Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“T” Quotations



  • The only really good vegetable is Tabasco sauce. Put Tabasco sauce in everything. Tabasco sauce is to bachelor cooking what forgiveness is to sin. P. J. O'Rourke, in The Bachelor Home Companion: A Practical Guide to Keeping House Like a Pig (1986)

O'Rourke added: “The next best vegetable is the jalapeño pepper. It has the virtue of turning salads into practical jokes.”

  • Sex is the tabasco sauce which an adolescent national palate sprinkles on every course in the menu. Mary Day Winn, in Adam’s Rib (1931)



  • Tact is the rare ability to keep silent while two friends are arguing, and you know both of them are wrong. Hugh Allen, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • Tact is the intelligence of the heart. Author Unknown
  • Tact is the art of recognizing when to be big and when not to belittle. Author Unknown, quoted in The Builder (Dec. 1971)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the first appearance of this clever saying, and no author was cited. Over the years, the observation has been attributed to Bill Copeland

  • Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill. However, nothing like it has never found in his speeches or published works

  • Indiscretion has always seemed to me to be one of the privileges of tact. Natalie Clifford Barney, in Adventures of the Mind: The Memoirs of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992)
  • Tact is the ability to step on a man’s toes without scuffing the shine on his shoes. O. A. Battista, in Quotoons: A Speaker’s Dictionary (1977)

QUOTE NOTE: Orlando Battista was a Canadian chemist with a flair for wordplay. His Quotoons book contained nearly 5,000 wise and witty epigrams on a wide variety of subjects, including these additional observations on tact:

“Tact is the ability to agree with a person and still convince him he’s wrong.”

“Tact is like air in an automobile tire; without it, driving through life will be rough going.”

“Tact is the ability of some women to block a man’s advances without being deprived of his hospitality.”

“Tact is the ability to ask a person for a book you loaned him and succeed in getting back the other half dozen he borrowed from you.”

  • You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • The austere principles of tact tell the tongue to keep away from the aching thought. Elizabeth Bibesco, in Haven: Short Stories, Poems, and Aphorisms (1951)
  • Women and foxes, being weak, are distinguished by superior tact. Ambrose Bierce, in “Epigrams,” The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol. 8 (1911)
  • Diplomacy gets you out of what tact would have kept you out of. Brian Bowling, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • I prefer the “tackiest” person in the world to the stylish person who has no tact. Perry Brass, in The Lover of My Soul: A Search for Ecstasy and Wisdom (1998)
  • Praise out of season, or tactlessly bestowed, can freeze the heart as much as blame. Pearl S. Buck, in To My Daughters, With Love (1967)
  • Tact: the tribute which intelligence pays to humbug. St. John Brodrick, defining tact at a London social gathering; quoted in Kenneth Rose, Curzon, A Most Superior Person: A Biography (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: Brodrick was noted for his great wit, not his tactfulness, leading Charty Ribblesdale, the hostess of the party that evening, to remark: “The most tactless man in the room defined tact better than anybody; wasn’t this remarkable?”

  • Silence is not always tact, and it is tact that is golden, not silence. Samuel Butler, “Silence and Tact” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Truth or tact? You have to choose. Most times they are not compatible. Eddie Cantor, in

The Way I See It (1959; with Phyllis Rosenteur)

  • There is something about conscious tact that is very irritating. Agatha Christie, the character Tuppence Berersford speaking, in N or M? (1941)
  • Tact consists in knowing how far to go in going too far. Jean Cocteau, “Le Coq et l’arlequin,” in Le Rappel à l’ordre (1926)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been translated in other ways:

“Tact consists in knowing how far we may go too far.”

“Being tactful in audacity is knowing how far one can go too far.”

  • Tact is good taste in action. Diane de Poitiers, quoted in Winifred Gordon, A Book of Days (1909)
  • Tact does not remove difficulties, but difficulties melt away under tact. Benjamin Disraeli, the Duke of Belmont speaking, in Tancred (1847)

In an earlier novel, Young Duke (1831), Disraeli offered another memorable thought on the subject, this time about those who lack tact: “A want of tact is worse that a want of virtue.”

  • Endymion was born with tact, and it came to him as much from goodness of heart as fineness of taste. Benjamin Disraeli, the voice of the narrator, in Endymion, Vol. I (1880)
  • Perseverance and tact are the two qualities most valuable for all men who would mount [to high position], but especially for those who have to step out of the crowd. I am sure no one can say you are not assiduous, but I am glad always to observe that you have tact. Without tact you can learn nothing. Tact teaches you when to be silent. Inquirers who are always inquiring never learn anything. Benjamin Disraeli, the character Mr. Wilton speaking to Endymion, in Endymion, Vol. II (1880)
  • What a fine quality, what an absolute virtue Tact is. Lady Portmore never had a grain of it—a misfortune that fell more heavily on her friends than on herself. Emily Eden, in The Semi-Attached Couple (1860)
  • No one can become a good conversationalist without tact. It is the sensitive touch that recognizes when a subject has become distasteful, which sees the eagerness of someone else to say something, which notes the slightest cloud of expression crossing another’s face. Lillian Eichler, in The Book of Conversation (1927)
  • Tact and diplomacy are fine in international relations, in politics, perhaps even in business; in science only one thing matters, and that is the facts. Hans Eysenck, in Rebel With a Cause: The Autobiography of Hans Eysenck (1990))

Eysenck preceded the observation by writing; “I always felt that a scientist owes the world only one thing, and that is the truth as he sees it. If the truth contradicts deeply held beliefs, that is too bad.”

  • Opinion! If every one had so little tact as to give their true opinion when it was asked this would be a miserable world. Edna Ferber, the title character speaking, in Roast Beef. Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney (1913)
  • So be sure when you step./Step with care and great tact,/and remember that Life’s/a Great Balancing Act. Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), in Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)
  • People with tact have less to retract. Arnold H. Glasow, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • Cultivate tact, for it is the mark of culture, and as important as character itself. It is the lubricant of human relationships, softening contacts and minimizing friction. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • Of course, in politics, just as anywhere else in life, it is impossible and it would not be sensible always to say everything bluntly. Yet that does not mean one has to lie. What is needed here are tact, instinct, and good taste. Václav Havel, quoted in International Herald Tribune (October 29, 1991)
  • Don’t flatter yourselves that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. On the contrary, the nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • Tact is after all a kind of mind-reading. Sarah Orne Jewett, the voice of the unnamed narrator, in The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)
  • Tact is the art of building a fire under people without making their blood boil. Franklin P. Jones, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)

In the book, Jones was also quoted as saying: “Tact is the ability to stay in the middle without getting caught there.”

  • Tact, the ability to tell a man he’s open-minded when he has a hole in his head. F. G. Kernan, quoted in Leonard Roy Frank, Randon House Webster’s Quotationary (1999)
  • If criticism is needed, do it tactfully. Don’t use a sledgehammer when a fly swatter will do the job. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia (1978)
  • Tact is the art of making people feel at home when that’s where you wish they were. Ann Landers, in her syndicated column (Dec. 22, 1998)
  • I’m known for speaking my mind, a trait I probably inherited from my parents, Louis and Mary Leakey—neither of whom was renowned for tact. Richard Leakey, in Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures (2001; with Virginia Morell)
  • For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought. Basil H. Liddell Hart, in Why Don’t We Learn from History? (1944)
  • The sharpness of a refusal or the edge of a rebuke may be blunted by an appropriate story so as to save wounded feelings and yet serve the purpose. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Anthony Gross, Lincoln’s Own Stories (1912)
  • Tact is not a small thing; in the battle of life it is more powerful than a bludgeon. Arthur Lynch, in Moods of Life: Popular Psychological Studies of Affairs of Every Day (1921)
  • Some people mistake weakness for tact. If they are silent when they ought to speak and so feign an argument they do not feel, they call it being truthful. Cowardice would be a much better name. Frank Medlicott, in Reader’s Digest magazine (July 1958)
  • To be a biographer is a somewhat peculiar endeavor. It seems to me it requires not only the tact, patience, and thoroughness of a scholar but the stamina of a horse. Nancy Milford, in Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (2001)
  • In the battle of existence, Talent is the punch; Tact is the clever footwork. Wilson Mizner, quoted in Edward Dean Sullivan, The Fabulous Wilson Mizner (1935)
  • Scientists are not known for the graces of courtesy and tact when commenting on the work of others. Scott L. Montgomery, in The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science, 2nd Ed. (2017)
  • Tact is the art of convincing people that they know more than you do. Raymond Mortimer, quoted in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • If tact consists in knowing what not to say, etiquette consists in knowing what not to do in the direction of manifesting our impulsive likes and dislikes. Agnes H. Morton, in Introduction to Etiquette: Good Manners for All People (1892)
  • Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. Howard W. Newton, in a 1973 issue of Forbes magazine

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, most often with the art of rather than the knack of.

  • 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)
  • Tact is the art of putting your foot down without stepping on anyone’s toes. Laurence J. Peter, in Peter’s Almanac (1982)
  • Tact is the ability to describe people as they see themselves. Mary Pettibone Poole, “Made in Manhattan,” in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)

ERROR ALERT: While Poole is the undisputed author of this sentiment, many internet sites—and several reputable published quotation anthologies—mistakenly attribute it to Abraham Lincoln.

  • When you shoot an arrow of truth, dip its point in honey. Proverb (Arab)
  • Tact is not only kindness, but kindness skillfully extended. J. G. Randall, in Mr. Lincoln (1957; posthumously edited by Richard N. Current)

QUOTE NOTE: Randall described President Lincoln as “regularly and consciously” tactful in his dealing with people. And about the quality, he wrote: “Tact is not one thing only. It is a number of qualities working together: insight into the nature of men, sympathy, self control, a knack of inducing self control in others, avoidance of human blundering, readiness to give the immediate situation an understanding mind and a second thought.”

  • Although tact is a virtue, it is very closely allied to certain vices; the line between tact and hypocrisy is a very narrow one. I think the distinction comes in the motive: when it is kindliness that makes us wish to please, our tact is the right sort; when it is fear of offending, or desire to obtain some advantage by flattery, our tact is apt to be of a less amiable kind. Bertrand Russell, “On Tact” (a Feb. 1, 1933 essay); reprinted in Mortals and Others: American Essays, 1931-1935 (1975)
  • No rules, however wise, are a substitute for affection and tact. Bertrand Russell, “Education and Discipline,” in In Praise of Idleness: and Other Essays (1935)
  • I should say tact was worth much more than wealth as a road to leadership…. I mean that subtle apprehension which teaches a person how to do and say the right thing at the right time. M. E. W. Sherwood, in An Epistle to Posterity: Being Rambling Recollections of Many Years of My Life (1897)

Sherwood continued: “It coexists with very ordinary qualities, and yet many great geniuses are without it. Of all human qualities I consider it the most convenient—not always the highest; yet I would rather have it than many more shining qualities.”

  • The tribute which intelligence pays to humbug. William St. John Brodrick, his definition of tact; quoted in Kenneth Rose, Superior Person: A Portrait of Curzon and His Circle (1969)

QUOTE NOTE: See the section on TRIBUTE METAPHORS for similarly phrased observations as well as for the original La Rochefoucauld maxim that inspired them all.

  • The original meaning of the word tact referred to the sense of touch (as in “tactile”), and came to mean skill in dealing with persons or sensitive situations. Tact is defined as: “intuitive perception, especially a quick and fine perception of what is fit and proper and right.” John Oswald Sanders, in Dynamic Spiritual Leadership: Leading Like Paul (2010)

Sanders continued: “It alludes to one's ability to conduct delicate negotiations and personal matters in a way that recognizes mutual rights, and yet leads to a harmonious solution.”

  • Tact is an essential principle of conversation; hence, the eastern metaphor which likens a word spoken in season, to “apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Henry Theodore Tuckerman, in The Optimist (1850)
  • It was in dealing with the early feminist that the Government acquired the tact and skillfulness with which it is now handling Ireland. Rebecca West, quoted in London's Daily News (Aug. 7, 1916)
  • The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to do a thing and to watch someone else doing it wrong, without commenting. T. H. White, quoted in M. Scott Peck, Abounding Grace: An Anthology of Wisdom (2000)
  • Talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Illingworth speaking, in A woman of No Importance (1893)
  • Tact does for life just what lubricating oil does for machinery. It makes the wheels run smoothly, and without it there is a great deal of friction and the possibility of a breakdown. Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Just a Question of Tact,” in Missouri Ruralist (Oct. 5, 1916); reprinted in Stephen W. Hines, Little House in the Ozarks: A Laura Ingalls Wilder Sampler, The Rediscovered Writings (1991)

Wilder continued: “Many a car on the way of life fails to make the trip as expected for lack of this lubricant. Tact is a quality that may be acquired. It is only the other way of seeing and presenting a subject. There are always two sides to a thing, you know, and if one side is disagreeable, the reverse is quite apt to be very pleasant. The tactful person may see both sides but uses the pleasant one.”




  • There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mrs. March speaking to her daughter Amy, in Little Women (1868)

Mrs. March continued: “Even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.”

  • We don’t choose our talents; but we needn’t hide them in a napkin because they are not just what we want. Louisa May Alcott, the character Mrs. Meg speaking, in Jo’s Boys (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: Alcott’s observation about hiding one’s talents was likely inspired by Jesus’s “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14–30). See also the Margaret Mead observation below.

  • Every person is born with a talent, and happiness depends on discovering that talent in time. Isabel Allende, the character Joan speaking to her employee Carmen, in The Infinite Plan (1991)
  • It is indeed the temptation of all talent to subordinate things to itself and not itself to things. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Aug. 13, 1865). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Maya Angelou, quoted in Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work (1983)
  • Talent is like a faucet; while it is open, one must write. Jean Anouilh, in Introduction to Becket (1959)

Anouilh added: “Inspiration is a farce that poets have invented to give themselves importance.”

  • It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one’s nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ. W. H. Auden, “Writing,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents. Author Unknown, but commonly attributed to Andrew Carnegie
  • There are two kinds of talent, man-make talent and God-given talent. With man-made talent you have to work very hard. With God-given talent, you just touch it up once in a while. Pearl Bailey, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 4, 1967)
  • Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance. James Baldwin, in Paris Review interview (Spring, 1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Baldwin’s reply to the question, “Can you discern talent in someone?”

  • If the artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work…as the soldier flings himself into the enemy’s trenches, and if, once in this crater, he does not work like a miner…he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent. Honoré de Balzac, in La Cousine Bette (1846)

QUOTE NOTE: It is rare to find a phrase as dramatic and evocative as “The suicide of his own talent.” I regard it as one of the best things ever said on the subject of squandered talent.

  • Patience is an integral part of talent. Vicki Baum, in I Know What I’m Worth (1964)
  • The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, “Thus far and no farther.” Ludwig von Beethoven, quoted in Samuel Smiles, “Workers in Art,” Self-Help (1859)

QUOTE NOTE: Smiles described the saying as “Beethoven’s favorite maxim.”

  • It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous. Robert Benchley, quoted in Nathaniel Benchley, Robert Benchley (1955). Also an example of oxymoronica.
  • Talent is only a starting point in this business. Irving Berlin, quoted in Theater Arts magazine (Feb., 1958)
  • The luck of having talent is not enough; one must also have a talent for luck. Hector Berlioz, quoted in Henry I. Christ, Modern Short Biographies (1960); later quoted in a 1981 issue of Time magazine

ERROR ALERT: This quotation has become quite popular, but it is not an accurate representation of Berlioz’s original thought. Writing about the German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer in Evenings with the Orchestra (1852), Berlioz wrote more precisely: “The author of The Prophet not only has the good luck to have talent, he has also the talent to have good luck” (the original French was: “L'auteur de ce Prophète a non seulement le bonheur d'avoir du talent, mais aussi le talent d'avoir du Bonheur”).

  • An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. William Bernbach, quoted in his New York Times obituary (Oct. 6, 1982)
  • The artist uses the talent he has, wishing he had more talent. The talent uses the artist it has, wishing it had more artist. Robert Brault, in Round Up the Usual Suspects (2014). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • All our talents increase in the using, and every faculty, both good and bad, strengthens by exercise. Anne Brontë, the protagonist Helen Graham speaking, in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

QUOTE NOTE: Helen is imploring fiancée Arthur Huntingdon to use his talents wisely. She continues: “Therefore, if you choose to use the bad, or those which tend to evil, till they become your masters, and neglect the good till they dwindle away, you have only yourself to blame.”

  • Talented people almost always know full well the excellence that is in them. Charlotte Brontë, in letter to Ellen Nussey (April 14, 1846); reprinted in The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Vol. 1 (1995; Margaret Smith, ed.)
  • Talent is the multiplier. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. The time you spend with your best [employees] is, quite simply, your most productive time. Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All the Rules (1999)

QUOTE NOTE: Buckingham was giving advice to managers. He preceded the observation by writing: “Spend the most time with your best people.”

  • As to great and commanding talents, they are the gift of Providence in some way unknown to us, they rise where they are least expected; they fail when everything seems disposed to produce them, or at least to call them forth. Edmund Burke, in letter to the chevalier de la Bintinnaye (March, 1791)
  • Talent is worshipped; but, if divorced from rectitude, it will prove more of a demon than a god. William Ellery Channing, in “Self-Culture” lecture (Boston; Sep., 1838)
  • Every form of talent involves a certain shamelessness. E. M. Cioran, “Some Blind Alleys: A Letter,” in The Art of the Personal Essay (1994; Phillip Lopate, ed.)
  • The greatest evil which fortune can inflict on men is to endow them with small talents and great ambitions. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746)
  • The possession of superior talent creates more wishes than it gratifies. Eliza Cook, in Diamond Dust (1865)
  • Everybody has talent at twenty-five. The difficult thing is to have it at fifty. Edgar Degas, quoted in The Shop-Talk of Edgar Degas (1961; R. H. Ives Gammell, ed.)
  • Ideas are a capital that bears interest only in the hands of talent. Antoine de Rivarol, quoted in J. De Finod, A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880)
  • It always seemed to me a sort of clever stupidity only to have one sort of talent—like a carrier-pigeon. George Eliot, the character Maggie speaking, in The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

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

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

  • Talent for talent’s sake is a bauble and a show. Talent working with joy in the cause of universal truth lifts the possessor to new power as a benefactor. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Progress of Culture,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)
  • A true talent delights the possessor first. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Scholar,” in Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883)
  • If you have a talent, use it in every way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke. Brendan Francis (pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy), in Edward F. Murphy, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations (1978)
  • Hide not your talents, they for use were made,/What’s a sun-dial in the shade? Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Oct. 1750)
  • Talent, like beauty, to be pardoned, must be obscure and unostentatious. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • For every talent that poverty has stimulated, it has blighted a hundred. John W. Gardner, in Excellence: Can We be Equal and Excellent Too? (1961)
  • True happiness involves the full use of one's power and talents. John W. Gardner, in Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society (1964)
  • Achievement is talent plus preparation. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success (2008)
  • Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Torquato Tasso (1790)
  • This mysterious thing, artistic talent: the key to so much freedom, the escape from so much suffering. Nancy Hale, in Mary Cassatt: A Biography of the Great American Painter (1975)
  • Talent is an amalgam of high sensitivity; easy vulnerability; high sensory equipment (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting—intensely); a vivid imagination as well as a grip on reality; the desire to communicate one’s own experience and sensations, to make one’s self heard and seen. Uta Hagen, in Respect for Acting (1973)
  • We must all be cut out for what we do, he thought. However you make your living is where your talent lies. Ernest Hemingway, The narrator describing a reflection of the protagonist, a man named Harry, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro—A Long Story,” in Esquire magazine (Aug., 1936)
  • We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Youth itself is a talent—a perishable talent. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), in Epistles (1st c. B.C.)
  • Nature is as wasteful of promising young men as she is of fish-spawn. It’s not just getting them killed in wars: mere middle age snuffs out more talent than even wars or sudden deaths do. Richard Hughes, the voice of the narrator, in The Fox in the Attic (1961)
  • There is no substitute for talent. Industry and all the virtues are of no avail. Aldous Huxley, in Point Counter Point (1928)

QUOTE NOTE: The narrator is here capturing a thought of the character Walter Bidlake. Bidlake is a journalist and literary critic who is feeling overwhelmed by all the the bad and boring books which keep coming his way. The narrator continues: “Immersed in his Tripe, Walter ferociously commented on lack of talent. Conscious of their industry, sincerity, and good artistic intentions, the authors of the Tripe felt themselves outrageously and unfairly treated.”

  • Well-matured and well-disciplined talent is always sure of a market, provided it exerts itself; but it must not cower at home and expect to be sought for. Washington Irving, in letter to eighteen-year-old nephew Pierre Paris Irving (Dec. 7, 1824); reprinted in The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, Vol. II (1862; Pierre Munroe Irving, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Irving was advising his nephew, who had recently succeeded in getting some of his writings published in a local periodical. Irving believed it was an error to offer one’s thoughts for publication at such an early age, saying, “It begets an eagerness to reap before one has sown.” Irving even attempted to dissuade the young man from a literary career. “There is no life more precarious in its profits and fallacious in its enjoyments than that of an author,” the successful author surprisingly wrote. He also expanded on the idea of exerting one’s talents, offered above, by writing: “A barking dog is often more useful than a sleepy lion. Endeavor to make your talents convertible to ready use, prompt for the occasion, and adapted to the ordinary purposes of life; cultivate strength rather than gracefulness; in our country it is the useful, not the ornamental, that is in demand.”

  • Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. Erica Jong, “The Artist as Housewife,” in Francine Kragbrun, The First Ms. Reader (1972)
  • Great talents are the most lovely and often the most dangerous fruits on the tree of humanity. They hang upon the most slender twigs that are easily snapped off. Carl Jung, “The Gifted Child,” a lecture in Basel, Switzerland (Dec. 1942); reprinted in The Development of Personality (1954)
  • Talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force. Stephen King, in Danse Macabre (1981)
  • Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. Stephen King, in Danse Macabre (1981)

King added: “No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few people are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is ‘genius’), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”

  • Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter. Stephen King, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Edgar Freemantle, in Duma Key: A Novel (2008)
  • Talent is never static. It’s always growing or dying. Stephen King, quoted in Entertainment Weekly (Aug. 17, 2007)
  • It’s a great talent to be able to conceal one’s talents. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been commonly translated: “It is a great ability to be able to conceal one’s ability.”

  • But of course we can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts. Madeleine L’Engle, the character Mrs. Whatsit speaking, in A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  • Timing and arrogance are decisive factors in the successful use of talent. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • Keeping even the most humble talent wrapped in a napkin becomes the more reprehensible the greater the emergency. Margaret Mead, in New Lives for Old (1956)

QUOTE NOTE: Mead was arguing that the insights of anthropology—however modest—were extremely important in the modern world, especially during times of crisis. In crafting the observation, she was likely inspired by the earlier Louisa May Alcott observation.

  • As tools unused become rusty, so does the mind; a garden uncared for soon becomes smothered in weeds; a talent neglected withers and dies. Ethel R. Page, “What of Your Talent?” in Etude magazine (July-August, 1956)
  • Not he deserves praise that has talents, but he that uses them. Ivan Panin, in Thoughts (1886)
  • Having talent is like having blue eyes. You don’t admire a man for the color of his eyes. I admire a man for what he does with his talent. Anthony Quinn, quoted in Walter Winchell’s “Broadway Beat” syndicated column (Dec. 29, 1959)
  • Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. Jules Renard, an 1887 entry, in The Journal of Jules Renard (1964)
  • A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage. Sydney Smith, “On the Conduct of the Understanding,” in Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1849)

Smith continued: “Every day sends to their graves a number of obscure men who have only remained obscure because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort.”

  • We must despise no sort of talent: they all have their separate duties and uses; all, the happiness of man for their object: they all improve, exalt, and gladden life. Sydney Smith, “On the Conduct of the Understanding,” in Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1849)
  • Talent is nothing but a prolonged period of attention and a shortened period of mental assimilation. Konstantin Stanislavsky, in The Art of the Stage (1950)
  • I believe that most people have some degree of talent for one thing—form, colors, words, sounds. Talent lies around in us like kindling waiting for a match, but some people, just as gifted as others, are less lucky. Fate never drops a match on them. Wallace Stegner, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Larry Morgan, in Crossing to Safety (1987)

In the heavily semi-autobiographical novel, Morgan continued: “The times are wrong, or their health is poor, or their energy low, or their obligations too many. Something.”

  • You cannot define talent. All you can do is build the greenhouse and see if it grows. William P. Steven, quoted in Time magazine (Aug. 23, 1963)
  • Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life. Irving Stone, the character Bertoldo speaking to Michelangelo, in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961)
  • You must work at the talent as a sculptor works at stone, chiselling, plotting, rounding, edging & making perfect. Dylan Thomas, in letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson (April 15, 1934), quoted in Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas (1966; C. Fitzgibbon, ed.)
  • If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know. Thomas Wolfe, the voice of the narrator The Web and the Rock (1939)



  • To do easily what is difficult for others is the mark of talent. To do what is impossible for talent is the mark of genius. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Dec. 17, 1856)
  • You can do something with talent, but nothing with genius. Margot Asquith, in More Memories (1933)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally offered in one of of the most impressibe compliments ever paid to a public figure: “You can do something with talent, but nothing with genius, and Mr. Winston Churchill has a touch of—what we all recognize but can never define—Genius.”

  • Genius makes its observations in shorthand; talent writes them out at length. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • A man who fears ridicule will never go far, for good or ill: he remains on this side of his talents, and even if he has genius, he is doomed to mediocrity. Emile Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1976)
  • Genius must have talent as its complement and implement, just as in like manner imagination must have fancy. In short, the higher intellectual powers can only act through a corresponding energy of the lower. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk (Aug. 20, 1833)
  • Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius. Arthur Conan Doyle, the narrator Dr. Watson speaking, in The Valley of Fear (1915)
  • Genius is the gold in the mine; talent is the miner who works and brings it out. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (2nd ed., 1855)
  • The world is always ready to receive talent with open arms. Very often it does not know what to do with genius. Talent is a docile creature. It bows its head meekly while the world slips the collar over it. It backs into the shafts like a lamb. It draws its load cheerfully, and is patient of the bit and of the whip. But genius is always impatient of its harness; its wild blood makes it hard to train. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860)
  • The discovery of truth by slow, progressive meditation is talent. Intuition of the truth, not preceded by perceptible meditation, is genius. Johann Kaspar Lavater, in Aphorisms on Man (c. 1788)
  • Who in the same given time can produce more than others has vigor; who can produce more and better, has talents; who can produce what none else can, has genius. Johann Kaspar Lavater, in Aphorisms on Man (c. 1788)
  • Talent is that which is in a man’s power; genius is that in whose power a man is. James Russell Lowell, “Rousseau and the Sentimentalists,” in Among My Books (1870)
  • Genius does what it must, and Talent does what it can.Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton), in “Last Words of a Sensitive Second-Rate Poet” (1868)
  • Talent is a tenant in the house owned by genius. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target . . . which others cannot even see. Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation (1818; exp. ed. in 1844)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation has been traditionally translated, and it seems closest to the original German. On most internet sites, though, you will find this more streamlined version: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

  • Genius is talent exercised with courage. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a 1940 notebook entry, in Culture and Value (1980)



  • Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice. William Shakespeare, the character Polonious speaking, in Hamlet (1599)
  • Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Feb. 28, 1985)
  • The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz, “People,” in Social Studies (1981)



  • Improvisation is the essence of good talk. Heaven defend us from the talker who doles out things prepared for us! Max Beerbohm, “Lytton Strachey,” in Mainly On the Air (1946)
  • Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, for joy? Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1856 journal entry; reprinted in “Social Aims” essay, in Letters and Social Aims (1875)
  • In much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly. Kahlil Gibran, “On Talking,” in The Prophet (1923)
  • Is there any place where there is no traffic in empty talk? Is there on this earth one who does not worship himself talking? Kahlil Gibran, “Mister Gabber,” in Thoughts and Reflections (1960)
  • People do not seem to talk for the sake of expressing their opinions, but to maintain an opinion for the sake of talking. William Hazlitt, “On Coffee-House Politicians,” in Table Talk (1821–22). Also an example of chiasmus
  • Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hand on the strings to stop their vibrations as in twanging them to bring our their music. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered. Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick Directs (1972)
  • Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Feb. 28, 1985)
  • The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz, “People,” in Social Studies (1981)
  • Talk is the greatest industry, and all human beings move in clouds of it—not merely their own, but in the rumors and representations of others, to which they are sometimes painfully sensitive. Christopher Morley, in Human Being: A Story (1932)
  • Talking too much is a far greater social fault than talking too little. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book of Common Sense Etiquette (1962)
  • If you can’t add to the discussion, don’t subtract by talking. Lois Wyse, in The Six-Figure Woman (And How To Be One) (1983)

[Shop] TALK


  • It was pleasant to talk shop again; to use that elliptical, allusive speech that one uses only with another of one’s trade. Josephine Tey, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, in The Daughter of Time (1951)

[Small] TALK


  • Small talk isn’t really as small as it might seem, even though the subjects may appear inconsequential and unimportant. It’s just this kind of chatter that gives many people the feeling of belonging and the very needed sense of being part of a group. Joyce Brothers, in her syndicated column (Oct. 19, 1979)

Dr. Brothers went on to add: “Usually, even close friends in small groups exchange this kind of pleasantry when they first meet. It’s a kind of warm-up exercise for the emotional muscles.”

  • Small talk is not about facts or words. It’s about music, about melody. Small talk is about putting people at ease. It’s about making comforting noises together like cats purring, children humming, or groups chanting. Leil Lowndes, in Talking the Winner’s Way (1999)
  • Small talk is the biggest talk we do. Susan RoAne, in What Do I Say Next? Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success (1997)
  • And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside. Arundhati Roy, the voice of the narrator, in The God of Small Things (1997)
  • Small talk has an image problem. It’s hard to take it seriously. After all, it’s small talk, isn’t it? Lynne Waymon, quoted in Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon, Great Connections (1992)

Waymon went on to add: “But mastering small talk skills is more important in today’s business environment than ever before.”



  • Sometimes there is confusion that the tango is the steps. No. Tango is the feeling. It is one heart and four legs. Juan Carlos Copes, quoted in Chiori Santiago, “The Tango Is More Than a Dance—It’s a Moment of Truth, Smithsonian magazine (Nov. 1993)
  • Tango is a feeling that can be danced, and that feeling, of course, is passion. Hernán Lombardi, quoted in the Times (London; Oct. 1, 2009)



  • We will more easily accomplish what is proper if, like archers, we have a target in sight. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: Another translation of the Aristotle thought has it phrased this way: “It concerns us to know the purposes we seek in life, for then, like archers aiming at a definite mark, we shall be more likely to attain what we want.”



  • I found that of the senses, the eye is the most superficial, the ear the most arrogant, smell the most voluptuous, taste the most superstitious and fickle, touch the most profound and the most philosophical. Helen Keller, “Sense and Sensibility,” in a 1908 issue of Century magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, whenever he travels. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • The disturbing thing about matters of taste is that they are not communicable. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind, Vol. 2 (1978)

Arendt introduced the thought by writing: “No argument can persuade me to like oysters if I do not like them.”

