Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“Q” Quotations



  • Dishonesty is the raw material not of quacks only, but also in great part of dupes. Thomas Carlyle, “Count Cagliostro” (1833); in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1839)
  • Doctors always think anybody doing something they aren’t is a quack; also they think all patients are idiots. Flannery O'Connor, a 1961 remark, quoted in Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being (1979)
  • A quick cure is a quack cure. Margaret Thatcher, quoted in Iain Dale, Margaret Thatcher (2005)


(see also LIMIT and MODERATE and MODIFY)

  • I’m glad you like adverbs—I adore them; they are the only qualifications I really much respect. Henry James, in letter to Miss M. Bethan Edwards (Jan. 5, 1912)



  • At one time I thought he wanted to be an actor. He had certain qualifications, including no money and a total lack of responsibility. Hedda Hopper, on her husband, DeWolf Hopper, in From Under My Hat (1952)
  • Anybody can become a widow. There aren’t any special qualifications. Jacquelyn Mitchard, in The Rest of Us (1997)

Mitchard continued: “It happens in less time than it takes to draw a breath. It doesn't require the planning, for example, that it takes to become a wife or a mother or any of the other ritual roles of womanhood.”



  • Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftmanship [sic]. Quality also marks the search for an ideal after necessity has been satisfied and mere usefulness achieved. Author Unknown, in a December, 1935 issue of Nulaid News, a trade publication of the Poultry Producers of Central California.

ERROR ALERT: This looks like the first appearance of an observation that, in an abbreviated form, is commonly attributed to English art critic John Ruskin (“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort”). Even though nothing close to this sentiment has been found in Ruskin’s writings, almost all internet sites now attribute the “quality is never an accident” phrase to him. Attributions of the saying to others—including Will A. Foster and Willa A. Foster—also appear to by spurious.

  • Good enough never is. Debbi Fields, quoted in Harriet Spiesman, Debbi Fields: The Cookie Lady (1991)
  • One shining quality lends a luster to another, or hides some glaring defect. William Hazlit, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Everybody in an organization has to believe their livelihood is based on the quality of the product they deliver. Lee Iacocca, in Talking Straight (1988)
  • I don’t know that there are any short cuts to doing a good job. Sandra Day O’Connor, quoted in Ann McFeatters, Sandra Day O’Connor: Justice in the Balance (2006)
  • It is quality rather than quantity that matters. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Epistles (!st c. A.D.)
  • Ultimately, no one can ever be greater than the quality of his or her thinking. Esmé Wynne-Tyson, in The Unity of Being (1949)



  • We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities. Jacques Maritain, in Reflections on America (1958)
  • A man has generally the good or ill qualities which he attributes to mankind. William Shenstone, in Essays on Men and Manners (1804)



  • The quarrels of friends are the opportunities of foes. Aesop, “The Lions and the Bulls,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • During a quarrel, to have said too little may be mended; to have said too much, not always. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Sweethearts and Beaux (1905)
  • In the end is it not futile to try and follow the course of a quarrel between husband and wife? Such a conversation is sure to meander more than any other. Susanna Clarke, the narrator describing a quarrel between Strange and his wife Arabella, in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)

The narrator continued: “It draws in tributary arguments and grievances from years before—all quite incomprehensible to any but the two people they concern most nearly. Neither party is ever proved right or wrong in such a case, or, if they are, what does it signify?”

  • We are sure to be losers when we quarrel with ourselves; it is a civil war, and in all such contentions, triumphs are defeats. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • To talk over a quarrel, with its inevitable accompaniment of self-justification, is too much like handling cobwebs to be very successful. Margaret Deland, the narrator describing a quarrel between the characters Roger and Lyssie, in Philip and His Wife (1894)
  • I would no more quarrel with a man because of his religion than I would because of his art. Mary Baker Eddy, in The Christian Science Journal (Dec., 1906)
  • The last sound on the worthless earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarreling about where they are going next. William Faulkner, in a 1959 UNESCO speech, quoted in The New York Times (Oct. 3, 1959)
  • Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • A quarrel between friends, when made up, adds a new tie to friendship; as experience shows that the callosity formed round a broken bone makes it stronger than before. St. Francis de Sales, in Introduction to the Devout Life (1609)

QUOTE NOTE: Callosity means “the condition of being callused” and refers to the hardened tissue that develops around a fractured bone as it heals. Wallace Stegner made a similar point about broken hearts in The Spectator Bird (1976) when protagonist Joe Allston reflected: “Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of a life amount not to wisdom but to scar tissue and callus.”

  • And were an epitaph to be my story,/I’d have a short one ready for my own./I would have written of me on my stone:/I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. Robert Frost, “The Lesson for Today,” in reading before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Harvard University (June 20, 1941); later published in A Witness Tree (1942)
  • Most quarrels amplify a misunderstanding. André Gide, a 1920 journal entry, in The Journals of André Gide: 1914-1927 (1951; Justin O’Brien, trans. & ed.)
  • We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • For every quarrel a man and wife have before others, they have a hundred when alone. E. W. Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • You can make up a quarrel, but it will always show where it was patched. E. W. Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • It takes in reality only one to make a quarrel. It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion. W. R. Inge, “Patriotism,” in Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: Inge was likely inspired by an observation from Socrates, as quoted by Diogenes in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. B.C.): “It takes two to make a quarrel.”

