Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“O” Quotations



  • Great oaks from little acorns grow. Proverb (English)


(see also PROMISES and SWEARING)

  • It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath. Aeschylus, in Fragments (5th c. B.C.). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Oaths are but words, and words but wind,/Too feeble instruments to bind. Samuel Butler, in Hudibras (1663)



  • The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism. Angelina Grimké, in Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)
  • The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him to see himself as not responsible for his own actions. He divests himself of responsibility . . . He sees himself not as a person acting in a morally accountable way but as the agent of external authority. Stanley Milgram, in Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974)

QUOTE NOTE: Milgram, a Yale psychologist who did pioneering research on obedience and submission to authority, went on to conclude: “The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”

  • Intellectuals incline to be individualists, or even independents, are not team conscious and tend to regard obedience as a surrender of personality. Harold Nicolson, quoted in The Observer (Oct. 12, 1958)
  • When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion. C. P. Snow, “Either-Or,” in Progressive magazine (Feb., 1961)



  • Every day the fat woman dies a series of small deaths. Shelley Bovey, in Being Fat is Not a Sin (1989)
  • Fat is the last preserve for unexamined bigotry. Fat people are lampooned without remorse or apology on television, by newspaper columnists, in cartoons, you name it. Jennifer A. Coleman, “Discrimination at Large,” in Newsweek (Aug. 2, 1993)

These were the opening words of Coleman’s article. She added: “The overweight are viewed as suffering from moral turpitude and villainy, and since we are at fault for our condition, no tolerance is due. All fat people are ‘outed’ by their appearance.”

  • Obesity is a mental state, a disease brought on by boredom and disappointment. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)
  • Obesity is the commonest disease in the United States. The aged are particularly prone to it, when one by one other physical pleasures have been outlived or denied, and there remains only the joys of the table. Richard A. Kern, “The Care of the Aged,” in J. H. Musser and M. G. Wohl (eds.), Internal Medicine: Its Theory and Practice, fifth ed. (1951)
  • A fat person is a pariah, subject to the kinds of vitriol once reserved for eighteenth-century witches. Natalie Kusz, “The Fat Lady Sings,” in Cathi Janauer, The Bitch in the House ( 2002)
  • Greater numbers dig their graves with their own teeth, and die more by those fatal instruments than the weapons of their enemies. Thomas Moffet (1553–1604), in Health’s Improvement (c. 1590)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites—and many published quotation anthologies—present the quotation as if it began Men dig their graves…. The word fated is also often mistakenly presented instead of fatal. Moffet was an English naturalist and physician whose name is commonly spelled Muffet in reference sources. He appears to be the first person in history to offer this now-popular metaphor. The expression is commonly attributed to Fannie Hurst, who wrote in Anatomy of Me: A Wanderer in Search of Herself (1958): “We dig our graves with our teeth.”

  • For every pound I gained, I took one step backward, using flesh for padding. I bubble-wrapped my heart. Rosie O’Donnell, in Find Me (2002)

O’Donnell was describing how she used weight to keep people away, in a counter-productive way to avoid being hurt. She had written earlier: “Fat is a protector, anyone can tell you that. I didn’t like being ‘thin.’ I felt like people could come too close.”

  • Fat is a social disease, and fat is a feminist issue. Susie Orbach, in Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978)
  • Fat is a way of saying “no” to powerlessness and self-denial. Susie Orbach, in Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978)
  • I’m fat, but I’m thin inside. Has it ever struck you that there’s a thin man inside every fat man, just as they say there’s a statue inside every block of stone? George Orwell, in Coming Up For Air (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: The words are from the novel’s main character, George Bowling, reflecting on what it’s like to be fat. The observation went on to become one of Orwell’s most famous quotations, inspiring a number of clever spin-offs. In The Unquiet Grave (1944), English wit Cyril Connolly wrote: “Imprisoned in every fat man a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.” And in his 1963 novel One Fat Englishman, Kingsley Amis has one of his characters say: “Outside every fat man there was an even fatter man trying to close in.”


(see also DEATH & DYING)

  • All publicity is good, except an obituary notice. Brendan Behan, quoted in Sunday Express (London; Jan. 5, 1964)
  • I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction. Clarence Darrow, in The Story of My Life (1932)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the version of the sentiment that is most commonly quoted, but in congressional testimony on Feb. 1, 1926, Darrow offered a similar thought: “I never killed anybody, but I often read an obituary notice with great satisfaction.”

  • Nine out of ten obits I want to make the reader laugh, the tenth I want to make him cry. Margarit Fox in interview with Don Van Natta, “The Art of Remembering,” The Sunday Long Read Podcast (April 29, 2023)

QUOTE NOTE: During her fifteen-year career at The New York Times, Fox wrote more than 1,500 obituaries.

  • In an obituary you must strive to make the deceased look their best—but not to look like somebody else. Charlotte Hays, quoted in Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral (2005)



  • It is by losing himself in the objective, in inquiry, creation, and craft, that a man becomes something. Paul Goodman, in The Community of Scholars (1962)
  • We succeed only as we identify in life, or in war, or in anything else, a single over-riding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that objective. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in address to the Advertising Council, Washington, D.C. (April 2, 1957)



  • The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him. Russell Baker, in his “Observer” column, The New York Times (June 18, 1968)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is usually presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don’t work, those that break down, and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so.”



  • Obscenity is such a tiny kingdom that a single tour covers it completely. Heywood Broun, quoted in Bennett Cerf, Shake Well Before Using (1948)
  • History proves there is no better advertisement for a book than to condemn it for obscenity. Holbrook Jackson, in The Fear of Books (1932)
  • Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate. Bertrand Russell, quoted in Look magazine (Feb. 23, 1954)



  • Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time. Carrie Fisher, quoted in Leslie Bennetts, “Carrie on Baggage,” Vanity Fair magazine (Oct. 5, 2009)



  • We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and, when got, the repose is unsupportable. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. John Quincy Adams, in speech at Plymouth, Massachusetts (Dec. 22, 1802)
  • All successful men are men of purpose. They hold fast to an idea, a project, a plan, and will not let it go; they cherish it, brood upon it, tend and develop it; and when assailed by difficulties, they refuse to be beguiled into surrender; indeed, the intensity of the purpose increases with the growing magnitude of the obstacles encountered.  James Allen, in The Master of Destiny (1909)
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Slight variations of this saying have been attributed to English religious writer and philanthropist Hannah More, Henry Ford, mail-order guru E. Joseph Cossman, and even to David Byrne of the rock group “Talking Heads.” Despite years of sleuthing by quotation investigators, the original author remains unknown. For more, see this 2015 post by Barry Popik.

  • Try not to turn your life into a race, least of all an obstacle race. José Bergamín, in Head in the Clouds (1934)
  • So often when the obstacles in your path can’t be overcome, it’s not your path. Robert Brault, in The Second Collection (2015)
  • If there are obstacles, the shortest line between two points may be the crooked line. Bertolt Brecht, the character Andrea, quoting Galileo to himself, in Galileo (1939)
  • The only real obstacle in your path to a fulfilling life is you, and that can be a considerable obstacle because you carry the baggage of insecurities and past experience. Les Brown, quoted in Larry Chang, Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk (2007; with Roderick Terry)
  • If you can find a path with no obstacles. it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. Frank A. Clark, in a caption for syndicated cartoon The Country Parson (date undetermined)
  • Passion crashes into obstacles; reason peers around them. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 6th Selection (1989)
  • Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. Leonardo da Vinci, in Notebooks (1508–18)

This passage has also been translated: “Obstacles do not bend me. Every obstacle is destroyed through rigor.”

  • In the face of an obstacle which it is impossible to overcome, stubbornness is stupid. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Ethics of Ambiguity (1948)

• It is a great obstacle to happiness to expect too much. Bernard de Fontenelle, quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880)

• It’s our challenges and obstacles that give us layers of depth and make us interesting. Are they fun when they happen? No. But they are what make us unique. And that’s what I know for sure…I think. Ellen DeGeneres, “What Ellen DeGeneres Knows for Sure (She Thinks)” in O: The Oprah Magazine (Nov. 2009)

  • For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. Father Alfred D’Souza, quoted in Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation became very popular after it first appeared in Carlson’s mega-bestselling book, but an original source has never been found. While some have suggested that D’Souza was an Australian priest, no reliable information about the author has ever been found.

  • We acquire the strength we have overcome. Without war, no soldiers; without enemies, no hero. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

QUOTE NOTE: To grow strong, we must subdue enemies and overcome obstacles, according to Emerson. He went on to add: “The glory in character is in affronting the horrors of depravity to draw thence new nobilities of power.”

