarity between the great oceans of the world and the thousands of acres of rolling fields of wheat, flax, or corn (in writing the lyrics for the patriotic song “America the Beautiful,“ Katherine Lee Bates employed a similar metaphor in the opening lines: “O beautiful for spacious skies,/For amber waves of grain”).

In his vignette, Stevenson continued: “I made my observatory on the top of a fruit-wagon, and sat by the hour upon that perch to spy about me, and to spy in vain for something new. It was a world almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and back, the line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a cue across a billiard-board; on either hand, the green plain ran till it touched the skirts of heaven.”

Best known for his rollicking adventure tales, Stevenson was also an accomplished essayist and arguably the world’s first internationally-famous travel writer (he wrote ten separate travel memoirs from 1878 to 1905).

  • He is the best sailor who can steer within fewest points of the wind, and exact a motive power out of the greatest obstacles. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Civilization, as we know it, is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor. No known civilization has ever reached the goal of civilization itself. Arnold J. Toynbee, in Civilization on Trial (1949)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites abridge the beginning of the quotation to Civilization is a movement….

  • A film is a boat which is always on the point of sinking—it always tends to break up as you go along and drag you under with it. François Truffaut, quoted in Peter John Graham, The New Wave: Critical Landmarks (1968)
  • Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea. John Updike, in the Foreword to Hugging the Shore (1984)
  • One ship drives east and another drives west/With the self same winds that blow./’Tis the set of the sails,/And not the gales,/That tells us the way to go./Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;/As we voyage along through life,/’Tis the set of a soul/That decides its goal,/And not the calm, or the strife. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Fate,” first published in Munsey’s Magazine (Feb., 1897)

QUOTE NOTE: Many anthologies mistakenly suggest that the title of the poem is “’Tis the Set of the Sails.”

(see also BREASTS and BUTTOCKS and LIPS and NIPPLES)

  • It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who—every one of them—showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. Milan Kundera, the opening words of The Festival of Insignificance (2013)

The narrator continued: “He was captivated; captivated and even disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in that small round hole located in the center of the body.”



(see also DESTINY and FATE and FORTUNE)

  • Against necessity, against its strength, no one can fight and win. Aeschylus, in Prometheus Bound (5th c. B.C.)
  • I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention—invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble. Agatha Christie, in An Autobiography (1977)
  • Necessity saves us the trouble of choosing. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Richard Franck, the character Arnoldus speaking, in Northern Memoirs (1658)

QUOTE NOTE: The Yale Book of Quotations identifies this as the first appearance of the saying—in these exact words—in English, but the sentiment goes back to ancient times (see the Plato entry below). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations helpfully points out that Franck’s book, while written 1658, was not published until 1694.

  • Necessity never made a good bargain. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (April, 1735)
  • What throws a monkey wrench in/A fella’s good intention?/That nasty old invention—/Necessity! E. Y. Harburg, in “Necessity” (1947)
  • When grubbing for necessities man is still an animal. He becomes uniquely human when he reaches out for the superfluous and extravagant. Eric Hoffer, in Working and Thinking on the Waterfront: A Journal, June 1858–May 1959 (1969)
  • Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. William Pitt, in House of Commons speech (Nov. 18, 1783)
  • The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention. Plato, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.; Benjamin Jowett, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the origin of the proverbial saying necessity is the mother of invention, which made its first formal appearance in the Latin proverb Mater artium necessitas. In the 1st c. A.D., the Roman poet Persius may have been inspired by the Plato observation when he wrote in his Satires: “The stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of invention.”

  • Necessity may be the mother of lucrative invention, but is the death of poetical. William Shenstone, in Essays on Men and Manners (1804)
  • I don’t know if fury can compete with necessity as the mother of invention, but I recommend it. Gloria Steinem, in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity. H. G. Wells, the protagonist (who is identified only as The Time Traveller) speaking, in The Time Machine (1895)



  • What do I want? Such a loaded question. Such a loaded word. Perhaps need was more appropriate. But what was need other than urgent want? Want with a little desperation tossed in for good measure. Gorman Bechard, the character William Shute, a New Haven police detective, speaking, in Ninth Square (2002)
  • 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)
  • The face of “evil” is always the face of total need. William S. Burroughs, a reflection of narrator William Lee, in The Naked Lunch (1959)

Burroughs continued: “A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency, need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: Wouldn’t you? Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need.”

  • Time, like money, is measured by our needs. George Eliot, the narrator speaking, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree. Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)
  • In twenty years I’ve never had a day when I didn’t have to think about someone else’s needs. And this means the writing has to be fitted around it. Alice Munro, quoted in Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Alice Munro: A Double Life (1992)
  • Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. Martha Nussbaum, quoted in James L. Harmon, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation (2002)

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

  • One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning, that one is needed in this world. Hannah Senesh, journal entry (Oct. 27, 1938), in Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary (2004)
  • Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them. Adlai Stevenson, in a speech in Columbus, Ohio (Oct. 3, 1952)
  • All relationships have the same basic components: people, needs, and expectations. Iyanla Vanzant, in In the Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want (1998)
  • We are truly indefatigable in providing for the needs of the body, but we starve the soul. Mrs. Henry Wood, in About Ourselves (1883)



  • The majority of men suffer from a form of neglect, they suffer from not being possessed by anyone, from offering themselves in vain. Stretch out your hand and seize them Georges Duhamel, in The Heart’s Domain (1919)
  • A little neglect may breed great mischief…for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June 1758)
  • Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “We Are All Bound Up Together,” address at the Eleventh Woman’s Rights Convention (New York City; May 10, 1866)

QUOTE NOTE: Margaret Mead was almost certainly inspired by this famous Harper line when she wrote in her 1949 book Male and Female: “We need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin.”

  • We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation. John F. Kennedy, in speech to Congress (Jan. 30, 1962)
  • The time may have come when the issue of race could benefit from a period of “benign neglect,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in a White House memo (March 2, 1970)

QUOTE NOTE: Moynihan, a leading voice in the Democratic Party at the time, was serving as an urban affairs advisor to President Nixon, and his thought was disparaged by many within his own party. The quotation marks around the phrase indicated that Moynihan was citing another source, and scholars quickly discovered that the phrase originally appeared in the 1939 “Dunham Report,” in which the Governor General of British North America recommended self-rule for Canada because it had done so well under a period of benign neglect by Queen Victoria’s government.

  • As tools unused become rusty, so does the mind; a garden uncared for soon becomes smothered in weeds; a talent neglected withers and dies. Ethel R. Page, “What of Your Talent?” in The Etude (March 1956)
  • Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. J.K. Rowling, the character Dumbledore speaking, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  • The biggest mistake you can make with money is neglect. You might as well leave your dollar bills outside in a high wind. Mary L. Sprouse, in If Time Is Money, No Wonder I'm Not Rich (1993)

Sprouse introduced the thought by writing: “Of all the activities you must cram into your busy life, managing your money is the one you can least afford to overlook.”

  • Love must be cultivated, and can be increased by judicious culture, as wild fruits may double their bearing under the hand of a gardener; and love can dwindle and die out by neglect, as choice flower-seeds planted in poor soil dwindle and grow single. Harriet Beecher Stowe (writing under the pen name Christopher Crowfield), the voice of the narrator, in Little Foxes (1866)
  • People neglect, with their nearest friends, those refinements and civilities which they practice with strangers. Harriet Beecher Stowe (writing under the pen name Christopher Crowfield), the character Mrs. Stephens speaking, in Little Foxes (1866)

She preceded the thought by writing: “I think one of the greatest destroyers of domestic peace is Discourtesy.”

  • If we neglect our privileges, the gods take them from us. Constance Fenimore Woolson, the character Mr. Dexter speaking, in Anne: A Novel (1882)



  • A society imperils its own future when, out of negligence or contempt, it overlooks the need of children to be reared in a family. Margaret Mead, in Margaret Mead and Ken Heyman, Family (1965)

The authors added: “Or when, in the midst of plenty, some families cannot give their children adequate food and shelter, safe activity and rest, and an opportunity to grow into full adulthood as people who can care for and cherish other human beings like themselves.”



  • Empathy is the biggest negotiation tool. I must try to understand where the other person’s coming from to make points for my side. Lee Ducat, quoted in Sherry Suib Cohen, Tender Power (1989)
  • Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. John F. Kennedy, in first inaugural address (Jan. 20, 1961)
  • Jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Harold Macmillan, in speech in Canberra, Australia (Jan. 30, 1958)
  • Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Nelson Mandela, statement issued from his South African prison cell (Feb. 10, 1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Mandela was refusing the terms offered for his release by South African president P. W. Botha. The statement was read by his daughter, Zindi Mandela, at Jabulani Stadium, in Soweto, South Africa.

  • The only alternative to war is peace and the only road to peace is negotiations. Golda Meir, quoted in Claire Price-Groff, Twentieth Century Women Political Leaders (1998)
  • Remember to negotiate thickness as well as height on the lettering of your name. Julia Phillips, in You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (1991)


(see BLACKS)



  • We are commanded to love our neighbor because our “natural” attitude toward the “other” is one of either indifference or hostility. W. H. Auden, “Neighbor, Love of One’s,” in A Certain World (1970)

Auden preceded the thought by writing: “We are not commanded (or forbidden) to love our mates, our children, our friends, our country because such affections come naturally to us and are good in themselves, although we may corrupt them.”

  • For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn. Jane Austen, the character Mr. Bennett speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Sometimes a neighbor whom we have disliked a lifetime for his arrogance and conceit lets fall a single commonplace remark that shows us another side, another man, really; a man uncertain, and puzzled, and in the dark like ourselves. Willa Cather, in Epilogue to Shadows on the Rock (1931)
  • Good fences make good neighbors. Robert Frost, in the poem “Mending Wall” (1914)
  • My neighbor/doesn’t want to be loved/as much as/he wants to be envied. Irving Layton, “Aphs,” in The Whole Bloody Bird1969
  • We all have neighbors. Greet them on the sidewalk or in the elevator, but try not to peer through their windows. Windows are to look out from, not into. Alexandra Stoddard, in Grace Notes (1993)
  • Being a good neighbor is an art which makes life richer. Gladys Taber, in Harvest of Yesterdays (1976)
  • It is grossly selfish to require of one’s neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in Fortnightly Review (Feb 1891)



  • Never confuse networking with affection. Maureen Dowd, “On Washington: Thou Shalt Not Leave a Paper Trail,” in The New York Times (May 8, 1994)



  • The neurotic is nailed to the cross of his fiction. Alfred Adler, “The Neurotic Disposition,” in The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: This memorable assessment first appeared in Ueber den Nervöusen Charakter (1912). Adler believed that all people created “guiding fictions” to help them in their journey through life, and that neurotics simply took their fictions too far. He wrote: “The neurotic . . . clings to the straw of his fiction . . . arbitrarily ascribes reality to it, and seeks to realize it in the world. For this the fiction is unfit; it is still more unfit when, as in the psychoses, it is elevated to a dogma or anthropomorphized.”

