Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

Table of Contents

“R” Quotations



  • He may well win the race that runs by himself. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (January, 1747)

Franklin preceded the thought by writing: “Strive to be the greatest Man in your Country, and you may be disappointed; Strive to be the best, and you may succeed.”



  • For no matter what learned scientists may say, race is, politically speaking, not the beginning of humanity but its end, not the origin of peoples but their decay, not the natural birth of man but his unnatural death. Hannah Arendt, in Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
  • To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • The individual man tires to escape the race. And as soon as he ceases to represent the race, he represents man. André Gide, journal entry (undated, 1889), in Journals, 1889–1913 (1949; Justin O’Brien, ed.)
  • You gotta say this for the white race—it’s self-confidence knows no bounds. Dick Gregory, in From the Back of the Bus (1962)
  • The answer to the race problem is simple—it’s give and take. If they don’t give, we’re going to take it. Dick Gregory, in What’s Happening (1965)
  • The only way not to worry about the race problem is to be doing something about it yourself. When you are, natural human vanity makes you feel that now the thing is in good hands. Margaret Halsey, in Some of My Best Friends Are Soldiers (1944)
  • One of the less dismaying aspects of race relations in the United States is that their improvement is not a matter of a few people having a great deal of courage. It is a matter of a great many people having just a little courage. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)
  • Race was a word that bred arrogance, danger and violence. When had incitement to race served a peaceful purpose? Race was a fuel and it needed only a match to light it. Any match—my hostility, your ambition, a third person’s advantage. Nayantara Sahgal, in From Fear Set Free (1962)
  • It is not races but individuals that are noble and courageous or ignoble and craven or considerate or persistent or philosophical or reasonable. The race gets credit when the percentage of noble individuals is high. Edwin Way Teale, “January 9,” in Circle of the Seasons (1953)
  • I have always secretly felt that what mankind should be in an ideal sense is that mixture of people and races. I really believe in it. I don't think there is anything sacred in the integrity of race, white or black. Margaret Walker, in Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker, A Poetic Equation (1974)
  • No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. Booker T. Washington, in speech at The Atlanta Exposition (Sep. 18, 1895); reprinted in Up From Slavery (1901)
  • No race can wrong another race simply because it has the power to do so without being permanently injured in morals. Booker T. Washington, in “Democracy in Education” speech at the Institute of Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn, New York (Sep. 30, 1896)
  • No race can accomplish anything till its mind is awakened. Booker T. Washington, in The Negro’s Part in the South’s Upbuilding 1904
  • If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. Carter G. Woodson, in a 1926 pamphlet written at the establishment of Negro History Month
  • Not to know what one's race has done in former times is to continue always as a child. Carter G. Goodson, in The Story of the Negro Retold (1935)

[Rat] RACE

  • Just because it’s a rat race doesn't mean it’s okay to be a rat. Linda Ellerbee, quoted in Clara Fraser, Revolution, She Wrote (1998)
  • The great disadvantage of being in a rat race is that it is humiliating. The competitors in a rat race are, by definition, rodents. Margaret Halsey, in The Folks at Home (1952)



  • The less intelligent the white man is, the more stupid he thinks the black. André Gide, in Voyage au Congo (1927; trans. into English as Travels in the Congo in 1986)



  • Racism is the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to congenital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital superiority. Ruth Benedict, in Race: Science and Politics (1940)
  • Race prejudice is not only a shadow over the colored—it is a shadow over all of us, and the shadow is darkest over those who feel it least and allow its evil effects to go on. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1942)
  • Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is normal. Shirley Chisholm, in UnBought and Unbossed (1970)
  • Racism tends to attract attention when it’s flagrant and filled with invective. But like all bigotry, the most potent component of racism is frame-flipping—positioning the bigot as the actual victim. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The NAACP is Right,” in The Atlantic (July 15, 2010)

On the theme of frame-flipping, Coates continued: “So the gay do not simply want to marry; they want to convert our children into sin. The Jews do not merely want to be left in peace; they actually are plotting world take-over. And the blacks are not actually victims of American power, but beneficiaries of the war against hard-working whites. This is a respectable, more sensible bigotry, one that does not seek to name-call, preferring instead change the subject and straw man. Thus segregation wasn’t necessary to keep the niggers in line, it was necessary to protect the honor of white women.”

  • You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,/You’ve got to be taught from year to year,/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear./You’ve got to be carefully taught. Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics from the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” in the Broadway musical South Pacific (1949; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

QUOTE NOTE: The words of the song are delivered by Lt. Joe Cable, who is attempting to explain the origins of racial prejudice to his friend Emile. The song was quite controversial at the time, and both Rodgers and Hammerstein strongly resisted numerous recommendations to drop it completely from the production. When the show went on tour in the American South, Georgia legislators attempted to halt its staging by introducing a bill outlawing any form of entertainment that contained “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow” (happily, it failed to pass). Later in life, author James Michener (on whose 1947 novel the musical was based) reflected about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s decision to stick with the song: “The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.”

  • Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in a 1963 issue of Presbyterian Outlook (specific issue undetermined)
  • Whenever racial discrimination exists it is a tragic expression of man’s spiritual degeneracy and moral bankruptcy. Therefore, it must be removed not merely because it is diplomatically expedient, but because it is morally compelling. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” speech ay National Urban League meeting (Sep 6, 1960)
  • When a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which it is his chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip. Doris Lessing, a reflection of protagonist Mary Turner, in The Grass is Singing (1950)
  • Extreme racism is a serious mental illness. Alvin F. Poussaint, “They Hate. They Kill. Are They Insane?” in The New York Times (Aug. 26, 1999)

QUOTE NOTE: Dr. Poussaint was responding to the following remark from Dr. Renee Binder, of the American Psychiatry Association’s Council on Psychiatry and Law: “Racism is not something that is designated as an illness that can be treated by mental health professionals.”

  • I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Carl “Tuchy” Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)



  • The great improvement of the radio over the telephone is that it may be turned off without offending the speaker. Richard Armour, in It All Started with Columbus (1953)
  • The power of radio is not that it speaks to millions, but that it speaks intimately and privately to each one of those millions. Hallie Flanagan, in Dynamo (1943)
  • From talk radio to insult radio wasn’t really that much of a leap. Leonore Fleischer, the voice of the narrator, in The Fisher King (1991)
  • I have the perfect face for radio. Virginia Graham, in There Goes What’s Her Name (1965; with Jean Libman Block)
  • Love doesn't just drop on you unexpectedly; you have to give off signals, sort of like an amateur radio operator. Helen Gurley Brown, in a 1983 issue of Cosmopolitan (specific issue undetermined)
  • Middle age is when you get in the car and immediately change the radio station. Patricia Penton Leimbach, in All My Meadows (1977)
  • Radio is truly the theater of the mind. The listener constructs the sets, colors them from his own palette, and sculpts and costumes the characters who perform in them. Mercedes McCambridge, in The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (1981)
  • I had the radio on. Marilyn Monroe, responding to a question about whether she had posed for a 1947 pin-up calendar with nothing on; quoted in TimeMagazine (Aug. 11, 1952)
  • Radio is perhaps the single most important electronic invention of all, surpassing even the computer in its societal impact. Paul J. Nahin, in The Mathematical Radio (2024)

Nahin continued: “Even if we drop the ‘electronic’ qualifier, only the automobile can compete with radio in terms of its effect on changing the very structure of society.”

  • A discovery that makes it possible for a man to deliver a speech and not only bore those nearby, but others hundreds of miles away. Agnes Repplier, on the radio, quoted in Emma Repplier, Agnes Repplier (1957)
  • For some years I have had in mind a plan of development which would make radio a “household utility” in the same sense as a piano or phonograph. David Sarnoff, in a memorandum to Owen D. Young (Jan. 31, 1920)

QUOTE NOTE: Even Sarnoff, though, had to be surprised at how successful this new household utility would become. Nearly twenty years later, Sarnoff also saw the launch of another major invention, television. In his April 20, 1939 announcement that the National Broadcasting Company would begin regular television programming, Sarnoff said: “And now we add radio sight to sound.”

  • The polemics of right-wing radio are putting nothing less than hate onto the airwaves, into the marketplace, electing it to office, teaching it in schools, and exalting it as freedom. Patricia J. Williams, “Hate Radio,” in a 1994 issue of Ms. magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990)



  • Some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocrisies have, at times, thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage a little like a lion. John Adams, on himself, in a diary entry (April 26, 1779)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams viewed himself as an ordinary man elevated by the extraordinary events of his time. He introduced the foregoing thought by writing: “There is a feebleness and a languor in my nature. My mind and body both partake of this weakness. By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man.”

  • Outrage, combining as it does shock, anger, reproach, and helplessness, is perhaps the most unmanageable, the most demoralizing of all the emotions. Margery Allingham, the voice of the narrator, in Death of a Ghost (1934)
  • Only where there is reason to suspect that conditions could be changed and are not does rage arise. Hannah Arendt, in On Violence (1970)

Arendt introduced the thought by writing: “Rage is by no means an automatic reaction to misery and suffering as such; no one reacts with rage to an incurable disease or to an earthquake or, for that matter, to social conditions that seem to be unchangeable.”

  • Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village,” in Notes of a Native Son (1955)

QUOTE NOTE: Several years later, in 1961, Baldwin was one of a number of notable participants in a symposium on “The Negro in American Culture,” broadcast on WBAI-FM in New York City (later published in Cross Currents, Summer, 1961). Early in the proceedings, Baldwin amplified on his observation above: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

  • A reservoir of rage exists in each person, waiting to burst out. We fantasize about killing or humiliating our boss or the guy who took our parking space. It is only by growing up in a civilized society of law that we learn the idea of proportionate response. Rex Beaber, quoted in Time magazine (April 8, 1985)
  • Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers. Jimmy Breslin, quoted in The Times (London; May 9, 1990)
  • When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing. Octavia E. Butler, the character Joan Braithwaite speaking, in Fledgling: A Novel (2005)
  • We must learn how to explode! Any disease is healthier than the one provoked by a hoarded rage. E. M. Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1973)

Cioran introduced the thought by writing: “Vengeance is a need, the most intense and profound of all, and…each man must satisfy it, if only in words. If we stifle that need, we expose ourselves to certain disturbances. More than one disorder—perhaps all disorders—derive from a vengeance too long postponed.”

  • All great art comes from a sense of outrage. Glen Close, quoted in Nina Darnton, “Glen Closer,” More magazine (June, 2002)

More than a decade earlier, in a December 1991 issue of Us magazine, Close had offered a similar thought: “I’ve always felt that behind any great creation, there’s a sense of outrage. I don’t think complacent people can do disturbing art.”

  • My life has taken me from innocence to rage and back again. Judy Collins, in Prelude to Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music (2011)
  • Oppose not rage while rage is in its force, but give it way awhile and let it waste. John Dryden, the character Ulysses speaking, in his 1679 rewriting of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare, but it does not appear in the original 1602 production, often described as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” Dryden completely rewrote the play, even adding a Prologue spoken by a “ghost of Shakespeare.”

  • There are levels of outrage, and there’s a point at which you can’t be trespassed upon anymore. Certain things happen to you that cement your determination never to take it again. Marian Wright Edelman, quoted in Joyce Teitz, What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1972)
  • We wish to make rage into a fire that cooks things rather than a fire of conflagration. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in Women Who Run with the Wolves (1992)
  • Rage is to writers what water is to fish. Nikki Giovanni, “In Sympathy With Another Motherless Child,” in Sacred Cows…And Other Edibles (1988)
  • The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the voice of the narrator, in Young Goodman Brown (1835)
  • I’ve learned to live with my rage. In some ways, it’s my rage that keeps me going. Without it, I would have been whipped long ago. With it, I got a lot more songs to sing. Etta James, in Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (1995; with David Ritz)
  • The neglected legacy of the Sixties is just this: unabashed moral certitude, and the purity—the incredibly outgoing energy—of righteous rage. June Jordan, “Where Is the Rage?” in Technical Difficulties: African-American Notes on the State of the Union (1992)
  • Rage strengthens the hands, however feeble they may be. Ovid, in Amores (1st c. A.D.)
  • People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing. Will Rogers, quoted in Jacob Morton Braude, Second Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes (1957)
  • Outrage and possibility are in all the poems we know. Muriel Rukeyser, in The Life of Poetry (1949)
  • Rage made you the creature of those who enraged you, it gave them too much power. Rage killed the mind, and now more than ever the mind needed to live, to find a way of rising above the mindlessness. Salman Rushdie, describing the state of affairs after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012)

QUOTE NOTE: When Rushdie went into a full decade of hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa ordering his death, he chose Joseph Anton as his “cover” name (in homage to Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov). In the memoir, Rushdie made the somewhat unusual decision of writing about Joseph Anton (that is, about himself) in the third rather than the first person.

  • Men in rage strike those that wish them best. William Shakespeare, the character Iago speaking, in Othello (1602–04)
  • Given the ethnic and racial hierarchies of American life, there are those who dish it out and those who have to take it. Some get to dish it out without ever having to take it, some take it from those above and dish it out to those below, and some find themselves in the position of always having to take it. Elizabeth Stone, in Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins (1988)

Stone continued: “Such a position is, psychologically and emotionally speaking, almost unbearable. Rage and despair accumulate with no place to go.”

  • All his life Toselli’s smile had been stretched across his rage, like a tight-rope spanning a chasm. Josephine Tey (pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh), the narrator describing the character Mr. Toselli, in A Shilling for Candles (1936)
  • Being in a rage was rather like being out in a thunderstorm—you couldn’t hear yourself think. Patricia Wentworth, the narrator describing the thought process of the character Bill Waring, in The Ivory Dagger (1950)



  • It started to rain. Fat, heavy drops of summer rain—the kind that always struck her as vaguely lewd and debauched. Little potbellied drunkards, those summer raindrops, chortling on their way to earth and crashing open with glee. Tessa Dare, a reflection of protagonist Izzy Goodnight, in Romancing the Duke (2014)
  • Into each life some rain must fall;/Some days must be dark and dreary. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “The Rainy Day” (1842)
  • Any party which takes credit for the rain just not be surprised if its opponents blame it for the drought. Dwight Morrow in a speech (Oct. 10, 1930)



  • The chyroned inscriptions of our age,/Hewn nightly across our temple walls:/“Rancor is power, power rancor—/That’s all we know, and all we’ll ever know.” Sollace Mitchell, reply to John Keats, in unpublished poem “Palinode: Palmyra” (2020)
  • Rancor is an outpouring of a feeling of mediocrity. José Ortega y Gasset, in Meditations on Quixote (written 1914; pub. posthumously in 1957)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen this thought translated as, “Rancor emanates from a sense of inferiority.”

  • To be a good sportsman, one must be a stoic and never show rancor in defeat, or triumph in victory, or irritation, no matter what annoyance is encountered. Emily Post, in Etiquette: In Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922)

Post continued: “One who can not help sulking, or explaining, or protesting when the loser, or exulting when the winner, has no right to take part in games or contests.”

  • ’Tis not my speeches that you do mislike,/But ’tis my presence that doth trouble ye,/Rancor will out. William Shakespeare, the character Gloucester speaking to Cardinal Beaufort, in King Henry VI, Part Two (1592)
  • One cannot overestimate the power of a good rancorous hatred on the part of the stupid. The stupid have so much more industry and energy to expend on hating. They build it up like coral insects. Sylvia Townsend Warner, a 1954 diary entry, in The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995; Claire Harman, ed.)


(see also AGGRESSION and SEX and VIOLENCE)

  • It is little wonder that rape is one of the least-reported crimes. Perhaps it is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused and, in reality, it is she who must prove her good reputation, her mental soundness, and her impeccable propriety. Freda Adler, in Sisters in Crime (1975)
  • Rape is…nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear. Susan Brownmiller, in Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: About her book, now considered a feminist classic, Brownmiller wrote: “My purpose in this book has been to give rape its history. Now we must deny it a future.”

  • Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist bothers to buy a bottle of wine. Andrea Dworkin, in Letters from a War Zone (1988)
  • Rape is a form of violence involving the personal humiliation of the victim. Ruth Herschberger, “Is Rape A Myth?” (1948), in Betty Roszak and Theodore Roszak, Masculine/Feminine (1969)
  • In a rape situation, a jury can be made to believe a woman almost invites rape when she’s wearing tight pants or jeans, whereas a man in an expensive coat doesn’t suggest he should be mugged, and wearing a diamond doesn’t mean you are inviting robbery. Florynce R. Kennedy, in Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times (1976)
  • Rape is not aggressive sexuality. It’s sexualized aggression. Madeleine L’Engle, the character Chantal speaking, in Certain Women (1992)
  • Under rape in the dictionary it should tell the truth. It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything. Alice Sebold, in Lucky (1999)
  • Pornography is the theory, and rape the practice. Robin Morgan, “Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape,” in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: In A 1979 address at A Women Against Pornography Conference, Gloria Steinem echoed the theme: “Pornography is the instruction; rape is the practice, battered women are the practice, battered children are the practice.”



  • We admire and revere the soul which can ride its own passions and force them into obedience to the dictates of reason. Felix Adler, “Moral Ideals,” in Life and Destiny: or Thoughts from the Ethical Lectures of Felix Adler (1913)
  • Even intellectuals should have learned by now, post-postmodernism, that objective rationality is not the default position of the human mind, much less the bedrock of human affairs. Roy Blount, Jr., “Why I’m Not an Outsider Artist,” in Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South (2006)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet quotation sites present the quotation without the post-postmodernism phrase.

  • I no longer idolize reason. I have come to accept that ninety percent of what we do is irrational and that we spend what little rational thought we have in justifying our irrationality. Rita Mae Brown, in a 1988 Introduction to In Her Day (1976)
  • The human animal varies from class to class, culture to culture. In one way we are consistent: We are irrational. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)
  • Man stands face to face with the irrational. Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
  • Your ability to rationalize your own bad deeds makes you believe that the whole world is as amoral as you are. Douglas Coupland, in Shampoo Planet (1992)
  • The irrational haunts the metaphysical. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • The bore is usually considered a harmless creature, or of that class of irrational bipeds who hurt only themselves. Maria Edgeworth, in Thoughts on Bores (1826)
  • I personally have always been astonished by the tendency of so many academic psychologists, economists, and even anthropologists to treat human beings as entirely rational or nearly so. Murray Gell-Mann, in The Quark and the Jaguar (1994)

Gell-Mann, the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics, continued: “My own experience, whether engaging in introspection or observing others, has always been that rationality is only one of many factors governing human behavior and by no means always the dominant factor.”

  • What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational. G. W. F. Hegel, in Philosophy of Right (1821)
  • Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal. Robert A. Heinlein, “Gulf,” in Astounding Science Fiction (Oct.–Nov., 1949)
  • Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice. Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World Revisited (1958)
  • Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors. T. H. Huxley, “The Coming of age of the Origin of Species,” in Science and Culture and Other Essays (1881)
  • What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts. T. H. Huxley, “The Natural Inequality of Man,” in Nineteenth Century (January 1890); reprinted in Collected Essays vol. 1 (1893)
  • The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)

In comparing the rational to the intuitive mind, Lamott continued: “Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

  • We are again confronted with one of the most vexing aspects of advanced industrial civilization: the rational character of its irrationality. Herbert Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man (1964)
  • Sanity is a matter of culture and convention. If it’s a crazy culture you live in, then you have to be irrational to want to conform. Margaret Millar, the protagonist Daisy Harker speaking, in A Stranger in My Grave (1960)

Harker continued: “A completely rational person would recognize that the culture was crazy and refuse to conform. But by not conforming, he is the one who would be judged crazy by that particular society.”

  • At no time have I ever said that people should be stripped of their right to the insanity of belief in God. If they want to practice this kind of irrationality, that's their business. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, in interview in Playboy magazine (1962)

O’Hair continued: “It won’t get them anywhere; it certainly won’t make them happier or more compassionate human beings; but if they want to chew that particular cud. they’re welcome to it.”

  • Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness. George Jean Nathan, “Intelligence and Drama,” in The American Mercury (December 1925)
  • The whole art of politics consists in directing rationally the irrationalities of man. Reinhold Niebuhr, quoted in New York Times obituary (June 2, 1971)
  • Because history is only an aggregate of personal hostilities, personal prejudices, personal blindness and irrationality, there are times when we have to live against it. Anaïs Nin, “The New Woman,” in Ramparts Magazine (1974)
  • Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • He is irrational, however well he may be able to reason, who does not clearly see that good is good and truth truth. Coventry Patmore, in Basil Champneys, Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore (1900)
  • Irrationalism will use reason too, but without any feeling of obligation. Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2 (1971)
  • Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents. Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • All great art contains an element of the irrational. Edith Sitwell, a 1929 remark, quoted in Elizabeth Salter and Allanah Harper, Edith Sitwell: Fire of the Mind (1976)
  • We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will, therefore, always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in a letter to his son (Dec. 19, 1749)

Lord Chesterfield continued: “No, we are complicated machines; and though we have one main spring that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion.”

  • Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired. Jonathan Swift, in Letter to a Young Clergyman (January 9, 1720)
  • There is nothing so extravagant and and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth. Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver's Travels (1726)
  • Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational—but how much does it cost you to knock on wood? Judith Viorst, in Love and Guilt and the Meaning of Life, Etc. (1979)
  • The experience of the irrationality of the world has been the driving force of all religious revolution. Max Weber in “Politik als Beruf” (1919)
  • To me, irrationality is dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous force stalking through the world today. Frank Yerby, from “A Word to the Reader,” in Judas, My Brother (1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Yerby described the novel as “a demythologized account of the beginnings of Christianity,” and said he had been researching and writing it for thirty years. He preceded the thought above by writing: “This novel touches upon only two issues which, in a certain sense, might be called controversial: Whether any man truly has the right to believe fanciful and childish nonsense; and whether any organization has the right to impose, by almost imperial fiat, belief in things that are not so,”



  • Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit. Freda Adler, in Sisters in Crime (1975)
  • Many of us have elected to adjust our consciences rather than our lives. Our powers of rationalization are unlimited. They allow us to live in luxury and indifference while others, whom we could help if we chose to, starve and go to hell. Randy Alcorn, in Money, Possessions, and Eternity (1989; rev. 2003)
  • How quick come the reasons for approving what we like! Jane Austen, the voice of the narrator, in Persuasion (1818)
  • There's never been an act done since the beginning, from a kid stealing candy to a dictator committing genocide, that the person doing it didn’t think he was fully justified. That’s a mental trick called rationalizing, and it’s done the human race more harm than anything else you can name. Leigh Brackett, the character Hostetter speaking, in The Long Tomorrow (1955)
  • Your ability to rationalize your own bad deeds makes you believe that the whole world is as amoral as you are. Douglas Coupland, a maxim of protagonist Tyler Johnson, in Shampoo Planet (1992)
  • Any compulsion tries to justify itself. Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • Everybody makes excuses for themselves they wouldn’t be prepared to make for other people. Rebecca Goldstein, in Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (2014)
  • Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Dr. Baldwin speaking, in the short story “Gulf,” originally published in Astounding Science Fiction (October–November 1949); reprinted in Assignment in Eternity (1953)
  • Rationalization may be defined as self-deception by reasoning. Karen Horney, in Our Inner Conflicts (1945)
  • A critic is a person who rationalizes his likes and dislikes in such impressive language that the layman thinks he is reasoning instead of rationalizing. Helen McCloy, in Two-Thirds of a Ghost (1956)
  • What is reason for one man is rationalization for another. The variable is the accepted vocabulary of motives, the ultimates of (justificatory) discourse, of each man’s dominant group about whose opinion he cares. C. Wright Mills, “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive,” American Sociological Review (1940)
  • A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one. J. P. Morgan, quoted in Owen Wister, Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship (1930)
  • Rationalizing is faulty, defensive thinking, motivated by the desire to retain self-respect. It serves this purpose, at least temporarily, by enabling us to avoid facing issues and to excuse our failures. Norman Leslie Munn, in Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment (1946)
  • Rationalization is a cover-up, a process of providing one’s emotions with a false identity, of giving them spurious explanations and justifications—in order to hide one’s motives, not just from others, but primarily from oneself. Ayn Rand, “Philosophical Detection,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It? (1982)

Rand continued: “The price of rationalizing is the hampering, the distortion, and, ultimately, the destruction of one’s cognitive faculty. Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.”

ERROR ALERT: Many internet quotation collections, and even a number of Rand tribute sites, have this final phrase worded as a process of not rather than a process not of.

  • Rationalizing is the self-exculpation which occurs when we feel ourselves, or our group, accused of misapprehension or error. James Harvey Robinson, in The Mind in the Making (1939)
  • Rationalizing is the very opposite of reasoning; whereas reasoning works from evidence to conclusion, rationalizing works from conclusion to evidence. That is, rationalizing starts with what we want to be so and then selectively compiles “evidence” to prove that it is so. Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, in Beyond Feeling: A Guide to Critical Thinking (1995)
  • Rationalization is bad judgment’s best friend. When we do things that are not in alignment with our own values, we rationalize it. Kathy Stoddard Torrey, in “Integrity” weblog presentation (June 21, 2015)
  • We can always find noble reasons for what we want to do. Mary Heaton Vorse, “Why I Have Failed As a Mother,” in a 1924 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Joseph Addison, in The Tatler (March 18, 1709)

Addison added: “As by the one, health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated; by the other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed.”

  • Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. Mortimer J. Adler, in How to Read a Book (1940, rev. 1972)
  • Children read to learn—even when they are reading fantasy, nonsense, light verse, comics, or the copy on cereal packets, they are expanding their minds all the time, enlarging their vocabulary, making discoveries; it is all new to them. Joan Aiken, in The Way to Write for Children (1982)
  • If reading becomes a bore, mental death is on the way. Children taught to read by tedious mechanical means rapidly learn to skim over the dull text without bothering to delve into its implications—which in time will make them prey to propaganda and to assertions based on scanty evidence, or none. Joan Aiken, quoted in Jim Burke, Reading Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques (2000)
  • One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well. A. Bronson Alcott, “Quotation,” in Table Talk (1877)
  • To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry. Gaston Bachelard, in Fragments of a Poetics of Fire (1988)
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Francis Bacon, “Of Studies,” in Meditationes sacrae (1597)

Bacon preceded this famous thought by writing: “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse—but to weigh and consider.”

Bacon's “Of Studies” essay also contained this thought: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”

  • People who read are a lot more tolerant and open-minded than those who don’t. David Baldacci, the character Decker speaking, in The Last Mile (2016)
  • You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation to the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. James Baldwin, in 1961 interview with Studs Terkel; reprinted in Conversations with James Baldwin (1989; F. L. Standley & L. H. Pratt, eds.)
  • You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. James Baldwin, in interview in Life magazine (May 1963)
  • The trouble with education is that we always read everything when we’re too young to know what it means. And the trouble with life is that we’re always too busy to re-read it later. Margaret A. Barnes, in Years of Grace (1930)
  • A writer is a reader moved to emulation. Saul Bellow, quoted in Daniel Brown & Bill Burnette, Connections: A Rhetoric/Short Prose Reader (1984)
  • The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours. Alan Bennett, the character Hector speaking, in The History Boys (2004)
  • When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. John Berger, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” in Keeping a Rendezvous (1992)

Berger continued: “What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.”

  • I had a perfect confidence, still unshaken, in books. If you read enough you would reach the point of no return. You would cross over and arrive on the safe side. There you would drink the strong waters and become addicted, perhaps demented—but a Reader. Helen Bevington, in The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm (1971)
  • The sheer pleasure of time spent in a vivid elsewhere. Sven Birkerts, on the experience of reading, from “Love’s Wound, Love’s Salve,” in Anne Fadiman, Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005)
  • Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. Harold Bloom, in Preface to How to Read and Why (2000)
  • A conventional good read is usually a bad read, a relaxing bath in what we already know. Malcolm Bradbury, quoted in Sunday Times (London, Nov. 29, 1987)

Bradbury added: “A true good read is surely an act of innovative creation in which we, the readers, become conspirators.”

  • There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. Joseph Brodsky, remarks at a Library of Congress press conference (May 17, 1991) on his appointment as the Poet Laureate of the United States
  • Reading is very important—read between the lines. Don’t swallow everything. Gwendolyn Brooks, quoted in Jet magazine (Dec. 12, 1988)
  • To describe my scarce leisure time in today’s terms, I always default to reading. Jimmy Buffett, “Writing Away Again in Margaritaville,” in BookPage.com interview by Tom Corcoran (June, 1998)
  • Reading without purpose is sauntering, not exercise. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, “Readers and Writers,” in Caxtoniana: Hints on Mental Culture (1862)

Bulwer-Lytton added: “More is got from one book on which the thought settles for a definite end in knowledge, than from libraries skimmed over by a wandering eye.”

  • For me, reading books and writing them are tied together. The words of other writers teach me and refresh me and inspire me. Betsy Byars, in The Moon and I (1991)
  • I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone. John Cheever, quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 24, 1979)
  • The mere brute pleasure of reading—the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing. G. K. Chesterton, quoted in Dudley Barker, G. K. Chesterton (1973)
  • Happy is he who has laid up in his youth, and held fast in all fortune, a genuine and passionate love of reading. Rufus Choate, in speech at the dedication of the Peabody Institute (Sep. 29, 1854)
  • Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, 6th Selection (1989)
  • Some read to think, these are rare; some to write, these are common; and some read to talk, and these form the great majority. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)

Charles Lamb was likely inspired by this observation when he wrote five years later in The New Times (Jan. 13, 1825): “We read to say we have read,”

  • To read good books is like holding a conversation with the most eminent minds of past centuries and, moreover, a studied conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts. René Descartes, in Discourse on Method (1637)
  • This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life. Charles Dickens, the title character, in David Copperfield (1850)
  • Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading—that is a good life. Annie Dillard, “The Writing Life,” in a 1988 issue of Tikkun; reprinted in The Writing Life (2005)
  • Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
  • Reading to most people, means an ashamed way of killing time disguised under a dignified name. Ernest Dimnet, in The Art of Thinking (1928)
  • There is so much to read and the days are so short! I get more hungry for knowledge every day, and less able to satisfy my hunger. George Eliot, in an 1857 letter, quoted in The George Eliot Letters, Vol. 2 (1954; Gordon S. Haight, ed.)
  • No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather, we who read it are no longer the same interpreters. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • There is creative reading as well as creative writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (Oct. 29–30, 1836); reprinted in The American Scholar (1837)
  • ’Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Success,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • The profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until an equal mind and heart find and publish it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Quotation and Originality,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)
  • Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss. Nora Ephron, in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman (2006)

Ephron introduced the thought by writing: “Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on.”