  • History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They finally won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. Disappointments acted as a challenge to their manhood. B. C. Forbes, quoted in a 1980 issue of Forbes magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • It’s part of life to have obstacles. It's about overcoming obstacles; that's the key to happiness. Herbie Hancock, quoted in The Guardian (London; Sep. 10, 2015)
  • The only way to remove obstacles is to face them head-on, just like the buffalo stands facing the wind. Goldie Hawn, in A Lotus Grows in the Mud (2005; with Wendy Holden)

Later in the book, Hawn described a trip to Dharamsala, India, where she met with a Tibetan monk named Kutenla. A prominent spiritual teacher in Tibet’s government in exile, Kutenla introduced Hawn to a Tibetan proverb: “The lotus grows in the mud.” He went on to explain the proverb’s meaning this way: “The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud—the obstacles of life and its suffering.”

  • The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator and protagonist Miles Coverdale reflecting on life’s challenges, in The Blithedale Romance (1852)
  • Our opponents maintain that we are confronted by insurmountable political obstacles, but that may be said of the smallest obstacle if one has no desire to surmount it. Theodor Herzl, in 1919 presidential address to Zionist Congress; quoted in The Maccabaean (July, 1919)
  • Badness you can get easily, in quantity: the road is smooth, and it lies close by. But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it, and rough at first. Hesiod, in Works and Days (c. 700 B.C.)
  • It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • Life is like walking along a crowded street—there always seem to be fewer obstacles to getting along on the opposite pavement—and yet, if one crosses over, matters are rarely mended. T. H. Huxley, in Aphorisms and Reflections (1907; Henrietta A. Huxley, ed.)
  • It is interesting to notice how some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage, and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles. Washington Irving, “Roscoe,” in The Sketch-Book (1819-20)
  • Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. Michael Jordan, quoted in Pat Williams, How to Be Like Mike: Lessons About Basketball’s Best (2001; with Michael Weinreb)
  • When man meets an obstacle he can’t destroy, he destroys himself. Ryszard Kapuscinski, “A Warsaw Diary,” in Granta (Spring, 1985)
  • Obstacles are challenges for winners, and excuses for losers. M. E. Kerr, the grandfather speaking to protagonist and narrator Buddy Boyle, in Gentlehands (1978)
  • The block of granite which was an obstacle on the pathway of the weak, becomes a stepping-stone on the pathway of the strong. G. H. Lewes, in The Life and Works of Goethe, Vol I (1855, 2nd ed.; 1st ed., 1855).

QUOTE NOTE: Lewes was thinking about Goethe’s early life experiences—and the obstacles he had overcome—in composing this thought. He preceded the observation with a memorable metaphorical analysis of how people respond in such different ways to the same obstacles and impediments:

“From the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels, one warehouses, another villas; bricks and mortar are mortar and bricks, until the architect can make them something else. Thus it is that in the same family, in the same circumstances, one man rears a stately edifice, while his brother, vacillating and incompetent, lives forever amid ruins.”

ERROR ALERT: For more than a century—and, quite frankly, for reasons that baffle me—this famous block of granite metaphor by Lewes has been mistakenly attributed to Thomas Carlyle. Sadly, almost all current internet quotation sites repeat the error.

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

Maltz introduced the thought by writing: “We are engineered as goal-seeking mechanisms. We are built that way. When we have no personal goal which we are interested in and which ‘means something’ to us, we are apt to ‘go around in circles,’ ‘feel lost’ and find life itself ‘aimless’ and ‘purposeless.’

  • Obstacles are necessary for success because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats. Og Mandino, in The Greatest Salesman in the World (1968)

Mandino continued: “Yet each struggle, each defeat, sharpens your skills and strengths, your courage and your endurance, your ability and your confidence and thus each obstacle is a comrade-in-arms forcing you to become better…or quit.”

  • Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them. Orison Swett Marden, in The Optimistic Life (1907)

A bit earlier in the book, Marden had introduced the topic this way: “It makes great difference how you approach a difficulty. Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them, if you stand and hesitate, if you take your eyes from theirs, they are liable to spring upon you; but if you do not flinch, if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight.”

  • The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race. Don Marquis, in The Almost Perfect State (1927)
  • The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it; and difficulties are but the maids of honor to set off the virtue. Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin), the character Mascarille speaking, in The Blunderer (1655)
  • Looking back, my life so far seems like one long obstacle course, with me as its chief obstacle. Jack Paar, in I Kid You Not (1960)
  • Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have. Norman Vincent Peale, in The Power of Positive Thinking (1952)

Peale introduced the thought by writing: “The first thing to do about an obstacle is simply to stand up to it and not complain about it or whine under it but forthrightly attack it. Don’t go crawling through life on your hands and knees half-defeated.”

  • Intelligence, then, is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles by means of decisions based on rational (truth-obeying) rules. Steven Pinker, in How the Mind Works (1997)
  • A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeve, in Still Me (1998)

Reeve introduced the subject by writing: “When the first Superman movie came out, I gave dozens of interviews to promote it. The most frequent question was: ‘What is a hero?’ I remember how easily I’d talk about it, the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.” He then preceded his new conception of heroism by writing: “Now my definition is completely different.”

  • About the only value the story of my life may have is to show that one can, even without any particular gifts, overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable if one is willing to face the fact that they must be overcome; that, in spite of timidity and fear, in spite of a lack of special talents, one can find a way to live widely and fully. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Preface to This is My Story (1937)
  • Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution. The boy who is going to make a great man, or is going to count in any way in after life, must make up his mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses or defeats. Theodore Roosevelt, “Character and Success,” in The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (1910)

Roosevelt continued: “He may be able to wrest success along the lines on which he originally started. He may have to try something entirely new. On the one hand, he must not be volatile and irresolute, and, on the other hand, he must not fear to try a new line because he has failed in another.”

  • Obstacles usually stimulate passion, but sometimes they kill it. George Sand, quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880)
  • If you don’t love what you’re doing with unbridled passion and enthusiasm, you’re not going to succeed when you hit obstacles. Howard Schultz, in New York Times interview (Oct. 9, 2010)
  • One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity. Albert Schweitzer, quoted in John C. Maxwell, The Power of Thinking Big (2001)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is the way the quotation appears on almost all Internet sites, but it has never been found in Schweitzer’s writings or speeches. The closest thing he ever wrote on the subject is the following passage from Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (1933): “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them.”

  • Imaginary obstacles are insurmountable. Real ones aren’t. Barbara Sher, in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (1994)

A bit later in the book, Sher went on to write: “Real obstacles don’t take you in circles. They can be overcome. Invented ones are like a maze.”

  • Optimism is good for overcoming obstacles that are part of daily life, but over-optimism can blind us to adversities that need addressing. Michael Shermer, “Defying the Doomsayers,” in The Wall Street Journal (22 February 2012)
  • To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education [for women] is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property, like cutting off the hands. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (Jan. 18, 1892)

Stanton continued: “To deny political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect; of credit in the marketplace; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those who make and administer the law.”

  • But if to be great means to do great things in the teeth of great obstacles, then none can refuse him a place in the temple of the Immortals. Stephen G. Tallentyre (pen name of Evelyn Beatrice Hall), on Denis Diderot, from “D’Alembert: The Thinker,” in The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

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

  • He is the best sailor who can steer within the fewest points of the wind, and extract a motive power out of the greatest obstacles. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Booker T. Washington, in Up From Slavery (1901)

Washington continued: “Looked at from this standpoint, I almost reach the conclusion that often the Negro boy’s birth and connection with an unpopular race is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned. With few exceptions, the Negro youth must work harder and must perform his tasks even better than a white youth in order to secure recognition.”

  • No difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in The Art of Being Alive: Success Through Thought (1914)
  • Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness. Naomi Wolf, “This Pampered Private School Elite Can Only Lead to US Decline,” in The Guardian (March 22, 2012)

QUOTE NOTE: The point of Wolf’s article was that pampered private school students insulated from challenging real-world experiences are ill-equipped to cope with increasing competition from their international peers. She went on to write: “In my bad public education, we kids learned a lot from the few great teachers; but we learned, also, important life lessons from the irascible or irrational teachers' teaching; we learned from social conflicts in the schoolyard, from frustration with recalcitrant graders, from the race riots that erupted every fall, and even from the boredom of enforced assembly and other not-fun but serious expectations.”