  • An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Taylor (June 1, 1798)
  • Quarrels would not last long if the fault were only on one side. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Love-quarrels oft in pleasing concord end. John Milton, the title character speaking, in Samson Agonistes (1671)
  • Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)

Also on the subject of quarrels—but those on a larger scale—Pascal wrote: “Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?”

  • The quarrel between them was a terrible treadmill they mounted together and tramped round and round until they were wearied out or in despair. Katherine Anne Porter, the narrator describing a quarrel between the characters Jenny Brown and David Scott, in Ship of Fools (1962)
  • A married couple are well suited when both partners usually feel the need for a quarrel at the same time. Jean Rostand, in Marriage (1927)
  • It was completely fruitless to quarrel with the world, whereas the quarrel with oneself was occasionally fruitful, and always, she had to admit, interesting. May Sarton, a reflection of the title character, in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  • A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in De Ira [On Anger] (1st. c. A.D.)
  • The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel. Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly. George Bernard Shaw, the character Col. Craven speaking, in The Philanderer (written 1893; published 1898; first performed on stage 1902)
  • In quarreling, the truth is always lost. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • Lovers’ quarrels are the renewal of love. Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), the character Chremes speaking, in Andria (166 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the earliest articulation of a theme that has been frequently expressed over the centuries (more examples appear earlier in this section).

  • Weakness on both sides is, as we know, the motto of all quarrels. Voltaire, in Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. William Butler Yeats, “Anima Hominis,” in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918)



  • Have patience with the quarrelsomeness of the stupid. It is not easy to comprehend that one does not comprehend. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880
  • If the members of a home are ill-temperered and quarrelsome, how quickly you feel it when you enter the house. You may not know just what is wrong, but you wish to make your visit short. Laura Ingalls Wilder, quoted in Stephen W. Hines, Words From a Fearless Heart (1995)



  • It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it. Jacob Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man (1973)
  • Do not stop to think about the reasons for what you are doing, about why you are questioning. The important thing is to never stop questioning. Albert Einstein, advice to eighteen-year-old Harvard freshman Pat Miller, in William Miller, “Death of a Genius”, in Life magazine (May 2, 1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Einstein continued: “Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

  • Any man who for one moment abandons or suspends the questioning spirit has for that moment betrayed humanity. Bergan Evans, in The Natural History of Nonsense (1946)

Evans preceded the thought by writing: “In the last analysis all tyranny rests on fraud, on getting someone to accept false assumptions.”

  • The power to question is the basis of all human progress. Indira Gandhi, in a 1970 speech, in Indira Gandhi: Speeches and Writings (1975)
  • We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.  Werner Heisenberg, in Physics and Philosophy (1958)

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

  • Don’t let me catch any of you at any time loving anything without asking questions. Question everything—even what I’m saying now. Especially, perhaps what I say. Question every one in authority; and see that you get sensible answers to your questions. Winifred Holtby, the character Sarah Burton speaking, in South Riding (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: Burton, the new Head Mistress of Kiplington High School for Girls says this in an address to students. She went on to add: “Questioning does not mean the end of loving, and loving does not mean the abnegation of intelligence. Vow as much love to your country as you like; serve to the death if that is necessary….But, I implore you, do not forget to question.”

  • Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Peter Carr (Aug. 10, 1787)
  • In all affairs—love, religion, politics, or business—it’s a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. Bertrand Russell, quoted in a 1940 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This observation—in a number of slightly varying versions—is widely quoted, but has never been found in any of Russell’s writings.

  • The power to question is the basis of all human progress. Indira Gandhi, in Indira Gandhi: Speeches and Writings (1975)
  • To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner. Anne Rice, the character Marius de Romanus speaking, in The Vampire Lestat (1992)

The words are spoken in an instructional, even didactic, tone to the title character. Marius, a 2,000-year-old vampire who has accumulated much wisdom over the centuries, preceded the thought by saying: “Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds—justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can't go on.”

  • Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentleman. Samuel Johnson, a March 25, 1776 remark, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Johnson added: “It is assuming a superiority.”

  • Questioning what seem to be the absurd beliefs of another group is a good way of recognizing the potential absurdity of many of one’s own cherished beliefs. Gore Vidal, “The Unrocked Boat,” in The Nation (April 26, 1958); reprinted in Gore Vidal’s State of the Union: Nation Essays, 1958–2005 (2013; R. Lingeman, ed.)



  • Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. Mary Astor, in A Life on Film (1967)
  • To ask the hard question is simple. W. H. Auden, poem no. 27, in Poems (1933)
  • A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. Francis Bacon, “Of Cunning,” in Essays (1625)
  • The questions which one asks oneself begin, at last, to illuminate the world, and become one’s key to the experience of others. James Baldwin, in Nobody Knows My Name (1961)
  • Time does not dispose of a question—it only presents it anew in a different guise. Agatha Christie, the character Alex Portal speaking, “The Coming of Mr. Quin,” in The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930)
  • The noblest question in the world is What Good may I do in it? Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Dec, 1737)
  • There was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to. Joseph Heller, the voice of the narrator, in Catch-22 (1961)
  • To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem. Carl Jung, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959)
  • I keep six honest serving-men/(They taught me all I knew);/Their names are What and Why and When/And How and Where and Who. Rudyard Kipling, “The Elephant’s Child, “ in Just-So Stories (1902)
  • Never, never, never, on cross examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby-food. Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want. Harper Lee, Scout Finch reflecting on a lesson she learned from her father, the Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself. Ursula K. Le Guin, “Talking About Writing,” a 1976 talk, reprinted in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979)
  • The impulse to ask questions is among the more primitive human lusts. Rose Macaulay, “Into Questions and Answers,” in A Casual Commentary (1926)
  • There are two sides to every question. Protagoras, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. Rainer Maria Rilke, in letter to Franz Xaver Kappus (July 16, 1903); published posthumously in Letters to a Young Poet (in 1929)

He went on to add: “And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  • The words “question” and “quest” are cognates. Only through inquiry can we discover truth. Carl Sagan, in Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)

QUOTE NOTE: In simply pointing out that the two words share a common Latin root that means “to seek,” Sagan was also suggesting a powerful metaphor: a question is a quest.