  • Beauty is the sole ambition, the exclusive goal of Taste. Charles Baudelaire, “Théophile Gautier” (1859), in L’art romantique (1869)
  • It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us. Isaac D’Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 2 (1793)
  • Taste is the feminine of genius. Edward Fitzgerald, in letter to J. R. Lowell (Oct., 1877)
  • You can’t get high aesthetic tastes,/Like trousers, ready-made. W. S. Gilbert, in libretto (sung by Duke, Colonel, Major), in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience (1881)
  • What is the voice of song, when the world lacks the ear of taste? Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Canterbury Pilgrims,” in The Snow Image (1851)
  • Taste is nothing but an enlarged capacity for receiving pleasure from works of imagination. William Hazlitt, “On Taste,” in Sketches and Essays (1839)
  • To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free—as opposed to rote—human response. Nothing is more decisive. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964), in Against Interpretation (1966)

Sontag continued: “There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion—and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”



  • A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. Diana Vreeland, in D. V. (1984)

Vreeland continued: “We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty. It’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”

[Good] TASTE


  • It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning. Salvador Dali, in Diary of a Genius (1966)
  • The essence of good taste is a sense of values, and a sense of values is the pivotal point of good living. Millicent Fenwick, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)
  • One of the keys to our present definition of good taste is that it is better to be kind than to be “correct.” There is no situation in which it is smart to be nasty. Millicent Fenwick, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)
  • Good taste is the worst vice ever invented. Edith Sitwell, in The Last Years of a Rebel (1967)



  • A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults. Louis Nizer, quoted in the Xenia [Ohio] Daily Gazette (June 30, 1973)



  • Taxation: how the sheep are shorn. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men. Edmund Burke, in “First Speech on the Conciliation with America” (April 19, 1774)
  • Tax hikes are to markets what bacon grease is to human arteries. Donald J. Boudreaux, in letter to the editor of The Christian Science Monitor (Aug. 16, 2005)
  • We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. Winston Churchill, quoted in Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, Young Statesman, 1901–1914 (1967)
  • A taxpayer and his money are soon parted. John Ciardi, tweaking the words of the familiar saying about fools and their money, in his “Manner of Speaking” column, Saturday Review (May 26, 1962)
  • The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to secure the largest quantity of feathers with the least possible amount of “squealing.” Jean-Baptiste Colbert, quoted in Frederick N. Judson, Justice in Taxation as a Remedy for Social Discontent (1898)

QUOTE NOTE: No original source has ever been provided for this famous observation from Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance, and this is the earliest attribution I’ve found. These days, the quotation is most commonly presented in the following way:

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to procure the greatest quantity of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”

  • The avoidance of tax may be lawful, but it is not yet a virtue. Alfred Denning (Lord Denning), in Re Weston’s Settlements (1969)
  • In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (Nov. 13, 1789)
  • Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in a 1904 Supreme Court decision (Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinaas v. Collector of Internal Revenue)
  • Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know, that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose, is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles, who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to George Wythe (August 13, 1786)
  • In levying taxes and in shearing sheep it is well to stop when you get down to the skin. Austin O’Malley, in Keystones of Thought (1914)
  • The Income Tax has made more Liars out of the American people than Golf has. Will Rogers, in The Illiterate Digest (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: In a Nov. 18, 1989 appearance on PBS-TV’s Firing Line, Barry Goldwater offered an observation that was almost certainly inspired by the Rogers observation: “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.”

  • Taxes, after all, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a campaign speech (Worcester, Mass., Oct. 21, 1936)

QUOTE NOTE: Roosevelt was almost certainly inspired by the earlier observation from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

  • A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. George Bernard Shaw, in Everybody’s Political What’s What (1944)
  • There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people. Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations (1776)
  • Let us never forget this fundamental truth: the State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay—that “someone else” is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money. Margaret Thatcher, in speech to Conservative Party Conference (Oct. 14, 1983)
  • What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin. Mark Twain, notebook entry (Dec. 30, 1902), in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • The thing generally raised on city land is taxes. Charles Dudley Warner, in My Summer in a Garden (1870)


(see also COFFEE and DRINK and PASTRIES and THIRST)

  • Tea—that perfume that one drinks, that connecting hyphen. Natalie Clifford Barney, in Adventures of the Mind (1929)
  • The tea-kettle is as much an English institution as aristocracy or the Prayer-Book. Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, in American Woman’s Home (1869)
  • Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. Henry Fielding, Lady Matchless speaking, in Love in Several Masques (1728)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation almost always appears, but in the play, Lady Matchless introduced the remark by saying: “Tea! The panacea for everything from weariness to a cold to a murder.”

  • Gin is cheering and wine maketh glad the heart of man, but when you’re in a real turmoil there’s nothing like a good strong cup of tea. Anthony Gilbert (pen name of Lucy Beatrice Malleson), in Tenant for the Tomb (1971)
  • The domestic use of tea is a powerful champion able to encounter alcoholic drink in a fair field and throw it in a fair fight. William Gladstone, in an 1882 speech, quoted in Perilla Kinchin, Tea and Taste (1991)
  • A hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant, whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning. Samuel Johnson, describing himself, in The Literary Magazine (1757, Vol. II, No. XIII)
  • A cup of tea, the British specific against disaster, grief and shock. P. D. James, in A Taste for Death (1986)
  • Tea quenches tears and thirst. Jeanine Larmoth and Charlotte Turgeon, in Murder on the Menu (1972)
  • While there’s tea there’s hope. Arthur Wing Pinero, in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893)
  • Our trouble is that we drink too much tea. I see in this the slow revenge of the Orient, which has diverted the Yellow River down our throats. J. B. Priestley, quoted in The Observer (London; May 15, 1949)
  • The tea-hour is the hour of peace. Agnes Repplier, in To Think of Tea! (1932)

Repplier had earlier written that disputants “are as a rule peacefully disposed” while drinking tea. She added about the tea-hour: “Sinners and publicans are battling forever with Scribes and Pharisees; but the noise of their strife is lost in the hissing of the kettle—a tranquillizing sound, second only to the purring of a cat.”

  • Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors. Alice Walker, in The Color Purple (1982)



  • A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
  • The educator must believe in the potential power of his pupil, and he must employ all his art in seeking to bring his pupil to experience this power. Alfred Adler, quoted in Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: A Biography (1939)
  • Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? Mitch Albom, in Tuesdays With Morrie (1997)

Albom continued: “If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds.”

  • To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching. To attain it we must be able to guess what will interest. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Nov. 16, 1864)

Amiel added: “We must learn to read the childish soul as we might a piece of music. Then, by simply changing the key, we keep up the attraction and vary the song.”

  • Not just part of us becomes a teacher. It engages the whole self—the woman or man, wife or husband, mother or father, the lover, scholar or artist in you as well as the teacher earning money. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, in Myself (1967)

In her memoir, Ashton-Warner also wrote on the subject: “When I teach people I marry them.”

  • Being a teacher is not what I do, it’s who I am. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This observation is often mistakenly attributed to specific individuals, most commonly Dr. Jill Biden. The original author remains unknown.

  • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. Hector Berlioz, in 1856 letter to a friend, quoted in Almanach des lettres françaises et étrangères (May 11, 1924)
  • Housework is a breeze. Cooking is a pleasant diversion. Putting up a retaining wall is a lark. But teaching is like climbing a mountain. Fawn Brodie, quoted in Los Angeles Times Home Magazine (Feb. 20, 1977)
  • Nikos Kazantzakis suggests that ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own. Leo Buscaglia, in Living, Loving & Learning (1982)

ERROR ALERT: This is one of the best metaphors ever offered about teachers, and it clearly represents what Buscaglia believed about Kazantzakis. Every Internet site, though, and hundreds of books by and about teachers drop the first four words (“Nikos Kazantzakis suggests that”) and present the remainder as a direct quotation from the great Greek writer. Many of the erroneous presentations of the sentiment also differ in other key ways from Buscaglia’s original wording (most commonly, ideal teachers is replaced by true teachers, or the word ideal is dropped completely, with the purported quotation beginning, “Teachers are those who….”

  • Teaching, in short, like everything else that conveys a meaning in words, is an art, and you can’t be a good artist unless you believe you are giving a truth. Joyce Cary, in Art and Reality (1961)

Cary continued: “The most effective teacher will always be biased, for the chief force in teaching is confidence and enthusiasm,”

  • To teach well is to be a lifelong student. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, in Conversations: Straight Talk With America’s Sister President (1993)
  • The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another. Marva Collins, in Marva Collins’ Way (1982; with Civia Tamarkin)
  • There’s no word in the language I revere more than teacher. My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming one. Pat Conroy, the protagonist Tom Wingo speaking, in The Prince of Tides (1986)
  • The great teachers fill you up with hope and shower you with a thousand reasons to embrace all aspects of life. Pat Conroy, in My Losing Season: A Memoir (2002)
  • “I suspect you of being a born schoolteacher,” Kate said, “something apparently rarer in our day than a fine glass blower, and infinitely more desirable.” Amanda Cross, the protagonist Kate Fansler speaking, in The Question of Max (1976)
  • Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. John Cotton Dana, a 1912 creation, quoted in The New York Times Book Review (March 5, 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: In 1912, Dana was a Newark, New Jersey librarian when he was asked to supply a Latin quotation suitable for inscription on a new building at Newark State College (now Kean College of New Jersey), in Union, New Jersey. Dana was unable to find an appropriate quotation, so he composed the saying above, and it ultimately became the motto of the college.

  • It is useless to deny that, unless one has a genius for imparting knowledge, teaching is a drudgery. Margaret Deland, the voice of the narrator, in Dr. Lavendar's People (1903)
  • Throughout history the exemplary teacher has never been just an instructor in a subject; he is nearly always its living advertisement. Michael Dirda, in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005)
  • The teachers of small children are paid more than they were, but still far less than the importance of their work deserves, and they are still regarded by the unenlightened majority as insignificant compared to those who impart information to older children and adolescents, a class of pupils which, in the nature of things, is vastly more able to protect its own individuality from the character of the teacher. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in A Montessori Mother (1916)
  • The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards. Anatole France, in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881)

The words come from the protagonist, who continues: “Curiosity itself can be vivid and wholesome only in proportion as the mind is contented and happy. Those acquirements crammed by force into the minds of children simply clog and stifle intelligence. In order that knowledge be properly digested, it must have been swallowed with a good appetite.”

  • When I first began teaching, I visited with a former teacher who I respected greatly. I asked him for some advice. He responded without hesitation, “A good teacher must love his students.” “Love?” I queried. “Yes, love. When you come to care about each student as your very own child, then you'll become a great teacher.” Jeffrey Glanz, in Teaching 101: Classroom Strategies for the Beginning Teacher (2004)

QUOTE NOTE: For the best thing ever said on teaching and love, see the Theodore Roethke entry below.

  • Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. Gail Godwin, the character Sonia speaking, in The Odd Woman (1974)
  • He knows the Truest Way to Teach/Who puts Great Thoughts in Simple Speech. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Every Teacher liveth on a Diet of Surprises. Alice Lee Humphreys, in Angels in Pinafores (1954)
  • Everyone who remembers his own educational experience remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the kingpin of the educational situation. Sidney Hook, “The Good Teacher,” in Education for Modern Man (1963)
  • To teach is to learn twice. Joseph Joubert, journal entry, in Pensées (1842)
  • An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. Carl Jung, in The Development of Personality (1910)
  • One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. Carl Jung, “The Gifted Child,” (1942), in The Development of Personality (1954)

Jung continued: “The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

  • True teaching cannot be learned from text-books any more than a surgeon can acquire his skill by reading about surgery. Helen Keller, in letter to Kathern F. Gruber (Nov. 1, 1955)
  • Many of us have heard testimonies about teachers who can “see” into a student’s future. Even if a student is not performing well, such teachers can predict success. Joyce King, “A Teacher's Touch,” in Gloria Wade Gayles, In Praise of Our Teachers (2003)

King continued: “We are convinced this ability, this gift, is evidence that they were ‘called to teach.’ If the gift of sight is evidence, how greater must be the gift of touch.”

  • Teaching school is like having jumper cables hooked to your brain, draining all the juice out of you. Stephen King, quoted in Mark Singer, “What Are You Afraid of?” a profile of King in The New Yorker (Sep. 7, 1998)

QUOTE NOTE: After graduating from the University of Maine in 1970, King had grand dreams of becoming a writer, but took a job as a high school English teacher to pay the bills. He didn’t last long, however. Exhausted almost every night after planning lessons and correcting students’ papers, he was sapped of any energy he might have devoted to writing. He captured the experience in the remarkable metaphorical description above. In 1973, he received a $2,500 advance for his novel Carrie (a year earlier, he had thrown the novel into the trash, only to have it retrieved by his wife Tabitha). Shortly after finishing the novel, but still months before it was published, the paperback rights were sold, earning the shocked writer a check for $200,000. The rest is history.

  • Good teachers don’t approach a child of this age [six-year-old first-graders] with overzealousness or with destructive conscientiousness. They’re not drill-masters in the military or floor managers in a production system. They are specialists in opening small packages. They give the string a tug but do it carefully. They don’t yet know what’s in the box. They don’t know if it’s breakable. Jonathan Kozol, in Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope (2000)
  • A professor can never better distinguish himself in his work than by encouraging a clever pupil, for the true discoverers are among them, as comets amongst the stars. Carl Linnaeus, in B. D. Jackson, Linnaeus: The Story of His Life (1923; adapted from Swedish biography by T. M. Fries)
  • At the heart of good education are those gifted, hardworking, and memorable teachers whose inspiration kindles fires that never quite go out, whose remembered encouragement is sometimes the only hard ground we stand upon, and whose very selves are the stuff of the best lessons they ever teach us. Rosalie Maggio, in the Introduction to Quotations on Education (1997)

Maggio continued: “Most of us, no matter how long ago it’s been, can name our kindergarten teacher. Our first music teacher. Our junior high algebra teacher. Good teachers never die.”

  • A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn, is hammering on cold iron. Horace Mann, in Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1872)
  • If the modern teacher will think of himself not so much as a schoolmaster but as a lifemaster doing from another angle what the social worker does in his sphere, then he will be striving for all the knowledge available which could help him in his task. Karl Mannheim, “Education, Sociology, and Social Awareness,” in Diagnosis of Our Time, Vol. 3 (1936)
  • If telling were the same as teaching, we would be such good teachers that we could hardly stand it. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • The aphorism states, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But we can speed up the process. Marvin Marshall, in Discipline Without Stress (2007)
  • man’s most human characteristic is not his ability to learn, which he shares with many other species, but his ability to teach and store what others have developed and taught him. Margaret Mead, in Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap (1970)
  • School teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of mental workers. H. L. Mencken, in The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1908)
  • There is nothing which spreads more contagiously from teacher to pupil than elevation of sentiment. Often and often have students caught from the living influence of a professor a contempt for mean and selfish objects, and a noble ambition to leave the world better than they found it; which they have carried with them throughout life. John Stuart Mill, in inaugural address after being installed as rector (Feb. 1, 1867), University of St Andrews (Scotland)
  • Grant that I may be successful in molding one of my pupil’s into a perfect poem, and let me leave within her deepest-felt melody that she may sing for you when my lips shall sing no more. Gabriela Mistral, “The Teacher’s Prayer,” in Desolacion (1922)
  • We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master. Maria Montessori, in The Absorbent Mind (1949)
  • The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” Maria Montessori, in The Absorbent Mind (1949)
  • Your best teacher is your last mistake. Ralph Nader, quoted in Thomas Whiteside, “Profiles: Ralph Nader,” The New Yorker (Oct. 15, 1973)
  • A good teacher does not draw out; he gives out, and what he gives out is love. And by love I mean approval, or if you like, friendliness, good nature. The good teacher not only understands the child: he approves of the child. A. S. Neill, in The Problem Teacher (1939)
  • It’s one of the unforeseen disabilities of teaching as a profession that when senility sets in it happens in public. Howard Nemerov, “Lewis Thomas, Montaigne, and Human Happiness,” in New & Selected Essays (1985)
  • He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us, but simply suggest it with a brief gesture, a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air along which we glide until we find ourselves at the feet of the new truth. José Ortega y Gasset, “Preliminary Meditation,” in Meditations on Quixote (1914)
  • Teaching is a performance art. Camille Paglia, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf,” in Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992)
  • Too much rigidity on the part of teachers should be followed by a brisk spirit of insubordination on the part of the taught. Agnes Repplier, “Literary Shibboleths,” in Points of View (1891)
  • Teaching: one of the few professions that permit love. Theodore Roethke, notebook entry (1950-53), first published in Straw for the Fire (1972; David Wagoner, ed.)
  • Teaching is an act of love, a spiritual cohabitation, one of the few sacred relationships left in a crass secular world. Theodore Roethke, notebook entry (1954-85), first published in Straw for the Fire (1972; David Wagoner, ed.)
  • Teachers should unmask themselves, admit into consciousness the idea that one does not need to know everything there is to know and one does not have to pretend to know everything there is to know. Esther P. Rothman, in Troubled Teachers (1977)
  • No one should teach who is not in love with teaching. Margaret E. Sangster, in An Autobiography From My Youth Up (1909)
  • To me, teaching is a sacred profession. Stephen Sondheim, in a CBS Sunday Morning interview (July 9, 2017)

Sondheim continued: “My life was shaped by teachers. First by a Latin teacher in prep school. Then by a man called Robert Barrow who taught music at Williams College and made me a musician. And then my postgraduate studies with Milton Babbitt. And then of course my collaborators. And I suppose, above all, Oscar [Hammerstein], who taught me virtually everything I know about songwriting, and a good deal about life.”

  • We teach what we need to learn and we write what we need to know. Gloria Steinem, in Revolution From Within (1993)
  • The finest teaching touches in a student a spring neither teacher nor student could possibly have preconceived. Anne Truitt, in Prospect: The Journal of an Artist (1996)

Truitt continued: “The Latin root of the word ‘education’ is educere, to lead forth.Teaching may elicit self-knowledge but unless it also leads students into an ever-broadening view of art and life, self-knowledge results only in self expression.”

  • The art of being taught is the art of discovery, as the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery to take place Mark Van Doren, in Liberal Education (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the full quotation, which is almost always presented in this abridged way: “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”

  • The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer. Alice Wellington Rollins, in Journal of Education (June 2, 1898)
  • Teaching is the royal road to learning. Jessamyn West, in The Life I Really Lived: A Novel (1979)
  • A teacher cannot be one thing and teach her children to be another. Frances E. Willard, in Occupations for Women (1897)



  • Dear Lord, though I be changed to senseless clay,/And serve the Potter as he turn his wheel,/I thank Thee for the gracious gift of tears! Thomas Bailey Aldrich, from the poem “Two Moods,” in Unguarded Gates and Other Poems (1895)
  • When the heart is full, the eyes overflow. Sholem Aleichem, in Dos Groise Gevins (1895)
  • One may guess the why and wherefore of a tear and yet find it too subtle to give any account of. A tear may be the poetical resumé of so many simultaneous impressions, the quintessence of so many opposing thoughts! Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (June 26, 1865)

Amiel continued: “It is like a drop of one of those precious elixirs of the East which contain the life of twenty plants fused into a single aroma. Sometimes it is the mere overflow of the soul, the running over of the cup of reverie.”

  • Tears express joy as well as sadness. They are the symbol of the powerlessness of the soul to restrain its emotion. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (June 26, 1865)
  • The sudden nostalgia was as much of the body as of the spirit. Her very veins seemed full of tears. Gertrude Atherton, in Transplanted (1919)
  • Never fear to weep/For tears are summer showers to the soul,/To keep it fresh and green. Alfred Austin, in Savonarola (1881)
  • It is the wisdom of the crocodiles, that shed tears when they would devour. Francis Bacon, “Of Wisdom for a Man’s Self,” in Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation, more than any other, helped to popularize the notion of crocodile tears to refer to the feigning or insincere exaggerating of emotions for manipulative purposes. The notion is based on the ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while devouring their prey. In formulating his observation, Bacon may have been inspired by the following thought from George Chapman's 1605 play Eastward Ho: “I will neither yield to the song of the siren nor the voice of the hyena, the tears of the crocodile now the howling of the wolf.” In The New Yale Book of Quotations (2023), editor Fred Shapiro writes: “The Oxford English Dictionary documents the term crocodile tears as early as 1563.”

  • Time engraves our faces with all the tears we have not shed. Natalie Clifford Barney, quoted in George Wickes, The Amazon of Letters (1976)
  • A lady’s tears are silent orators. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, in Love’s Cure, or The Martial Maid (c. 1612)
  • The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Samuel Beckett, in Waiting for Godot (1952)
  • Astronomers have built telescopes which can show myriads of stars unseen before; but when a man looks through a tear in his own eye, that is a lens which opens reaches in the unknown, and reveals orbs which no telescope, however skilfully constructed, could do; nay, which brings to view even the throne of God, and pierces the nebulous distance where are those eternal verities in which true life consists. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)

QUOTE NOTE: In Notes From Plymouth Pulpit: A Collection of Memorable Passages (1859), editor Augusta Moore provided this abriddged version of the thought: “Tears often prove the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”

  • They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. The Bible—Book of Psalms: 126:5
  • There is no aristocracy in grief, no privilege of purple in the aches of the heart, and though certain blood may plume itself on its blueness, common salt is the scalding quality of all tears. Frank Binder, in A Journey in England (1931)
  • Tears are Nature’s lotion for the eyes. The eyes see better for being washed with them. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. II (1862)
  • Frequent tears have run/The colors from my life. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850)
  • When we grieve, tears and guilt get mixed together. Art Buchwald, in Leaving Home: A Memoir (1993)
  • Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death. When life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death's perfect punctuation mark is a smile. Julie Burchill, in a 1989 column in The Independent (specific issue undetermined)
  • So bright the tear in Beauty’s eye,/Love half regrets to kiss it dry. Lord Byron, in Bride of Abydos, Canto I (1813)
  • She was a good deal shock’d; not shock’d at tears,/For women shed and use them at their liking;/But there is something when man’s eye appears/Wet, still more disagreeable and striking. Lord Byron, in Don Juan, Canto V (1818-24)
  • American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough. Pat Conroy, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Jack McCall, in Beach Music: A Novel (1995)
  • Words are made for a certain exactness of thought, as tears are for a certain degree of pain. What is least distinct cannot be named; what is clearest is unutterable. René Daumal, in the Foreword to A Night of Serious Drinking (1938)
  • It is not always sorrow that opens the fountains of the eyes. Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal), in Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and Her Friends, Vol. 6 (1811)
  • Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. Charles Dickens, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, known only as Pip, in Great Expectations (serialized, 1860; published book, 1861)
  • The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), quoted in Reader’s Digest (April, 1964)

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the quotation is almost always presented, but it is, in fact, an abridgement of a piece of dialogue that originally appeared in “The Deluge at Norderney,” a story in Seven Gothic Tales (1934):

“Do you know a cure for me?”

“Why, yes,” he said, “I know of a cure for everything: salt water.”

“Salt water?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, “in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.”

  • How many tears must one man have/Before he can hear people cry?/The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Bob Dylan, lyric from Blowing in the Wind (1963)
  • Beware of men who cry. It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own. Nora Ephron, the narrator and protagonist, Rachel Samstat, speaking, in Heartburn (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: The thought comes shortly after Rachel’s husband, Mark Feldman, has informed her that he has been having an extramarital affair but has ended it. She expects an apology, but none comes. He then surprises her by starting to cry. If anyone should be crying, she thinks, it should be her. The heavily autobiographical novel was based on Ephron’s marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein.

  • Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992)

Estés went on to add: “Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace new, someplace better.”

  • For women, tears are the beginning of initiation into the Scar Clan, that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations, all languages, who down through the ages have lived through a great something, and yet who stood proud, still stand proud. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992)
  • Those who are sad find somehow sweetness in tears. Euripides, in The Trojan Women (415 B.C.)
  • Waste not fresh tears over old griefs. Euripides, in Alexander (c. 415. B.C.)
  • Oh! what a luxury it is to weep,/And find in tears a sad relief! Augusta J. Evans, in Inez: A Tale of the Alamo (1855)
  • One of the strangest quirks of the human mind is its capacity for being moved to tears, laughter, anger, anxiety, joy by a “person” who exists nowhere except in imagination! Jane Fitz-Randolph, in How to Write for Children and Young Adults (1980)
  • Nothing dries sooner than a tear. Benjamin Franklin, in a 1757 issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack
  • Tears are the noble language of the eyes. Robert Herrick, in Hesperides (1648)
  • Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power; that is all. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)
  • There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, of unspeakable love. Samuel Johnson, in “Tears,” in Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (March 31, 1841)

Dr. Johnson added: “If there were wanting any arguments to prove that man is not mortal, I would look for it in the strong convulsive emotions of the breast, when the soul has been deeply agitated, when the fountains of feeling are arising, and when the tears are gushing forth in crystal streams. Oh, speak not harshly to the stricken one, weeping in silence. Break not the deep solemnity by rude laughter or intrusive footsteps. Despise not woman’s tears—they are what made an angel. Scoff not if the stern heart of manhood is sometimes melted to tears—they are what help to elevate him above the brute. I love to see tears of affection. They are painful tokens but still most holy. There is a pleasure in tears—an awful pleasure. If there were none on earth to shed a tear for me, I should be loath to live; and if no one might weep over my grave I could never die in peace.”

  • Nature, in giving tears to man, confessed that he/Had a tender heart; this is our noblest quality. Juvenal, in Satires (c. 100 A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: The passage has also been translated this way: “When Nature/Gave tears to mankind, she proclaimed that tenderness was endemic/In the human heart: of all our impulses, this/Is the highest and best.”

  • The longing to be holy makes us weep, and we trust tears since they are made of water and come from our body, a double blessing. Deborah Keenan, “Grace,” in The Only Window That Counts (1985)
  • That’s what tears are for, you know, to wash away the fear and cool the hate. Laurie R. King, the protagonist Mary Russell speaking, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
  • If you weep only for Israeli children, or only for Palestinian children, you have a problem that goes beyond tear ducts. Nicholas Kristoff, “What We Get Wrong About Israel and Gaza,” in The New York Times (Nov. 15, 2023)
  • And what could be moister/Than tears from an oyster. Felicia Lamport, “Shell Gain,” in Scrap Irony (1961)
  • Delicious tears! The heart’s own dew. L. E. Landon, “The Guerilla Chief,” in The Improvisatrice (1824)
  • My tears are buried in my heart, like cave-locked fountains sleeping. L. E. Landon, in the poem “I Pray Thee Let me Weep To-night,” in The Venetian Bracelet (1829)
  • Who has not experienced, at some time or other, that words had all the relief of tears? L. E. Landon, “The Talisman,” in The Book of Beauty (1833)
  • Rather than calling this diary a record of my life, it's more accurate to regard it as the sum of all my tears. Ding Ling, “Miss Sophia’s Diary” (1927), in I Myself Am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling (1989)
  • When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough. Maurice Maeterlinck, in Wisdom and Destiny (1898)
  • Distilled drop of feeling. Peter A. Olsson, M.D., on a tear, in unpublished poem “Tear” (1963); provided in a personal communication to the compiler (March 2, 2020)
  • It is some relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears. Ovid, in Tristium (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Tears are sometimes as weighty as words. Ovid, in Epistoae Ex Ponto (1st c. B.C.)
  • Lips that taste of tears, they say/Are the best for kissing. Dorothy Parker, from the poem “Threnody,” in Enough Rope: Poems (1926)
  • The tears of strangers are only water. Proverb (Russian)
  • As soap is to the body, tears are to the soul. Proverb (Yiddish)
  • Anger is a better weapon than tears; a burr commands more respect than a sensitive plant. Myrtle Reed, in The Myrtle Reed Year Book (1911)
  • The pleasures of the mighty are obtained by the tears of the poor. Samuel Richardson, in Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1748)
  • If you look closer it’s easy to trace/The tracks of my tears. William “Smoky” Robinson, lyric from the 1967 song “The Tracks of My Tears” (co-written with Warren “Pete” Moore and Marvin Tarplin)

QUOTE NOTE: The idea of a track as something left behind to indicate the existence of something no longer present has been applied to many things, but Robinson’s 1967 R&B classic was the first to apply it to tears. The lyric began this way: “So take a good look at my face./You’ll see my smile/Looks out of place.” You can hear Smoky Robinson and the Miracles perform the song at: Tracks of My Tears.

  • Lofty mountains are full of springs; great hearts are full of tears. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • It is such a secret place, the land of tears. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in The Little Prince (1943)
  • These tears do me good, they have watered the parched place; perhaps my heart will grow again there! George Sand, the character Laurent speaking, in She and He (1859)
  • Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow. Rita Schiano, in Sweet Bitter Love (1997)
  • Let tears flow of their own accord: their flowing is not inconsistent with inward peace and harmony. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Every tear deserves a damn good cry. John Smith, lyric from the song “Damn Good Cry,” on the album Backroads (2022)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a great lyric in a lovely ballad from a very talented singer-songwriter. You can listen to the entire song (with lyrics provided) by going here.

  • It’s hard for decent people to stay angry at someone who has burst into tears, which is why it is often a good idea to burst into tears if a decent person is yelling at you. Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler), the voice of the narrator, in The Carnivorous Carnival [Book 9 in A Series of Unfortunate Events] (2002)
  • 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.”

  • Tears gratify a savage nature, they do not melt it. Publilius Syrus, in Moral Sayings (1st c. B.C.)
  • My heart today smiles at its past night of tears/like a wet tree glistening in the sun/after the rain is over. Rabindranath Tagore, in Fireflies (1928)
  • When the fine eyes of a woman are veiled with tears it is the man who no longer sees clearly. Achille Tournier, in Autumn Thoughts (1888)
  • Fate, and the dooming gods, are deaf to tears. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Tears are due to human misery, and human sufferings touch the mind. Virgil, in Aeneid (1st. c. B.C.)
  • Tears are the silent language of grief. Voltaire, in The Philosophical Dictionary (1764)
  • I am afraid of people/who cannot cry/Tears left unshed/turn to poison/in the ducts. Alice Walker, from the poem “S M” (1979), in Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful (1979)

QUOTE NOTE: Walker was clearly thinking about men when she wrote this. She went on to write: “People who do not cry/are victims/of soul mutilation/paid for in Marlboros/and trucks.”

  • In any really good subject one has only to probe deep enough to come to tears. Edith Wharton, in The Writing of Fiction (1925)


(see also ART and METHOD and SKILL and VIRTUOSITY)

  • My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity. John Barth, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” in Atlantic Monthly (Aug., 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: Barth reprised the sentiment in his 1972 novel Chimera, where he had The Genie say to another character: “Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity.” The phrase became so singularly associated with Barth that Charles B. Harris selected it as the title of his 1983 critical study of the author’s works: Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Harris’s book also presented Barth’s most quotable version of the sentiment: “In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.”

  • The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all. Pablo Casals, quoted in Alfred E. Kahn, Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals (1970)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation—an example of oxymoronic phrasing—may have been inspired by earlier observations from Auguste Rodin and Leon Trotsky (see below)

  • An overuse of technique does not represent expertise and boldness, but an escape into flummery and flapdoodle. Harlan Ellison, quoting an unnamed critic (whose name he had forgotten), in the mid-1960s essay “Juliet of the Spirits,” in Harlan Ellison’s Watching (1989)
  • An artist must possess consummate technique in order to make us forget it. Auguste Rodin, in L’Art: Entretiens réunis par Paul Gsell [Art: Interviews Brought Together by Paul Gsell] (1911; trans. in 1984 by Jacques de Caso and Patricia B. Sanders)

In a 1912 translation, Romilly Fedden presented the thought in this way: “It is necessary to have consummate technique in order to hide what one knows.”