  • The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them. Woodrow Wilson, in address to the Italian Parliament (Rome; January 3, 1919)



  • Obstinacy in a bad cause is but constancy in a good. Sir Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. Edmund Burke, on the British monarchy, in speech to the House of Commons (Feb. 11, 1780)
  • Obstinacy in children is like a kite; it is kept up just as long as we pull against it. Marcelene Cox, in a 1945 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, quoted in Rosalie Maggio, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women (1996)
  • She had the bulging forehead of obstinacy, and there was strength in every motion of her short arms. Elizabeth Daly, describing a character, in Death and Letters (1950)
  • Most other passions have their periods of fatigue and rest; their suffering and their cure; but obstinacy has no resource, and the first wound is mortal. Thomas Paine, in the pamphlet “The Crisis” (No. VI; Oct. 20, 1778)
  • Obstinacy is the result of the will forcing itself into the place of the intellect. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)



  • Ports are necessities, like postage stamps or soap,/but they seldom seem to care what impressions they make. Elizabeth Bishop, “Arrival at Santos,” in Questions of Travel (1965)
  • Nowhere else than upon the sea do the days, weeks, and months fall away quicker into the past. They seem to be left astern as easily as the light air-bubbles in the swirl’s of the ship’s wake. Joseph Conrad, in The Mirror of the Sea (1906)



  • 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 great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator in Moby-Dick (1851)
  • The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Virginia Woolf, in The Waves (1931)



  • Office tends to confer a dreadful plausibility on even the most negligible of those who hold it. Mark Lawson, in Introduction to Joe Queenan, Imperial Caddy: The Rise of Dan Quayle in America and the Decline and Fall of Practically Everything Else (1992)



  • Where there is officialism every human relationship suffers. E. M Forster, the voice of the narrator, in A Passage to India (1924)
  • Official dignity tends to increase in inverse ratio to the importance of the country in which the office is held. Aldous Huxley, “Puerto Barrios,” in Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934)




(see also [Old] AGE and NEW and OLD & NEW)

  • To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, an 1874 entry in his Journal Intime
  • It’s sad to grow old—but nice to ripen. Brigitte Bardot, quoted in T. Crawley, Bébé: The Films of Brigitte Bardot (1975)
  • The minute a man ceases to grow—no matter what his years—that minute he begins to be old. Bruce Barton, from “I Dread the End of the Year,” in More Power to You (1917)
  • Most men grow old in a little groove of notions which they have not originated: perhaps there are fewer crooked minds than barren ones. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • People had much rather be thought to look ill than old: because it is possible to recover from sickness, but there is no recovering from age. William Hazlitt, “Common Places,” in The Literary Examiner (Sep.–Dec., 1823)
  • If you survive long enough, you’re revered—rather like an old building. Katharine Hepburn, in M. Freedland, Katharine Hepburn (1984)
  • She realized that to grow old is to have taken away, one by one, all gifts of life, the food and wine, the music, and the company. Nothing unexpected is left, there is only a worn-out body mumbling over crumbs in the sure expectation of death: The gods unloose, one by one, the mortal fingers that cling to the edge of the table. Storm Jameson, the voice of the narrator, in Three Kingdoms (1926)
  • Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. Franz Kafka, quoted in Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (1951; 2nd expanded ed., 1971)

A moment earlier, Kafka introduced the thought by saying: “Youth is full of sunshine and life. Youth is happy, because it has the ability to see beauty. When this ability is lost, wretched old age begins, decay, unhappiness.” Some Kafka scholars have questioned the authenticity of these observations. See explanation in the Kafka ACHIEVEMENT entry.

  • Few people know how to be old. François de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Nothing makes people crosser than being considered too old for love. Nancy Mitford, a reflection of the narrator, a woman known only as Linda, in Love in a Cold Climate (1949)
  • I used to think that getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Joyce Carol Oates, in The Guardian (Aug. 18, 1989)
  • Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed. Anthony Powell, in Temporary Kings (1973)
  • Old and young, we are all on our last cruise. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • And what would it be to grow old? For, after a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through. Robert Louis Stevenson, in Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
  • The art of being officially old seems to lie in cooperative submission. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journey of an Artist (1996)
  • When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter. Mark Twain, quoted in A. E. Paine, Mark Twain, A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Vol. 3 (1912)

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


(see also NEW and OLD)

  • There are two kinds of fools: one says, “This is old, therefore it is good”; the other says, “This is new, therefore it is better.” W. R. Inge, in More Lay Thoughts of a Dean (1931)


(see also AGE & AGING and [OLD] AGE and YOUNG and YOUTH)


(see OLD AGE)


(see BIBLE)


(see EGGS)



  • Opening Night: The night before the play is ready to open. George Jean Nathan (1917), in Bottoms Up: An Application of the Slapstick to Satire (1917)



  • A man’s most open actions have a secret side to them. Joseph Conrad, the character Razumov speaking, in Under Western Eyes (1911)
  • Our own political life is predicated on openness. We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Encouragement of Science,” address at Science Talent Institute (March 6, 1950); reprinted in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jan., 1951)

Oppenheimer added: “We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.”



  • Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in Profile in America (1954)
  • Ah, snug lies those that slumber/Beneath Conviction’s roof./ Their floors are sturdy lumber,/Their windows weatherproof./But I sleep cold forever/And cold sleep all my kind,/For I was born to shiver/In the draft of an open mind. Phyllis McGinley, “Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint,” in A Pocketful of Wry (1940)


(see also CULTURE and SINGING and THEATER)

  • The opera is like a husband with a foreign title; expensive to support, hard to understand, and therefore a supreme social challenge. Cleveland Amory, in an NBC-TV interview (April 6, 1961)
  • I do not mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it's a language I don’t understand. Edward Appleton, quoted in The Observer (London; Aug. 28, 1955)
  • No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. W. H. Auden, quoted in Time magazine (Dec. 29, 1961)
  • Opera cuts to the chase—as death does . . . [it is] an art which seeks, more obviously than any other form, to break your heart. Julian Barnes, in Levels of Life (2013)
  • Opera, n. A play representing life in another world, whose inhabitants have no speech but song, not motions but gestures, and no postures but attitudes. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

Bierce, often described as “Bitter Bierce,” proved himself true to his nickname when he added: “All acting is simulation, and the word simulation is from simian, an ape; but in opera the actor takes for his model Simia audibilis (or Pithecanthropos stentor)—the ape that howls.”

  • Cathedrals are built with pennies of the faithful. A great opera house also is a spiritual center, a temple of sorts, where many gather together for recreation, education, and inspiration—a blessed trinity worthy of public support. Eleanor Robson Belmont, in The Fabric of Memory (1957)
  • Opera is everything rolled into one—music, theater, the dance, color and voices and theatrical illusions. Sarah Caldwell, in a 1965 Life magazine profile, quoted in her Washington Post obituary (March 25, 2006)

Caldwell continued: “Once in a while, when everything is just right, there is a moment of magic. People can live on moments of magic.” Caldwell’s observation originally came in a Life magazine profile (March 5, 1965), which may be seen at “She Puts the Oomph in the Opera”.

  • Opera, next to Gothic architecture, is one of the strangest inventions of Western man. It could not have been foreseen by any logical process. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization (1969)
  • An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. Maria Callas, in Arianna Stassinopoulos, Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend (1981)

Callas continued: “It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house. The audience sees only an excerpt.”

  • If you put together all the ingredients that naturally attract children—sex, violence, revenge, spectacle, and vigorous noise—what you have is grand opera. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated (2005)
  • Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible a plea as baseball in Italian. H. L. Mencken, in American Mercury magazine (Jan., 1926)

Mencken continued: “The opera is not an Anglo-Saxon art form and to attempt arbitrarily, for patriotic reasons, to make it one is akin to Germanizing Georgian architecture or Frenchifying American jazz.“

ERROR ALERT: On almost all internet sites, the quotation is mistakenly presented this way: “Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.”

  • Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive. Moliére (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), quoted in Quaintance Eaton, The Miracle of the Met: An Informal History of the Metropolitan Opera, 1883–1967 (1976)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This appears to be the first appearance of a quotation that has become very popular. It has never been found in Moliére’s works, however, so the wisest course is to consider it apocryphal.

  • Going to the opera, like getting drunk, is a sin that carries its own punishment with it, and that a very severe one. Hannah More, from undated 1775 letter to one of her sisters; in Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More, Vol. 1 (1834; William Roberts, ed.)
  • In opera the text must be the obedient daughter of the music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in letter to his father (Oct. 13, 1781)
  • As an art form, opera is a rare and remarkable creation. For me, it expresses aspects of the human drama that cannot be expressed in any other way, or certainly not as beautifully. Lucianno Pavarotti, in Pavarotti: My World (1995)
  • Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life, and they pass like the bubbles of a bottle of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a complete fool. Gioachino Rossini, quoted in Robert Thicknesse, The Times Opera Notes: An Accessible Yet Scholarly Guide to Over 90 Major Operas (2001)
  • Opera is an extremely disciplined art form, and every excess a singer indulges in has a direct effect on the voice. Beverly Sills, in Beverly: An Autobiography (1987; with Lawrence Linderman)
  • Opera is just a country and western song in a foreign language. Pamela South, quoted in Ken Ringle, “From Rodeo Gal to Opera Star”, in The Washington Post (Feb 16, 1992)
  • As for operas, they are essentially too absurd and extravagant to mention; I look upon them as a magic scene, contrived to please the eyes and the ears at the expense of the understanding. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Jan. 23, 1752)

Chesterfield went on to add: “Whenever I go to an opera, I leave my sense and reason at the door with my half-guinea, and deliver myself up to my eyes and ears.”