  • A mistake which is commonly made about neurotics is to suppose that they are interesting. It is not interesting to be always unhappy, engrossed with oneself, malignant and ungrateful, and never quite in touch with reality. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • The true believer is in a high degree protected against the danger of certain neurotic afflictions; by accepting the universal neurosis he is spared the task of forming a personal neurosis. Sigmund Freud, in The Future of an Illusion (1927)
  • They complain of their illness but exploit it with all of their strength; and if someone tries to take it away from them they defend it like the proverbial lioness with her young. Sigmund Freud, on neurotics, in The Question of Lay Analysis (1950)
  • Neurosis can be understood best as the battle between two tendencies within an individual. Erich Fromm, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)
  • The only difference between neurosis and wisdom is struggle. Natalie Goldberg, in Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (1993)
  • The neurotic…feels caught in a cellar with many doors, and whichever door he opens leads only into new darkness. And all the time he knows that others are walking outside in sunshine. Karen Horney, in The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1936)
  • Every person, to the extent that he is neurotic, is like an airplane directed by remote control. Karen Horney, in Our Inner Conflicts (1945)
  • Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. Carl Jung, in 1937 Terry Lecture at Yale University; reprinted in Psychology and Religion (1938)
  • Modern neurosis began with the discoveries of Copernicus. Science made man feel small by showing him that the earth was not the center of the universe. Mary McCarthy, “Tyranny of the Orgasm,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • All neurotics are petty bourgeois. And vice versa. Madness is too revolutionary for them. They can’t go the whole hog. We madmen are the aristocrats of mental illness. Mary McCarthy, Mr. Andrews speaking do his daughter Polly, in The Group (1963)

ERROR ALERT: Many quotation anthologies mistakenly present an abridged version of the passage: “All neurotics are petty bourgeois. Madmen are the aristocrats of mental illness.”

  • Neurosis is no worse than a bad cold; you ache all over, and it’s made you a mess, but you won’t die from it. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1960)
  • Sin, guilt, neurosis—they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Henry Miller, “Creative Death,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1947)
  • The neurotic is the flounder that lies on the bed of the river, securely settled in the mud, waiting to be speared. Henry Miller, in Sexus (1949)

Miller added about the neurotic: “For him death is the only certainty, and the dread of that grim certainty immobilizes him.”

  • 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. Marcel Proust, in The Guermantes Way (1920-21; originally pub. as Le Côté de Guermantes)

Proust continued: “The world will never realize how much it owes to them and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it.”

  • Neurosis has an absolute genius for malingering. There is no illness which it cannot counterfeit perfectly. Marcel Proust, in The Guermantes Way (1920-21; originally pub. as Le Côté de Guermantes)

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

  • Neurosis has an absolute genius for malingering. There is no illness which it cannot counterfeit perfectly. Marcel Proust, in Time Regained (1926; originally pub. as Le Temps retrouvé)
  • The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy. Lionel Trilling, “Freud and Literature,” in The Liberal Imagination (1950)
  • A neurosis is a secret you don’t know you’re keeping. Kenneth Tynan, quoted in Kathleen Tynan, Life of Kenneth Tynan (1987)
  • A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. And a psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent. Alfred Webb-Johnson, quoted in Look magazine (Oct. 4, 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest appearance of this saying, which went on to be widely quoted and adapted. Lord Webb-Johnson was a respected British surgeon, personal physician to Queen Mary from 1936–53, and former president of the Royal College of Surgeons.



  • People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo. Max Eastman, in Enjoyment of Poetry: With Other Essays in Aesthetics (1913; rev. ed., 1939)
  • There is no neutrality. There is only greater or less awareness of one’s bias. Phyllis Rose, in Writing of Women: Essays in a Renaissance (1985)
  • If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. Desmond Tutu, quoted in Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984)
  • I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometime we must interfere. Elie Wiesel, in Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway (Dec. 10, 1986)

Wiesel continued: “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”



(includes BRAND-NEW; see also FRESH and INNOVATION and NOVEL and OLD and OLD & NEW and VIRGIN and YOUNG)

  • To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday. Author Unknown, but commonly attributed to John Burroughs

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this oxymoronic observation is attributed to Burroughs, but it has not been found in his works. It appears to be a paraphrasing of the following thought from Signs and Seasons (1886): “The place to observe nature is where you are: the walk you take to-day is the walk you took yesterday. You will not find just the same things.”

  • New things are always ugly. Willa Cather, quoted in Phyllis C. Robinson, Willa (1983)
  • It is often the case with a new idea that when it comes knocking on society's door with modesty and the best premises for its existence, there is a tremendous outcry from inside. Isak Dinesen, in On Modern Marriage and Other Observations (1977)
  • We are, in this country, more open to new ideas. But we are also, it seems to me, more inclined to hail the new as absolute truth—until the next new comes along. Paula Fox, in News From the World (2011)
  • Copywriters may struggle to distill their messages of enthusiasm in bright prose and snappy slogans, but the one word favored by advertisers over the years, is still the old word new. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • We tend to think things are new because we’ve just discovered them. Madeleine L’Engle, the character Charles Wallace speaking, in A Wind in the Door (1973)
  • Those persons are happiest in this restless and mutable world who are in love with change, who delight in what is new simply because it differs from what is old; who rejoice in every innovation, and find a strange alert pleasure in all that is, and that has never been before. Agnes Repplier, “The Charm of the Familiar,” in Essays in Miniature (1892)
  • One simple guideline I follow in order to accomplish my goals is to do something new every day. No matter how small the activity, each one counts. Rosemarie Rossetti, in Take Back Your Life! Regaining Your Footing After Life Throws You a Curve (2003)
  • Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them. John Updike, a reflection of narrator Tom Marshfield, in A Month of Sundays (1975)


(see BABIES)



  • The New England conscience…does not stop you from doing what you shouldn’t—it just stops you from enjoying it. Cleveland Amory, in New York magazine (May 5, 1980)
  • Of course what the man from Mars will find out first about New England is that it is neither new nor very much like England. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • There are enough antiques for sale along the roads of New England alone to furnish the houses of a population of fifty million. John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley (1962)







  • A city of sin and gayety [sic] unique on the North American continent. Herbert Asbury, in The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld (1936)
  • People in New Orleans really care about food, care about it passionately, can spend hours arguing over whether Antoine’s is better than Galatoire’s or the other way around. Nora Ephron, in Scribble Scribble (1978)

A bit later, Ephron added. “In New Orleans, there is basically nothing to do but eat and then argue about it.”

  • New Orleans is one of the two most ingrown, self-obsessed little cities in the United States. (The other is San Francisco.) Nora Ephron, in Scribble Scribble (1978)
  • Babylon-on-the-Mississippi. Rachel Jackson, on New Orleans, quoted in Robert V. Remind, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Rachel Jackson was the wife of Andrew Jackson. In an 1821 letter to a friend, she also wrote about the city: “Great Babylon is come up before me. Oh, the wickedness, the idolatry of the place! Unspeakable the riches and splendor.”

  • It is a town where an architect, a gourmet, and a roué is in hog heaven. George Sessions Perry, on New Orleans, in Cities of America (1947)

In his book, Perry also offered this masterful metaphorical description of the city: “In some ways gaudy old New Orleans very much resembles an alluring, party-loving woman who is neither as virtuous as she might be nor as young as she looks, who has a come-hither eye, an engaging trace of accent in her speech, and a weakness for the pleasures both of the table and the couch—a femme fatale who has known great ecstasy and tragedy, but still laughs and loves excitement, and who, after each bout of sinning, does duly confess and perhaps partially repent.”

  • The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. Tom Robbins, the voice of the unnamed narrator, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

In the opening paragraph of the “New Orleans” chapter, the narrator continued in a metaphorical tour de force: “That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky filé z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po' boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week—yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent scars.”

  • 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)
  • New Orleans, in spring-time, just when the orchards were flushing over with peach-blossoms, and the sweet herbs came to flavor the juleps—seemed to me the city of the world where you can eat and drink the most and suffer the least. William Makepeace Thackeray, in Roundabout Papers (1862)
  • There is no architecture in New Orleans except in the cemeteries. Mark Twain, the voice of the narrator, in Life on the Mississippi (1883)

QUOTE NOTE: In The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2nd ed,; 2006), Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner wrote: “Old New Orleans was built upon a cypress swamp, and it is impossible to dig conventional six-foot-deep graves except in some of the newer, higher parts of town:the water table is too close to the surface. As a result, above-ground tombs of varying degrees of ornateness have proliferated.”

[New] YEAR

(see [New] YEAR)




  • New York has always prided itself on its bad manners. That is the real source of our strength. Gertrude Atherton, the character Marian Lawrence speaking to Lee Clavering, who just chastised her for her questionable manners, in Black Oxen (1922)

QUOTE NOTE: Atherton’s bestselling novel reinforced the notion that New Yorkers were ill-mannered, a belief further fostered the following year when the novel was adapted into a popular silent film. This stereotype is now well established. In The Second Neurotic's Notebook (1966), Mignon McLaughlin echoed the theme when she wrote: “A car is useless in New York, essential everywhere else. The same with good manners.”

  • Everybody ought to have a lower East Side in their life. Irving Berlin, in Vogue magazine (Nov. 1, 1962)
  • 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)
  • Manhattan. Sometimes from beyond the skyscrapers, across the hundreds of thousands of high walls, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia in the middle of the night, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island. Albert Camus, a 1946 journal entry, in American Journals (1978)
  • This island, floating in river water like a diamond iceberg. Truman Capote, “New York” (1946), in A Capote Reader (1987)

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

  • Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual. Angela Carter, in New Society (1982; specific issue undetermined)
  • The present in New York is so powerful that the past is lost. John Jay Chapman, in Preface to Emerson and Other Essays (1898; rev. 1909)
  • It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story. Agatha Christie, widely but mistakenly attributed

ERROR ALERT: Christie not only didn’t make this remark that is so often attributed to her, she didn’t even agree with it. The problem began to surface shortly after publication of a May 14, 1956 Life magazine profile (“Genteel Queen of Crime” by Nigel Dennis). In a discussion of “classic” whodunit settings, Dennis quoted an unnamed fan of the genre as making the remark, and then added: “Agatha Christie herself does not share these views.” The full article may be seen at: Genteel Queen of Crime

  • The cathedrals were built to the glory of God, New York was built to the glory of mammon—money, gain, the new god of the nineteenth century. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization (1969)
  • In Manhattan, every flat surface is a potential stage and every inattentive waiter an unemployed, possibly unemployable, actor. Quentin Crisp, “Love Lies Bleeding,” in New Statesman & Society (London; Aug. 9, 1991)
  • New York City isn’t a melting pot, it’s a boiling pot. Thomas E. Dewey, quoted in John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: Dewey was clearly inspired by the original melting pot metaphor, made about America by Israel Zangwill in 1908 (see his entry in AMERICA & AMERICANS. In the Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2006), Hugh Rawson & Margaret Miner reported that a 1986 U. S. News & World Report article cited a Times Square sign that read: “If the United States is a melting pot, then New York makes it bubble.”

  • New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. Joan Didion, “Farewell to the Enchanted City,” in The Saturday Evening Post (1967); reprinted as “Goodbye to All That” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: A week after the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11th, Didion was on a book tour to promote her book Political Fictions (2001). At an event in San Francisco, a member of the audience handed her a copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and asked her to read a highlighted passage (the quotation above). Didion, happy to comply, was taken by surprise when she neared the end of the passage. Here’s how she described the experience in Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11 (2003): “I hit the word ‘perishable’ and I could not say it. I found myself onstage at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco unable to finish reading the passage, unable to speak at all for what must have been thirty seconds.”