  • Technique is noticed most markedly in the case of those who have not mastered it. Leon Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution (1924)

QUOTE NOTE: Trotsky, a leading figure of the Russian Revolution, was referring to the “breathless literary schools that followed the revolution.”



  • Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination. Daniel Bell, “What is Technology?” in The Winding Passage: Sociological Essays and Journeys (1980)

Bell went on to write: “Art is an end in itself; its values are intrinsic. Technology is the instrumental ordering of human experience with a logic of efficient means, and the direction of nature to use its powers for material gain.”

  • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination,” in Profiles of the Future (1962)

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

  • If we had a reliable way to label our toys good and bad, it would be easy to regulate technology wisely. But we can rarely see far enough ahead to know which road leads to damnation. Freeman Dyson, in Disturbing the Universe (1979)

Dyson added: “Whoever concerns himself with big technology, either to push it forward or to stop it, is gambling in human lives.”

  • Shortly after the turn of the century, America marshalled her resources, contracted painfully, and gave birth to the New Technology. The father was a Corporation, and the New Technology grew up in the Corporate image. Alice Embree, “Media Images I: Madison Avenue Brainwashing—The Facts,” in Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970)

Embree went on to write: “America’s technology has turned in upon itself; its corporate form makes it the servant of profits, not the servant of human needs.”

  • Technology…the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it. Max Frisch, the character Hanna speaking, in Homo Faber (1957)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The ellipsis occurs in the original German, as well as in the 1959 English translation of Frisch’s novel, but many quotation collections either omit it or mistakenly present the quotation as technology is the knack….

  • The most important and urgent problems of the technology of today are no longer the satisfactions of the primary needs or of archetypal wishes, but the reparation of the evils and damages by the technology of yesterday. Dennis Gabor, in Innovations: Scientific, Technological and Social (1970)
  • There is no monster more destructive than the inventive mind that has outstripped philosophy. Ellen Glasgow, in a March 2, 1943 letter; reprinted in Letters of Ellen Glasgow (1958)
  • The important thing to remember is that technology is not necessarily the same thing as civilization. Jacquetta Hawkes, quoted in Joseph McCulloch, Under Bow Bells (1974)

Hawkes, an acclaimed British archaeologist, preceded the observation by saying: “One tends to assume that if you don’t have a lavatory and perhaps something that will take you a lot faster than your feet, or a certain number of gadgets in the house, then you must be in some way, a bit backward and defective.”

  • Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. Aldous Huxley, in Ends and Means: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Ideals (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: This popular quotation was preceded by these words: “Technological advance is rapid. But without progress in charity, technological advance is useless. Indeed, it is worse than useless.”

  • It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. Steve Jobs, in speech at 2011 iPad II launch
  • The acceleration of technological progress has created an urgent need for a counter ballast—for high-touch experience. John Naisbitt, in Megatrends (1982)
  • The shock of twentieth-century technology numbed our brains and we are just beginning to notice the spiritual and social debris that our technology has strewn about us. Neil Postman, “Six Questions,” in The Disappearance of Childhood (1982)
  • We cannot get grace from gadgets. The dishes in the bakelite houses of the future may not break, but the heart can. A man may be as unhappy in the spun glass trousers of tomorrow as he is today in worsted ones. J. B. Priestley, quoted in Roy Pearson, Here’s a Faith For You (1953)
  • Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  • We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. Carl Sagan, “Why We Need to Understand Science,” in The Skeptical Inquirer (Spring, 1990)

QUOTE NOTE: Sagan returned to the theme in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995): “We've arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

  • Technology…is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. C. P. Snow, quoted in Anthony Lewis, “Dear Scoop Jackson,” The New York Times (March 15, 1971)
  • Technology evolves so much faster than wisdom. Jennifer Stone, “Sexual Politics in the Stone Age,” in Mind Over Media (1988)
  • Today’s science is tomorrow’s technology. Edward Teller, in The Legacy of Hiroshima (1962; with Allen Brown, Jr.)
  • That great, growling engine of change—technology. Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock (1970)
  • Man cannot live by technology alone. Arnold J. Toynbee, playing off the biblical passage (Deuteronomy 8:3), in Civilization on Trial (1948)
  • Technology: the invention, manufacture, and use of tools. Arnold J. Toynbee, in A Study of History (1961)
  • Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. Sherry Turkle, “The Documented Life,” in The New York Times (Dec. 15, 2013)
  • The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. Mark Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st Century,” in Scientific American (Sep., 1991)
  • If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. Frank Lloyd Wright, on technological progress, quoted in The New York Times Magazine (1953)



  • The man who suspects his own tediousness is yet to be born. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Leaves From a Note Book,” in Ponkapog Papers (1903)



  • A teen-ager out of sight is like a kite in the clouds; even though you can’t see it you feel the tug on the string. Marcelene Cox, in a 1948 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • When your children are teenagers it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you. Nora Ephron, in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2006)
  • Living with teenagers is like watching Jeopardy! every night. After a while you start thinking, “Maybe I am stupid.” Caryl Kristensen, in Caryl Kristensen and Marilyn Kentz, The Mother Load (1998)
  • Remember that as a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • Teenage boys, goaded by their surging hormones…run in packs like the primal horde. Camille Paglia, “Homesexuality at the Fin de Siècle,” in Esquire magazine (Oct., 1991); reprinted in Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992)

Paglia added: “They have only a brief season of exhilarating liberty between control by their mothers and control by their wives.”

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

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



  • TV—a clever contraction derived from the words Terrible Vaudeville. However, it is our latest medium—we call it a medium because nothing’s well done. Goodman Ace, in undated 1953 letter to Groucho Marx (1953; reprinted in Groucho Marx, The Groucho Letters (1967)
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of television. Fred Allen, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Jan. 14, 1980)
  • Television…is the first truly democratic culture, the first culture available to everyone and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want. Clive Barnes, in The New York Times (Dec. 30, 1969)
  • Television doomed us to the Family, whose household entertainment it has become—what the hearth used to be, flanked by the communal kettle. Roland Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” in The Art of the Personal Essay (1994; Phillip Lopate, ed.)
  • The illusion of companionship sits waiting in the television set. We keep our televisions on more than we watch them—an average of more than seven hours a day. For background. For company. Louise Bernikow, in Alone in America: The Search for Companionship (1986)
  • Then I went in and shot the television, that insidious beast, that Medusa, which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. Ray Bradbury, the title character (Mr. Albert Brock) speaking, “The Murderer,” in The Golden Apples of the Sun: And Other Stories (1953)
  • Some television programs are so much chewing gum for the eyes. John Mason Brown, quoting a young friend of his son’s, in interview with James B. Simpson (July 28, 1955); reported in Simpson’s Best Quotes of ’54, ’55, and ’56 (1957)
  • Entertainment without moral passion is television. Rita Mae Brown, in Starting From Scratch (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: This memorable indictment of television was originally the concluding portion to a fuller observation: “Art is moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is television.”

  • Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new type program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb as. Art Buchwald, in Have I Ever Lied to You? (1968)
  • Television’s perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don’t have to concentrate. You don’t have to react. You don’t have to remember. You don’t miss your brain because you don’t need it. Raymond Chandler, in letter to Charles Morton (Nov. 22, 1950)

Chandler continued: “Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the man’s nirvana. And if some poor nasty minded person comes along and says you look like a fly on a can of garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn’t got the price of a television set.”

  • Television is not the truth. Television’s a goddamned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business. Paddy Chayefsky, the character Howard Beale speaking, in the film Network (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Beale, brilliantly played by actor Peter Finch in the film, is a longtime Television news anchor who becomes a national sensation after he has a dramatic on-air meltdown in which he proclaims, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This boredom-killing remark came in a television appearance a day or so later. Beale went on to say about television: “We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now.” Finch went on to win a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance. This entire speech may be seen at “Turn Off Your Television”.

  • Television is a form of soliloquy. Kenneth Clark, quoted in Terry Coleman, “Lord Clark,” The Guardian (London, Nov. 26, 1977)
  • The darkest spot in modern society is a luminous screen. Régis Debray, in Teachers, Writers, Celebrities: The Intellectuals of Modern France (1979; English trans. in 1981)
  • It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. T. S. Eliot, on television, quoted in The New York Post (Sep. 22, 1963)
  • Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home. David Frost, remark on CBS-TV’s “The David Frost Revue” (1971; specific date undetermined); reported in Jonathon Green, Says Who? A Guide to the Quotations of the Century (1988)
  • When vaudeville died, television was the box they put it in. Larry Gelbart, one-liner written for a Bob Hope monologue, circa 1949, in Gelbart’s Laughing Matters: On Writing M-A-S-H, Tootsie, Oh, God!, and a Few Other Funny Things (1998)
  • Television is a weapon of mass distraction. Larry Gelbart, quoted in Janet Wasko, “Introduction,” A Companion to Television (2006)
  • Far more seductive than opium, infinitely more effective at shaping behavior and expectations than alcohol, and used for more minutes every day than tobacco, our culture’s most pervasive and most insidious drugging agent is television. Thom Hartmann, in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (1997; rev. ed. 2004)

Hartmann continued: “Many drugs, after all, are essentially a distilled concentrate of a natural substance. Penicillin is extracted from mold; opium, from poppies. Similarly, television is a distilled extract—super-concentrated, like the most powerful drugs we have—of ‘real’ life.”

  • I wish all televisions would come with a warning from the Surgeon General: “Overuse of this medium may hinder the development of healthy interpersonal relationships, retard the growth of neural connections, diminish creativity, and foster poor family communication.” Mary Heer-Forsberg, in 1999 issue of The Minneapolis Star Tribune (specific issue undetermined)
  • Television watching does reduce reading and often encroaches on homework. Much if it is admittedly the intellectual equivalent of junk food. E. D. Hirsch, in Cultural Literacy: What every American Needs to Know (1987)

Hirsch continued: “But in some respects, such as its use in standard written English, television watching is acculturative.”

  • We can put television in its proper light by supposing that Gutenberg’s great invention had been directed at printing only comic books. Robert M. Hutchins, quoted in J. R. Conlin, The Morrow Book of Quotations in American History (1984)
  • When you’re young, you look at television and think, there’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought. Steve Jobs, in interview in Wired magazine (Feb., 1996)
  • All television is educational television. The question is: What is it teaching? Nicholas Johnson, quoted in Center for Action Research, Toward a National Endowment for Children’s Broadcasting (1977)
  • Movies are a combination of art and mass medium, but television is so single in its purpose—selling—that it operates without that painful, poignant mixture of aspiration and effort and compromise. Pauline Kael, “Movies on Television,” in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968)

Kael added: “We almost never think of calling a television show ‘beautiful,’ or even of complaining about the absence of beauty, because we take it for granted that television operates without beauty.”

  • “The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In.” Barbara Kingsolver, title of essay in Small Wonders (2002)
  • TV has had a stronger impact on our society than any single invention since the automobile. It has put the dead hand on conversation and provided countless couples with an excuse for not discussing what’s on their minds. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z (1978)
  • For all its flexibility, television is more a mirror of taste than a shaper of it. Russell Lynes, in The Phenomenon of Change (1984)
  • Until a child can meet reality, he must live in fantasy. But he must create his own fantasy. And it is television’s primary damage that it provides ten million children with the same fantasy, ready-made and on a platter. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • In television, images are projected at you. You are the screen. Marshall McLuhan, in The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967; with graphic design by Quentin Fiore)

McLuhan continued: “The images wrap around you. You are the vanishing point.”

  • When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you—and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland. Newton Minow, in speech to the National Association of Broadcasters (May 9, 1961); reprinted as “The Vast Wasteland” chapter in Laurence Laurent (ed.), Equal Time: The Private Broadcaster and the Public Interest (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: Minow, Adlai Stevenson’s law partner, was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, recently appointed to the position by President John F. Kennedy. His “vast wasteland” metaphor—likely inspired by T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land”—was widely reported in news broadcasts at the time and went on to become an American catchphrase.

  • Television was not intended to make humans vacuous; but it is an emanation of their vacuity. Malcolm Muggeridge, “I Like Dwight” (1962), in Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966)
  • One can watch hours and hours of TV without actually losing interest, but, as with Chinese food, one is rarely left with much residue of nourishment. Frederic Raphael, “The Language of Television,” in The State of the Language (1980; L. Michaels & C. Ricks, eds.)
  • TV has created a kind of false collectivity. Adrienne Rich, in The Hungry Mind Review (1992)
  • People are sheep. TV is the shepherd. Jess C. Scott, the character Stephen speaking, in Literary Heroin (Gluttony): A Twilight Parody (2012)
  • How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper? Rod Serling, “Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval,” an American Masters broadcast, (PBS television; Oct. 1997)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly presented in this way: “It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve e minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

  • Ah, television! Teacher, mother, secret lover! Homer Simpson, in “The Shinning,” an episode of The Simpsons (Oct. 30, 1994; Season 6, Episode 6)

QUOTE NOTE: In this spot-on parody of the 1980 Jack Nicholson film The Shining, Homer and his family arrive at Mr. Burns’s winter lodge, where Homer has taken a position as winter caretaker. Worried that Homer might slack off on the job, Burns makes sure that no beer or TV is available. The absence of these two essentials in Homer’s life drives him insane, and he is convinced by an evil ghost to kill his family. Homer finally returns to normal after he begins watching a portable TV that Lisa has found lying in the snow. As he basks in the warm glow of the television set, he utters the words above. For more on this and other episodes in the series, go to: Simpson’s “Treehouse of Horror”.

  • There will not be enough hours in 2015 to watch all the TV you want to see in 2015. It’s not humanly possible. If you give each of your eyeballs its own screen, then wire another screen directly into your cortex for a third rail, you’d still run out of time. Rob Sheffield, “How We Went From Television’s Golden Age to ‘Peak TV’ Blues,” in Rolling Stone (Sep. 15, 2015)

QUOTE NOTE: This was Sheffield’s masterful metaphorical way of praising the high quality of current television programming. Sheffield, a longtime contributing editor to Rolling Stone, began his article by writing: “TV has always held a crucial place in the American soul: It’s our favorite thing to lie about. America still loves to lie about television—hell, that's the national pastime—but these days the lie has flipped. Remember when everybody used to claim we watched less TV than we really did? Kiss that era goodbye. For the first time in history, America is lying to cover up our desperate shame at not watching enough of it.”

  • I consider the television set as the American fireplace, around which the whole family will gather. Red Skelton, in a June, 1951 interview; quoted in Karen Adir, The Great Clowns of American Television (1988)

Skeleton went on to add: “Socially I think television is going to have a wonderful effect. Families, instead of gadding about, will learn to stay home in the evenings as they used to. That’ll give its members an opportunity to know one another again.”

  • Ours is a society in which secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Torture of Others,” in At The Same Time: Essays and Speeches (2007)

  • There are days when any electrical appliance in the house, including the vacuum cleaner, seems to offer more entertainment possibilities than the TV set. Harriet van Horne, quoted in the New York World Telegram and Sun (June 7, 1957)
  • I’m always amazed that people will actually choose to sit in front of the television and just be savaged by stuff that belittles their intelligence. Alice Walker, quoted in Brian Lanker & Barbara Summers, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America (1989)
  • What TV is extremely good at—and realize that this is all it does—is discerning what large numbers of people think they want, and supplying it. David Foster Wallace, in “An Expanded Interview with David Foster Wallace” (interviewed by Larry McCaffery), the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Summer, 1993); reprinted in Conversations with David Foster Wallace (2012; Stephen J. Burn, ed.)

Wallace added: “And since there’s always been a strong and distinctive American distaste for frustration and suffering, TV’s going to avoid these like the plague in favor os something anesthetic and easy.”

  • I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts. Orson Welles, quoted in The New York Herald Tribune (Oct. 12, 1956)
  • Disparagement of television is second only to watching television as an American pastime. George F. Will, “Prisoners of TV,” in The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts (1978)



  • Public television…the green vegetables of video viewing. Anna Quindlen, “Public and Private: TV Or Not TV,” in The New York Times (Nov. 30, 1991)



  • Temper is a weapon which we hold by the blade. James M. Barrie, quoted by Arthur E. Giles, M.D. in Moral Pathology (1895)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This is the first appearance of a quotation that is widely attributed to Barrie, but has not been found in his works.

  • Tolerance, good temper and sympathy—they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. E. M. Forster “What I Believe,” in The Nation (July 16, 1938)
  • The man in a temper has lost all sense of proportion; he is, for the time being, insane. Like the madman, he knows that his actions are wrong; like the madman also, he has not the power to act otherwise. His self-control is lost. Arthur E. Giles, M.D. “Temper,” in Moral Pathology (1895)

A moment later, Giles went on to add: “Indulgence in temper involves always loss of dignity, and in this way also it does harm. For the man himself this means a forfeiting of self-respect; and for other people, it means the diminution of their respect and of his authority.”

  • A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. Washington Irving, the voice of the narrator, in “Rip Van Winkle,” The Sketch Book (1820)
  • The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o’er a decree. William Shakespeare, the character Portia speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

QUOTE NOTE: This appears to be the first appearance of the phrase hot temper.



  • There can be no virtue without temptation; for virtue is victory over temptation. Lyman Abbott, in Problems of Life (1900)

Abbott continued: “An untempted soul may be innocent, but cannot be virtuous; for virtue is the choice of right when wrong presses itself upon us and demands our choosing.”

  • Every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or to vice. Lyman Abbott, in Problems of Life (1900)

Abbott continued: “There is no way in which virtue can be won save by battle; there is no way in which battle can be fought without possibility of defeat.”

  • Don’t worry about avoiding temptation. As you get older it will avoid you. Joey Adams, in The Joey Adams Encyclopedia of Humor (1968)
  • Without temptation the soul cannot grow and become strong. James Allen, in Above Life’s Turmoil (1910)

Allen preceded the thought by writing: “Temptation shows a man just where he is sinful and ignorant, and is a means of urging him to higher altitudes of knowledge and purity.”

  • Saintliness is also a temptation. Jean Anouilh, the title character speaking, in Becket (1959)
  • It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations. Walter Bagehot, “Sir George Cornewall Lewis,” in Biographical Studies (1880)
  • Temptations, unlike opportunities, will always give you many second chances. O. A. Battista, in Quotoons: A Speaker's Dictionary (1981)

In his book, Battista also offered these other thoughts on the subject:

When it comes to keeping an eye on temptation, everybody has 20/20 vision.

Time was when temptation spoke in a whisper; nowadays, it parks out front and toots a horn.

  • Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. The Bible—Matthew 26:41
  • Temptations are enemies outside the castle seeking entrance. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)

The “Temptation” section of Beecher’s book contained a number of other memorable observations on the subject, including these:

No man knows what he will do till the right temptation comes.

Find out what your temptations are, and you will find out largely what you are yourself.

Every man has had his battle with temptations. Every man has had his scars.

All men are tempted. There is no man that lives that can’t be broken down, provided it is the right temptation, put in the right spot.

  • It is sometimes better not to struggle against temptation. Either fly or yield at once. F. H. Bradley, in Aphorisms (1930)

Bradley preceded the thought by writing: “The force of the blow depends on the resistance.”

  • Why comes temptation but for man to meet/And master and make crouch beneath his foot,/And so be pedestalled in triumph? Robert Browning, in “The Ring and the Book” (1868-69)
  • Temptations are part of life, part of growing up. We grapple with them often—in some instances for our lifetime—before we come to realize that it is not so much the victory as it is the effort to overcome that is holy-making. Joan Chittister, in The Radical Christian Life: A Year With Saint Benedict (2011)

Sister Joan, a Benedictine nun and prolific author of books on spirituality, began by writing: “The gospels tell of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness and the temptations that faced him there. It’s an important story because it reminds us that temptations are a part of life….”

  • We’ve all of us got to meet the devil alone. Temptation is a lonely business. Margaret Deland, the title character speaking, in Dr. Lavendar’s People (1903)
  • There isn’t any virtue where there has never been any temptation. Virtue is just temptation, overcome. Margaret Deland, the character Dr. Lavendar speaking, in The Awakening of Helena Richie (1906)
  • Better shun the bait than struggle in the snare. John Dryden, in “To My Honoured Kinsman, John Driden” (1699), in Fables (1700)

QUOTE NOTE: John Driden was John Dryden’s first cousin (Dryden the poet often spelled his own name with an “i” as well). While this line from the poem is casually understood to be about resisting temptation, Dryden was in fact complimenting his cousin’s decision to stay single and remain unmarried! Dryden continued: “Thus have you shunned and shun the married state,/Trusting as little as you can to Fate.” Reading the poem, one clearly senses Dryden’s dim view of marriage. A bit earlier in the poem, he describes his cousin as “Lord of yourself, uncumbered [sic] with a wife.” And just prior to the shun the bait phrase, he offers this memorable metaphor about the married state: “Two wrestlers help to pull each other down.”

  • As the Sandwich Islander believes that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Temptation usually comes in through a door that has deliberately been left open. Arnold H. Glasow, in Glasow’s Gloombusters (1995)
  • Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes/And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;/Nor all, that glisters, is gold. Thomas Gray, in “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” (1748)

QUOTE NOTE: Here, Gray simply rephrases a proverbial saying from ancient times and immortalized in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (to be seen in GOLD).

  • That fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptation, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Aug. 24, 1751)
  • “Every man has his price.” This is not true. But for every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing. Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in W. H. Auden & Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection (1962)

Nietzsche continued: “To win over certain people to something, it is only necessary to give it a gloss of love of humanity, nobility, gentleness, self-sacrifice—and there is nothing you cannot get them to swallow. To their souls these are the icing, the tidbit.”

  • Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought. Margaret Oliphant, the voice of the narrator, in Miss Majoribanks: A Novel (1866)
  • Most people want to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch. Robert Orben, quoted in Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)
  • Where there is no temptation, there is no virtue. Agnes Repplier, “Conservative’s Consolations,” in Points of Friction (1920)

Repplier continued: “Parental legislation for the benefit of the weak leaves them as weak as ever, and denies to the strong the birthright of independence, the hard, resistant manliness with which they work out their salvation.”

  • A woman flees from temptation, but a man just crawls away from it in the cheerful hope that it may overtake him. Helen Rowland, in A Guide to Men: Being Encore Reflections of a Bachelor Girl (1922)
  • Temptation almost always assails us at the point where we thought no defense necessary. Elizabeth Elton Smith, the character Mrs. Warren speaking, in The Three Eras of Woman’s Life (1836)
  • 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)
  • There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites, and even one highly respected Mark Twain site, mistakenly present temptation instead of temptations. Many published books about Twain have made the same mistake.

  • I can resist everything except temptation. Oscar Wilde, the character Lord Darlington speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)
  • About the only time losing is more fun than winning is when you’re fighting temptation. Tom Wilson, quoted in Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes (1997)



  • Bulldogs have been known to fall on their swords when confronted by my superior tenacity. Margaret Halsey, in No Laughing Matter (1977)
  • The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant’s threatening countenance. Horace, in Odes (1st c. BC)
  • Tenacity isn’t just the most important thing, it’s the only thing. Mavis Leno, in a “More Than Just Talk” interview, The Los Angeles Times (July 4, 2009)
  • What successful authors have in common, besides talent, is tenacity. Margaret Lucke, in Writing Mysteries (1999)

Lucke continued: “Both qualities are good to have, but if you must pick only one, choose the latter. A writer without talent who persists is far more likely to succeed than a talented writer who gives up.”

  • My ability to survive personal crises is really a mark of the character of my people. Individually and collectively, we react with a tenacity that allows us again and again to bounce back from adversity. Wilma Mankiller, quoted in Melissa Schwarz, Wilma Mankiller: Principal Chief of the Cherokees (1994)
  • It is a splendid thing to dream when you have the grit and tenacity of purpose and the resolution to match your dreams with realities, but dreaming without effort, wishing without putting forth exertion to realize the wish, undermines the character. Orison Swett Marden, in He Can Who Thinks He Can (1908)

Marden continued: “It is only practical dreaming that counts—dreaming coupled with hard work and persistent endeavor.”

  • Let me tell you the secret that has led me to the goal. My only strength resides in my tenacity. Louis Pasteur, quoted in René Dubos, Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science (1950)

QUOTE NOTE: Dubos did not provide a citation for this now-famous Pasteur quotation (which is now typically presented with the phrasing “led me to my goal”). After a number of unsuccessful attempts to find an original source, I turned to the Sherlock Holmes of quotation researchers, Garson O’Toole (better known as The Quote investigator). As usual, O’Toole didn’t disappoint. In a Dec. 28, 2019 Post, he writes that Pasteur first made the remark on Dec. 2, 1885. In an after-dinner address at the National Congress of Veterinary Surgeons, he said, “Let me tell you the secret that led me to my goal. My sole strength is in my tenacity.”

Pasteur was internationally famous at the time, so his speech was reported in newspapers around the world. A Nov. 18, 1885 edition of The Philadelphia Enquirer had this item: “Two hundred veterinary surgeons dined recently in Paris. M. Pasteur, in closing his response to a sentiment in his honor, said: ‘Allow me to tell you the secret of my success. My only strength lies in tenacity of purpose.’”




  • Tennis, imprisoned within fixed boundaries, a patch of an acre, a green rectangle, tries the human soul. A tennis court is like a coffin, only larger. Rita Mae Brown, the narrator speaking, in Sudden Death (1983)
  • New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up. Jimmy Connors, quoted in The Guardian (London; Dec. 24, 1984)
  • She felt about a love set as a painter does about his masterpiece; each ace serve was a form of brushwork to her, and her fantastically accurate shot-placing was certainly a study in composition. Janet Flanner, on Suzanne Lenglen, in Paris Was Yesterday, 1925–1939 (1972; Irving Drutman, ed.)
  • Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. Robert Frost, in address at Milton Academy (Massachusetts; May 17, 1935)
  • It’s a perfect combination of a violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility. My heart pounds, my eyes get damp, and my ears feel like they’re wiggling, but it’s also just totally peaceful. It’s almost like having an orgasm—it’s exactly like that. Billie Jean King, on tennis, in Billie Jean (1974; with Kim Chapin)

ERROR ALERT: In almost all quotation anthologies, the observation is mistakenly presented as if it began this way: “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action….”

  • Being blunt with your feelings is very American. In this big country, I can be as brash as New York, as hedonistic as Los Angeles, as sensuous as San Francisco, as brainy as Boston, as proper as Philadelphia, as brawny as Chicago, as warm as Palm Springs, as friendly as my adopted home town of Dallas, Fort Worth, and as peaceful as the inland waterway that rubs up against my former home in Virginia Beach. Martina Navratilova, in Martina (1985; with George Vecsey)
  • I’ve been in the twilight of my career longer than most people have had their career. Martina Navratilova, quoted in The New York Times (Sep. 30, 1993)
  • Tennis is more than just a sport. It’s an art, like the ballet. Or like a performance in the theater. Bill Tilden, remark to Frederic Prokosch, quoted in Prokosch’s Voices: A Memoir (1983)

Tilden continued: “When I step on the court I feel like Anna Pavlova. Or like Adelina Patti. Or even like Sarah Bernhardt. I see the footlights in front of me. I hear the whisperings of the audience. I feel an icy shudder. Win or die! Now or never! It’s the crisis of my life.”



  • The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it. (It’s rather like getting tenure!) Daniel C. Dennett, in Consciousness Explained (1991)

QUOTE NOTE: In a footnote, Dennett wrote that he believed this brain-eating analogy was first offered by the Columbian-born American neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás.

  • A little nonsense/Now & then,/& tenure goes to/Other men. Louis Phillips, “Academic Note” (undated)



  • There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it. Alfred Hitchcock, quoted in Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion (1984)
  • Terror us a matter of surprise; suspense of forewarning. Alfred Hitchcock, quoted in Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion (1984)



  • To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist. Gail Sheehy, in Spirit of Survival (1986)

Sheehy preceded the thought by writing: “Children may need challenges and high-risk conditions in order to develop the self-generated immunity to trauma that characterizes survivors.”



  • Here in Texas, maybe we’ve got into the habit of confusing bigness with greatness. Edna Ferber, the character Bob Dietz speaking, in Giant (1952)
  • If a man’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, why embarrass him by asking? John Gunther, “Some Texas Jokes,” in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • Texas could wear Rhode Island as a watch fob. Pat Neff, quoted in John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947)

QUOTE NOTE: Neff was governor of Texas from 1921-25.



  • Difficulties are opportunities to better things; they are stepping stones to greater experience. Perhaps someday you will be thankful for some temporary failure in a particular direction. Brian Adams, in How to Succeed (1985)

Adams continued: “When one door closes, another always opens; as a natural law, it has to, to balance.”

  • The unthankful heart…discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessing. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest. William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. G. K. Chesterton, in A Short History of England (1917)
  • A gift—be it a present, a kind word or a job done with care and love—explains itself!…and if receivin’ it embarrasses you it’s because your “thanks box” is warped. Alice Childress, in Like One of the Family (1956)
  • There is nothing I can esteem more highly than the being and appearing grateful. For this one virtue is not only the greatest, but also the parent of all the other virtues. Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Speech in Defense of Cnaeus Plancius” (1st c. B.C.), in The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero (1886; C. D. Yonge, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation has also been commonly translated this way: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.”

  • Who was the cynic who had defined gratitude as thanks for favors to come? Ursula Curtiss, the voice of the narrator, in The Face of the Tiger (1958)
  • All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have. Daniel Defoe, a reflection of the narrator and title character, in Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • If the only prayer you say in your entire life is “Thank You,” that would suffice. Meister Eckhart, quoted in Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart (1983)
  • So often we are depressed by what remains to be done and forget to be thankful for all that has been done. Marian Wright Edelman, in Guide My Feet (1995)
  • At times…one is downright thankful for the self-absorption of other people. Gail Godwin, the character Walter Gower (the narrator’s father) speaking, in Father Melancholy’s Daughter (1991)
  • Is life so wretched? Isn’t it rather your hands which are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up. Dag Hammarskjöld, in Markings (1964)
  • For what I have received may the Lord make me truly thankful. And more truly for what I have not received. Storm Jameson, in Journey From the North, Vol. 2 (1970)
  • Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses. Alphonse Karr, quoted in Borrowings (1891; First Unitarian church of Oakland, California)
  • I am thankful that in a troubled world no calamity can prevent the return of spring. Helen Keller, in a letter to Carrie Fuld (May 10, 1933); in To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller (2000)
  • Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Anne Lamott, title of book (2012)
  • We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is “good,” because it is good, if “bad” because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country. C. S. Lewis, in letter to Don Giovanni Calabria (August 10, 1948)
  • To be grateful for all life’s blessings…is the best condition for a happy life. A joke, a good meal, a fine spring day, a work of art, a human personality, a voice, a glance—but this is not all. For there is another kind of gratitude…the feeling that makes us thankful for suffering, for the hard and heavy things of life, for the deepening of our natures which perhaps only suffering can bring. Thomas Mann, in address at Princeton University (May 18, 1939); reported in “Princeton Honors Thomas Mann,” The Princeton Alumni Weekly (May 26, 1939)

QUOTE NOTE: Gratitude is generally associated with “counting your blessings,” but Mann makes a strong case for being grateful for everything that results in our growth as human beings, including the suffering. Mann’s full remarks may be seen at Princeton Alumni Weekly.