  • The reader who plucks a book from her shelf only once is as deprived as the listener who, after attending a single performance of a Beethoven symphony, never hears it again. Anne Fadiman, on rereading books, in the Foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005)

Later in the Foreword, Fadiman wrote: “Rereading forces you to spend time, at claustrophobically close range, with your earnest, anxious, pretentious, embarrassing former self, a person you thought you had left behind but who turns out to have been living inside you all along.”

  • Reading is not an operation performed on something inert but a relationship entered into with another vital being. Clifton Fadiman, in Reading I’ve Liked (1941)
  • Reading is an activity of the imagination, and the imagination in question is not the writer’s alone. Thomas C. Foster, in How to Read Literature Like a Professor (2003)
  • Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man. Benjamin Franklin, in a 1738 issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack
  • The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound—that he will never get over it. Robert Frost, “The Poetry of Amy Lowell,” in The Christian Science Monitor (May 16, 1925)
  • The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. Neil Gaiman, in The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction (2016)
  • Every private library is a reading plan. José Gaos, quoted in Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (1996)
  • The use of our reading is to aid us in thinking. Edward Gibbon, “Abstract of My Readings“ (March 14, 1761), in The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq. (1837)

Gibbon added: “The perusal of a particular work gives birth, perhaps, to ideas unconnected with the subject of which it treats.”

  • To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him, and travel in his company. André Gide, “Third Imaginary Interview,” in Pretexts (1903)
  • It’s called “reading.” It’s how people install new software into their brains. Randy Glasbergen, caption for cartoon (teacher to a student holding a book). To see the original cartoon, go to: Glasbergen (used with permission).
  • Reading is a joy, but not an unalloyed joy. Books do not make life easier or more simple, but harder and more interesting. Harry Golden, in So What Else is New? (1964)

Golden continued: “Reading is a partnership. Like any partnership, you get as much out of it as you put into it. Some partnerships are profitable, some just dead horses.”

  • The mind must be developed by you alone. There is no way for others to do the work and for you to reap the results. Reading someone else’s blueprint of mental progress will not transfer its realizations to you. You have to develop them yourself. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life (2003; Jeffrey Hopkins, ed.)
  • The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination. Elizabeth Hardwick, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 1985)
  • Reading is an escape, an education, a delving into the brain of another human being on such an intimate level that every nuance of thought, every snapping of synapse, every slippery desire of the author is laid open before you like, well, a book. Cynthia Heimel, “The Reader’s Lifetime Sadomasochism Diet,” in The New York Times Book Review (March 23, 1986)

Heimel began the article by writing: “Reading a book by a good writer is the most pleasurable experience possible, even better than eating a freshly baked brownie dipped with chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream sprinkled with nuts. With a side of champagne truffles.”

  • I’m always reading books—as many as there are. I ration myself on them so that I’ll always be in supply. Ernest Hemingway. in Paris Review interview (May, 1954)
  • Reading is like permitting a man to talk a long time, and refusing you the right to say anything in rebuttal. E. W. Howe, quoted in S. J. Sackett, E. W. Howe (1972)
  • To learn to read is to kindle a fire; every syllable spelled sparkles. Victor Hugo, the narrator extolling the benefits of public education, in Les Misérables (1862; trans. by Julie Rose)

The narrator preceded this thought by saying: “The true division of humanity is this: the luminous and the dark. To diminish the number of the dark, to increase the number of the luminous, behold the aim. That is why we cry: education, knowledge!”

QUOTE NOTE: This passage, translated by Rose in 1994, was rendered in the following way in an 1887 translation by Isabel F. Hapgood): “The real human division is this: the luminous and the shady. To diminish the number of the shady, to augment the number of the luminous—that is the object. That is why we cry: Education! Science! To teach reading, means to light the fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.”

  • A book is not complete until it has found a mate who can read and understand. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)
  • Never put off till to-morrow the book you can read to-day. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)
  • Most agree that books worth reading are worth reading more than once. Holbrook Jackson, in The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly present the observation as if it ended “are worth re-reading.”

  • If we are imprisoned in ourselves, books provide us with the means of escape. If we have run too far away from ourselves, books show us the way back. Holbrook Jackson, in Maxims of Books and Reading (1934)
  • The better the book the more room for the reader. Holbrook Jackson, in Maxims of Books and Reading (1934)
  • We need the slower and more lasting stimulus of solitary reading as a relief from the pressure on eye, ear, and nerves of the torrent of information and entertainment pouring from ever-open electronic jaws. It could end by stupefying us. Storm Jameson, in Parthian Words (1970)
  • A lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity, that ever were written. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Robert Skipwith (Aug. 3, 1771)
  • What is read with delight is commonly retained, because pleasure always secures attention; but the books which are consulted by occasional necessity, and perused with impatience, seldom leave any traces on the mind. Samuel Johnson, in The Idler (Sep. 15, 1759)

These were the concluding words of the essay. On the importance of securing attention, Johnson had earlier written: “The true art of memory is the art of attention.”

  • The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book. Samuel Johnson, an April 6, 1775 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • A book is a box brimming with incendiary material. The reader strikes the match. Erica Jong, quoted in a 2003 issue of The Writer magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Reading in bed can be heaven, assuming you can get just the right amount of light on the page and aren’t prone to spilling your coffee or cognac on the sheets. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)

In the book, King also wrote: “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

  • That’s the curse of the reading class. We can be seduced by a good story even at the most inopportune moments. Stephen King, a reflection of narrator George Amberson, in 11/22/63: A Novel (2011)
  • If a man is keen on reading, I think he ought to open his mind to some older man who knows him and his life, and to take his advice in the matter, and above all, to discuss with him the first books that interest him. Rudyard Kipling, “The Uses of Reading,” in A Book of Words (1928)

Kipling preceded the thought by writing: “One can’t prescribe books, even the best books, to people unless one knows a good deal about each individual person.”

  • I love to lose myself in other men’s minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me. Charles Lamb, “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading,” in Last Essays of Elia (1833)
  • It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time. Louis L’Amour, in Education of a Wandering Man (1989)
  • What is reading but silent conversation? Walter Savage Landor, “Aristoteles and Callisthenes,” in Imaginary Conversations (1824–53)
  • I’m an incredibly promiscuous reader, a slut of literature. Fran Lebowitz, quoted in The Advocate (May 28, 1996)

Lebowitz continued: “I read two to four mysteries a week. I don’t care who did it. I read them for the soothing prose.”

  • Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. Harper Lee, a reflection of Scout Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • As you read [a book] word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Language of the Night: Essays of Science and Science Fiction (1979)
  • The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989)
  • Reading is performance. The reader—the child under the blanket with a flashlight, the woman at the kitchen table, the man at the library desk—performs the work. The performance is silent. The readers hear the sounds of the words and the beat of the sentences only in their inner ear. Silent drummers on noiseless drums. An amazing performance in an amazing theater. Ursula K. Le Guin, “Collectors, Rhymesters, and Drummers,” in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)
  • Reading means borrowing. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Reflections (1799)
  • I forget the greater part of what I read, but all the same it nourishes my mind. G. C. Lichtenberg, in Reflections (1799)
  • Many readers judge the power of a book by the shock it gives their feelings—as some savage tribes determine the power of muskets by their recoil; that being considered best which fairly prostrates the purchaser. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Kavanagh (1849)
  • I learned to read from Mrs. Augusta Baker, the children’s librarian…. If that was the only good deed that lady ever did in her life, may she rest in peace. Because that deed saved my life, if not sooner, then later, when sometimes the only thing I had to hold on to was knowing I could read. Audre Lorde, in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
  • Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning. Rose Macaulay, “Problems of a Reader’s Life,” in A Casual Commentary (1926)
  • The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books. Katherine Mansfield, in The letters of Katherine Mansfield (1928; J. M. Murry, ed.)
  • To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life. W. Somerset Maugham, in Books and You (1940)
  • A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader. It provides that necessary roughage in the literary diet. Phyllis McGinley, “New Year and No Resolutions,” in Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (1959)
  • I don’t think we should read for instruction but to give our souls a chance to luxuriate. Henry Miller, in 1976 letter to Brenda Venus, in Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller to Brenda Venus (1986 (G. S. Sindell, Ed.)

ERROR ALERT: In almost all blogs and internet sites, this quotation is mistakenly presented as: “We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.”

  • No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in letter to her daughter, Lady Mary Stuart Bute (June 22, 1752)

QUOTE NOTE: Lady Montagu was advising her adult daughter on the raising of her own daughter Louisa, who was then approaching her fifth birthday. On the special benefits that reading might provide to girls, Lady Montagu added: “She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet.” The advice appeared to work. Louisa became an avid reader, attempted a first novel at age ten, and went on to become well known for her own writing (although as Lady Louisa, she refused to have any of her works published under her own name in her lifetime).

  • He that I am reading seems always to have the most force. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • Study has been my sovereign remedy against the worries of life. I have never had a care that an hour’s reading could not dispel. Charles de Montesquieu, in My Thoughts, 1720-55 (1899)

QUOTE NOTE: This lovely tribute to reading has been translated in a number of interesting ways:

“Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the vexations of life, having never had an annoyance that one hour’s reading did not dissipate.”

“Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against all the disappointments of life. I have never known any trouble that an hour’s reading would not dissipate.”

  • If you read twenty or thirty pages by a writer, and want to continue, you are in his sea and swimming in that sea. He can write quite badly after that. Because by that time, you’re in his sea, and you’re moving forward. Brian Moore, quoted in Rosemary Hartill, Writers Revealed (1989)
  • A cow stands in clover. When she is milked, that is her work; when she is merely eating, that is her play…. Not a handsome or elegant analogy, but it approximates for me the habit of reading—standing in a world of clover, the eating of which is occasionally utilitarian, usually nourishing. Toni Morrison, “Reading for Work and Pleasure,” in The New York Times Book Review (Dec. 4, 1983)
  • Whatever the theologians might say about Heaven being a state of union with God, I knew it consisted of an infinite library; and eternity…was simply what enabled one to read uninterruptedly forever. Dervla Murphy, in Wheels Within Wheels (1979)
  • The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Assorted Opinions and Maxims (1879)
  • Some people read to confirm their own hopelessness. Others read to be rescued from it. Anaïs Nin, “The New Woman,” an April, 1974 talk in San Francisco; broadcast on KPFA-Radio (May 28, 1974) and reprinted in Ramparts magazine (May, 1974)
  • Traversing a slow page, to come upon a lode of pure shining metal is to exult inwardly for greedy hours.  Kathleen Thompson Norris, “Beauty in Letters,” in These I Like Best (1941)
  • I suppose I read now for the reasons I’ve always read—because it takes me out of myself, it enlarges me and pushes me into new relationships with other people, other stories, and the human imagination itself. Reading is a transformative activity. Kathleen Norris, “In My Mother’s Lap,” in Michael Dorris and Emilie Buchwald, The Most Wonderful Books (1997)
  • It is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin; another’s voice; another’s soul. Joyce Carol Oates, on reading, in “Literature as Pleasure, Pleasure as Literature,” Antaeus (Autumn, 1987); reprinted in (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities (1988)

ERROR ALERT: This has become one of Oate’s most popular observations, but it is almost always mistakenly presented as if it began: Reading is the sole means….

  • The transaction between writer and reader is human civilization’s most dazzling feat, yet it’s such a part of our lives that it’s, well, prosaic. Patricia T. O’Connor, “The Phenomenon of Reading,” in Inside Borders (1999)
  • The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before. Katherine Paterson, in The Horn Book (1991)
  • With one day’s reading a man may have the key in his hands. Ezra Pound, in Pisan Cantos (1948, canto 74)
  • There are times in one’s life when a good book—the right book—feels like a voice speaking in the darkness, or a hand reaching out from the past; providing solace when all else seems lost. Justine Picardie, “What to Read When You’re Feeling…Heartbroken” (her regular “Bibliotherapy” column), The Sunday Telegraph (London; Sep. 7, 2008)
  • Reading. . .that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude. Marcel Proust, in Preface to his 1904 translation of John Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens (1885)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it began Reading is that fruitful miracle.

  • Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. Marcel Proust, in Time Regained (1926), Vol. VII of In Search of Lost Time (formerly Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated as follows: “In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.”

  • Readers themselves, I think, contribute to a book. They add their own imaginations, and it is as though the writer only gave them something to work on, and they did the rest. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, quoted in Rodger L. Tarr, Max and Marjorie (1999)
  • She could give herself up to the written word as naturally as a good dancer to music or a fine swimmer to water. Jean Rhys, from the short story “The Insect World,” in Sleep It Off, Lady (1976).

Describing the character Audrey, a single working woman in London during WWII, the narrator of the story continued: “The only difficulty, was that after finishing the last sentence, she was left with a feeling at once hollow and uncomfortably full. Exactly like indigestion.”

  • Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a very dangerous enemy indeed. Anne Rice, a reflection of the character Petyr van Abel, in The Witching Hour (1990)
  • Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere. Hazel Rochman, “Against Borders,” in The Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 1995)
  • The greatest luxury I know is sitting up reading in bed. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • Of all the nations in the Western world, the United States, with the most money and the most time, has the fewest readers of books per capita. This is an incalculable loss. This, too, is one of the few civilized nations in the world which is unable to support a single magazine devoted solely to books. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
  • From reading of the people I admired—ranging from the soldiers of Valley Forge and Morgan's riflemen to my Southern forefathers and kinfolk—I felt a great admiration for men who were fearless and who could hold their own in the world. And I had a great desire to be like them. Theodore Roosevelt, in An Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt (1913)

Roosevelt preceded the thought by writing: “Having been a sickly boy, with no natural bodily prowess, and having lived much at home, I was at first quite unable to hold my own when thrown into contact with other boys of rougher antecedents. I was nervous and timid.”

  • Reading isn’t just what happens when you sit alone with a book. It’s also what happens afterwards when you turn a passage over and over in your mind or quote it to a friend or ask someone else who read the book what she thinks of it. In other words, you haven’t really read something until you’ve argued about it with everyone you know. Becca Rothfeld, a Washington Post book critic, in her speech accepting the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, at the National Book Critics Circle Awards ceremony (March 21, 2024)
  • There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere. Mary Schmich, “Now Boarding At Any Newspaper, Magazine, Or Book,” in the Chicago Tribune (Oct. 28, 1998)

QUOTE NOTE: Schmich, the recipient of a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, wasn’t the first to view reading as a ticket or a form of travel, but she certainly crafted the most quoteworthy observation on the subject. For more on the ticket/travel metaphor, see the October, 2015 post by quotation researcher Barry Popik.

  • Reading is equivalent to thinking with someone else’s head instead of with one’s own. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

In his 1993 memoir In the Web of Ideas: The Education of a Publisher, Charles Scribner, Jr. echoed Schopenhauer’s thought, and expanded on it: “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own. When you are reading a book by a great mind you have to stand on tiptoe, so to speak, to grasp the whole of what is being said.”

  • Don’t ask who’s influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life. Giorgos (George) Seferis, quoted in “A Greek Poet’s Odyssey,” Life magazine (Jan. 17, 1964)
  • Each reader puts his or her own stamp on a book’s meaning as surely as any editor puts his or her stamp on the words. Shawn Christopher Shea, in Happiness Is.: Unexpected Answers to Practical Questions in Curious Times (2004)

Shea continued: “Many gifted writers have been keenly aware of this fact—that their final period does not end the creative process. It begins it.”

  • People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. Logan Pearsall Smith, in Myself—Afterthoughts (1931)
  • Let us see the result of good food in a strong body, and the result of great reading in a full and powerful mind. Sydney Smith, “On the Conduct of the Understanding,” in Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1849)

Smith introduced the thought by writing: “It is no more necessary that a man should remember the different dinners and suppers which have made him healthy than the different books which have made him wise.” Two years later, in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), Arthur Schopenhauer flirted with plagiarism when he wrote: “To expect a man to retain everything that he has ever read is like expecting him to carry about in his body everything that he has ever eaten.”

  • A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness. Susan Sontag, in Paris Review interview (Winter 1995)
  • Reading is seeing by proxy. Herbert Spencer, in The Study of Sociology (1873)

Spencer added that reading “is learning indirectly through another man’s faculties instead of directly through one’s own.”

  • But reading is not idleness…it is the passive, receptive side of civilization without which the active and creative world would be meaningless. Stephen Spender, journal entry (Jan. 4, 1980)

Spender added about reading: “It is the immortal spirit of the dead realized within the bodies of the living. It is sacramental.”

  • I was at that age when reading was still a passion and thus, save for a happy marriage, the best state possible in which to keep absolute loneliness at bay. William Styron, a reflection of the protagonist Stingo, in Sophie’s Choice (1979)
  • When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1696–1706 (1711)

ERROR ALERT: In her otherwise wonderful How Reading Changed My Life (1998) Anna Quindlen mistakenly attributed this observation to Michel de Montaigne.

  • How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. Henry David Thoreau, “Reading,” in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: For Thoreau, the book in question was Emerson’s Nature, published in 1836. And for me—as well as countless others over the years—the book that dated a new era was Walden. Thoreau introduced the thought by writing: “There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us.”

  • The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade. Anthony Trollope, in a London speech (Dec. 7, 1868)
  • Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers. Harry S Truman, in unmailed letter to Governor Orville Freeman of Minnesota; reprinted in M. M. Poen, Strictly Personal and Confidential—The Letters Harry Truman Never Mailed (1982)
  • I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle. Kurt Vonnegut, in “The Noodle Factory,” speech at the dedication of the Shain Library, Connecticut College, New London, CT (Oct. 1, 1976)
  • I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place. Anne Tyler, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Aaron Woolcott, in The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)
  • One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by. Jeannette Walls, in her 2005 memoir The Glass Castle
  • As far as possible I only read what I am hungry for, at the moment when I have an appetite for it, and then I do not read, I eat. Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • None but the lonely heart, they say, keeps a diary. None but a lonelier heart, perhaps, reads one. The diary keeper has no one to speak to; the diary reader has no one who speaks to him. The diary writer is at least talking to himself. The diary reader is listening to a man talking to himself. Jessamyn West, in A Matter of Time (1966)
  • Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope. E. B. White, on William Strunk and his “concern for the bewildered reader” who was lost in a swamp of words, in Introduction to Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (2nd edition, 1972)
  • In a sense, one can never read the book that the author originally wrote, and one can never read the same book twice. Edmund Wilson, in Foreword to The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subjects (revised 1948 ed.)

ERROR ALERT: Most Internet sites mistakenly present a paraphrased version of this observation: “No two persons ever read the same book.”

  • Books showed me there were possibilities in life, that there were actually people like me living in a world I could not only aspire to but attain. Reading gave me hope. For me, it was the open door. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Nellie Bly, Oprah: Up Close and Down Home (1993)
  • Once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing. Virginia Woolf, the voice of the narrator, in Orlando (1928)
  • I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.” Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” in The Common Reader, 2nd series (1932)
  • Reading, you know, is rather like opening the door to a horde of rebels who swarm out attacking one in twenty places at once—hit, roused, scraped, bared, swung through the air, so that life seems to flash by; then again blinded, knocked on the head—all of which are agreeable sensations for a reader (since nothing is more dismal than to open the door and get no response). Virginia Woolf, in A Letter to a Young Poet (1932)
  • As I read, my ears are opened to the magic of the spoken word. Richard Wright, in 12 Million Black Voices (1941)
  • When I only begin to read, I forget I’m on this world. It lifts me on wings with high thoughts. Anzia Yezierska, in “Wings,” in Hungry Hearts (1920)
  • Reading liberates the reader and transports him from his book to a reading of himself and all of life. Gabriel Zaid, in So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (1996)

Zaid, continued: “It leads him to participate in conversations, and in some cases to arrange them, as so many active readers do.”



  • Of all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it be readable. Anthony Trollope, in An Autobiography (1883)



  • The geniuses who conduct the motion-picture business killed glamour when they decided that what the public wanted was not dream stuff, from which movies used to be made, but realism. Hedda Hopper, in The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963; with James Brough)
  • All dramatic realism is somewhat sadistic; an audience is persuaded to watch something that makes it uncomfortable and from which no relief is offered—no laughter, no tears, no purgation. Mary McCarthy, “The American Realist Playwrights,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • Nothing is less real than realism—details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things. Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist (1980)
  • Satire is people as they are; romanticism, people as they would like to be; realism, people as they seem with their insides left out. Dawn Powell, quoted in Richard Lingeman, “She Took a Village,” in The Nation (Nov. 16, 1998)


(see also FANTASY and REALISM)

  • Realism is a very sophisticated form of literature, a very grown-up one. And that may be its weakness. But fantasy seems to be eternal and omnipresent and always attractive to kids. Ursula K. Le Guin, in Paris Review interview ( Fall 2013)


  • If someone tells you he is going to make a “realistic decision,” you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad. Mary McCarthy, “American Realist Playwrights,” in On the Contrary (1961)



  • The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling as the one which exists only in the mind’s eye. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • His mistaken belief in his own superiority cut him off from reality as completely as if he were living in a colored glass jar. Margery Allingham, protagonist Albert Campion’s reflection the character Lee Aubrey, a brilliant, but sinister megalomaniac, in Traitor’s Purse (1941)
  • My greatest enemy is reality. I have fought it successfully for thirty years. Margaret Anderson, in My Thirty Years’ War: An Autobiography (1930)
  • Reality is for people who lack imagination. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying has been appearing on t-shirts and car bumper stickers since the 1980s.

  • We live in a nightmare of falsehoods, and there are few who are sufficiently awake and aware to see things as they are. Our first duty is to clear away illusions and recover a sense of reality. Nikolai Berdyaev, in “Political Testament,” in World Review (March 1949)
  • He who has the bigger stick has the better chance of imposing his definitions of reality. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, in The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966)
  • Reality, n. The dream of a mad philosopher. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won't get us very far. Niels Bohr, in 1927 remarks after the Solvay Conference. quoted in Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond (1971)

Bohr preceded the observation by saying: “I myself find the division of the world into an objective and a subjective side much too arbitrary.”

  • Reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry. Georges Braque, quoted in his New York Times obituary (Sep. 2, 1963)
  • In art as in politics we must deal with people as they are not as we wish them to be. Only by working with the real can you get closer to the ideal. Rita Mae Brown, in “A Note to the Feminist Reader,” at the beginning of In Her Day (1976)
  • It is a narrow little house which becomes a prison to those who can’t get out of it. Joyce Cary, on a concept or symbol as an expression of reality, in Art and Reality (1958)

Cary introduced the thought by writing: “We have to have conceptual knowledge to organize our societies, to save our own lives, to lay down general ends for conduct, to engage in any activity at all, but that knowledge, like the walls we put up to keep out the weather, shuts out the real world and the sky.”

ERROR ALERT: ALmost all internet sites mistakenly present Cary’s observation as if it began Reality is a narrow…. It is not reality that is a narrow little house, according to Cary, but the symbols and concepts created by human beings to represent reality.

  • There was no substitute for reality; one should beware of imitations. Arthur C. Clarke, the voice of the narrator, in The Fountains of Paradise (1979)
  • Reality has a well-known liberal bias. Stephen Colbert, in remarks at White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (Washington, DC; April 29, 2006)
  • Normally, we take our reference frame for granted; we mistake it for “reality.” K. C. Cole, in The Universe and the Teacup (1998),
  • Reality, as usual, beats fiction out of sight. Joseph Conrad, on wartime, in a letter to a friend (Aug. 11, 1915)
  • Reality always comes dressed in a point of view, try as we might to lay it bare. Kelly Corrigan, in Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say (2018)
  • There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality. Richard Dawkins, in “Slaves to Superstition,” episode one of the Channel Four documentary film The Enemies of Reason (August 13, 2007)
  • Reality, to me, is not so much something you perceive, but something you make. Philip K. Dick in “The Android and the Human” (1972)
  • Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away. Philip K. Dick, the narrator, a science fiction writer named Phil, recalling an observation he had once made in a lecture, in Valis (1981)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Dick’s most popular quotations. In the book, it is part of this larger observation: “Once, when I lectured at the University of California at Fullerton, a student asked me for a short, simple definition of reality. I thought it over and answered, ‘Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away’.” In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Fred Shapiro writes that Dick first offered the line in a 1978 lecture, “How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart in Two Days.”

  • Human intellectual progress, such as it has been, results from our long struggle to see things “as they are,” or in the most universally comprehensive way, and not as projections of our own emotions. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (2009)

Ehrenreich continued: “Thunder is not a tantrum in the sky, disease is not a divine punishment, and not every death or accident results from witchcraft.”

In her book, Ehrenreich also offered an observation that seemed relevant at the beginning in the early stages of the Covid pandemic: “When the stakes are high enough and the risks obvious, we still turn to people who can be counted on to understand those risks and prepare for worst-case scenarios. A chief of state does not want to hear a general in the field say that he 'hopes' to win tomorrow's battle or that he's he’s ‘visualizing victory.’”

  • As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. Albert Einstein, in Sidelights on Relativity (1922)
  • My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Albert Einstein, in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981)
  • Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality. T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” in Four Quartets (1943)
  • For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled. Richard Feynman, quoted in the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986)
  • Reality? It is only the illusion we can agree upon. James Gunn, in The Joy Makers (1961)
  • The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable, and nobody is qualified to say that he or she knows exactly what it is. Margaret Halsey, in No Laughing Matter (1977)

Halsey continued: “As a matter of fact, with a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before. Protestantism itself is proof of that.”

  • Reality is unbelievably terrifying after one has done nothing but dream. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith: A Memoir (1942)
  • Reality cannot be ignored except at a price; and the longer the ignorance is persisted in, the higher and the more terrible becomes the price that must be paid. Aldous Huxley, “Religion and Time,” in Vedanta for the Western World (1945; Christopher Isherwood, ed.)
  • I’ve found that people who look at things as they are, and not as they wish them to be, are the ones who succeed. Sarah Orne Jewett, “Farmer Finch,” in A White Heron and Other Stories (1886)
  • Love is basic for the very survival of mankind. I’m convinced that love is the only absolute ultimately; love is the highest good. He who loves has somehow discovered the meaning of ultimate reality. Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood (Feb. 25, 1965)

Dr. King continued: “He who hates does not know God; he who hates has no knowledge of God. Love is the supreme unifying principle of life.”

  • Reality does not discuss, it simply is. Milan Kundera, in Life is Elsewhere (1974)
  • Reality is terrible. It can kill you. Given time, it certainly will kill you…. But it’s the lies, the evasions of reality, that drive you crazy. Ursula Le Guin, in The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)
  • Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. John Lennon, quoted in Sunday Herald Sun (London; January 19, 2003)
  • Without our knowing it, we see reality through glasses colored by the subconscious memory of previous experiences. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island (1955)
  • Reality is something you rise above. Liza Minnelli, quoted in George Mair, Under the Rainbow: The Real Liza Minnelli (1996)
  • We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality. Iris Murdoch, quoted in Rachel Billington, “Profile: Iris Murdoch,” The London Times (1983)
  • What we call reality is an agreement that people have arrived at to make life more livable. Louise Nevelson, quoted in a 1974 issue of Newsweek (specific issue undetermined)
  • Reality is the only place you can deal from. If you’re still worrying about the way things should be, you haven’t even approached the starting line. Georgette Mosbacher, in Feminine Force: Release the Power Within You to Create the Life You Deserve (1993)
  • Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose,” Tribune (London; March 22, 1946)
  • The world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. George Orwell, the voice of the narrator, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
  • Is it possible that reality is just another illusion? Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 31, 2020)
  • A fundamental value in the scientific outlook is concern with the best available map of reality. Anatol Rapoport, in Science and the Goals of Man (1950)
  • Things are as they are, and no amount of self-deception makes them otherwise. Agnes Repplier, in Points of Friction (1920)
  • My belief or non-belief does not alter reality. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)
  • Fearful as reality is: it is less fearful than evasions of reality. Caitlin Thomas, in Not Quite Posthumous Letter to My Daughter (1963)

In her book, Thomas went on to write: “So it is useless to evade reality, because it only makes it more virulent in the end. But instead, look steadfastly into the slit, pin-pointed, malignant eyes of reality: as an old-hand trainer dominates his wild beasts. Take it by the scruff of the neck, and shake the evil intent out of it; till it rattles out harmlessly, like gall bladder stones, fossilized on the floor.”

  • One of the definitions of sanity, itself, is the ability to tell real from unreal. Shall we need a new definition? Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock (1970)
  • If you can recognize illusion as illusion, it dissolves. The recognition of illusion is also its ending. Its survival depends on your mistaking it for reality. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005)
  • Reality can be magnificent even when life is not. Liv Ullmann, in Changing (1976)
  • Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them. Jules Verne, quoted in I. O. Evans, Jules Verne and His Work (1966)
  • Reality is a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs. Jane Wagner, in Appearing Nitely (1977)
  • What is reality anyway! It’s nothing but a collective hunch. Jane Wagner, in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1985; the words spoken by Lily Tomlin)

In the words for Tomlin’s legendary one-woman show, Wagner also wrote: “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. I can take it in small doses, but as a lifestyle I found it too confining.”