  • The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that had ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York. John J. Fitz Gerald, “Around the Big Apple,” in The Morning Telegraph (New York; Feb 18, 1924)

QUOTE NOTE: Fitz Gerald, a racetrack writer for the newspaper, didn’t invent the saying that is now synonymous with New York City, but he gets credit for popularizing it. He began using the expression in the early 1920s after hearing a trip to a New Orleans race track when he overheard a couple of African-American stable hands talking about their next gig. “From here we’re headin’ for The Big Apple,” one of them said. Fitz Gerald loved the expression, first mentioning in a 1921 Morning Telegraph column and eventually using it in the title of several columns. Nobody has done more research on this famous saying than master quotation sleuth Barry Popik. See his work at The Big Apple

  • New York is an arrogant city; it has always wanted to be all things to all people, and a surprising amount of the time it has succeeded. Paul Goldberger, in The City Observed: New York (1979)
  • New York city, the incomparable, the brilliant star city of cities, the forty-ninth state, a law unto itself, the Cyclopean Paradox, the inferno with no-out-of bounds, the supreme expression of both the miseries and the splendors of contemporary civilization, the Macedonia of the United States. It meets the most severe test that may be applied to definition of a metropolis—it stays up all night. But also it becomes a small town when it rains. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from. Moss Hart, on New York City, in Act One: An Autobiography (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: Hart was reflecting on the unexpectedly enthusiastic reception to the opening night performance of his 1930 Broadway play Once in a Lifetime (written with George S. Kaufman). Just after dawn, returning to his Brooklyn apartment in a cab, he noticed a ten-year-old boy performing some before-school errand. Recalling his own boyhood days, he wrote: “It was possible in this wonderful city for that nameless little boy—for any of its millions—to have a decent chance to scale the walls and achieve what they wished. Wealth, rank, or an imposing name counted for nothing.” He then continued with the only credential thought above.

  • The Super-City, where everyone mutinies but no one deserts. Harry Hershfield, book dedication to New York City, in Super-City (1930)
  • Perhaps the unforgivable sin of this troubled city, to outsiders, is its refusal to take itself too seriously. New York, thy name is irreverence and hyperbole. And grandeur. Ada Louise Huxtable, “A Delightful Walk Downtown,” in The New York Times (July 20, 1975)
  • A city that is as heartbreaking in its beauty as it is in its poverty and decay. It is still a city of dreams—promised, built, and broken. Ada Louise Huxtable, on New York, “Growing Up In a Beaux Arts World,” in The New York Times (Nov. 9, 1975)
  • New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse. Ed Koch, in his third inaugural address as mayor of New York City (Jan 1, 1986); full text reprinted in The New York Times (Jan. 2, 1986)

Mayor Koch’s observation was part of a fuller set of remarks that went this way: “Our city is not a tranquil refuge from reality. New York today is what it has always been: it’s the world’s No. 1 arena for genius, it’s the battleground of new ideas. New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse, where the best come to get better.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet—and in all of the major anthologies of New York City quotations—Koch’s observation is mistakenly presented as: New York is where the future comes to audition. The error has been around for decades, probably as a result of simple confusion over the words audition and rehearse. Mayor Michael Bloomberg perpetuated the error in 2010 by attributing the audition version to Koch in his own third inaugural address. For more, see this 2010 Post from quotation researcher Barry Popik.

  • New York is the true City of Light in any season. Charles Kuralt, in Charles Kuralt’s America (1995)
  • A hundred times I have thought: New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: it is a beautiful catastrophe. Le Corbusier, “The Fairy Catastrophe,” in When the Cathedrals Were White (1947)
  • Not only is New York the nation’s melting pot, it is also the casserole, the chafing dish, and the charcoal grill. John Lindsay, quoted in Meg Schneider, New York Yesterday & Today (2008)
  • New York was heaven to me. And Harlem was Seventh Heaven. Malcolm X, in The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • All people talk of money sometimes, everywhere. But not for all people, everywhere, is money the addiction, the obsession, the stimulant, that it seems to be in New York. Marya Mannes, in The New York I Know (1961)

Mannes continued: “It is a large part of the clamor, and it is the voice—quite literally—of the man in the street.”

  • A car is useless in New York, essential everywhere else. The same with good manners. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • It is the place where all the aspirations of the Western World meet to form one vast master aspiration, as powerful as the suction of a steam dredge. It is the icing on the pie called Christian civilization. H. L. Mencken, on New York, in Prejudices, Sixth Series (1927)
  • In a pure anonymous encounter you find a world alive and full of character. In New York, the street adventures are incredible. There are a thousand stories in a single block. You see the stories in people’s faces. You hear the songs immediately. Joni Mitchell, in Leonore Fleischer, Joni Mitchell (1976)

Mitchell, who was comparing life in NYC and LA, continued: “Here, in Los Angeles, there are fewer characters because they are all inside automobiles.”

  • The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. Ayn Rand, “The Monument Builders” (1962), in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)

Rand continued: “But America’s skyscrapers were not built by public funds nor for a public purpose: they were built by the energy, initiative and wealth of private individuals for personal profit. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers, as they rose higher and higher, kept raising the people’s standard of living—including the inhabitants of the slums.”

  • In other parts of the country people tried to stay together for the sake of the children. In New York, they tried to work things out for the sake of the apartment. David Sedaris, “The Great Leap Forward,” in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
  • While Paris gets to your heart, London to your mind, and Jerusalem to your soul, New York gets into your veins, a lifeline that becomes part of you more than you become part of it. Uri Savir, in The New York Times (April 25, 1992)

Savir, the Israeli consul general, preceded the observation by saying: “I often admire New York's special blend of colors, religions, languages. The multitudes of people force a respect for individuality and privacy. Everybody is a minority member, yet at home.”

  • Situated on an island, which I think it will one day cover, it rises like Venice, from the sea, and like the fairest of cities in the days of her glory, receives into its lap tribute of all the riches of the earth. Frances Trollope, in Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)
  • New York is of course many cities, and an exile does not return to the one he left. John Updike, “Is New York Inhabitable,” in Odd Jobs (1991)
  • Noisy, mighty, dirty, nasty, proud, and preening. Capital of the American Century, a metropolis unbound. Brutish, sophisticated, demanding, scornful, a sticky-hot melting pot boiling over. Gary A. Warner, “New York, New York—A Trip Through the History of New York, The Most Important City of the 20th Century,” in The Seattle Times (March 21, 1999)

These are the opening lines of one of the best articles ever written about New York City. Warner, Travel Editor at the Orange County Register from 1994–2014, continued: “Hated more than loved. Feared more than respected. A mythic forest of glass and steel rising between two riverbanks. Mecca for hayseeds, refuge for aliens. Promised land of anonymity and fame. Fabled. Unfathomable. New York. Nothing less that this: the most important city in this most important country at the end of the 20th century.” The full article, a decade-by-decade look at NYC in the 1900s, may be seen at New York, New York

  • New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village—the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up! E. B. White, “Here is New York,” in Holiday magazine (April, 1949); reprinted in The Essays of E. B. White (1977)

In that same essay, which is still popular nearly sixty-five years after its first publication, White wrote: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”

  • In old age, lame and sick…I find in this visit to New York, and the daily contact and rapport with its myriad people, on the scale of the oceans and tides, the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken—the grandest physical habitat and surroundings of land and water the globe affords. Walt Whitman, “Human and Heroic New York,” in Specimen Days in America (first published in London, 1887)

QUOTE NOTE: Whitman, who had been living in Camden, New Jersey since 1873, paid a long-overdue visit to New York City—a kind of spiritual home for him—in the summer of 1878. Describing himself as in old age, he was fifty-nine.

  • One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. Thomas Wolfe, the voice of the narrator, in The Web and the Rock (1939)
  • There it was, the Rome, the Paris, the London of the twentieth century, the city of ambition, the dense magnetic rock, the irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening. Tom Wolfe, the narrator describing Sherman McCoy’s reaction as Manhattan comes into view from the Triborough Bridge, in The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel (1987)

NEW YORK (State)



  • Dead news like dead love has no phoenix in its ashes. Enid Bagnold, the voice of the narrator, in National Velvet (1935)
  • The one function TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were. David Brinkley, quoted in his obituary in the Chicago Tribune (June 13, 2003)
  • News is the killer app. David Carr, “Significant and Silly at BuzzFeed,” in The New York Times (Feb. 5, 2012)
  • We report news, not truth. Linnda Ellerbee, in And So It Goes (1986)

Ellerbee preceded the thought by writing: “Fact that is fact every day is not news; it’s truth.”

  • News is history shot on the wing. The huntsmen from the Fourth estate seek to bag only the peacock or the eagle of the swifting day. Gene Fowler, in Skyline (1961)
  • It was the newsreels. I was a pushover for the prettified black-and-white “truth” they served up. Günter Grass, explaining his boyhood fascination with Nazism growing up in Germany in the 1930s, in Peeling the Onion (2006)

QUOTE NOTE: For a fascinating piece on Grass’s revelation that he had served in Hitler’s SS as a 17-year-old, see John Irving’s 2007 New York Times piece “A Soldier Once”.

  • Our media, which is like a planetary nervous system, are far more sensitive to breakdowns than to breakthroughs. 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. Barbara Marx Hubbard, in Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential (1998)
  • I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity. News is information that’s required in a democratic society, and Thomas Jefferson said a democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth. Jim Lehrer, in a 2001 issue of American Journalism Review; recalled in his New York Times obituary (Jan. 23, 2020)
  • News is like food; it is the cooking and serving that makes it acceptable, not the material itself. Rose Macaulay, “Problems of a Journalist’s Life,” in A Casual Commentary (1926)
  • One of my mentors told me that “news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity.” Bill Moyers, “Journalism Matters,” address at Annual Conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (Aug. 9, 2007); reprinted in Moyers on Democracy (2008)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites fail to mention that Moyers was quoting a mentor, and mistakenly cite him as the author of the observation.

Moyers continued: “When you’re digging for what’s hidden, unless you’re willing to fight and refight the same battles until you turn blue in the face, drive your colleagues nuts going over every last detail to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after unfair hit accusing you of bias, there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I do.”

  • News is the first rough draft of history. Modern Proverb

QUOTE NOTE: This saying, also commonly expressed as “Journalism is the first rough draft of history,” can be traced directly to a 1963 remark by Washington Post publisher Philip Graham. In the Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2006), Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner report that Graham was speaking to a group of Newsweek correspondents in London on April 29, 1963 when he said: “So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand.”

  • To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” in Walden (1854)
  • In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation. Voltaire, from a letter (Aug. 28, 1760), quoted in Michael Creal, Voltaire: Passionate Fighter for Liberty (1970)

[Bad] NEWS


  • Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. Douglas Adams, the voice of the narrator, in Mostly Harmless (1992)
  • Bad news travels faster than good. Catherine II, a 1774 remark to Voltaire, quoted in Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (2011)
  • Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age. Colin Powell, in My American Journey (1995; with Joseph E. Persico)



  • To a newspaperman, a human being is an item with the skin wrapped around it. Fred Allen, quoted in a 1985 issue of Saturday Review
  • The duty of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Author Unknown, quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)

QUOTE NOTE: This represents the first appearance in print of this observation—which went on to become the informal motto of newspapers and journalists around the world. Mencken’s book did not, however, represent the first appearance of the chiastic phrasing at the core of the quotation. Credit for that goes to Finley Peter Dunne, who put it into the words of his famous fictional character Mr. Dooley (see the Dunne entry below).

A number of original Mencken observations were attributed to “Author Unknown” in Mencken’s 1942 work, and I believe that is the case with this one. My guess is that he was familiar with Dunne’s original phrasing and didn’t want to be accused of appropriating the creation of another person.

  • Always take a trustworthy newspaper, and thus keep thoroughly posted in regard to the transactions of the world. He who is without a newspaper is cut off from his species. P. T. Barnum, in Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself (1888)

Barnum continued: “In these days of telegraphs and steam, many important inventions and improvements in every branch of trade are being made, and he who doesn’t consult the newspapers will soon find himself and his business left out in the cold.”

  • We need not be theologians to see that we have shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1961)
  • Reading someone else’s newspaper is like sleeping with someone else’s wife. Nothing seems to be precisely in the right place, and when you find what you are looking for, it is not clear how to respond to it. Malcolm Bradbury, the character Dr. Jochum speaking, in Stepping Westward (1965)
  • Newspapering deals with small daily bites from a fruit of indeterminate size. It may take dozens of bites before you are sure it’s an apple. Dozens and dozens more bites before you have any real idea how big the apple might be. Ben Bradlee, quoted in his obituary in The Washington Post (Oct. 21, 2014)

Bradlee concluded the thought by saying, “It was that way about Watergate,” the biggest story during his tenure as Executive editor of The Washington Post.