  • It doesn’t matter whether the bride or the bridegroom writes the letters of thanks for wedding presents provided that these go out immediately after the arrival of each present and are not in the handwriting of the bride’s mother. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners on Weddings (1995)
  • The obligation to express gratitude deepens with procrastination. The longer you wait, the more effusive must be the thanks. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)
  • Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expected. We take what we get and are thankful it’s no worse than it is. Margaret Mitchell, The character Ashley Wilkes speaking, in Gone With the Wind (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: In the novel, Ashley is replying to Scarlett O’Hara, who has just said, “Oh, Ashley, nothing has turned out as we expected.”

  • A woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life, to be thankful for a good one. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the character Grandma, speaking to Jody, in The Yearling (1938)
  • In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer, in Memoirs of Childhood and Youth (1925)
  • How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Lear (1605–06)
  • We are in a wrong state of mind if we are not in a thankful state of mind. C. H. Spurgeon, in Sermon No 3493, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London (Sep. 21, 1871)
  • And when I pray my prayer of thankfulness, it shall be that I had only poverty to overcome. I have seen him who must overcome wealth. Muriel Strode, in My Little Book of Prayer (1905)
  • The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life. Robert Louis Stevenson, in an 1883 letter to a Mr. Haddon; quoted in Horace Townsend, “New Letters of R. L. Stevenson,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine (Dec., 1901)
  • Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed. Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” in Following the Equator (1897)
  • I have heard a grave divine say God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. Isaac Walton, in The Compleat Angler (1653)

QUOTE NOTE: The “grave divine” is believed to be John Donne.

  • It is necessary, then, to cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. Wallace D. Wattles, in The Science of Getting Rich (1910)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this observation is mistakenly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasure; for our hearts are not strong enough to love every moment. Thornton Wilder, the character Chrysis describing to her banquet guests a realization of an ancient Greek hero who has been allowed by Zeus to return to earth, in The Woman of Andros (1930)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly say “conscious of our treasures.”

  • Be thankful for what you have—you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough. Oprah Winfrey, quoted in Tuchy Palmieri, Oprah, In Her Words: Our American Princess (2008)
  • A good home owes it, as an expression of thankfulness for its own happiness, to try and make up something of the lack that is in other homes. Julia McNair Wright, in The Complete Home (1879)



  • What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving? Erma Bombeck, in Forever, Erma (1996)
  • The turkeys that most Americans eat for Thanksgiving are turkeys — losers that are mass produced and bland. Marian Burros, in “Tender But Bland Birds Flock to the Feast,” The New York Times (1996)
  • You think you have a handle on God, the Universe, and the Great White Light until you go home for Thanksgiving. In an hour, you realize how far you've got to go and who is the real turkey. Shirley MacLaine, in Dance While You Can (1991)
  • Many of the guests will eventually leave the table to watch football on television, which would be a rudeness at any other occasion but is a relief at Thanksgiving and probably the only way to get those people to budge. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1982)
  • Let's not be coy. Stuffing—not turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes or pie—is what Thanksgiving is all about. Suzanne Hamlin, “The Proof Is in the Stuffing,” in The New York Times (1996)
  • Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. In spite of its religious form (giving thanks to God for a good harvest), its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production. Ayn Rand, in The Ayn Rand Letter (1971)
  • We toast Thanksgiving Day!/O Day of Cheer!/When first the bird is stuffed,/And, later, we're! Selma Raskin, “November Thursday,” in Vittles & Verse (1989)
  • He who thanks but with the lips/Thanks but in part,/The full, the true Thanksgiving/Comes from the heart. J. A. Shedd, in Indiana School Journal (Nov., 1895)

QUOTE NOTE: Thanks to quotation researcher Barry Popik for tracking down a source for this popular piece of verse.



  • In theater, the playwright is the raft that everyone else’s dreams float on. Johnna Adams, quoted in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN; Feb. 24, 2014)
  • The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time. Stella Adler, quoted in her obituary in The New York Times (Dec. 22, 1992)
  • The lights go down and the pulse goes up. Judith Anderson, a remark about the theater recalled on her death (Jan. 2, 1992) by Leonard Roy Frank, in his Random House Webster’s Quotationary (1999)
  • You can make a killing in the theater but not a living. Robert Anderson, quoted in The New York Times (June 12, 1988). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • We need above all a theater that wakes us up: nerves and heart. Antonin Artaud, quoted by Oliver Stone, in Glenn Collins, “For Oliver Stone, It’s Time to Move On from Viet Nam,” The New York Times (Jan. 2, 1990)
  • The real stakes in the theater are high—they are life stakes. That’s what I love about it. You gamble with your life, and that’s a gamble worth taking. Lauren Bacall, in Lauren Bacall: By Myself (1979)
  • Don’t be taken in by the guff that critics are killing the theater. Commonly they sin on the side of enthusiasm. Too often they give their blessing to trash. Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952)

Bankhead's autobiography also contained these other observations:

“In the theater lying is looked upon as an occupational disease.”

“If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.”

“It is one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man can count on steady work—the night watchman.”

  • I do not understand those who spend hours at the theater watching scenes between people whom they would not listen to for five minutes in real life. Natalie Clifford Barney, in “Scatterings” (1910); reprinted in Anna Livia, A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney (1992)
  • The theater was my mother and my father. Ingrid Bergman, quoted in Laurence Leamer, As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman (1986)
  • The most magical moment in the theater is a silence so complete that you can't even hear people breathe. It means that you’ve got him Hume Cronyn, in Time magazine (April 2, 1990)
  • When you leave the theater, if you don’t walk several blocks in the wrong direction, the performance has been a failure. Edith Evans, quoted in Garson Kanin, Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir (1971)
  • Good theater should always send people away feeling changed. Suzanne Farrell, quoted in Emily Fragos, “Suzanne Farrell,” Bomb magazine (Fall. 2003)
  • Here were blood, lust, love, passion. Here were warmth, enchantment, laughter, music. It was Anodyne. It was Lethe. It was Escape. It was the Theater. Edna Ferber, the voice of the narrator, in Show Boat (1926)
  • Generosity does not flower easily or often in the rocky soil of the theatre. Few are uncorrupted by its ceaseless warfare over credit and billing, its jealousies and envies, its constant temptations toward pettiness and mean-spiritedness. Moss Hart, in Act One: An Autobiography (1959)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a wonderful observation on its own, but the story behind it makes it even more special. On the opening night of the the play Once In a Lifetime, which the 25-year-old Hart co-wrote with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman, Hart was stunned when his esteemed collaborator went onstage to say, “I would like this audience to know that eighty percent of this play is Moss Hart.” Hart was stunned, and here is the full passage describing what that experience was like:

“I stood staring at the stage and at George Kaufman. Generosity does not flower easily or often in the rocky soil of the theatre. Few are uncorrupted by its ceaseless warfare over credit and billing, its jealousies and envies, its constant temptations toward pettiness and mean-spiritedness. It is not only a hard and exacting profession but the most public one as well. It does not breed magnanimity, and unselfishness is not one of its strong points. Not often is a young playwright welcomed into it with a beau geste as gallant and selfless as the one that had just come over those footlights.”

  • My heart sank a little as I glanced over the audience coming down the aisle [for an opening night performance of his failed play The Beloved Bandit]. There was a goodly smattering of evening dresses and black ties among them and they seemed to have that look of threatening benevolence so native to all first-night audiences. Moss Hart, in Act One: An Autobiography (1959)
  • Good actors sparking each other make for the wild fire that lights up the theater. Helen Hayes, in On Reflection, An Autobiography (1968; with Sandford Dody)
  • We in the theater are paradoxes. Our agonizing shyness is equalled only by the tremendous need for acceptance. Helen Hayes, in On Reflection, An Autobiography (1968; with Sandford Dody)
  • Failure in the theater is more dramatic and uglier than in any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty. Lillian Hellman, in Paris Review interview (Winter-Spring 1965)

QUOTE NOTE: Hellman returned to the theme in her 1973 book Pentimento, writing: “Failure in the theater is more public, more brilliant, more unreal than in any other field.”

  • It is best in the theater to act with confidence no matter how little right you have to it. Lillian Hellman, in Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973)
  • The terrible thing about acting in the theater is that you have to do it at night. Katharine Hepburn, quoted in a 1979 edition of The New York Times (specific issue undetermined)
  • The essence of a theater is elegance, just as the essence of a church is spirituality. Philip Johnson, on designing Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, quoted in Newsweek magazine (May 4, 1964)
  • While in some quarters it is felt that the critic is just a necessary evil, most serious-minded, decent, talented theater people agree that the critic is an unnecessary evil. Jean Kerr, in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1957)
  • The theater is the only branch of art much cared for by people of wealth; like canasta, it does away with the bother of talk after dinner. Mary McCarthy, in “Up the Ladder From Charm to Vogue” (1950); reprinted in On the Contrary (1961)
  • In the theater, as in life, we prefer a villain with a sense of humor to a hero without one. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • I’m the end of the line; absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theater has died in my lifetime. Arthur Miller, in The Times (London; Jan. 11, 1989)
  • In the popular theater, a hero is one who believes that all women are ladies; a villain, one who believes that all ladies are women. George Jean Nathan, “Theatre,” in American Mercury (Sep., 1929). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • The theater is a great equalizer: it is the only place where the poor can look down on the rich. Will Rogers, quoted in Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1995)
  • œMy native habitat is the theatre. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre—as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to the cotton field. George Sanders, in the 1950 film All About Eve (screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

QUOTE NOTE; This is a legendary line in cinema history, delivered by Sanders in the role of drama critic Addison de Witt. Based on “The Wisdom of Eve,” a short story by Mary Orr that appeared in a 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, the film was nominated for a record-setting fourteen Oscars (it won six, including Best Picture). The film holds one other major distinction: four Oscar nominations for females in major roles (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress).

  • The theater infects the audience with its noble ecstasy. Konstantin Stanislavsky, quoted in Sonia Moore, The Stanislavski Method: The Professional Training of an Actor (1962)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The book’s title page says the contents were “Digested From the Teachings of Konstantin S. Stanislavski,” so this observation may be a summary of what the great Russian director believed, and not a direct quotation.

  • The theater is left wing magic and theology is right wing magic. Jennifer Stone, “Loners and Losers,” in Mind Over Media (1988)

Stone preceded the thought by writing: “Perhaps society should give actors the same sort of protection it gives to those who follow a religious life. Actor/priest was originally the same job.”

  • Ambushing the audience is what theater is all about. Tom Stoppard, quoted in Newsweek magazine (Jan. 16, 1984)
  • We all know that the theater and every play that comes to Broadway have within themselves, like the human being, the seed of self-destruction and the certainty of death. The thing is to see how long the theater, the play, and the human being can last in spite of themselves. James Thurber, quoted in The New York Times (Feb. 21 1960)
  • No theater could sanely flourish until there was an umbilical connection between what was happening on the stage and what was happening in the world. Kenneth Tynan, quoted in Godfrey Smith, “Critic Kenneth Tynan Has Mellowed But Is Still England’s Stingingest Gadfly,” The New York Times (Jan. 9, 1966)
  • The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all. Gore Vidal, “Love Love Love,” Partisan Review (Spring 1959)
  • Good theater is not what is expected, but what surprises. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It! (1959)
  • The theater is supremely fitted to say: “Behold! These Things Are!” Yet most dramatists employ it to say: “This moral truth can be learned from beholding this action.” Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)

Wilder preceded the thought by writing: “All the greatest dramatists, except the very greatest one [referring to Shakespeare], have precisely employed the stage to convey a moral or religious point of view concerning the action.”

  • The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job. Tennessee Williams, quoted in Kenneth Tynan, Profiles (1990)




  • A theology which is not based on revelation as a given reality but treats God as an idea would be as mad as a zoology which is no longer sure of the physical, tangible existence of animals. Hannah Arendt, in Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
  • A theology should be like poetry, which takes us to the end of what words and thoughts can do. Karen Armstrong, in a 2009 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio (NPR)
  • The existence of very pious feelings, in conjunction with intolerance, cruelty, and selfish policy, has never ceased to surprise and perplex those who have viewed it calmly from a distance. Lydia Maria Child, in The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages (1855)

A moment later, Child went on to add: “It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work theology has done in the world. What destruction of the beautiful monuments of past ages, what waste of life, what disturbance of domestic and social happiness, what perverted feelings, what blighted hearts, have always marked its baneful progress!”

  • Even if nothing worse than wasted mental effort could be laid to the charge of theology, that alone ought to be sufficient to banish it from the earth. Lydia Maria Child, in The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages (1855)

Child went on to add: “What a vast amount of labour and learning has been expended, as uselessly as emptying shallow puddles into sieves! How much intellect has been employed mousing after texts, to sustain preconceived doctrines!”

  • Lost in an immense forest at night, I have only a little light to show me the way. Along comes a stranger who says to me: “Friend blow out your candle, the better to find your way.” This stranger is a theologian. Denis Diderot, in Addition aux Pensées philosophiques (1770)

QUOTE NOTE: A common alternate translation of the passage goes this way: “Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: “My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.” This stranger is a theologian.”

  • The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth. Harry Emerson Fosdick, quoted in a 1953 issue of Time magazine (specific date undetermined)
  • Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith (2004)
  • One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh. Robert A. Heinlein, an aphorism from “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • 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)
  • Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small. Arthur Miller, the character Hale speaking, in The Crucible (1953)
  • “There is a broad distinction between religion and theology. The one is a natural, human experience common to all well-organized minds. The other is a system of speculations about the unseen and the unknowable, which the human mind has no power to grasp or explain, and these speculations vary with every sect, age, and type of civilization. Lucretia Mott, in a conversation with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage, The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1 (1881)

Mott continued: “No one knows any more of what lies beyond our sphere of action than thou and I, and we know nothing.”

  • Religion is an experience of God. Theology is merely an attempt to explain the experience. Alice Sanford, quoted in Marjorie Holmes, How Can I Find You, God? (1975)
  • I don’t pretend to be able to discuss profound theological problems, but I do think that the only true theology is no theology at all. I think the only theology that exists is that God is a spirit, and that we live in His world, and the minute we begin to form some sort of theology, we begin to drift away from the truth. Charles M. Schulz, in interview with Eugene Griessman, “Atlanta Weekly Interview: Charles Schulz,” Atlanta Weekly (November 15, 1981); reprinted in Charles M. Schulz: Conversations (2000; M. Thomas Inge, ed.)



  • Americans like fat books and thin women. Russell Baker, quoted in James Charlton, The Writer’s Quotation Book (1980)
  • You know what, when I was thin, I thought there was a fat girl trying to get out of me. Roseanne Barr, in a 1990s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, quoted in Liz Stevens, “Fat & Funny,” The Edmonton Journal (Jan. 16, 1998)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Stevens, this was Barr’s response when Winfrey asked her if she ever felt as if there was a thin woman inside her, dying to get out.

  • The awful thing about being fat is you can’t get away from it. Everywhere you go, there it is; all round you; hanging and swinging, yards and yards of it, under your arms, everywhere. And everyone else is so thin. Charlotte Bingham, in Coronet Among the Weeds (1963)
  • To me thin people never had any meaningful problems. Dorothy Cannell, in The Thin Woman (1984)
  • The one way to get thin is to re-establish a purpose in life. Cyril Connolly, in The Unquiet Grave (1981)
  • No fashion has ever been created expressly for the lean purse or for the fat woman: the dressmaker’s ideal is the thin millionairess. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, in Modes and Morals (1920)
  • Winter is a terrible time for thin people—terrible! Why should it hound them down, fasten on them, worry them so? Why not, for a change, take a nip, take a snap at the fat ones who wouldn’t notice? But no! It is sleek, warm, cat-like summer that makes the fat one’s life a misery. Winter is all for bones. Katherine Mansfield, “Second Violin,” in The Doves’ Nest (1923)
  • We know that every woman wants to be thin. Our images of womanhood are almost synonymous with thinness. Susie Orbach, quoted in Kim Chernin, The Obsession (1981)
  • One can never be too rich or too thin Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying, which has achieved the status of a modern proverb, also appears in other phrasings, including “You can never be too rich or too thin” and “No woman can be too rich or too thin.” An original author has never been conclusively identified, but it is most commonly attributed to Wallis Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor after her 1937 royal marriage. The saying is also commonly attributed to Babe Paley and Truman Capote.

  • “One can never be too rich or too thin” is an aphorism attributed to the Duchess of Windsor. Being both rich and thin is a difficult enterprise, indeed almost unprecedented as an ideal. Margaret Visser, in Much Depends on Dinner (1986)
  • As I look around the West End these days, it seems to me that outside every thin girl is a fat man, trying to get in. Katharine Whitehorn, widely attributed, not formally verified
  • To ask women to become unnaturally thin is to ask them to relinquish their sexuality. Naomi Wolf, in The Beauty Myth (1990)


(see also CRITICISM and INSECURITY and [Overly] SENSITIVE)

  • Thin skin is the only kind of skin human beings come with. Meg Greenfield, quoted in Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture (1998)
  • It is possible…that the artist is both thin-skinned and prophetic and, like the canary lowered into the mine shaft to test the air, has caught a whiff of something lethal. Walker Percy, in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983)



  • And now let me ask you, my friend, whether you do not think, that many of our disappointments and much of our unhappiness arise from our forming false notions of things and persons. Abigail Adams, in letter to Mrs. H. Lincoln (Oct. 5, 1761)

Mrs. Adams continued: “We create a fairy land of happiness. Fancy is fruitful and promises fair, but, like the dog in the fable, we catch at a shadow, and when we find the disappointment, we are vexed, not with ourselves…but with the poor, innocent thing or person of whom we have formed such strange ideas.”

  • Things are beautiful if you love them. Jean Anouilh, in Mademoiselle Colombe, (1950; Act 2; Scene 2)
  • When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. The Bible: I Corinthians: 13:11
  • The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them up. Dorothy Day, quoted in “Saints Among Us,” Time magazine (Dec. 29, 1975)
  • But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands. Daphne du Maurier, in The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories (1983)
  • Most people seek after what they do not possess and are thus enslaved by the very things they want to acquire. Anwar El-Sadat, in In Search of Identity (1977)
  • Things are in the saddle,/And ride mankind. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Ode, Inscribed to W. H. Channing,” in Poems (1847
  • Things are seldom what they seem,/Skim milk masquerades as cream. W. S. Gilbert, lyrics for Gilbert & Sullivan opera H. M. S. Pinafore (1878)
  • Possessions, for the terminally frightened, bring peace of mind. Cynthia Heimel, in But Enough About You (1988)

QUOTE NOTE: Heimel was referring to materialism among shallow people. She introduced the thought by writing: “Things make yuppies feel better, more secure. Who cares about nuclear proliferation if we’ve just bought a new Cuisinart attachment? And isn’t shopping a lot safer than Valium?”

  • If you possess/more than just eight things/then you/are possessed by them. Piet Hein, “The Tyranny of Things,” in Grooks (1966)
  • It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation. Alan Paton, a passage from a private essay written by the character Arthur Jarvis, in Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)
  • There is a purity to things that I’ve never been able to find in another human being. Christopher Plummer, as J. Paul Getty, in the 2017 film All The Money in the World (screenplay by David Scarpa).

QUOTE NOTE: The line does not appear in the book on which the film is based, John Pearson’s Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty (1995)

  • I like to walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the world; but private wealth I should decline, or any sort of personal possessions, because they would take away my liberty. George Santayana, “The Irony of Liberalism,” in Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)
  • People who know their worth can live austerely; it’s the people nagged by the gnawing knowledge of their own cheapness who have that eternal necessity for submerging themselves in what they feel is superlative in material things, as if fine possessions could make them fine. Mabel Seeley, in The Whispering Cup (1940)
  • How many things I can do without! Socrates, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)
  • False values begin with the worship of things. Susan Sontag, a reflection of the character Frau Anders, in a letter to her daughter, in The Benefactor (1963)
  • Only a just appreciation of things will enable us to possess them in tranquility, or console ourselves for their loss. Anne Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)



  • To think is to say no. Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier), in The Citizen Against the Powers (1926)
  • The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man's being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the complete opening paragraph of the book. In the second paragraph, Allen continued:

“As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them.”

Later in the book, Allen expressed the central idea of the book in this analogy: “As you cannot have a sweet and wholesome abode unless you admit the air and sunshine freely into your rooms, so a strong body and a bright, happy, or serene countenance can only result from the free admittance into the mind of thoughts of joy and good will and serenity.”

  • There is within every human being a deep well of thinking over which a heavy iron lid is kept clamped. Sherwood Anderson, in 1922 letter to his publisher Ben Huebsch, quoted in Walter B. Rideout, Sherwood Anderson: A Writer in America, Vol. 1 (2006)

QUOTE NOTE: Anderson described this as “the thought back of the book” he was writing at the time, Many Marriages (1923). A passage in the novel features a similar extended metaphor, which likely inspired Anderson’s briefer expression of the thought. Here’s an abridged version of the fuller passage, from the novel’s narrator: “In every human body there is a great well of silent thinking always going on. Outwardly certain words are said, but there are other words being said at the same time down in the deep hidden places. There is a deposit of thoughts, of unexpressed emotions…. There is a heavy iron lid clamped over the mouth of the well. When the lid is safely in place one gets on all right…. Sometimes at night, in dreams, the lid trembles….”

  • To think and to be fully alive are the same. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)

A bit earlier in the book, Arendt had written: “There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous.” The biggest threat, according to Arendt, is to established creeds and doctrines.

  • Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978)
  • Thinking beings have an urge to speak, speaking beings have an urge to think. Hannah Arendt, in The Life of the Mind (1978). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Thinking is seeing. Honoré de Balzac, in Louis Lambert (1832)
  • The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion—these are the most valuable coin of the thinker at work. Jerome S. Bruner, in The Process of Education (Rev. ed; 1977)
  • All power is indeed weak compared with that of the thinker. He sits upon the throne of his Empire of Thought, mightier far than they who wield material scepters. Christian Nestell Bovee, in Intuitions and Summaries of Thought (1862)
  • In every epoch of the world, the great event, parent of all others, is it not the arrival of a Thinker in the world? Thomas Carlyle, in Heroes and Hero Worship (1840)
  • Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her. Raymond Chandler, in The Big Sleep (1939)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from private detective Philip Marlowe, describing Carmen Sternwood, a woman he just met. Upon meeting Marlowe, she had said, “Tall, aren’t you?” and he replied, “I didn’t mean to be.” Her puzzled reaction stimulated Marlowe’s observation.

  • Beware of thinkers whose minds function only when they are fueled by a quotation. Emil Cioran, in Anathemas and Admirations (1987)
  • If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all? Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Aids to Reflection (1825)
  • Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of running profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. Pat Conroy, in My Reading Life (2010)

Conroy continued: “If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent.”

  • To think is to differ. Clarence Darrow, remark in Leeper v. State (the Scopes “Monkey” Trial), Dayton, Tennessee (July 13, 1925)
  • Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place. John Dewey, in Experience and Nature (1925)

Dewey introduced the thought by writing: “If we once start thinking no one can guarantee where we shall come out, except that many objects, ends, and institutions are surely doomed.”

ERROR ALERT: all over the internet—and in many published books—Dewey’s observation is mistakenly presented in this paraphrased form: “Anyone who has begun to think places some portion of the world in jeopardy.”

  • Thinking is the hardest work in the world; and most of us will go to great lengths to avoid it. Louise Dudley, “A New Government,” quoted in Jean Beaven Abernethy, Meditations for Women (1947)
  • Thinking in its lower grades is comparable to paper money, and in its higher forms it is a kind of poetry. Havelock Ellis, in The Dance of Life (1923)
  • Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • What is the hardest task in the world? To think. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Intellect,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (July-Aug., 1847)
  • A conclusion is the place where you got tired thinking. Martin H. Fischer, in Fischerisms (1944)
  • Thinking is an experimental dealing with small quantities of energy, just as a general moves miniature figures over a map before setting his troops in action. Sigmund Freud, in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933)
  • Think wisely, weighing Word and Fact,/But never Think too much to Act. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • Active minds that think and study,/Like Swift Brooks are seldom muddy. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do. Hermann Hesse, the voice of the narrator, in Narcissus and Goldmund: A Novel (1930)

The narrator preceded the thought by writing about Goldmund: “He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in out hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear.”

  • A moment’s thinking is an hour in words. Thomas Hood, in “Hero and Leander” (1827)
  • A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. William James, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury, 1455–1955 (1955)

ERROR ALERT: After appearing in Fadiman’s book, this quotation became quite popular, but it has never been found in any of James’s writings or speeches. In an April, 1946 issue of Woman’s Day magazine, Clare Booth Luce offered a variant: “What generally passes for ‘thought’ among the majority of mankind is the time one takes out to rearrange one’s prejudices.” The underlying sentiment about rearranging one’s prejudices precedes both authors by many decades, though. See this informative Quote Investigator post by Garson O’Toole.

  • The mind has an amazing ability to continue worrying away at a problem all on its own, so that when the “Eureka!” comes it is as mysterious as if it were God speaking. Laurie R. King, a reflection of protagonist Mary Russell, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: Russell was marveling over Sherlock Holmes’s ability to “still the noise of the mind” by smoking his pipe or playing his violin. She continued the thought above by thinking: “The words given voice inside the mind are not always clear, however; they can be gentle and elliptical, what the prophets called the bat gol, the daughter of the voice of God, whe who speaks in whispers and half-seen images.”

  • A man able to think isn’t defeated—even when he is defeated. Milan Kundera, quoted in the Sunday Times (London; May 20, 1984)
  • Think before you speak. Read before you think. Fran Lebowitz, “Tips for Teens,” in Social Studies (1981)

Lebowitz was giving advice to teenagers, but her advice applies to people of all ages. She continued: “This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself—a wise move at any age, but most especially at seventeen, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions.”

  • Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. Doris Lessing, quoted in Amanda Craig, “Grand Dame of Letters Who’s Not Going Quietly,” The Times (London; Nov. 23, 2003)
  • Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge it is thinking [that] makes what we read ours. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • A high standard of living is usually accompanied by a low standard of thinking. Marya Mannes, in Message From a Stranger (1948)
  • No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched. George Jean Nathan, “Undeveloped Notes,” in The Smart Set magazine (Aug. 1922)
  • Thinking is the endeavor to capture reality by the means of ideas. José Ortega y Gasset, in The Dehumanization of Art (1925)
  • Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Every man who has lived his life to the full, should, by the time his senior years are reached, have established a reserve inventory of unfinished thinking. Clarence B. Randall, in Sixty-Five Plus: The Joy and Challenge of the Years of Retirement (1963)
  • Great innovators and original thinkers and artists attract the wrath of mediocrities as lightning rods draw the flashes. Theodor Reik, in The Need to Be Loved (1963)

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

  • People get wisdom from thinking, not from learning. Laura Riding, in Four Unposted Letters to Catherine (1993)
  • A king can stand people’s fighting, but he can’t last long if people start thinking. Will Rogers, in The Autobiography of Will Rogers (1949)
  • Thinking is like loving and dying. Each of us must do it for himself. Josiah Royce, quoted in Edgar Dale, “Not the Voice, but the Voices,” in Impetus: A Review of International Assistance to Education, Science, and Culture (Sep.-Oct., 1950)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This appears to be the first appearance of this Royce observation, now quite popular. I have not been able to locate an original source.

  • When the mind is thinking, is it simply talking to itself, asking questions and answering them, and saying yes or no. Socrates, quoted by Plato, in Theaetetus (4th c. B.C.)

Socrates went on to add that the result of thinking is often a decision, or a judgment. He put it this way: “I should describe thinking as a discourse, and judgment as a statement pronounced, not aloud to someone else, but silently to oneself.”

  • There’s nothing wrong with standing back and thinking. To paraphrase several sages: “Nobody can think and hit at the same time.” Susan Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)
  • To have ideas is to gather flowers. To think is to weave them into garlands. Anne-Sophie Swetchine, in The Writings of Madame Swetchine (1869; Count de Falloux, ed.)
  • Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence. Thomas Szasz, in The Second Sin (1973)
  • Ultimately, no one can ever be greater than the quality of his or her thinking. Esmé Wynne-Tyson, in The Unity of Being (1949)

[Positive] THINKING



  • Words are slippery and thought is viscous. Henry Brooks Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

For this reason, Adams concluded chiastically: “No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean.” For more on the literary device of chiasmus and the structure of chiastic quotations, go to: What is Chiasmus?

  • Thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy. Bess Streeter Aldrich, in Spring Came on Forever (1935)
  • All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • Thought is a kind of opium; it can intoxicate us, while still broad awake. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (Feb. 3, 1857)
  • High thoughts must have high language. Aristophanes, the character Aeschylus speaking, in Frogs (405 B.C.)
  • If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged. Margaret Atwood, the character Grace speaking, in Alias Grace: A Novel (1996)
  • Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)

QUOTATION CAUTION: Many internet sites present the quotation as if it ended the soul is dyed by the color of its thoughts, but this rendering appears to be a loose translation of the original journal entry.

  • Great thoughts, like great deeds, need/No trumpet. Philip James Bailey, the title character speaking, in Festus: A Poem (1813)
  • The surprises of thought are like those of love: they wear out. But here too you can carry on for a long time doing your conjugal duty. Jean Baudrillard, in Cool Memories (1987)
  • Thought itself needs words. It runs on them like a long wire. Ugo Betti, in Crime on Goat Island (1946)

Betti continued: “And if it loses the habit of words, little by little it becomes shapeless, somber.”

  • One thought fills immensity. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • It is extremely natural for us to see…our Thoughts put into the Dress of Words, without which indeed we can scarce have a clear and distinct Idea of them our selves. Eustace Budgell, in The Spectator (May 15, 1712)
  • But words are things, and a small drop of ink,/Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces/That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think. George Gordon, Lord Byron, in Don Juan (Canto III, 1821)
  • Thought once awakened does not again slumber. Thomas Carlyle, in On Heroes and Hero Worship (1887)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation might have inspired one of Zora Neale Hurston’s most popular quoations, seen below.

  • Thoughts can hurt like real pain. Alice Childress, in A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich (1973)
  • They [referring to “great ideas”] are the mightiest influence on earth. One great thought breathed into a man may regenerate him. William Ellery Channing, “On the Elevation of the Working Classes,” an 1840 lecture; reprinted in The Works of William E. Channing, Part 4 (1888)

ERROR ALERT: The first portion of quotation is often mistakenly presented as if it began: Great ideas are the mightiest influence on earth. For the full passage, go to Channing

  • Thoughts are timid things. They are frightened away by noise and they make none themselves. They flutter as silently as do owls on soft-edged wings. Dale Rex Coman, in The Endless Adventure (1972)
  • Thoughts are odd misfires. Patricia Cornwall, a reflection of the protagonist and narrator Kay Scarpetta, in The Last Precinct (2000)
  • It is sometimes better to slip over thoughts and not go to the bottom of them. Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (Marquise de Sévigné), in Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and Her Friends, Vol. 6 (1811)
  • Great thoughts come from the heart. Luc de Clapiers (Marquis de Vauvenargues), in Reflections and Maxims (1746). Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • The ancestor of every action is a thought. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

Earlier in the essay, Emerson had written: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.”

  • The revelation of Thought takes man out of servitude into Freedom. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • Thought is the seed of action. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art,” in Society and Solitude (1870).
  • In the effort to unfold our thought to a friend we make it clearer to ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Social Aims,” in Letters and Social Aims (1876)
  • Thought is behavior in rehearsal. Sigmund Freud, quoted in Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud (1954)
  • The history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Erich Fromm, in Man For Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947)
  • Conversation is the legs on which thought walks; and writing, the wings by which it flies. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Borrowed thoughts, like borrowed money, only show the poverty of the borrower. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly. Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)

Gibran preceded the thought by writing: “In much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.”