  • Questions which cannot be freed by words find it easy to slip into the blood stream, changing the body’s chemistry, changing a whole life, sometimes. Lillian Smith, in Journey (1954)
  • There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. John Steinbeck, the character Lee speaking, in East of Eden (1952)
  • God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there’s no turning back. Gloria Steinem, “Doing Sixty,” in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on top of a hill; and the stone goes, starting others. Robert Louis Stevenson, in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
  • Most reporters eventually figure out that the dumb question is a powerful tool of inquiry. Kind people know it, too, and still practice the art. In its disarming way, the dumb question produces answers that the subject isn’t tired of answering. Hank Stuever, “Larry King’s Long Run Made the Case That There’s No Such Thing as a Dumb Question,” in Washington Post (Jan. 24. 2021)

Stuever continued: “It turns the interview into a conversation. It invites rather than antagonizes. What’s worse than an interviewer who tries to cram everything they already know into the question?”

  • No question is ever settled/Until it is settled right. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Settle the Question Right” (1888); reprinted in Poems of Power (1903)
  • Truth walks toward us on the path of our questions. Jacqueline Winspear, an observation from private investigator Maurice Blanche, a mentor to the title character, in Maisie Dobbs (2003)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Maisie was reflecting on something she recalled Maurice saying to her years earlier. She also remembered him adding: “As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing.”



  • I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned. Author Unknown, an example of chiasmus

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is attributed to to the American scientist and raconteur, Richard P. Feynman, but it has never been found in his works. The safest attribution is “Author Unknown”

  • It is not only by the questions we have answered that progress may be measured, but also by those we are still asking. The passionate controversies of one era are viewed as sterile preoccupations by another, for knowledge alters what we seek as well as what we find. Freda Adler, in Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal (1975)
  • You don’t want a million answers as much as you want a few forever questions. The questions are diamonds you hold in the light. Richard Bach, in Running From Safety (1994)

Bach added: “Study a lifetime and you see different colors from the same jewel.”

  • A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. Francis Bacon, “Of Cunning,” in Essays (1625)
  • Hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. Joan Baez, in Daybreak: An Autobiography (1968)
  • A work of art does not answer questions: it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between their contradictory answers. Leonard Bernstein, “The Unanswered Question,” a 1976 talk at Harvard University; reprinted in Findings (1982)
  • That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer. Jacob Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man (1973)
  • What you are is a question only you can answer. Lois McMaster Bujold, in Young Miles (1997)
  • Questions are dangerous, for they have answers. Jacqueline Carey, a reflection of the protagonist Phédre nó Delaunay, in Kushiel’s Dart (2001)
  • A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. John Ciardi, in John W. Gardner & Francesca Gardner Reese, Quotations of Wit and Wisdom (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Gardner & Reese, Ciardi continued: “The difference between a seed and an inert speck can be hard to see, but only one of them will grow and return itself in kind and be multiplied.” So far, I have not been able to find an original source for this quotation.

  • Clever people seem not to feel the natural pleasure of bewilderment, and are always answering questions when the chief relish of a life is to go on asking them. Frank Moore Colby, “Simple Simon,” in The Colby Essays, Vol. 1 (1926)
  • A timid question will always receive a confident answer. Charles John Darling, “Of Cross Examination,” in Scintillae Juris (1877)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often misattributed to the English novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

  • When we have arrived at the question, the answer is already near. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (April, 1852)
  • ’Tis not every question that deserves an answer. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • There are inquiries which are a sort of moral burglary. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, in Modes and Morals (1920)

Gerould continued: “The indiscreet questioner—and by indiscreet questions I mean questions which it is not conceivably a man’s duty either to the community or to any individual to answer—is a marauder, and there is every excuse for treating him as such.” A bit earlier in the book, she had introduced the topic by writing: “I hold that a question put by some one who has no right to the information demanded, deserves no truth.”

  • Bromidic though it may sound, some questions don’t have answers, which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn. Katharine Graham, quoted in Jane Howard, “The Power That Didn’t Corrupt,” Ms. Magazine (Oct., 1974)
  • More trouble is caused in the world by indiscreet answers than by indiscreet questions. Sydney J. Harris, in “Strictly Personal” syndicated column, Chicago Daily News (March 27, 1958)
  • The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions. Antony Jay, in Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life (1967)
  • There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Zora Neale Hurston, in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • A wise man’s question contains half the answer. Solomon ibn Gabirol, in The Choice of Pearls (c. 1050)
  • It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for? Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Who Is Man? (1965)
  • Questions show the mind’s range, and answers its subtlety. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole world of new questions. Susanne K. Langer, in Philosophy in a New Key (1942)
  • There are no right answers to wrong questions. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Introduction to Planet of Exile (1966)
  • The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions. Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Overture,” in The Raw and the Cooked (1964)
  • The great pleasure of ignorance is, after all, the pleasure of asking questions. The man who has lost this pleasure or exchanged it for the pleasure of dogma, which is the pleasure of answering, is already beginning to stiffen. Robert Lynd, in The Pleasure of Ignorance (1921)

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

  • It has always puzzled me, in my business, that people think they have to answer questions, no matter how disagreeable or dangerous, just because they were asked. Of course, we journalists would be out of business if they didn’t. Judith Martin, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Alice Bard, in Style and Substance: A Comedy of Manners (1986)

QUOTE NOTE: Martin, who is best known for her “Miss Manners” etiquette books, has also written several novels, including this one about a female television newscaster who loses her job because she has “inexcusably aged.”