  • The American mind, unlike the English, is not formed by books, but, as Carl Sandburg once said to me, by newspapers and the Bible. Van Wyck Brooks, in The Nation magazine (Aug. 14, 1954)
  • For all their bluster and outward crustiness, newspaper people can be delicate flowers who have trouble doing their jobs when they believe that they are under threat. David Carr, “The Washington Post Regains Its Place at the Table,” in The New York Times (Oct. 5, 2014)

Carr continued: “The directionality of the business—are we going up or are we going down?—is a kind of destiny. For years at The Post, and elsewhere in the industry, so many goodbye cakes were ordered that it became a verb: caking.”

  • Certainly the most obvious . . . example of the strictly infantile essence of America’s all-conquering mentality greets our eyes daily, anywhere and everywhere, in the guise of the tabloid newspaper. e. e. cummings, “The Tabloid Newspaper,” in Vanity Fair (Dec., 1926)

Cummings continued: “The tabloid newspaper actually means to the typical American of the era what the Bible is popularly supposed to have meant to the typical Pilgrim Father: viz. a very present help in time of trouble, plus a means of keeping out of trouble via harmless, since vicarious, indulgence in the pomps and vanities of this wicked world.”

  • Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward. They ain’t annything it don’t turn its hand to. Finley Peter Dunne, the character Mr, Dooley speaking, “Newspaper Publicity,” in Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the familiar chiastic saying about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, which has become the informal motto of newspapers and journalists around the word. Dunne (1867–1936), a Chicago writer who became one of America’s first syndicated columnists, expressed his opinions through the fictional “Mr. Dooley,” who spoke in a thick Irish dialect.

  • The newspaper is the natural enemy of the book, as the whore is of the decent woman. Edmund & Jules de Goncourt, journal entry (July, 1858), The Goncourt Journals (1888–96)
  • Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. Ben Hecht, quoted by Ben Schott, “The Year in Questions,” The New York Times (Dec. 31, 2006)
  • The art of newspaper paragraphing is to stroke a platitude until it purrs like an epigram. Don Marquis, quoted in Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis: A Biography (1962)
  • A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself. Arthur Miller, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 26, 1961)
  • Hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm. John O’Hara, in Introduction to The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (1945)

QUOTE NOTE: Newspapers no longer use linotype, but O’Hara’s observation remains as true today as when it first appeared.

  • Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a woman. Joseph Pulitzer, quoted in Alleyne Ireland, “Joseph Pulitzer: Reminiscences of a Secretary,” in Metropolitan magazine (Dec., 1913)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally the concluding portion of remarks Pulitzer made to Mr. Ireland, his personal secretary. “It is not enough to refrain from printing fake news,” he said, adding that it was also insufficient to be simply on guard for mistakes and carelessness in reporting. Rather, he concluded: “You have got to do much more than that; you have got to make every one connected to the paper—your editors, your reporters, your correspondents, your re-write men, your proof-readers—believe that accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a woman.” Pulitzer’s observation, which went on to become one of his best-known quotations, was also tweaked in a memorable way by Adlai Stevenson: “Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a lady, but a newspaper can always print a retraction.”

  • Newspapers are the second hand of history. This hand, however, is usually not only of inferior metal to the other hands, it also seldom works properly. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parega and Paralipomena (1851)
  • Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President—the same half? Gore Vidal, “The Prince and the Pauper,” in Screening History (1992)



  • I didn't know that being in a relationship meant you had to be nice. I thought it meant you had to hack away at the other person until they were beaten down and then were too afraid to leave. Roseanne Barr, in a 2002 appearance on “Late Night with Conan O'Brien,” quoted in a 2002 issue of Us (specific issue undetermined)
  • A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Turns Fifty (1998)
  • “You’ve been brought up to be nice—and that’s a dangerous profession. Phyllis Bottome, “The Battle-Field,” in Innocence and Experience (1934)
  • Marry a nice man. Since life is out there handing you so many horrors, how can you cope if the biggest horror of them all is him? Helen Gurley Brown, quoted in a 1982 People magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Nice is a pallid virtue. Not like honesty or courage or perseverance. On the other hand, in a nation frequently lacking in civility, there is much to be said for nice. Molly Ivins, in Fort Worth Star-Telegram (May 15, 1994)
  • Don’t be yourself—be someone a little nicer. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)


(see also IDENTITY and NAMES)

  • A nickname is the hardest stone that the devil can throw at a man. William Hazlitt, “Nicknames,” in Sketches and Essays (1839)
  • Nicknames are fond names. We do not give them to people we dislike. Edna Ferber, in A Peculiar Treasure (1939)
  • Nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive. Thomas Chandler Haliburton, the character Sophy speaking, in Sam Slick’s Wise Saws and Modern Instances, Vol. II (1853)
  • Nicknames are potent ways of cutting people down to size. Doris Lessing, in Under My Skin: My Autobiography to 1949 (1994)
  • Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)



  • The night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does. Jorge Luis Borges, “A New Refutation of Time,” in Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.”

  • The Night has a thousand eyes,/And the day but one. Francis William Bourdillon, opening lines of the poem “Light,” published in The Spectator (London; Oct., 1873)

QUOTE NOTE: “Light” is the formal title of the poem, but it is popularly known as “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” The poem continues: “Yet the light of the bright world dies/With the dying sun.”

  • 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.”

  • In the middle of the night, things well up from the past that are not always cause for rejoicing—the unsolved, the painful encounters, the mistakes, the reasons for shame or woe. But all, good or bad, give me food for thought, food to grow on. May Sarton in At Seventy (1984)

[Saying] NO

(see also ASSERTIVENESS and BACKBONE and COURAGE and GUTS and [Setting] LIMITS and REFUSING & REFUSALS and [Saying] YES)

  • To think is to say no. Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier), in The Citizen Against the Powers (1926)
  • Girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say No when they mean Yes, and drive a man out of his wits for the fun of it. Louisa May Alcott, the character Laurie, speaking about his befuddlement to Jo, in Little Women (1868–69)
  • Simplify your life. Learn to say no. Author Unknown
  • “No” is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation. Author Unknown
  • One-half the troubles of this life can be traced to saying “Yes” too quick and not saying “No” soon enough. Josh Billings [Henry Wheeler Shaw], in Josh Billings’ Old Farmer’s Allminax (May, 1878)

QUOTE NOTE: The saying was originally presented in Billings’s characteristic phonetic dialect: “One half the troubles ov this life kan be traced to saying ‘Yes’ too quick, and not saying ‘No’ soon enuff.”

  • The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. Tony Blair, quoted in Mail on Sunday (London; Oct. 2, 1994)
  • The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything. Warren Buffett, quoted in G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton, “The Stop-Doing List,” Bloomberg Businessweek (Dec. 7, 2010)
  • What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. Albert Camus, the opening line of The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: In discussing a slave’s first act of rebellion, Camus went on to write that “his no affirms the existence of a borderline” and that his stance “says yes and no simultaneously.”

QUOTATION CAUTION: Many internet sites and quotation anthologies present a truncated version of the thought: “What is a rebel? A man who says no.”

  • You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically—to say ‘no’ to other things. Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits Journal (2002)

In a related entry, Covey wrote: “You can say ‘no’ and smile only when there is a bigger ‘yes’ burning within you.”

  • My unhappiness was the unhappiness of a person who could not say no. Osamu Dazai, a notebook entry of protagonist Ōba Yōzō, in No Longer Human (1948; Eng. trans. in 1958)
  • Fortitude is the capacity to say “no” when the world want to hear “yes.” Erich Fromm, in The Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • One says a lot in vain, refusing;/The other mainly hears the “No.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Iphigenia in Tauris (1787)
  • “No” and “Yes” are words quickly said, but they need a great amount of thought before you utter them. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • All the mistakes I ever made in my life were when I wanted to say no and said yes. Moss Hart, remark to Garson Kanin, quoted in Ruth Gordon, Myself Among Others (1971)
  • So learn to say No—and be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you. Robert A. Heinlein, entry in “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)

Long preceded the thought by writing: “There is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants ‘just a few minutes of your time, please—this won't take long.’ Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time—and squawk for more!”

  • Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: In other remarks at the conference, Jobs said: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

  • We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. Steve Jobs, in BusinessWeek magazine (Oct., 2004)
  • I live by the truth that “No” is a complete sentence. Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2005)
  • There is no meaningful yes unless the individual could also have said no. Rollo May, in Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence (1972)
  • Learn to say no to the good so you can say yes to the best. John C. Maxwell, in The Power of Leadership (2001)
  • One must separate from anything that forces one to repeat No again and again. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Ecce Home (1888)
  • I understand by “freedom of spirit” something quite definite…the unconditional will to say No where it is dangerous to say No. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Will to Power (1888)
  • You start by saying “no” to requests. Then if you have to go to “yes,” okay. But if you start with “yes” you can’t get to “no.”

Mildred Perlman, quoted in The New York Times (Dec. 1, 1975)

Perlman described this as her “credo” when she retired as Director of Classification for New York City’s Civil Service Commission.

  • Liberty is…the possibility of saying “No” to any authority—literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social, and even political. Ignazio Silone (pen name of Secondo Tranquilli), from his essay in The God That Failed (1949; Richard H. Crossman, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, I’ve highlighted only the portion of the observation having to do with saying no. For the complete thought, see the Silone entry in LIBERTY.

  • Learn to say, “No,” and it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin. C. H. Spurgeon, “John Ploughman’s Talk,” in The Sword and the Trowel (Aug., 1867)


  • A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man by one which is lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other, ambition. Ambition is the way in which a vulgar man aspires. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • There is no treachery in the truth. There may be pain, but to face honestly all possible conclusions formed by a set of facts is the noblest route possible for a human being. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes speaking, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
  • Nowhere is the cupidity and nobility of man better demonstrated than in the judicial arena. Louis Nizer, quoted in his New York Times obituary (Nov. 11, 1994)

QUOTE NOTE: These are among the most famous of Nizer’s words, and it is likely he expressed the thought in slightly different ways on different occasions. In My Life in Court (1961), he put it this way: “Nowhere else are the nobility and cupidity of man more revealed than when he struggles for his rights in a judicial arena.”



  • Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Of Noise,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
  • Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)




  • To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life. Gelett Burgess, “The Sense of Humor,” in The Romance of the Commonplace (1916)
  • The nonsense that charms is close to sense. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • Forgive me my nonsense as I also forgive the nonsense of those who think they talk sense. Robert Frost, in letter to Louis Untermeyer (July 8, 1915)
  • It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought. John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Affluent Society (1958)
  • Cultivate in young minds an equal love of the good, the beautiful and the absurd; most people’s lives are too lead-colored to lose the smallest twinkle of light from a flash of nonsense. Fanny Kemble, quoted in Margaret Armstrong, Fanny Kemble: A Passionate Victorian (1938)
  • It is a shame when nonsense can substitute for fact with impunity. Lawrence M. Krauss, remark on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher (Feb. 8, 2013)
  • Nonsense makes the heart grow fonder. Carolyn Wells, “Maxioms,” in Folly for the Wise (1904)
  • A little nonsense/Now & then,/& tenure goes to/Other men. Louis Phillips, “Academic Note” (undated)
  • Do not look for “common sense.” To demand sense is the hallmark of nonsense. Nature does not make sense. Nothing makes sense. Ayn Rand, a passage from Why Do You Think You Think?, a book by the character Dr. Floyd Ferris, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), quoted in Miles Corwin, “Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat,” The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 27, 1983)

Geisel added: “Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

  • Whenever you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense. Thornton Wilder, the Stage Manager speaking, in Our Town (1938)



  • To be a nonfiction writer is never to let a story get in the way of good facts. Jennifer Brice, in The Colgate Scene (2007)
  • Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Joan Didion in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter 1978)
  • I honestly believe that everything I know about the writing of non-fiction (or writing) could be engraved on the head of a pin with a garden hoe. M. F. K. Fisher, in M.F.K. Fisher: A Life in Letters (1997; N. K. Barr, M. Moran, & P. Moran, eds.)
  • At its height it is scholarship clothed in poetry. Erma J. Fisk, on nonfiction writing, in Parrots’ Wood (1985)
  • What is “creative nonfiction,” exactly? Isn’t the term an oxymoron? Louis Menand, “The Origins of Creativity,” in The New Yorker (April 17, 2023)

In the remainder of his opening paragraph, Menand went of to state the essential nature of the problem:

“Creative writers—playwrights, poets, novelists—are people who make stuff up. Which means that the basic definition of ‘nonfiction writer’ is a writer who doesn’t make stuff up, or is not supposed to make stuff up. If nonfiction writers are ‘creative’ in the sense that poets and novelists are creative, if what they write is partly make-believe, are they still writing nonfiction?”

  • In fiction, when you paint yourself into a corner, you can write a pair of suction cups onto the bottoms of your shoes and walk up the wall and out the skylight and see the sun breaking through the clouds. In nonfiction you don't have that luxury. Tom Robbins, in 2013 interview with Colette Bancroft, reported in “Author Tom Robbins to Sign Books in St. Petersburg,” The Tampa Bay Times (Feb. 18, 2013)
  • The challenge of nonfiction is to marry art and truth. Phyllis Rose, in a 1993 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • It's the technique, I think, of writing a novel that is difficult for a nonfiction writer. E. O. Wilson, in Deborah Treisman, “Ants and Answers: A Conversation with E. O. Wilson,” The New Yorker (Jan. 15, 2010)
  • People respect nonfiction but they read novels. E. O. Wilson, in an interview with Steve Ross, reported in “E.O. Wilson: Our Greatest Biologist Writes A Novel, ‘Anthill’.” Huffington Post (June 5, 2010)
  • I still believe nonfiction is the most important literature to come out of the second half of the 20th century. Nonfiction is never going to die. Tom Wolfe, in a 2008 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Why We Can't Wait (1964)



  • It is not normal to wake up every night just before dawn with a fever of 101 or so, take a couple of pills, and settle down to sweat like a hog for four or five hours. It is not normal to feel so weak you can’t play tennis or go trout fishing. And it is not normal either to feel a sort of creeping weariness and a sense of being terribly dependent, like a vampire, on the blood of others [he is referring here to the frequent platelet transfusions]. After eight weeks of this kind of “normal” life, the thought of death loses some of its terror. Stewart Alsop, in Stay of Execution (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: Alsop wrote this in response to a physician’s comment that he’d been living a normal life. He was in the final stages of leukemia at the time, and it is clear from the passage that he was ready to let go. A moment later, he offered the following thought, which went on to become one of his most popular quotations:

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.”

  • If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. Maya Angelou, in Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou (2014)
  • The truly fearless think of themselves as normal. Margaret Atwood, “The Whirlpool Rapids,” in Bluebeard’s Egg (1986)
  • In America…to move on and make a fresh start somewhere else is still the normal reaction to dissatisfaction and failure. W. H. Auden, in the Introduction to Faber Book of Modern American Verse (1956)
  • Nobody is normal. Dave Barry, “25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years,” in Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998)
  • Being other than normal is a perilous advantage. Natalie Clifford Barney, “Scatterings” (1910), in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992; Anna Livia, ed.)
  • Oh please God. I just want to be normal. Judy Blume, the narrator and title character speaking, in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)

This was the concluding line of a passage that began this way: “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Gretchen, my friend, got her period. I’m so jealous God. I hate myself for being so jealous, but I am. I wish you’d help me just a little. Nancy’s sure she’s going to get it soon. too. And if I’m last I don’t know what I’ll do.”

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

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

  • Everybody seems normal, till you get to know them. Edna Buchanan, the character Craig Burch speaking, in Shadows: A Novel (2005)
  • It is normal to give away a little of one’s life in order not to lose it all. Albert Camus, a notebook entry (Nov. 22, 1937), in Notebooks, 1935-1942 (1962)
  • Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus, a notebook entry, in Notebooks: 1942-1951 (1965)
  • Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is normal. Shirley Chisholm, in UnBought and Unbossed (1970)
  • I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives. It all depends on a combination of circumstances. Noel Coward, the character Amanda speaking, in Private Lives (1930)

Amanda continued: “If all the various cosmic thingummys fuse at the same moment, and the right spark is struck, there’s no knowing what one mightn’t do.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly attributed to Laurie R. King.

  • Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. Peter Drucker, in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Challenges (1973)
  • I told the doctor I was overtired, anxiety-ridden, compulsively active, constantly depressed, with recurring fits of paranoia. Turns out I’m normal. Jules Feiffer in a 1969 “Feiffer” cartoon in The Village Voice (January 30, 1969)

QUOTE NOTE: Thanks to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator. for tracking down the precise date of the cartoon’s publication. See his post here.

  • With the rise of industrialism, words like “normal” and “defective,” words that had once only been used to refer to things, began to be used to refer to people. Anne Finger, in Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and Birth (1990)

Finger went on to add: “In the industrial age, a new degree of uniformity was expected of people. The rhythms and pacing of life could no longer be organic. People became expected to function like things.”

  • Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent. Sigmund Freud, in Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937)
  • Normal is in the eye of the beholder. Whoopi Goldberg, from her one-woman Spook Show at the Dance Theater Workshop, quoted in a review in The New York Times (Feb. 1, 1984)
  • Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine. Whoopie Goldberg, quoted in Bill Adler, Funny Ladies: The Best Humor from America’s Funniest Women (2001)

QUOTE NOTE: The idea is not original with Goldberg, who was simply repeating a sentiment that had become popular in the wider culture. One of the earliest appearances of the idea came in Patsy Clairmont’s 1993 book Normal Is Just a Setting on Your Dryer: “Normal is just a setting on your clothes dryer and has nothing to do with people.”

  • There is nothing so evil, savage, and cruel in nature as the normal man. HermannHesse, in Reflections (1974; Volker Michels, ed.)
  • There is no such thing as a normal psychology that holds for all people. Karen Horney, in The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937)

In her book, Horney went so far as to suggest, “A normal human being…does not exist.”

  • In this world there is only toleration for the so-called normal. Radclyffe Hall, in The Well of Loneliness (1928)
  • The conception of what is normal varies not only with the culture but also within the same culture, in the course of time. Karen Horney, in The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937)
  • To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  • To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful. Carl Jung, in The Aims of Psychotherapy (1931)
  • Anxiety and distress, interrupted occasionally by pleasure, is the normal course of man’s existence. Louis Kronenberger, “May,” in The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years. R. D. Laing, in The Politics of Experience (1967)
  • Normal is enormously susceptible to swinging with the gusts of politics and history. Disguised as scientific and fixed, it is subjective and protean. That is why I used the word normative above, a term derived from statistics, simply meaning what most people do. Judith Levine, “Therapy,” in Harmful to Minors (2003)
  • I felt permanently exiled from “normality.” Nancy Mairs, on her wheel-chair-bound disability, in Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled (1996)

Mairs continued: “Whether imposed by self or society, this outsider status—and not the disability itself—constitutes the most daunting barrier for most people with physical impairments, because it, even more than flights of steps or elevators without braille, prevents them from participating fully in the ordinary world, where most of life's satisfactions dwell.”

  • Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. H. L. Mencken, in Prejudices: First Series (1919)
  • Insecurity, commonly regarded as a weakness in normal people, is the basic tool of the actor's trade. Miranda Richardson, quoted in The Guardian (Dec. 5, 1990)
  • That's got to be at least one of the benefits of heaven—never having to act normal again. Cynthia Rylant, in Missing May (1992)
  • Outstanding beauty, like outstanding gifts of any kind, tends to get in the way of normal emotional development, and thus of that particular success in life we call happiness. Milton Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life (1955)
  • Anger is a normal emotion if it is expressed when felt. Then it is over with. If one keeps a lid on it, it develops into resentment or hate. Bernie Siegel
  • I once had an engagement in the town of Normal, Illinois. I was delighted to learn that a place called Normal actually existed, because I happen to live just a few miles from the town of Peculiar, Missouri. I don’t think it’s any accident of the universe that I live a lot closer to Peculiar than Normal. Greg Tamblyn, in Atilla the Gate Agent (2007)
  • To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal. Peter Ustinov

QUOTE NOTE: Ustinov made this remark in 1970 (check), shortly after George C. Scott and Marlon Brando announced their refusal to accept Academy Awards in the upcoming ceremonies.

  • A normal adolescent isn't a normal adolescent if he acts normal. Judith Viorst, in Necessary Losses (1986). Also an example of oxymoronica.
  • What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life—that is what is abnormal. Elie Wiesel, his response to the question, “What does it take to be normal again, after having your humanity stripped away by the Nazis?” in O: The Oprah Magazine (Nov. 2000)
  • As advertising blather becomes the nation’s normal idiom, language becomes printed noise. George F. Will, in The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Sobering Thoughts (1976)
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson, title of 2011 book





  • Ah, the homesickness —/Not for a home which I have left,/But for the strange places!/The nostalgia—/not of memories/But of what has never been! Zoë Akins, “The Tomorrows,“ in The Hills Grow Smaller (1937)
  • Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson where you find the present tense and the past perfect. Author Unknown
  • The people who are always hankering the loudest for some golden yesteryear usually drive new cars. Russell Baker, in Poor Russell’s Almanac (1972)
  • Nostalgia is a seductive liar, evoking bowdlerized pictures of times past with all the shadows painted out. George W. Ball, “How Not to Look Backward,” in Newsweek magazine (March 22, 1971)

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all internet sites present only the first portion of the observation. The term bowdlerized derives from Thomas Bowdler, an English physician whose expurgated version of Shakespeare’s works in 1818 attempted to remove offensive passages and other material he deemed inappropriate for women and children.

  • Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed. Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly (2012)
  • Nostalgia, that residue of pleasure. Rita Mae Brown, from a blurb for Bob Greene’s memoir Be True to Your School: A Diary of 1964 (1987)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly identity the phrase as coming from Brown’s 1988 novel Bingo. Brown’s complete blurb was as follows: “Bob Greene’s memoir of high school, 1964, provoked laughter, thought, and nostalgia, that residue of pleasure. What's so effective about this book is that whoever reads it will do just what I did: remember.”

  • Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Peter De Vries, quoted in Los Angeles Times (July 26, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: Simone Signoret used the observation to title a 1979 book; as a result, the quotation is sometimes misattributed to her.

  • The essence of autumn, an unbearable concentration of nostalgia. Helen Fowler, a reflection of the narrator, in The Intruder (1952)

The narrator continued: “Surely no human spirit, however insensitive, however complacent, could withstand this powerful reminder of the dying of a season; even if one were wildly happy it would penetrate.”