  • I have never encountered anything more false and foolish than the effort to get truth into opera. In opera everything is based upon the not-true. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a diary entry (July 13, 1888)
  • An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences. Edith Wharton, the voice of the narrator, in The Age of Innocence (1920)
  • I wouldn’t mind seeing opera die. Ever since I was a boy, I regarded opera as a ponderous anachronism, almost the equivalent of smoking. Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted in Edgar Tafel, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright (1993)
  • In how many lives does Love really play a dominant part? The average taxpayer is no more capable of a “grand passion” than of a grand opera. Israel Zangwill, “Love in Life and Literature,” in Without Prejudice (1899)



  • Men are divided in opinion as to the facts. And even granting the facts, they explain them in different ways. Edwin Abbott Abbott, the character Sphere speaking, in Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)
  • All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated, and well supported in logic and argument than others. Douglas Adams, in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (pub. posthumously in 2002)
  • A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This 19th-century tweak of a classic Samuel Butler passage (see his entry below) went on to become a modern proverb. In her “September” essay in In Your Garden Again (1953), Vita Sackville-West expressed the thought in verse (“A man convinced against his will,/is of the same opinion still”), but she was only repeating a saying that was already proverbial).

  • I’ve never had a humble opinion. If you’ve got an opinion, why be humble about it? Joan Baez, quoted in the Observer (London; Feb. 29, 2004)
  • The being without an opinion is so painful to human nature that most people will leap to a hasty opinion rather than undergo it. Walter Bagehot, quoted in The Economist (Dec. 4, 1875)
  • Every man has the right to an opinion but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts. Bernard Baruch, quoted in an October 1946 Associated Press article, reprinted in “Baruch Upholds U.S. Atom Plan,” The Galveston Daily News (October 9, 1946)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 2020 Quote Investigator post, Garson O’Toole identifies this as the earliest appearance in print of a sentiment that has been widely repeated by others, including Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In March 1948, the Reader’s Digest quoted Baruch in a slightly different way (“Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts”), and it is this latter version that is most commonly seen today.

  • The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds only reptiles of the mind. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • It is a good thing to learn early that other people’s opinions do not matter, unless they happen to be true. Phyllis Bottome, the character professor Viktor Roth, speaking to his son Rudi, in The Mortal Storm (1938)

Professor Roth continued: “Your reason is given you to test them. Think a great deal, my dear boy, but do not think it necessary to say what you think.”

  • Men get opinions as boys learn to spell,/By reiteration chiefly. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Aurora Leigh (1856)
  • He that complies against his will/Is of his own opinion still. Samuel Butler (1612-80), in Hudibras (1663)

QUOTE NOTE: In the later decades of the 19th century, this passage from Butler’s 17th century classic was brought up to date by an unknown author (see the Author Unknown entry above).

  • Opinions have vested interests, just as men have. Samuel Butler (1835-1902), in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)

In yet another notebook entry, Butler wrote: “The public buys its opinions as it buys its meat, or takes in its milk, on the principle that it is cheaper to do this than to keep a cow. So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered.”

  • Opinions are made to be changed—or how is truth to be got at? Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon, in letter to John Murray ( May 9, 1817); reprinted in Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. 5 (1973–81; L. A. Marchand, ed.)
  • The truth is, that bubbles of false opinion will last whole ages, and deceive whole generations, till they are broken by some powerful breath, and even then how often they reunite, and again shine in the eyes of men, who hold them solid as cannon-balls! Sara Coleridge, in letter to Aubrey De Vere (April, 1847), in Memoir and Letters of Sara Coleridge, Vol. 2 (1873)
  • Do you know what we call opinion in the absence of evidence? We call it prejudice. Michael Crichton, the character John Kenner speaking, in State of Fear (2004)
  • “There’s one thing that always interests me about you good people,” returned Cecil, yawning, “not your certainty that the rest of us are swine—no doubt we are—but your certainty that your opinions are pearls.” Margaret Deland in, Philip and His Wife (1894)
  • A man must know how to defy opinion; a woman how to submit to it. Madame de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker), an epigraph to the novel Delphine (1802)
  • “Bias” is what somebody has when you disagree with his or her opinion. Hedley Donovan, the editor in-Chief of Life magazine from 1965 to 1979, in Right Time, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: Several years later (Jan. 15, 1995), noted news broadcaster David Brinkley expressed a similar thought in a CNN interview: “A biased opinion is one you don’t agree with.”

  • The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion. Elizabeth A. Drew, “Sex Simplexes and Complexes,” in The Modern Novel (1926)
  • We are so vain that we care even for the opinion of those we don’t care for. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • We are all apt to think that an opinion that differs from our own is a prejudice. Maria Edgeworth, the character Margaret Delacour speaking, in Belinda (1811)
  • People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Opinion! If every one had so little tact as to give their true opinion when it was asked this would be a miserable world. Edna Ferber, the title character speaking, in Roast Beef. Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney (1913)
  • We may make our own opinions, but facts were made for us; and, if we evade or deny them, it will be the worse for us. James Anthony Froude, “Times of Erasmus, Desiderius, and Luther,” in Short Studies on Great Subjects (1867–82)
  • An opinion should be treated like a guest who is likely to stay too late and drink all the whiskey. William H. Gass, in A Temple of Texts: Essays (2006)

Gass introduced the thought by writing: “If you enjoy the opinions you possess, if they give you a glow, be suspicious. They may be possessing you.”

  • It’s a struggle to be around him. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t think about things, He has opinions, but no ideas. Sue Grafton, the character Francesca, reflecting on her husband Kenneth, in “I” Is for Innocent (1992)

Francesca continued: “And most of his opinions he picks up from Time magazine. He’s so shut down emotionally, I feel as if I’m living in a desert.”

  • We are all of us, more or less, the slaves of opinion. William Hazlitt, “On Court Influence,” a Jan. 10, 1818 essay; reprinted in Political Essays (1819)
  • People in those old times had convictions; we moderns only have convictions. And it needs more than a mere opinion to erect a Gothic cathedral. Heinrich Heine, in The French Satge (1837)
  • Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. Thomas Jefferson, in First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801)
  • Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test. Samuel Johnson, a 1780 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • In the guise of “seeking feedback,” many writers are trolling for compliments. When they ask for your opinion of their work, too often they mean your praise. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write (1995)
  • Thank God, in these days of enlightenment and establishment, everyone has a right to his own opinion ions, and chiefly to the opinion that nobody else has a right to theirs. Ronald Knox, in Reunion All Around (1914)
  • We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different. Louis L’Amour
  • The facts we see depend on where we are placed, and the habits of our eyes. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922)
  • There is a hate layer of opinion and emotion in America. There will be other McCarthys to come who will be hailed as its heroes. Max Lerner, in The New York Post (April 5, 1950)

QUOTE NOTE: Lerner occupies a footnote in history as the person who coined the term “McCarthyism,” and he did it in the 1950 article that contained this candid and prescient observation.

  • When men are brought face to face with their opponents, forced to listen and learn and mend their ideas, they cease to be children and savages and begin to live like civilized men. Then only is freedom a reality, when men may voice their opinions because they must examine their opinions. Walter Lippmann, “The Indispensable Opposition,” in The Atlantic Monthly (August 1939)
  • The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions. James Russell Lowell, in My Study Windows (1871)
  • the worship of Opinion is, at this day, the established religion of the United States. Harriet Martineau, in Society in America, Vol. 3 (1837)

In the same volume, Martineau wrote on the subject: “Public opinion—a tyrant, sitting in the dark, wrapt up in mystification and vague terrors of obscurity; deriving power no one knows from whom…but irresistible in its power to quell thought, to repress action, to silence conviction.”

  • This habit of forming opinions, and acting upon them without evidence, is one of the most immoral habits of the mind. James Mill, in an 1826 issue of The Westminster Review (specific issue undetermined)

Mill, a Scottish philosopher and the father of John Stuart Mill went on to add: “As our opinions are the fathers of our actions, to be indifferent about the evidence of our opinions is to be indifferent about the consequences of our actions. But the consequences of our actions are the good and evil of our fellow-creatures. The habit of the neglect of evidence, therefore, is the habit of disregarding the good and evil of our fellow-creatures.”

  • If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • Opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. John Milton, in Aeropagitica (1644)

Milton preceded the observation by writing: “Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions.”

  • One little human truth is that opinionated people don’t hold much with other people’s opinions, and it is a great pleasure to some of them to be able to ascribe incurable defects, such as belonging to a certain sex; or base motives, or lack of understanding, to anyone whose views they disagree with. Katherine Anne Porter, from a 1953 letter, in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings (1970)
  • People genuinely happy in their choices seem less often tempted to force them on other people than those who feel martyred and broken by their lives. Jane Rule, in Lesbian Images (1975)
  • It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand. Salman Rushdie, “Do We Have to Fight the Battle for the Enlightenment All Over Again?” in The Independent (London; Jan. 22, 2005)

Rushdie continued: “If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech.”