  • It is notorious that illusions are shattered by conflict with reality, so no real happiness, no real wit, no real profundity are tolerated where the illusion prevails. Virginia Woolf, the voice of the narrator, in Orlando: A Biography (1928)



  • I believe, above all else, in reason—in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life. Any calamity visited upon man, either by his own hand or by a more omnipotent nature, could have been avoided or at least mitigated by a measure of thought. To nothing so much as the abandonment of reason does humanity owe its sorrows. Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life, have been the consequence of action without thought. Bernard Baruch, “Thought for Tomorrow,” a 1953 essay for CBS-Radio’s ”This I Believe” Series; reprinted in Raymond Swing, This I Believe 2: The Personal Philosophies of One Hundred Thoughtful Men and Women (1954)
  • Reason cannot remain a bare intellectual faculty; it must become a faculty of judgment dealing with the question of values. Margaret Benson, in The Venture of Rational Faith (1908)
  • The essence of philosophy is the abandonment of all authority in favor of individual human reason. Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind (1987)
  • If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold. Louis Brandeis, a dissenting opinion, in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann (1932)
  • Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision. Charlotte Brontë, in Jane Eyre (1847)
  • I no longer idolize reason. I have come to accept that ninety percent of what we do is irrational and that we spend what little rational thought we have in justifying our irrationality. Rita Mae Brown, in In Her Day (1976)
  • Imagination took the reins, and reason, slow-paced, though sure-footed, was unequal to a race with so eccentric and flighty a companion. Fanny Burney, the character Mr. Villars in a letter to the title character, in Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778)

QUOTE NOTE: The Reverend Arthur Villars, Evelina’s guardian and a sort of father-figure to her, was concerned about his young charge’s fascination with a young gentleman. In expressing his concern about the “the ascendancy which Lord Orville has gained upon your mind,” he began the observation above by writing that she was “Young, animated, entirely off your guard, and thoughtless of consequences.” A bit earlier in the letter, he offered one of history’s best descriptions of innocence:

“Alas, my child!—that innocence, the first, best gift of Heaven—the most exposed to treachery—and the least able to defend itself, in a world where it is little known, less valued, and perpetually deceived!”

  • Emotion has taught mankind to reason. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • Passion crashes into obstacles; Reason peers around them. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 6th Selection (1989)
  • Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. Richard Dawkins, in “The Enemies of Reason,” a British Channel 4 television documentary (Aug. 13, 2007)

Dawkins continued: “We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.”

  • He who will not reason, is a bigot; he who cannot, is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave. William Drummond, in Academical Questions (1805)
  • There are times when to be reasonable is to be cowardly. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Reason is the most active human faculty. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health (1875)
  • Persons not habituated to reason often argue absurdly, because, from particular instances, they deduce general conclusions, and extend the result of their limited experience of individuals indiscriminately to whole classes. Maria Edgeworth, a reflection of the title character, in Ennui: Memoirs of the Earl of Glenthorn (1809)
  • It is in the nature of foolish reasoning to seem good to the foolish reasoner. George Eliot, a reflection of the title character, in Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)
  • Unreason is to reason as dazzlement is to daylight. Michel Foucault, in History of Madness (1961)
  • If passion drives, let reason hold the reins. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (May, 1749)
  • If you will not hear reason, she will surely rap your knuckles. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (July 7, 1757)
  • Wit is the lightning of the mind, reason the sunshine, and reflection the moonlight. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Humans, the only self-regarding animals, blessed or cursed with this torturing higher faculty, have always wanted to know why. Nadine Gordimer, referring to the faculty of reason, in her Nobel lecture (1991)
  • I love to see folks use reason if they have got any. Marietta Holley, in My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet’s (1872)
  • Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. David Hume, “Of the Passions,” in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40)
  • Intuition is reason in a hurry. Holbrook Jackson, “Maxims and Precepts,” in a circa 1920 issue of To-Day magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Peter Carr (Aug. 10, 1787)

QUOTE NOTE: The letter to Carr also included this other famous Jefferson observation: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

  • Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994)
  • The sign of an intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • To reason with a poor language is like using a pair of scales with inaccurate weights. André Maurois, in The Art of Living (1939; 2007 trans. by Sergio E. Serrano under title An Art of Living)

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the quotation translated this way: “To reason with poorly chosen words is like using a pair of scales with inaccurate weights.” Maurois began by writing that there are no disputes in algebra because all terms are precisely defined. In most human discourse, by contrast, language is imprecise. He wrote: “The words used in speaking about emotions, about the conduct of government, are vague words which may be employed in the same argument with several different meanings.”

  • Mankind are not reasoning beings, if reason won’t do with them. Herman Melville, an unnamed gentleman speaking, in The Confidence-Man (1857)
  • To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicines to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Thomas Paine, in The American Crisis, No. VI (March 1, 1778)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly presented as: “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

  • Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794)

Two years earlier, in Rights of Man, II (1792), Paine had written: “Reason, like time, will make its own way, and prejudice will fall in a combat with interest.”

  • For a mind once honestly wedded to reason there is no divorce. Edgar Pangborn, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “The Children’s Crusade” (1974)
  • Reason should dominate over emotion unless a bear is chasing you. Hart Pomerantz, in a personal communication (Oct 20, 2017)
  • A rational process is a moral process. Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • It is so much easier to be enthusiastic than to reason! Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents. Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” in Unpopular Essays (1950)
  • The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. George Bernard Shaw, in Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)
  • Reason and happiness are like other flowers–they wither when plucked. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1906)
  • If only men could be depended upon to base their decisions on reason. Alas, there are only three or four of us in the world, and even we will bear watching. Rex Stout, the character Nero Wolfe speaking, in The League of Frightened Men(1935)
  • 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)
  • Reason is a poor hand at prophecies. Sylvia Townsend Warner, in a 1973 letter; quoted in William Maxwell, Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982)
  • Reason is the glory of human nature, and one of the chief eminences whereby we are raised above our fellow-creatures, the brutes, in this lower world. Isaac Watts, in Logic: or The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth (1724)
  • Evidence and reason: my heroes and my guides. Naomi Weisstein, in Women in Biology Looking at Women (1979)
  • Reason to the lovesick was fire to the feverish. It sent them clean out of their minds. Jessamyn West, in The Massacre at Fall Creek (1975)
  • I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • And what is reason? Be she thus defined:/Reason is upright stature in the soul. Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742-1745)



  • How quick come the reasons for approving what we like! Jane Austen, in Persuasion (1818)
  • There are reasons, and then there are excuses. Julia Child, in Julia Child & Company (1978)
  • All men have a reason, but not all men can give a reason. W. R. Inge, “Implicit Reason and Explicit Reason,” St. Peter’s Day sermon, Oxford University (June 29, 1840)
  • I trust that everything happens for a reason, even when we're not wise enough to see it. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Tuchy Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)



  • What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. Albert Camus, the opening line of The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (1951)

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

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

  • No one can go on being a rebel too long without turning into an autocrat. Lawrence Durrell, the title character quoting Keats, in Balthazar: A Novel (1958)
  • No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Introduction: Family Values,” in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)

QUOTE NOTE: In the first part of the observation, Ehrenreich references a famous observation from Samuel Johnson, to be see in Patriots & Patriotism.

  • I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to James Madison (Jan. 30, 1787)



  • It requires a self-esteem to receive—not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself. John Steinbeck, in The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951)



  • A recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation. Jehane Benoit, in Enjoying the Art of Canadian Cooking (1974)
  • Sometimes. . .it takes me an entire day to write a recipe, to communicate it correctly. It’s really like writing a little short story. Julia Child, quoted in Patricia Simon, “The Making of a Masterpiece,” McCall’s magazine (Oct., 1970)
  • Cookbooks…bear the same relation to real books that microwave food bears to your grandmother’s. Andrei Codrescu, in Raised by Puppets: Only to be Killed by Research (1989)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is almost always presented in quotation anthologies. While technically accurate, it’s a slight abridgement of Codrescu’s original fuller remark: “In the bookstore, the place formerly reserved for books to be read has also been taken over by cookbooks, which bear the same relation to real books that microwave food bears to your grandmother’s.”

  • A recipe is not meant to be followed exactly—it is a canvas on which you can embroider. Roger Vergé, in Cuisine of the Sun (1979)



  • Suffering isn’t ennobling, recovery is. Christiaan Barnard, quoted in Patricia T. O’Conner, “Recovery is Ennobling, Suffering is Not,” The New York Times (April, 28, 1985)
  • You can’t recover from what you do not understand. Lillian Hellman, in Maybe: A Story (1980)
  • The phenomenal success of the recovery movement reflects two simple truths that emerge in adolescence: all people love to talk about themselves, and most people are mad at their parents. You don’t have to be in denial to doubt that truths like these will set us free. Wendy Kaminer, in I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional (1992)

In the book, Kaminer also wrote: “There are only two states of being in the world of codependency—recovery and denial.”

  • The real glory is in being knocked to your knees and then coming back. Vince Lombardi, in What It Takes to Be #1: Vince Lombardi on Leaders (2003)
  • Recovery from illness often seems like beginning life all over again. Cornelia Meigs, in Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women (1933)
  • Climbing out of a deep hole may give us the strength to climb mountains. Daniel J. Millman, in a personal communication to the compiler (June 30, 2024)
  • Hospitals are a little like the beach. The next wave comes in, and the footprints of your pain and suffering, your delivery and recovery, are obliterated. Anna Quindlen, in One True Thing (1994)
  • I believe in recovery, and as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it. Ann Richards, quoted in Women in Power: The Secrets of Leadership (1992; D. W. Cantor, T. Nernay, & J. Stoess, eds.)



  • The detective-story is the normal recreation of noble minds. Philip Guedella, quoted in Dorothy L. Sayers The Omnibus of Crime (1929)
  • Are you taking time—making time—for fun and relaxation? Do you spend time on any recreational activities or hobbies? The word “recreation” divided into two parts becomes “re-creation.” And that’s just what we do when we spend time doing something we enjoy. Recreation helps us charge our batteries, re-create our energy, and continue to give our best at work. Connie Podesta, in Connie Podesta and Jean Gatz, How to Be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep (1997)
  • The gospel of cheerfulness, I had almost said the gospel of amusement, is preached by people who lack experience to people who lack vitality. There is a vague impression that the world would be a good world if it were only happy, that it would be happy if it were amused, and that it would be amused if plenty of artificial recreation—that recreation for which we are now told every community stands responsible—were provided for its entertainment. Agnes Repplier, “Our Loss of Nerve,” in Counter-Currents (1916)



  • Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)



  • I do like them [speaking of reformers] and I shall be one if I can, for in spite of the laughing at them, the world would never get on without them. Louisa May Alcott, the character Jo speaking, in Little Women (1868)
  • All reform movements are slow in their beginnings. They are like the avalanche, which creeps on so gently at first, that its onward course is almost imperceptible, but gathering strength and velocity as it proceeds, it rushes on, bearing before it all that men have deemed most stable and immovable. Laura Curtis Bullard, in Christine: Or Woman's Trials and Triumphs (1856)
  • Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess that itself will need reforming. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Biographia Literaria (1817)
  • Every reformation ruins somebody. Amelila B. Edwards, in Half a Million of Money (1866)
  • History cannot be hurried. Generations of reformers have learned this to their cost. Malcolm Forbes, in 1959 issue of Forbes magazine
  • Reforms always create winners and losers, and the losers will always fight harder than the winners. Danny Kahneman, quoted in Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project (2016)
  • Reformers must expect to be disowned by those who are only too happy to enjoy what has been won for them. Doris Lessing in the 1971 Preface to Golden Notebook (1962; 2nd ed., 1971)
  • Reform, that you may preserve. Thomas Babington Macaulay, in House of Commons debate on The First Reform Bill (March 2, 1831)
  • One of the persistent ironies of reform is the impossibility of predicting the full consequences of change. Diane Ravitch, in The Great School Wars (1974)
  • The only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • A reform often advances most rapidly by indirection. Frances E. Willard, in A Wheel Within a Wheel (1895)
  • The history of the reformer, whether man or woman, on any line of action, is but this: When he sees it all alone he is a fanatic; when a good many see it with him they are enthusiasts; when all see it he is a hero. Frances E. Willard, quoted in What Frances E. Willard Said (1905; Anna A. Gordon, ed.)



  • Every form of refuge has its price. Glenn Frey and Don Henley, lyric from the song “Lyin’ Eyes,” on the album One of These Nights (1975)



  • Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. Maya Angelou, in Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976)
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Bible—Psalms 46:1
  • I suppose there is hardly any one in the civilized world— particularly of those who do just a little more every day than they really have strength to perform—who has not at some time regarded bed as a refuge. J. E. Buckrose, “Bed as a Refuge,” in What I Have Gathered (1923)
  • Sex is the last refuge of the miserable. Quentin Crisp, in The Naked Civil Servant (1968)
  • Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Samuel Johnson, an April 7, 1775 remark, in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of quotation history’s most celebrated observations, and the inspiration for numerous spin-offs (many to be found in this section). In The Devil’s Dictionary (1911), Ambrose Bierce wrote: “In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.”

  • Art…is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life. W. Somerset Maugham, in Of Human Bondage (1915)
  • No wonder scoundrels find refuge in patriotism; it offers them immunity from criticism. Bill Moyers, in speech to The Society of Professional Journalists (Sep., 11, 2004)
  • Comedy is the last refuge of the nonconformist mind. Gilbert Seldes, in The New Republic (Dec. 20, 1954)



  • I’m a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs and habits of being I've left or been forced to leave behind me, and it all seems just as quaint, from here, and I am just as obsessive about it. Margaret Atwood, in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • It is not healthy when a nation lives within a nation, as colored Americans are living inside America. A nation cannot live confident of its tomorrow if its refugees are among its own citizens. Pearl S. Buck, in What America Means to Me (1942)
  • All refugees carry with them a small burden of guilt. P. D. James, the character Meg Dennison speaking, in Devices and Desires (1989)
  • Children, together with women, constitute 90 percent of all refugee populations on the planet as well as the vast majority of those living in absolute poverty. Robin Morgan, in Saturday’s Child: A Memoir (2001)

Morgan continued: “The ‘feminization of poverty’ means that children are poor, too, since most parenting is done by mothers.”

  • The sudden violent dispossession accompanying a refugee flight is much more than the loss of a permanent home and a traditional occupation, or than the parting from close friends and familiar places. It is also the death of the person one has become in a particular context, and every refugee must be his or her own midwife at the painful process of rebirth. Dervla Murphy, in Tibetan Foothold (1966)
  • A refugee is not just someone lacking in money and everything else. A refugee is vulnerable to the slightest touch: he has lost his country, his friends, his earthly belongings. He is a stranger, sick at heart. He is suspicious; he feels misunderstood. If people smile, he thinks they ridicule him; if they look serious, he thinks they don't like him. He is a full-grown tree in the dangerous process of being transplanted, with the chance of possibly not being able to take root in the new soil. Maria Trapp, in A Family on Wheels (1959; Ruth T. Murdoch)
  • The plight of a refugee, then as now, provoked the feeling that surely he could get along somehow. Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)


(see also DENIAL and REQUEST and [Saying] NO) and [Setting} LIMITS

  • Destiny has two ways of crushing us—by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (April 10, 1881)
  • Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. Albert Camus, in the Introduction to The Rebel (1951)
  • One says a lot in vain, refusing;/The other mainly hears the “No.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Iphigenia in Tauris (1787)



  • To forgive oneself may be the ultimate gesture of kindness. Erasing regret from the mind is more difficult. Herman Axelrod, in an internet post (Oct. 8, 2023)
  • I have no regrets. I wouldn't have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Rex Reed, Conversations in the Raw (1969)
  • I regret the things I didn't do, not what I did. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Laurence Leamer, As Time Goes By (1986)
  • I truly believe that regret is the only wound the soul does not recover from, and so I'm trying to live without regrets. Sarah Ban Breathnach, in a 2002 issue of Good Housekeeping (2002)

Breathnach went on to add: “Each day is another chance to be swept away.”

  • I can’t imagine a single human being alive today…who doesn’t regret something. Deborah Copaken quoted in a “CBS Sunday Morning” television broadcast (Feb. 11, 2024)

Later in the broadcast, Copaken added: “You can choose to decide in your life whether regret is just going to stick on you like a cold, wet blanket, or whether you can use that regret as fuel. If you use regret to make changes, positive changes in your life, then regret is the best fuel in the world.”

  • I regret nothing, says arrogance; I will regret nothing, says inexperience. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Most people’s major life regrets are not about the things they’ve done, but about the things they’ve not done, the goals they never reached, the type of lover or friend or parent they wished they’d been but know they failed to be. Thom Hartmann, in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (1997; rev. ed. 2004)
  • Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience. Victoria Holt, in The Black Opal (1993)
  • I have made it a rule of my life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy…you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in. Katherine Mansfield, “Je Ne Parle Pas Français,” in Bliss (1920)
  • Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. Arthur Miller the character Lyman Felt, in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: In the play, Felt, a successful New York businessman, is reflecting on his life and the choices he has made. Here, in moment of introspection, he offers the intriguing idea that regret does not have to be a negative thing, and can actually be an indication of a life well lived.

  • Everybody has regrets. I mean, we have evidence from neuroscience, from social psychology, from cognitive science, that the only people who truly don’t have regrets are five-year-olds. People with certain kinds of neurodegenerative diseases don’t have regrets. And sociopaths don’t have regrets. Everybody else has regrets. Daniel Pink quoted in a “CBS Sunday Morning” television broadcast (Feb. 11, 2024)
  • It was not my sins that I regretted at that time; but rather the many things undone—even those indiscretions which one might have committed and had not. Freya Stark, in The Southern Gates of Arabia (1936)
  • To regret deeply is to live afresh. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Nov. 13, 1839)

QUOTE NOTE: Thoreau, who was twenty-two years old when he wrote this, preceded the thought by writing: “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come [sic] to have a separate and integral interest.”

  • The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a reflection of the narrator, an unnamed pastor, in Little Foxes (1866; orig. published under the pen name Christopher Crowfield)

QUOTE NOTE: After ticking off some typical statements of regret (like “He never knew what he was to me” and “I always meant to make more of our friendship”), the narrator continued: “How much more we might make of our family life, of our friendships, if every secret thought of love blossomed into a deed!” And then a moment after that, the narrator continued: “There are words and looks and little observances, thoughtfulnesses, watchful little attentions, which speak of love, which make it manifest, and there is scarce a family that might not be richer in heart-wealth for more of them.”

  • For of all sad words of tongue or pen,/The saddest are these: “It might have been.” John Greenleaf Whittier, in “Maud Miller” (1854)
  • Things said or done long years ago,/Or things I did not do or say/But thought that I might say or do,/Weigh me down, and not a day/But something is recalled,/My conscience or my vanity appalled. William Butler Yeats, in “Vacillation” (1933)



  • Living things tend to change unrecognizably as they grow. Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? Flora or fauna, we are all shape-shifters and magic reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves. Diane Ackerman, in Cultivating Delight; A Natural History of My Garden (2001)
  • That’s what Hollywood’s all about: dreams. For as long as it’s existed, it’s been a destination for people who have aspired to better lives and better selves—a place of endless possibility, invention, and re-invention, of aspiration and inspiration. There’s an abundance of hope in Hollywood, as if it’s fueled by the sun, and maybe it is. Bonnie Hammer, “How Bonnie Hammer Conjures Hollywood Anytime, Anywhere,” in Vanity Fair magazine (Feb. 11, 2016)
  • Fearlessness is the mother of reinvention. Arianna Huffington, quoted in a 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • I am not reinventing myself. I am going through the layers and revealing myself. I am on a journey, an adventure that's constantly changing shape. Madonna, quoted in a 2000 issue of Film Review (specific issue undetermined)
  • After baseball, America's favorite pastime may be the process of reinventing itself, continuously redefining its identity and searching for its soul. Brenda Payton, opening line of her review of Visions of America: Personal Narratives from the Promise Land (1993), in a 1993 issue of The San Francisco Review of Books (specific date undetermined)
  • Reinventing the wheel is bad not only because it wastes time, but because reinvented wheels are often square. There is an almost irresistible temptation to economize on reinvention time by taking a shortcut to a crude and poorly-thought-out version, which in the long run often turns out to be false economy. Henry Spencer, quoted in E. Raymond, The Art of UNIX Programming (2004)


(see also DISMISS and [Unrequited] LOVE and RENUNCIATION and SCORN and SPURN)

  • I wrote for 12 years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn’t all that important to me. Lisa Alther, in Kinflicks (1975)
  • Even if the most important person in your world rejects you, you are still real, and you are still okay. Melody Beattie, in Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself (1987)
  • You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. Ray Bradbury, in remarks during interview at WAMU-radio (Washington, DC; April 5, 1995)
  • What we once fling away never comes again to us. Ethel M. Dell, in The Top of the World (1920)
  • To students, I have been known to put this more flippantly and more succinctly. When rejection slips or rotten reviews come in, I tell them: have one stiff drink, say five Hail Mary’s and ten Fuck-You’s, and get back to work. Janette Turner Hospital, quoted in Frederick Busch, Letters to a Fiction Writer (1999)
  • Authors always take rejection badly. They equate it with infanticide. P. D. James, the character Gerard Etienne speaking, in Original Sin (1994)
  • I live by the truth that “No” is a complete sentence. Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2005)
  • A person who doesn’t feel rejected doesn’t go away. A painless rejection isn’t one. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say/ (1998)
  • I think all great innovations are built on rejections. Louise Nevelson, in Dawns + Dusks (1976)
  • When people reject a truth or an untruth it is not because it is a truth or an untruth that they reject it,/No, if it isn’t in accord with their beliefs in the first place they simply say, “Nothing doing,” and refuse to inspect it./Likewise when they embrace a truth or an untruth it is not for either its truth or its mendacity,/But simply because they have believed it all along and therefore regard the embrace as a tribute to their own fair-mindedness and sagacity. Ogden Nash, “Seeing Eye to Eye is Believing,” in Good Intentions (1942)
  • Beware of allowing a tactless word, a rebuttal, a rejection to obliterate the whole sky. Anaïs Nin, a 1939 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 (1967)
  • The insecure man or woman lives in constant fear of rejection and a deep uncertainty about whether his or her own feelings and desires are legitimate. Joseph Nowinski, in The Tender Heart: Conquering Your Insecurity (2001)

Nowinski continued: “In men as well as women, insecurity comes from a combination of a sensitive disposition and experiences of loss, abuse, rejection, or neglect.”

  • I was absorbing a sorry truth of show business—rejection is the norm and acceptance the oddity. I was learning to cut the tops off my highs and stay with the lows where the rejections and letdowns would be shallow. Joan Rivers, in Enter Talking (1986; with Richard Merryman)
  • Rejection is a form of self-assertion. You have only to look back upon yourself as a person who hates this or that to discover what it is that you secretly love. George Santayana, “My Father,” in Persons and Places: The Background of My Life (1944



  • A relationship, I think, is, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. Woody Allen, as Alvy Singer, to Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), in the 1977 film Annie Hall (screenplay by Allen and Marshall Brickman)
  • The most productive, healthy and satisfying relationships are based, not on a quid pro quo but an ebb and flow of mutual support over time. Don’t just be a giver. Be an extremely helpful giver who demonstrates an awareness of what that person most needs. Kare Anderson, in Mutuality Matters (2014)
  • Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind towards some resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds. Robert Anderson, the character Gene speaking, in I Never Sang For My Father (1968)
  • Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • Now the whole dizzying and delirious range of sexual possibilities has been boiled down to that one big, boring, bulimic word. RELATIONSHIP. Julie Burchill, “The Dead Zone” (1988), in Sex and Sensibility (1992)
  • My attachment has neither the blindness of the beginning—nor the microscopic accuracy of the close of such liaisons. Lord Byron (George Noel Gordon), on his relationship with Teresa Guicciolo, in letter to R. B. Hoppner (Jan. 10, 1820)

QUOTE NOTE: Byron wrote his letter from Ravenna, Italy, where he lived from 1819-21 with his lover, the Contessa Guiccioli (she was nineteen when Byron met her, and married at the time to an Italian nobleman forty years her senior). While the couple had a deep and passionate relationship, Byron did not necessarily view it as a lasting one. His note to Hoppner continued: “I may stay a day, a week, a year, all my life; but all this depends on what I can neither see nor foresee. I came because I was called, and will go the moment that I perceive what may render my departure proper.”

  • It is all explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough. Cyril Connolly, in How to Become a Virgin (1981)
  • The formula for achieving a successful relationship is simple: you should treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a triviality as if it were a disaster. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven (1984). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Kahlil Gibran, “On Marriage,” in The Prophet (1923)
  • In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths. Graham Greene, the character Henry Scobie thinking about his own life and his relationship to wife Louise, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)

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

  • There is no way to take the danger out of human relationships. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Secrets Women Tell Each Other,” in McCall’s magazine (Aug., 1975)

Harrison began by writing: “Kindness and intelligence don’t always deliver us from the pitfalls and traps: there are always failures of love, of will, of imagination.”

  • Underground issues from one relationship or context invariably fuel our fires in another. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Anger (1985)
  • A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)

Lindbergh continued: “To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back—it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.”

  • The only thing as challenging as getting tangled in the underbrush of relationship is trying to write about it. Thomas Moore, in Soul Mates (1994)
  • Mature people relate to each other without the need to merge. Anaïs Nin, a 1946 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • In every relationship, sooner or later, there is a court scene. Accusations, counter-accusations, a trial, a verdict. Anaïs Nin, the voice of the narrator, in Collages (1964)
  • One way to keep people close to you is by not giving them enough. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990)

Noonan went on to explain: “With people who give a lot of themselves, you sometimes lean back—but with people who give little you often lean forward, as if they’re a spigot in the desert and you’re the empty cup. It is the tropism of deprivation: We lean toward those who do not give.”

  • The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • Any relationship is like a house with an upstairs: it’s got two stories. Dolly Parton, in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (1994)
  • In all proper relationships there is no sacrifice of anyone to anyone. Ayn Rand, the character Howard Roark speaking, in The Fountainhead (1943)

Roark continued: “An architect needs clients, but he does not subordinate his work to their wishes. They need him, but they do not order a house just to give him commission. Men exchange their work by free, mutual consent to mutual advantage when their personal interests agree and they both desire the exchange.”

  • An honorable human relationship…is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979)
  • In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth? Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person (1961)
  • I have learned that in any significant or continuing relationship, persistent feelings had best be expressed. Carl Rogers, in A Way of Being (1980)

Rogers continued: “If they are expressed as feelings, owned by me, the result may be temporarily upsetting but ultimately far more rewarding than any attempt to deny or conceal them.”

  • Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Flight to Arras (1942)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is popularly abridged in the following way: “Man is a knot into which relationships are tied.”

  • Human relations just are not fixed in their orbits like the planets—they’re more like galaxies, changing all the time, exploding into light for years, then dying away. May Sarton, in Crucial Conversations (1975)
  • There can be nothing more baffling in a human relationship than silence, the dark loom of doubts and questions unexpressed. Wallis Warfield Simpson, in The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor (1956)
  • As for breaking up, once the relationship is over, you never really know what went wrong; you just feel nauseous whenever the subject comes to mind. After a plane crash there’s the black box that tells the FAA what caused the crack-up. Too bad there’s no black box of relationships. Linda Sunshine, in Dating Iron John and Other Pleasures (1993)
  • All relationships have the same basic components: people, needs, and expectations. Iyanla Vanzant, in In the Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want (1998)
  • The most wonderful of all things in life, I believe, is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a glowing depth, beauty, and joy as the years increase. Hugh Walpole, “What is Happiness?” in Martin Armstrong, ed., What is Happiness? (1938)

Walpole continued: “This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvelous thing, it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of Divine accident.”

QUOTE NOTE: Many thanks to Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator, for his help in researching this quotation (see his entry here).

  • Assumptions are the termites of relationships. Henry Winkler, in 1995 commencement address at Emerson College (Boston). For more on this quotation, see note after the Winkler entry in ASSUMPTIONS.


(see also ETHICS and [Situational] ETHICS and GOOD & EVIL and GOODNESS and MORALS & MORALITY and RELIGION and SIN and VICE)

  • We have made an extraordinary transition. From moral absolutes to moral relativism. Ellen Goodman, in a 1993 op-ed column in The Boston Globe (specific issue undetermined)

Goodman went on to add, “Moral problems become medical ones and yesterday’s sinners become today’s patients.”

  • In its original literal sense, “moral relativism” is simply moral complexity. That is, anyone who agrees that stealing a loaf of bread to feed one’s children is not the moral equivalent of, say, shoplifting a dress for the fun of it, is a relativist of sorts. Ellen Willis, “Our Mobsters, Ourselves,” in The Nation (April 2, 2001)

Willis Continued: “But in recent years, conservatives bent on reinstating an essentially religious vocabulary of absolute good and evil as the only legitimate framework for discussing social values have redefined ‘relative’ as ‘arbitrary.’”


(Quotes to Come)



  • Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another. Anatole France, a reflection of the title character, in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881)
  • Our minds need relaxation, and give way/Unless we mix with work a little play. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in The School for Husbands (1661)
  • Are you taking time—making time—for fun and relaxation? Do you spend time on any recreational activities or hobbies? The word “recreation” divided into two parts becomes “re-creation.” Connie Podesta, in Connie Podesta and Jean Gatz, How to Be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep (1997)

Podesta continued “And that’s just what we do when we spend time doing something we enjoy. Recreation helps us charge our batteries, re-create our energy, and continue to give our best at work.”

  • Work is man’s most natural form of relaxation. Dagobert D. Runes, in Treasury of Thought: Observations Over Half a Century (1967)



  • Our problem with religion today is that it is mainly nonreligious. We have lost the distinction between a true religious experience and belonging to an organized religion. A religious experience is mystical and wholly subjective; it doesn’t include other people. It isn’t a set of traditions, laws, dogma, and ruling hierarchies, which leave no room for personal revelations—precisely the sort of moments felt by the founders of the religion. Diane Ackerman, in Deep Play (1999)

Ackerman continued “That sense of being stirred by powerful unseen forces, accompanied by a great spiritual awakening, in which life is viewed by fresh eyes, has been replaced, in many cases, by the emotionless, repetitious, and mundane.”

  • A sense of religion is something one is born with, like a musical ear. One can develop it, cultivate it, enrich it, but if one hasn’t got its seed to begin with, no powers of the intellect, no sophistication of “evidence” can awaken it. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Only One Year (1969)
  • A religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. Martin Amis, “The Voice of the Lonely Crowd,” in the Guardian (London; May, 31, 2002)
  • Organized religion is a Choose Your Own Adventure novel for people of extremely limited imagination. Jacob M. Appel, in the play Arborophilia (2005)
  • There are some forms of religion that must make God weep. There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there’s bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too. Religion that has concentrated on egotism, that’s concentrated on belligerence rather than compassion. Karen Armstrong, in PBS interview with Bill Moyers (March 1, 2002)
  • The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. Karen Armstrong, in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (2004)

Armstrong continued: “If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology.”

  • Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life. Karen Armstrong, “The Reason of Faith” [interview with Michael Brunton], in Ode (Sep-Oct 2009)

Armstrong preceded the observation by saying: “A lot of the arguments about religion going on at the moment spring from a rather inept understanding of religious truth. Our notion changed during the early modern period when we became convinced that the only path to any kind of truth was reason. That works beautifully for science but doesn’t work so well for the humanities.”

  • Religion, if we follow the intention of human thought and language, is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by feeling; the passage from morality is made, when to morality is applied emotion, And the true meaning of religion is thus not simply morality, but morality touched by emotion. Matthew Arnold, in Literature and Dogma (1873)
  • There are some forms of religion that must make God weep. There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there’s bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too. Religion that has concentrated on egotism, that’s concentrated on belligerence rather than compassion. Karen Armstrong, in “Now with Bill Moyers” interview, PBS-Television (March 1, 2002). See full transcript at PBS Now.
  • Religion is hard work. Its insights are not self-evident and have to be cultivated in the same way as an appreciation of art, music, or poetry must be developed. Karen Armstrong, in The Case for God (2009)
  • Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life. Karen Armstrong, in interview with Michael Brunton, “The Reason of Faith,” Ode magazine (Sep.-Oct., 2009)
  • Is religion impossible without fanaticism? Gertrude Atherton, the character Geraldine speaking, in Los Cerritos: A Romance of the Modern Time (1890)
  • Any religion is a shadow of God. But the shadows of God are not God. Margaret Atwood, the character Adam One speaking, in The Year of the Flood (2009)
  • What is religion, you might ask. It’s a technology of living. Toni Cade Bambara, the character Doc Serge speaking, in The Salt Eaters (1980)

Doc continued: “And what do I mean by technology? The study and application of the laws that govern events in our lives. Just that.”

  • One’s religion is whatever he is most interested in, and yours is Success. J. M. Barrie, the character Kate speaking to Sir Harry, in The Twelve-Pound Look (1910)

QUOTE NOTE: Three years earlier, in Major Barbara (1907), George Bernard Shaw had his character Undershaft say: “I am a Millionaire. That is my Religion.”

  • Whatever helps you sleep is my opinion on the subject, and that’s what I like about the western world’s most popular religion, it has helped put so many people to sleep, although most of them permanently and without their approval. Roseanne Barr, on religion in general and Christianity in particular, in Roseanne: My Life As a Woman (1989)
  • People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Turns Fifty (1998)
  • Pound notes are the best religion in the world. Brendan Behan, in The Wit of Brendan Behan (1968; Sean McCann, ed.)
  • Where religions fail, cults appear. Daniel Bell, in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976)
  • Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Art and Religion are, then, two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy. Clive Bell, in Art (1914)

Bell added: “Between aesthetic and religious rapture there is a family alliance. Art and Religion are means to similar states of mind.”

  • We make religion a drudgery, a grind, a slavery when it should be a revelry, a festival, an everlasting song. Frank W. Boreham, in The Drums of Dawn (1933)
  • Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up!” Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” a TED Talk (Jan. 3, 2011 )
  • Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant religion. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Science and religion, religion and science, put it as I may, they are two sides of the same glass, through which we see darkly until these two, focusing together, reveal the truth. Pearl S. Buck, in A Bridge for Passing (1962)
  • Old religious factions are volcanoes burnt out. Edmund Burke, in House of Commons “Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians” (May 11, 1792)

Speaking on behalf of religious tolerance, Burke continued: “On the lava and ashes…of old eruptions grow the peaceful olive, the cheering vine, and the sustaining corn.”

  • Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference. Edmund Burke, in letter to William Smith (Jan. 29, 1795)
  • One religion is as true as another. Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621-51)
  • Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988)

Campbell continued: “But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

  • A man’s religion is the chief fact with regard to him. Thomas Carlyle, “The Hero as Divinity,” in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841)
  • Religion is different from everything else; because in religion seeking is finding. [italics in original] Willa Cather, in My Mortal Enemy (1926)
  • It must in candor be said that his religion sat upon him lightly. Ilka Chase, the narrator describing Tilli’s fiancée, in I Love Miss Tilli Bean (1946)
  • There is no fanatic like a religious fanatic. Agatha Christie, a reflection of the title character, in the short story “The Chocolate Box,” in Poirot Investigates: Classic Hercule Poirot Stories (1925)
  • Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses. Arthur C. Clarke, in A.V. Club interview, The Onion (Feb. 18, 2004)
  • Religion is what happens when I crack open the window to my soul and God rushes in. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler
  • Americans rightly think their patriotism is a sort of religion strengthened by practical service. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, Vol. 1 (1835)

A half century later, the patriotism as religion metaphor was further pursued (but taken in an entirely new direction) by Guy de Maupassant, who wrote in the short story “My Uncle Sosthenes” (1883): “Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.”

  • Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982)
  • Never be angry with your neighbor because his religious views differ from your own; for all the branches of a tree to not lean the same way. William Scott Downey, in Proverbs (seventh edition; 1853)

In his book, Downey also wrote: “Religion is the clearest telescope through which we can behold the beauties of creation, and the good of our Creator.”

  • If I were personally to define religion, I would say that it is a bandage that man has invented to protect a soul made bloody by circumstance, an envelope to pocket him from the unescapable and unstable illimitable. Theodore Dreiser, the voice of the narrator, in The “Genius” (1915)
  • Religion has its origin and its support in dissatisfaction with life, resulting from reflection on the failure of life to satisfy the primary desires of man. Knight Dunlap, in Social Psychology (1925)
  • Religion is the last subject that the intellect begins to understand. Will Durant, the opening line of The Story of Civilization: The Reformation (Vol. VI; 1957)

QUOTE NOTE: A grand declaration is designed to get the attention of thoughtful readers, and this one succeeds admirably. In the book, Durant continued: “In our youth, we may have resented, with proud superiority, its cherished incredibilities; in our less confident years we marvel at its prosperous survival in a secular and scientific age, its patient resurrection after whatever deadly blows by Epicurus, or Lucretius, or Lucan, or Machiavelli, or Hume, or Voltaire. What are the secrets of this resilience?”

  • Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls. Freeman Dyson, “Progress in Religion: A Talk by Freeman Dyson,” acceptance speechfor the Templeton Prize (Washington DC; May 9, 2000)

A moment earlier, Dyson introduced the thought by writing: “We all know that religion has been historically, and still is today, a cause of great evil as well as great good in human affairs.”

  • Hypocrisy is fatal to religion. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health (1875)
  • 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 fastest-growing brand of religion is of the magical “name it and claim it” variety, in which the deity exists only to meet one's immediate, self-identified needs. Barbara Ehrenreich, in This Land Is Their Land (2008)
  • Our great common challenge…is to free people from religion, get it out of our laws, our schools, our health systems, our government and, I would add, also our sporting events. I would really like to see some separation of church and stadium, if we could work on that. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Freethought Today (2012)
  • For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?” in The Christian Register (June, 1948); reprinted in Ideas and Opinions (1954)

Einstein preceded the thought by writing: “When considering the actual living conditions of present day civilized humanity from the standpoint of even the most elementary religious commands, one is bound to experience a feeling of deep and painful disappointment at what one sees.”

  • Religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a diary entry (June 20, 1831)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is typically presented and, while it is accurate, it was originally the conclusion to a slightly larger observation: “A man may die by fever as well as by consumption, and religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference.”

  • 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 effect of the consolations of religion may be compared to that of a narcotic. Sigmund Freud, in The Future of an Illusion (1927)
  • Religious ideas have sprung from the same need as all the other achievements of culture: from the necessity for defending itself against the crushing supremacy of nature. Sigmund Freud, in The Future of an Illusion (1927)
  • Religion is applied mythology. Northrop Frye, a “Notebook 21” entry (1969–76); reprinted in Northrop Frye’s Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts (2003; Robert D. Denham, ed.)

Frye preceded the thought by writing: “The disinterested imaginative core of mythology is what develops into literature, science, philosophy.”

  • Religion is the best Armor in the World, but the worst Cloak. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal? Mohandas K. Gandhi, in Indian Home Rule (1909); reprinted in All Men Are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections (2004; S. Radhakrishnan, ed.)
  • Religion converts despair, which destroys, into resignation, which submits. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Men who would persecute others for religious opinions, prove the errors of their own. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Religion is doing. George Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (1949)

Gurdjieff, a prominent 20th century spiritual teacher and mystic, added: “A man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he “lives” his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy.”

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

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

  • The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith (2004)
  • The garb of religion is the best cloak for power. William Hazlitt, “On the Clerical Character,” Political Essays (1819)
  • In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides. Heinrich Heine, in Gedanken und Einfälle [Thoughts and Ideas] (1869)
  • The foulest sinner of all is the hypocrite who makes a racket of religion. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Jubal speaking, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  • Some persons, instead of making a religion for their God, are content to make a god of their religion. Arthur Helps, in Brevia: Short Essays and Aphorisms. (1871). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life—except religion. Christopher Hitchens, in “The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s magazine (July, 1982)
  • As a set of cognitive beliefs, religion is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability. Sidney Hook, in The Partisan Review (March, 1950)
  • Nobody can have the consolations of religion or philosophy unless he has first experienced their desolations. Aldous Huxley, “Variations on a Baroque Tomb,” in Themes and Variations (1950)
  • To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy. W. R. Inge, in Idea of Progress (1920)
  • Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else’s religion practiced on us. John Irving, in My Movie Business (1999)
  • No two men have exactly the same religion: a church, like society, is a compromise. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Theology and religion are not the same thing. When the churches are controlled by the theologians religious people stay away. Holbrook Jackson, in Platitudes in the Making (1911)
  • Religion…is a man’s total reaction upon life. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  • Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  • It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith (Aug. 6, 1816)
  • Religion’s in the heart, not in the knee. Douglas Jerrold, in The Devil’s Ducat: Or, the Gift of Mammon (1830)
  • If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again. Penn Jillette, in God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (2011)
  • Religion is a fire which example keeps alive, and which goes out if not communicated. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)

In another aphorism from the same work, Jourbert wrote: “One man finds in religion his literature and his science, another finds in it his joy and his duty.”

  • All religions are therapies for the sorrows and disorders of the soul. Carl Jung, in A Commentary on “The Secret of the Golden Flower” (1929); reprinted in Carl G. Jung & Richard Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life (1931)
  • So long as religion is only faith and outward form, and the religious function is not experienced in our own souls, nothing of any importance has happened. Carl Jung, in Psychology and Alchemy (1953)
  • Religions get lost as people do. Franz Kafka, undated diary entry (c. 1918), in The Blue Octavo Notebooks (1991; Max Brod, ed.)
  • In its more authoritarian forms, religion punishes questioning and rewards gullibility. Wendy Kaminer, “The Last Taboo: Why America Needs Atheism,” in The New Republic (Oct. 14, 1996)

Kaminer continued: “Faith is not a function of stupidity, but a frequent cause of it.”

  • In religions which have lost their creative spark, the gods eventually become no more than poetic motifs or ornaments for decorating human solitude and walls. Nikos Kazantzakis, the voice of the narrator, in Zorba the Greek (1946)
  • Religion is the frozen thought of men out of which they build temples. Jiddu Krishnamurti, quoted in The Observer (London; April 22, 1928)
  • A man gradually formulates his religion, be it what it may. A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification. D. H. Lawrence, in letter to Rev. Robert Reid (Dec. 3, 1907)

Lawrence continued: “So I contend that true Socialism is religion; that honest, fervent politics are religion; that whatever a man will labor for earnestly and in some measure unselfishly is religion.”

  • The word “religion” beautifully defines itself, of course. It translates “to bind” from the Latin—“re” means back and “ligare” means to tie up. All religions are straightjackets, jackets for the straight. Timothy Leary, in Changing My Mind, Among Others: Lifetime Writings (1982)
  • I was wondering today what the religion of the country is—and all I could come up with was sex. Clare Booth Luce, in The Washington Post (April 9, 1982)
  • To me, it’s pretty simple: when you say you can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a beautiful thing. When you say others can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a problem. Billy Maddalon, “Pro-life should mean more than pro-birth,” in The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC; May 30, 2019)

Maddalon preceded the thought by writing: “Religion, power and control; three words, too often meaning the same thing.”

  • Excessive concern with religion seems to me a last resort for people who have been exhausted by life. Naguib Mahfouz, in Paris Review interview (Summer, 1992)

A bit later in the interview, the 1988 Nobel Prize laureate went on to say: “I consider religion an essential human behavior. Still, it’s clearly more important to treat one’s fellow man well than to be always praying and fasting and touching one’s head to a prayer mat. God did not intend religion to be an exercise club.”

  • I count religion but a childish toy,/And hold there is no sin but ignorance. Christopher Marlowe, the character Machevill speaking, in The Jew of Malta (c. 1592)
  • Savage religion is something not so much thought out as danced out. R. R. Marrett, in The Threshold of Religion (1909)
  • Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the People. Karl Marx, in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-44)

ERROR ALERT: These famous words are commonly misquoted as: “Religion is the opium of the people.” It is also commonly presented: “Religion is the opium of the masses.”

  • To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride. H. L. Mencken, “Coda,” in Smart Set magazine (Dec. 1920); reprinted in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
  • We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956)
  • Spiritual rebirth is the key to the aspirations of all the higher religions. Thomas Merton, “Rebirth and the New Man in Christianity” (1967); reprinted in Love and Living (2002; N. Stone & P. Hart, eds.)
  • Religion is like music, one must have an ear for it. Some people have none at all. Charlotte Mew, quoted in Penelope Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984)
  • Compassion in the highest degree is the divinest form of religion. Alice Meynell, in “Introductory Note” to The Poetry of Pathos & Delight: From the Works of Coventry Patmore; Passages Selected by Alice Meynell (1906)
  • What I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It’s a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together. Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, in the documentary film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)

Myers continued: “It’s not something I want to ban or that should affect hiring and firing decisions, or that interferes with public policy. It will be perfectly harmless as long as we don’t elect our politicians on the basis of their bowling score, or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin, or use folklore about backspin to make decrees about how biology works.”

  • The other part of the true religion is our duty to man. We must love our neighbour as our selves, we must be charitable to all men for charity is the greatest of graces, greater then even faith or hope & covers a multitude of sins. We must be righteous & do to all men as we would they should do to us. Isaac Newton, “Of Humanity,” in A Short Schem [sic] of the True Religion (undated manuscript)
  • Religion is always a citadel of hope, which is built on the edge of despair. Reinhold Niebuhr, in Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (1932)
  • And if you equate God’s judgment with your judgment, you have a wrong religion. Reinhold Niebuhr, in The Mike Wallace Interview, ABC-TV (April, 27, 1958)

Niebuhr preceded the thought by saying: “One of the fundamental points about religious humility is you say you don’t know about the ultimate judgment. It’s beyond your judgment.”

  • True religion is the life we lead, not the creed we profess. Louis Nizer, in Reflections Without Mirrors: An Autobiography of the Mind (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: This popular observation came as Nizer was hailing the moral character of his former law partner Louis Phillips. Nizer continued: “I have never known anyone whose life was guided by purer concepts of honesty, decency, and justice. These were not to him esoteric concepts to be uttered in a house of worship, or paid obeisance in conversation. They were his daily applied standards of conduct, and he never, never deviated from them no matter what the exigency.”

  • Not everybody feels religion in the same way. Some it’s in their mouth, but some it’s like a hope in their blood, their bones. Tillie Olsen, “O Yes,” in Tell Me a Riddle (1960)
  • We use religion like a trolley-car-we ride on it only while it is going our way. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Every religion is good that teaches man to be good. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791–92)
  • My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791–92)

QUOTE NOTE: Over the years, Paine’s observation has been cited or tweaked countless times by agnostics, atheists, and those who reject organized religion. For example, in a 2013 PBS interview with Charlie Rose (Sep. 17, 2013), the popular entertainer Ricky Gervais said simply: “My religion is kindness.”

  • Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794)
  • As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fault to grow in discipline, love, and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Developing an understanding of the world and our place in it is so fundamentally important to the human experience that Peck concluded: “This understanding is our religion.” He explained that most people define religion too narrowly, linking it to a particular belief of practice. In his view, though, ‘everyone has a religion,’ and it is reflected in their own unique understanding of the world.

  • Religion to me has always been the wound, not the bandage. Dennis Potter, in Seeing the Blossom (1994)
  • Religion, oh, just another of those numerous failures resulting from an attempt to popularize art. Ezra Pound, in undated letter to fiancée Mary Moore; quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character (1988)
  • I don’t have much truck with the “religion is the cause of most of our wars” school of thought because that is manifestly done by mad, manipulative and power-hungry men who cloak their ambition in God. Terry Pratchett, in Daily Mail (June 21, 2008)
  • Religion is a paramount contributor to human misery. It is not merely the opium of the masses, it is the cyanide. Tom Robbins, in Skinny Legs and All (1990)

ERROR ALERT: The words are from the narrator, playing off the legendary Karl Marx observation. Many quotation collections, including the normally reliable Wikiquote, present the following abridged version: “Religion is not merely the opium of the masses, it’s the cyanide.”

  • Religion, which may in most of its forms be defined as the belief that the gods are on the side of the Government. Bertrand Russell, in Marriage and Morals (1929)
  • Religion is the love of life in the consciousness of impotence. George Santayana, in Winds of Doctrine (1913)
  • Each religion, by the help of more or less myth which it takes more or less seriously, proposes some method of fortifying the human soul and enabling it to make its peace with its destiny. George Santayana, in My Host the World (1953; Vol. 3 of his autobiography Persons and Places)
  • It may be said that religion is the chef d’oeuvre of the art of training, because it trains people in the way that shall think: and, as is well known, you cannot begin the process too early. Arthur Schopenhauer, in Studies in Pessimism (1890)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the passage has been traditionally translated, with chef d’oeuvre being the French term for “masterpiece,” especially in the artistic or literary realm. In The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1962), W. H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger presented an updated rendition: “Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they shall think.”

  • Religion is like the fashion; one man wears his doublet slashed, another laced, another plain; but every man has a doublet: so every man has a religion. We differ about the trimming. John Selden, “Religion,” in Table Talk (1689)
  • There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham—all a sham. Anna Sewell, the character John Manly speaking, in Black Beauty (1877)
  • There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to Plays Pleasant (1898)
  • Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, a refuge; never a check. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Preface to The Cenci (1819)
  • Ah! What a divine religion might be found out, if charity were really made the principle of it, instead of faith. Percy Bysshe Shelley, remark to Leigh Hunt, quoted in Hunt’s, Memoir of Shelley (1828)
  • To me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. Frank Sinatra, in Playboy interview (Feb., 1963)

In the interview, Sinatra also said: “There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I'll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well.”

  • Extreme happiness invites religion almost as much as extreme misery. Dodie Smith, the character known as the Vicar speaking, in I Capture the Castle (1948)
  • God is enough! All religion is enfolded for me now in these three words. Hannah Whitall Smith, a 1901 remark, quoted in Philadelphia Quaker (1950; Logan Pearsall Smith, ed.)
  • Religion is probably, after sex, the second oldest resource with which human beings have available to them for blowing their minds. Susan Sontag, in Styles of Radical Will (1966)
  • Using the phrase ancestor-worship in its broadest sense as comprehending all worship of the dead, be they of the same blood or not, we reach the conclusion that ancestor-worship is the root of every religion. Herbert Spencer, in The Principles of Sociology (1882)
  • We have just Religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1711)
  • He who enters religion does not make profession to be perfect, but he professes to endeavor to attain perfection; even as he who enters the schools does not profess to have knowledge, but to study in order to acquire knowledge. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica (c. 1265)
  • Religion without humanity is a poor human stuff. Sojourner Truth, “A Memorial Chapter,” in Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1884)
  • Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. Mark Twain, “Man’s Place in the Animal World” (1869); reprinted in Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays, 1891-1910 (1992; Louis J. Budd, ed.)
  • Religion, like water, may be free, but when they pipe it to you, you’ve got to help pay for the piping. And the piper! Abigail van Buren, in “Dear Abby” syndicated column (April 28, 1974)
  • Organized religion is making Christianity political rather than making politics Christian. Lauren Van der Post, quoted in The Observer (London; Nov. 9, 1986). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Every great religion is, in truth, a concentration of great ideas, capable, as all ideas are, of infinite expansion and adaptation. Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the title character speaking, in Robert Elsmere (1888)
  • Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. George Washington, in a letter to Edward Newenham (Oct. 20, 1792)
  • Religion is love; in no case is it logic. Beatrice Potter Webb, in My Apprenticeship (1926)
  • Religion is a form of nourishment. It is difficult to appreciate the flavor and food-value of something one has never eaten. Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • Religions are such stuff as dreams are made of. H. G. Wells, in The Happy Turning (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: Wells is, of course, playing off the familiar Shakespeare line (“We are such stuff as dreams are made on”) from the character Prospero in The Tempest (1611)

  • A religious awakening which does not awaken the sleeper to love has roused him in vain. Jessamyn West, in the Introduction to The Quaker Reader (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: West earlier used the same observation in her 1960 novel, South of the Angels.

  • Religion is…being as much like God as man can be. Benjamin Whichcote, in Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1753)
  • Religion is the reaction of human nature to its search for God. Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World (1925)
  • Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. Alfred North Whitehead, in Religion in the Making (1926)
  • No religion can be considered in abstraction from its followers, or even from its various types of followers. Alfred North Whitehead, in Adventures in Ideas (1933)
  • All roads that lead to God are good. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in The New York Templar (May 15, 1911)
  • Religion is, as it were, the calm bottom of the sea at its deepest point, which remains calm however high the waves on the surface may be. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a 1946 notebook entry, in Culture and Value (1980)




  • Remarrying a husband you’ve divorced is like having your appendix put back in. Phyllis Diller, a signature line from her stand-up routine

QUOTE NOTE: Robert Metz, in his book on The Tonight Show (1980) says that Diller originally made the remark on the show after learning that Liz Taylor and Robert Burton, who had been divorced for a number of years, announced they were remarrying. Diller went on to offer the line in a variety of slightly differing ways over the years, once even in the presence of Ms. Taylor. At a 1981 Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund event in which Taylor was given the Humanitarian of the Year award, Diller and a number of other celebrities were on hand to warm up the crowd. A piece in People magazine reported that “Taylor’s mouth tightened” when Diller quipped: “I never understood why Elizabeth married Richard Burton the second time. That’s like having your appendix put back in.”

  • Remarriage to a good woman is the best of second chances. Richard Raymond III, in a personal communication to the compiler (Jan. 28, 2018)



  • So many persons think divorce a panacea for every ill, who find out, when they try it, that the remedy is worse than the disease. Dorothy Dix, in Dorothy Dix—Her Book: Every-Day Help for Every-Day People (1926)
  • Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings. Helen Keller, IN My Religion (1927)
  • Activity is a sovereign remedy for the blues. Myrtle Reed, in Master of the Vineyard (1910)
  • Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,/Which we ascribe to Heaven. William Shakespeare, the character Helena speaking, in All’s Well That Ends Well (1602)
  • There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if we only know how to find it. Ida B. Wells, a 1900 remark, quoted in Alfreda M. Duster, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (1970)



  • When pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. Jane Austen, in Persuasion (1818)
  • How we remember, what we remember, and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality. Christina Baldwin, in One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing (1977)
  • Interestingly, anger and lust are also elusive states once they have passed. Trying to recall why you were angry about something when you've calmed down is like trying to remember why you were in love with someone who no longer attracts you: the initial impulse triggering the emotion is impossible to recapture. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • People forget years and remember moments. Ann Beattie, the voice of the narrator in the short story “Snow,” in Where You’ll Find Me: And Other Stories (1986)

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

  • To live in hearts we leave behind/
Is not to die. Thomas Campbell, in the poem “Hallowed Ground” (1825)
  • Surely it is much more generous to forgive and remember, than to forgive and forget. Maria Edgeworth, in Letters for Literary Ladies (1795)
  • We have all forgot more than we remember. Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia (1732
  • The way we remember a learning experience is by dramatizing it in our minds; but when we dramatize it, we distort it—and then it is no longer the same experience we vowed to remember. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (April 11, 1975)
  • Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. Zora Neale Hurston, a lovely example of chiasmus, in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • A nation that can’t remember its dead will soon cease to be worth dying for. P. D. James, the character Sir George speaking, in The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982)

Sir George preceded the observation by saying, “Armistice Day isn’t to do with peace. It’s to do with war and remembering one’s dead.”

  • We do not remember people as they were. What we remember is the effect they had on us then, but we remember it through an emotion charged with all that has since happened to us. Storm Jameson, in That Was Yesterday (1932)
  • The very effort to forget teaches us to remember. L. E. Landon, in Ethel Churchill, or, The Two Brides (1837)
  • The smell of lilacs crept poignantly into the room like a remembered spring. Margaret Millar, in Vanish in an Instant (1952)
  • An actor can remember his briefest notice well into senescence and long after he has forgotten his phone number and where he lives. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • We do not remember days; we remember moments. Cesare Pavese, in This Business of Living, [1935-1950] (pub. posthumously in 1952)
  • If one can remember without loving, then couldn’t one love without remembering? Mary Roberts Rinehart, in The Breaking Point (1922)
  • I’m at the age when remembering something right away is as good as an orgasm. Gloria Steinem, quoted in a 1999 issue of Modern Maturity (specific date undetermined)
  • The conversation of two people remembering, if the memory is enjoyable to both, rocks on like music or lovemaking. There is a rhythm and a predictability to it that each anticipates and relishes. Jessamyn West, in The State of Stony Lonesome (1984)



  • Remorse is the echo of a lost virtue. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the narrator, in Zanoni (1842)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of a longer passage in which the narrator was describing the character Jean Nicot, an atheist who is portrayed in unflattering terms in the novel. About Nicot, he says: “Remorse is the echo of a lost virtue, and virtue he never knew. Had he to live again, he would live the same.”

  • There are things we can’t undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life. Gail Godwin, the opening line of Flora (2013)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s common for an opening sentence to express the novel’s central theme, but it is rare for those opening words to be so eloquently expressed that they will likely find their way into a future edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. When I came upon this haunting opening sentence for the first time, I immediately stopped set the book down and added the observation to my personal “Words to Live By” file. I now also regard it as the single best thing ever said on the subject of remorse.

  • True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1960)



  • Shakespeare wouldn’t have been any good if he’d stayed in Stratford. He had to go to London to be bathed in the full current of the Renaissance. John Dos Passos, in Most Likely to Succeed (1954)
  • In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization’s hardest winters. John Fowles, the voice of the narrator, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)


(see also INSULTS and RETORTS and WIT)

  • There is not the least wit in my nature. I am a very matter-of-fact, plain-spoken being, and may blunder on the borders of a repartee for half-an-hour together without striking it out. Jane Austen, the protagonist Fanny Price speaking, in Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Repartee is what you wish you’d said. Heywood Broun, quoted in Robert E. Drennan, The Algonquin Wits (1968)
  • A man renowned for repartee/Will seldom scruple to make free/With friendship's finest feeling,/Will thrust a dagger at your breast,/And say he wounded you in jest,/By way of balm for healing. William Cowper, in “Friendship” (1782)
  • Repartee is precisely the touchstone of the man of wit. Molière, in The Affected Ladies (1659)



  • It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon at National Cathedral, Washington, DC (March 31, 1968)
  • We as often repent the good we have done as the ill. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)


  • A meaningless phrase repeated again and again begins to resemble truth. Barbara Kingsolver, a reflection of narrator Codi Noline, in Animal Dreams (1990)
  • Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in radio address (Oct. 26, 1939)



  • Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion on a ukulele: the instrument is too crude for the work, for the audience, and for the performer. Ben Bagdikian, in The Effete Conspiracy (1972)
  • A friendship between reporter and source lasts only until it is profitable for one to betray the other. Maureen Dowd, “Thou Shalt Not Leave a Paper Trail,” in The New York Times (May 8, 1994)

In a 1972 Newsweek article, historian Theodore H. White was quoted as making a similar point, but his focus was entirely on the journalist: “When a reporter sits down at the typewriter, he’s nobody's friend.”

  • Some of the qualities that go into making a good reporter—aggressiveness, a certain sneakiness, a secretive nature, nosiness, the ability to find out that which someone wants hidden, the inability to take ‘no’ with any sort of grace, a taste for gossip, rudeness, a fair disdain for what people will think of you and an occasional and calculated disregard for rules—are also qualities that go into making a very antisocial human being. Linda Ellerbee, in “And So It Goes”: Adventures in Television (1986)
  • For most of my adult life, I have been an emotional hit-and-run driver—that is, a reporter. Anna Quindlen, in Living Out Loud (1988)

Quindlen continued: “I made people like me, trust me, open their hearts and their minds to me, and cry and bleed on to the pages of my neat little notebooks, and then I went back to a safe place and made a story out of it.”

  • Being a reporter is as much a diagnosis as a job description. Anna Quindlen, “Public & Private: Threshold of Pain,” in The New York Times (March 3, 1993)

Quindlen went on to write: “It is a strange business, making a living off other people’s misfortunes, standing in the rubble with a press card as a nominal shield, writing in a crabbed hand notes no one else can read, riding an adrenaline surge that ends in a product at once flimsy and influential.”



  • Every dictatorship has ultimately strangled in the web of repression it wove for its people, making mistakes that could not be corrected because criticism was prohibited. Robert F. Kennedy, in “The Value of Dissent” speech at Nashville, Tennessee (March 21, 1968)
  • As a society in turmoil, we are going to see more, and more various, attempts to simulate order through repression; and art is a historical target for such efforts. Adrienne Rich, quoted in Richard Jones, Poetry and Politics (1985)
  • The seed of revolution is repression. Woodrow Wilson, in speech to Congress (Dec. 2, 1919)


(see also DENIAL and TRUTH)

  • Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined in it the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth? John Cheever, the narrator describing the mental state of protagonist Neddy Merrill, in the short story “The Swimmer,” The New Yorker (July 18, 1964)



  • If one’s reputation is a possession, then of all my possessions, my reputation means most to me. Nothing comes even close to it in importance. Arthur Ashe, the opening words of Days of Grace: A Memoir (1993; with Arnold Rampersad)

Ashe continued: “Now and then, I have wondered whether my reputation matters too much to me; but I can no more easily renounce my concern with what other people think of me than I can will myself to stop breathing. No matter what I do, or where or when I do it, I feel the eyes of others on me, judging me.”