  • I hate nostalgia, it’s laziness with prettier accessories. Tana French, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Cassie Maddox, in The Likeness (2008)
  • Nostalgia is a dangerous emotion, both because it is powerless to act in the real world, and because it glides so easily into hatred and resentment against those who have taken our Eden from us. Carolyn Heilbrun, widely attributed, never authenticated
  • At times, my nostalgia for our family life as it used to be— for our own imperfect, cherished, irretrievable past—is nearly overwhelming. Katrina Kenison, in Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment (2013)
  • Revenge is a form of nostalgia. Sheldon B. Kopp, in What Took You So Long? (1970)
  • Nostalgia doesn’t see./It looks back with eyes/firmly shut. Sollace Mitchell, opening words of the poem “Portrait of the Past” (2024)
  • Children who were very truly pious in a Catholic childhood are apt to retain a nostalgia for the absolute. Sonia Orwell, quoted in Hilary Spurling, The Girl From the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell (2002)
  • 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 narrator describing the state of mind of the character Jody Baxter, in The Yearling (1938)
  • Nostalgia’s nice enough in little bitty doses, it puts personal peach fuzz on the hard ass of history. Tom Robbins, the character Bobby speaking, in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000)
  • I loathe nostalgia. Diana Vreeland, in D. V. (1984)



  • When, like me, one has nothing in oneself one hopes for everything from another. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), the narrator Annie, comparing herself to protagonist Claudine, in Claudine and Annie (1903)


(see also INACTION)

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

ERROR ALERT: This quotation—in a number of slightly differing versions—is one of history’s most famous observations. Citing Burke as the author is also one of quotation history’s most common erroneous attributions. In The Quote Verifier (2006), Ralph Keyes reports that even the folks at Bartlett’s helped to perpetuate the error. In 1968, the fourteenth edition of the esteemed quotation anthology cited a 1795 letter as the source (a retraction was issued in the fifteenth edition in 1980). About the quotation, Keyes concluded: “Despite diligent searching by librarians and others, no one has ever found these words in the works of Edmund Burke, or anyone else.”

Burke did offer a related thought in the pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (April 23, 1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Nearly a century later, John Stuart Mill offered a far more thematically similar observation (see below). For more, see this detailed analysis by Garson O’Toole, The Quote Investigator.

  • It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose. Joseph Conrad, the character Lingard speaking, in An Outcast of the Islands (1896)
  • Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. John Stuart Mill, in his inaugural address after being named Rector of the University of St. Andrews (Feb. 1, 1867)

QUOTE NOTE: See the discussion above about the thematically similar observation widely associated with Edmund Burke.

  • 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.


(includes NOTORIOUS; see also FAME and GLORY and INFAMY and NOTABILITY and REPUTATION and)

  • Notoriety is often mistaken for fame. Aesop, “The Mischievous Dog,” in Aesop’s Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • It takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. Louisa May Alcott, the voice of the narrator, in Jo’s Boys (1886)
  • There is no way of accounting for the incongruities of architects. They have their dreams, we suppose, like the poets; and failing to establish a reputation by legitimate means, they seek notoriety by eccentricities. Robert Bell, in The Ladder of Gold, Vol. 2 (1850)
  • Fame, or notoriety, whichever that special noise may be called when the world like a hound “gives tongue” and announces that the quarry in some form of genius is at bay, is apt to increase its clamor in proportion to the aloofness of the pursued animal. Marie Corelli, in Innocent: Her Fancy and His Fact (1914)
  • Notoriety wasn’t as good as fame, but was heaps better than obscurity. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, the voice of the narrator, in Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990)
  • Fame nowadays is little else but notoriety. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • Fame is one thing, notoriety is another. Lana Turner, quoted in Jane Wilkie, Confessions of an Ex-Fan Magazine Writer (1981)
  • I think that’s the thing about fame or any notoriety. It’s an illusion that you don’t have to play by the rules anymore, the rules of life. Tom Waits, “Strange Innocence” (a J. T. LeRoy interview with Tom Waits), in Vanity Fair (July 2001)



  • People think that they will sit down and produce the great American novel in one sitting. It doesn’t work that way. This is a very patient and meticulous work, and you have to do it with joy and love for the process, not for the outcome. Isabel Allende, in a 2002 issue of Writer’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • It’s very difficult to write a novel that’s easy to read. Marie Allavena, in Figaro (2017)
  • A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart. Julia Alvarez, in In the Time of the Butterflies (1994)
  • Novels can serve a moral function by enabling us to enter the lives of others imaginatively. Karen Armstrong, in “By the Book” interview, The New York Times (Sep. 11, 2022)

Armstrong continued by saying: “It is an ekstasis in which we step outside the self, leaving it behind, and embrace a different perspective—realizing, for example, the attractions of evil at the same time as we are made to recoil from it. Novels force us not only to face but to experience the terror of illness, sorrow, poverty and infirmity. They enhance our compassion by compelling us to feel with others, taking us out of the comforts of solipsism.”

  • A novel is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy. Paul Auster, in Paris Review interview (Fall 2003)

Auster continued: “The reader and the writer make the book together. No other art can do that. No other art can capture the essential inwardness of human life.”

  • The question any novel is really trying to answer is, Is life worth living? Nicholson Baker, in Paris Review interview (Fall 2011)
  • The story is a piece of work. The novel is a way of life. Toni Cade Bambara, quoted in Janet Sternburg, The Writer on Her Work, Vol. 1 (1980)
  • When you open a novel—and I mean of course the real thing—you enter into a state of intimacy with its writer. Saul Bellow, in “The Distracted Public,” a 1990 Romanes Lecture at Oxford University; reprinted in It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future (1994)
  • Art, at any rate in a novel, must be indissolubly linked with craft. Elizabeth Bowen, in her 1948 Introduction to Antonia White’s Frost in May (orb. pub. in 1933)
  • If a theme or idea is too near the surface, the novel becomes simply a tract illustrating an idea. Elizabeth Bowen, in a “Truth and Fiction” broadcast, BBC-Radio (October 1956)
  • The traditional novel form continues to enlarge our experience in those very areas where the wide-angle lens and the Cinerama screen tend to narrow it. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1961)
  • “You build a novel the same way you do a pyramid. One word, one stone at a time, underneath a full moon when the fingers bleed. Kate Braverman, quoted in Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson, A Voice of One’s Own: Conversations With America’s Writing Women (1990)
  • Novels, like human beings, usually have their beginnings in the dark. Rita Mae Brown, in High Hearts (1986)
  • Never, if you can possibly help it, write a novel. It is, in the first place, a thoroughly unsocial act. It makes one obnoxious to one’s family and to one’s friends. One sits about for many weeks, months, even years, in the worst cases, in a state of stupefaction. Pearl S. Buck, in Introduction to The First Wife (1933)
  • No writer, I believe, should attempt a novel before he is thirty, and not then unless he has been hopelessly and helplessly involved in life. For the writer who goes out to find material for a novel, as a fishermen goes out to sea to fish, will certainly not write a good novel. Pearl S. Buck, in My Several Worlds (1954)

Buck continued: “Life has to be lived thoughtlessly, unconsciously, at full tilt and for no purpose except its own sake before it becomes, eventually, good material for a novel.”

  • A novel…is made of a long thread of language, like knitting, thicker and thinner in patches. A. S. Byatt, in Babel Tower (1996)

The words come from the character Frederica, who adds: “It is made in the head and has to be remade in the head by whoever reads it, who will always remake it differently.”

  • A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images. Albert Camus, in “Review of Jean Paul Sartre, La Nausée,” first published in Alger républicain (Oct. 20, 1938)

Camus added: “In a good novel the philosophy has disappeared into the images. But the philosophy need only spill over into the characters and action for it to stick out like a sore thumb.”

  • A novel should be an experience and convey an emotional truth rather than arguments. Joyce Cary, in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter, 1954–1955)

Cary prefaced the thought by saying: “I don’t care for philosophers in books. They are always bores.”

  • One doesn’t “get” an “idea” for a novel. The “idea” more or less “gets” you. It uses you as a kind of culture, the way a pearl uses an oyster. Diana Chang, in “Woolgathering, Ventriloquism and the Double Life,” in The American Pen (Winter, 1970–71)
  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics (1905)
  • At a certain point my novels set. They set just as hard as that jam jar. And then I know they are finished. Ivy Compton-Burnett, quoted in Joyce Cary, Art and Reality (1958)
  • The novel is a game or joke shared between author and reader. Annie Dillard, in Living by Fiction (1983)
  • Novels written with film contracts in mind have a faint but unmistakable, and ruinous, odor. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • Most serious novels are machines for producing anxiety. Pick up a classic or a current best seller, and you’ll find people in trouble. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)

Dirda continued: “We riffle through the pages with, as reviewers used to say, our pulses racing, stomachs in knots, hearts pounding.”

  • It’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. E. L. Doctorow, on writing a novel, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1986)
  • A novel is a commodity that fulfills a certain need; people need to buy daydreams like they need to buy ice cream or aspirin or gin. They even need to buy a pinch of intellectual catnip now and then to liven up their thoughts, a few drops of poetry to stimulate their feelings. John Dos Passos, in Introduction to Three Soldiers (1921); reprinted in Occasions and Protests (1964)

Dos Passos added: “All you need to feel good about your work is to turn out the best commodity you can, play the luxury market, and to hell with doubt.”

  • Many snippets of varied experience come together to form the fabric of a novel but I think that this fabric is stretched like the canvas of a tent over the supports of a few basic, deeply-felt beliefs. Jane Duncan, in Letter From Reachfar (1975)
  • A novel, in the end, is a container, a shape which you are trying to pour your story into. Helen Dunmore, in “Helen Dunmore: Exclusive Interview,” London Evening Standard (June 17, 2002)
  • Every time that I write a novel I am convinced for at least two years that it is the last one, because a novel is like a child. It takes two years after its birth. You have to take care of it. It starts walking, and then speaking. Umberto Eco, quoted by Andrew Martin in “Umberto Eco on ‘The Prague Cemetery,’” The Paris Review Daily (Nov. 15, 2011)

Eco added: “In two months I will be eighty years old. Probably I will not write another novel, and so mankind will be safe.”

  • Awake and asleep the novel is with you, dogging your footsteps. Strange formless bits of material float out from the ether about you and attach themselves to the main body of the story as though they had hung suspended in air for years, waiting. Edna Ferber, in A Peculiar Treasure (1939)
  • A novel is one person’s view of life, not a collage of documentations. John Fowles, “I Write Therefore I Am” (1964), in Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings (1998)
  • Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination. Janet Frame, in The Envoy from Mirror City (1985)
  • A novel represents a compact between the writer and the reader, with the writer providing words out of which the reader creates a pleasurable experience. Jonathan Franzen, “Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books,” in The New Yorker (Sep. 30, 2002); reprinted in How to Be Alone: Essays (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the essence of what Franzen called “The Contract Model” of fiction writing. In this model, which stands in contrast to “The Status Model,” Franzen wrote: “Every writer is first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader's attention only as long as the author sustains the reader’s trust.”

  • Think of the novel as lover: Let’s stay home tonight and have a great time; just because you’re touched where you want to be touched, it doesn’t mean you’re cheap; before a book can change you, you have to love it. Or the novelist as cook who prepares, as a gift to the reader, this many-course meal. Not just ice cream, but broccoli rabe as well. Jonathan Franzen, “Mr. Difficult,” in The New Yorker (Sep. 30, 2002); reprinted in How to Be Alone: Essays (2003)
  • The dream of a novel was more resilient than other kinds of dreaming. It could be interrupted in mid-sentence and snapped back into later. Jonathan Franzen, the voice of the narrator, in Crossroads (2020)
  • For a true novel there is generally no substitute for slow, slow baking. John Gardner, in On Becoming a Novelist (1983)

In a 1984 talk at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, Doris Lessing offered a similar metaphor: “In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better. The brain works for you even when you are at rest” (The New York Times, April 22, 1984). She added: “I find dreams particularly useful. I myself think a great deal before I go to sleep and the details sometimes unfold in the dream.”