  • The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Bertrand Russell, “Introduction: On the Value of Skepticism,” in Skeptical Essays (1928)

Russell added: “Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”

  • The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. Bertrand Russell, in Marriage and Morals (1929)
  • The aim of flattery is to soothe and encourage us by assuring us of the truth of an opinion we have already formed about ourselves. Edith Sitwell, quoted in Elizabeth Salter, The Years of a Rebel (1967)
  • The wisdom of literature is quite antithetical to having opinions. “Nothing is my last word about anything,” said Henry James. Furnishing opinions, even correct opinions—whenever asked—cheapens what novelists and poets do best, which is to sponsor reflectiveness, to pursue complexity. Information will never replace illumination. Susan Sontag, “The Conscience of Words,” in At the Same Time (2007)
  • Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect. Herbert Spencer, in Social Statics (1851)
  • There is no independence and pertinacity of opinion like that of these seemingly soft, quiet creatures, whom it is so easy to silence, and so difficult to convince. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1861)
  • If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth and so go on to old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last! Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1711)
  • Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired. Jonathan Swift, in Letter to a Young Gentleman Lately Entered Into Holy Orders (January 9, 1720)
  • It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  • In all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. Mark Twain, in Christian Science, Book 1 (1907)
  • An opinion, right or wrong, can never constitute a moral offense, nor be in itself a moral obligation. It may be mistaken; it may involve an absurdity, or a contradiction. It is a truth; or it is an error: it can never be a crime or a virtue. Frances “Fanny” Wright, in A Few Days in Athens, Vol. 2 (1822)
  • All empty souls tend to extreme opinion. It is only in those who have built up a rich world of memories and habits of thought that extreme opinions affront the sense of probability. William Butler Yeats, in The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats (1935)



  • What is asserted by a man is an opinion; what is asserted by a woman is opinionated. A woman with ideas and the ability to express them is something of a social embarrassment, like an unhousebroken pet. Marya Mannes, in But Will It Sell? (1964)
  • A critical, strong speech made by a man is “blunt” or “outspoken” or “pulls no punches.” A speech of similar force and candor made by a woman is “waspish,” “sarcastic,” or “cutting.” A man of strong opinions is defined as having “deep convictions.” A woman so constituted is merely “opinionated,” and always “aggressive.” Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • No good neurotic finds it difficult to be both opinionated and indecisive. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • One little human truth is that opinionated people don’t hold much with other people’s opinions, and it is a great pleasure to some of them to be able to ascribe incurable defects, such as belonging to a certain sex; or base motives, or lack of understanding, to anyone whose views they disagree with. Katherine Anne Porter, from a 1953 letter, in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings (1970)



  • Too many people in positions of responsibility act as if these are just positions of opportunity—for themselves. Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” in Townhall.com (May 1, 2007)



  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly attribute this saying—or a variant of it—to Thomas Edison, and some biographies of the famous inventor make the same mistake. Quotation sleuths Garson O’Toole and Barry Popik concurrently investigated the saying, and both concluded that Edison never said anything like it.

  • In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: The notion that difficult times present great opportunities goes back to antiquity, but this pithy version of the sentiment didn’t fully emerge as a proverbial saying until the 1970s. It is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but his longtime editor Alice Calaprice (The New Quotable Einstein) says he is not the original author. The Einstein attribution almost certainly originated in a March 12, 1979 Newsweek article (“The Outsider”) in which Einstein’s longtime friend John Archibald Wheeler summarized lessons to be learned from Einstein. Wheeler wrote: “There are three additional rules of Einstein’s work that stand out for use in our science, our problems, our times. First, out of clutter find simplicity. Second, from discord make harmony. Third, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

  • A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds. Francis Bacon, “Of Ceremonies and Respects,” in Essays (1625)
  • Intentions often melt in the face of unexpected opportunity. Shirley Temple Black, in Child Star (1989)
  • Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks, and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late. Rita Coolidge, quoted in Time magazine (Feb. 3, 1966)
  • Opportunities are often things you haven’t noticed the first time around. Catherine Deneuve, quoted in a 1989 issue of Vanity Fair (specific issue undetermined)
  • I could never tell if it was Opportunity or the Wolf knocking. Anne Ellis, in The Life of an Ordinary Woman (1929)
  • No great man ever complains of want of opportunity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a journal entry (specific date undetermined), in Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820–1872 (1876)
  • We are all faced with a series of great opportunities—brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. John W. Gardner, quoted in Reader’s Digest (March, 1966)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This quotation has become quite popular even though an original source has not been found. A common variant phrasing is, “We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

  • Unlimited opportunities can be as potent a cause of frustration as a paucity or lack of opportunities. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had tried and failed. William James, “The Will to Believe,” in New World magazine (June, 1896); reprinted in The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
  • When U walk up to opportunity’s door—don’t knock it. Kick that bitch in, smile, and introduce yourself. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in a Tweet (Oct. 1, 2011)
  • Trouble is only opportunity in work clothes. Henry J. Kaiser, quoted in Jacob M. Braude, Remarks of Famous People (1965)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The original source for this quotation has not been identified, but the earliest appearance may have been in a 1946 issue of The Spectator, an English weekly magazine. The Kaiser Story, an official company history published in 1968, quoted the firm’s founder with this similar remark: “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”

  • The opportunities of man are limited only by his imagination. But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer. Charles F. Kettering, in Prophet of Progress: Selections from the Speeches of Charles F. Kettering (1961; T. A. Boyd, ed.)

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

  • Taking the way that opens, even if it seems hardly more than a footpath, not infrequently leads to the highways of heart’s desire, if not to fame and fortune. Frances Parkinson Keyes, in All Flags Flying: Reminiscences of Frances Parkinson Keyes (1972)
  • Timid men are more likely to be moved to trepidation than daring in the face of great opportunities. Henry Kissinger, in A World Restored (1957)
  • In affairs of importance a man should concentrate not so much on making opportunities as on taking advantage of those that arise. François de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Sometimes opportunity knocks, but most of the time it sneaks up and then quietly steals away. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (April 25, 1987)
  • One can present people with opportunities. One cannot make them equal to them. Rosamond Lehmann, in The Ballad and the Source (1945)
  • Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Orison Swett Marden, in Rising in the World: Or, Architects of Fate (1895)
  • The doors of Opportunity are marked “Push” and “Pull.” Ethel Watts Mumford, in Oliver Herford, Ethel Watts Mumford, and Addison Mizner, The Complete Cynic (1902)
  • Opportunity knocks. Proverb (American)
  • Opportunity never knocks twice. Proverb (American)

QUOTE NOTE: The original appearance of most proverbial sayings cannot be dated, but Fred Shapiro of the Yale Book of Quotations traced this one to an August 30, 1896 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune.

  • Opportunities, like eggs, come one at a time. Proverb (American)
  • Nothing is so often irrevocably neglected as an opportunity we encounter every day. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Great opportunities may come once in a lifetime, but small opportunities surround us every day. Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life (2002)

Warren continued: “Even through such simple acts as telling the truth, being kind, and encouraging others, we bring a smile to God’s face.”

  • Opportunity is responsibility. It is a fleeing conjunction of circumstances. It is a test as well as a privilege. To be always equal to the opportunity—what more could be said of the highest success in life? Lilian Whiting, in The World Beautiful (1894)
  • I look at problems as opportunities and use every person, every incident, and every encounter as an opportunity to show a more loving part of myself. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Bill Adler, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey (1997)



  • Before we oppose, we must understand. Steve Allen, in Reflections (1994)
  • Everyone formally involved in controversy needs to be told: Your opponents are not wrong about everything. Steve Allen, in Reflections (1994)
  • Elinor agreed with it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition. Jane Austen, the narrator describing Elinor Dashwood’s decision not to challenge the conceited dandy Robert Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Many a man’s strength is in opposition, and when that faileth, he groweth out of use. Francis Bacon, “Of Faction,” in Essays (1625)
  • Opposition, n. In politics, the party that prevents the Government from running amuck by hamstringing it. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Opposition is true friendship. William Blake, “A Memorable Fancy,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • The duty of an Opposition is to oppose. Randolph Churchill, quoted in Winston Churchill, Lord Randolph Churchill, Vol. I (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Winston Churchill, Lord Randolph’s son, his father also offered this additional thought on the subject of an Opposition party: “Whenever by an unfortunate concurrence of circumstances an Opposition is compelled to support the government, the support should be given with a kick and not with a caress and should be withdrawn on the first available moment.” See also the Edward Stanley entry below.

  • No government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition. Benjamin Disraeli, the narrator, in Coningsby (1844). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Opposition may become sweet to a man when he christened it persecution. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Janet’s Repentance (first published in an 1857 issue of Blackwood’s magazine); reprinted in Scenes of a Clerical Life (1858)
  • Opposition is not necessarily enmity. Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)
  • To oppose something is to maintain it. Ursula K. Le Guin, the narrator, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Another example of Oxymoronica.
  • The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent supporters. Walter Lippman, “The Indispensable Opposition,” a 1939 Atlantic Monthly article; reprinted in The Essential Lippmann (1982)

Lippmann continued: “For his supporters will push him to disaster unless his opponents show him where the dangers are. So if he is wise he will often pray to be delivered from his friends, because they will ruin him. But though it hurts, he ought also to pray never to be left without opponents; for they keep him on the path of reason and good sense.”