  • Reputation is the road to power. Jeremy Bentham, in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780)
  • Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. Lois McMaster Bujold, the Count speaking, in A Civil Campaign: A Comedy of Biology and Manners [Book 12 of the Miles Vorkosigan Series](1999)
  • Nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman; it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things. Fanny Burney, in Evelina (1778)
  • Reputation is a bubble which a man bursts when he tries to blow it for himself. Emma Carleton, “Foot-Notes,” in The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest (July, 1900)
  • The reputation of a woman may also be compared to a mirror of crystal, shining and bright, but liable to be sullied by every breath that comes near it. Miguel de Cervantes, the character Lothario speaking, in Don Quixote (1605)

Lothario, who is advising Anselmo how to treat his beloved Camilla, continued: “The virtuous woman must be treated like a relic—adored, but not handled; she should be guarded and prized, like a fine flower-garden, the beauty and fragrance of which the owner allows others to enjoy only at a distance, and through iron walls.”

  • The easiest way to get a reputation is to go outside the fold, shout around for a few years as a violent atheist or a dangerous radical, and then crawl back to the shelter. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Notebook O,” in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • Reputation is commonly measur’d by the Acre. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Never risk your reputation on a single trial, because if it does not turn out well, the damage will be irreparable. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • What people say behind your back is your standing in the community. Edgar Watson Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • It’s easy to get a reputation for wisdom. It’s only necessary to live long, speak little and do less. P. D. James, in Original Sin (1994)
  • The blaze of reputation cannot be blown out, but it often dies in the socket. Samuel Johnson, in letter to Hester Thrale (May 1, 1780); quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Dr. Johnson added: “Very few names may be considered as perpetual lamps that shine unconsumed.”

  • We’d all like a reputation for generosity, and we’d all like to buy it cheap. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Perhaps the most valuable of all human possessions, next to an aloof and sniffish air, is the reputation of being well-to-do. H. L. Mencken, in The Smart Set (May, 1920)
  • Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is. Margaret Mitchell, Rhett Butler speaking to Scarlett, in Gone With the Wind (1936)
  • A man may write himself out of reputation when nobody else can do it. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man (1791)
  • At every word a reputation dies. Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock (1712)
  • Every word misused revenges itself forever upon a writer’s reputation. Agnes Repplier, “Conservative’s Consolations,” in Points of Friction (1920)
  • Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. William Shakespeare, Iago speaking, in Othello (1602–04)
  • However lyingly libellous they [journalists] may be: nobody can seriously hurt the reputation of a Great person. If he is hurt: he is not Great. They can but scratch at his skin with their mice nails. Caitlin Thomas, in Not Quite Posthumous Letter to My Daughter (1963)
  • I wrote the story myself. It’s about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it. Mae West, quoted in Molly Haskell, “Mae West’s Bawdy Spirit Spans the the Gay 90’s,” in The New York Times (Aug. 15, 1993)



SPELLING NOTE: Re-reading and rereading are both considered acceptable, and you will see both versions reflected in the quotations below. I prefer the former because it is less likely to be met with a double-take reaction on the part of readers

  • Rereading, not reading, is what counts. Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in a 1977 issue of Time magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Rereading, we find a new book. Mason Cooley, “City Aphorisms,” in Outerbridge (1991)
  • A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight. Robertson Davies, “Too Much, Too Fast,” in Peterborough Examiner (June 16, 1962), reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1979)
  • If a book read when young is a lover, that same book, reread later on, is a friend. Anne Fadiman, in the Foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005)

Fadiman continued: “This may sound like a demotion, but after all, it is old friends, not lovers, to whom you are most likely to turn when you need comfort.”

  • The reader who plucks a book from her shelf only once is as deprived as the listener who, after attending a single performance of a Beethoven symphony, never hears it again. Anne Fadiman, on rereading books, in the Foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005)

Later in the Foreword, Fadiman wrote: “Rereading forces you to spend time, at claustrophobically close range, with your earnest, anxious, pretentious, embarrassing former self, a person you thought you had left behind but who turns out to have been living inside you all along.”

  • When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before. Clifton Fadiman, “War and Peace, Fifteen Years After,” in Any Number Can Play (1957)
  • You can reread not from love or hatred but from a sense, often inchoate, that there’s more to this book than you have been yet able to receive. Alan Jacobs, in The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (2011)
  • The greatest pleasures of reading consist in re-reading. Vernon Lee, “Reading Books,” in Hortus Vitae (1904)
  • If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book. Ursula K LeGuin, “Staying Awake: Notes on the Alleged Decline of Reading,” Harper’s magazine (Feb., 2008)
  • I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once. C. S. Lewis, in letter to Arthur Greaves (Feb., 1932); reprinted in They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1914–1963, (1979; Walter Hooper, ed.)
  • “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are” is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread. François Mauriac, quoted in Dee Danner Barwick, A Treasury of Days (1983)
  • The return to a favorite novel is generally tied up with changes in oneself that must be counted as improvements, but have the feel of losses. It is like going back to a favorite house, country, person; nothing is where it belongs, including one’s heart. Mary McCarthy, “On Re-Reading a Favorite Book,” in A Bolt From the Blue and Other Essays (2002)
  • Any book which is at all important should be reread immediately. Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted in W. H. Auden & Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection (1962)
  • Thou Shalt Not Let a Day Pass Without Re-Reading Something Great. Stephen Vizinczey, “A Writers Ten Commandments,” in Truth and Lies in Literature: Essays and Reviews (1986; rev. ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Number Seven in Vizinczey’s list, and a reminder that aspiring writers should follow the pattern of aspiring musicians by carefully studying—and even emulating—the works of the great masters. He went on to write: “if you understand the masters’ techniques, you have a better chance to develop your own. To put it in terms of chess: there hasn’t yet been a grandmaster who didn’t know his predecessor’s championship games by heart.”

  • If you have a good paperback library of great writers, and if you keep re-reading them, you will have access to more secrets of literature than all the culture phonies who set the tone in big cities. Stephen Vizinczey, “A Writers Ten Commandments,” in Truth and Lies in Literature: Essays and Reviews (1986; rev. ed. 2011)
  • One of life’s best pleasures is reading a book of perfect beauty; more pleasurable still is rereading that book; most pleasurable of all is lending it to the person one loves. William T. Vollmann, a reflection of the unnamed narrator in “Ecstasy” chapter of Europe Central (2005)
  • I’m always nervous about going home, just as I am nervous about rereading books that have meant a lot to me. Jeanette Winterson, a reflection of the unnamed narrator, in the title story of The World and Other Places: Stories (1999)



  • There are no knights on white horses, no magical grandmothers in the sky watching, waiting to rescue us. Teachers may come our way, but they will not rescue. They will teach. People who care will come, but they will not rescue. They will care. Melody Beattie, in The Language of Letting Go (1990)

Beattie continued: “Help will come, but help is not rescuing. We are our own rescuers. Our relationships will improve dramatically when we stop rescuing others and stop expecting them to rescue us.”

  • Drowning people/Sometimes die/Fighting their rescuers. Octavia Butler, in Parable of the Sower (1993)
  • In all codependent relationships, the rescuer needs the victim as much as the victim needs the rescuer. Barbara De Angelis, in Ask Barbara: The 100 Most-Asked Questions About Love, Sex and Relationships (1997)
  • I never heard of anybody who admired the character of sheep. Even the gentlest human personalities in contact with them are annoyed by their lack of brains, courage and initiative, by their extraordinary ability to get themselves into uncomfortable or dangerous situations and then wait in inert helplessness for someone to rescue them. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Vermont Tradition (1935)
  • We will rescue ourselves from our present dilemma when we substitute intelligence for force. Beatrice Trum Hunter, in Gardening Without Poisons (1964)
  • In freeing myself from the romantic dream of finding another man to come along and rescue me, I learned that no one can rescue me except myself. Erica Jong, quoted in Beth Benatovich, What We Know So Far (1995)
  • One of the finest things men and women do is rescue men and women, even when they know they are rescuing the dead. Norman Maclean, in Young Men and Fire (1992)
  • Some people read to confirm their own hopelessness. Others read to be rescued from it. Anaïs Nin, “The New Woman,” an April, 1974 talk in San Francisco; broadcast on KPFA-Radio (May 28, 1974) and reprinted in Ramparts magazine (May, 1974)



  • Hanging on to resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head. Author Unknown, in Yellowed Pages (1989; a publication of the Southeast Texas Genealogical Society)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly attributed to Ann Landers.

  • Expectations are premeditated resentments. Author Unknown, quoted in Anne Wilson Schaef, Meditations for People Who Worry (1996)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation researcher Barry Popik, this is the first appearance of the saying in print. Shaef described it as “an old saying,” but my best guess is that it emerged from the recovery movement in the 1980s or early 1990s. Here is Shaef’s complete thought: “If the old saying that ‘expectations are premeditated resentments’ is true, then our expectations are always putting us in an untenable position.” In her 2010 novel Imperfect Birds, Anne Lamott also passed along a popular version of the sentiment, writing about a character: “Elizabeth lived by the adage that expectations were disappointments under construction.”

  • Resentments, carried too far, expose us to a fate analogous to that of the fish-hawk, when he strikes his talons too deep into a fish beyond his capacity to lift, and is carried under and drowned by it. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. II (1862)
  • Resentment is like taking poison and hoping it‘ll kill someone else. Alan Brandt, quoted in Ashton Applewhite, Thinking Positive: Words of Inspiration, Encouragement, and Validation for People with AIDS and Those Who Care for Them (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: This saying, in pretty much this phrasing, went on to achieve great popularity after it was tweaked by others (see the entries below from Susan Cheever, Carrie Fisher, Malachy McCourt, and Neil Kinnock). Thanks to Barry Popik of The Big Apple website for his research. The underlying sentiment that negative emotions toward others are like a poison that can harm the person harboring them goes back more than a century. See the Bert Ghezzi entry below for the earliest appearance of the specific resentment variation.

  • To ruminate upon evils, to make critical notes upon injuries, and to be too acute in their apprehension, is to add unto our own tortures, to feather the arrows of our enemies, to lash ourselves with the scorpions of our foes, and to resolve to sleep no more; for injuries long dreamt on, take away at last all rest. Thomas Browne, in Christian Morals (1716)
  • Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten. Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, in The Teachings of Buddha (The Buddhist Bible): A Compendium of Many Scriptures (1934)
  • The secret of how to live without resentment or embarrassment in a world in which I was different from everyone else. was to be indifferent to that difference. Al Capp, “My Well-Balanced Life on a Wooden Leg,” in Life magazine (May 23, 1960)

QUOTE NOTE: Capp was nine-years-old when he was run over by a trolly car. In a coma for several days after the accident, he only realized after regaining consciousness that his leg had been amputated above the knee. In 1991 memoir (My Well-balanced Life on a Wooden Leg), published a dozen years after his death, he expressed the thought in a slightly different way: “I had learned how to live without resentment or embarrassment in a world in which I was different from everyone else. The secret, I found, was to be indifferent to the difference.”

  • If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism—no matter how certain we are that it is justified. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment. Dale Carnegie, in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948)
  • The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned. Dale Carnegie, in How To Enjoy Your Life And Your Job (1974)
  • Being resentful, they say, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Susan Cheever, in A Woman’s Life: The Story of an Ordinary Woman and Her Extraordinary Generation (1995)
  • What we don’t recognize is that holding onto resentment is like holding onto your breath. You’ll soon start to suffocate.

Deepak Chopra, in a Tweet (Aug. 6, 2014)

  • He who requires much from himself and little from others, will keep himself from being the object of resentment. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. BC)
  • If your conduct is determined solely by considerations of profit you will arouse great resentment. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. BC)
  • The life of pleasure breeds boredom. The life of duty breeds resentment. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • Of all the futile and destructive emotions to which human beings are prey, perhaps the most universal is resentment. Surely there can be few people who have not wasted many hours or even years of their lives dwelling on the wrongs supposedly done to them. Theodore Dalrymple, “The Uses of Resentment,” in Psychology Today (March 1, 1995)

QUOTE NOTE: Dalrymple’s impressive article on the subject also contained these other memorable observations:

“Considering the importance of resentment in our lives, and the damage it does, it receives scant attention from psychiatrists and psychologists. Resentment is a great rationalizer: it presents us with selected versions of our own past, so that we do not recognize our own mistakes and avoid the necessity to make painful choices.”

“Among my patients, it is clear that this emotion fulfills an important function: to disguise from themselves the extent to which their own decisions and conduct have been responsible for their unhappiness. People prefer the role of immaculate victim of circumstance to that of principal author of their own misery.”

  • There are those who clutch to resentment like it were a treasure of great worth. This is foolishness. The question to be asked is not how badly we were wronged, but what are we profited by our unforgiveness? Richard Paul Evans, an excerpt from the character Esther Huish’s diary, in The Locket: A Novel (1998)
  • Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die. Carrie Fisher, citing something “I’ve learned” from her drinking and recovery experiences, in Wishful Drinking (2008)
  • Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves. Bert Ghezzi, in The Angry Christian: How to Control & Use Your Anger (1980)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the earliest version of a sentiment that has become almost proverbial under the phrasing Resentment is like taking a poison and waiting for the other person to die (see variations on the theme in entries in this section by Alan Brandt, Susan Cheever, Carrie Fisher, and Malachy McCourt. Thanks to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for his impressive research on this quotation (O'Toole’s informative 2017 post identifies even earlier sayings that compare hatred and other negative emotions to a poison).

  • As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff of it is bad for you. Elizabeth Gilbert, in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia (2006)
  • We challenge life for its meaning—and we haven’t the courage for what hurts our feelings. We resent—and then we are shut out from understanding. Resentment opens no door and breeds no courage. Susan Glaspell, the voice of Lydia Chippman, the narrator and protagonist, in The Morning is Near Us: A Novel (1939)
  • Politeness forbids any display of resentment. The polished surface throws back the arrow. Florence Hartley, in The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness (1876)
  • Resentment is a union of sorrow with malignity, a combination of a passion which all endeavor to avoid, with a passion which all concur to detest. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Dec. 24, 1751)
  • Resentment is an extremely bitter diet, and eventually poisonous. I have no desire to make my own toxins. Neil Kinnock, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)

QUOTE NOTE: While many Reader’s Digest quotations are of questionable authenticity, this one should be considered legitimate. In a personal communication to this compiler in February, 2016, Lord Kinnock recalled making the remark in an interview on ITV, an independent British television network, in 1993.

  • The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there? Jack Kornfield, in a Tweet (Oct. 7, 2015)
  • I’ve known for years that resentments don’t hurt the person we resent, but they do hurt us. Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2005)
  • Charles had once remarked that holding onto a resentment was like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Anne Lamott, the protagonist Rosie Ferguson reflecting on her friend Charles, in Crooked Little Heart: A Novel (2011)
  • Strength of character means the ability to overcome resentment against others, to hide hurt feelings, and to forgive quickly. Lawrence G. Lovasik, in The Hidden Power of Kindness (1962; rev. ed. 1999)
  • If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody else, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you. Peter Marshall, quoted in Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter: The Story of Peter Marshall (1951)

Marshall continued: “If you do not forgive other people, you yourself can never feel forgiven, because you will never be forgiven.”

  • Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Malachy McCourt, quoted in Alex Witchel, “At Lunch with Malachy McCourt, The New York Times (July 29, 1998)
  • Resentment is the most precious flower of poverty. Carson McCullers, a reflection of the character Jake Blount, in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
  • Resentment is an evil so costly to our peace, that we should find it more cheap to forgive even were it not more right. Hannah More, in Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788)

More preceded the remark by writing: “The torment of constantly hating any one must be, at least, equal to the sin of it.”

  • Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo (1888)
  • Resentment isn’t a magnetic personal style. Peggy Noonan, in What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990)
  • Resentment is a communicable disease and should be quarantined. Cynthia Ozick, a maxim from the character Adam Gruenhorn, in Trust: A Novel (1966)
  • Resentment or grudges do no harm to the person against whom you hold these feelings, but every day and every night of your life, they are eating at you. Norman Vincent Peale, in Positive Thinking Every Day (1995)
  • Do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Ayn Rand, the character Dr. Robert Stadler speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • When life demands more of people than they demand of life—as is ordinarily the case—what results is a resentment of life almost as deep-seated as the fear of death. Indeed, the resentment of life and the fear of death are virtually synonymous. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)
  • Resentment used to be something that folks wanted to get rid of, now they water it and put it on a windowsill, like a favorite pot plant. Edward St. Aubyn, in Double Blind (2021)
  • Anger is a normal emotion if it is expressed when felt. Then it is over with. If one keeps a lid on it, it develops into resentment or hate. Bernie Siegel, in Love, Medicine & Miracles (1986)

Siegel continued: “Sooner or later, resentment and hate explode, destroying others, or they are held in, destroying oneself.”

  • To show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it. Tacitus, in The Annals of Tacitus (1st. c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become the most popular translation of what is known as one of the “difficult passages” of the great Roman historian. Previous translations of his admonition to ignore slanders and personal insults have been all over the map. One said: “Calumny falls to the ground when neglected; but we give a countenance to it by having any serious concern about it.” Another, in the concluding line, said: “Show that you are hurt and you give it the appearance of truth.” And still another: “When you resent a thing, you seem to recognize it.” Perhaps the most quaint, though, was this: “If you wax wroth, you seem to avow them to be true.”

  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct—never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike. Philip Dormer Stanhope Lord Chesterfield, in letter to his son (March 26, 1754)
  • Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. Corrie Ten Boom, in Jesus is Victor (1984)
  • More than anything else, resentment was the death of love. It killed slowly. Lisa Unger, a reflection of the character Merri Gleason, in Ink and Bone: A Novel (2016)
  • Resentment always hurts you more than it does the person you resent. While your offender has probably forgotten the offense and gone on with life, you continue to stew in your pain, perpetuating the past. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life (2002)

Warren continued: “Listen: those who hurt you in the past cannot continue to hurt you now unless you hold on to the pain through resentment. Your past is past! Nothing will change it. You are only hurting yourself with your bitterness. For your own sake, learn from it, and then let it go.”

  • Those who have hurt you in the past cannot continue to hurt you now unless you hold on to the pain through resentment. Rick Warren, in What On Earth Am I Here For? (2004)
  • He was a man who grew fat on resentment as others did on happiness. Edith Wharton, the character Halo Tarrant, reflecting on her husband, in The Gods Arrive (1932)
  • A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. John Wooden, quoted in Neville L. Johnson, The John Wooden Pyramid of success: The Authorized Biography (2000)



  • Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind. Marston Bates, quoted in Quote magazine (Nov. 5, 1967)
  • The research worker remains a student all his life. William Beveridge, in The Art of Scientific Investigation (1957)
  • Research is the search of people who don’t know what they want. G. K. Chesterton, in The G. K. Chesterton Calendar (1916)
  • Scientific research was much like prospecting: you went out and you hunted, armed with your maps and your instruments, but in the end your preparations did not matter, or even your intuition. You needed your luck, and whatever benefits accrued to the diligent, through sheer, grinding hard work. Michael Crichton, the narrator quoting a favorite saying of the character Dr. Jeremy Stone, in The Andromeda Strain (1969)
  • In research the front line is almost always in a fog. Francis Crick, in What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988)
  • After all, the ultimate goal of all research is not objectivity, but truth. Helene Deutsch, in Preface to The Psychology of Women, Vol. 1 (1944)
  • When curiosity turns to serious matters, it’s called research. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • When a man after long years of searching chances upon a thought which discloses something of the beauty of this mysterious universe, he should not therefore be personally celebrated. He is already sufficiently paid by his experience of seeking and finding. Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times (Nov. 10, 1978)
  • As much research as you think you’re doing, you’re going to mess up, without a question. Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Lessons of Presidential Leadership,” Academy of Achievement Interview, www.achievement.org (June 28, 1996)
  • The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)

In her book, Green also wrote on the subject: “Research is a way of taking calculated risks to bring about incalculable consequences.”

  • Research has been defined as guerilla warfare on the unknown. Alan Gregg, in The Furtherance of Medical Research (1941)

Gregg continued: “In the rigorous uncertainties of such campaigns the investigator must be prepared to swap horses in mid-stream and to discard some very dear items of accumulated baggage of belief or personal pride, whenever intellectual honesty calls for such sacrifices.”

  • The dead hand of research lies heavy on too many novels. Nancy Hale, “The Two-Way Imagination,” in Richard Thruelsen & John Kobler, Adventures of the Mind, Second Series (1961)
  • The subject matter of research is no longer nature in itself, but nature subjected to human questioning. Karl Heisenberg, quoted in Aldous Huxley, Literature and Science (1963)
  • Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. Zora Neale Hurston, in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
  • We find that in research a certain amount of intelligent ignorance is essential to progress; for, if you know too much, you won’t try the thing. Charles F. Kettering, quoted in T. A. Boyd, Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles Franklin Kettering (1957)
  • The most beautiful thing in the world is, precisely, the conjunction of learning and inspiration. Oh, the passion for research and the joy of discovery! Wanda Landowska, quoted in Denise Restout, Landowska on Music (1964)
  • I find people call it research nowadays if they ever have to look anything up in a book. Margaret Lane, in A Night at Sea (1964)
  • If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the soluble. Both are immensely practical-minded affairs. Peter B. Medawar, “The Act of Creation,” in New Statesman (London; June 19, 1964); later in The Art of the Soluble (1967)
  • If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research. Wilson Mizner, quoted in Alva Johnson, The Legendary Mizners (1953)

In her Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998), Isabel Allende came close to plagiarism when she wrote: “Copying one author is plagiarism; copying many is research.”

  • The gift for investigation appears at an early age: the demon of research speaks to men whilst they are still young. Charles Richet, in The Natural History of a Savant (1927)
  • All good research—whether for science or for a book—is a form of obsession. Mary Roach, in Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008)
  • The joy of research must be found in doing, since every other harvest is uncertain. Theobald Smith, “Letter from Theobald Smith,” Journal of Bacteriology (Jan., 1934)
  • Research means going out into the unknown with the hope of finding something new to bring home. Albert Szent-Györgi, quoted in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (Autumn, 1974)
  • Blind alleys and garden paths leading nowhere are the principal hazards in research. Lewis Thomas, in Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

Thomas introduced the observation by writing: “If a scientist is going to engage in research of any kind, he has to have it on his mind, from the outset, that he may be on to a dud. You can tell a world-class scientist from the run-of-the-mill investigator by the speed with which he recognizes that he is heading into a blind alley.”

  • The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before. Thorstein Veblein, in The Evolution of the Scientific Point of View (1942)



  • What cannot be altered must be borne, not blamed. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia (1732)
  • What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the conclusion to a thought that famously began this way: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”



  • Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member. Groucho Marx, quoted in Arthur Sheekman, “Introduction,” The Groucho Letters (1967). Also an example of Oxymoronica.



  • Youth has the resilience to absorb disaster and weave it into the pattern of its life, no matter how anguishing the thorn that penetrates its flesh. Sholem Asch, the voice of the narrator, in East River (1946)
  • 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.”



  • At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice. Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
  • I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” Susan B. Anthony, A June 18, 1873 remark in Federal Court after being tried for voting
  • Since the beginning of the Movement, lesbianism has been a kind of code word for female resistance. Ti-Grace Atkinson, “Lesbianism and Feminism,” in Amazon Odyssey (1974)
  • Life is the ensemble of functions that resist death. Marie François Bichat, in Recherhes Physiologiques sur la Vie et la Mort (1800)
  • Day by day they were learning to live in resistance to the enemy, and this is a greater thing than to die in resistance. Pearl S. Buck, in Dragon Seed (1942)
  • To the wrongs that need resistance,/To the right that needs assistance,/To the future in the distance,/We give ourselves. Carrie Chapman Catt, in 1911 speech at the Stockholm convention of the International Woman Suffrage Association
  • She leaned toward me the way people do when they want an idea to penetrate your resistance. As though the closer they get their own brain to your brain, the easier it will be for the idea to leap across. Mildred Davis, in They Buried a Man (1953)
  • Resistance to tyranny is man’s highest ideal. Emma Goldman, in Anarchism and Other Essays, (1917; 3rd ed.)
  • Resistance is the first step to change. Louise L. Hay, in The Power Is Within You (1991)
  • Resistance, whether to one’s appetites or to the ways of the world, is a chief factor in the shaping of character. Eric Hoffer, in The Ordeal of Change (1964)
  • One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas. Victor Hugo, in Histoire d’un Crime (1877)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of Hugo’s most famous observations, originally written in 1852, but first published in 1877. It is also commonly translated as: “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an invasion of ideas.”

ERROR ALERT: The observation is often mistakenly presented as: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Nothing in Hugo's original words would suggest the phrase whose time has come, but shortly after WWI, liberal translations with that wording began to appear (as in this version from a June 8, 1919 issue of the Atlanta Constitution: “There is one idea stronger than armies, and that is an idea whose time has come”).

During WWII, Mussolini’s propagandists appropriated the looser translation and presented it in the following way in a number of fascist publications: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

  • What we resist persists. Sonia Johnson, in Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation (1987)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is attributed to Carl J. Jung, but nothing like it has ever been found in his writings.

  • Survival is a form of resistance. Gerda Lerner, in Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972)
  • The line of least resistance is to most people the lifeline. Sophie Irene Loeb, in Epigrams of Eve (1913)
  • Resistance, which is the function of conservatism, is essential to orderly advance. Agnes Repplier, “Conservative’s Consolations,” Points of Friction (1920)
  • There can be no real peace without justice. And without resistance there will be no justice. Arundhati Roy, in speech accepting the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize
  • You may either win your peace or buy it: win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil. John Ruskin, in The Two Paths (1859)
  • We have come to a point where it is loyalty to resist, and treason to submit. Carl Schurz, in speech at Albany Hall, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (March 23, 1859)

QUOTE NOTE: Schurz, the first German-American elected to the United States Senate (in 1868, from Missouri), offered this thought in response to the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mandated that escaped slaves captured in Northern free states were to be returned to their Southern masters. Schurz occupies a footnote in history by presciently writing in an 1864 letter: “I will make a prophecy that may now sound peculiar. In fifty years Lincoln’s name will be inscribed close to Washington’s on this Republic’s roll of honor.”

  • Vanity first leads us into danger, and then renders us incapable of resistance. Sarah Scott, in The History of Cornelia (1750)
  • Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar,” in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)

The entry continued: “Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word.”

  • Resistance is the secret of joy! Alice Walker, in Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: In the book’s epigraph, Walker wrote: “There are those who believe Black people possess the secret of joy and that it is this that will sustain them through any spiritual or moral or physical devastation.”

  • A soul, inspir’d by freedom's genial warmth/Expands, grows firm, and by resistance, strong. Mercy Otis Warren, “The Ladies of Castille,” in The Plays and Poems of Mercy Otis Warren (1790)
  • I can resist everything except temptation. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Darlington speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)
  • Dying doesn’t cause suffering. Resistance to dying does. Terry Tempest Williams, in Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1991)
  • The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it. Woodrow Wilson, in address to the New York Press Club, New York City (September 9, 1912).



  • Every therapeutic cure, and still more, any awkward attempt to show the patient the truth, tears him from the cradle of his freedom of responsibility and must therefore reckon with the most vehement resistance. Alfred Adler, “The Neurotic Disposition” (originally written in 1912); reprinted in The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: People who are most stubbornly resistant to change, according to Adler, live their lives according a “life-lie” that has been concocted to safeguard their self-esteem and maintain the status quo. In his view, change was only possible after people confronted these fictions about themselves.

  • Consistency can be a trap, especially if it leads to being consistently wrong rather than to stopping, admitting your mistake, and changing course. Jane Fonda, in My Life So Far (2005)
  • People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off. Paul Gibbons, in The Science of Successful Organizational Change (2015)
  • The hardest thing to believe when you’re young is that people wil fight to stay in a rut, but not to get out of it. Ellen Glasgow, in Barren Ground (1925)
  • There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith (1940)

Earlier in the book, Lindbergh had written: “Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”



  • Resolute, adj. Obstinate in a course that we approve. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • The man who will not execute his resolutions when they are fresh upon him, can have no hope from them afterward. They will be dissipated, lost in the hurry and scurry of the world, or sunk in the slough of indolence. Maria Edgeworth, quoted in Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front (1894)
  • Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. Benjamin Franklin, an example of the literary device known as chiasmus, in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791)
  • Whatever our problems are, dreams can provide novel ideas and sometimes magnificent resolutions. Patricia L. Garfield, in Creative Dreaming (1974)
  • He who is firm and resolute in will molds the world to himself. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891)
  • A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible. Thomas Hardy, the voice of the narrator, in Far From the Madding Crowd (1874)
  • 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.”

  • Every man naturally persuades himself that he can keep his resolutions. Dr. Samuel Johnson, in Prayers and Meditations (1785)
  • Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing. Abraham Lincoln, in letter to Isham Reavis (Nov. 5, 1855); reprinted in The Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln (1917; Gilbert A Tracy, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: A few weeks earlier, Reavis had written to Lincoln—then a practicing lawyer in Springfield, Illinois—seeking advice about becoming a lawyer. And earlier in his letter of reply to Reavis, Lincoln wrote: “If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.”

  • Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution. Theodore Roosevelt, “Character and Success,” in Outlook magazine (March 31, 1900); reprinted in The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (1900)

Roosevelt continued: “The boy who is going to make a great man, or is going to count in any way in the after life, must make up his mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.” The full article, still worth reading more than a century later, may be found at: Character and Success.