  • All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take firm root in our personal experience. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted in John Stuart Blackie, The Wisdom of Goethe (1883)
  • First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (1986)

Goldberg continued: “The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”

  • Words themselves are the intimate attire of thoughts and feelings. Karen Elizabeth Gordon, in Intimate Apparel (1989)
  • He knows the Truest Way to Teach/Who puts Great Thoughts in Simple Speech. Arthur Guiterman, in A Poet’s Proverbs (1924)
  • A word is no light matter. Words have with truth been called fossil poetry, each, that is, a symbol of a creative thought. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)

QUOTE NOTE: It was not words but language that was called “fossil poetry.” See the Ralph Waldo Emerson entry in LANGUAGE

  • Thought precedes action, as lightning does thunder. Heinrich Heine, “From Kant to Hegel,” in History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (1834)

In the book, Heine expanded on the topic by writing: “Mark this well, you proud men of action: You are nothing but the unwitting agents of the men of thought who often, in quiet self-effacement, mark out most exactly all your doings in advance.”

  • Nobody has ever seen an electron. Nor a thought. You can’t see a thought; you can’t measure, weigh, nor taste it—but thoughts are the most real things in the Galaxy. Robert A. Heinlein, the character Thorby speaking, quoting another character, Baslim, in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957)
  • More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has been taken from the earth. Napoleon Hill, widely attributed

ERROR ALERT: This is the way the quotation appears on almost all web sites—and in countless books—but it's not exactly the way Hill originally phrased it. In his classic Think and Grow Rich (1937), Hill actually wrote: “More gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth.”

  • We are always in search of the redeeming formula, the crystallizing thought. Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life (1983)
  • Every real thought on every real subject knocks the wind out of somebody or other. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
  • A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in Supreme Court decision: Towne v. Eisner (1918)
  • Thought is the labor of the intellect. Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. Victor Hugo, the character Marius speaking, in Les Misérables (1862)
  • Once you wake up thought in a man, you can never put it to sleep again. Zora Neale Hurston, in Moses: Man of the Mountain (1939)
  • The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Charles McPherson (Feb. 25, 1773)
  • Thought forms in the soul the same way clouds form in the air. Joseph Joubert, an 1786 journal entry, in Pensées (1842)
  • A thought is a thing as real as a cannon ball. Joseph Joubert, an 1801 journal entry, in Pensées (1842)
  • Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking. John Maynard Keynes, in New Statesman and Nation (July 15, 1933)
  • It is amazing how much a thought expands and refines by being put into speech: I should think it could hardly know itself. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • My thoughts are my company; I can bring them together, select them, detain them, dismiss them. Walter Savage Landor, “Diogenes and Plato,” in Imaginary Conversations (1824–53)
  • Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not possibly have met. Fran Lebowitz, in Social Studies (1981)
  • Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don’t bite everybody. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, in Unkempt Thoughts (1957)
  • The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have. John Locke, in letter to Samuel Bold (May 16, 1699)
  • A thought often makes us hotter than a fire. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Driftwood (1857)
  • No great improvement in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought. John Stuart Mill, in Autobiography (1873)
  • All honest thought is a form of prayer. Lance Morrow, “The Best Refuge for Insomniacs,” in Time magazine (April 29, 1991)

Morrow’s essay was about how reading and other forms of thoughtful contemplation can help people through tough times. He concluded the essay this way: “The contemplation of anything intelligent—it need not be writing—helps the mind through the black hours. Mozart, for example; music like bright ice water, or say, the memory of the serene Palladian lines of Jefferson’s Monticello. These things realign the mind and teach it not to be petty. All honest thought is a form of prayer.”

  • What generally passes for “thought” among the majority of mankind is the time one takes out to rearrange one’s prejudices. Clare Boothe Luce, in Woman’s Day magazine (April, 1946)

ERROR ALERT: For many years, a very similar quotation has been attributed to William James: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” Clifton Fadiman attributed this saying to James in his 1955 book, The American Treasury, 1455–1955. Nothing like it has ever been found in James’s writings or speeches, though, and it now appears that Fadiman simply got this one wrong.

  • Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Eternal Recurrence,” in The Antichrist (1888)
  • I am a farmer of thoughts, and all the crops I raise I give away. Thomas Paine, in letter to Henry Laurens (spring, 1778)
  • There are two distinct classes of what are called Thoughts: those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, Vol. 1 (1794)

QUOTE NOTE: About this second class of thoughts, Paine wrote: “I have always made it a rule to treat those voluntary visitors with civility, taking care to examine, as well as I was able, if they were worth interesting; and it was from them I have acquired almost all the knowledge that I have.”

  • By thought I comprehend the world. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Thought is a thread of melody running through the succession of our sensations. Charles Sanders Pierce. “How To Make Our Ideas Clear,” Popular Science Monthly, (January 1878)
  • Words are the small change of thought. Jules Renard, journal entry (Nov. 15, 1895)
  • The fingers of your thoughts are molding your face ceaselessly. Charles Reznikoff, quoted in “Remarkable Remarks,” The Independent (New York City; June 8, 1918)
  • Every thought vibrates through the universe. Dorothy Miller Richardson, in Pilgrimage: Revolving Lights (1923)
  • Many other animals have feelings. What distinguishes our species is thought. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)

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

  • It takes a long time for words to become thought. May Sarton, “Poet in Residence,” in The Lion and the Rose (1948)
  • My thoughts are like waffles—the first few don’t look so good. Marilyn vos Savant, in “Ask Marilyn” column, Parade magazine (1992; specific issue undetermined)
  • A man may dwell so long upon a thought that it may take him prisoner. George Savile (Lord Halifax), “Faculties of the Mind,” in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go. William Shakespeare, the character King Claudius speaking, in Hamlet (1601)
  • A word is the carving and coloring of a thought, and gives it permanence. Osbert Sitwell, in Laughter in the Next Room (1949)
  • How often misused words generate misleading thoughts. Herbert Spencer, in The Principles of Ethics (1879)
  • Good thoughts are blessed guests, and should be heartily welcomed, well fed, and much sought after. Like rose leaves, they give out a sweet smell if laid up in the jar of memory. C. H. Spurgeon, “Thoughts About Thought,” in John Ploughman’s Talk (1896)

Spurgeon continued: “They cannot be too much cultivated; they are a crop which enriches the soil. As the hen broods her chickens under her wings, so should we cherish all holy thoughts.”

  • I have no riches but my thoughts,/Yet these are wealth enough for me. Sara Teasdale, “Riches,” in Love Songs (1917)
  • Delightful task! To rear the tender thought,/To teach the young idea how to shoot. James Thomson, “Spring,” in The Seasons (1746)
  • Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Jan. 22, 1852)
  • Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head. Mark Twain, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • It has never struck me as harmful to make a conscious effort to elevate one’s thoughts, in the hope that by doing so one’s writing will get off the ground, even if only for a few seconds (like Orville Wright) and to a low altitude. E. B. White, quoted in Israel Shenker, Words and Their Masters (1974)
  • It belongs to the self-respect of intellect to pursue every tangle of thought to its final unravelment. Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World (1925)
  • The first man who noticed the analogy between a group of seven fishes and a group of seven days made a notable advance in the history of thought. Alfred North Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World (1925)
  • You think you know someone by looking at his face but what can one face say about the thousand thoughts behind those eyes. Marianne Wiggins, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist, who, in a literary conceit occasionally employed by authors, also happens to be named Marianne Wiggins, in The Shadow Catcher (2007)
  • I hold it true that thoughts are things/Endowed with bodies, breath, and wings,/And that we send them forth to fill/The world with good results—or ill. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Secret Thoughts,” in Poems of Pleasure (1888)



  • There are men who rise refreshed on hearing a threat; men to whom a crisis which intimidates and paralyzes the majority—demanding not the faculties of prudence and thrift, but comprehension, immovableness, the readiness of sacrifice—comes graceful and beloved as a bride! Ralph Waldo Emerson, in address at Harvard University Divinity School (July 15, 1838)
  • When our very lives are threatened we begin to live. Even the psychic invalid throws away his crutches in such moments. For him the greatest joy is to realize that there is something more important than himself. All his life he has turned on the spit of his own roasted ego. He made the fire with his own hands. He drips in his own juices. Henry Miller, the narrator reflecting on life, in Sexus (1949)

QUOTE NOTE: Sexus, a fictionalized account of Miller’s own life, was the first in The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, followed by Plexus (1953) and Nexus (1959). The books were all initially banned in the United States, but became available shortly after the historic 1964 U. S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned a ban of Miller’s 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer.



  • Belligerence is the hallmark of insecurity—the secure nation does not need threat to maintain its position. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in What Eisenhower Thinks (1952; Allan Taylor, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Eisenhower’s observation—made before his presidency—applies equally well to individuals.

  • I’ve noticed that ineffectual people usually do go in for highfalutin' threats. Georgette Heyer, the character Miss Fawcett speaking, in The Unfinished Clue (1937)
  • Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist, once asked a group of women at a university why they felt threatened by men. The women said they were afraid of being beaten, raped, or killed by men. She then asked a group of men why they felt threatened by women. They said they were afraid women would laugh at them. Molly Ivins, quoted in Regina Barreca, The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor (1996)
  • Never threaten, because a threat is a promise to pay that it isn’t always convenient to meet, but if you don’t make it good it hurts your credit. Save a threat till you’re ready to act, and then you won’t need it. George Horace Lorimer, the character John Graham writing in a letter to his son, in Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)



  • My stern chase after time is, to borrow a simile from Tom Paine, like the race of a man with a wooden leg after a horse. John Quincy Adams, diary entry (March 25, 1844), written four years before his death at age eighty.

QUOTE NOTE: The Thomas Paine simile mentioned here first appeared in Paine’s 1796 pamphlet “The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance.” Describing Prime Minister William Pitt’s approach to England’s national debt, he wrote:

As to Mr. Pitt’s project of paying off the national debt by applying a million a year, while he continues adding more than twenty millions a year to it, it is like setting a man with a wooden leg to run after a hare. The longer he runs the farther off he is.

  • Time by itself means nothing, no matter how fast it moves, unless we give it something to carry for us; something we value. Because it is such a precious vehicle, is time. Ama Ata Aidoo, in Our Sister Killjoy (1966)
  • Time is one’s best friend, teaching best of all the wisdom of silence. A. Bronson Alcott, in Table Talk (1877)
  • But that’ s where I am, there's no escaping it. Time’s a trap, I’m caught in it. Margaret Atwood, the protagonist Offred speaking, in The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
  • We are all hostages of time. We each have the same number of minutes and hours to live within a day, yet to me it didn't feel equally doled out. Elisabeth Tova Bailey, in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (2010)

Bailey Continued: “My illness brought me such an abundance of time that time was nearly all I had. My friends had so little time that I often wished I could give them what time I could not use. It was perplexing how in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose.”

  • Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations. Faith Baldwin, “Four Seasons, Three Tenses,” in Face Toward the Spring (1956)
  • You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. Arnold Bennett, in How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (1908; first serialized in London’s Evening News in 1907)

QUOTE NOTE: This wonderful observation contains one of history's best metaphors pn the subject of time: the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life. Later in the book, Bennett wrote:

“The chief beauty about the constant supply of time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoilt, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your career. Which fact is very gratifying and reassuring. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose. Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until to-morrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won’t. It will be colder.”

  • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. Hector Berlioz, in 1856 letter to a friend, quoted in Almanach des lettres françaises et étrangères (May 11, 1924)
  • Time stood as still as an enemy in ambush. Phyllis Bottome, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • Time indeed has very little to do with living except at its beginning or near its end. Phyllis Bottome, The Life Line (1946)
  • O Time the fatal wrack of mortal things. Anne Bradstreet, “Contemplation” (1650); in John Harvard Ellis, The Works of Anne Bradstreet in Prose and Verse (1867)
  • Time is life. Anyone who wastes my time is killing me. Please don’t! Phyllis Chesler, in Letters to a Young Feminist (1997)
  • Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit? Pat Conroy, in My Losing Season: A Memoir (2002)
  • Time: the one thing you take with you. Marcelene Cox, in a 1948 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal (specific issue undetermined)
  • Time is the reef upon which all of our frail mystic ships are wrecked. Noël Coward, Madame Arcati speaking, in Blithe Spirit (1941)
  • Time is what keeps everything from happening at once. Ray Cummings, the character Tubby speaking, in the short story “The Time Professor,” first published in Argosy All-Story Weekly (Jan. 8, 1921)

QUOTE NOTE: Cummings reprised the exact line a year later in his 1922 novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, where he wrote: “The Big Business Man smiled. ‘Time,’ he said, ‘is what keeps everything from happening at once.’”

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, a number of variations of the sentiment—including “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”—have been mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein (nothing close to it, however, has been found in his writings). The quotation, in a number of similar phrasings, has also been misattributed to Woody Allen, Richard Feynman, and John Archibald Wheeler.

  • A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. Charles Darwin, in letter to his sister, Susan Dawrin (Aug. 4, 1836); reprinted in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1 (1898; Frances Darwin, ed.)
  • The insolence of time is like a blow in the face from an unseen enemy. Margaret Deland, in Sidney (1890)
  • Time is the continuous loop, the snakeskin with scales endlessly overlapping without beginning or end, or time is an ascending spiral if you will, like a child's toy Slinky. Annie Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Dillard continued: “Of course we have no idea which arc on the loop is our time, let alone where the loop itself is, so to speak, or down whose lofty flight of stairs the Slinky so uncannily walks”

  • Time itself bent you and cracked you on its wheel. Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood (1987)
  • Time was a hook in his mouth. Time was reeling him in jawfirst; it was reeling him in, headlong and breathless, to a shore he had not known was there. Annie Dillard, the voice of the narrator, in The Living (1992)
  • Time, like money, is measured by our needs. George Eliot, the narrator speaking, in Middlemarch (1871)
  • The surest poison is time. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Old Age,” in Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Time will explain it all. He is a talker, and needs no questioning before he speaks. Euripides, in Aeolus (5th c. B.C.)
  • Time turtles on. M. F. K. Fisher, in M. F. K. Fisher: A Life in Letters (1997; N. K. Barr, M. Moran, & P Moran, eds.)
  • Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June, 1746)
  • Remember that time is money. Benjamin Franklin, in Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748)
  • Alas! There is no casting anchor in the stream of time! Marguerite Gardiner (Countess of Blessington), in Country Quarters, Vol. 1 (1850)
  • Time is change; we measure its passing by how much things alter. Nadine Gordimer, the voice of the narrator and protagonist Liz Van Den Sandt, in The Late Bourgeois World (1966)
  • If you realize too acutely how heavenly valuable time is, you are too paralyzed to do anything. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away. Ben Hecht, “Elegy for Hollywood,” in Esquire magazine (March, 1959)
  • Oh, time betrays us. Time is the great enemy. Winifred Holtby, in South Riding (1936)

In the book, Holtby also wrote: “Is this the final treachery of time, that the old become a burden upon the young?”

  • Oh, time is death,/Come, cypress-candled death,/Take us before time kills our life. Winifred Holtby, quoted in Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship (1940)
  • Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity. Jean de La Bruyère, in Characters (1688)
  • Time is life. It is irreversible and irreplaceable. To waste your time is to waste your life, but to master your time is to master your life and make the most of it. Alan Lakein, in How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life (1973)
  • Time, it swallows everything/From the mighty to the meager thing/And it’s as dark as it is comforting/so play along. Amos Lee, lyrics from the song “What’s Been Going On,” in the album Last Days at the Lodge (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Lee masterfully tweaks a timeless metaphor and delivers it in a hauntingly beautiful way. Catch it in this YouTube video (38 seconds into the song).

  • Lost time was like a run in a stocking. It always got worse. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Steep Ascent (1944)

In the book, Lindbergh also wrote: “What was time? Where had it gone? There was left only an outer shell she had up to now looked upon as time—a husk only. The husk of time split open and let fall one seed—one seed of eternity.”

  • Lives of great men all remind us/We can make our lives sublime,/And, departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “A Psalm of Life” (1838)
  • But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Andrew Marvell, in “To His Coy Mistress” (1681)

Marvel concluded this quatrain by adding: “And yonder all before us lie/Deserts of vast eternity.”

  • Time is the thief you cannot banish. Phyllis McGinley, “Ballade of Lost Objects,” in The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley (1954)
  • Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals. H. L. Mencken, in A Book of Prefaces (1917)
  • Time, the subtle thief of youth. John Milton, in “Sonnet VII” (written 1631; first published 1645)

QUOTE NOTE: This phrase first appeared in a poem Milton wrote on the occasion of his twenty-third birthday and included in a letter he sent to a friend. Here is the full couplet in which the phrase appeared: “How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,/Stol’n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!”

  • If you let slip time, like a neglected rose/It withers on the stalk with languish’d head. John Milton, in “Comus” (1634)
  • When you take my time, you take something I had meant to use. Marianne Moore, “People’s Surroundings,” in Selected Poems (1935)
  • He who finds he has wasted a shilling may by diligence hope to fetch it up again; but no repentance or industry can ever bring back one wasted hour. Hannah More, “The History of Hester Wilmot,” in The Works of Hannah More, Vol. 1 (1841)
  • Initially, I was unaware that time, so boundless at first blush, was a prison. Vladimir Nabokov, in Speak, Memory (1951)
  • There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time. Napoleon I (NapoleonBonaparte), in Maxims (1804–1815)
  • Time has passed through me and become a song. Holly Near, in Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm (1990; with Derk Richardson)
  • Near the point of impact, time accelerates to the speed of light. Joyce Carol Oates, the voice of the narrator, in Black Water (1992)

QUOTE NOTE: Black Water is a novella based on the true story of Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned in 1969 after U. S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. Through the eyes of the fictional character, Kelly Kelleher, a 26-year-old magazine reporter who is dazzled by the advances of a famous politician who is described only as “The Senator,” the story contains a number of compelling descriptions—like the line above—about what Ms. Kopechne’s final experiences must have been like.

  • Time is the devourer of all things. Ovid, in Metamorphoses (1st c. A.D.)
  • Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst. William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1682)

Penn preceded the thought by writing: “There is nothing of which we are more apt to be so lavish as of time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since, without it, we can do nothing in the world.”

  • Time can be nibbled away as completely as a tray of canapés in an irresolute fat man’s reach, or grandly lost in victory like the great marlin in The Old Man and the Sea. Charles Poore, “The Art of Balancing Time,” in Ernest Dimnet, The Art of Living (1954)
  • The wasting of time is the most personal, most private, most intimate form of conversation with oneself, as well as with another. Mary Ruefle, in Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012)
  • I think the best way to waste time is to try to save time. Françoise Sagan, in Nightbird: Conversations With Françoise Sagan (1974)
  • Time is the coin of your life. You spend it. Do not allow others to spend it for you. Carl Sandburg, quoted in Ralph McGill, “Carl Sandburg Turns 88,” syndicated newspaper column (Jan. 12, 1966); reprinted in The Best of Ralph McGill: Selected Columns (1980)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all books and web sites suggest that Sandburg said this at his 85th birthday party on Jan. 6, 1963, but McGill clearly indicates that Sandburg offered the remark as he reached his 88th birthday (he interviewed Sandburg at his cottage on Glassy Mountain, near Flat Rock, North Carolina). Slightly longer versions of the observation also commonly appear (including one that ends, “Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you”), but they are of questionable authenticity.

  • Time is like an enterprising manager always bent on staging some new and surprising production, without knowing very well what it will be. George Santayana, “Tipperary,” in Soliloquies in England (1922)
  • Time is the school in which we learn,/Time is the fire in which we burn. Delmore Schwartz, in “For Rhoda” (1938)
  • Time heals what reason cannot. Seneca, in Agamemnon (1st c. A.D.)
  • I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Richard II (1595). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Time’s the king of men;/He’s both their parent, and he is their grave,/And gives them what he will, not what they crave. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Pericles (1607)
  • In reality, killing time/Is only the name for another of the multifarious ways/By which Time kills us. Osbert Sitwell, “Milordo Inglese,” in The Atlantic Monthly (July, 1958). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Time is the only critic without ambition. John Steinbeck, quoted in The Paris Review (Fall, 1975)

QUOTE NOTE: Steinbeck died in 1968, but The Paris Review ran the article in the space normally devoted to interviews with writers. Editor George Plimpton explained that Steinbeck had agreed to an interview late in his life, but was too ill to complete the project. Instead of a formal interview, the publication's staffers combed through his diaries and letters for observations on the art of fiction, and assembled them for the issue.

  • How we use time defines us. Alexandra Stoddard, in Gracious Living in a New World (1996)
  • Time is a kind friend, he will make us old. Sara Teasdale, in “Let it Be Forgotten” (1919)
  • Our costliest expenditure is time. Theophrastus, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage is also commonly translated this way: “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.”

ERROR ALERT: Theophrastus was a Greek philosopher who died in 278 B.C. On many internet sites, his observation is mistakenly attributed to the 4th c. B.C. Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (also known as Diogenes the Cynic).

  • As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” in Walden (1854)
  • We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. Henry David Thoreau, “Spring,” in Walden (1854)
  • Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Denis Waitely, in The Joy of Working (1985; with Reni Witt)

Waitley added: “Rich people can’t buy more hours; scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”

  • Time moves slowly, but passes quickly. Alice Walker, the character Nettie speaking, in The Color Purple (1982)
  • When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life (2002)
  • Time is anonymous; when we give it a face, it’s the same face the world over. Eudora Welty, “Some Notes on Time in Fiction,” in The Eye of the Story (1978)
  • You can no more put a sense of time into a man who doesn’t have it than you can put tides in a pond. Jessamyn West, in Leafy Rivers (1967)
  • It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape and it is the eye of the beholder that moves. Thornton Wilder, the voice of the narrator, in The Eighth Day: A Novel (1967)
  • Time rushes toward us with its hospital tray of infinitely varied narcotics, even while it is preparing us for its inevitable fatal operation. Tennessee Williams, “The Timeless World of a play,” a prologue to The Rose Tattoo (1951)
  • Time, when it is left to itself and no definite demands are made on it, cannot be trusted to move at any recognized pace. Usually it loiters; but just when one has come to count upon its slowness, it may suddenly break into a wild irrational gallop. Edith Wharton, in The House of Mirth (1905)
  • Time is a merciless thing. I think life is a process of burning oneself out and time is the fire that burns you. Tennessee Williams, quoted in The New York Post (April 30, 1958)

Williams concluded on a hopeful note: “But I think the spirit of man is a good adversary.”

  • If the way ahead is not clear, time is often the best editor of one’s intentions. Jacqueline Winspear, the protagonist Maisie Dobbs, recalling words of advice from her mentor Maurice Blanche, in The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)
  • Procrastination is the thief of time. Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742-45)
  • The innocent and the beautiful/Have no enemy but time. William Butler Yeats, “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” (1927), in The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
  • That Mighty Sculptor. Time (1992), Marguerite Yourcenar, title of book
  • Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid. Frank Zappa, in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989; with Peter Occhiogrosso)

Zappa introduced the observation by writing: “A composer’s job involves the decoration of fragments of time.”

[Wasting] TIME


  • Time is life. Anyone who wastes my time is killing me. Please don't! Phyllis Chesler, in Letters to a Young Feminist (1997)
  • Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit? Pat Conroy, in My Losing Season: A Memoir (2002)
  • A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. Charles Darwin, in letter to his sister, Susan Dawrin (Aug. 4, 1836); reprinted in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1 (1898; Frances Darwin, ed.)
  • When one cannot be sure that there are many days left, each single day becomes as important as a year, and one does not waste an hour in wishing that that hour were longer, but simply fills it, like a smaller cup, as high as it will go without spilling over. Natalie Kusz, in Road Song (1990)
  • Time is life. It is irreversible and irreplaceable. To waste your time is to waste your life, but to master your time is to master your life and make the most of it. Alan Lakein, in How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life (1973)
  • He who finds he has wasted a shilling may by diligence hope to fetch it up again; but no repentance or industry can ever bring back one wasted hour. Hannah More, “The History of Hester Wilmot,” in The Works of Hannah More, Vol. 1 (1841)
  • The wasting of time is the most personal, most private, most intimate form of conversation with oneself, as well as with another. Mary Ruefle, in Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012)
  • I think the best way to waste time is to try to save time. Françoise Sagan, in Nightbird: Conversations With Françoise Sagan (1974)
  • I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Richard II (1595). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Denis Waitely, in The Joy of Working (1985; with Reni Witt)

Waitley added: “Rich people can’t buy more hours; scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”



  • Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)

To drive home his point, Emerson went on to add: “We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”



  • Titles are a form of psychic compensation. Robert Townsend, in Up the Organization (1970)



  • When Did Ignorance Become a Point of View? Scott Adams, title of 2001 book of Dilbert cartoons
  • A Walk on the Wild Side. Nelson Algren, title of 1956 novel, later adapted into a 1962 film
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou, title of 1969 autobiography

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Angelou’s book—a fictionalized account of her early years—was borrowed from the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who originally crafted the line for his 1899 poem, “Sympathy” (for more, see the Dunbar entry in CAGES & THE CAGED). Dunbar, in turn, was almost certainly inspired by a line from John Webster’s 1612 play The White Devil: “We think caged birds sing, when indeed they cry.”

  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven. Maya Angelou, title of 2002 autobiography
  • The Sound of Surprise. Whitney Balliett, his term for jazz and the title of his 1959 book

In his Introduction, Balliett wrote: “Jazz, after all, is a highly personal, lightweight form—like poetry, it is an art of surprise—that, shaken down, amounts to the blues, some unique vocal and instrumental sounds, and the limited, elusive genius of improvisation.”

  • Michael Jordan: A Shooting Star. George W. Beahm (ed.), title of 1994 book
  • If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? Erma Bombeck, title of 1971 book. See also the Lew Brown entry in TITLES—OF SONGS
  • The Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler, title of 1939 book, later adapted into a 1946 film and a 1978 film

QUOTE NOTE: Observations likening sleep to death have been around since antiquity (in the 8th c. B.C., Homer wrote in the Illiad about “Sleep and his twin brother Death”), but Chandler’s novel introduced what many regard as history’s single best metaphor on the subject. The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first novel to feature the fictional detective Philip Marlow and the metaphor appears for the very first time in the book’s final passage. Marlowe, in a reflective mood, thinks: “What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, and were not bothered by things like that.” In 1946, Chandler’s novel was adapted into a film with Humphrey Bogart in the starring role (a later 1978 film adaptation starred Robert Mitchum).

  • The Gathering Storm. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume I (1948) of his The Second World War series
  • Their Finest Hour. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume II (1949) of his The Second World War series
  • The Grand Alliance. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume III (1950) of his The Second World War series
  • The Hinge of Fate. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume IV (1950) of his The Second World War series
  • Closing the Ring. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume V (1951) of his The Second World War series
  • Triumph and Tragedy. Winston S. Churchill, title of Volume VI (1953) of his The Second World War series
  • Soul on Ice. Eldridge Cleaver, title of 1968 book
  • The Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad, title of 1899 novella
  • The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane, title of 1895 novel

QUOTE NOTE: Since the publication of Crane’s novel, a wartime wound or injury has been described as a red badge of courage. The novel’s protagonist is Henry Fielding, a Union soldier who feels deep shame after fleeing from a Civil War battle. The narrator says of him: “At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.”

  • White Noise. Don DeLillo, title of 1985 novel
  • Your Erroneous Zones. Wayne W. Dwyer, title of 1976 book

QUOTE NOTE: Dwyer was a virtually unknown professor at St. John’s University (New York) whose lectures were so popular with students that he came to the attention of a Manhattan literary agent, who persuaded him to put his ideas into a book. Playing off the concept of erogenous zones, Dwyer came out with Your Erroneous Zones in 1976. He quit his job, loaded the back of his station wagon with copies of the book, and embarked on his own publicity tour of the United States. His dogged pursuit of media interviews and bookstore signings was so effective that the book became a surprise bestseller. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 64 consecutive weeks and even spent one week at Number One, edging out two other books with metaphorical titles: Gail Sheehy’s Passages and Alex Haley’s Roots. Dwyer’s publicity tour made him something of a legend in the publishing industry and Your Erroneous Zones became one of history’s most successful self-help books, selling more than 35 million copies.

  • Pillars of the Earth. Ken Follett, title of 1989 historical novel about the building of cathedrals in the 12th century
  • The Future of an Illusion. Sigmund Freud, title of 1927 book
  • The Arrogance of Power. J. William Fulbright, title of 1966 book
  • Lord of the Flies. William Golding, title of 1954 novel

QUOTE NOTE: While serving in the Royal Navy during WWII, William Golding witnessed more than his share of horrors, including the sinking of the Bismarck and the Normandy Invasion. After the war, his view of the world was transformed, and any prior illusions he had held about civilization were gone forever (years later, he said he had come to the view that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey”). While teaching during the day, he began working at night on a dark, allegorical tale about a group of boys who become stranded on a desert island and slowly degenerate from civilized English schoolboys to savage and vicious brutes. His working title, Lord of the Flies, was inspired by a name historically given to Beelzebub. It was also the name the boys gave to a fly-ridden pig’s skull they had mounted on a stake.

Golding’s manuscript was rejected twenty-one times by English publishers, often in the most unmerciful ways. And when it was finally published by Faber & Faber in 1954, it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves (pun intended). However, an American paperback edition in 1955 slowly became a word-of-mouth sensation and the book soon found itself on “Required Reading” lists at many colleges and universities. Now regarded as one of history’s great allegorical tales, it was ranked number 41 on The Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th century.

  • Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus. John Gray, title of 1992 book
  • Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. Mardy Grothe, title of 1999 book

QUOTE NOTE: I selected this clever line as the title for my book on the literary device of chiasmus. I borrowed it from Joey Adams, who had put it into The Joey Adams Encyclopedia of Humor (1968). Adams was not the original author of the sentiment, though. That credit goes to the talented E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, who first laid it out in verse form in the 1941 poem “Inscription on a Lipstick” (later reprinted in his 1965 book of humorous verse Rhymes for the Irreverent): “Oh, innocent victims of Cupid,/Remember this terse little verse;/To let a fool kiss you is stupid,/To let a kiss fool you is worse.”

  • 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.

  • The Well of Loneliness. Radclyffe Hall, title of 1928 novel

QUOTE NOTE: The Well of Loneliness was the first major novel in lesbian literature (although the author used the now-dated term “sexual inversion”). The enormous controversy surrounding the book’s publication resulted in the first great public awareness of female homosexuality in England, America, and continental Europe. For more, see: The Well of Loneliness.

  • Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Charles B. Harris, title of 1983 book

QUOTE NOTE: The phrase passionate virtuosity became singularly associated with Barth after it first appeared in a 1967 Atlantic Monthly article titled “The Literature of Exhaustion,” where Barth wrote: “My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity.”

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Robert Heinlein, title of 1966 novel
  • Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America. Arianna Huffington, title of 2003 book
  • The Blackboard Jungle. Evan Hunter, title of 1954 novel, adapted into a 1955 film

QUOTE NOTE: Hunter was a little known pulp fiction writer working for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency when he decided to write a novel based on his experiences as a vocational high school teacher in New York City (his working title was The Tiger Pit). The gritty novel became a bestseller, launching Hunter’s career. The following year, MGM came out with Blackboard Jungle, a blockbuster film starring Glen Ford as the embattled teacher and a young Sidney Poitier as one of his defiant students (MGM purchased the rights to the book while it was still in galley proofs, months before it was actually published). A year after The Blackboard Jungle was published, Hunter invented the penname Ed McBain for a new series of books he was planning to write about New York City police detectives. That series of books—known as McBain’s 87th Precinct Series—became phenomenally success, with more than fifty novels that have sold more than a hundred million copies.

  • Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life. Erica Jong, title of 2006 book

QUOTE NOTE: The title was derived from this passage in the book: “The job of the writer is to seduce the demons of creativity and make up stories.”

  • Profiles in Courage. John F. Kennedy, title of 1955 book.

QUOTE NOTE: Kennedy was a sitting U. S. Senator in his late thirties when Profiles in Courage was released on Jan. 1, 1956. It became an immediate best-seller (more than two million copies sold in the first year alone) and gave the junior senator from Massachusetts a national platform he would later use to launch a presidential run. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, even though it had not originally been nominated. It is believed that Joseph P. Kennedy, Senator Kennedy’s father, was so incensed that his son’s book was not nominated that he used his considerable influence to get members of the Pulitzer Prize board to select it.

While Kennedy was listed as sole author, it was widely believed from the outset that the book had been ghostwritten by his speechwriter, Theodore Sorenson. For many years, Sorenson steadfastly asserted that JFK was the author and that he was primarily a researcher. However, in his 2008 autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorenson admitted for the first time that he “did a first draft of most chapters.” He further acknowledged that he might have also “privately boasted or indirectly hinted” that he had written most of the book. For more on the book, see Profiles in Courage.

  • Is There Life After High School? Ralph Keyes, title of 1977 book
  • The Divided Self. R. D. Laing, title of 1960 book

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Laing’s book was considered quite provocative when it was first published, but the concept of a divided self was first advanced fifteen centuries earlier, when St. Augustine wrote in Confessions (5th c. A.D.): “My inner self was a house divided against itself.”

  • The Walking Drum. Louis L’Amour, title of 1984 novel
  • A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour. Louis L’Amour, title of 1988 quotation anthology

QUOTE NOTE: When L’Amour’s daughter Angelique was putting together this anthology of her father’s best quotations, she found what she regarded as the perfect title in his novel Ride the River (1983). In that work, the character Dorian reflects on a life lesson learned from his father, saying: “As youngsters we were taught not just to learn something but to learn something else that went with it. Pa, he used to say that no memory is ever alone, it’s at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations.”

  • Love is an Observant Traveller. JonArno Lawson, title of 1997 book
  • Sweet Smell of Success. Ernest Lehman, original title of 1950 novella and the 1957 film adaptation

QUOTE NOTE: When Cosmopolitan magazine published Lehman’s novella in 1950, the title was changed to “Tell Me About It Tomorrow” (apparently because the magazine’s editor didn’t want the word smell to appear in print in the publication).

  • A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle, title of 1963 book
  • The Weather of the Heart. Madeleine L’Engle, title of 1978 book of poetry
  • The Dance of Anger. Harriet Lerner. title of 1985 book
  • Fear and Other Uninvited Guests. Harriet Lerner, title of 2004 book
  • Ideas Are Weapons: The History and Uses of Ideas. Max Lerner, title of 1939 book
  • Run to Daylight. Vince Lombardi, title of his 1963 autobiography (written with W. C. Heinz)

QUOTE NOTE: The title came from Lombardi’s name for the Green Bay Packers’ version of a popular play in professional football: the power sweep. The metaphor of “going for the daylight” went on to become extremely popular, especially in business and politics.

  • The Call of the Wild. Jack London, title of 1903 novel, and a popular adventure metaphor
  • Short Flights. James Lough and Alex Stein (eds.), title of 2016 book

QUOTE NOTE: A short flight is a brilliant metaphor for an aphorism, and a perfect title for a compilation of aphorisms. Lough and Stein’s quotation anthology was subtitled: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration, and Wit.

  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Carson McCullers, title of 1940 novel

QUOTE NOTE: McCuller’s debut novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter quickly rose to the top the New York Times bestseller list and established the 23-year-old writer as a major new voice in American fiction. Now considered an American classic, it was ranked 17 on The Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th century. It was also adapted into a 1968 film, starring Alan Arkin, Sondra Locke, and Cicely Tyson. In a beautiful 2014 painting, also titled “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” English artist Joe Simpson portrayed two single people reading copies of McCuller’s book—in the original book jackets—while riding in a subway train in London’s Underground.

  • Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell, title of 1936 novel, later adapted into a 1939 film

QUOTE NOTE: The notion that something could disappear rapidly and be gone with—or in—the wind had been around since the nineteenth century, and Mitchell had even put the expression into a plaintive remark from the character Pansy, who says as she flees burning Atlanta: “Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind that had swept through Georgia?” In the early stages of her novel, Mitchell did not have a working title, having considered Bugles Sang True, None So Blind, and Not in Our Stars (her editor at Macmillan simply referred to the work-in-progress as “The Old South manuscript”). Still undecided when she submitted the final manuscript, Mitchell gave her editor a list of twenty-two possible titles, along with an indication that she was leaning toward Gone With the Wind. Today, it is impossible to imagine any other title for the novel.

When Ben Hecht was writing the screenplay for the novel, he seemed to immediately grasp the significance of the metaphorical title. He dropped Pansy’s line completely and gave it to the narrator of the story. Here are the opening words of the 1939 film (spoken by the narrator as they scroll up the screen): “There was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South. Here in this patrician world The Age of Chivalry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Masters and Slaves. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”

  • Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary. K. M. Elisabeth Murray, title of 1977 biography of the OED founder (written by his granddaughter)
  • Speak, Memory. Vladimir Nabokov, title of 1951 memoir
  • The Octopus: A Story of California. Frank Norris, title of 1901 novel
  • The Hidden Persuaders. Vance Packard, title of 1957 book and Packard’s term for advertisers
  • The Status Seekers. Vance Packard, title of 1959 book
  • The Learning Tree. Gordon Parks, title of 1964 novel, later adapted into a 1969 film

QUOTE NOTE: The film adaptation, written and directed by Parks, was the first Hollywood film directed by a black person. In 1969, the film was placed in the National Film Registry of the Library of congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

  • In Search of Excellence. Thomas J. Peters & Robert H. Waterman, Jr., title of 1982 book
  • In Search of Lost Time (formerly Remembrance of Things Past). Marcel Proust, title of a series of seven novels published between 1913 and 1927
  • A Dance to the Music of Time. Anthony Powell, title of a series of twelve novels

QUOTE NOTE: The title of the series, which began with A Question of Upbringing in 1951 and ended with Hearing Secret Harmonies in 1975, was borrowed from a seventeenth-century painting of the same name by the French painter Nicolas Poussin. The Modern Library ranked Powell’s entire series number 43 on its list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels of the twentieth century. When Hilary Spurling, Powell’s official biographer, did an exhaustive annotated guide to the series, it was only appropriate that she gave the work a metaphorical title: Invitation to the Dance: A Handbook to Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (1977)

  • Gravity’s Rainbow. Thomas Pynchon, title of 1973 novel

QUOTE NOTE: At one level, the title refers to the rainbow-shaped trajectory of a V–2 rocket. Shortly after it is explosively launched, the rocket comes under the influence of gravity and follows a predictable parabolic trajectory as it progresses toward its target. At another level, the title may be seen as a metaphor for the essential human predicament—every ascent, no matter how soaring, is ultimately followed by a descent.

  • Listening with the Third Ear Theodor Reik, title of 1948 book
  • A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Howard Richler, title of 1999 book
  • Science as a Candle in the Dark. Carl Sagan, subtitle of The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
  • Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Charles M. Schulz, title of a 1962 book

QUOTE NOTE: This was Schulz’s first compilation of Peanuts cartoon strips and the first of his many New York Times bestsellers. The warm puppy line was first delivered by the character Lucy in an April 25, 1960 strip (it may be seen at “Warm Puppy”).

  • The Taming of the Shrew. William Shakespeare, title of 1592 play

QUOTE NOTE: Petruchio’s attempts to transform the hot-tempered and headstrong Kate into an obedient wife may look blatantly misogynistic to a modern eye, but centuries of theatergoers have been fascinated by the play’s exploration of gender dynamics.

  • Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. Gail Sheehy, title of 1976 book
  • The Silent Passage: Menopause. Gail Sheehy, title of 1992 book
  • The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck, title of 1939 novel

QUOTE NOTE: One of the great American novels, the book about Oklahoma tenant farmers forced by drought to leave their homes was a critical and commercial success, winning a National Book Award as well as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Modern Library ranked it number 10 on its list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th century. Steinbeck was struggling to find a title for his novel when his wife Carol suggested he borrow the powerful phrase from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:/He is trampling our the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;/He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword:/His truth is Marching on.”

  • Lust for Life. Irving Stone, title of 1934 autobiographical novel of Vincent van Gogh
  • The Daughter of Time. Josephine Tey, title of 1951 mystery novel
  • Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackeray, title of serial novel (1847–48)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole, title of 1980 novel

QUOTE NOTE: The title, of course, comes from the Jonathan Swift quotation: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” The novel, published eleven years after Toole’s death at age 31 by suicide, won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

  • Anatomy of a Murder. Robert Traver, title of 1958 novel

QUOTE NOTE: Robert Traver was the pen name of John D. Voelker, a Michigan lawyer/judge who wrote novels in his spare time. The novel is fictionalized account of a real murder and subsequent trial in a small community in Northern Michigan (Voelker was the criminal defense attorney at the trial). A surprise best-seller, the novel was quickly adapted into a critically-acclaimed 1959 movie of the same title. For more, see the Anatomy of a Murder entry in Titles—of Films.

  • The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. Barbara W. Tuchman, title of 1984 book

Tuchman nicely expressed her central thesis in the very first words of the book: “A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.”

  • Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem. Dan Wakefield, title of 1959 book
  • The Snake Pit. Mary Jane Ward, title of 1946 novel, later adapted into a 1948 film
  • The Loom of Youth. Alec Waugh, title of 1917 autobiographical novel
  • Ideas Have Consequences. Richard M. Weaver, title of 1948 book
  • Mind at the End of Its Tether. H. G. Wells, title of 1945 book
  • A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams, title of 1947 play
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Tennessee Williams, title of 1955 play
  • Bonfire of the Vanities. Tom Wolfe, title of 1987 novel
  • Humility: The Quiet Virtue. Everett L. Worthington, title of 2007 book
  • The Winds of War. Herman Wouk, title of 1971 novel
  • Yoga: The Poetry of the Body. Rodney Yee, title of 2002 book



  • In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Delmore Schwartz, title of short story, in 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

  • “Poetry Is a Kind of Unconscious Autobiography,” Robert Penn Warren, title of article, in The New York Times Book Review (May 12, 1985)



  • The Big Chill. Title of 1983 film; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek

QUOTE NOTE: With a talented ensemble cast and a spectacular soundtrack, The Big Chill was one of the most popular films of 1983. The plot is straightforward: seven friends, all college radicals in the turbulent 1960s, have a spontaneous fifteen-year reunion after attending the funeral of a college friend who has recently committed suicide. Fans of the film had spirited differences of opinion about the meaning of the title. Some, almost certainly influenced by the opening scene in which the dead man (Kevin Costner’s body, in his only scene) is being prepared by a mortician for the funeral, suggested it was a metaphor for death, similar to The Big Sleep (see the Raymond Chandler entry in TITLES—OF BOOKS & PLAYS). Others thought it might have something to do with the slang terms to chill or to chill out. Lawrence Kasdan, the film’s producer and co-screenwriter, finally put an end to the speculation when he said: “The Big Chill deals with members of my generation who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal.” For more on the film, including some other interpretations of the meaning of the title, go to TCM/The Big Chill.

  • The Learning Tree. Title of 1969 film, written and directed by Gordon Parks

QUOTE NOTE: The Learning Tree, based on Parks’s 1964 semi-autobiographical novel by the same title, was the first Hollywood film directed by a black person. In 1969, the film was placed in the National Film Registry of the Library of congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”



  • Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length. Robert Frost, title of poem, in A Witness Tree (1942)
  • The Bridge of Sighs. Thomas Hood, title of an 1844 poem

QUOTE NOTE: There are a number of actual bridge structures that have been given this moniker over the centuries, the first one built in Venice, Italy in 1600. Hood was the first person to give the title to an artistic creation, but others have followed suit, including Jacques Offenbach with an 1861 operetta and American writer Richard Russo with a 2007 novel. Hood’s poem, which went on to be widely anthologized, was inspired by the tragic suicide of a homeless woman who had leapt to her death from London’s Waterloo Bridge.

  • Never Offer Your Heart to Someone who Eats Hearts. Alice Walker, title of 1978 poem



  • Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries. Lew Brown, title of 1931 song

QUOTE NOTE: Rudy Vallee & His Connecticut Yankees made this one of the most popular songs of 1931 (his rendition may be heard here).

  • A Bird in a Gilded Cage. Arthur J. Lamb (music by Harry Von Tilzer), title of 1900 song

QUOTE NOTE: A huge hit in 1900, the song went on to become one of history’s most popular sentimental ballads—the sad story of a young beauty who marries for money rather than love. A key lyric from the song goes this way: “Her beauty was sold/For an old man’s gold,/She’s a bird in a gilded cage.” For more on the song, including the entire set of lyrics, go to A Bird in a Gilded Cage.

  • 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 and the song are often attributed to Muddy Waters, but McGhee is the original author. In 1977, Waters recorded his version of McGhee’s song for his Hard Again album, presenting it under the title “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll.”

  • I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, title of song from the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific

QUOTE NOTE: This was one of the most popular songs from one the most popular musicals in Broadway history, sung by Mary Martin in the role of an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during WWII. The musical, based on James Michener’s 1947 novel Tales of the South Pacific, won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Martin’s original cast recording of the song may be heard here.

  • Walk on the Wild Side. Lou Reed, title of 1972 song

QUOTE NOTE: The title of Reed’s song was borrowed from Nelson Algren’s 1956 novel (see the Algren entry above. Reed’s song went in a different direction, though, celebrating an array of counter-cultural characters who inhabited the world of artist Andy Warhol (for more, see the Wikipedia entry on the song). See also the music video, which brings the characters to life.



  • The past is history./The future is a mystery./Today is a gift./That’s why it’s called the present. Author Unknown
  • The past is a canceled check. The future a promissory note. Only today is cash. Author Unknown
  • All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from it. Today is the only day there is. Frederick Buechner, in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary (1988)

Buechner preceded the thought by writing: “The point is to see it for what it is, because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you’re wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing.”

  • Today is Yesterday’s Pupil. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1751)
  • Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. William B. Given, Jr. in Brake Show Yardsticks (1949)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this saying—sometimes phrased with take up rather than use up—is mistakenly attributed to Will Rogers (and occasionally to John Wooden). Given, the president of the American Brake Shoe Company, expressed this and other observation about business and life in a pamphlet published by his own company. Thanks to master quotation researcher Barry Popik for his invaluable help in sourcing this quotation.

  • Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today. Ernest Hemingway, the character Robert Jordan speaking, in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: In Barack Obama’s eulogy at the funeral service of Sen. John McCain at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (Sep. 1, 2018), the former president offered this Hemingway observation twice, first citing it as a principle by which McCain lived his life and, at the end of his talk, a thought Americans could take away with them to honor McCain’s legacy. Obama’s full remarks (the speech as well as a transcript) may be seen at Obama eulogy for McCain.

  • Today has length, breadth, thickness, color, smell, voice. As soon as it becomes yesterday it is a thin layer among many layers, without substance, color, or articulate sound. Thomas Hardy, notebook entry (Jan 27, 1897), quoted in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (1984; Michael Millgate, ed.)



  • No emergency excuses you from exercising tolerance. Phyllis Bottome, the character Johann Roth speaking, in The Mortal Storm (1938)

Roth preceded the thought by saying: “Each individual has a right to pursue the path he chooses, providing that his actions are not destructive to the same freedoms of choice in others. Intolerance is a direct interference with the right of another.”

  • Sometimes true tolerance requires an extraordinary strength, which we are often too weak to exercise. Fausto Cercignani, quoted in Brian Morris, Quotes We Cherish. Quotations from Fausto Cercignani (2014)
  • Tolerance is the affable appreciation of qualities, views, and actions of other individuals which are foreign to one’s own habits, beliefs, and tastes. Albert Einstein, quoted in Banesh Hoffmann and Helen Dukas, Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979)

Einstein continued: “Thus being tolerant does not mean being indifferent towards the actions and feelings of others. Understanding and empathy must also be present.”

  • The responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Tolerance, good temper and sympathy—they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. E. M. Forster “What I Believe,” in The Nation (July 16, 1938)
  • Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, quoted in Words Of Wisdom: Selected Quotes by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2001; Margaret Gee, ed.)
  • Americans (I, I’m afraid, among them) go around carelessly assuming they’re tolerant the way they go around carelessly saying, “You ought to be in pictures.” But in the clinches, they turn out to be tolerant about as often as they turn out to be Clark Gable. Margaret Halsey, in Some of My Best Friends Are Soldiers (1944)
  • Toleration is the best religion. Victor Hugo, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Pearls of Thought (1882)
  • But true tolerance does not consist in saying, “You may be right, but let us not make hard demands on ourselves: if you will put your critical intelligence to sleep, I'll put mine to bed, too.” True tolerance remains mindful of the humanity of those who make things easy for themselves and welcomes and even loves honest and thoughtful opposition above less thoughtful agreement. Walter Kaufmann, “The Faith of a Heretic,” Harper’s Magazine (Feb. 1959)
  • Tolerance is thin gruel compared to the rapture of absolute truths. It's not surprising that religious people are often better protected by atheists and agnostics than each other. Wendy Kaminer, “Absolutisms on Parade,” in Free Inquiry (2001)
  • The highest result of education is tolerance. Helen Keller, in Optimism (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: Keller was referring to religious tolerance here. She continued: “Long ago men fought and died for their faith, but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage—the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience.”

  • Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil. Thomas Mann, the character Lodovico Settembrini speaking, in The Magic Mountain (1924)
  • Tolerant people are the happiest, so why not get rid of prejudices that hold you back? William Moulton Marston, “What Are Your Prejudices?” in Your Life magazine (March 1939)
  • Youth has everything—everything but experience and tolerance. Patti Page, in Once Upon a Dream (1960)
  • Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding. Agnes Repplier, in In Pursuit of Laughter (1936)
  • we should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference. Margaret Chase Smith, in Raymond Swing, This I Believe: 2 (1954)
  • Toleration of exploitation, oppression, and injustice points to a condition lying like a pall over the whole of society; it is apathy, an unconcern that is incapable of suffering. Dorothee Sölle, in Suffering (1973)
  • The intellect, divine as it is, and all worshipful, has a habit of lodging in the most seedy of carcasses, and often, alas, acts the cannibal among the other faculties so that often, where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe. Virginia Woolf, the voice of the narrator, in Orlando: A Biography (1928)



  • We are all ghosts of yesterday, and the phantom of tomorrow awaits us alike in sunshine or in shadow, dimly perceived at times, never entirely lost. Daphne du Maurier, in Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer (1977)
  • Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before. Loren C. Eiseley, in The Star Thrower (1978)



  • The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes bones. Apocrypha—Ecclesiastes 28:17
  • Youth, beauty, pomp, what are these, in point of attraction, to a woman’s heart, when compared to eloquence? The magic of the tongue is the most dangerous of all spells. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the voice of the narrator, in Eugene Aram (1832)
  • Out of some little thing, to free a tongue/Can make an outrageous wrangle. Euripides, in Andromache (5th c. B.C.)
  • A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle,” in The Sketch Book (1820)
  • I see/that everywhere among the race of men/it is the tongue that wins and not the deed. Sophocles, in Philoctetes (5th. c. B.C.)



  • Man is a tool-using animal. Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus (originally serialized in Fraser’s Magazine 1833-34; first published as novel 1836)

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

  • A tool knows exactly how it is meant to be handled, while the user of the tool can only have an approximate idea. Milan Kundera, the voice of the narrator, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978)

The narrator introduced the thought by writing: “A worker may be the hammer’s master, but the hammer prevails.”

QUOTE NOTE: This was the original English translation of the passage. A 1996 translation by Aaron Asher goes this way: “The carpenter is the hammer’s master, yet it is the hammer that has the advantage over the carpenter because a tool knows exactly how it should be handled, while the one who handles it can only know approximately how.”

  • Men have become the tools of their tools. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (July 16, 1845)

QUOTE NOTE: Nearly a decade later, the thought showed up in Walden (1854) as: “But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.”


(see also FOOD and DENTURES and PROTEIN and TEETH)

  • Toothpicks are an excellent source of protein. Dusty Baker, quoted by Mark McDermott in, “Will Dusty Baker Make Hall of Fame?” Sacramento Bee (June 27, 2015)




  • Torture has an indelible character. Whoever was tortured, stays tortured. Jean Améry (pen name of Hans Mayer, in At the Mind’s Limits (1966)
  • Of course, Behaviorism “works.” So does torture. W. H. Auden, “Behaviorism,” in A Certain World (1970)

Auden continued: “Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth behaviorist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances, and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public.”

  • Few tasks are like the torture of Sisyphus than housework. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949)
  • Under torture you are as if under the dominion of those grasses that produce visions. Everything you have heard told, everything you have read returns to your mind, as if you were being transported, not toward heaven, but toward hell.. Umberto Eco, the character Brother William speaking, in The Name of the Rose (1980)

Brother William, talking with Umbertino about torture, continued: “Under torture you say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what you imagine might please him, because a bond . . . is established between you and him.”

  • The healthy man does not torture others—generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers. Carl Jung, in Du magazine (May, 1941)
  • Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves. George Orwell, the torturer, a man named O’Brien, speaking to protagonist Winston Smith, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

O’Brien, who has been mercilessly torturing Smith in the dreaded Room 101, preceded the thought by saying: “Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared. And even if we chose to let you live out the natural term of your life, still you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is for ever. Understand that in advance. We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years.”

  • The one thing we know about torture is that it was never designed in the first place to get at the actual truth of anything; it was designed in the darkest days of human history to produce false confessions in order to annihilate political and religious dissidents. Andrew Sullivan, “The Daily Dish: Imaginationland,” in The Atlantic magazine (Oct. 25, 2007)

Sullivan continued: “And that is how it always works: it gets confessions regardless of their accuracy.”

  • Where torture has been long applied we find that it is developed to grades of incredible horror. William Graham Sumner, in Folkways (1907)
  • You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders. Jesse Ventura, in remarks on CNN-TV’s Larry King Live (May 11, 2009)

QUOTE NOTE: Ventura was likely inspired by a 1970 observation from W. H. Auden, to be seen above).



  • Totalitarianism is patriotism institutionalized. Steve Allen, in Reflections (1994)
  • Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
  • It became clear to the whole world that a totalitarian regime could neither accuse nor transform itself: suicide was not in its nature, it could only kill others. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in Only One Year (1969)
  • The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
  • Totalitarianism appeals to the very dangerous emotional needs of people who live in complete isolation and in fear of one another. Hannah Arendt, in an October 1973 interview with Roger Errera; reprinted in The New York Review of Books (Oct. 26, 1978)
  • One leader, one people, signifies one master and millions of slaves. Albert Camus, “State Terrorism and International Terror,” in The Rebel (1951)
  • It is the common failing of totalitarian regimes that they cannot really understand the nature of our democracy. They mistake dissent for disloyalty,, Lyndon B. Johnson, in address in San Antonio, Texas (Sep. 29, 1967)
  • The totalitarian state is not unleashed force, it is truth in chains. Bernard Henri Lévy, in La Barbarie à visage humain (1977)



  • Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth. Margaret Atwood, the voice of the narrator, in The Blind Assassin (2000)
  • We should remind ourselves that laughing together is as close as you can get to another person without touching, and sometimes it represents a closer tie than touching ever could. Regina Barreca, in Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful (2000)
  • I do not have any other way of saying it. I think it happens but once and only to the very young when it feels like your skin could ignite at the mere touch of another person. I could not satisfy myself with her or get enough of the endless feast her body provided. You get to love like that but once. Pat Conroy, a reflection of the narrator and protagonist Jack McCall, in Beach Music: A Novel (1995)
  • Touch is the meaning of being human. Andrea Dworkin, in Intercourse (1987)
  • I found that of the senses, the eye is the most superficial, the ear the most arrogant, smell the most voluptuous, taste the most superstitious and fickle, touch the most profound and the most philosophical. Helen Keller, “Sense and Sensibility,” in Century (1908)
  • Touch is love made manifest. Katrina Kenison, in Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment (2013)

TOUCH & TOUCHING (Metaphorical)


  • Touch is love made manifest. Katrina Kenison, in Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment (2013)
  • When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea (1955)
  • When you reach out and touch other human beings, it doesn’t matter whether you call it therapy or teaching or poetry. Audre Lorde, quoted in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse (1978)



  • Tourists moved over the piazza like drugged insects on a painted plate. Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in a 1967 issue of Life magazine; reprinted in The Feminine Eye (1970)
  • The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist. Russell Baker, “Summer in Florida,” in All Things Considered (1962)
  • The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961)

A moment later, Boorstin added about the tourist: “He expects everything to be done to him and for him.”

  • I sat on a toilet, watching the water run, thinking what an odd thing tourism is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home and then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile effort to recapture the comforts you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left home in the first place. Bill Bryson, “Istanbul,” in Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (1992)
  • To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don’t cling to you the way they do back home. You’re able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You’re expected to be stupid. Don DeLillo, a reflection of narrator James Axton, in The Names (1982)

A moment later, Axton added: “You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequences. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event.”

  • Of all noxious animals, too, the most noxious is a tourist. And of all tourists, the most vulgar, ill-bred, offensive, and loathsome is the British tourist. Francis Kilvert, diary entry (April 5, 1870), in Diary (1938)
  • The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. You are not an ugly person all the time; you are not an ugly person ordinarily. Jamaica Kincaid, in A Small Place (1988)

A moment later Kincaid went on to add: “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you.”

  • One thing about tourists is that it is very easy to get away from them. Like ants they follow a trail and a few yards each side of that trail there are none. Nancy Mitford, “The Tourist” (1959); reprinted in The Water Beetle (1962)
  • I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy. Anaïs Nin, a diary entry (Summer, 1955), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1947-1955 (1974)
  • The tourist may complain of other tourists; but he would be lost without them. He may find them in his way, taking up the best seats in the motors, and the best tables in the hotel dining-rooms; but he grows amazingly intimate with them during the voyage, and not infrequently marries one of them when it is over. Agnes Repplier, “The American Takes a Holiday,” in Times and Tendencies (1931)
  • Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country dressed as if you’ve come to mow its lawns. David Sedaris, “Picka Pocketoni” in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
  • The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own. Susan Sontag, “Melancholy Objects,” in On Photography (1977)
  • The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you. Freya Stark, in Baghdad Sketches (1929)



  • Most higher education is devoted to affirming the traditions and origins of an existing elite and transmitting them to new members. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life (1989)
  • The best government in the world, the best religion, the best traditions of any people, depend upon the good or evil of the men and women who administer them. Pearl S. Buck, in My Several Worlds (1954)
  • Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes—our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. G. K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in Orthodoxy (1908)

Chesterton continued: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

  • Naval tradition? Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers, and the lash. Winston Churchill, quoted in a Harold Nicolson diary entry (Aug. 17, 1950)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original source of a Churchill observation that is usually shortened to “Naval tradition is nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.”

  • A tradition without intelligence is not worth having. T. S. Eliot, in “After Strange Gods” (1934)
  • No progress in humanity is possible unless it shakes off the yoke of authority and tradition. André Gide, journal entry (March 17, 1931)
  • Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, aren’t even aware of. Ellen Goodman, in Turning Points (1979)
  • Tradition is a set of solutions for which we have forgotten the problems. Throw away the solution and you get the problem back. Donald Kingsbury, in Courtship Rite (1982)
  • The tradition of all the dead generations weights like a nightmare on the brain of the living. Karl Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)
  • Tradition is a guide and not a jailer. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • In general, the traditionalists are backward-looking, conservative; pessimists about the future and optimists about the past. Lewis Mumford, in Faith for Living (1940)

ERROR ALERT: This is the actual version of a thought that is widely misstated on internet quotation sites as “Traditionalists are pessimists about the future and optimists about the past.” The original source of the error is Laurence J. Peter, who presented it this way in his 1979 quotation anthology, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time. If Peter had simply used an ellipsis (writing “Traditionalists are…pessimists about the future and optimists about the past”) his modification would have been proper. But he didn't, and that—technically speaking—makes it an error in the world of quotationology.

  • Every tradition now continually grows more venerable the farther away its origin lies and the more this origin is forgotten. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human, Vol. I (1878)

Nietzsche continued: “The respect paid to it increases from generation to generation, the tradition at last becomes holy and evokes awe and reverence.”

  • Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Jaroslav Pelikan, “Christianity as an Enfolding Circle,” in U.S. News & World Report (June 26, 1989)

Pelican followed this lovely example of chiasmus by writing: “Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”

  • Imagination continually frustrates tradition; that is its function. John Pfeiffer, “Nature, the Radical Conservative,” in The New York Times (April, 29. 1979)

ERROR ALERT: Many internet sites mistakenly attribute this observation to Jules Pfeiffer. John Pfeiffer (1914-1999) was an American anthropologist, and his observation originally appeared in his review of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature (1979).

  • You do not understand your own tradition if you do not see it in relation to others. John Searle, “The Storm Over the University,” in The New York Review of Books (Dec. 6, 1990)
  • It is of the essence of traditions that they cover or conceal their humble foundations by erecting impressive edifices on them. Leo Strauss, in Natural Right and History (1953)
  • The tradition is a fence around the law. The Talmud: Mishna (“Pirqei Avot”) 3:14
  • If a man has lived in a tradition which tells him that nothing can be done about his human condition, to believe that progress is possible may well be the greatest revolution of all. Barbara Ward, in The Unity of the Free World (1961)
  • Traditions that have lost their meaning are the hardest of all to destroy. Edith Wharton, Mrs. Lidcote speaking, in the short story “Autres Temps” (orig. published as “Other Times, Other Manners” in 1911); reprinted in Xingu and Other Stories (1916)



  • The tragedy of life is not that man loses but that he almost wins. Heywood Broun, “Sport for Art’s Sake,” in Pieces of Hate: And Other Enthusiasm (1922)
  • Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash. Rita Mae Brown, the voice of the narrator, in Sudden Death (1983)
  • The tragedy of life is that people do not change. Agatha Christie, the character Hercule Poirot speaking, in There is a Tide…. (1948; pub. in UK as Taken at the Flood)
  • Whenever we confront an unbridled desire we are surely in the presence of a tragedy-in-the-making. Quentin Crisp, in Manners from Heaven (1984)
  • The fact that human conscience remains partially infantile throughout life is the core of human tragedy. Erik H. Erikson, in Childhood and Society (1950)
  • The tragedy is that so many have ambition and so few have ability. William Feather, quoted in “Thoughts on the Business of Life,” Forbes magazine (1984; specific issue undetermined)
  • War’s tragedy is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst. Harry Emerson Fosdick, in On Being Fit to Live With: Sermons on Post-War Christianity (1946)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites and most published quotation anthologies mistakenly present the thought this way: “The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst.”

  • None but a poet can write a tragedy. For tragedy is nothing less than pain transmuted into exaltation by the alchemy of poetry. Edith Hamilton, in The Greek Way (1930)

Hamilton continued: “And if poetry is true knowledge and the great guides safe to follow, this transmutation has arresting implications.”