  • In each age there is a series of pressing questions which must be asked and answered. On the correctness of the questions depends the survival of those who ask; on the quality of the answers depends the quality of the life those survivors will lead. Margaret Mead, in New Lives for Old (1956)
  • Question and answer is not a civilized form of conversation. Patrick O’Brian, the protagonist Stephen Maturin expressing “his dislike of being questioned,” in Clarissa Oakes (1992)
  • It is the function of a liberal university not to give right answers, but to ask right questions. Cynthia Ozick, “Women and Creativity,” in Motive magazine (April, 1969)
  • If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. Thomas Pynchon, one of his “Proverbs for Paranoids,” in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
  • To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner. Anne Rice, the character Marius de Romanus speaking, in The Vampire Lestat (1992)

The words are spoken in an instructional, even didactic, tone to the title character. Marius, a 2,000-year-old vampire who has accumulated much wisdom over the centuries, preceded the thought by saying: “Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds—justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can't go on.”

  • There aren’t any embarrassing questions—just embarrassing answers. Carl Rowan, quoted in The New Yorker (Dec. 7, 1963)
  • We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)
  • Good questions outrank easy answers. Paul A. Samuelson, “Gold and Common Stocks,” in Newsweek magazine (Aug. 21, 1978)
  • The only interesting answers are those which destroy the questions. Susan Sontag, in Esquire (July, 1968)
  • An answer is invariably the parent of a great family of new questions. John Steinbeck, in Log From the Sea of Cortez (1951)
  • A question is a trap, and an answer your foot in it. John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley (1962)
  • I don’t answer questions containing two or more unsupported assumptions. Rex Stout, the protagonist Nero Wolfe speaking, in The Rubber Band (1936)
  • Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are. Oscar Wilde, the character Mrs. Cheveley speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)

QUOTE NOTE: This looks like the earliest observation to relate the concepts of discretion and indiscretion to questions and answers, now a common practice.

  • Truth walks toward us on the path of our questions. As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing. Jacqueline Winspear, an observation from the character Maurice, in Maisie Dobbs (2003)


(see also HASTE and SPEED)

  • The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. Jane Austen, the character Mr. Darcy speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)



  • Human beings, as far as I can tell, seem to be divided into two subspecies—the resigned, who live in quiet desperation, and the exhausted, who exist in restless agitation. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self (1998)

QUOTE NOTE: In using the phrase “quiet desperation,” Ban Breatnach was clearly inspired by Henry David Thoreau's observation, seen below.

  • It is time for dead languages to be quiet. Natalie Clifford Barney, “On Writing and Writers,” in ADAM International Review (1962)
  • But how cool, how quiet is true courage! Fanny Burney, the voice of the narrator, in Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)
  • Money is a protection, a cloak; it can buy one quiet, and some sort of dignity.

Willa Cather, in My Mortal Enemy (1926)

See also the somewhat similar observation by Fran Lebowitz below.

  • Self-awareness, self-examination, self-consciousness are for the quiet moments. In the arena they are paralyzing. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • A comfortable quiet had settled between them. A silence that was like newly fallen snow. Carrie Fisher, in Delusions of Grandma (1994)
  • Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Torquato Tasso (1790)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “Genius is formed in quiet, character in the stream of human life.”

  • Saying “God within me” brought me an inrush of quietness and sweetness, a feeling inside me of dignity and wholeness which was not me at all, but something greater than I was, against which the horrors were powerless. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith (1942)
  • Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller, in Helen Keller’s Journal: 1936-1937 (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Keller was almost certainly inspired by a similar observation made centuries earlier by Goethe (see his entry above)

  • The first thing you notice when you step into the house of apartment of a rich person is how quiet it is. Fran Lebowitz, in a 1995 issue of the New York Times Magazine (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Lebowitz preceded the thought by writing: “Money…buys privacy, silence. The less money you have, the noisier it is; the thinner your walls, the closer your neighbors.” In crafting her observation, Lebowitz might have been inspired by a similar passage from Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy (1926), to be seen above.

  • Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day — like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • It is the modern nature of goodness to exert itself quietly, while a few characters of the opposite cast seem, by the rumor of their exploits, to fill the world; and by their noise to multiply their numbers. Hannah More, in the Introduction to Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799)
  • If, at the end of the saddest, the most disappointing and hurtful day, each one of us may come to a quiet room somewhere, and that room his own, if there is a light burning above white pillows, and a pile of books waiting under the light, then indeed we may still praise Allah, that He has not terminated all the Delights. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in These I Like Best (1941)
  • I have often said that man’s unhappiness springs from one thing alone, his incapacity to stay quietly in one room. Blaise Pascal, “Diversion,” in Pensées (1670)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a translation done for Oxford University Press by Honor Levi. Pervious translations have been all over the map with regard to this observation, with some saying “all man's miseries” and one even saying “all human evil” derive from man’s inability to sit quietly alone in a room.