  • However many resolutions one makes, one’s pen, like water, always finds its own level, and one can’t write in any way other than one’s own. Vita Sackville-West, in a 1928 letter to Virginia Woolf, quoted in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (1985; Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska, eds.)
  • Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately. Charles M. Sheldon, in The 13th Resolution (1928)
  • The object of preaching is, constantly to remind mankind of what mankind are constantly forgetting; not to supply the defects of human intelligence, but to fortify the feebleness of human resolutions. Sydney Smith, “The Judge That Smites Contrary to the Law,” a March 28, 1824 sermon; reprinted in The Works of the Rev. Sydney Smith (1860)
  • Good resolutions are easy to make. So is lemon meringue. Both are almost impossible to keep. Kay Cleaver Strahan, in The Desert Moon Mystery (1928)
  • It may almost be a question whether such wisdom as many of us have in our mature years has not come from the dying out of the power of temptation, rather than as the results of thought and resolution. Anthony Trollope, a reflection of the narrator, in The Small House at Allington (1864)
  • Good resolutions…are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Henry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation appears in many quotation anthologies (and often without the ellipsis), but it was originally part of a larger observation. After Dorian says to Lord Henry, “I remember your saying once that there is a fatality about good resolutions—that they are always made too late,” Lord Henry replies:

“Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil. They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious sterile emotions that have a certain charm for the week. That is all that can be said for them. They are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”



  • May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions! Joey Adams, quoted in a 1987 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time. James Agate, in A Shorter Ego, Vol. 3 (1949)
  • Keep young. Many men talk about being born again. Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Henry Ward Beecher, “A Completed Year” sermon; reprinted in Plymouth Pulpit: A Weekly Publication of Sermons Preached by Henry Ward Beecher, Vol. 5 (1882)

Beecher continued: “Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.”

  • Some people have a regular practice of making New Year resolutions—generally shattering them before January has hidden its cold head out of sight. Will Carleton, “Editorial Thoughts and Fancies”, in Every Where magazine (Dev. 1912–Jan. 1913)

Carleton continued: “Resolves, in order to be of any use, should be made every day in the year, and if necessary every hour in the day.”

  • This year, for my New Year's resolution I joined a gym. Next year my resolution is to start going. Dava Krause from her stand-up comedy routine
  • I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. Anaïs Nin, a diary entry (January 1927)
  • A new year is a clean slate, a chance to suck in your breath, decide all is not lost and give yourself another chance. Sarah Overstreet, “Take Some Time to Smell the Flowers,” The Galveston Daily News (Jan. 7, 1991)
  • Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one. Brad Paisley, in a Tweet (Dec. 31, 2009)
  • We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. Edith Lovejoy Pierce, quoted in Jean Beaven Abernethy, Meditations for Women (1947)
  • New Year’s Day. Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Mark Twain, in letter to the Virginia City [Nevada Territory] Territorial Enterprise (Jan. 1, 1863)

Twain continued: “Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever…. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”



“Resolve to be merry though the ship were sinking.” Susannah Centlivre, The Artifice (1710)

“Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” Helen Keller, in Harold Bolce, “Away From Ancient Altars,” Cosmopolitan Magazine (1910)

“… our high resolves / Look down upon our slumbering acts.” L.E. Landon, “A History of the Lyre,” The Venetian Bracelet (1829)

  • There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,/Can circumvent or hinder or control/The firm resolve of a determined soul. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the opening lines of the poem “Will,”; in Maurine: And Other Poems (1888)



  • There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a journal entry, quoted in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations From Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources (1893)

  • Disrespectful words cannot entirely be eaten, ever. Respect is a kind of Humpty Dumpty. All the king’s horses can’t put it all the way up again. Charlotte Armstrong, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Olivia Hudson, in The Dream Walker (1955)
  • If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the character Alyosha speaking, in The Insulted and Injured (1861)
  • The respect that is only bought by gold is not worth much. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “Our Greatest Want,” in Anglo-African Magazine (May, 1859)
  • The more thoughtful you are of others, the more thoughtful they will be of you. The more you respect them, the more you will win their respect. Dorothy Sarnoff, in Speech Can Change Your Life (1970)
  • Respect for each other is at the heart of maintaining balance in a family. If we cannot accept each other’s ways we risk losing each other entirely. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)



  • Every therapeutic cure, and still more, any awkward attempt to show the patient the truth, tears him from the cradle of his freedom of responsibility and must therefore reckon with the most vehement resistance. Alfred Adler, “The Neurotic Disposition” (originally written in 1912), in The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: People who are most stubbornly resistant to change, according to Adler, live their lives according a “life-lie” that has been concocted to safeguard their self-esteem and maintain the status quo. In his view, change was only possible after people confronted these fictions about themselves.

  • I try to live what I consider a “poetic existence.” That means I take responsibility for the air I breathe and the space I take up. I try to be immediate, to be totally present for all my work. Maya Angelou, in Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work (1983)
  • Responsibility, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck, or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • People everywhere enjoy believing things that they know are not true. It spares them the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for what they know. Brooks Atkinson, in Once Around the Sun (1951)
  • Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1944 letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge; reprinted in Letters and Papers from Prison (1953; Eberhard Bethge, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This famous sentiment from Bonhoeffer has also been translated this way: “It is not the thought but readiness to take responsibility that is the mainspring of action.”

  • The price of greatness is responsibility. Winston Churchill, in speech at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. (Sep. 6, 1943)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill was referring to America here. His belief resulted from America’s decision to enter WWII. He continued: “If the people of the United States had continued…absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”

  • We can win the struggle to avoid responsibility for our personal lives, but if we do, what we lose is our lives. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • To give up responsibility for our lives is not healthy. Michael Crichton, “Heart Attack!” in Travels (1988)
  • I notice that when people have no sense of responsibility, you call them either criminals or geniuses. Margaret Deland, the character William King speaking, in The Awakening of Helena Richie (1906)
  • Character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs. Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • If you can put the question, “Am I or am I not responsible for my acts” then you are responsible. Fyodor Dostoevsky, quoted in a 1982 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Rank does not confer privileges; it entails responsibilities. Peter Drucker, describing the Japanese view of management, in Managing for the Future (1992)
  • It is not size or age or childishness that separates children from adults. It is “responsibility.” Jules Feiffer, in The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965; reprinted 2003)

Feiffer continued: “Adults come in all sizes, ages, and differing varieties of childishness, but as long as they have ‘responsibility’ we recognize, often by the light gone out of their eyes, that they are what we call grownup.”

  • Whatever the cost in personal relationships, we discover that our highest responsibility, finally, unavoidably is the stewardship of our potential—being all that we can be. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • Responsiblity is the great developer of men. Mary Parker Follett, quoted in Henry C. Metcalf and L. Urwick, Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett (1941)
  • Power’s twin is responsibility. Willa Gibbs, from a character in The Twelfth Physician (1954)
  • Man’s responsibility increases as that of the gods decreases. André Gide, journal entry (Sep. 27, 1940), in Journals: 1939–1949 (Vol. 4; 1951)
  • Responsibility is what awaits outside the Eden of Creativity. Nadine Gordimer, in University of Michigan lecture (Oct. 12, 1984); reprinted in The Tanner Lectures on Human Values (1985; S. M. McMurrin, ed.)
  • Perhaps we have been misguided into taking too much responsibility from our children, leaving them too little room for discovery. Helen Hayes, in A Gift of Joy (1965; with Lewis Funk)
  • Those who cannot think or take responsibility for themselves need, and clamor for, a leader. Hermann Hesse, in Lektüre für Minuten [Reading for Minutes] (1971)
  • Responsibility is the price of freedom. Elbert Hubbard, in Hollyhocks and Goldenglow (1912)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of a larger thought: “To act in absolute freedom, and at the same time realize that responsibility is the price of freedom, is salvation.” Almost a half century later, the Greek classicist Edith Hamilton echoed the theme. Writing in The Echo of Greece (1957), she wrote: “Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.”

  • Responsibility has more salvation in it than religion can bestow. Alice Hubbard, in Woman’s Work: Being an Inquiry and an Assumption (1908)
  • Responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them. Elbert Hubbard, “J. B. Runs Things,” in Queen of the Porch: And Other Droll Stories (1920)
  • Some shrugged their shoulders as if to shake off whatever chips of responsibility might have lodged there. Helen Hudson, in Meyer Meyer (1967)
  • Responsibilities develop us and enable us to grow in stature. If we are deprived of them our personality dwindles. Anne Huré, from a character in The Two Nuns (1962)
  • No matter how lofty you are in your department, the responsiblity for what your lowliest assistant is doing is yours. Bessie Rowland James, quoted in Adlai E. Stevenson, Adlai’s Almanac: The Wit and Wisdom of Stevenson of Illinois (1952)
  • Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility. P. D. James, quoted by Molly Ivins in a Dallas Times Herald column (May 3, 1992); reprinted in Molly Ivins, Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead (1993)
  • Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame. Erica Jong, in How To Save Your Own Life (1977)

ERROR ALERT: This observation is presented in a multitude of mistaken ways on Internet sites and in published quotation anthologies.

QUOTE NOTE: This ironic thought comes to protagonist Isadora Wing as she reflects on her reasons for staying in a marriage long after the love was gone. She began by thinking: “How wonderful to have someone to blame! How wonderful to live with one’s nemesis! You may be miserable, but you feel forever in the right. You may be fragmented, but you feel absolved of all the blame for it.”

  • For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, “holds office;” every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve. John F. Kennedy, in Profiles in Courage (1956)
  • Once you know something is wrong, you're responsible, whether you see it, or hear about it, and most particularly when you're a part of it. M. E. Kerr, grandfather Boyle speaking, in Gentlehands (1978)
  • Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I will be tomorrow. The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds. Louis L’Amour, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Mathurin Kerbouchard, in The Walking Drum (1984)

Kerbouchard introduced the thought by saying: “Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.”

  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in More Unkempt Thoughts (1964)
  • You cannot blame everything on the enemy. Ursula K. Le Guin, the voice of the narrator, from the short story “The New Atlantis” (1975); in The Compass Rose: Stories (1982)
  • I’ll clue you in on a secret: death is not the worst thing that could happen to you. I know we think that; we are the first society ever to think that. It’s not worse than dishonor; it’s not worse than losing your freedom; it’s not worse than losing a sense of personal responsibility. Bill Maher, in Be More Cynical (2000)
  • We are responsible for actions performed in response to circumstances for which we are not responsible. Allan Massie, a reflection of narrator Etienne de Balafré as he thinks about his father, in A Question of Loyalties (1989)
  • The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority. Stanley Milgram, in Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974)

Milgram, a Yale psychologist who did pioneering research on obedience and submission to authority, introduced the thought by writing: “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.”

  • If you want to let them steal your mind and organize you as if you were an infant I suppose that is your affair. All I say is that only lies and evil come from letting people off. Iris Murdoch, the character Dr. Honor Klein speaking, in A Severed Head (1961)
  • I was thinking of my patients, and how the worst moment for them was when they discovered they were masters of their own fate. It was not a matter of bad or good luck. When they could no longer blame fate, they were in despair. Anaïs Nin, a 1935 entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 (1967)
  • By attempting to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we are giving away our power to some other individual or organization. In this way, millions daily attempt to escape from freedom. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled (1978)
  • Nationalism appeals to our tribal instincts, to passion and to prejudice, and to our nostalgic desire to be relieved from the strain of individual responsibility which it attempts to replace by a collective or group responsibility. Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)
  • I despise irresponsible people. I don’t want to deal with them or help them in any way, An irresponsible person is a person who makes vague promises, then breaks his word, blames it on circumstances and expects other people to forgive it. Ayn Rand, in a 1949 letter to her niece, Connie Papurt; in Michael S. Berliner, Letters of Ayn Rand (1995)

Rand continued: “A responsible person does not make a promise without thinking of all the consequences and being prepared to meet them

  • I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession a duty. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in “I Believe” radio broadcast for the USO and National War Fund (July 8, 1941)
  • We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. Fred Rogers, in Revisiting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (2016; Kathy Merlock Jackson and Steven M. Emmanuel, eds.)
  • Curiously enough, it is often the people who refuse to assume any responsibility who are apt to be the sharpest critics of those who do. Eleanor Roosevelt, in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (1960)
  • Power brings with it responsibility. You cannot have power to work well without having so much power as to be able to work ill. Theodore Roosevelt, in speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Sep. 7, 1910)
  • To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939)

Saint-Exupéry added: “It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one’s comrades. It is to feel, when setting one’s stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.”

  • There are all kinds of flights from responsibility. There is a flight into death, a flight into sickness, and finally a flight into stupidity. Arthur Schnitzler, in Book of Thoughts and Second Sayings (1927)

Schnitzler added: “The last is the least dangerous and most comfortable, because even for clever people the way tends not to be as far removed as they might like to think it is.”

  • In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Delmore Schwartz, title of short story, Partisan Review (Dec., 1937)

QUOTE NOTE: Often regarded as one of Schwarz’s most influential short stories, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” was written over a July weekend in 1935 when the author was only twenty-one, and published two and a half years later in Partisan Review’s very first issue as a literary magazine (Vladimir Nabokov had read and recommended publication of the story). Schwartz borrowed the title from William Butler Yeats, who used “In dreams begin responsibility” as the epigraph for his 1914 volume of poems Responsibilities (Yeats said he got the line from “An old play,” but did not provide the title). The entire Partisan Review issue, including Schwarz’s short story, may be seen at Partisan Review

  • Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. George Bernard Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists: Liberty and Equality,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • It is impossible to get the measure of what an individual can accomplish unless the responsibility is given him. Alfred P. Sloan, “Modern Ideas of the Big Business World,” in Work magazine (Oct., 1926)
  • 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)
  • Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Solitude of Self,” an address to Judiciary Committee of the U. S. Congress (Jan. 18, 1892); reprinted in The Woman’s Column (1892)

Stanton added: “Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one’s self-sovereignty, the right to an equal place, everywhere conceded; a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment by inheritance, wealth, family, and position.”

  • One part of the science of living is to learn just what our own responsibility is, and to let other people’s alone. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the character Mr. Bolton speaking, in My Wife and I (1871)
  • There comes a time when we aren’t allowed not to know. Judith Viorst, in Necessary Losses (1986)
  • Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him. Booker T. Washington, in Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (1901)
  • Part of having a strong sense of self is to be accountable for one’s actions. No matter how much we explore motives or lack of motives, we are what we do. Janet Geringer Woititz, in Adult Children of Alcoholics (1983)
  • Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)



  • We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and, when got, the repose is insupportable. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams was almost certainly inspired by a similar Pascal observation, to be seen below.

  • One cannot rest except after steady practice. George Ade, “The Man Who Was Going to Retire,” in Forty Modern Fables (1901)
  • If you rest, you rust. Helen Hayes, in My Life in Three Acts (1990; with Katherine Hatch)
  • Too much rest itself becomes a pain. Homer, in the Odyssey (9th c. B.C.)
  • All our life passes in this way: we seek rest by struggling against certain obstacles, and once they are overcome, rest proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Rest is the sauce of labor. Plutarch, “The Education of Children,” in Moralia (1st c. A.D.)
  • Rest is not a word of free peoples—/Rest is a monarchical word. Carl Sandburg, “Is There Any Easy Road to Freedom?” in Complete Poems (1950)


(see also REST and RESTLESSNESS)

  • Restfulness is a quality for cattle; the virtues are all active, life is alert. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Talk and Talkers” (1882), in Memories and Portraits (1887)



  • A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow. Charlotte Brontë, a reflection of narrator and protagonist William Crimsworth, in The Professor: A Tale (1846; pub. posthumously in 1857)
  • I’ve never known anyone yet who doesn’t suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around. Sue Grafton, “Long Gone,” in Marilyn Wallace, Sisters in Crime 4 (1991)

Grafton went on to add: “We’re all eight years old again and anything is possible.”

  • I am a restlessness inside a stillness inside a restlessness. Dodie Smith, in I Capture the Castle (1948)



  • Whoever said “retail is detail” is absolutely 100 percent right. David Glass, quoted in Sam Walton, Sam Walton: Made in America (1992; with John Huey)

Glass preceded the thought by saying, “So many times we overcomplicate this business…. But if you simply think like a customer, you will do a better job of merchandise presentation and selection than any other way. It’s not always easy. To think like a customer, you have to think about details.”



  • The God whom science recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business. He cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

QUOTE NOTE: This is one of the earliest retail/wholesale metaphors I’ve found, and I think it holds up very well more than a century after it was first made. A retail business is concerned with individual customers, of course, and the God recognized by science, according to James, was a wholesaler, not a retailer. See also the GOD section.

  • Neville has a retail mind in a wholesale business. David Lloyd George, a 1935 remark about Neville Chamberlain, quoted in David Dilks, Neville Chamberlain (1984)



  • She was one of those women who used their charge accounts for retaliation. With each crisis in their deteriorating relationship, Grorley noted gloomily, Eunice’s wardrobe had improved. Hortense Calisher, the voice of the narrator, in “A Christmas Carillon,” in The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher (1953)
  • Ineluctably, the insults inflicted in one war call forth new wars of retaliation, which may be waged within months of the original conflict or generations later. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Blood Rites (1997)
  • Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation. Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Secrets of America’s Great Presidents,” in Parade magazine (Sep. 14, 2008)


(see also AGE & AGING and CAREER and VOCATION and WORK)

  • Retirement is an artificial finish line. Mitch Anthony, quoted in D. Shannon & D. Drucker, The One Thing…You Need To Do (2005)
  • Retired is being tired twice, I’ve thought/First tired of working, then tired of not. Richard Armour, in Going Like Sixty: A Lighthearted Look at the Later Years (1974)

ERROR ALERT: Scores of internet sites mistakenly present the phrase twice tired rather than the correct tired twice.

  • Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them. Louis Armstrong, quoted in THE Observer (London; April 21, 1968)
  • It has always been my ambition to die in harness with my head face down on a keyboard and my nose caught between two of the keys. Isaac Asimov, in “Farewell—Farewell,” Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (August, 1992)

QUOTE NOTE: This appeared in Asimov’s final article, written just before his death at age 72 on April 6, 1992. After writing more than 500 books, Asimov had no desire to ever retire. From all indications, he achieved his ambition of dying in the harness, but even this master of science-fiction could not have foreseen the circumstances surrounding his own death. While the official cause of death was listed as heart and kidney failure, it wasn't until a decade later that his widow and other family members revealed that his heart and liver problems were the result of an HIV infection contracted from a blood transfusion during a 1988 triple bypass surgery.

  • Retirement: the world’s longest coffee break. Author Unknown
  • When I retired, I found I had not enough money and too much husband. Author Unknown, quoted in Helen Foster, It’s Hard to Look Graceful When You’re Dragging Your Feet (1983)
  • To retire is to die a little. Eddie Cantor, quoted in Billie Burke, With Powder on My Nose (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: By adding a little to the saying to retire is to die, Cantor cleverly tweaks the popular remark and makes it even more memorable. The original saying, an anonymously authored observation that goes back to the early 1900s, has been attributed to many others, including Dean Acheson, Pablo Casals, and Kirk Douglas.

  • Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples. George Burns, quoted in Joey Adams, Roast of the Town (1986)
  • The worst of work nowadays is what happens to people when they cease to work. G. K. Chesterton, in The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton (1936)
  • How tedious is retirement! You cannot imagine to yourself the monotony with which day comes after day. Agatha Christie, the protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
  • Two weeks is about the ideal length of time to retire. Alex Comfort, in A Good Age (1976)
  • In retirement, I look for days off from my days off. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • At retirement, switching from “I must” to “I want” leaves me puzzled and uneasy. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 11th Selection (1993)
  • Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 13th Selection (1994)
  • Retirement requires the invention of a new hedonism, not a return to the hedonism of youth. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 14th Selection (1994)
  • I was born and bred an adventurer, with a great zest for change and excitement—and retirement is like prison. Diana Cooper, in a 1950 letter to Evelyn Waugh, quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper (1992; Artemis Cooper, ed.)
  • Work almost always has a double aspect: it is a bondage, a wearisome drudgery; but it is also a source of interest, a steadying element, a factor that helps to integrate the worker with society. Retirement reflects this ambivalence, and it may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown on to the scrap-heap. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Coming of Age (1970)

A bit later, de Beauvoir added this thought on the subject: “Retirement revives the sorrow of parting, the feeling of abandonment, solitude and uselessness that is caused by the loss of some beloved person.”

  • People do not retire. They are retired by others—set aside, tucked away in some category so that the retired knows where to find them at any given moment. Duke Ellington, remark made at age 75, in “A Tribute to Duke Ellington, 1899-1974,” Ebony magazine (Sep. 1974)
  • Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did. Malcolm Forbes, in The Further Sayings of Chairman Malcolm (1986)
  • Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to. Harry Emerson Fosdick, quoted in James Nelson, Wisdom for Our Time (1961)
  • People who refuse to rest honorably on their laurels when they reach retirement age seem very admirable to me. Helen Hayes, in My Life in Three Acts (1990; with Katherine Hatch)
  • For those retired, with too much time and no world, a world must be found, and not necessarily one that is heavily populated. One can join a group or work alone; the essential…is that the work be difficult, concentrated, and that definite progress can be measured. Carolyn Heilbrun, in The Last Gift of Time (1998)

Heilbrun continued: “If the undertaking is not to become but another daily habit, daily donned and discarded, it requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency. There is, I suppose, nothing wrong with retired people taking a course here, a course there…but this defeats the purpose, which is, I believe, to maintain a carefully directed intensity.”

  • Retirement is the filthiest word in the language. Ernest Hemingway, quoted in A. E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway (1966)

Hemingway, who viewed retirement as a kind of dying, preceded the observation by saying: “The worst death for anyone is to lose the center of his being, the thing he really is.” And he concluded it by saying: “Whether by choice or by fate, to retire from what you do—and what you do that makes you what you are—is to back up into the grave.”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, and even in many respected publications, this quotation is often mistakenly presented as: “Retirement is the ugliest word in the language.” I’ve also seen it appear with the wording the most loathsome word.

  • When you’ve been living in the sunshine all your life, you don’t want to move into the shade. Don Hewitt, on retirement, quoted in The New York Times (April 17, 2005)

QUOTE NOTE: Hewitt, executive director of CBS’s 60 Minutes for 36 years (1968–2004), was explaining why he had delayed his retirement until 2004, when he was 81 years old. Similar sentiments have been offered by numerous other people in positions of power and influence. In his autobiography Present at the Creation (1969), for example, the U. S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson echoed the die a little theme when he described his departure from public life this way: “To leave positions of great responsibility and authority is to die a little, but the time comes when that must be faced.”

  • Retirement, I feel, means a new adventure in living—not a stopping. Marion Hilliard, in A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life (1957)
  • It is sensible to dismiss the old horse in good time, lest, failing at the last, he makes the spectators laugh. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), in Epistles (1st c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the translation favored by C. S. Lewis. The older—and still commonly cited—translation from Montaigne contained a reference to lists that has for many years been confusing to people: “Dismiss the old horse in good time, lest he fail in the lists and the spectators laugh.”

  • Retirement scares many because there are so few to blame if they don’t enjoy it. John O. Huston, in a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 10, 2019)
  • Work did bestow dignity, status, meaning. Wasn’t that why people dreaded unemployment, why some men found retirement so traumatic? P. D. James, a reflection of the character Miss Blackett, in Original Sin (1994)
  • The love of retirement has, in all ages, adhered closely to those minds which have been most enlarged by knowledge, or elevated by genius. Samuel Johnson, an April 10, 1750 remark, quoted in James Boswell’s Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Men and women approaching retirement age should be recycled for public service work, and their companies should foot the bill. We can no longer afford to scrap-pile people. Maggie Kuhn, “Gray Panthers versus Ageism,” in Ms. Magazine (July, 1973)
  • Have you ever been out for a late autumn walk in the closing part of the afternoon, and suddenly looked up to realize that the leaves have practically all gone? You hadn’t realized it. And you notice that the sun has set already, the day gone before you knew it—and with that a cold wind blows across the landscape. That’s retirement. Stephen Leacock, “When Men Retire,” in Too Much College (1939)

Leacock began by writing, “As to this retirement business, let me give a word of advice.” He finished with these five words: “Have nothing to do with it.”

  • The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. Vince Lombardi, quoted in Dave Klein, The Vince Lombardi Story (1971)
  • I really think that it’s better to retire…when you still have some snap left in your garters. Russell B. Long, quoted in Robert Hendrickson, American Talk: The Words and Ways of American Dialects (1986)
  • Retirement should be based on the tread, not the mileage. Allen Ludden, quoted in a 1972 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time. Malcolm Muggeridge, “Twilight of Greatness,” in The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge (1966)
  • As in all successful ventures, the foundation of a good retirement is planning. Earl Nightingale, quoted in Ronald B. Garrison, Time Out: How to WIn in Retirement (1988)
  • For millions, the retirement dream is in reality an economic nightmare. For millions, growing old today means growing poor, being sick, living in substandard housing, and having to scrimp merely to subsist. Sylvia Porter, in Sylvia Porter’s Money Book (1975)
  • I prefer to leave standing up, like a well-mannered guest at a party. Leontyne Price, on her farewell performance, quoted in The New York Times (Dec. 32, 1984)
  • Whatever resources of good health, character and fortitude you bring to retirement, remember, also, to bring money. Jane Bryant Quinn, in Making the Most of Your Money (1991)

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

  • The trick is to start early in our careers the stress-relieving avocation that we will need later as a mind-exercising final vocation. William Safire, “Never Retire,” in The New York Times (Jan. 24, 2005)

Safire continued: “We can quit a job, but we quit fresh involvement at our mental peril.”

  • My voice had a long, nonstop career. It deserves to be put to bed with quiet and dignity, not yanked out every once in a while to see if it can still do what it used to do. It can’t. Beverly Sills, quoted in Time magazine (July 18, 1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Sills, who was 54 when she made the remark, retired from her singing career in 1980 to become General Manager of The New York City Opera. She later went on to serve as Chairman of the Board for both Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera. The Time profile reported that “She does not sing at all now, not even in the shower.”

  • The only thing wrong about retirement is that you don’t have a job. Wes Reynolds, a personal communication to the compiler (Nov. 1, 2015)
  • In retirement, the passage of time seems accelerated. Nothing warns us of its flight. It is a wave which never murmurs, because there is no obstacle to its flow. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • As to that leisure evening of life, I must say that I do not want it. I can conceive of no contentment of which toil is not to be the immediate parent. Francis Trollope, in a June 1876 letter to G. W. Rusden; quoted in The Letters of Anthony Trollope (1983; N. John Hall, ed.)
  • It was like walking down a red carpet and then turning to find the attendants rolling it up behind you. Anne Tyler, on retirement, in Digging to America (2007)
  • Retirement, we understand, is great if you are busy, rich, and healthy. But then, under those conditions, work is great too. Bill Vaughan, quoted in a 1972 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)



  • There is a law of retribution in all things, direct or indirect, visible or invisible. Miles Franklin (pen name of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin), in Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909)
  • There is such a thing as tempting the gods. Talking too much, too soon, and with too much self-satisfaction has always seemed to me a sure way to court disaster…. The forces of retribution are always listening. They never sleep. Meg Greenfield, “The Rope and the Rack,” in Newsweek (March 17, 1991)



  • Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached. Franz Kafka, notebook entry #5 (written 1917-18), in The Zürau Aphorisms (original published posthumously in 1931 by Kafka friend Max Brod under the title Reflections of Sin, Hope Suffering, and the True Way)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been commonly translated: “From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached” (this is the version Max Lerner featured in his 1959 book The Unfinished Country).


(includes [Divine] REVELATION; see also EPIPANY and INSIGHT and INSPIRATION and KNOWING and VISION)

  • Revelation is the marriage of knowing and feeling. Marya Mannes, in They (1968)



  • Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. Francis Bacon, “Of Revenge,” in Essays (1625)

A moment later in the essay, Bacon went on to write: “In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”

  • This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well. Francis Bacon, “Of Revenge,” in Essays (1625)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly attribute this sentiment to John Milton, usually in the following phrasing: “He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” This latter version has also long been attributed to Francis Bacon, but it appears to be a paraphrase of his original thought, written sometime after Bacon’s death by his publisher. For more, see this 2014 post by quotation sleuth Sue Brewton.

  • There is no passion of the human heart that promises so much, and pays so little, as revenge. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1873)

Billings’ original phonetic version was as follows: “Thare iz no pashun ov the human heart that promises so much and pays so little az revenge.”

  • Revenge was a very wild kind of justice. Elizabeth Bowen, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Making Arrangmenets,” in Ann Lee’s: Other Stories (1926)
  • It may be that vengeance is sweet, and that the gods forbade vengeance to men because they reserved for themselves so delicious and intoxicating a drink. But no one should drain the cup to the bottom. The dregs are often filthy-tasting. Winston Churchill, in The River War (1899)
  • Vengeance is a need, the most intense and profound of all, and…each man must satisfy it, if only in words. If we stifle that need, we expose ourselves to certain disturbances. More than one disorder—perhaps all disorders—derive from a vengeance too long postponed. E. M. Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1973)

Cioran continued: “We must learn how to explode! Any disease is healthier than the one provoked by a hoarded rage.”

  • A woman’s desire for revenge outlasts all her other emotions. Cyril Connolly in The Unquiet Grave (1945)
  • “Revenge,” I shrieked, groping to remember the affront.

Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms (1984)

  • Revenge is sweet but not nourishing, Mason Cooley, in

City Aphorisms, 4th Selection (1987)

  • I took Revenge, for I had suffered long,/And my small Right became enormous Wrong. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Revenge is always the pleasure of a paltry, feeble, tiny mind. Juvenal, in Satires (c. 100 A.D.)
  • The best revenge is not to be like your enemy. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • Growing up is the best revenge. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior: Freshly Updated (2005)
  • Revenge is often like biting a dog because the dog bit you. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Living well is the best revenge. Proverb (English)
  • Revenge is a dish best served cold. Proverb (Modern)

QUOTE NOTE: This is an updated version of a proverbial saying that first appeared in print in 1870: “Revenge is a dish that can be eaten cold.” Early versions of the sentiment almost always used some variation of eaten cold, but in modern usage that phrase has been almost completely displaced by served cold.

  • To crave revenge is to fall down before one’s enemy and eat dust at his feet. What worse can we let him do to us? Mary Renault, the character Dion speaking, in The Mask of Apollo (1966)

Dion continued: “In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.”