  • What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending. William Dean Howells, quoted in Edith Wharton, French Ways and Their Meaning (1919)

QUOTE NOTE: Howells was talking about the American taste in theater and drama, but Wharton believed it captured Americans as a whole. She wrote: “What Mr. Howells said of the American theater is true of the whole American attitude toward life. ‘A tragedy with a happy ending’ is exactly what the child wants before he goes to sleep: the reassurance that ‘all’s well with the world’ as he lies in his cozy nursery. It is a good thing that the child should receive this reassurance; but as long as he needs it he remains a child, and the world he lives in is a nursery-world. Things are not always and everywhere well with the world, and each man has to find it out as he grows up.”

  • The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love. W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up (1938)
  • The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. Benjamin E. Mays, in Disturbed About Man (1969)

Mays, the longtime president of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, continued: “It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.”

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

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

  • The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young. Oscar Wilde, the character Harry speaking, in The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891)
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy! Oscar Wilde, Lord Dumby speaking, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

QUOTE NOTE: George Bernard Shaw was clearly inspired by Wilde’s oxymoronic creation when he gave a very similar remark to the character Mendoza in Man and Superman (1903): “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”

  • In the midst of tragedy, we learn what is important, and that is the redemptive legacy of any crisis experience. Robert L. Veninga, in A Gift of Hope: How We Survive Our Tragedies (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: Veninga wisely pointed out that when we wake up in the coronary care unit, we don’t think about the job concerns that preoccupied us yesterday. Or when a child is lying in a hospital bed, we don’t think about last night’s missed curfew. He preceded the thought by writing: “A crisis event explodes the illusions that anchor our lives.”



  • What is dangerous about the tranquilizers is that whatever peace of mind they bring is a packaged peace of mind. Where you buy a pill and buy peace with it, you get conditioned to cheap solutions instead of deep ones. Max Lerner, “The Assault on the Mind,” in The Unfinished Country (1957)



  • If you would have your home and your surroundings happy, be happy. You can transform everything around you if you will transform yourself. James Allen, in Above Life’s Turmoil (1910)
  • I am really a cat transformed into a woman. Brigitte Bardot, quoted in Tony Crawley, BéBé (1975)
  • The sacred call is transformative. It is an invitation to our souls, a mysterious call reverberating within, a tug on our hearts that can neither be ignored or denied. David A. Cooper, “Invitation to the Soul,” in Parabola: The Search for Meaning (Spring, 1994)

Cooper continued: “It contains, by definition, the purest message and promise of essential freedom. It touches us at the center of our awareness. When such a call occurs and we hear it—we really hear it—our shift to higher consciousness is assured.”

  • Transformation is a journey without a final destination. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
  • The human passions transform man from a mere thing into a hero, into a being that in spite of tremendous handicaps tries to make sense out of life. Erich Fromm, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)
  • You don’t go through a deep personal transformation without some kind of dark night of the soul. Sam Keen, in radio interview with Jerry Brown, KPFA-Radio (Berkeley, CA; Oct. 19, 1995)
  • Though I lack the art/to decipher it,/no doubt the next chapter/in my book of transformations/is already written./I am not done with my changes. Stanley Kunitz, the concluding lines of the poem “The Layers,” in The Poems of Stanley Kunitz, 1928–78 (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: In introducing the poem before a reading, Kunitz said about it: “Every once in awhile, one is tempted to write a summing-up poem.” To hear him recite it, go to:“The Layers”.

  • Any transformation of one person invites accommodating transformations in others. R. D. Laing, “Metanoia: Some Experiences at Kingsley Hall,” (1968); reprinted in Hendrik M. Ruitenbeek (ed.), Going Crazy: The Radical Therapy of R. D. Laing and Others (1972)
  • Pain is an event, an experience that must be recognized, named, and then used in some way in order for the experience to change, to be transformed into something else, strength or knowledge or action. Audre Lorde, “Eye to Eye,” in Sister Outsider (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: In making her well-known distinction between pain and suffering, Lorde continued: “Suffering, on the other hand, is the nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain. When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it.”

  • Characteristically, it is when a man is at the end of his strength and endurance, but nevertheless holds on, that the transforming symbol floats into consciousness. P. W. Martin, in Experiment in Depth: A Study of the Work of Jung, Eliot, and Toynbee (1955)
  • An underlying urge to self-transformation possibly lies at the basis of all existence, finding expression in the process of growth, development, renewal, directed change, perfection. Lewis Mumford, in The Transformation of Man (1956)

Later in the book, Mumford also observed on the subject: “Growth and self-transformation cannot be delegated.”

  • Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Eternal Recurrence,” in The Antichrist (1888)
  • I take pleasure in my “transformations.” I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me. Anaïs Nin, in The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1927–1931 (1978)

Nin continued: “I smile to think of myself at the banquet, where I struck men as ‘reserved and mysterious,’ and then, in my dancing, animated and coquettish and wild, I change, inwardly and out.”

  • There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun. Pablo Picasso, quoted in Quote magazine (March 21, 1965)

QUOTATION CAUTION: One of the most famous Picasso quotations, this one has been making the rounds since just after WWII (the earliest appearance I’ve seen was a 1945 article in The Norseman, a Norwegian literary and political review). I have never seen an original source cited, though, and have been unable to locate one. Note that the observation is also an example of chiasmus.

  • The transformation into a werewolf in particular is a metaphor for adolescence and the sexual transformation of a child. Anne Rice, in an interview in Lightspeed magazine (June, 2012)
  • What is important is not that you have a defeat but how you react to it. There is always the possibility to transform a defeat into something else, something new, something strong. All the good stories, all the people we remember are the ones who do this, who make victories out of their failures. Lina Wertmuller, quoted in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse: Remarkable Women Speak on Creativity and Power (1978)

Wertmuller concluded: “Because the victories teach nothing. The victories are not useful. They are often dangerous.”

  • Nervous breakdowns can be highly underrated methods of spiritual transformation. Marianne Williams, in A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (1993)


(see GENDER}



  • Any one who attempts to translate from one tongue into another will know moods of despair when he feels he is wasting his time upon an impossible task. W. H. Auden, “Translating Opera Libretti,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1948)

Auden continued: “But, irrespective of success or failure, the mere attempt can teach a writer much about his own language which he would find it hard to learn elsewhere.”

  • Translation is at best an echo. George Borrow, in Lavengro (1851)
  • Translation is the art of erasing oneself in order to speak in another’s voice. David Cole, the opening words of “Lost in Translation,” in The Nation (May 15, 2006)

Cole continued: “Good translators speak for others not for themselves.”

  • The best metaphor I know for translation is from my friend Eamon Grennan, who translated the poems of Leopardi. It’s like walking in a clear mountain stream, looking at colorful stones in the water. You find one so gorgeous, you put it in your pocket, take it home and put it on a shelf. In the morning you are surprised that the stone looks so dull and without luster. You have the stone, but you have removed it from the water of its home language so it has lost its luster. Billy Collins, in online interview with Farideh Hassanzadeh, Kritya: A Journal of Poetry (specific date undetermined)

Collins preceded the thought by saying: “For the translator of poetry, there is no activity that brings you into a closer, more intimate contact with language, both the second language and your own language, which translation allows you to experience freshly. Of course, translation is the impossible art which is why it attracts often the best minds, at least those driven by difficulty.”

  • The art of translation, it is well to remember, is at best always an honorable compromise. Frederic Taber Cooper, “Anatole France,” in The Forum (Sep., 1908)

Comparing words to precious packages that are transported across national borders, Cooper wrote that few are “brought in unharmed and duty-free.” And then, extending the analogy, he offered this beautifully phrased thought:

“Translations, even under the most favorable conditions, always pay high tribute, in loss of meaning, loss of force, loss of style. It is like water, absorbed by a sponge and given forth again, inevitably a little less pure and limpid than at the start—and the purer and more crystalline it was at the start, just so much more in evidence are the impurities it has gathered. For a literary style, like a rare vintage of wine, suffers from a sea-change in proportion to the fineness of its quality.”

  • Translations, like wives, are seldom faithful if they are in the least attractive. Roy Campbell, in The Poetry Review (June/July, 1949)

Campbell was likely influenced by the French proverb below.

  • Translations are like women; if they are faithful, they are not beautiful, and if they are beautiful, they are not faithful. Proverb (French)
  • Please, never despise the translator. He’s the mailman of human civilization. Alexander Pushkin, quoted in Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth, Translators Through History (1995)



  • What transsexuality emphatically is not is a “lifestyle,” any more than being male or female is a lifestyle. Gender is many things, but one thing it is surely not is a hobby. What it is, more than anything else, is a fact. Jennifer Finney Boylan, in She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003)
  • Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual. Angela Carter, in New Society (1982; specific issue undetermined)


(includes ENTRAPMENT; see also AMBUSH and CAPTURE and DECEPTION and SNARE and RUSE and TRICK))

  • I wonder how often not the intention but the desire springs up in a doctor’s mind: “Can I let this human being out of the trap of Life?” Phyllis Bottome, in Survival (1943)
  • There is no trap so deadly so deadly as the trap you set for yourself. Raymond Chandler, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Philip Marlowe, in The Long Goodbye (1953)
  • We are never trapped unless we choose to be. Anaïs Nin, a 1944 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4 (1971)
  • It’s almost like being trapped in some other form. The real me is so different from the way I look on the outside. Dolly Parton, quoted in Lola Scobey, Dolly, Daughter of the South (1977)
  • very often/you are/the one/who creates the traps/you fall into. Carolyn M. Rodgers, “Food for Thought,“ in how i got ovah (1975)
  • Writers trap furtive truths. They pull them from the dim corners where they would prefer to hide. They bring them into the light, catch them in midflight. Susan Shaughnessy, in Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers (1993)


(includes [Childhood] TRAUMA and P.T.S.D.; see also INJURIES and WOUNDS)

  • Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus (1972)
  • Part of what makes a situation traumatic is not talking about it. Talking reduces trauma symptoms. When we don’t talk about trauma, we remain emotionally illiterate. Our most powerful feelings go unnamed and unspoken. Tian Dayton, in Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain Through Emotional Literacy (2000)
  • An unacknowledged trauma is like a wound that never heals over and may start to bleed again at any time. Alice Miller, in Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child (1984)



  • Like love, travel makes you innocent again. Diane Ackerman, in The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
  • People often ask me where they might go to find adventure. Adventure is not something you must travel to find, I tell them, it’s something you take with you. Diane Ackerman, “Worlds Within Worlds,” in The New York Times (Dec. 17, 1995)
  • This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about. It is not really rest or even leisure we chase. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again. Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in her regular “The Feminine Eye” column, Life Magazine (Feb. 29, 1967)
  • Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. Maya Angelou, in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)

QUOTE NOTE: In offering this thought, Angelou was almost certainly inspired by a popular Mark Twain observation (to be seen below)

  • Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist. W. H. Auden, “The American Scene,” in The Dyer's Hand (1962)
  • The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is commonly attributed to St. Augustine, but nothing like it has ever been found in his writings.

  • Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. Francis Bacon, “Of Travel,” in Essays (1625)

Bacon continued: “He that travelleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel.”

  • Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. Miriam Beard, in Realism in Romantic Japan (1930)

Beard continued: “History is handled no longer as a mere chronicle of dates but as a progression from one stage to a succeeding [stage]. So travel is no mere heaping up of episodes but an evolution.”

  • A part, a large part, of travelling is an engagement of the ego v. the world. Sybille Bedford, “The Quality of Travel,” in Esquire magazine (Nov. 1961); reprinted in As It Was (1990)

Bedford continued: “The world is hydra headed, as old as the rocks and as changing as the sea, enmeshed inextricably in its ways. The ego wants to arrive at places safely and on time.”

  • All the earth is seamed with roads, and all the sea is furrowed with the tracks of ships, and over all the roads and all the waters a continuous stream of people passes up and down—traveling, as they say, for their pleasure. What is it, I wonder, that they go out for to see? Gertrude Bell, “Travelling Companions,” in Persian Pictures (1894)
  • In America there are two classes of travel—first class, and with children. Robert Benchley, “Kiddie-Kar Travel,” in Pluck and Luck (1925)

QUOTE NOTE: Almost all quotation anthologies present only this portion of Benchley’s observation about travel, but he actually concluded it metaphorically: “Travelling with children corresponds roughly to travelling third-class in Bulgaria. They tell me there is nothing lower in the world than third-class Bulgarian travel.”

  • Not so many years ago there was no simpler or more intelligible notion than that of going on a journey. Travel—movement through space—provided the universal metaphor for change. Daniel J. Boorstin, in The Image (1961)
  • Like a chastity belt, the package tour keeps you out of mischief but a bit restive for wondering what you missed. Peg Bracken, in But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World! (1973)
  • One’s travel life is basically as incommunicable as his sex life is. Peg Bracken, in But I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World! (1973)
  • Travel is like adultery: one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one’s own country. Anatole Broyard, “Being There,” in Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Essays (1989; R Pack & J. Parini, eds.)

Broyard went on to write: “In our wanderlust, we are lovers looking for consummation.”

  • All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. Martin Buber, “The Life of the Hasidim,” in The Legend of the Baal-Shem (1908; translated by Maurice Friedman in 1955 English edition)
  • Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building here after seeing Italy. Fanny Burney, the character Mr. Meadows speaking, in Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
  • The great object in life is Sensation—to feel that we exist, even though in pain; it is this “craving void” which drives us to gaming, to battle, to travel, to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment. George Gordon (Lord Byron), in letter to Annabella Millbanke, later Lady Byron (Sep. 6, 1813)

QUOTE NOTE: Byron borrowed the term craving void from Alexander Pope, who introduced it in the poem Eloisa to Abelard (c. 1716). In the throes of love (“Oh happy state!” according to Pope), two souls are drawn so close together that “All then is full” and “No craving void is left aching [aking in the original] in the breast.”)

  • To me travel is a triple delight: anticipation, performance, and recollection. The purest of these probably is anticipation, heightened and spurred by travel literature. Others may cling to master stylists, but for unadulterated reading bliss give me travel folders. Ilka Chase, in The Carthaginian Rose (1961)
  • Like building a house, travel always costs more than you estimate. Ilka Chase, in Elephants Arrive a Half-Past Five (1963)
  • The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land. G. K. Chesterton, “The Riddle of the Ivy,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)
  • The travel writer seeks the world we have lost—the lost valleys of the imagination. Alexander Cockburn, “Bwana Vistas,” in Harper’s magazine (Aug., 1985)
  • Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey. Pat Conroy, a FaceBook post (Dec 19, 2013)
  • To lose your prejudices you must travel. Marlene Dietrich, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • Some travelers are drawn forward by a goal lying before them in the way iron is drawn to the magnet. Others are driven on by a force lying behind them. In such a way the bowstring makes the arrow fly. Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), the character Pellegrina speaking, in “Echoes,” from Last Tales (1957)
  • Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation. Elizabeth A. Drew, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury, 1455–1955 (1955)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation, which originally appeared in a 1942 edition of Reader’s Digest, is commonly misattributed to Elizabeth Drew (b. 1935), the American political journalist. Elizabeth A. Drew (1887–1965) was an American poet and the author of a number of books on poetry, including Discovering Poetry (1933).

  • Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection. Lawrence Durrell, in Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island (1957)

Durrell preceded the thought by writing the following, the opening lines of the book: “Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures—and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well.”

  • Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • No doubt, to a man of sense, travel offers advantages. As many languages as he has, as many friends, as many arts and trades, so many times is he a man. A foreign country is a point of comparison, wherefrom to judge his own. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Culture,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • The only aspect of our travels that is guaranteed to hold an audience is disaster. Martha Gellhorn, in Travels With Myself and Another: A Memoir (2001)
  • Some minds improve by travel—others,/Rather, resemble copper wire or brass,/Which gets the narrower by going farther! Thomas Hood, in poem “Ode to Rae Wilson, Esquire” (1837)
  • “Travel,” after all, comes from the word “travail,” and nowhere was that truer than when humans crossed oceans on wooden ships. It is almost impossible for the contemporary mind to fathom the conditions and the peril. Carl Hoffman in a review of David Grann's The Wager , The Washington Post (April 18, 2023)

we forget that for almost the entirety of human existence, simply to leave the safety of hut or castle was to risk not inconvenience but violent death.

  • We travel, initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. Pico Iyer, the opening words of “Why We Travel,” Salon.com (March 18, 2000)

On its own, this is a spectacular aphorism, well deserving of inclusion in any of the major anthologies of great quotations. It was also a special treat to discover it as the opening line to an article by one of my favorite travel writers. Iyer continued: “We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”

  • Travel broadens, they say. My personal experience has been that, in the short term at any rate, it merely flattens, aiming its steam-roller of deadlines and details straight at one’s daily life, leaving a person flat and gasping at its passage. Laurie R. King, the opening words of the novel (a reflection about travel by protagonist Mary Russell), in The Game (2004)
  • I believe that travelling is as much a passion as love, poetry, or ambition. L. E. Landon, the character Lord Mandeville speaking, in Romance and Reality (1831)

Speaking about Englishmen who risked—and sometimes lost—their lives exploring the vast African continent, Lord Mandeville added: “What of less force than a passion could…induce men to fix their thoughts on undertakings whose difficulties and dangers were at once so obvious and so many. What but a passion…could support them through toil, hardship, and suffering.”

  • We travel to learn; and I have never been in any country where they did not do something better than we do it, think some thoughts better than we think, catch some inspiration from heights above our own. Maria Mitchell, undated diary entry (1873); in Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals (1896; P. M. Kendall, ed.)
  • A fellow of mediocre talent will remain a mediocrity whether he travels or not; but one of superior talent (which without impiety I cannot deny that I possess) will go to seed if he always remains in the same place. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in a letter to his father, Leopold (Sep. 11, 1778)

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

  • Life, as the most ancient of all metaphors insists, is a journey; and the travel book, in its deceptive simulation of the journey’s fits and starts, rehearses life’s own fragmentation. More even than the novel, it embraces the contingency of things. Jonathan Raban, in For Love and Money (1987)
  • Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country dressed as if you’ve come to mow its lawns. David Sedaris, “Picka Pocketoni” in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
  • Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Mark Twain, “Conclusion,” in The Innocents Abroad (1869)

Twain continued: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

  • We travel not to discover new lands or new people, but new selves. Jessamyn West, in Double Discovery: A Journey (1980)

West continued: “I suppose that there are still facts concerning myself of which I am unaware. It seems possible, but not likely. A good many qualities which I either supposed I did not have, or, if I had, I would never give way to, have come out in the open. In this way travel is educational—the textbook to be studied is you, yourself, not the country through which you travel.”



  • Being alone and liking it is, for a woman, an act of treachery, an infidelity far more threatening than adultery. Molly Haskell, in Love and Other Infectious Diseases: A Memoir (1990)
  • Is this the final treachery of time, that the old become a burden upon the young? Winifred Holtby, a reflection of the character Agnes Sigglesthwaite, in South Riding (1936)
  • Oppressed people are treacherous for the simple reason that treachery is both a means of survival and a way to curry favor with one’s oppressor. Florence King, in Southern Ladies and Gentlemen (1975)
  • Insecurity breeds treachery: if you are kind to people who hate themselves, they will hate you as well. Florence King, in With Charity Toward None (1992)
  • That creature on whose back abound/Black spots upon a yellow ground/A panther is—the fairest beast/That haunteth in the spacious East:/ He underneath a fair outside/Does cruelty and treachery hide. Mary Ann Lamb, “The Beasts in the Tower,” in Poetry for Children (1809)


(see also FORTUNE and WEALTH)

  • A man sets out on a journey, dreaming of a beautiful or magical place, in pursuit of some unknown treasure. At the end of his journey, the man realizes the treasure was with him the entire time. Paulo Coelho, in 2013 Foreword to The Alchemist, originally published in 1988



  • Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last. Charles de Gaulle, quoted in Time magazine (July 12, 1963)



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

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

  • Of all man’s works of art, a cathedral is greatest. A vast and majestic tree is greater than that. Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • To the great tree-loving fraternity we belong. We love trees with universal and unfeigned love, and all things that do grow under them or around them. Henry Ward Beecher, “A Discourse on Trees,” in Arbor Day Manual (1889)
  • A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93)
  • The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eye of others only a green thing which stands in the way. William Blake, in letter to Rev. John Trusler (Aug.. 23, 1799)

In an observation that seems even more true today than when it was written more than 200 years ago, Blake continued: “Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity…and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.”

  • Trees are more than just havens for animals, birds, insects, and humans; they are also the lungs of the earth. Just as we breathe oxygen into our lungs and exhale carbon dioxide, so trees breathe carbon dioxide into their leaves and exhale oxygen. Helen Caldicott, in If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Save the Earth (1992)

Caldicott continued: “Trees are really upside-down lungs: their trunks are equivalent to the trachea, their branches to the right and left main bronchi, and all their branching twigs and leaves to small bronchi and alveoli, or air sacs, where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.”

  • I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. Willa Cather, the character Marie Shabata speaking, in O Pioneers! (1913)
  • Of the infinite variety of fruits which spring from the bosom of the earth, the trees of the wood are the greatest in dignity. Of all the works of the creation which know the changes of life and death, the trees of the forest have the longest existence. Susan Fenimore Cooper, in Rural Hours (1887)
  • A stricken tree, a living thing, so beautiful, so dignified, so admirable in its potential longevity, is, next to man, perhaps the most touching of wounded objects. Edna Ferber, in A Kind of Magic (1963)
  • When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Hermann Hesse, in Wandering: Notes and Sketches (1920)
  • Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. Hermann Hesse, in Wandering: Notes and Sketches (1920)

Hesse continued: “When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.”

  • When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Hermann Hesse, in Wandering: Notes and Sketches (1920)

Hesse continued: “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

  • I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree. Joyce Kilmer, in “Trees” (1913)

This is the opening couplet of one of history’s most famous poems—and one of the most frequently parodied (for the most famous example, see the Ogden Nash entry below). For the complete poem, and more on its history, go to “Trees”. For a vocal rendition of Kilmer’s classic poem by the incomparable Paul Robeson (along with a remarkable collection of photographs of trees) go to: Robeson singing “Trees”.

  • He who plants a tree/Plants a hope. Lucy Larcom, the opening lines of “Plant a Tree” in American Motherhood magazine (April, 1906)

To see the full poem exactly as it appeared when it was first published, go to ”Plant a Tree”

  • I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree./Indeed, unless the billboards fall,/I’ll never see a tree at all. Ogden Nash, “Song of the Open Road,” a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” (see Kilmer entry above) in Happy Days (1933)
  • Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. Rabindranath Tagore, in Fireflies (1928)
  • Every time I meet a tree, if I am truly awake, I stand in awe before it. I listen to its voice, a silent sermon moving me to the depths, touching my heart, and stirring up within my soul a yearning to give my all. Macrina Wiederkehr, in A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary (1988)
  • The planting of trees is the least self-centered of all that we do. It is a purer act of faith than the procreation of children. Thornton Wilder, the voice of the narrator, in The Eighth Day: A Novel (1967)



  • Great talents are the most lovely and often the most dangerous fruits on the tree of humanity. They hang upon the most slender twigs that are easily snapped off. Carl Jung, “The Gifted Child” (Dec., 1942 lecture); reprinted in Psychological Reflections (1961)
  • ’Tis education forms the common mind,/Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined. Alexander Pope, “To Lord Cobham,” in Epistles to Several Persons (1734)
  • The apple does not fall far from the tree. Proverb (German) (from mid-1500s)



  • Great oaks from little acorns grow. Proverb (English)
  • I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow-birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. Henry David Thoreau, “Former Inhabitants, and Winter Visitors,” in Walden (1854)
  • You can live for years next door/to a big pinetree [sic], honored to have/so venerable a neighbor, even/when it sheds needles all over your flowers/or wakes you, dropping big cones/onto your deck at still of night. Denise Levertov, “Threat,” in Sands of the Well (1996)
  • The aspen has éclat, a glorious brashness in defiance of the rules, the flapper who does the Charleston in the midst of the grand waltz. Ann Zwinger, in Beyond the Aspen Grove (1970)



  • We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. The Bible—Romans 5:3–5 (KJV)

QUOTE NOTE: The Revised Standard Version of the passage goes this way: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

  • Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. The Bible—Romans 12–12 (RSV)
  • Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials. The Bible—James 1:2 (RSV)
  • A profound knowledge of life is the least enviable of all species of knowledge, because it can only be acquired by trials that make us regret the loss of our ignorance. 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, in Mary Barton (1848)
  • I have only too much of a wife in this art of mine, who has always kept me in tribulation, and my children shall be the works I leave, which, even if they are naught, will live for a while. Michelangelo, replying to a comment that he had never married or had children, quoted in Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists (1568)
  • There is no man in this world without some manner of tribulation or anguish, though he be king or pope. Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ (c. 1420)



  • Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. Jane Howard, in Families (1978)
  • The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Rudyard Kipling, quoted in Arthur Gordon, “Interview with an Immortal,” Reader’s Digest (June, 1935)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often misattributed to Friedrich Nietzsche

  • To me, a person’s identity is composed of both an “I” and a “we.” The “I” finds itself in love, work, and pleasure, but it also locates itself within some meaningful group identity — a tribe, a community, a “we.” America is too big and bland a tribe for most of us. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (1991)
  • The savage’s whole existence is in public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. Ayn Rand, the voice of the narrator, in The Fountainhead (1943)

The narrator preceded the thought by saying: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.”

  • We humans are herd animals of the monkey tribe, not natural individuals as lions are. Our individuality is partial and restless; the stream of consciousness that we call “I” is made of shifting elements that flow from our group and back to our group again. Always we seek to be ourselves and the herd together, not One against the herd. Anna Louise Strong, in I Change Worlds: The Remaking of an American (1935)
  • Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God. Benjamin Spock, in Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior (1970)



  • Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

QUOTE NOTE: I regard this as the grandfather of all tribute metaphors. It is also commonly translated with the word homage replacing tribute.

  • Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius. Fulton J. Sheen, quoted in Daniel P. Noonan, The Passion of Fulton Sheen (1972)
  • The tribute which intelligence pays to humbug. William St. John Brodrick, his definition of tact; quoted in Kenneth Rose, Superior Person: A Portrait of Curzon and His Circle (1969)
  • Caricature is the tribute which mediocrity pays to genius. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (1946)



  • A trite word is an overused word which has lost its identity like an old coat in a second-hand shop. The familiar grows dull and we no longer see, hear, or taste it. Anaïs Nin, a 1950 diary entry, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1974)



  • He sicken’d at all triumphs but his own. Charles Churchill, on Thomas Franklin, in The Rosciad (1761)
  • Conquer, but never triumph. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • His was the triumphant mien of the military commander who has taken no active part in the dust and heat of the battle, yet marches very actively indeed at the head of his troops when they return victoriously home. Elizabeth Goudge, the protagonist Maria Merryweather reflecting on the bearing of a character named Wiggins, in The Little White Horse (1946)
  • Nothing fails like success; nothing is so defeated as yesterday’s triumphant Cause. Phyllis McGinley, “How to Get Along With Men,” in The Province of the Heart (1959)
  • In retrospect, our triumphs could as easily have happened to someone else; but our defeats are uniquely our own. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself. May Sarton, in At Seventy (1984)
  • I find it’s as hard to live down an early triumph as an early indiscretion. Edna St. Vincent Millay, in a 1922 letter to a friend, quoted in Allan Ross Macdougall, Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1952)
  • One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph. Virginia Woolf, in Anne O. Bell, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 1 (1978)



  • I have learnt that a man who makes trouble for others is also making trouble for himself. Chinua Achebe, the tortoise speaking, in Things Fall Apart (1958)
  • The longer we live in the world, the more do troubles thicken upon us, yet we hug the fleeting shadow. Abigail Adams, in 1798 letter to her sister Mary Smith Cranch; reprinted in New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788-1801 (1947)
  • To run away from trouble is a form of cowardice. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)
  • In larger things we are convivial:/What causes trouble is the trivial. Richard Armour, concluding lines of the poem “Down the Tube,” in The Spouse in the House (1975)

QUOTE NOTE: This couplet has become very popular, but few know that the inspiration came from frustration over an almost-empty tube of toothpaste. Here’s what preceded the poem’s conclusion: “Down the Tube/I’ve seen my wife with anger burn/At something that I never learn:/The toothpaste tube I squeeze and bend/At top and middle, not the end./She scolds me, pointing out my error,/Makes use of scorn and taunts and terror,/But I forget and go on squeezing/The toothpaste tube in ways displeasing.” Thanks to Barbara Harper whose 2006 blog post provided the original source of Armour’s poem.

  • Troubles are but so many instructors to teach men wit. St. Augustine, quoted in Edward Parsons Day, Day’s Collacon: An Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884)

QUOTATION CAUTION: An original source for this quotation has never been identified, but it has been popular since it first appeared in Day’s popular 1884 anthology. In the observation, wit is used in the archaic sense of mental capability or good sense.

  • Trouble of all kinds is voluble, and has plenty of words, but happiness was never written down. Amelia E. Barr, in All the Days of My Life (1913)
  • The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. Bernard M. Baruch, quoted in a 1951 issue of Manage magazine (American Management Assocation)

QUOTE NOTE: More recent quotation anthologies, and many web sites, present a differently phrased version of the thought: “The art of living lies not in eliminating but in growing with troubles.” I’m still trying to track down an original source.

  • The methods by which men have met and conquered trouble, or been slain by it, are the same in every age. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)

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

  • Everybody loves a thing more if it has cost him trouble. Steve Berry, the character Enrico Vincenti reflecting on a maxim he’d heard from the ruthless Irena Zovastine, in The Venetian Betrayal (2007)
  • Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. The Bible—Job 5–7

QUOTE NOTE: This is the origin of the popular idiom sparks fly, which originally described an angry or hostile exchange and more recently has been used to capture a romantically-charged encounter (that is the meaning in the 2010 Taylor Swift song “Sparks Fly”), which simply asserts: I see sparks fly whenever you smile. In 1981, actor Stewart Granger titled his autobiography Sparks Fly Upward.

  • I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), “Affurisms,” in Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874)

ERROR ALERT: This is the original version of a sentiment that gave birth to a modern American proverb: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Variations on the proverbial saying are commonly attributed to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but there is no evidence either man ever said anything like it. For more, see this excellent 2018 post by Garson O’Toole, aka The Quote Investigator.

Shaw, a New York journalist, adopted the name Josh Billings in the 1860s and became famous for a cracker-barrel philosophy that was filled with aphorisms written in a phonetic dialect (he called them “affurisms”). Mark Twain was a big fan, once even comparing Billings to Ben Franklin. Almost all of the Billings quotations seen today first appeared in a phonetic form and were later changed into standard English. in this case: “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.“

  • People who talk of new lives believe there will be no new troubles. Phyllis Bottome, in Old Wine (1925)
  • She would take any amount of trouble to avoid trouble. Willa Cather, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • In my experience…people who go about looking for trouble usually find it. Agatha Christie, the character Lord Caterham speaking, in The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
  • Trouble, like the hill ahead, straightens out when you advance upon it. Marcelene Cox, in a 1953 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal

Also on the subject, Cox wrote in her regular LHJ column:

“Too often in ironing out trouble someone gets scorched.” (1948)

  • Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you. Calvin Coolidge, remark to Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., quoted in Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man from Vermont (1940)

In Coolidge: An American Enigma (2000), biographer Robert Sobel writes that Herbert Hoover recalled a similar observation from Coolidge: “Mr. Hoover, if you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.”