  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow. Mary A. Radmacher, in Courage Doesn’t Alway Roar (2009)

QUOTE NOTE: Radmacher’s book also contained these other metaphorical reflections on the subject of Courage.

  • If we could learn how to balance rest against effort, calmness against strain, quiet against turmoil, we would assure ourselves of joy in living and psychological health for life. Josephine L. Rathbone, in Teach Yourself to Relax (1957)
  • It got very quiet. The kind of quiet that pressed right down on top of you before the first crack of lightning in a summer storm; hot and airless and bitter tasting on your tongue. K. C. Riggs, the character Lloyd speaking, in The Cowboy and the King: A Novel (2024)
  • For mine own part, I could be well content/To entertain the lag-end of my life/With quiet hours. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597)
  • True inward quietness is not that which may be produced by shutting out all outward causes of distraction—a process which, when carried out too severely, may intensify the inward ferment of the mind, especially in the young. Caroline Stephen, in Light Arising: Thoughts On the Central Radiance (1908)

About true inward quietness, Stephen continued: “It is rather a state of stable equilibrium; it is not vacancy, but stability—the steadfastness of a single purpose.”

  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: In the lesser known conclusion to this famous thought, Thoreau added: “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

  • Perhaps quiet places are rare because too few of us admit how much we need them. Noise seems to be the norm, and we are afraid to demand equal time for silence. Susan Allen Toth, in How to Prepare for Your High-School Reunion (1988)
  • The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, “Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.” Thornton Wilder, the character Barnaby speaking, in The Matchmaker (1955)

Barnaby went on: “And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.”

[Keeping] QUIET

(includes SHUTTING UP; see also HUSHED and MUTED and PEACEFUL and QUIET and SILENT and STILL)

  • Be plain in dress, and sober in your diet, / In short, my deary, kiss me! and be quiet. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, “A Summary of Lord Lyttleton's Advice to a Lady” (1768), in The Works of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 5 (1803)
  • The surgeon is quiet, he does not speak. / He has seen too much death, his hands are full of it. Sylvia Plath, “The Courage of Shutting-Up,” in Winter Trees (1971)
  • This is how I learn most of what I know about my children and their friends: by sitting in the driver's seat and keeping quiet. Anna Quindlen, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Mary Beth Latham, in Every Last One: A Novel (2010)


(see also ONE-LINERS and REPARTEE)

  • People are clever, but almost no one ever devises an optimal quip precisely at the needed moment. Stephen Jay Gould, “The Celestial Mechanic and the Earthly Naturalist,” in Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History (1995)

Gould added: “Therefore, virtually all great one-liners are later inventions—words that people wished they had spouted, but failed to manufacture at the truly opportune instant.”


(see also SURRENDER and YIELD)

  • Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit. Vince Lombardi, in Coaching for Teamwork (1995)



  • One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well. A. Bronson Alcott, “Quotation,” in Table Talk (1877)
  • Books of quotations are an elemental model of how culture is perpetuated, the wisdom of the trite passed on to posterity, to be added to, edited, and modified by subsequent generations. Robert Andrews, in Introduction to The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993)
  • In general, when reading a scholarly critic, one profits more from his quotations than from his comments. W. H. Auden, from “Reading” chapter, in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him. Robert Benchley, in My Ten Years in a Quandary (1936)
  • It needs no dictionary of quotations to remind me that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Max Beerbohm, in Zuleika Dobson (1911)
  • Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him. Robert Benchley, “Quick Quotations,” in My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew (1936)
  • Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out, armed, and relieve the idle stroller of his convictions. Walter Benjamin, in One-Way Street (1928)
  • At all events, the next best thing to being witty one’s self, is to be able to quote another’s wit. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1826)
  • A great thought is a great boon, for which God is to be the first thanked, then he who is the first to utter it, and then, in a lesser, but still in a considerable degree, the man who is the first to quote it to us. Christian Nestell Bovee, quoted in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908)
  • Even small quotations can be valuable, like raisins in the rice pudding, for adding iron as well as eye appeal. Peg Bracken, in I Didn’t Come Here to Argue (1969)
  • I pick up favorite quotations, and store them in my mind as ready armor, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence. Robert Burns, in letter to Frances Anna Dunlop (Dec. 6, 1792), reprinted in The Works of Robert Burns (1800; James Currie, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: From 1783 to 1794, Burns kept three commonplace books, in which he wrote early drafts of his creations, observations on a variety of subjects, excerpts from books, and quotations that had a special meaning for him.

  • Collecting quotations is an insidious, even embarrassing habit, like ragpicking or hoarding rocks or trying on other people’s laundry. Robert Byrne, in The Other 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1984)

Byrne added: “I got into it originally while trying to break an addiction to candy. I kicked candy and now seem to be stuck with quotations, which are attacking my brain instead of my teeth.”

  • You evidently do not suffer from “quotation-hunger” as I do! I get all the dictionaries of quotations I can meet with, as I always want to know where a quotation comes from. Lewis Carroll, in letter to R. H. Collins (Aug. 28, 1890); reprinted in The Letters of Lewis Carroll (1979; Morton N. Cohen, ed).
  • A quotation, like a pun, should come unsought and then be welcomed only for some propriety or felicity justifying the intrusion. Robert William Chapman, “The Art of Quotation,“ in The Portrait of a Scholar and other Essays Written in Macedonia, 1916-1918 (1920); reprinted in Writer’s Digest (May, 1977)
  • Collecting quotations seems a similar occupation to the one practiced by those birds and animals who pick up shiny pebbles, pieces of glass and paper to line their nests and burrows. James Charlton, in The Writer’s Quotation Book: A Literary Companion (1986)

Charlton continued: “They discard one, pick up another, apparently at random, but all with a particular spot in mind. The result is a living place that conforms to their own sensibility and shape.”