  • For me, the novel is experience illumined by imagination. Ellen Glasgow, in 1933 Preface to the novel Barren Ground, originally published in 1925
  • The great novels have marched with the years. They are the contemporaries of time. Ellen Glasgow, in A Certain Measure: An Interpretation of Prose Fiction (1943)
  • Surely the novel should be a form of art—but art was not enough. It must contain not only the perfection of art, but the imperfection of nature. Ellen Glasgow, in The Woman Within (1954)
  • However you disguise novels, they are always biographies. William Golding, “Universal Pessimist, Cosmic Optimist” (interview by MaryLynn Scott), in Aurora Online (1990)
  • The novel cannot submit to authority. It is written against official language, against officialdom, and against whatever fixed form the novel has begun to take—it is always dying, and always being born. Julian Gough, “Divine Comedy,” in Prospect magazine (May 26, 2007)

Gough made a successful transition from Irish rocker to author in 2001 with the publication of his debut novel Juno & Juliet. A little later in the Prospect article, Gough captured the importance of the novel in human history by writing: “The early years of the novel look remarkably like a guerrilla war, as pro-Bible forces try to put down the insurgency of the novel across Europe. Both were fighting for the same piece of territory: the territory inside your head.”

  • The main characters in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. Graham Greene, in Ways of Escape (1980)

Greene added: “The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in.”

  • The dead hand of research lies heavy on too many novels. Nancy Hale, “The Two-Way Imagination,” in Richard Thruelsen & John Kobler, Adventures of the Mind, Second Series (1961)
  • A novel is an impression, not an argument. Thomas Hardy, in preface to Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891)
  • A poem (surely someone has said this before) is a one-night stand, a short story a love affair, and a novel a marriage. Erica Jong, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
  • I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a poem and to be given away by a novel. John Keats, in letter to Fanny Brawne (July 8, 1819)
  • Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled. Dean Koontz, quoted in Bernard A. Drew, 100 Most Popular Genre Fiction Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (2005)
  • A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel’s only morality. Milan Kundera, in The New York Review of Books (July 19, 1984)
  • 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)
  • All great novels, all true novels, are bisexual. Milan Kundera, quoted in The Times (London, May 16, 1991)
  • Nearly all novels are too long. Rose Macaulay, in Potterism (1920)
  • Lost Illusion is the undisclosed title of every novel. André Maurois, in The Art of Writing (1960)
  • Love of truth, ordinary common truth recognizable to everyone, is the ruling passion of the novel. Mary McCarthy, “The Fact in Fiction,” in On the Contrary: Articles of Belief, 1946–1961 (1961)
  • The souped-up novels that are being written today, with injections of myth and symbols to heighten or “deepen” the material, are simply evasions and forms of self-flattery. Mary McCarthy, “The Fact in Fiction,” in On the Contrary: Articles of Belief, 1946–1961 (1961)
  • For both writer and reader, the novel is a lonely, physically inactive affair. Only the imagination races. Mary McCarthy, quoted in Joan Kufrin, Uncommon Women (1981)
  • The return to a favorite novel is generally tied up with changes in oneself that must be counted as improvements, but have the feel of losses. It is like going back to a favorite house, country, person; nothing is where it belongs, including one’s heart. Mary McCarthy, “On Re-Reading a Favorite Book,” in A Bolt From the Blue and Other Essays (2002)
  • All novels are burdened with the need to make life more interesting than it is. Wright Morris, quoted in John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells the Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction (2003)
  • I think the novel is essentially a comic form (tragedy is for the theatre), not meaning by that full of jokes, but that it is about the absurd detail of human life, the way in which one cannot fully understand what is happening. Iris Murdoch, quoted in Olga Kenyon, Women Writers Talk (1989)

Murdoch continued: “Life is muddle and jumble and ends inconclusively, and when this is presented with great comic art the sorrows of human life can be truthfully conveyed; one is moved by the spectacle, and feels that something truthful has been told in a magic way.”

  • A novel…is the smallest number of characters in the least number of situations necessary to precipitate a given crisis. Frank O’Connor, in James Matthews, Voices: A Life of Frank O’Connor (1987)
  • Writing a poem is like a short love affair, writing a short story like a long love affair, writing a novel like a marriage. Amos Oz, quoted in The Observer (London; July 21, 1985)
  • The novel in my imagination travels with me like a small lavender moth making loopy circles around my head. It is a truly gorgeous thing, its unpredictable flight patterns, the amethyst light on its wings. Ann Patchett, “Why Not Put Off Till Tomorrow the Novel You Could Begin Today,” in The New York Times (August 26, 2002)

QUOTE NOTE: Patchett is describing here the happiest time for a novelist, the development of the book in the writer’s imagination before any actual writing begins. She added: “In these early pre-text days my story has more promise, more beauty, than I have ever seen in any novel ever written, because, sadly, this novel is not written. Then the time comes when I have to begin to translate ideas into words, a process akin to reaching into the air, grabbing my little friend (crushing its wings slightly in my thick hand), holding it down on a cork board and running it though with a pin. It is there that the lovely thing in my head dies.”

  • Starting a novel isn’t so different from starting a marriage. The dreams you pin on these people are enormous. Ann Patchett, in “Why Not Put Off Till Tomorrow the Novel You Could Begin Today,” in The New York Times (Aug. 26, 2002)

Patchett is referring to the formation and development of characters in the early stages on the novel-writing process. She added: “You are diving into the lives of your characters, knowing that you will fall in love with all of them, knowing…that in the end the love will finish and turn you out on the street alone.”

  • A great novel is a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed. Katherine Paterson, in Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (1981)
  • Novel writing is a kind of private pleasure, even if nothing comes of it in worldly terms. Barbara Pym, in a 1976 letter to Henry Harvey, quoted in Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym (1990)
  • For my part, the good novel of character is the novel I can always pick up; but the good novel of incident is the novel I can never lay down. Agnes Repplier, “The Novel of Incident,” in Essays in Miniature (1892)
  • Personally, I do not believe that it is the duty of any man or woman to write a novel. In nine cases out of ten, there would be greater merit in leaving it unwritten. Agnes Repplier, “From the Reader’s Standpoint,” in Varia (1897)
  • Behind every novel is a greater story of how it came to be published. T. L. Rese, in a personal communication to the compiler (Feb. 6, 2018)
  • I like shape very much. A novel has to have shape, and life doesn’t have any. Jean Rhys, in Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography (1979)
  • We are infinite and contain multitudes. And a novel—whether you are reading or writing it—is a great way to experience that infinitude. Kathleen Rooney, in a letter to Jerome Yanoff (October 22, 2023)
  • Almost all novels are love stories. George Sand, in The Story of My Life, Vol. 1 (1854)
  • My own feeling is that the only possible reason for engaging in the hard labor of writing a novel, is that one is bothered by something one needs to understand, and can come to understand only through the characters in the imagined situation. May Sarton, in Writings on Writing (1980)
  • In the novel or the journal you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival. May Sarton, quoted in Earl G. Ingersoll, Conversations With May Sarton (1991)
  • A novel is a mirror which passes over a highway. Sometimes it reflects to your eyes the blue of the skies, at others the churned-up mud of the road. Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle), in The Red and the Black (1830)
  • It is the test of a novel writer’s art that he conceals his snake-in-the-grass; but the reader may be sure that it is always there. Anthony Trollope, in Ralph the Heir (1871)
  • Mostly it’s lies, writing novels. You set out to tell an untrue story and you try to make it believable, even to yourself. Which calls for details; any good lie does. Anne Tyler, quoted in Susan Cahill, New Women & New Fiction (1986)
  • Novel-writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade. One does not just sit behind a screen jotting down other people’s conversation. One has for one’s raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smoldering rubbish-heap of experience, half stifled by fumes and dust, scraping and delving until one finds a few discarded valuables. Evelyn Waugh, “People who Want to Sue Me,” in Daily Mail (May 31, 1930)

Waugh concluded: “Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments, polish them, set them in order, and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them.”

  • If we examine a great novel which attains and keeps a measure of fame, we are aware of the flavor of the writer’s personality in that work, as a peach tastes like a peach, caviar like caviar, and onion like an onion. Ethel Wilson, in Nov. 8, 1958 lecture at the University of British Columbia; reprinted in “A Cat Among the Falcons,” Canadian Literature (Autumn, 1959)
  • I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can't cross: that it’s to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish. Virginia Woolf, from a 1928 letter to Vita Sackville-West, in Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska, The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (1985)
  • Novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book,” in The Common Reader, 2nd series (1932)
  • Writing a novel is like building a wall brick by brick: only amateurs believe in inspiration. Frank Yerby, quoted by Edwin McDowell, in “About Books and Authors,” The New York Times (June 13, 1982)



  • Novelists are in the education business…but they’re not teaching you times tables, they are teaching you responsiveness and morality and to make nuanced judgments. And really to just make the planet look a bit richer when you go out into the street. Martin Amis, in a Goodreads interview (August, 2012) www.goodreads.com
  • There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labor of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. Jane Austen, the voice of the narrator, in Northanger Abbey (1818)

QUOTE NOTE: Taking special umbrage at those who say, “Oh! It is only a novel” they are reading, the narrator highlights the word only in a spirited and sarcastic defense of the novel: “In short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

  • With a novelist, like a surgeon, you have to get a feeling that you’ve fallen into good hands—someone from whom you can accept the anesthetic with confidence. Saul Bellow, in Herbert Mitgang, “With Bellow in Chicago,” The New York Times Book Review (July 6, 1980)
  • The novelist is he who, having seen life, and being so excited by it that he absolutely must transmit his vision to others, chooses narrative fiction as the liveliest vehicle for the relief of his feelings. Arnold Bennett, in The Author's Craft (1914)
  • When you’re a novelist, you’re writing a play but you’re acting all the parts, you’re controlling the lights and the scenery and the whole business, and it’s your show. Robertson Davies, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1989 )

QUOTE NOTE: Davies, a playwright before he was a novelist, said the playwright’s “position in the theater is a very weak one.” He explained: “The wish of the director or some important actor infinitely outweighs his; and the opinions of the money people, who always want something that’s already happened to happen again, are very important. You’re perpetually subjected to governance by people who haven’t written the play and are trying to make it as much like some previous success as possible. That’s very tedious and you get sick of it.”

  • Life, of course, is the basic raw material of all art, but no artist is so close to his raw material as the novelist. Elizabeth A. Drew, “Life and Art in the Novel” (1962); reprinted in The Novel: A Modern Guide to Fifteen English Masterpieces (1963)

Drew continued: “It’s all around him all the time: people, incidents, scenes, sense impressions, conversations—anything can arouse his curiosity, his excitement, his compulsion to transmit it into language and thus relieve his own feelings and communicate them to others.”

  • I hold that the novelist is the historian of the present, just as the historian is the novelist of the past. Georges Duhamel, in Preface to Chronique: La Nuit de Saint-Jean (1937). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common—a need to create an alternative world. John Fowles, quoted in Sunday Times Magazine (London; Oct. 2, 1977)
  • Along with the peasant in the novelist, there must be a man with a whip. John Gardner, in On Becoming a Novelist (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: The man with the whip, of course, is that aspect of the writer that drives the novel on to completion. Drive, according to Gardner, is a kind of double-edged sword for writers. He added: “Drivenness is trouble for both the novelist and his friends, but no novelist, I think, can succeed without it.”

  • Novelists do not write as birds sing, by the push of nature. It is part of the job that there should be much routine and some daily stuff on the level of carpentry. William Golding, in Feb. 16, 1977 lecture (“Rough Magic”) at University of Kent, reprinted in A Moving Target (1982)
  • Novelists who write for a public are, in my opinion, no good; they’ve discovered who their readers are and, in submitting to their judgment, they’re dishing things up like short-order cooks. Graham Greene, quoted in Marie-Françoise Allain, The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene (1983)
  • The economy of a novelist is a little like that of a careful housewife, who is unwilling to throw away anything that might perhaps serve its turn. Graham Greene, in In Search of a Character (1995)

Greene added: “Or perhaps the comparison is closer to the Chinese cook who leaves hardly any part of the duck unserved.”