  • A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind. Even a head wind is better than none. No man ever worked his passage anywhere in a dead calm. John Neal, quoted in William Hunt, The American Biographical Sketch Book, Vol. 1 (1848)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Lewis Mumford.

QUOTE NOTE: John Neal, barely remembered today, was a popular literary figure in the first half of the nineteenth century. Shortly after his rising kites observation, he went on to write: “Let no man wax pale, therefore, because of opposition. Opposition is what he wants, and must have, to be good for anything. Hardship is the native soil of manhood and self-reliance. He that cannot abide the storm, without flinching or quailing—strips himself in the sunshine, and lies down by the wayside, to be overlooked and forgotten.”

  • I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role. Eleanor Roosevelt, in letter to Bernard Baruch (Nov. 18, 1952); reprinted in It Seems to Me: Selected Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt (2001; Leonard C. Schlup, ed.)
  • Opposition always enflames the enthusiast, never converts him. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, quoted in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations From Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893)
  • And even when art is not oppositional, the arts gravitate toward contrariness. Literature is dialogue: responsiveness. Literature might be described as the history of human responsiveness to what is alive and what is moribund as cultures evolve and interact with one another. Susan Sontag, “Literature Is Freedom,” in At the Same Time (2007)

Sontag preceded the observation by writing: “One task of literature is to formulate questions and construct counterstatements to the reigning pieties.”

  • When I first came into Parliament, Mr. Tierney, a great Whig authority, used always to say that the duty of an Opposition was very simple—it was to oppose everything and propose nothing. Edward Stanley, in a London debate (June 4, 1841)
  • One of the most common signs of this period, in some natures, is the love of contradiction and opposition—a blind desire to go contrary to everything that is commonly received among the older people. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the voice of the narrator, in The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1861)
  • Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! John Wesley, in letter to William Wilberforce (Feb. 14, 1791), in John Wesley (1980; Albert C. Butler, ed.)

Wesley was writing to support Wilberforce's strong opposition to slavery. He continued: “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”



  • If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. Author Unknown, but widely misattributed to James Madison.

ERROR ALERT: According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, this quotation—with an attribution to Madison—began to appear shortly after the terrorist attack on the World Towers on Sep. 11, 2001. The observation has never been found in any of Madison’s writings or speeches, however, and should not be associated with his name. Even though Madison didn’t author the quotation in question, he clearly believed in the underlying sentiment. In a speech at the Constitutional Convention (June 29, 1787), he did say:

“The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war whenever a revolt was apprehended.”

  • Oppression does not know the meaning of provincial boundaries. Aren't our energies better spent fighting the common enemy instead of each other? Benazir Bhutto, in Daughter of Destiny (1989)
  • The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Steve Biko, “White Racism and Black Consciousness,” in I Write What I Like (1978)
  • One law for the lion and ox is oppression. William Blake
  • Oppression works in such a way that it holds every person responsible for the acts of any wrongdoer of the oppressed group. Rita Mae Brown, in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1997)

In her memoir, Brown went on to add: “All outcast peoples struggle to be recognized as individuals. The damage of oppression is that it robs you of your individuality. You’re just a faggot. Or whatever—fill in the blank. Everything you do is seen through the prism of your gayness or your womanness or your blackness by some people.”

  • Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors. Evelyn Cunningham, in a 1969 speech
  • One of the benefits that oppression confers upon the oppressors is that the most humble among them is made to feel superior; thus, a poor white in the South can console himself with the thought that he is not a “dirty nigger”—and the more prosperous whites cleverly exploit this pride. Similarly, the most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • The essence of oppression is that one is defined from the outside by those who define themselves as superior by criteria of their own choice. Andrea Dworkin, in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981)
  • There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles. Frank Herbert, one of the “Collected Sayings of Muab’Dib,” in Dune (1965)
  • I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Robert A. Heinlein, a reflection of protagonist John Lyle, in the novella “If This Goes On—” (1940); revised and expanded in the 1953 Heinlein anthology Revolt in 2100.

Lyle continued: “Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission, bombs, not anything—you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.”

  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson, in first Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801)
  • Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Du Pont de Nemours (April 24, 1816)
  • Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed. Erica Jong, a thought from the protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)

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

  • Where a system of oppression has become institutionalized it is unnecessary for individuals to be oppressive. Florynce R. Kennedy, “Institutionalized Oppression vs. the Female,” in Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970)
  • Trying to help an oppressed person is like trying to put your arm around somebody with a sunburn. Florynce R. Kennedy, in Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times (1976)
  • Oppressed people are treacherous for the simple reason that treachery is both a means of survival and a way to curry favor with one’s oppressor. Florence King, in Southern Ladies and Gentlemen (1975)
  • In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. Audre Lorde, in Uses of the Erotic (1978)
  • Traditionally, in american [sic] society, it is the members of oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. Audre Lorde, in the 1980 speech “Age, Race, Class, and Sex,” in Sister Outsider (1984)

In the speech, Lorde continued: “For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as american [sic] as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection. Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.”

  • No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child. Maria Montessori, in The Child in the Family (1929)
  • The greatest step forward in human evolution was made when society began to help the weak and the poor, instead of oppressing and despising them. Maria Montessori, in The Absorbent Mind (1949)
  • It is a historical truism that the most downtrodden in any society rarely initiate the battle for their rights. They are usually too powerless—in Marxist terminology, too oppressed—even to contemplate a change in their status. Sheila Tobias, in Faces of Feminism (1997)
  • The whole evolution of present-day society tends to develop the various forms of bureaucratic oppression and to give them a sort of autonomy in regard to capitalism as such. Simone Weil, in Oppression and Liberty (1955)

In the book, Weil also wrote: “What is surprising is not that oppression should make its appearance only after higher forms of economy have been reached, but that it should always accompany them.”

  • In every human breast, God has implanted a principle, which we call love of freedom; it is impatient of oppression and pants for deliverance. Phillis Wheatley, in Boston Post-Boy (1774)



  • I am by nature a worried optimist. Madeleine Albright, in Read My Pins (2009)
  • The optimism of a healthy mind is indefatigable. Margery Allingham, the voice of the narrator, in Death of a Ghost (1934)
  • Optimism, n. The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • An optimist is the human personification of spring. Susan J. Bissonette, in a 1979 Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison, 1943–45 (1953)

Bonhoeffer continued: “It is true that there is a silly, cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn. But the optimism that is will for the future should never be despised, even if it is proved wrong a hundred times; it is health and vitality, and the sick man has no business to impugn it.”

  • For myself I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else. Winston Churchill, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet (London; Nov. 9, 1954)
  • Perpetual optimism is annoying. It is a sign that you are not paying attention. Maureen Dowd, “Colin Powell Rules!” in The New York Times (Sep. 17, 1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Dowd was alluding to a saying favored by Gen. Colin Powell, one so important to him that he kept it in clear view under a glass top on his desk: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

  • What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak, there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances. Wayne W. Dyer, in There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem (2001)

Dyer continued: “Hope is an internal awareness that you do not have to suffer forever, and that somehow, somewhere there is a remedy for despair that you will come upon if you can only maintain this expectancy in your heart.”

  • The place where optimism most flourishes is the lunatic asylum. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)
  • With gratitude, optimism is sustainable. Michael J. Fox, in a CBS Sunday Morning interview with Jane Pauley (April 30, 2023)
  • The near cousin of optimism is hope: knowing the steps needed to get to a goal and having the energy to pursue those steps. It is a primal motivating force, and its absence is paralyzing. Daniel Goleman, in Working With Emotional Intelligence (1998)
  • Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope. Helen Keller, in Optimism: An Essay (1903)
  • An optimist is a person who smells the roses without worrying about the thorns. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Feb. 28, 1985)
  • I do not believe that true optimism can come about except through tragedy. Madeleine L’Engle, in Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988)
  • Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death. Nelson Mandela, in Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (1995)
  • an optimist is a guy/that has never had much/experience. Don Marquis, “certain maxims of archy,” in Archy and Mehitabel (1927)
  • How happy is the Optimist/To whom life shows its sunny side/His horse may lose, his ship may list,/But he always sees the funny side. Phyllis McGinley, “Song Against Sweetness and Light,” in A Pocketful of Wry (1940)
  • An optimist is a fellow who believes a housefly is looking for a way to get out. George Jean Nathan, quoted in a 1962 issue of Saturday Review (specific issue undetermined)
  • Rosiness is not a worse windowpane than gloomy gray when viewing the world. Grace Paley, in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1960)
  • There is abundant reason to believe that optimism–big, little, and in between–is useful to a person because positive expectations can be self-fulfilling. Christopher Peterson, originally offered in a Jan. 2000 American Psychologist article; reprinted in A Primer in Positive Psychology (2006)
  • She was an artist in optimism. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the narrator describing the Widow Slater, in Cross Creek (1942)
  • It is important to possess a short-term pessimism and a long-term optimism. Adrienne Rich, in What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993)
  • Optimism is good for overcoming obstacles that are part of daily life, but over-optimism can blind us to adversities that need addressing. Michael Shermer, “Defying the Doomsayers,” in The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 22, 2012)
  • Optimist: person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness. Mark Twain, quoted in More Maxims of Mark (1927; Merle Johnson, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: In the same collection, Twain also offered this additional thought on the subject: “At 50 a man can be an ass without being an optimist but not an optimist without being an ass.”