  • Revenge is barren. Of itself it makes/The dreadful food it feeds on; its delight/Is murder—its satiety despair. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the character Walter Furst speaking, in Wilhelm Tell (1804)



  • When ideas float in our mind, without any reflection or regard of the understanding, it is that which the French call reverie; our language has scarce a name for it. John Locke, “Of the Modes of Thinking,” in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the observation as if it were worded: “Reverie is when ideas float in our mind without reflection or regard of the understanding.” It’s difficult to comprehend, but this mistake has been perpetuated for more than 250 years! It all began in 1755, when Dr. Samuel Johnson presented the erroneous version in the revery entry of his classic A Dictionary of the English Language.

  • Nostalgic reverie, like amorous fantasy, belongs in the category of escape. James Thurber, “Let Us Be Up and Doing,” the first of six articles on “The Time of Your Life,” written for the Associated Press (Aug, 21, 1961)



  • A bad review may spoil your breakfast but you shouldn’t allow it to spoil your lunch. Kingsley Amis, quoted in Giles Gordon, Aren’t We Due a Royalty Statement? (1993)
  • One cannot review a bad book without showing off. W. H. Auden, “Reading,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • A bad review by a man I admire hurts terribly. Anthony Burgess, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1973)
  • The reader deserves an honest opinion. If he doesn’t deserve it, give it to him anyhow. John Ciardi, on reviewers and critics, from “The Reviewer’s Duty to Damn,” in Saturday Review (Feb. 16, 1957)
  • Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, biographers…if they could; they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn to critics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lecture I, in Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton (1811–1812)

QUOTE NOTE: You should know that Coleridge originally wrote, “biographers, &c., if they could,” employing the then-popular shortening of the term and et cetera. His observation likely inspired Disraeli’s famous line that critics “are men who have failed in literature and art” (to be found in CRITICS).

  • Every good reviewer has a subject. He specializes in that subject on which he has not been able to write a book, and his aim is to see that no one else does. He stands behind the ticket-queue of fame, banging his rivals on the head as they bend low before the guichet. Cyril Connolly, in The Condemned Playground: Essays, !927–1944 (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: The French word guichet (GEE-shay) refers to a ticket office or a counter at which one purchases tickets for admission. In Thomas Fleming’s 1985 New York Times article on the war between writers and reviewers (see the Fleming entry below), he paraphrased Connolly’s metaphor this way: “Once writers trembled before professional reviewers, those ogres whom the British critic Cyril Connolly described as standing at the ticket window of fame, banging authors on the head.”

  • Book reviews should persuade, inform, and, above all, entertain readers. And nothing is as entertaining as the well-turned barb. Bill Eichenberger, “Nasty Reviews,” in 1998 issue of The Columbus Dispatch (specific date undetermined); reprinted in The National Book Critics Circle Journal (Aug., 1998)
  • Whether written by fellow writers or professional reviewers, the all-out assault is what every writer dreads. I have heard it described in various ways—snide, dismissive, insulting. Let us call it, for the sake of hyperbole, the ground-zero review. In it, the writer is often urged to seek another line of work. Thomas Fleming, “The War Between Writers and Reviewers,” in The New York Times Sunday Book Review (Jan. 6, 1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Earlier in the piece, Fleming—the author of fourteen novels at the time—wrote: “Actors yearn for the perfect director, athletes for the perfect coach, priests for the perfect pope, presidents for the perfect historian. Writers hunger for the perfect reviewer.” The full article may be seen at: Sunday Book Review.

  • Authors of some rhetorical sophistication know that a reviewer has an obligation that goes beyond deposing accurately and justly on the contents and value of the book in hand: he has an obligation to be interesting, which means, variously, funny, dramatic, significant, outraged, or winning. Paul Fussell, “Being Reviewed,” in The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations (1982)

Fussell added: “The reviewer is writing an essay, and the book in question is only one element of his material. No editor wants to publish a dull review, no matter how just.”

  • I subscribe to the theory that a good review makes you feel good for seven minutes, and a bad review makes you feel miserable for seven years. Mary Gordon, quoted in Robin Finn, ”When Piety Meets Creativity, in Longhand”, The New York Times (March 9, 2007)
  • Adverse book reviews there have always been, and always should be, lest a tide of good intentions rise to drown us all in worthy sludge. Clive James, “The Good of a Bad Review,” in The New York Times (Sep. 7, 2003)

QUOTE NOTE: James’s article was primarily focused on especially harsh or “killingly negative” reviews, in which the reviewer’s motivation is “not merely snide but outright murderous.” James went on to write: “Since a good book can certainly be injured by a bad review, especially if the critic is in a position of influence, the distinction between the snark and the legitimately destructive review is well worth having.”

  • A book review is a scene of judgment, with one body in the judge’s chair, the other in the defendant’s. Wayne Koestenbaum, “Why Bully Literature?” in Maurice Berger, ed., The Crisis of Criticism (1998)
  • Nature fits all her children with something to do,/He who would write and can’t write can surely review. James Russell Lowell, in A Fable for Critics (1848)
  • A writer who has published as many books as I have has developed, of necessity, a hide like a rhino's, while inside there dwells a frail, hopeful butterfly of a spirit. Joyce Carol Oates, on critical reviews, in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter 1978)
  • Book reviewing in America is a hybrid occupation. Part trade and part profession, part art and part craft, part literature and part journalism, it lies somewhere between the outskirts of the work and the fringes of the world of letters. Gail Pool, in Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America (2007)

Later in the article, Sheed wrote: “A novelist can probably only hurt himself by reviewing other novelists. He looks ugly stalking a lodge brother; and uglier still, fawning on one. Flattery is pathetically easy to spot, however sly you may think you're being about it.”

  • I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so. Sydney Smith, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, The Smith of Smiths (1934)
  • A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it. Danielle Steel, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 21, 1982)
  • I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split. Kurt Vonnegut, “The Rocky Graziano of American Letters,” speech in honor of Irwin Shaw at the Players’ Club, New York City (Oct. 7, 1979); reprinted in Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (1981)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites featuring the quotation omit the “or a play or a poem” portion of the first sentence.



  • I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. Truman Capote, on editing his work, quoted in Lawrence Grobel, Conversations with Capote (1985)
  • Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir. Emily Dickinson, in letter to T. W. Higginson (July, 1862)
  • A good, let alone a great editor is an obsessive autocrat with a whim of iron, who rewrites and rewrites, cuts and slashes, until every piece is exactly the way he thinks it should have been done. Peter F. Drucker, on magazine and newspaper editors, in Adventures of a Bystander (1978)

Drucker preceded the observation by writing: “Good editors are not ‘permissive’; they do not let their colleagues do ‘their thing’; they make sure that everybody does the ‘paper’s thing’.”

  • The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat. Robert Heinlein, quoted in William Safire & Leonard Safir, Good Advice on Writing (1992)
  • The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it. Ernest Hemingway, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1958)
  • In writing as in gardening, prune prune prune. Sollace Mitchell, in a personal communication to the compiler (May 28, 2023)
  • My reputation for writing quickly and effortlessly notwithstanding, I am strongly in favor of intelligent, even fastidious revision, which is, or certainly should be, an art in itself. Joyce Carol Oates, in Paris Review interview (Fall-Winter 1978)
  • All writers know how hard it is to practice tough love on the children of our verbiage. Kick, the silly, labored metaphor out of the house. P. J. O’Rourke, “Computers Invite a Tangled Web of Complications,” The New York Times (Oct. 8, 2001)

QUOTE NOTE: According to O’Rourke, it’s always difficult to edit one’s first drafts, but it’s even more difficult for those using a computer rather than typewriter. About that silly, labored metaphor mentioned above, he wrote: “But with a computer, that metaphor is back by dinner time, claiming a rightful place in the family of the final draft.”

  • If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” Arthur Quiller-Couch, in On the Art of Writing (1916)

QUOTE NOTE: Quiller-Couch’s recommendation was likely inspired by a valuable piece of writing advice that Dr. Samuel Johnson said he received from his college tutor: “Read over your compositions and where ever (sic) you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), Stephen King echoed Quiller-Couch’s admonition: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

  • Revise, revise, revise. I cannot stress this enough. Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn’t. Colson Whitehead, “How to Write,” in The New York Times (July 26, 2012)

Whitehead added: “It’s like washing the dishes two days later instead of right after you finish eating.”

  • It is my contention that a really great novel is made with a knife and not a pen. Frank Yerby, in Harvey Breit, “Talk With Frank Yerby,” New York Times Book Review (May 13, 1951)

Yerby added: “A novelist must have the intestinal fortitude to cut out even the most brilliant passage so long as it doesn’t advance the story.”

  • Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind. New varieties sprout overnight, and by noon they are part of American speech. William Zinsser, in On Writing Well (2006; 30th Anniversary Edition)

A little earlier in the book, Zinsser had written: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”



  • Revolutionaries do not make revolutions! The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up. Hannah Arendt, “Thoughts on Politics and Revolution: A Commentary,” a 1970 interview with Adelbert Reif; reported in The Last Interview: And Other Conversations (2013)

Arendt continued: “Armed uprising by itself has never yet led to revolution.”

  • It is well known that the most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution. Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience,” in Crises of the Republic (1972)
  • Inferiors revolt in order that they may be equal, and equals that they may be superior. Such is the state of mind which creates revolutions. Aristotle, in Politics (4th c. B.C.)
  • Better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: For nearly a century, this saying has become something of a catchphrase for revolutionaries everywhere. According to the Yale Book of Quotations, the saying “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees” appeared for the first time in a June 4, 1925 issue of the Appleton (Wisconsin) Post Crescent, where it was cited as a Mexican aphorism. Many people believe the saying originated with Emiliano Zapata 1879–1919), the Mexican revolutionary leader, but nothing even close to the saying has ever been found in his works.

The first documented appearance of a person actually delivering the line occurred during the Spanish Civil War. In a radio broadcast on July 18, 1936, the Spanish rebel leader Dolores Ibarruri (1895-1989) said: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” Versions of the saying have been attributed to many other people over the years, including one to Winston Churchill in U. S. Congressional testimony in 1951, but the original author remains unknown.

  • If there be fuel prepared, it is hard to tell whence the spark shall come that shall set it on fire. Francis Bacon, “Of Seditions and Troubles,” in Essays (1625)
  • All revolutions are treason until they are accomplished. Amelia E. Barr, in The Bow of Orange Ribbon (1886)
  • Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Revolutions are born of hope. Crane Brinton, in The Anatomy of a Revolution (1952)
  • A reform is a correction of abuses; a revolution is a transfer of power. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, in a 1866 House of Commons speech on the Reform Bill
  • We must not forget that all great revolutions and reformations would look mean and meager if examined in detail as they occurred at the time. Lydia Maria Child, in letter to George W. Julian (April 8, 1865), in Letters of Lydia Maria Child (1882)
  • Rhetoric never won a revolution yet. Shirley Chisholm, in Unbought and Unbossed (1970)
  • All oppressed people are authorized, whenever they can, to rise and break their fetters. Henry Clay, in address to the U.S. House of Representatives (March 24, 1818)
  • Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed of afterwards. Agatha Christie, the character Boris speaking, in The Secret Adversary (1922)

He preceded the thought by saying, “It is curious—but you cannot make a revolution without honest men.”

  • In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. Alexis de Tocqueville, in Recollections (pub. posthumously, 1893)

QUOTE NOTE: This work, though presented as a memoir, was largely based on a private journal kept during the Revolution of 1848. It was put together several decades after de Toqueville’s 1859 death by his widow and his close friend Gustave de Beaumont. The passage has also been commonly translated: “In a rebellion, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

  • All civilization has from time to time become a thin crust over a volcano of revolution. Havelock Ellis, in Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)
  • Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind; and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal. Erich Fromm, in Escape from Freedom (1941)
  • All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Age of Uncertainty (1977)

Galbraith continued: “The violence of revolutions is the violence of men charging into a vacuum.”

  • A great revolution is never the fault of the people, but of the government. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a remark in conversation (Jan. 24, 1824), in Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe (1836)
  • Revolution is the festival of the oppressed. Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970)

Greer introduced the remark by writing: “The surest guide to the correctness of the path that women take is joy in the struggle.”

  • The passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men into excesses. Alexander Hamilton, “Philo Camillus No. 3” in The Argus, or Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser (New York; Aug. 12, 1795)
  • Thinking about profound social change, conservatives always expect disaster, while revolutionaries confidently anticipate utopia. Both are wrong. Carolyn Heilbrun, in Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1973)
  • It is not actual suffering but the taste of better things which excites people to revolt. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • We used to think that revolution is the cause of change. Actually, it is the other way around: revolution is a by-product of change. Change comes first, and it is the difficulties and irritations inherent in change that set the stage for revolution. Eric Hoffer, “The Madhouse of Change,” The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 6, 1967)

Hoffer continued: “To say that revolution is the cause of change is like saying juvenile delinquency is the cause of the change from boyhood to manhood.”

  • The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced. Victor Hugo, the old revolutionary speaking, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • “When you talk of revolution,” Jamie said, “you never talk of the day after.” Storm Jameson, the character Jamie Denman speaking, in The Clash (1922)
  • A revolution requires of its leaders a record of unbroken infallibility; if they do not possess it, they are expected to invent it. Murray Kempton, in Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties (1955)
  • You cannot make a revolution in white gloves. Vladimir Lenin, a 1919 remark to Peter Kropotkin; quoted in Tamara Deutsche, Not by Politics Alone: The Other Lenin (1973)
  • A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. Mao Zedong, written in March, 1927; reprinted in Selected Works, Vol. 1 (1954)

Mao continued: “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

  • The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal. Erich Fromm, in Escape From Freedom (1941)
  • A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), quoted in Edouard Guillon, Napoléon et la Suisse, 1803–1815 (1910)
  • No one makes a revolution by himself; and there are some revolutions, especially in the arts, which humanity accomplishes without quite knowing how, because it is everybody who takes them in hand. George Sand, in a “Notice” from the author, at the beginning of The Haunted Pool (1851; orig. pub. in France under the title La Mare au diable)
  • A successful revolution begins to develop a stake in the status quo. Arthur M. Schlesinger, in The Bitter Heritage: Vietnam and American Democracy, 1941–1966 (1967)

A bit earlier, Schlesinger offered this lovely example of chiasmus: “While revolutions at first may devour their children, in the end the children sometimes devour their revolution.”

  • Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny: they have only shifted it to another shoulder. George Bernard Shaw, in Preface to “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” Man and Superman (1903)
  • Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed. Barbara W. Tuchman, in Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–1945 (1971)

QUOTE NOTE: In her book, which won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Tuchman described this as “history’s most melancholy tale.”

  • Revolutions have never succeeded unless the establishment does three-quarters of the work. Peter Ustinov, in Dear Me (1977)
  • The seed of revolution is repression. Woodrow Wilson, in address to the U.S. Congress (Dec. 2, 1919)
  • When people do not feel they have a place at the table, they turn it over. J. Peder Zane, on political revolutions, “Point of View: Dangerous Disdain,” in The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC; July 6, 2016)

QUOTE NOTE: When experts and cultural elites disdain or demonize popular sentiment, they’re often shocked at what ultimately transpires, according to Zane. As examples, he cites the many pundits who predicted with great assurance that England would never leave the European Union or Donald Trump would never become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.



  • The rewards come to those who travel the second, undemanded mile. Bruce Barton, in The Man and the Book Nobody Knows (1959)
  • Risk always brings its own rewards: the exhilaration of breaking through, of getting to the other side; the relief of a conflict healed; the clarity when a paradox dissolves. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)

Ferguson continued: “Whoever teaches us this is the agent of our liberation. Eventually we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”

  • The man who knows it can’t be done counts the risk, not the reward. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra magazine (March, 1910)

Hubbard continued: “He shrinks before he thinks—quits before he hits—succumbs to fright before he makes his fight.”

  • Virtue is its own reward. Ovid, in Ex Ponto (1st c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the original source of one of history’s most famous proverbs




  • As soon as war is declared it will be impossible to hold the poets back. Rhyme is still the most effective drum. Jean Giraudoux, the character Hecuba speaking, in Tiger at the Gates (1935)



  • One should always act from one’s inner sense of rhythm. Rosamond Lehmann, in The Ballad and the Source (1945)
  • Rhythm might be described as, to the world of sound, what light is to the world of sight. Edith Sitwell, in Taken Care Of (1965)



  • It could be argued that the unrelenting compulsion of those who already have much to acquire even more has generated greater injustice, immorality and wretchedness than the cumulative effect of the struggles of the severely underprivileged to better their lot. Aung San Suu Kyi, in Freedom From Fear and Other Writings (1995)

She preceded the thought by writing: “While it is undeniable that many have been driven to immorality and crime by the need to survive, it is equally evident that the possession of a significant surplus of material goods has never been a guarantee against covetousness, rapacity and the infinite variety of vice and pain which spring from such passions.”

  • Has it ever occurred to you, that the rich are at the mercy of the poor, not the poor at that of the rich? Who permits us to be rich if not the poor? Gertrude Atherton, in Los Cerritos (1890)
  • The rich and powerful want to believe in their right to be rich and powerful, so they justify it by saying they are inherently superior to the poor and lowly. Gwen Bristow, in Tomorrow Is Forever (1943)
  • For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship. Andrew Carnegie, the opening line of the essay “Wealth,” in North American Review (June, 1889)
  • The greatest and the most amiable privilege which the rich enjoy over the poor is that which they exercise the least—the privilege of making them happy. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: those who live poor on a lot and those who live rich on a little. Marcelene Cox, in a 1946 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • The rich are never threatened by the poor—they do not notice them. Marie de France, in Medieval Fables of Marie de France (1981; Jeanette Beer, ed.)
  • The rich and the poor of this world are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other. Isak Dinesen, “A Consolatory Tale,” in Winter’s Tales (1942)
  • To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • The poor never estimate as a virtue the generosity of the rich. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • The poor man wishes to conceal his poverty, and the rich man his wealth: the former fears lest he be despised, the latter lest he be plundered. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • Sometime in the eighties, Americans had a new set of ‘traditional values’ installed. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Introduction: Family Values,” in The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)

Ehrenreich explained: “The poor and the middle class were shaken down, and their loose change funneled blithely upwards to the already overfed.”

  • Errors look so very ugly in persons of small means—one feels they are taking quite a liberty in going astray; whereas people of fortune may naturally indulge in a few delinquencies. “They’ve got the money for it,” as the girl said of her mistress who had made herself ill with pickled salmon. George Eliot, “Janet’s Repentance,” in Scenes of Clerical Life (1857)
  • Rich men feel misfortunes that fly over poor men’s heads. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • The Pleasures of the Rich are bought with the Tears of the Poor. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Without peace there can be no prosperity for any people, rich or poor. And yet, there can be no peace without erasing the harshness of the growing contrast between the rich and the poor. Indira Gandhi, in Indira Gandhi: Speeches and Writings (1975)
  • The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for errors; and those of the poor and lowly, for crimes. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Don’t think to come over me with th’ old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don’t know, they ought to know. Elizabeth Gaskell, the character John Barton speaking, in Mary Barton (1848)
  • The world’s fat is badly divided. Martha Gellhorn, “Journey Through a Peaceful Land,” in The New Republic (June-August, 1947)
  • One of the primary tests of the mood of a society at any given time is whether its comfortable people tend to identify, psychologically, with the power and achievements of the very successful or with the needs and sufferings of the underprivileged. Richard Hofstadter, in The Age of Reform (1955)
  • Wouldn’t you think some sociologist would have done a comparative study by now to prove, as I have always suspected, that there is a higher proportion of Undeserving Rich than Undeserving Poor? Molly Ivins, “Reindeer Are Counted Better Than Homeless,” in Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dec. 22, 1992)
  • One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. Molly Ivins, in her syndicated column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (April 26, 2000)

Ivins continued: “The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn’t waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it’s not that bad yet—but it’s getting that bad.”

  • It is hard to interest those who have everything in those who have nothing. Helen Keller, in Helen Keller’s Journal (1938)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation has been often cited in discussions of the rich and the poor, but it was originally offered in a very different context. Here the full original thought: “As it is hard to interest those who have everything in those who have nothing, so it requires incessant labor to win champions among the seeing for the sightless.“

  • Being poor is like being a child. Being rich is like being an adult: you get to do whatever you want. Everyone is nice when they have to be; rich people are nice when they feel like it. Fran Lebowitz, quoted in James Atlas, “What They Look Like to the Rest of Us,” in New York Times Magazine (Nov. 19, 1995)
  • To blame the poor for subsisting on welfare has no justice unless we are also willing to judge every rich member of society by how productive he or she is. Taken individual by individual, it is likely that there’s more idleness and abuse of government favors among the economically privileged than among the ranks of welfare [recipients]. Norman Mailer, “Searching for Deliverance,” in Esquire magazine (Aug., 1996)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all Internet sites mistakenly present the quotation as if it ended with the phrase “among the ranks of the disadvantaged.”

  • Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. Herman Melville, a reflection of the unnamed narrator, a poor farmer who has just returned from a visit to his well-to-do neighbor, in the short story “Poor Man’s Pudding,” (1854)
  • The only incurable troubles of the rich are troubles that money can’t cure,/Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor. Ogden Nash, “The Terrible People,” in Verses from 1929 On (1959)
  • When the rich plunder the poor of his rights, it becomes an example of the poor to plunder the rich of his property, for the rights of the one are as much property to him as wealth is property to the other and the little all is as dear as the much. It is only by setting out on just principles that men are trained to be just to each other; and it will always be found, that when the rich protect the rights of the poor, the poor will protect the property of the rich. Thomas Paine, in Letter to the Addressers of the Late Proclamation (1792). Also an example of double chiasmus.
  • Short of genius, a rich man cannot imagine poverty. Charles Péguy, “Socialism and the Modern World,” in Basic Verities (1943)
  • If the rich could hire others to die for them, the poor could make a nice living. Proverb (Yiddish)
  • The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his second inaugural address (Jan. 20, 1937)
  • It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocket-book often groans more loudly than an empty stomach. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a Brooklyn, New York speech (Nov. 1, 1940)
  • For those who have lived on the edge of poverty all their lives, the semblance of poverty affected by the affluent is both incomprehensible and insulting. Lillian Rubin, in Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working Class Family (1976)
  • The man with toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty stricken man makes the same mistake about the rich man. George Bernard Shaw, “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” in Man and Superman (1903)
  • The difference between rich and poor…is that the poor do everything with their own hands and the rich hire hands to do things. Betty Smith, the character Francie speaking, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)
  • Planning ahead is a measure of class. The rich and even the middle class plan for future generations, but the poor can plan ahead only a few weeks or days. Gloria Steinem, in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
  • We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in Count de Falloux, The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869)
  • Nothing is so hard for those, who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want. Jonathan Swift, “A Preface to the Bishop of Sarum’s Introduction” (Dec. 8, 1713); reprinted in The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift, Vol. IV (1939–74)
  • It is very much easier for a rich man to invest and grow richer than for the poor man to begin investing at all. And this is also true of nations. Barbara Ward, in The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations (1962)

Also in the book, Ward wrote: “The distinction between rich nations and poor nations is one of the great dominant political and international themes of our century.”

  • If the poor ever feel poor as the rich do, we will have a most bloody revolution. Rebecca West, in The Thinking Reed (1936)
  • There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in Fortnightly Review (Feb., 1891)
  • The man possessed of a dollar, feels himself to be not merely one hundred cents richer, but also one hundred cents better, than the man who is penniless; so on through all the gradations of earthly possessions—the estimate of our own moral and political importance swelling always in a ratio exactly proportionate to the growth of our purse. Frances Wright, in Course of Popular Lectures (1829)



  • It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Bible—Mark 10:25
  • Though the worship of riches is an old religion, there has never before been a danger that it might become the sole religion. And yet that is what is surely going to happen in the world. J. E. Buckrose, “The Sacred Million,” in What I have Gathered (1923)
  • There is nothing so characteristic of narrowness and littleness of soul as the love of riches. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in De Officiis (1st c. B.C.)
  • Riches may enable us to confer favors, but to confer them with propriety and grace requires a something that riches cannot give. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • The Rich aren’t like us—they pay less taxes. Peter De Vries, quoted in The Washington Post (July 30, 1989)
  • Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful, and famous more authority than they deserve. Maureen Dowd, “Giant Puppet Show,” in The New York Times (Sep. 10, 1995)
  • The rich never want for kindred. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Riches rather enlarge than satisfy appetites. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Riches are always over estimated [sic]; the enjoyment they give is more in the pursuit than the possession. Sarah Josepha Hale, the character Mrs. Lowe, giving advice to her daughter Margaret, “The Thanksgiving of the Heart,” in Traits of American Life (1835)
  • How often the rich like to play at being poor. A rather nasty game, I’ve always thought. Lillian Hellman, in Toys in the Attic (1960)
  • Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Col. Edward Carrington (Jan. 16, 1787)
  • Wherever there is excessive wealth, there is also in the train of it excessive poverty; as, where the sun is brightest, the shade is deepest. Walter Savage Landor, “Aristoteles and Callisthenes,” Aristoteles speaking, in Imaginary Conversations (1824)
  • When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him “Whose?“ Don Marquis, quoted in Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis (1962)
  • We may see the small value God has for riches, by the people he gives them to. Alexander Pope, in Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727)
  • To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave, is like supposing that we could drink all day and keep completely sober. Logan Pearsall Smith, in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • We may see the small value God has for riches, by the people he gives them to. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts of Various Subjects (1711)
  • A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” in Walden (1854)
  • That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (March 11, 1856); reprinted in Alex Ayres, The Quotable Thoreau (2013)
  • Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that external things will not harm you. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in Fortnightly Review (Feb., 1891)

Wilde was paraphrasing the message of Jesus in this passage. He preceded the thought by writing: “What Jesus meant was this. He said to man, ‘You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be yourself. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only you would realize that, you would not want to be rich.’”



  • When an object is to be ridiculed, ’tis generally exaggerated. Abigail Adams, in letter to niece Elizabeth “Betsey” Cranch (July 18, 1786), in Letters of Mrs. Adams (4th edition, 1848; C. F. Adams, ed.)
  • Let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth’s sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won. Louisa May Alcott, in letter to Lucy Stone (Aug. 31, 1885), The Portable Louisa May Alcott (2000; E. L. Keyser, ed.)
  • Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage. Saul Alinsky, in Rules for Radicals (1971)
  • If you have never experienced life under a microscope, you need to understand that those who live a public life no longer are seen as real persons—human beings. Rather, they are objects to be examined, manipulated, ridiculed, and sometimes even hated. Rose Elizabeth Bird, in a 1996 newspaper column, recalled in her Washington Post obituary (Dec. 6, 1999)
  • Ridicule is the deadliest weapon of the age. H. P. Blavatsky, in Spiritual Scientist (1875)
  • I wonder why we are always sort of ashamed of our best parts and try to hide them. We don’t mind ridicule of our “sillinesses” but of our “sobers.” Emily Carr, in Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr (1966)
  • Ridicule is like a wolf: it only destroys those who fear it. Comtesse Diane, in Les Glanes de la Vie (1898)
  • There is hardly any mental misery worse than that of having our own serious phrases, our own rooted beliefs, caricatured by a charlatan or a hireling. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • In a world not made for women, criticism and ridicule follow us all the days of our lives. Usually they are indications that we are doing something right. Erica Jong, in Fear of Fifty (1994)
  • The fear of being laughed at makes cowards of us all. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
  • The most effective way of attacking vice is to expose it to public ridicule. People can put up with rebukes but they cannot bear being laughed at: they are prepared to be wicked but they dislike appearing ridiculous. Molière (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in the Preface to Tartuffe (1664)

Molière introduced the thought by writing: “The finest passages of a serious moral treatise are all too often less effective than those of a satire and for the majority of people there is no better form of reproof than depicting their faults to them.”

  • Brutality is sometimes easier to endure than ridicule. Patricia Moyes, in Black Widower (1975)
  • Ridicule may be a shield, but it is not a weapon. Dorothy Parker, a 1937 remark, quoted in John Keats, You Might As Well Live (1970)
  • Ridicule is the only honorable weapon we have left. Muriel Spark, in a 1971 speech to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (specific date undetermined)
  • Polls show that what women fear most from men is violence, and what men fear most from women is ridicule. Gloria Steinem, in My Life on the Road (2015)
  • Now, there are two ways to approach a subject that frightens you and makes you feel stupid: you can embrace it with humility and an open mind, or you can ridicule it mercilessly. Judith Stone, in Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity (1991)
  • Love can bear anything better than ridicule. Caitlin Thomas, in Leftover Life to Kill (1957)



  • It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous, that you realize just how much you love them! Agatha Christie, in An Autobiography (1977)
  • Love and enthusiasm are always ridiculous, when not reciprocated by their objects. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Thank goodness for people courageous enough to be ridiculous, if they must be, in order to balance their lives. Katharine Butler Hathaway, a journal entry, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • In politics, being ridiculous is more damaging than being extreme. Roy Hattersley, a Labour Party MP, quoted in the Evening Standard (London; May 9, 1989)
  • The most effective way of attacking vice is to expose it to public ridicule. People can put up with rebukes but they cannot bear being laughed at: they are prepared to be wicked but they dislike appearing ridiculous. Molière (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), in the Preface to Tartuffe (1664)

Molière introduced the thought by writing: “The finest passages of a serious moral treatise are all too often less effective than those of a satire and for the majority of people there is no better form of reproof than depicting their faults to them.”

  • For the heart of humor is a sense of the ridiculous. To live out one’s life without this sense—a leavening of the most doleful situation; the blessing of the laugh that rises despite oneself, despite stress, sorrow, terror or adversity—to have it missing altogether from one’s makeup, is to suffer a tragic deprivation. Richard Raymond III, in Foreword to Comic Ballads: A Little Bundle of Lightheartedness (a 2019 in-process manuscript)

Raymond continued: “Such a person is to be pitied, as we pity one who must make his breakfast of cold porridge, while others are enjoying bacon and eggs, hot biscuits and honey.”