  • They can’t yank novelist like they can pitcher. Novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him. Ernest Hemingway, quoted in Lillian Ross, “How Do You Like It Now, Gentleman?” The New Yorker (May 13, 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: Hemingway loved to use sports metaphors, but when he offered this one, it sounded as if he was channeling Charlie Chan. Most quotation anthologies present the quotation as if Hemingway had said “a novelist” and “a pitcher,” but I’m presenting it exactly as originally phrased, and the way it appeared in the article.

  • The novelist screws up his courage in order to invest another two or three years in another attempt to float a boat of original design upon an invented ocean. Edward Hoagland, “Being Between Books,” in The Tugman’s Passage (1982)
  • The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. Milan Kundera, quoted by Philip Roth in “The Most Original Book of the Season,” The New York Times (Nov. 30, 1980)

Kundera added: “In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam, or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place.”

  • A novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past. Vladimir Nabokov, in Strong Opinions (1973)
  • In the compact between novelist and reader, the novelist promises to lie, and the reader promises to allow it. Cynthia Ozick, in Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character (1996)
  • A novelist these days has to be an ex-suicide. A good novel…is possible only after one has given up and let go. Walker Percy, “Questions They Never Asked Me: A Self-Interview,” in Esquire magazine (Dec., 1977)
  • There may be times when the greatest service a novelist can do his fellow man is to follow General Patton’s injunction: Attack, attack, attack. Attack the false in the name of the real. Walker Percy, in Signposts in a Strange Land (1991)
  • Just as the painter thinks with his brush and paints the novelist thinks with his story. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • I am looking for the novelists whose writing is an extension of their intellect rather than an extension of their neurosis. Tom Robbins, the character Hector Sumac speaking, in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000)



  • Of all the passions that possess mankind,/The love of novelty rules most the mind./In search of this, from realm to realm we roam,/Our fleets come fraught with every folly home. Samuel Foote, the opening words of the Prologue to The Englishman Returned From Paris (1756)

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



  • We arrive at the various stages of our life quite as novices François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

A little more than a century later, the French writer Nicolas Chamfort offered a similar observation in his Maxims and Considerations (1796): “Man arrives as a novice at each age of his life.”


(includes HERE & NOW; see also PRESENT MOMENT)

  • The only valid tense is the present, the Now. Hannah Arendt, in Love and Saint Augustine (1929)

A moment later in the book, Arendt further explained: “The Now is what measures time backwards and forwards, because the Now, strictly speaking, is not time but outside time. In the Now, past and future meet.”

  • Now thyself is more important than Know thyself. Mel Brooks, quoted in William Safire and Leonard Safir, Good Advice (1992)
  • Now is yesterday’s when, and tomorrow’s then. Jim DeKornfeld, in a personal communication to the compiler (June 28, 2020)
  • There is only one moment in which you can experience anything, and that is now, yet a great deal of time is thrown away by dwelling on past or future experiences. Wayne W. Dyer, in Your Erroneous Zones (1976)
  • With the Past, as past, I have nothing to do; nor with the Future as future. I live now. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an 1839 journal entry
  • The past is dead, the future is imaginary; happiness can only be in the Eternal Now Moment. Ken Kesey, in Handbook to Higher Consciousness (1975)
  • We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. Martin Luther King Jr., in the speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” (April 4, 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: This historic speech, delivered at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was Dr. King’s first major speech in opposition to the Vietnam War.

  • I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges or scrub the floor. D. H. Lawrence, in a letter to Arthur McLeod (Jan. 17, 1913)
  • There is no such thing as the future. The future is an illusion. What we have is a now, followed by a now, followed by a series of nows. Mary J. Lore, opening words of Managing Thought: Think Differently. Think Powerful. Achieve New Levels of Success (2008)
  • We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine. H. L. Mencken, in A Mencken Chrestomathy 1949)
  • The word “now” is like a bomb through the window, and it ticks. Arthur Miller, the character Quentin speaking, in After the Fall (1946)
  • The past is a bucket of ashes, so live not in your yesterdays, nor just for tomorrow, but in the here and now. Carl Sandburg, quoted in J. B. Braude, Remarks of Famous People (1965)
  • Happiness is a thing of now. Gladys Taber, in The Book of Stillmeadow (1948)
  • I’m in the Now a lot more now/And here’s what’s even greater/I never ever can run out/There’s always more Now later. Greg Tamblyn, refrain from the song “More Now Later,” on the album Analog Brain in a Digital World (2009)
  • No longer forward nor behind/I look in hope or fear;/But, grateful, take the good I find,/The best of now and here. John Greenleaf Whittier, in the poem “My Psalm” (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: I believe Whittier’s “now and here” phrasing is the likely progenitor of all later sayings about living in the “here and now.”



  • I felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it’s there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding. Freeman Dyson, quoted in Jon Else, The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, Part 2 (1981)

Dyson continued: “To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles—this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.”

  • The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision. Henry Kissinger, quoted in The Observer (London; Sep. 30, 1979)
  • We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life. J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Atomic Weapons and American Policy,” in Foreign Affairs magazine (July, 1953)
  • Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger. Well, that’s the kind of situation we are actually in. Carl Sagan, in “Viewpoint,” an ABC-TV panel discussion (Nov. 20, 1983)

Sagan continued: “The amount of weapons that are now available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what’s needed to dissuade the other that if it weren’t so tragic it would be laughable. What is necessary is to reduce the matches and to clean up the gasoline.”

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly quote Sagan as saying: “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” That mistake is often further compounded when it is reported that the observation came in a debate with William F. Buckley. In fact, the remark came in a nationally televised panel discussion the day after the telecast of The Day After, a made-for-television film about a nuclear war (in addition to Sagan and Buckley, the panel included Henry Kissinger, Robert S. McNamara, Brent Scowcroft, and Elie Weisel). Sagan’s observation may be seen at ABC’s Viewpoint (the remark comes 1 hour, 4 minutes and 38 seconds into the discussion).


(includes NAKEDNESS; see also ART and BODY and CENSORSHIP and SEX)

  • Nudists are fond of saying that when you come right down to it everyone is alike, and, again, that when you come right down to it everyone is different. Diane Arbus, “Notes on the Nudist Camp,” in Magazine Work (1984)
  • I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on. Josephine Baker, quoted in Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase, Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart (193)
  • No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even if it be only the faintest shadow—and if it does not do so it is bad art and false morals. Kenneth Clark, in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (1951)
  • The trouble with nude dancing is that not everything stops when the music stops. Robert M. Helpmann, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Helpmann, an Australian choreographer, was commenting on the 1969 theatrical review Oh, Calcutta!, which featured totally nude actors—both male and female—in many scenes.

  • If twas the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observ’d. Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to an unknown female correspondent (April 1, 1717); reprinted in Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1970; R. Halsband, ed.)



  • If one cannot command attention by one’s admirable qualities at least one can be a nuisance. Margery Allingham, a reflection of protagonist Albert Campion, in Death of a Ghost (1934)



  • A nurse is caught between the doctor’s invincibility and the patient’s vulnerability. Lynne Alpern, in Lynne Alpern and Esther Blumenfeld, Oh, Lord, I Sound Just Like Mama (1986)
  • Nurses do whatever doctors and janitors won’t do. Peggy Anderson, in Nurse: The True Story of Mary Benjamin, R.N. (1978)
  • Nurses are patient people. Anonymous Saying
  • Nurses—nurses, you’m all the same. Full of cheerfulness over other people’s troubles. Agatha Christie, the character Ephraim Gerrard speaking, in Sad Cypress (1939)
  • A good nurse is of more importance than a physician. Mrs. Mary Clavers (pseudonym of Hannah Farnham Lee), the voice of the narrator, in The Log-Cabin (1844)
  • Individually doctors are kind to nurses; collectively they are indifferent to an appalling degree. Sarah Tarleton Colvin, in A Rebel in Thought (1944)
  • Some people think that doctors and nurses can put scrambled eggs back into the shell. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, “Supply and Demand,” in Raw Material (1923)
  • There is no human relationship more intimate than that of nurse and patient, one in which the essentials of character are more rawly revealed. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Her Son’s Wife (1926)
  • Nursing may be the oldest art, but in the contemporary world, it is also one of the most invisible. One of the most invisible arts, sciences, and certainly one of the most invisible parts of our health care system. Suzanne Gordon, in Life Support: Three Nurses on the Front Lines (1997)
  • Doctors and nurses seemed to have been born and raised in the hospital, with only short punctuations of absenteeism for such things as schooling and marriage. Marjorie Kellogg, in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1968)
  • Panic plays no part in the training of a nurse. Elizabeth Kenny, in And They Shall Walk (1951; with Martha Ostenso)
  • A good nurse is of more importance than a physician. Hannah Farnham Lee, the voice of the narrator, in The World Before You: or The Log-Cabin (1844)
  • Nursing was regarded as simply an extension of the unpaid services performed by the housewife—a characteristic attitude that haunts the profession to this day. Gerda Lerner, “The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson,” Midcontinent American Studies Journal (March 1, 1969)
  • For the hearts of nurses are solid gold,/But their heels are flat and their hands are cold,/And their voices lilt with a lilt that’s falser/Than the smile of an exhibition waltzer./Yes, nurses can cure you, nurses restore you,/But nurses are bound that they do things for you. Phyllis McGinley, in A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
  • I think the biggest lesson is that we can’t predict what influenza will do. In villages in Alaska, for example, the whole village would become sick at once. There would be nobody to provide food, nobody to provide shelter—these things can a make a difference. And even in wealthy nations like the United States, the conclusion at the end of 1918 and 1919 was that the single most important thing that could save your life from flu was good nursing care. Not medicines, not doctors, not hospitals, but good nursing care. David M. Morens, in We Heard The Bells: The Influenza of 1918 (2009)
  • Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts. Florence Nightingale, in Notes on Nursing (1859)

In her book, Nightingale also offered these thoughts:

“Never to allow a patient to be waked, intentionally or accidentally, is a sine qua non of all good nursing.”

“Nature alone cures…what nursing has to do…is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.”

  • No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any definition of what a nurse should be than this—“devoted and obedient.” This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse. Florence Nightingale, an 1860 remark, quoted in Victor Cohn, Sister Kenny (1975)
  • The trained nurse has become one of the great blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest, and not inferior to either in her mission. William Osler, “Nurse and Patient,” in an 1897 address at Johns Hopkins Hospital. reprinted in Aequanimitas, with Other Addresses (1889)
  • In the fifteen years I’ve been a nurse, never once, never until we went on strike can I ever remember management referring to nurses as professionals. All of a sudden we were professionals and we weren’t supposed to ask for money. I found that concept real interesting. Katrina Showland, in Sara Ann Friedman, Work Matters: Women Talk About Their Jobs and Their Lives (1996)
  • After several months of probation work, standing on my feet some ten to twelve hours a day, I decided that as a nurse I was a pretty good entertainer. Kate Smith, in Living in a Great Big Way (1938)
  • Grandma was a kind of first-aid station, or a Red Cross nurse, who took up where the battle ended, accepting us and our little sobbing sins, gathering the whole of us into her lap, restoring us to health and confidence by her amazing faith in life and in a mortal's strength to meet it. Lillian Smith, quoted in Tillie Olsen, Mother to Daughter, Daughter to Mother (1984)




  • Nymphomaniac: a woman as obsessed with sex as an average man. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

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