  • It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Winston Churchill, in My Early Life (1930)

Churchill continued: “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.”

  • I am reminded of the professor who, in his declining hours, was asked by his devoted pupils for his final counsel. He replied, “Verify your quotations.” Winston Churchill, in The Second World War, Vol. IV (1951)
  • Beware of thinkers whose minds function only when they are fueled by a quotation. E. M. Cioran, in Anathemas and Admirations (1987)
  • That’s the point of quotations, you know: one can use another’s words to be insulting. Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun), the protagonist professor Kate Fansler speaking, in The Theban Mysteries (1971)
  • Quoting, like smoking…is a dirty habit to which I am devoted. But then…I am a professor of English literature; it is an occupational hazard. Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun), the protagonist, professor Kate Fansler speaking, in Sweet Death, Kind Death (1984)
  • To be apt in quotation is a splendid and dangerous gift. Splendid, because it ornaments a man’s speech with other men’s jewels; dangerous, for the same reason. Robertson Davies, “Dangerous Jewels,” in The Toronto Daily Star (Oct. 1, 1960); reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1979; J. S. Grant, ed.)

Davies continued: “A man who quotes too easily risks the loss of any capacity he may have for personal expression, he has only to dip into the filing cabinet of his memory and—presto!—the witty, or impressive, or brilliantly compressed essence of what somebody else has thought is his to utter. Furthermore, many people are so impressed by his ability to quote that they overvalue the sense of what he has so elegantly said.”

  • I love them because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizedly wiser than oneself. Marlene Dietrich, on quotations, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation. Isaac D’Israeli, “Quotation,” in Curiosities of Literature, Vo. 1 (1791)
  • Whenever we would prepare the mind by a forcible appeal, an opening quotation is a symphony preluding on the chords whose tones we are about to harmonize. Isaac D’Israeli, “Quotation,” in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 1 (1791)

D’Israeli preceded the thought by writing: “Whenever the mind of a writer is saturated with the full inspiration of a great author, a quotation gives completeness to the whole; it seals his feelings with undisputed authority.”

ERROR ALERT: This observation is commonly misattributed to Isaac D’Israeli’s son, Benjamin Disraeli. And the observation is often mistkenly presented with precluding as opposed to preluding.

  • Sometimes it seems the only accomplishment my education ever bestowed on me, the ability to think in quotations. Margaret Drabble, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, a woman known only as Sarah, in A Summer Bird-Cage (1963)
  • I think the effective use of quotation is an important point in the art of writing. Given sparingly, quotations serve admirably as a climax or as a corroboration, but when they are long and frequent, they seriously weaken the effect of a book. We lose sight of the writer—he scatters our sympathy among others than himself—and the ideas which he himself advances are not knit together with our impression of his personality. George Eliot, in an 1853 letter, quoted in Gordon S. Haight, The George Eliot Letters, Vol. 8 (1978)
  • Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a journal entry (May, 1849)

QUOTE NOTE: Given that Emerson is one of history’s most quotable figures, it may seem ironic to see him write something like this. He was not referring to the use of quotations, though, but rather their mis-use, as when people quote others instead of stating their own beliefs.

  • I am not merely a habitual quoter but an incorrigible one. I am, I may as well face it, more quotatious than an old stock-market ticker-tape machine, except that you can’t unplug me. Joseph Epstein, “Quotatious,” in A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays (1991)
  • I believe it was Gayelord Hauser, the nutritionist, who said that “You are what you eat,” but if you happen to be an intellectual, you are what you quote. Joseph Epstein, “Quotatious,” in A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays (1991)
  • We who are quotatious are never truly alone, but always hear the cheerful flow of remarks made by dead writers so much more intelligent than we. Joseph Epstein, “Quotatious,” in A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays (1991)

Epstein added: “It may well be that tuning into this flow is as close to wisdom as those of us who are quotatious are likely to get,”

  • I enjoy collecting quotations. When I find a choice one I pounce on it like a lepidopterist. My day is made. When I lose one because I did not copy it out at once I feel bereft. R. I. Fitzhenry, in Preface to The David & Charles Book of Quotations (1986)
  • A quotation in a speech, article, or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority. Brendan Francis (pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy), in Edward F. Murphy, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations (1978)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation, like a number of other Brendan Francis observations, is often misattributed to the Irish writer Brendan Behan (whose middle name was Francis).

QUOTE NOTE: Brendan Francis is the pen name that Edward F. Murphy, a New York school teacher and quotation collector, used to disguise his own creations (62 of them in all) inserted into his Crown Treasury anthology. The identity of Brendan Francis has been long debated, but thanks to the efforts of quotation sleuth Tom Fuller, the matter now appears to be settled. Fuller tracked down a review of Murphy’s book by Sherwin D. Smith in The New York Times Book Review (“Passion for Books,” Dec. 24, 1978). In the piece, Smith asked parenthetically: “Puzzle: How many times did the editor include himself, and under what pseudonym?” And he then answered: “62, and Brendan Francis.”