  • The point of living, and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come. Peter Ustinov, quoted in Christopher P. Anderson, The New Book of People (1986)
  • Although optimism is the result of an illusion, it is a desirable distortion of reality. Susan C. Vaughan, in Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism (2000)
  • Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable. Voltaire (François Marie Arouet), the title character speaking, in Candide (1759)
  • My deepest impulses are optimistic; an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect. Ellen Willis, “Tom Wolfe’s Failed Optimism,” in Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade (1981)



  • The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. So I elect for neither label James Branch Cabell, in The Silver Stallion: A Comedy of Redemption (1926)
  • The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns, the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious of the rose. Kahlil Gibran, in Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran (1962; Anthony R. Ferris, trans. & ed.)
  • Our motto is still alive and to the point: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Antonio Gramsci, the motto of the Italian periodical L’Ordine Nuovo, borrowed from the French writer Romain Rolland, in L’Ordine Nuovo (March 4, 1921)
  • A pessimist is a man who has been compelled to live with an optimist. Elbert Hubbard, in The Notebook (1927)
  • An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist fears the same may be true. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Nov. 16, 1992)
  • Men are always optimists when they look inwards, and pessimists when they look round them. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • It is important to possess a short-term pessimism and a long-term optimism. Adrienne Rich, in What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993)
  • A pessimist looks at his glass and says it is half empty; an optimist looks at it and says it is half full. Josiah Stamp, quoted in The New York Times (Nov. 13, 1935)
  • The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little. Mark Twain, a notebook entry (Dec., 1902)
  • There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist. Mark Twain, quoted in More Maxims of Mark (1927; Merle Johnson, ed.)
  • ’Twixt optimist and pessimist/The difference is droll:/The optimist sees the doughnut,/The pessimist, the hole. McLandburgh Wilson (pen name of Florence McLandburgh), in the poem “Optimist and Pessimist” (1915)

QUOTATION CAUTION: An original source for this popular quatrain has never been identified. Also note that the wording varies slightly in published versions. The one in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, for example, ends: But the pessimist sees the hole.



  • Oratory, n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat the understanding. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table, but, as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale. James Boswell, on William Wilberforce, after hearing him deliver a speech at York Castle (March 25, 1784); quoted in P. C. Fitzgerald, Life of James Boswell (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: Wilberforce, of course, is famous for leading the charge to abolish England’s enormously lucrative slave trade. A smallish man with an eloquent manner, he was regarded as one of the leading orators of his era. Prior to hearing Wilberforce speak, Boswell’s assessment of him had been tepid, as his shrimp metaphor suggests, but he walked away with a completely different view of the man.

  • The orator must be, to some extent, a poet. We are such imaginative creatures that nothing so works on the human mind, barbarous or civil, as a trope. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Eloquence,” in The Atlantic Monthly (Sep. 1858)

Emerson continued: “Condense some daily experience into a glowing symbol, and an audience is electrified.” The full essay may be seen at “Eloquence”.

  • The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Essay on Athenian Orators,” in Knight’s Quarterly Magazine (Aug., 1824)
  • What orators lack in profundity, they will give you in length. Baron de Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat), quoted in Edwin Preston Dargan, The Aesthetic Doctrine of Montesquieu (1907)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation is now more commonly presented this way: “What orators lack in depth, they make up for in length.”

  • Oratory is just like prostitution: you must have little tricks. Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, quoted in Time magazine (Dec. 8, 1952)

QUOTE NOTE: Orlando, the Prime Minister of Italy from 1917–19, was the least familiar of “The Big Four” allied leaders who hammered out the Treaty of Versailles that brought WWI to an end (the other three were Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and George Clemenceau). Orlando continued his observation on oratory by adding: “One of my favorite tricks is to start a sentence and leave it unfinished. Everyone racks his brains and wonders what I was going to say.”

  • In oratory, the greatest art is to hide art. Jonathan Swift, in A Critical Essay Upon the Faculties of the Mind (1707). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • Some of the greatest and most lasting effects of genuine oratory have gone forth from secluded lecture desks into the hearts of quiet groups of students. Woodrow Wilson, in An Old Master and Other Essays (1893)



  • The groves were God’s first temples. William Cullen Bryant, the opening line of A Forest Hymn (1824)



  • Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)




(see also LUST and ORGY & ORGIES and PASSION and SEX)

  • I may not be a great actress but I’ve become the greatest at screen orgasms. Ten seconds of heavy breathing, roll your head from side to side, simulate a slight asthma attack, and die a little. Candice Bergen, quoted in Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion (1984)
  • There is the pleasurable orgasm, like a rising sales graph, and there is the unpleasant orgasm, slumping ominously like the Dow Jones in 1929. William Burroughs, “My Experiences with Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Box,” in The Adding Machine (1985)
  • The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment. Malcolm Muggeridge, “Down with Sex,” in Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966)
  • Electric flesh arrows, a second wave of pleasure falls over the first, a third which touches every nerve end, and now the third like an electric current traversing the body. A rainbow of color strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears. It is the gong of the orgasm. Anaïs Nin, an Oct., 1937 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934–1939, Vol. 2 (1967)
  • Sexual culmination creates an opening into the Afterlife, and what we experience as orgasm is just a glimpse of the Afterlife level of love and vibration as the portal is opened and the energy rushes through, potentially bringing in a new soul. James Redfield, the character Wil speaking, in The Tenth Insight (1996) FINAL

Wil continued: “Sexual union is a holy moment in which a part of Heaven flows into the Earth.”


(see also LUST and PASSION and SEX)

  • Working as a journalist is exactly like being a wallflower at an orgy. Nora Ephron, in Wallflower at the Orgy (1970)
  • I have always preferred an occasional orgy to a nightly routine. Graham Greene, the title character speaking about her frequent nocturnal activities with an old lover, in Travels With My Aunt (1969)



  • Everybody is influenced by somebody or something. If there’s an original, who is the original? Ernestine Anderson, quoted in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World (1989)
  • I’d like to be an original, to be myself and not a pale copy of anyone else. Julie Andrews, quoted in Roy Newquist, Showcase (1966)
  • To mis-quote is the very foundation of original style. The success of most writers is almost entirely due to continuous and courageous abuse of familiar misquotation. Natalie Clifford Barney, in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992; Anna Livia, ed.)
  • If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world, it will come through the expression of your own personality—that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature. Bruce Barton, in It’s a Good Old World (1920)
  • Nearly all our originality comes from the stamp that time impresses upon our sensibility. Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in L’Art Romantique (1869)
  • About the most originality that any writer can hope to arrive at honestly, now-a-days, is to steal with good judgment. Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw), in Josh Billings on Ice (1870)

QUOTE NOTE: Shaw, a New York journalist, adopted the name Josh Billings in the 1860s and became famous for a cracker-barrel philosophy that was filled with aphorisms written in a phonetic dialect (he called them “affurisms”). Mark Twain was a big fan, once even comparing Billings to Ben Franklin. Almost all of the Billings quotations seen today first appeared in a phonetic form and were later changed into standard English (the original form of this saying was: “About the most originality that enny writer kan hope tew arrive at honestly, now-a-days, is tew steal with good judgment.”).

  • The human mind prefers to be spoon-fed with the thoughts of others, but deprived of such nourishment it will, reluctantly, begin to think for itself—and such thinking, remember, is original thinking and may have valuable results. Agatha Christie, the narrator Jerry Burton speaking, in The Moving Finger (1942)

Burton preceded the thought by saying: “It is a theory of mine…that we owe most of our great inventions and most of the achievements of genius to idleness—either enforced or voluntary.”

  • The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. Salvador Dali, in Preface to Dialoques with Marcel Duchamp (1968; Pierre Cabanne, ed.)
  • I wonder how many parents realize that by the so-called education they are giving their children, they are only driving them into the commonplace, and depriving them of any chance of doing anything beautiful or original. Isadora Duncan, in My Life (1927)
  • Everywhere the fatal spirit of imitation, of reference to European standards, penetrates and threatens to blight whatever of original growth might adorn the soil. Margaret Fuller, in Summer on the Lakes (1844)
  • Originality is something that is easily exaggerated, especially by authors contemplating their own work. John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Affluent Society (1958)
  • Originality usually amounts only to plagiarizing something unfamiliar. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, in Modes and Morals (1920)

In her book, Gerald also wrote: “What passes for an original opinion is, generally, merely an original phrase. Old lamps for new—yes; but it is always the same oil in the lamp.”