(see also RIGHT and WRONGDOING)

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

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


(includes HUMAN RIGHTS; see also CONSITUTION and FREEDOM and JUSTICE and INJUSTICE and LAW and LIBERTY and [Animal] RIGHTS and [Bill of] RIGHTS and [Civil] RIGHTS and [Women’s] RIGHTS and TYRANNY)

  • The belief that if the meanest man in the republic is deprived of his rights, then every man in the republic is deprived of his rights, is the only patriotism. Jane Addams, in speech to the Union League Club, Chicago, Illinois (Feb. 23, 1903)
  • The real question is: who has the responsibility to uphold human rights? The answer to that is: everyone. Madeleine Albright, in Fascism: A Warning (2018)
  • The true republic: men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. Susan B. Anthony, in The Revolution (1868)
  • America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America. Jimmy Carter, in his Farewell Address to the nation ( Jan. 14, 1981)
  • After all, the true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself. Robert G. Ingersoll, in interview in The Washington Post (Nov. 14, 1880)
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Thomas Jefferson, the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).

QUOTE NOTE: These are among the most famous words ever written, originally appearing in a document drafted by America’s Founding Fathers to formally declare their grievances against the government of King George III and sever ties with England. The notion that happiness was an inalienable right of citizens—as opposed to a personal dream or goal to which people might aspire—was truly a revolutionary idea. Historians have pointed out that Jefferson might easily have written “Life, Liberty, and Property” (following some earlier phraseology from John Locke). Happily, though, he submitted a first-draft to other delegates and incorporated a number of suggestions, including one to change the wording to the pursuit of happiness. That immortal phrase made its first formal appearance in the historic 1776 document, but a prior—and less elegant—expression of the sentiment appeared less than a month earlier in The Virginia Declaration of Rights (adopted June 12, 1776). The opening paragraph of that document, written by George Mason, reads as follows (italics mine):

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

  • There are no such things as divine, immutable or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim to them. Helen Keller, “Why Men Need Women Suffrage,” in New York Call (Oct. 17, 1915)

Keller continued: “Men spent hundreds of years and did much hard fighting to get the rights they now call immutable and inalienable. Today women are demanding rights that tomorrow nobody will be foolhardy enough to question.”

  • There’s only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. P. J. O’Rourke, “The Liberty Manifesto,” a speech delivered at the opening of The Cato Institute’s new Washington, DC headquarters (May 6, 1993)
  • When the rich plunder the poor of his rights, it becomes an example of the poor to plunder the rich of his property, for the rights of the one are as much property to him as wealth is property to the other and the little all is as dear as the much. It is only by setting out on just principles that men are trained to be just to each other; and it will always be found, that when the rich protect the rights of the poor, the poor will protect the property of the rich. Thomas Paine, in Letter to the Addressers of the Late Proclamation (1792). Also an example of double chiasmus.
  • Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • When I am asked, “What, in your view, is the worst human rights problem in the world today?” I reply: “Absolute poverty.” This is not the answer most journalists expect. It is neither sexy nor legalistic. But it is true. Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), in OpenDemocracy interview (Dec. 9, 2003)
  • I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession a duty. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in “I Believe” radio broadcast for the USO and National War Fund (July 8, 1941)
  • The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right. William Safire, quoted in a 1987 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)

[Bill of] RIGHTS

(see also CONSTITUTION and FREEDOM and JUSTICE and INJUSTICE and LAW and LIBERTY and [Animal] RIGHTS and [Civil] RIGHTS and [Women’s] RIGHTS and TYRANNY)

  • Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today? It wouldn’t even get out of Committee. F. Lee Bailey, quoted in Newsweek magazine (April 17, 1967)
  • What does the Negro want? His answer is very simple. He wants only what other Americans want. He wants [the] opportunity to make real what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, what the Four Freedoms establish. While he knows these ideals are open to no man completely, he wants only his equal chance to obtain them. Mary McLeod Bethune, “Certain Inalienable Rights,” in What the Negro Wants (1944)
  • It is my belief that there are “absolutes” in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be “absolutes.” Hugo L. Black, in remarks at meeting of the American Jewish Congress (April 14, 1962)
  • The Bill of Rights is a born rebel. It reeks with sedition. In every clause it shakes its fist in the face of constituted authority. Frank I. Cobb, in LaFollette’s Magazine (Jan. 1920)

Cobb went on to add about the Bill of Rights: “It is the one guarantee of human freedom to the American people.”

  • The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. Robert H. Jackson, quoted in Edward Dumbauld, The Bill of Rights and What it Means Today (1957)

Justice Jackson continued: “One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

  • A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest in inferences. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to James Madison (Dec. 20, 1787)
  • All of us in this country give lip service to the ideals set forth in the Bill of Rights and emphasized by every additional amendment, and yet when war is stirring in the world, many of us are ready to curtail our civil liberties. We do not stop to think that curtailing these liberties may in the end bring us a greater danger than the danger we are trying to avert. Eleanor Roosevelt, in a 1940 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (specific issue undetermined))



  • A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)



  • He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. Muhammad Ali, in Walter Leavy, “Don’t Count Me Out,” Ebony magazine (March, 1985)
  • And the day came when the risk to remain closed in a bud became more painful that the risk it took to blossom. Elizabeth Appell (aka Lassie Benton), in a 1979 Spring Class Schedule for John F. Kennedy University (Orinda, CA)

ERROR ALERT: Nearly all internet sites mistakenly attribute this quotation—or similarly-worded versions of it—to the celebrated diarist Anaïs Nin. For the fascinating backstory, go to Elizabeth Appell.

  • A risk-taking environment starts at the top of a corporation. If the CEO doesn’t have this spirit, chances are you won’t find it anywhere else in the organization. Mary Kay Ash, in The Mary Kay Way (2008)
  • Before you’ll change, something important must be at risk. Richard Bach, in Messiah’s Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul (2004)
  • By protecting people from risk, we destroy their self-esteem. We rob them of the opportunity to become strong, competent people. Judith M. Bardwick, in Danger in the Comfort Zone (1995)

Bardwick introduced the thought by writing: “We know that productivity suffers when uncertainty is high. But we've failed to realize the equally destructive effects of too little anxiety.”

  • Hope is a risk that must be run. Georges Bernanos, “Why Freedom?” in The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos (1955)
  • I think we should follow a simple rule: if we can take the worst, take the risk. Joyce Brothers, in a 1988 interview in Good Housekeeping magazine (specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: This came in response to the question: “What would you advise others about taking risks?” Dr. Brothers preceded the thought by saying, “First, accept that all of us can be hurt, that all of us can—and surely will at times—fail. Other vulnerabilities, like being embarrassed or risking love, can be terrifying too.”

  • Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. Warren Buffett, quoted in Robert G. Hagstrom, The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the World’s Greatest Investor (1997)
  • The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. Leo F. Buscaglia, in Living, Loving, and Learning (1982)
  • The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams—each according to his own talent. Paulo Coelho, in Life: Selected Quotations (2007)
  • To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory. Pierre Corneille, in Le Cid (1636)
  • If you risk nothing, then you risk everything. Geena Davis, quoted in Kevin Sessums, “Geena’s Sheen,” in Vanity Fair (Sep., 1992)
  • If being innovative is part of our basic genetic makeup, then what diminishes the innovative capacity of so many people? A partial answer is the benign neglect we invite into our lives. Instead of being alert and engaged, many people opt to be essentially absent because it’s easy, and mostly without immediate risk. Stephen A. Di Biase in 10 Keys To Unlock Your Innovative Self (2015)
  • If you are scared to go to the brink you are lost. John Foster Dulles, in interview with James Shepley, Life magazine (Jan. 16, 1956)

QUOTE NOTE: This remark is the origin of the term brinksmanship, a term inspired by the title of Stephen Potter’s 1947 book Gamesmanship. In the interview, Secretary of State Dulles was describing the U.S policy of being willing to stand up against Communist aggression, even if it meant going to the brink of nuclear war. Dulles introduced the thought by saying, “You have to take chances for peace, just as you must take chances in war.” He went on to add: “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art. If you cannot master it, you inevitably get into war. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink you are lost.”

  • Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out just how far to go. T. S. Eliot, in Preface to Harry Crosby’s Transit of Venus: Poems (1931)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present the observation as it if ended how far one can go or how far they can go.

  • However well organized the foundations of life may be, life must always be full of risks. Havelock Ellis, in On Life and Sex: Essays of Love and Virtue (1937)
  • You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. Louise Erdrich, the narrator and protagonist, Faye Travers, offering herself words of advice she wished she would have received from her mother, in The Painted Drum (2005)

Travers preceded the thought by thinking: “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.”

  • Risk always brings its own rewards: the exhilaration of breaking through, of getting to the other side; the relief of a conflict healed; the clarity when a paradox dissolves. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)

Ferguson continued: “Whoever teaches us this is the agent of our liberation. Eventually we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”

  • What is life but one long risk? Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the character Adrian Fort quoting his father, in The Deepening Stream (1930)
  • If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life. It’s as simple as that. John W. Gardner, in Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society (1964)
  • To a certain extent, a little blindness is necessary when you undertake a risk. Bill Gates, “Technology,” The Costco Connection (Nov., 1997); reprinted in Bill Gates Speaks (1998; Janet Lowe, ed.)
  • Business people need to understand the psychology of risk more than the mathematics of risk. Paul Gibbons, in The Science of Successful Organizational Change (2015)
  • Never risk your reputation on a single trial, because if it does not turn out well, the damage will be irreparable. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

QUOTE NOTE: Over the years, this observation has been translated in a variety of ways. A 1904 translation alluded to a throw of the dice: “Never stake your credit on a single cast; for if it miscarries the damage is irreparable.” A contemporary translation—and one which has recently become popular on internet sites—goes this way: “Never risk your reputation on a single shot, for if you miss the loss is irreparable.”

  • Innovation implies high risk, and with high risk comes failure, so you've got to be prepared for that, but if you don’t risk, then your business goes stale very quickly. Michael Grade, in Martin Lewis’s Reflections on Success (1997)
  • There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk “his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor” on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else. Robert A. Heinlein, a reflection of the character Jill Boardman, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1991 “Uncut” edition of the 1961 book)
  • The man who knows it can’t be done counts the risk, not the reward. Elbert Hubbard, in The Fra magazine (March, 1910)

Hubbard continued: “He shrinks before he thinks—quits before he hits—succumbs to fright before he makes his fight.”

  • It’s a funny thing, the less people have to live for, the less nerve they have to risk losing—nothing. Zora Neale Hurston, the character Amram, playing off the risk losing everything saying, in Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. [italics in original] William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” in The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
  • And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. Erica Jong, the character Hans speaking, in How to Save Your Own Life (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: These are the concluding words of a widely-quoted passage that began this way: “Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it…. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for.”

  • It’s better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late. Marilyn Moats Kennedy, “The Case Against Performance Appraisals,” in Across the Board (Jan., 1999)
  • Far more is at risk when we do what we really want to do rather than something less. I don’t think we’ll ever fully appreciate the role of not daring to risk a shattered dream in limiting people to second-choice careers and third-choice lives. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear (1995)

Keyes preceded the thought by writing: “Aspiring only to second-place goals is a first-rate way to hedge our bets. Among the least appreciated reasons for doing superficial, second-rate work of any kind is the comfort of knowing that it’s not our best that’s on the line.”

  • During the first period of a man’s life the greater danger is: not to take the risk. When once the risk has been really taken then the greatest danger is to risk too much. Søren Kierkegaard, diary entry (May, 1850); reprinted in The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from His Journal (1959; Alexander Dru, ed.)
  • In the long run, we get no more than we have been willing to risk giving. Sheldon Kopp, in If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients (1972)
  • Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking. Jim McMahon, quoted in a 1995 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • If a man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity? André Malraux, quoted in a 1955 issue of Time magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Intimacy requires courage because risk is inescapable. We cannot know at the outset how the relationship will affect us. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create (1975)
  • Leadership is the willingness to put oneself at risk. John C. Maxwell, in Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading (2008)

In his book, Maxwell also wrote on the subject: “It is in moments of risk that the greatest leaders are often born.”

  • Do not be one of those who, rather than risk failure, never attempts anything. Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation (1961)
  • No noble thing can be done without risk. Michel de Montaigne, in Essays (1580–88)
  • Second chances are scarier than first chances, because the second time you know how much you’re risking. Nora Roberts, the character Lila xxx speaking, in The Collector (2014)
  • No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his body, to risk his well-being, to risk his life, in a great cause. Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in Elbert Hubbard, Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book (1923)
  • All inquiries carry with them some element of risk. Carl Sagan, in Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)
  • To save all we must risk all. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the title character speaking, in Fiesco: or, the Genoese Conspiracy (1783)
  • A brave man risks his life but not his conscience. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, the character Governor Gordon speaking, in Wallenstein’s Death (1799)
  • Children may need challenges and high-risk conditions in order to develop the self-generated immunity to trauma that characterizes survivors. To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist. Gail Sheehy, in Spirit of Survival (1986)
  • When you play it too safe, you’re taking the biggest risk of your life. Barbara Sher, in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was (1994)
  • One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum, in which men steal through existence, like sluggish waters through a marsh without either honor or observation. Sir Walter Scott, the Countess speaking to the philosopher Agelastes, in Tales of My Landlord, 4th Series (1832)
  • Everything is sweetened by risk. Alexander Smith, “Of Death and the Fear of Dying,” in Dreamthorp (1863)
  • A lot of people approach risk as if it’s the enemy, when it is really fortune’s accomplice. A risk you take may seem ridiculous to other people, but risk isn’t random or rash when it’s a necessity. Sting (Gordon Sumner), “Take a Risk—And Never Look Back,” in The Daily Telegraph (London; June 17, 2001)

QUOTE NOTE: In the article, Sting nicely contrasted thrill-seeking with risk-taking, provided thoughtful revelations about his past, and concluded with these words of advice: “Risk is sitting on your shoulder, my friend. Nothing in your life is beyond redemption. Dive into that cold water. All bets are off.” The full article may be seen at ”Take a Risk”

  • Our whole way of life today is dedicated to the removal of risk. Cradle to grave we are supported, insulated, and isolated from the risks of life—and if we fall, our government stands ready with bandaids of every size. Shirley Temple Black, quoted in Rodney G. Minott, The Sinking of the Lollipop (1968)
  • He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being. Paul Tillich, in 1955 sermon at Riverside Church, reported in Presbyterian Life (1955, vol. 8; specific date undetermined)
  • Risk is the willingness to fail. Kathleen Turner, in Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles (2008; with Gloria Feldt)

Turner preceded the thought by writing: “A full and meaningful life must involve some risks or there can be no growth. Risk to me means going to the point at which you may not be able to do what you have set out to do, or at which you might seriously fall short of what your vision is.”

  • Apathy is a risk-aversion strategy. Joost Van Loon, in Risk and Technological Culture (2002)
  • Do you really think…that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one’s life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure, I care not—there is no weakness in that. Oscar Wilde, the character Sir Robert Chiltern speaking, in An Ideal Husband (1895)
  • What you risk reveals what you value. Jeannette Winterson, the unnamed narrator reflecting on Louise and the pair’s complicated relationship, in Written on the Body (1992)
  • I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it. Jeanette Winterson, in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)



  • The most effective way of utilizing human energy is through an organized rivalry, which by specialization and social control is, at the same time, organized cooperation. Charles Horton Cooley, in Human Nature and the Social Order (1902)


(see also RIVERS [Specific Rivers])

  • A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself—for it is from the soil, both from its depth and from its surface, that a river has its beginning. Laura Gilpin, in Introduction to The Rio Grande (1949)
  • A river is more than an amenity; it is a treasure. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in “New Jersey v. New York et. al.,” a 1931 U. S. Supreme Court decision
  • I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. Langston Hughes, in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921)

RIVERS [Specific Rivers]

  • I have seen the Mississippi. That is muddy water. I have seen the Saint Lawrence. That is clear water. But the Thames is liquid history. John Burns, quoted in London's The Daily Mail (Jan. 25, 1943)



  • Truth is a river that is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between the arms the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the main river. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1944)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented: “The river of truth is always splitting up into arms which reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.” The problem appears to have originated in 1989, when Webster’s New World Best Book of Aphorisms presented the faulty version.

  • I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river/Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed, and intractable. T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages,” in Four Quartets (1941)
  • Power may justly be compar’d to a great River, while kept within its due bounds, is both beautiful and useful; but when it overflows its banks, it is then too impetuous to be stemmed, it bears down all before it, and brings destruction and desolation whenever it comes. Alexander Hamilton, in remarks to the court in the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger.
  • I looked at my life, and it was also a river. Hermann Hesse, a reflection of the title character, in Siddhartha (1922)



  • If you’re looking for youth, you’re looking for longevity, just take a dose of rock ’n’ roll. Hank Ballard, in a 1966 radio interview; quoted in his Associated Press obituary (March 4, 2003)

Ballard, who wrote “The Twist” in 1958 and released it in early 1959 as a B-Side (to “Teardrops on Your Letter”) continued: “It keeps you going, just like the caffeine in your coffee. Rock ’n’ Roll is good for the soul, for the well-being, for the psyche, for your everything.”

  • What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed, or taken so seriously. I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. David Bowie, on rock & roll, in interview Rolling Stone (April 1, 1971)
  • Rock is like a battery that must always go back to blues to get recharged. Eric Clapton, quoted in Myles Palmer, Small Talk, Big Names: 40 Years of Rock Quotes (1993)
  • I am the architect of rock and roll! I am the originator! Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman), remark at Grammy Awards ceremony (March 2, 1988); in The New York Times (May 3, 1988)

QUOTE NOTE: Little Richard made the remark in his role as a cameo presenter at the awards ceremony (just prior to announcing Jody Watley as winner of the Best New Artist award). He began by saying, “I have never received nothing, and I’ve been singing for years.” He immediately received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. In clarifying comments to reporters after the ceremony, he said about never receiving a Grammy, “I am not bitter, but I would like to have one to look at.”

  • The Blues Had a Baby and the World Called it Rock and Roll. Brownie McGhee, title of song, written in 1960, first recorded in 1975

QUOTE NOTE: The saying is often attributed to Muddy Waters, but McGhee is the original author. In 1977, Waters recorded his slightly-altered version of the song (“The Blues Had a Baby and they Named It Rock & Roll”) on his Hard Again album.

  • Something touched me deep inside/The day the music died. Don Mclean, on the death of Buddy Holly in 1959, in his 1972 song “American Pie”
  • Rock and roll is the hamburger that ate the world. Peter York, in Style Wars (1980)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet quotation sites mistakenly attribute this quotation to Peter Tork of The Monkees. Peter York is a British author, management consultant, newspaper columnist, and television personality.

  • Music for the neck downwards. Keith Richards, describing rock & roll, quoted in Simon Frith, Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock (1979)



  • In a great romance, each person basically plays a part that the other really likes. Elizabeth Ashley, quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle (Aug. 14, 1982)
  • Romance is thinking about the other person when you are supposed to be thinking of something else. Roy Blount, Jr., quoted in Robert Byrne, The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said (2012)
  • The essence of romantic love is that wonderful beginning, after which sadness and impossibility may become the rule. Anita Brookner, the protagonist Rachel Kennedy, reflecting on relationship dynamics, in A Friend from England (1987)
  • I used to think that romantic love was a neurosis shared by two, a supreme foolishness. I no longer thought that. There’s nothing foolish in loving anyone. Thinking you’ll be loved in return is what’s foolish. Rita Mae Brown, a reflection of the protagonist, Nickel Smith, in Bingo (1988)
  • I have always been suspicious of romantic love. It looks too much like a narcissism shared by two. Rita Mae Brown, the protagonist Mary Frazier Armstrong speaking, in Venus Envy (1993)
  • Romance has been elegantly defined as the offspring of fiction and love. Isaac D’Israeli, “Romances,” in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 1 (1791)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to D’Israeli’s son, Benjamin Disraeli.

  • Romance dies hard, because its very nature is to want to live. Andre Dubus, “Of Robin Hood and Womanhood,” in Broken Vessels: Essays (1994)
  • And what’s romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it's always daisy-time. D. H. Lawrence, in Studies in Classic American Literature (1924)
  • The curse of the romantic is a greed for dreams, an intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • Romances in general are calculated rather to fire the imagination than to inform the judgment. Samuel Richardson, in A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments (1755); originally in Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (1740)
  • Love is a reality which is born in the fairy region of romance. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, “Maxims for Seasoning Conversation,” in Édouard Colmache, Revelations of the Life of Prince Talleyrand (1850)
  • When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry speaking to the title character, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

QUOTE NOTE: In A Woman of No Importance (1893), the same words were spoken by Lord Illingworth.

  • The very essence of romance is uncertainty. Oscar Wilde, the character Algernon speaking, in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)



  • Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Alex Haley, title of 1976 novel

QUOTE NOTE: Roots as a metaphor for ancestry goes back centuries, but Haley gave the term new life and enlarged meaning in his autobiographical novel about Kunta Kinte—a Gambian adolescent who was kidnapped and forced into American slavery in the mid-1700s—and his American descendants.

  • To move freely you must be deeply rooted. Bella Lewitzky, quoted in Barbara Isenberg, State of the Arts: California Artists Talk about Their Work (2000).
  • The child who is uprooted begins to recognize that what he builds within himself is what will endure, what will withstand shattering experiences. Anaïs Nin, quoted in Jody Hay, “Out of the Labyrinth: An Interview,” East West Journal (1974)
  • There is nothing more lovely in life than the union of two people whose love for one another has grown through the years from the small acorn of passion to a great rooted tree. Surviving all vicissitudes, and rich with its manifold branches, every leaf holding its own significance. Vita Sackville-West, in No Signposts in the Sea (1961)
  • To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. Simone Weil, in The Need for Roots (1952)

In the book, Weil also wrote: “Whoever is uprooted himself uproots others. Whoever is rooted himself doesn't uproot others.”



  • Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. W. H. Auden, in “The Life to That-There-Poet” (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: Auden believed that a strict routine was one of the secrets to his success as a poet. He once wrote: “A modern stoic…knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”

  • Marriage must constantly fight against a monster which devours everything: routine. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)
  • The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration (perhaps more). And it is available to everyone. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (2003)

Tharp continued: “If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is the result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming.”

  • Routine is the god of every social system; it is the seventh heaven of business, the essential component in the success of every factory, the ideal of every statesman. The social machine should run like clockwork. Alfred North Whitehead, “Foresight,” in Adventures of Ideas (1933)

Whitehead went on to write: “It is the beginning of wisdom to understand that social life is founded upon routine. Unless society is permeated, through and through, with routine, civilization vanishes.”



  • A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person. Dave Barry, in Dave Barry Turns Fifty (1998)
  • You can't be truly rude until you understand good manners. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • It is little consolation, and no compensation, to the person who is hurt that the offender pleads he did not mean to say or do any thing rude. A rude thing is a rude thing—the intention is nothing—all we are to judge of is the fact. Maria Edgeworth, the title character's mother speaking, in Harrington: A Tale (1833)
  • A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. Robert A. Heinlein, the boss of protagonist Friday Jones speaking, in Friday (1982)
  • Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • There cannot be a greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his discourse. John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

Locke continued: “For if there be not impertinent folly in answering a man before we know what he will say, yet it is a plain declaration that we are weary to hear him talk any longer, and have a disesteem of what he says.”

  • Ideological differences are no excuse for rudeness. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated (2005)



  • Rugby league is war without the frills. Author Unknown
  • Rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen. Soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by beasts. Football is a beastly game played by beasts. Henry Blaha, a 1972 remark, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell's Sports Quotations (2000)
  • The tactical difference between Association Football and Rugby with its varieties seems to be that in the former the ball is the missile, in the latter men are the missiles. Alfred E. Crawley, in The Book of the Ball (1913)
  • Wrestling and boxing is like Ping-Pong and rugby. There’s no connection. Mickey Rourke, in MTV News interview (Sep. 11, 2008)

QUOTE NOTE: In discussing his preparation for the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in the film The Wrestler (2008) Rourke said: “I knew 10 days into making this movie that this would be the best movie I ever made, and I knew after three days that it would be the hardest movie I ever made.” He went on to explain about wrestlers: “These guys get really hurt. You’ve got guys who are 265 [pounds] throwing you across the ring. They take several years to learn how to land. I landed like a lump of shit. Every bone in my body vibrated.” For the entire interview, go to: Rourke MTV News Interview.

  • I prefer rugby to soccer. I enjoy the violence in rugby, except when they start biting each other's ears off. Elizabeth Taylor, a 1972 remark, quoted in David Pickering, Cassell's Sports Quotations (2000)
  • Rugby football is a game I can't claim absolutely to understand in all its niceties, if you know what I mean. I can follow the broad, general principles, of course. I mean to say, I know that the main scheme is to work the ball down the field somehow and deposit it over the line at the other end and that…each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow-man which, if done elsewhere, would result in fourteen days without the option, coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench. P. G. Wodehouse, in Very Good Jeeves (1930)



  • No man was ever ruined from without; the final ruin comes from within, when you turn hopeless and lose courage. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913)
  • All men that are ruined are ruined on the side of their natural propensities. Edmund Burke, in Two Letters on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory (9th ed.; 1796)



  • The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him. Niccolo Machiavelli, in The Prince (1532)



  • Exceptions are not always the proof of the old rule; they can also be the harbinger of a new one. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • There’s no rule so wise but what it’s a pity for somebody or other. George Eliot, in Adam Bede (1859)
  • When the rules say you can’t play, change the rules. Susan B. Evans, in Susan B. Evans and Joan P. Avis, The Women Who Broke All the Rules (1999)
  • There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be an exception to the rule. Malcolm Forbes, in 1992 issue of Forbes magazine
  • Nature provides exceptions to every rule. Margaret Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
  • It is better to give children a rule to break than to give them no rules at all. Tipper Gore, quoted in a 1999 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)
  • If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Ronald Warren Deutsch, Inspirational Hollywood (1997)
  • Rules are like flagpoles in a slalom race: you observe their presence religiously, skirt around them as closely as possible, and never let them cut your speed. Katherine Neville, in A Calculated Risk (1992)
  • Any rules that are made for everybody hurt somebody, sometimes. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Little Ships (1925)
  • To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. George Polya, in How to Solve It (1945)
  • General rules will bear hard on particular cases. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1856)
  • There is all the difference in the world between departure from recognized rules by one who has learned to obey them, and neglect of them through want of training or want of skill or want of understanding. Before you can be eccentric you must know where the circle is. Ellen Terry, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • Rules are absolutely necessary restrictions…we are lost if we trust to our impulses. What are our bodies but concrete rules? Miss Thackeray, in Old Kensington, Vol. 1 (1873)
  • We like fixed rules because that ends thinking and we can rest. But there is no resting place down here. Brenda Ueland, in Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings (1993)


(see also [Gossip] COLUMNIST and GOSSIP and NEWS and PUBLICITY and SCANDAL)

  • Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell. Shana Alexander, in Visitor (1992)
  • Rumor and gossip, like sound itself, appear to travel by wave-effect, sheer preposterosity being no barrier. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • Rumor is untraceable, incalculable, and infectious. Margot Asquith, in More or Less About Myself (1934)
  • Rumor has winged feet like Mercury. Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1896)
  • There is a vital force in rumor. Though crushed to earth, to all intents and purposes buried, it can rise again without apparent effort. Eleanor Robson Belmont, in The Fabric of Memory (1957)
  • Rumor is a vagrant without a home, and lives upon what it can pick up. Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw), quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1896)
  • She was always in good rumor. Marcelene Cox, in a 1942 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • The ball of rumor and criticism, once it starts rolling, is difficult to stop. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Flower and the Nettle (1976)
  • One has to live in Washington to know what a city of rumors it is. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Day, Vol. 1 (1989)
  • Rumor is a pipe/Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures. William Shakespeare, the character Rumour speaking, in Induction to Henry IV, Part II (1597)

QUOTE NOTE: The word pipe here refers to a musical instrument, like a horn or wind instrument.



  • Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life. Haruki Murakami, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (2008)

Murakami preceded the thought by writing: “Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that.”

  • There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. George A. Sheehan, in Running to Win (1991)

Sheehan continued: “Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.”

  • Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in a 1994 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue unidentified)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and ENGLAND & THE ENGLISH and other nations & their citizens, including CANADA and CHINA and GERMANY and ISRAEL and ITALY and JAPAN; see also COMMUNISM and SOVIET UNION—USSR and TOTALITARIANISM)

  • Russian Communism is the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great. Clement Atlee, in speech at Aarhus University (April 11, 1956)
  • The whole of Russia is our orchard. Anton Chekhov, the character Trofimov speaking, in The Cherry Orchard (1904)
  • I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Winston Churchill, in a BBC radio broadcast (Oct. 1, 1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill went on to add that “Perhaps there is a key” to understanding what the Russians under Stalin might do during WWII. That key, he suggested, was “Russian national interest.”

  • Don’t you ever forget what’s divine in the Russian soul—and that’s resignation. Joseph Conrad, the character Victor Haldin speaking, in Under Western Eyes (1911)
  • The Russians train; they do not dare educate. Max Lerner, “Four Fallacies of Our Schools,” in The Unfinished Country (1959)
  • The so-called new Russian man is characterized by his complete exhaustion. You may find yourself wondering if he has the strength to enjoy his new-found freedom. Ryszard Kapuscinski, quoted in The Independent on Sunday (London; Oct. 27, 1991)

Kapuscinski, a prominent Polish journalist commenting on the collapse of the Soviet Union, added: “He is like a long-distance runner who, on reaching the finishing line, is incapable even of raising his hands in a gesture of victory.”

  • Ideas in modern Russia are machine-cut blocks coming in solid colors; the nuance is outlawed, the interval walled up, the curve grossly stepped. Vladimir Nabokov, “Commentary,” in Pale Fire (1962)
  • Russia’s a little bit like a critically ill patient. You have to get up every day and take the pulse and hope that nothing catastrophic happened the night before. Condoleeza Rice, quoted in Sian Griffiths, Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Forty Women Whose Ideas Shape the Modern World (1996)


(see also ROUTINE)

  • Keep out of Ruts; a Rut is something which,/If traveled in too much, becomes a Ditch. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)

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