  • Ev’ry corner that you turn you meet a notable/With a statement that is eminently quotable. Ira Gershwin, in lyrics to the title song the Broadway musical Of Thee I Sing (1931)

This appears to be the first appearance of a phrase that has become very popular among quotation lovers: “eminently quotable.”  It's also a nice reminder that, every day, we can connect with notable people—past and present—who've offered thought-provoking or attitude-altering observations.

  • If people now read fewer and fewer of the same books, listen to the same authorities or even watch the same television shows, we nevertheless find that we can hardly communicate without falling back on bits of quotation, steppingstones in the muck of daily discourse. James Gleick, “Bartlett Updated: Renewing the Idea of a Shared Culture,” in The New York Times (Aug. 8, 1993)

Gleick added: “At the level of sound bite and cliché, we are always quoting, if inadvertently.”

  • The quotation-business is booming. No subdivision of the culture seems too narrow to have a quotation book of its own. James Gleick, “Bartlett Updated: Renewing the Idea of a Shared Culture,” in The New York Times (Aug. 8, 1993)

After ticking off a dozen or so examples, Gleick wrote: “It would be an understatement to say that these books lean on one another. To compare them is to stroll through a glorious jungle of incestuous mutual plagiarism.”

  • Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language. Samuel Johnson, in the Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  • We speak a language that draws on quotations. They are telegraphic, a form of shorthand. We use them to lend point and luster to what we say. Justin Kaplan, in Preface to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: Sixteenth Edition (1992)
  • We use quotations, like the Biblical Shibboleth, as passwords and secret handshakes, socially strategic signals that say, “I understand you. We speak the same language.” Justin Kaplan, in Preface to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: Sixteenth Edition (1992)

Kaplan, the editor of the 16th and 17th editions of Bartlett’s, added: “Quotations have always been supremely effective rhetorical devices, instruments of one-upmanship, ways of supporting any position under the sun with borrowed or stolen authority.”

  • As a general rule, Misquotations drive out real quotes [ital. in orig.]. This is The Immutable Law of Misquotation.

Ralph Keyes, playing off Gresham’s Law (see Macleod in MONEY), in “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (1992)

Keyes continued: “Misquotation takes three basic forms: (1) putting the wrong words in the right mouth; (2) putting the right words in the wrong mouth; and (3) putting the wrong words in the wrong mouth.”

  • The Achilles heel of quotation collections: An initial error in one will be repeated so often by others that over time it gains authority through repetition alone. Ralph Keyes, in “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (1992)
  • When it comes to quotations, memory is too much the servant of aspirations, not enough an apostle of accuracy. Ralph Keyes, in The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006)

Keyes continued: “That is why misremembered quotations so often improve on real ones. Memory may be a terrible librarian, but it’s a great editor. Excess words are pruned in recollection, and better ones added. The essence of a good remark is preserved, but its cadence is improved.”

  • In literary composition a well-chosen quotation lights up the page like a fine engraving. William Francis Henry King, in the Introduction to Classical and Foreign Quotations (2nd. ed.; 1889)
  • He wrapped himself in quotations—as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors. Rudyard Kipling, “The Finest Story in the World,” in Many Inventions (1893)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, and it is often mistakenly used as a warning about the dangers of trying to impress by over-quoting. In the story, the narrator is describing London bank clerk Charlie Mears, an aspiring writer who lacks writing talent. He does come up with a gripping story idea, however, and after selling the concept to the narrator for five pounds, he uses the money to buy books of poetry. The next time the two men meet, the narrator describes Mears this way: “When next he came to me he was drunk—royally drunk—on many poets for the first time revealed to him. His pupils were dilated, his words tumbled over each other, and he wrapped himself in quotations—as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors. Most of all he was drunk with Longfellow.”

  • An apt quotation is like a lamp which flings its light over the whole sentence. L. E. Landon, the narrator describing a character’s ability to use quotations, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • A quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business. A. A. Milne, in If I May (1920)
  • A good quotation is a keyhole view of a boundless universe, like one of those windows called “squints” in medieval cathedrals through which only the altar is visible. John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, in Preamble to If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? (2008)
  • There are people who exist only on the pages of quotation books, whose life and work has evaporated completely, leaving behind just one or two puddles of wisdom. John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, in Preamble to If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? (2008)
  • Banter is not a solitary activity. And quotations are the hard currency of banter. John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, in Preamble to If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? (2008)
  • A quotation is a polished prefabricated unit of thought or discourse which has many connotations and associations built into it. Alan L. Mackay, in The Harvest of a Quiet Eye: A Selection of Scientific Quotations (1977)

Mackay added: “It is thus like the text for a sermon, serving as a point of departure for many lines of thought.”

  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit. W. Somerset Maugham, the narrator describing Mrs. Albert Forrester, in the short story “The Creative Impulse” (1926)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly present this observation: “The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.”

  • A collector of quotations inevitably has some of the qualities of a parasite, feeding off the labors of others. Nancy McPhee, in The Book of Insults: Ancient and Modern (1978)
  • Quotable quotes are coins rubbed smooth by circulation. Louis Menand, “Notable Quotables,” in The New Yorker (Feb. 19 & 26, 2007)
  • Quotations are in a perpetual struggle for survival. They want people to keep saying them. They don’t want to die any more than the rest of us do. And so, whenever they can, they attach themselves to colorful or famous people. Louis Menand, “Notable Quotables,” in The New Yorker (Feb. 19 & 26, 2007)
  • There is a subset of quotations that are personal. We pick them up off the public street, but we put them to private uses. Louis Menand, “Notable Quotables,” in The New Yorker (Feb. 19 & 26, 2007)

Menand continued: “We hoard quotations like amulets. They are charms against chaos, secret mantras for dark times, strings that vibrate forever in defiance of the laws of time and space. That they may be opaque or banal to everyone else is what makes them precious: they aren’t supposed to work for everybody. They’re there to work for us.”