  • It is wiser to be conventionally immoral than unconventionally moral. It isn’t the immorality they object to, but the originality. Ellen Glasgow, in The Descendant (1897)
  • The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I'm far more moved by authenticity. Elizabeth Gilbert, in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015)
  • There are no original ideas. There are only original people. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Foreign Bodies (1984)
  • Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)

Hoffer preceded this observation with these famous words: “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”

  • You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing. Billie Holiday, in Lady Sings the Blues (1956; with William Dufty)
  • A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Originality, I fear, is too often only undetected and frequently unconscious plagiarism. W. R. Inge, in James Marchant, The Wit and Wisdom of Dean Inge (1927)
  • Originality is only variation. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • The prerequisite of originality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know. Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: When something is forgotten, according to Koestler, it leaves our consciousness but becomes material for the unconscious mind, which works “as an anaesthetist, who puts reason to sleep, and restores, for a transient moment, the innocence of vision.”

  • Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met. Fran Lebowitz, “People,” in Social Studies (1981)
  • If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)

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

  • The first-rate mind is always curious, compassionate, original, and pessimistic. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” in The Literary World (August 1850)

QUOTE NOTE: The essay was originally written anonymously (by “A Virginian Spending July in Vermont”), and it was not until years later that Melville was formally identified as the author. He preceded the thought by writing: “He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.” For more on the quotation, see this 2015 post from The Quote Investigator.

  • A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956)
  • All good things which exist are the fruits of originality. John Stuart Mill, “On Individuality, as One of the Elements of Wellbeing,” in On Liberty (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: Mill viewed originality as a product of genius, and necessary to develop and unfold if a society is to advance. The problem, though, is that the great masses of people do not admire it and “nearly all, at heart, think they can do very well without it.” He argued: “Originality is the one thing which original minds cannot feel the use of. They cannot see what it is to do for them: how should they? If they could see what it would do for them, it would not be originality. The first service which originality has to render them is that of opening their eyes.”

  • Originality is in any case a by-product of sincerity. Marianne Moore, “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto,” lecture at the Grolier Club (New York City; Dec. 21, 1948); reprinted in Predilections: Literary Essays (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Moore was talking about originality in writing. She continued: “That is to say, of feeling that is honest and accordingly rejects anything that might cloud the impression, such as unnecessary commas, modifying clauses, or delayed predicates.”

  • What is originality? To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us in the face. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science (1882)

Nietzsche continued: “The way men usually are, it takes a name to make something visible for them.”

  • The more intelligent one is, the more men of originality one finds. Ordinary people find no difference between men. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • You’ve got to be original, because if you’re like someone else, what do they need you for? Bernadette Peters, quoted in a 2002 issue of Reader's Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Originality consists in trying to be like everybody else—and failing. Raymond Radiguet, quoted by Jean Cocteau in his acceptance speech to the French Academy (October 1955)
  • Grief can sometimes only be expressed in platitudes. We are original in our happy moments. Sorrow has only one voice, one cry. Ruth Rendell, the protagonist Chief Inspector Wexford reflecting on the words of a grieving husband, in Shake Hands Forever (1975)
  • Originality implies being bold enough to go beyond accepted norms. Anthony Storr, in Solitude: In Search of Self (1988)

Storr continued: “Sometimes it involves being misunderstood or rejected by one’s peers. Those who are not too dependent upon, or too closely involved with, others, find it easier to ignore convention.”

  • The greatest minds, the most original, have the least stamp of the age, the most of that dominant natural reality which belongs to all great minds. Miss Thackeray, in A Book of Sibyls (1883)

Miss Thackeray went on to add: “The clearest eyes must see by the light of their own hour.”

  • History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies. Alexis de Tocqueville, in The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856)
  • True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. Edith Wharton, in The Writing of Fiction (1925)

Wharton continued: “That new, that personal, vision is attained only by looking long enough at the object represented to make it the writer’s own; and the mind which would bring this secret gem to fruition must be able to nourish it with an accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience.”

  • It is essential for each of us to strive to retain originality and to maintain our identity as human beings. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from The IMB Archives.
  • Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies? Edward Young, in Conjectures on Original Compositions (1759)

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



  • Orthodoxy is a fixed habit of mind. The average man and woman hug their orthodoxies and spit their venom on those that outrage them. Gertrude Atherton, the character Lee Clavering speaking, in Black Oxen (1923)
  • The world has improved mostly because unorthodox people did unorthodox things. Not surprisingly, they had the courage and daring to think they could make a difference. Ruby Dee, quoted in Janet Cheatham Bell, Till Victory Is Won (2002)
  • I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to his parents (April 13, 1738)

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

  • The heterodoxy of one generation is the orthodoxy of the next. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)
  • Strict orthodoxy is as much the result of mutual suspicion as of ardent faith. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer: Thoughts On the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)
  • Orthodoxy: A corpse that does not know it is dead. Elbert Hubbard, in The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
  • Orthodoxy: That peculiar condition where the patient can neither eliminate an old idea nor absorb a new one. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)
  • Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. George Orwell, the protagonist Winston Smith speaking, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
  • Untrained minds have always been a nuisance to the military police of orthodoxy. Katherine Anne Porter, “On a Criticism of Thomas Hardy” (1940), in The Days Before (1952)

Porter continued: “God-intoxicated mystics and untidy saints with only a white blaze of divine love where their minds should have been, are perpetually creating almost as much disorder within the law as outside it.”



  • It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things. Terry Pratchett, a reflection of the character Samuel Vimes, in Jingo (1997)

Vimes began his thought process this way: “He wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people.”


(includes OTHER PEOPLE)

  • when life isn’t fair to us or to those we love, we get angry. When life is unfair to others, we get philosophical. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. John Andrew Holmes, in Wisdom in Small Doses (1927)
  • We cough because we can’t help it, but others do it on purpose. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

In the book, McLaughlin also offered this observation: “Others follow patterns; we alone are unpredictable.”


(see also ANGER and RAGE)

  • There are levels of outrage, and there’s a point at which you can’t be trespassed upon anymore. Marian Wright Edelman, quoted in Joyce Teitz, What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1972)


(see also CONFIDENCE and HUBRIS)

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

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



  • In every field of inquiry, it is true that all things should be made as simple as possible—but no simpler. (And for every problem that is muddled by over-complexity, a dozen are muddled by over-simplifying.) Sydney J. Harris, in “Strictly Personal” column, Chicago Daily News (Jan. 2, 1964)

QUOTE NOTE: In the first portion of the remark, Harris is referencing an observation commonly attributed to Albert Einstein (but never actually found in his writings): “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” See the Einstein entry in SIMPLIFY & SIMPLIFICATION for more.



  • When you overstate, the reader will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise. E.B. White, “An Approach to Style,” in Strunk & White, The Elements of Style (3rd ed., 1979)



  • Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they can come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them. Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting” (1931), in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (1968; Hannah Arendt, ed.)
  • I don’t know exactly why the notion of homeownership has such a grasp on the American imagination. Perhaps as descendants of landless immigrants we turn our plots into symbols of stability. Ellen Goodman, in Close to Home (1979)
  • True ownership of anything requires time. Barbara Holland, in Wasn’t the Grass Greener? (1999)
  • For all the huffing and puffing of the doubters, a home of our own is still the rock on which our hopes are built. Price appreciation aside (and most houses will appreciate, eventually), homeownership is a state of mind. It’s your piece of the earth. It’s where a family’s toes grow roots. It’s where the flowers are yours, not God’s. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)
  • Many people don’t realize until they are on their deathbed and everything external falls away that no thing ever had anything to do with who they are. In the proximity of death, the whole concept of ownership stands revealed as ultimately meaningless. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)

Tolle continued: “In the last moments of their life, they then also realize that while they were looking throughout their lives for a more complete sense of self, what they were really looking for, their Being, had actually always already been there, but had been largely obscured by their identification with things.”

  • The ego tends to equate having with Being: I have, therefore I am. And the more I have, the more I am. The ego lives through comparison. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)

Tolle continued: “How you are seen by others turns into how you see yourself. If everyone lived in a mansion or everyone was wealthy, your mansion or your wealth would no longer serve to enhance your sense of self.”



  • No argument can persuade me to like oysters if I do not like them. In other words, the disturbing thing about matters of taste is that they are not communicable. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • The oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life. Indeed, his chance to live at all is slim, and if he should survive the arrows of his own outrageous fortune and in the two weeks of his carefree youth find a clean smooth place to fix on, the years afterwards are full of stress, passion, and danger. M. F. K. Fisher, in Consider the Oyster (1941)

In the book, Fisher also wrote: “Almost any normal oyster never knows from one year to the next whether he is he or she, and may start at any moment, after the first year, to lay eggs where before he spent his sexual energies in being exceptionally masculine.”

  • You ought to try eating raw oysters in a restaurant with every eye focused upon you—it makes you feel as if the creatures were whales, your fork a derrick and your mouth Mammouth Cave. Lillian Russell, quoted in Marie Dressler, The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling (1924)
  • He was a bold man that first eat [sic] an oyster. Jonathan Swift, in Polite Conversation (1738)
  • A good oyster cannot please the palate as acutely as a bad one can revolt it, and a good oyster cannot make him who eats it live forever though a bad one can make him dead forever. Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)

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