  • When a thing has been said so well that it could not be said better, why paraphrase it? Hence my writing is, if not a cabinet of fossils, a kind of collection of flies in amber. Marianne Moore, on the many quotations in her works, in the Introduction to A Marianne Moore Reader (1961)
  • Unless created as freestanding works, quotations resemble “found” art. They are analogous, say, to a piece of driftwood identified as formally interesting enough to be displayed in an art museum or to a weapon moved from an anthropological to an artistic display. Gary Saul Morson, in The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture (2011)

Morson went on to add: “The presenter of found art, whether material or verbal, has become a sort of artist. He has not made the object, but he has made it as art.”

  • An anthology of quotations is a museum of utterances. It collects and displays masterpieces of phrase and thought in a small space. Gary Saul Morson, in The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture (2011)
  • Reframing an extract as a quotation constitutes a kind of coauthorship. With no change in wording, the cited passage becomes different. I imagine that the thrill of making an anthology includes the opportunity to become such a coauthor. Gary Saul Morson, in The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture (2011)
  • Quotes are the mental furniture of my life. From certain angles my inner landscape resembles a gallery hung with half-recalled citations, the rags and tag-ends of a lifetime of reading and listening. Geoffrey O’Brien, “We Are What We Quote,” in The New York Times (March 2, 2013)

O’Brien, the editor of the 18th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (2012) added about quotations: “They can be anything at all, the exquisitely chiseled perceptions of poets and philosophers or the blurts of unscheduled truth-telling by public figures caught in the spotlight…. They are the dangling threads that memory can latch onto when everything else goes blank.”

  • Quotations, the karaoke of ideas. John Oliver, in HBO broadcast of Last Week Tonight (Oct. 18, 2015)

Oliver continued: “Quotations make us sound smart; that’s why politicians love throwing them around.” To see his full piece—which is more about misquotations—go to: Oliver on Misquotations.

  • Most public speakers talk so badly that a sudden quotation from a poet appears in their babble like a lady in a slum. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • My quarrel with him is, that his works contain nothing worth quoting; and a book that furnishes no quotations, is, me judice [in my opinion], no book—it is a plaything. Thomas Love Peacock, the character Dr. Folliott, referring to Sir Walter Scott, but without mentioning him by name, in Crotchet Castle (1831)
  • The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote some one who is. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s possible that Poole was inspired by a very similar remark offered more than a century earlier by Christian Nestell Bovee, seen above

  • A good quotation must be a complete entity. It must be like a headline—sharp, clear, whole. Ayn Rand, in letter to Leonard Read (Nov. 12, 1944); reprinted in Michael S. Berliner, Letters of Ayn Rand (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Rand’s observation was part of a larger set of remarks—some in the form of stinging criticism—about an anthology of quotations (titled “Free Men Say”) that Leonard Read had put together for possible publication. Read was the publisher of The Freeman, a libertarian journal, and founder of The Foundation for Economic Education. Go here to see the full letter.

  • A quotation should say something in a particular way—perhaps wittily, pithily, vividly—but in such a way that it demands to be repeated by others. Nigel Rees, in Introduction to Cassell’s Movie Quotations (2000)

Rees added: “Casual comments and expressions of view do not necessarily reach this standard.”

  • Long ago, I coined the term “Churchillian Drift” to describe the process whereby the actual originator of a quotation is often elbowed to one side and replaced by someone more famous. Nigel Rees, “Policing Word Abuse,” in Forbes magazine (Aug. 13, 2009)

Rees continued: “So to Churchill or Napoleon would be ascribed what, actually, a lesser-known political figure had said. The process occurs in all fields.”

  • A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking. Dorothy L. Sayers, the character Lord Peter Wimsey speaking (1932)
  • Like a banister after years of handling, quotes get polished with use. Mordechai Schiller, “Unquote,” in Jewish World Review (Dec. 11, 2017)
  • It is an old error of man to forget to put quotation marks where he borrows from a woman’s brain. Anna Carlin Spencer, in Woman’s Share in Social Culture (1913)
  • I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul. Cheryl Strayed, in the Introduction to Brave Enough (2015)
  • As windows admit light to a house, quotations and illustrations shed clarity to a lesson, sermon, or speech. George Sweeting, in Who Said That? (1995)

Sweeting had earlier written: “The right quotation at the right time has explosive power. Quotations express thought in an unforgettable way, helping the listener to understand faster and remember longer.”

  • It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive. Mark Twain, in Following the Equator (1897)
  • In the dying world I come from a quotation is a national vice. No one would think of making an after-dinner speech without the help of poetry. It used to be the classics, now it’s lyric verse. Evelyn Waugh, in The Loved One (1948)
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. Oscar Wilde, in De Profundis (1897)
  • One has to secrete a jelly in which to slip quotations down people’s throats—and one always secretes too much jelly. Virginia Woolf, from a July 4, 1938 letter, in Leave the Letters Till We’re Dead: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, 1936–1941 (1980; Nigel Nicolson, ed.)

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