  • In trouble to be troubled,/Is to have your trouble doubled. Daniel Defoe, the title character creating his own proverbial saying, in The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in Notes From the Underground (1864)
  • Your trouble’s easy borne when everybody gives it a lift for you. George Eliot, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • Sweet is the remembrance of troubles when you are in safety. Euripides, in Andromeda (5th c. B.C.)
  • Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement—discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Handle With Care,” in Esquire magazine (March 1936); reprinted in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened. James A. Garfield, quoted in the Cleveland Leader (Feb. 19, 1881)

QUOTE NOTE: This looks like the earliest appearance in print of a sentiment that is often erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and others. Garfield was President-elect at the time, and the phrasing of his remark suggests that the underlying idea was already in common parlance. For more on the observation—including a number of what Quote Investigator Garson O’Toole calls “ideational precursors”—see this informative post. The versions most commonly attributed to Twain, Churchill, and others are generally phrased in the first person, as in: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”

  • Most of the trouble of the world comes from putting things into writing. Anthony Gilbert, in Riddle of a Lady (1956)
  • To speak broadly, the troubles of life as we find them are mainly traceable to the heart or the purse. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Women and Economics (1898)
  • Wisdom makes but a slow defense against trouble, though at last a sure one. Oliver Goldsmith, the title character (the Rev. Dr. Charles Primrose) speaking, in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)
  • Life is mostly froth and bubble,/Two things stand like stone,/Kindness in another’s trouble,/Courage in your own. Adam Lindsay Gordon, “Ye Wearie Wayfarer” (1866); in Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)

ERROR ALERT: The revised and enlarged 10th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1919) mistakenly ended the quatrain with the phrase in our own, and the error continues to show up on many internet quotation sites.

  • The way out of trouble is never as simple as the way in. Edgar Watson Howe, in Country Town Sayings (1911)
  • If pleasures are greatest in anticipation, just remember that this is also true of trouble. Elbert Hubbard, in The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
  • Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due. W. R. Inge, quoted in The Observer (London; Feb. 14, 1932)
  • Troubles are like babies, and grow with nursing. Douglas Jerrold, quoted in George P. Lathrop, “Breakfast-Food For Thought,” Appletons’ Journal (Jan. 21, 1871)

QUOTE NOTE: A similar observation is often attributed to Lady Holland (Elizabeth Fox), but I’ve been unable to find an original source or citation.

  • Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble. Carl Jung, in Letters: 1906–1950, Vol. 1 (1975)
  • Trouble is only opportunity in work clothes. Henry J. Kaiser, quoted in Jacob M. Braude, Remarks of Famous People (1965)

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

  • Life is trouble. Nikos Kazantzakis, the character Zorba speaking, in Zorba the Greek (1946)

Zorba continues: “To live—do you know what that means? To undo your belt and look for trouble!”

  • Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul? John Keats, in an 1819 letter to George & Georgiana Keats
  • No one recommends trouble, but it comes, an uninvited guest for whom room must be made. Matthew Kelty, in Flute Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit (1979)
  • Borrow trouble for yourself, if that’s your nature, but don’t lend it to your neighbors. Rudyard Kipling, the character Puck speaking, “Cold Iron,” in Rewards and Fairies (1910)
  • This book is about trouble—that uninvited guest who visits us all. Trouble is the common denominator of living. It is the great equalizer. Ann Landers, the opening words of her 1961 book Since You Ask Me.

Landers continued: “Trouble is no respecter of age, financial standing, social position, or academic status. Trouble comes to people in high or low places alike. It is not a sign of stupidity, weakness, or bad luck. It is evidence that we are card-carrying members of the human race. As someone once put it, ‘only the living have problems.’”

  • Trouble is not a sign of inadequacy, stupidity or inferiority, but rather an inescapable part of life—proof that you are a card-carrying member of the human race. Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z (1978)
  • If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and, when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” Ann Landers, in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z (1981)

Landers continued: “Then repeat to yourself the most comforting of all words, ‘This too shall pass.’ Maintaining self-respect in the face of a devastating experience is of prime importance.”

  • Trouble is a great equalizer. No matter what our differences, in time of trouble the differences fade, and we become brothers and sisters. We want to reach out and help one another. Ann Landers, in her syndicated column (Nov. 17, 1998)
  • We all have strength enough to deal with the problems of others. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” in The New York Times (July 30, 2020)

Good trouble was one of Lewis’s favorite phrases, and he used it countless times in his speeches, interviews, and writings. In a earlier Twitter post from June 2018, for example, he wrote: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” And in Carry On (2021), speaking about Rosa Parks and her decision to stay in her seat and not move to the back of the bus, he wrote: “She got into ‘good trouble.’”

  • There are two insults which no human being will endure: the assertion that he hasn’t a sense of humor, and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble. Sinclair Lewis, the voice of the narrator, in Main Street (1920)
  • If we do not deal with our troubles, they are sure to deal with us. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith (1940)
  • The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit; for all things must bow to Nature’s law, and soon enough you must vanish into nothingness. Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations (2nd c. A.D.)
  • Nobody knows the trouble we've seen—but we keep trying to tell them. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)

In the book, McLaughlin also wrote: “Women are good listeners, but it’s a waste of time telling your troubles to a man unless there’s something specific you want him to do.”

“Every society honors its live conformists, and its dead troublemakers.”

  • When one has an insatiable appetite for trouble all sorts will serve. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living: Talks with American Women (1931)

Norris added: “The accident of losing a hairpin, or a child, or a train, or a tooth are all trouble, and certain natures will harp upon the one quite as seriously as upon the other.”

  • If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. P. J. O’Rourke, “Studying For Our Drug Test,” in Give War a Chance (1992)
  • I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. Thomas Paine, in the pamphlet “The American Crisis” (Dec. 19, 1776)

Paine continued: “’Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

  • Every good thing that comes is accompanied by trouble. Maxwell Perkins, quoted in C. Hugh Holman, The World of Thomas Wolfe (1962)
  • Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. Proverb (American)
  • Never meet trouble half-way. Proverb (English)
  • A dead grief is easier to bear than a live trouble. Agnes Repplier, “Allegra,” in Compromises (1904)
  • Fretting at trouble only doubles it. George Sand, in an 1870 letter to Gustave Flaubert, in Francis Steegmuller and Barbara Bray, Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence (1993)
  • Trouble shared is trouble halved. Dorothy L. Sayers, the character Lord Peter Wimsey passing along a proverbial saying, in The Five Red Herrings (1931; pub. in U.S. as Suspicious Characters)
  • Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them? William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Hamlet (1601)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the passage that begins with Hamlet famously saying: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” The sea of troubles metaphor was not original to Shakespeare; he borrowed it from Euripides—who used it and a number of variants—in his works. For more, see ”Sea of Troubles”.

  • Troubles hurt the most when they prove self-inflicted. Sophocles, in Oedipus the King (c. 430 B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: In Ajax (c. 447 B.C.), Sophocles returned to the theme: “It is a painful thing/To look at your own trouble and know/That you yourself and no one else has made it.”

  • Trouble will come soon enough, and when he does come receive him as pleasantly as possible. Artemus Ward, “Hunting Trouble,” in Artemus Ward in London (1872)

Ward continued: “Like the tax-collector, he is a disagreeable chap to have in one’s house, but the more amiably you greet him the sooner he will go away.”

  • Half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn’t any. Edith Wharton, the character Carrie Fisher speaking to the protagonist, Lily Bart, in The House of Mirth (1905)
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you;/Weep, and you weep alone;/For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,/But has trouble enough of its own. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in “Solitude,” first published in The New York Sun (Feb. 25, 1883); reprinted in Poems of Passion (1883)
  • Trouble, oh we got trouble,/Right here in River City!/With a capital “T”/That rhymes with “P”/And that stands for Pool. Meredith Willson, chorus from the song “Ya Got Trouble,” in the Broadway play The Music Man (1957)



  • Trust only movement; what a person does is what he means. Alfred Adler, quoted in Kurt A. Adler and Danica Deutsch, Essays in Individual Psychology: Contemporary Application of Alfred Adler’s Theories (1959)
  • Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties. Aesop, “The Fox and the Goat,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • For where I wholly love I wholly trust. Louisa May Alcott, the title character speaking, in “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment,” originally published in four installments in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (1862), and later as a stand-alone novel.
  • Hard as it may be to believe in these days of infectious greed and sabers unsheathed, scientists have discovered that the small brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy. Natalie Angier, “Why We’re So Nice: We’re Wired to Cooperate,” The New York Times (July 23, 2002)

Angier preceded the observation by writing in the opening words of the essay: “What feels as good as chocolate on the tongue or money in the bank but won’t make you fat or risk a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission?”

  • Trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together. Warren G. Bennis & Bert Nanus, in Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: This is an early—perhaps the earliest—appearance of the trust as glue metaphor, now quite common. In First Things First (1994), Stephen R. Covey and his associates offered this expansion of the theme: “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships—marriages, families, and organizations of every kind—together.”

  • Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. Sissela Bok, in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978)
  • If, fundamentally, you don’t trust people, then there is no line, no point in time beyond which people suddenly become trustworthy. Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All the Rules (1999)

Buckingham went on to add: “If you are innately skeptical of other people’s motives, then no amount of good behavior in the past will ever truly convince you that they are not just about to disappoint you. Suspicion is a permanent condition.”

  • Where large sums of money are concerned it is advisable to trust nobody. Agatha Christie, the character Andrew Lippincott speaking, in Endless Night (1967)
  • For there to be betrayal, there would have to have been trust first. Suzanne Collins, the character Katniss Everdeen speaking, in The Hunger Games (2008)
  • Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. Stephen R. Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)

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

  • He who has trusted where he ought not will surely mistrust where he ought not. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Romola (1862–63)
  • What loneliness is more lonely than distrust? George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (1871–72)
  • Those who trust us educate us. George Eliot, in Daniel Deronda (1874)
  • Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence.” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • Our distrust is very expensive. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Man the Reformer,” lecture at the Mechanics’ Apprentices Library Association (Boston; Jan. 25, 1841)
  • One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life. E. M. Forster, “What I Believe,” in Clifton Fadiman, The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women (1939)
  • It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself. Graham Greene, the narrator describing the emotional state of protagonist Arthur Rowe, in The Ministry of Fear (1943)
  • Love cannot live where there is no trust. Edith Hamilton, quoting the mythical character Cupid from the 2nd c. A.D. story “Cupid and Psyche,” in Mythology (1942)
  • The way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them. Ernest Hemingway, in letter to Dorothy Connable (Feb. 17, 1953)

QUOTE NOTE: Hemingway preceded his observation by writing: “It is a miserable thing to have people writing about your private life while you are alive. I have tried to stop it all that I could but there have been many abuses by people I trusted. You cannot stop trusting people in life but I have learned to be a little bit careful.” Hemingway was thinking specifically about Charles A. Fenton, author of The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway: The Early Years (1958). Even though Hemingway cooperated early on, he eventually severed ties with Fenton and urged his friends to shun his overtures.

ERROR ALERT: Most internet quotation sites mistakenly present the Hemingway quotation this way: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

  • It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Dec. 18, 1750)
  • The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool. Stephen King, a painful reflection that comes from deep inside the character Sally Ratcliffe as she sees her boyfriend Lester kissing another woman, in Needful Things (1991)
  • Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly. George MacDonald, the voice of the narrator, in St. George and St. Michael (1876)
  • To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved. George MacDonald, the voice of the narrator, in The Marquis of Lossie (1877)
  • Men are able to trust one another, knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect. Stephen Leacock, “The Woman Question,” in Essays and Literary Studies (1916)
  • Too much trust is folly, in an imperfect world. Ellis Peters, in Monk’s Hood (1980)
  • Trust is a skill learned over time so that, like a well-trained athlete, one makes the right moves, usually without much reflection. Robert C. Solomon and Fernando Flores, in Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life (2003)

The authors added: “Not only trust but the skills that make trust possible recede into the background. We pick up cues; we know when to make requests or offers; we know when to make or not make promises; we feel confident about situations and people because we know and understand the characters with whom we are dealing.”

  • Parental trust is extremely important in the guidance of adolescent children as they get further and further away from the direct supervision of their parents and teachers. I don’t mean that trust without clear guidance is enough, but guidance without trust is worthless. Benjamin Spock, in Raising Children in a Difficult Time (1985)
  • Distrust all those who love you extremely upon a very slight acquaintance, and without any visible reason. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in letter to his son (Jan. 15, 1753)
  • Trust that man in nothing who has not a conscience in everything. Laurence Sterne, a reflection of the title character, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)
  • I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” in Walden (1854)
  • We have to mistrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal. Tennessee Williams, the character Marguerite Gautier speaking, in Camino Real (1953)


(see also DECEPTION and ERROR and FALSEHOOD and HONESTY and LIES & LYING and [Absolute] TRUTH and [Naked] TRUTH and TRUTH & ERROR and TRUTH & FALSEHOOD)

  • Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989). An example of chiasmus.
  • Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Every truth has two sides; it is well to look at both before we commit ourselves to either. Aesop, “The Mule,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder, for the truth. Alfred Adler, in The Problems of Neurosis (1929)
  • The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear. Herbert Agar, playing off the biblical passage (John 8:32), in A Time for Greatness (1942)
  • I have spent a lifetime looking for remedies to all manner of life's problems—personal, social, political, global. I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth. Madeleine Albright, in Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 (2012/
  • Between the two poles of whole-truth and half-truth is slung the chancy hammock in which we all rock. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • Truth’s like a fire, and will burn through and be seen. Maxwell Anderson, the character Mio speaking, in Winterset (1935)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is commonly presented, but the full version from Anderson’s 1935 verse play is as follows: “Will you tell me how a man’s /to live, and face his life, if he can’t believe/that truth’s like a fire,/ and will burn through and be seen/though it takes all the years there are?”

  • When an old truth ceases to be applicable, it does not become any truer by being stood on its head. Hannah Arendt, in On Revolution (1963)
  • I love you and, because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies. Pietro Aretino, quoted in The Works of Aretino (1926; Samuel Putnam, ed.)
  • Truth sits upon the lips of dying men. Matthew Arnold, in Sohrab and Rustum: An Episode (1853)
  • Tell your boss the truth and the truth shall set you free. Author Unknown a modern saying inspired by Jesus’s words in the biblical passage John 8:32
  • In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This observation—in a number of variant phrasings—is attributed to George Orwell on almost all internet sites. It has never been found in any of his writings or speeches, however, and any Orwell attribution should be considered apocryphal.

  • It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore and to see ships tossed upon the sea: a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth…and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below. Francis Bacon, quoting the Roman poet Lucretius, in “Of Truth,” Essays (1625)

QUOTE NOTE: In the essay, Bacon refers to Lucretius only as “The poet that beautified the sect” of Epicureanism.

  • You never find yourself until you face the truth. Pearl Bailey, in The Raw Pearl (1968)
  • Pushing any truth out very far, you are met by a counter-truth. Henry Ward Beecher, in Life Thoughts (1858)
  • A man may say, “From now on I’m going to speak the truth.” But the truth hears him and runs away and hides before he’s even done speaking. Saul Bellow, a reflection of the title character, in Herzog (1964)
  • To search for truth, one has to be drunk with imagination. Leonard Bernstein, in Findings (1982)
  • Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. The Bible: John 8:32 (KJV), Jesus Christ speaking
  • The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. Niels Bohr, quoted in Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the big idea that guided Bohr’s life and thinking, and he expressed it in many slightly different ways over the years (he often said the idea was first presented to him by his father). In his “Werner Heisenberg” essay in The Night is Large (1997), Martin Gardner wrote that Bohr liked to say that “A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth.”

In Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949), P. A. Schlipp presented the observation in this way: “The old saying of the two kinds of truth. To the one kind belongs statements so simple and clear that the opposite assertion obviously could not be defended. The other kind, the so-called ‘deep truths’, are statements in which the opposite also contains deep truth.”

  • I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more, as I grow older. Catherine Drinker Bowen, in Family Portrait (1970)
  • Nobody speaks the truth when there's something they must have. Elizabeth Bowen, the character Leopold speaking, in The House in Paris (1935)
  • As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand. Josh Billings, in Josh Billings: Hiz Sayings (1866)
  • Many people choose, early on, their own truths from the large smorgasbord available. Peg Bracken, in I Didn’t Come Here to Argue (1969)

Bracken continued: “And once they’ve chosen them, for good reason or no reason, they then proceed rather selectively, wisely gathering whatever will bolster them or at least carry out the color scheme.”

  • A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Truth’s like a dollar-piece, it’s got two sides, and both are wanted to make it good currency. John Buchan, the character Abraham Lincoln speaking, in The Path of the King (1921)

A little later in the book, Lincoln offered that related thought: “Most true points are fine points. There never was a dispute between mortals where both sides hadn't a bit of right.”

  • Nothing is so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth! Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a reflection of the narrator, in Devereux (1829)

ERROR ALERT: This quotation is often mistakenly presented as: “There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth.”

  • Men take so much delight in lying, that truth is sometimes forced to disguise herself in the habit of falsehood to get entertainment, as in fables…by the ancients. Samuel Butler (1613–1680, “Thoughts on Various Subjects,” in The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler, Vol. Two (1759)
  • There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), “Truth and Convenience” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Truth may be stretched, but cannot be broken, and always gets above falsehood, as oil does above water. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote (1605)
  • There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Raymond Chandler, in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation appeared under the heading “Great Thought.” Chandler continued: “Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.”

  • Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to the seeker after it. Agatha Christie, the narrator and protagonist Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

ERROR ALERT: On almost every internet site and in numerous quotation anthologies, the quotation is mistakenly phrased as beautiful to seekers after it.

  • To the scientific mind, truth comes first. Truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living. Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot speaking, in The Hollow (1946; paperback ed. published in 1954 as Murder After Hours)
  • This truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is. Winston Churchill, in a May 17, 1916 speech, quoted in Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites mistakenly present this quotation as if it began, “The truth is incontrovertible” (typically, other elements of the quotation are also mistakenly phrased). The truth that was incontrovertible in Churchill’s opinion was that a separate Air Ministry with modern “air defenses” were absolutely necessary to England's survival in WWI.

  • In wartime, Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies. Winston Churchill, a 1943 remark, quoted in Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill made this remark just after Joseph Stalin formally approved fake invasion plans presented to The Big Three by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (Churchill and FDR had already agreed to the plans). A year later, the historic Normandy invasion (code-named “Overlord”) succeeded in part because the deception worked. The fake invasion plans, after Churchill’s remark, were code-named “Operation Bodyguard.”

  • Truth is irresistible. The vivacity of its coloring has quite a different effect from the daub of falsity or invention. John Cleland, in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1751)
  • If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is an example of the literary device known as chiasmus.

  • 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.

  • Pure truth, like pure gold, has been found unfit for circulation, because men have discovered that it is far more convenient to adulterate the truth than to refine themselves. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails. Clarence Darrow, in The Sign magazine (May 1938)
  • Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant. Emily Dickinson, first line of poem no. 1129 (c. 1868)

QUOTE NOTE: Dickinson is suggesting that a poet should be completely truthful—notice the word all in the line—but adding the caveat that truth is often best expressed indirectly, and not in a blunt or bludgeoning manner. She ended the eight-line poem this way: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.”

  • We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter. Denis Diderot, the title character speaking, in Rameau’s Nephew (written 1762; pub. posthumously in 1805)

QUOTE NOTE: In a 1956 translation of the play, Jacques Barzun rendered the thought this way: “One gulps down the flattering lie and sips the bitter truth.”

  • Irony is bitter truth/wrapped up in a little joke. Hilda Doolittle, in The Walls Do Not Fall (1944; published under the pen name H.D.)
  • Truth is never to be expected from authors whose understanding is warped with enthusiasm. John Dryden, in Dedication to The Life of Plutarch (1683)

Dryden continued: “For they judge all actions, and their causes, by their own perverse principles, and a crooked line can never be the measure of a straight one.”

  • Fear prophets…and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them. Umberto Eco, the character William of Baskerville speaking, in The Name of the Rose (1980)
  • The truth is a young maiden as modest as she is beautiful, and therefore she is always seen cloaked. Umberto Eco, in The Island of the Day Before (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: The words come from the character Saint-Savin, a philosophically-minded mentor who is advising the younger Roberto on how to best express his feelings to a young beauty who has smitten him. The two men have a fascinating discussion introduced in this exquisite way: “An amorous yearning is a liquor that becomes stronger when decanted into a friend’s ear.”

  • A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth. Albert Einstein, from letter to professor Jost Winteler (July 8, 1901), in Collected Papers of Albert Einstein; reported in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: This observation, which Einstein made at age twenty-one, has also been commonly translated in the following way: “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

  • The ideals which have guided my way, and time after time have given me the energy to face life, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Albert Einstein, “What I Believe,” in Forum and Century (1930); reprinted in The World As I See It (1949)

Einstein preceded the thought by writing: “I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves—this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty.”

  • Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods. Albert Einstein, in Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (1954); reported in The New Quotable Einstein (2005; Alice Calaprice, ed.)
  • Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs. Albert Einstein, remark at The Centennial Symposium in Jerusalem (1979); quoted in Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana, Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives (1997)

Einstein preceded the observation by saying: “In matters concerning truth and justice there can be no distinction between big problems and small; for the general principles which determine the conduct of men are indivisible.”

  • In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. Paul Eldridge, “Lanterns in the Night,” in The Jewish Forum (Aug., 1948))
  • Truth has rough flavors if we bite it through. George Eliot, Graf speaking to Armgart, in the narrative poem Armgart (1871)
  • Wherever the truth is injured, defend it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (March 29, 1834)
  • A very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven. Richard Feynman, in Nobel Prize Lecture: “The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics,” (December 11, 1965)
  • You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. Richard Feynman, “Seeking New Laws,” in The Character of Physical Law (1965)
  • Truth is a flower in whose neighborhood others must wither. E. M. Forster, “Joseph Conrad: A Note,” in Albinger Harvest (1936)

QUOTE NOTE: The other flowers that Forster refers to here are human ideals, like Love or Beauty.

  • Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor. Robert Frost, “The Black Cottage,” in North of Boston (1914)
  • Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)
  • The color of truth is grey. André Gide, in Feuillets d’automne (1949; pub. in English in 1950 as Autumn Leaves; Elsie Pell, trans.)
  • Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. André Gide, in So Be It: Or, The Chips Are Down (1959; trans. by Justin O’Brien; orig. published in French in 1952 as Ainsi Soit-il: Ou, Les Jeux Sont Faits)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is usually presented, but it was originally part of this fuller thought: “I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself.”

  • When they’re offered to the world in merry guise,/Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will —/For he who’d make his fellow-creatures wise /Should always gild the philosophic pill! W. S. Gilbert, the jester Jack Point speaking, in The Yeomen of the Guard (1888; music by Arthur Sullivan)
  • It was a bitter truth of experience, she perceived with sudden insight, that the shape of things returns again and again in the same pattern. Ellen Glasgow, IN In This Our Life (1941)
  • The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is. Nadine Gordimer, “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer” (1963), in Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1950–2008 (2010)

QUOTE NOTE: Gordimer is playing off one of the most famous couplets in the history of verse, to be seen in the John Keats entry below.

  • Truth always lags last, limping along on the arm of Time. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • I will remember that what has brought us up from savagery is a loyalty to truth, and truth cannot emerge unless it is subjected to the utmost scrutiny—will you not agree that a society which has lost sight of that, cannot survive? Learned Hand, in an address to The American Law Institute, Washington, D.C. (May 18, 1951)
  • Sincerity that thinks it is the sole possessor of the truth is a deadlier sin than hypocrisy, which knows better. Sydney J. Harris, “Sincerity Can Be Dangerous,” in Clearing the Ground (1986)
  • Add a few drops of venom to a half truth and you have an absolute truth. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay, you may kick it about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in The Professor at the Breakfast Table (1860)
  • It is the essence of truth that it is never excessive. Why should it exaggerate? Victor Hugo, the voice of the narrator, in Les Misérables (1862)

The narrator continued: “There is that which should be destroyed and that which should be simply illuminated and studied. How great is the force of benevolent and searching examination. We must not resort to the flame where only light is required.”

  • The man who finds a truth lights a torch. Robert G. Ingersoll, in The Truth (1897)
  • The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. William James, in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907)
  • Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth. Anna Jameson, in A Commonplace Book (1855)
  • Justice is truth in action. Joseph Joubert, in Pensées (1842)
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. John Keats, the final lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn (written 1819, published 1820). Also an example of chiasmus.
  • There is no treachery in the truth. There may be pain, but to face honestly all possible conclusions formed by a set of facts is the noblest route possible for a human being. Laurie R. King, the character Sherlock Holmes speaking, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
  • Truth is a clumsy servant that breaks the dishes while cleaning them. Karl Kraus, a 1909 aphorism, quoted in Harry Zohn, Karl Kraus (1971); orig. in the 1909 book Sprüche und Widersprüche [Sayings and Gainsayings])
  • Truth, like the juice of the poppy, in small quantities, calms men; in larger, heats and irritates them, and is attended by fatal consequences in its excess. Walter Savage Landor, in Imaginary Conversations (1824–53)
  • The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. G. E. Lessing, in Anti-Goeze (1778)

Lessing continued: “Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand.” In his 2007 bestseller God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens chose this Lessing quotation as the epigraph for the final chapter (“The Need for a New Enlightenment”) of the book.

  • It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Truth, like gold, is not less so for being newly brought out of the mine. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Who dares/To say that he alone has found the truth? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the title character speaking, in the poem “John Endicott,” in The New England Tragedies (1868)
  • Who speaks the truth stabs Falsehood to the heart. James Russell Lowell, in L’Envoi (1843)
  • Truth uncompromisingly told will always have ragged edges. Herman Melville, the voice of the narrator, in Billy Budd, Sailor (1924)
  • 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)
  • In the mountains of truth you will never climb in vain: either you will get up higher today or you will exercise your strength so as to be able to get up higher tomorrow. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (1878)
  • There are few human beings who receive the truth complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellular, like a laborious mosaic. Anaïs Nin, diary entry (specific date undetermined), in The Diary of Anaïs Nin (1939–1944 (Vol. 3; 1966)
  • The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. Flannery O’Connor, in letter to “A” (Sep. 6, 1955), quoted in Sally Fitzgerald, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (1979)
  • He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us, but simply suggest it with a brief gesture, a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air along which we glide until we find ourselves at the feet of the new truth. José Ortega y Gasset, “Preliminary Meditation,” in Meditations on Quixote (1914)
  • Truth is a rough, honest, helter-skelter, terrier, that none like to see brought into their drawing rooms. Ouida (pen name of Maria Louise Ramé), in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man, II (1792)

Paine added: “The sun needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness.”

  • Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers. William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1682)
  • The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. Robert M. Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  • The truth never arrives neatly wrapped. Thomas Powers, in The New York Times Book Review (Nov. 30, 1997)
  • When you shoot an arrow of truth, dip its point in honey. Proverb (Arab)
  • He who would speak the truth must first have one foot in the stirrup. Proverb (Turkish); quoted in The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases (1948; B. E. Stevenson, ed.)
  • When you add to the truth, you subtract from it. Proverb (Yiddish)

QUOTE NOTE: This proverb is based on a Talmudic passage (Sanhedrin 29a) to the effect that people who add to the word of God subtract from it.

  • Truth never is undone;/Its shafts remain. Theodore Roethke, from “The Adamant” (1938), in Open House (1941)
  • If you ever injected truth into politics you’d have no politics. Will Rogers, “A Few Shots of Scopolamin,” in his “Weekly Article” syndicated column, Number 31 (July 15, 1923)
  • Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to speak the truth, but already to possess it. Romain Rolland, “Inter Arma Caritas,” in Above the Battle (1916)
  • Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. Carl Sagan, “Wonder and Skepticism,” in Skeptical Enquirer (Jan.-Feb., 1995)
  • We all know that Prime Ministers are wedded to the truth, but like other married couples they sometimes live apart. Saki (pen name of H. H. Munroe), the character Lady Caroline speaking, in The Unbearable Bassington (1912)
  • The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it. George Santayana, “Ideal Immortality,” in Little Essays (1920)
  • All great truths begin as blasphemies. George Bernard Shaw, the Grand Duchess speaking, in Annajanska (1919)
  • Perhaps/The truth depends on a walk around a lake. Wallace Stevens, in “It Must Be Abstract,” a portion of the longer poem Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1942)

Stevens continued: “A composing as the body tires, a stop/To see hepatica, a stop to watch/A definition growing certain and/a wait within that certainty, a rest/In the swags of pine-trees bordering the lake.”

  • Truth, like surgery, may hurt, but it cures. Han Suyin, in A Many-Splendored Thing (1952)
  • Truth shines the brighter clad in verse. Jonathan Swift, “To Stella” (1720), in The Works, Vol. X (1803)
  • You can see current events in their historical perspective, provided that your passion for the truth prevails over your bias. Leo Szilard, ”Are We on the Road to War?”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in (April, 1962)
  • Truth looks tawdry when she is overdressed. Rabindranath Tagore, in Introduction to The Cycle of Spring (1915)
  • All perception of truth is the detection of an analogy; we reason from our hands to our head. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry (Sep. 5, 1851)
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. Mark Twain, epigraph in Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World (1897)
  • Truth is more of a stranger than fiction. Mark Twain, a notebook entry, playing off the saying truth is stranger than fiction (July 4, 1898), in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • The truth is really an ambition which is beyond us. Peter Ustinov, quoted in the International Herald Tribune (Paris; Mar. 12, 1990)
  • I made him swear he’d always tell me nothing but the truth./I promised him I never would resent it./No matter how unbearable, how harsh, how cruel./How come He thought I meant it? Judith Viorst, in “Nothing but the Truth,” in How Did I Get to be Forty & Other Atrocities (1976)
  • The best mind-altering drug is truth. Jane Wagner, written for Lily Tomlin’s 1970s stand-up comedy act, quoted in Judy Brown, The Comedy Thesaurus (2005)
  • Those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament. Evelyn Waugh, the character Mr. Badwin speaking, in Scoop (1938)
  • The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it. H. G. Wells, “Scepticism of the Instrument” (portion of paper read to Oxford Philosophical Society, Nov. 8, 1903), in Appendix to A Modern Utopia (1905)
  • Sometimes in writing of myself—which is the only subject anyone knows intimately—I have occasionally had the exquisite thrill of putting my finger on a little capsule of truth, and heard it give the faint squeak of mortality under my pressure, an antic sound. E. B. White, in letter to his brother Stanley White (Jan., 1929); reprinted in Letters of E. B. White (1978)

White introduced the subject by writing: “I discovered a long time ago that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart, the inconsequential but near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace. As a reporter, I was a flop, because I always came back laden not with facts about the case, but with a mind full of the little difficulties and amusements I had encountered in my travels.”

  • There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil. Alfred North Whitehead, in the Prologue to Dialogues (1954)
  • A snare for the truth of human experience. Tennessee Williams, his description of a play, in a stage direction written for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

Earlier in the direction, Williams wrote: “The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problems. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent—fiercely charged!—interplay of five human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.”

  • Truth walks toward us on the path of our questions. Jacqueline Winspear, an observation from private investigator Maurice Blanche, a mentor to the title character, in Maisie Dobbs (2003)

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

  • It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. Virginia Woolf, “The Leaning Tower,” in The Moment and Other Essays (1952)
  • Truth is on the march and nothing can stop it. Émile Zola, in Le Figaro (Nov. 25, 1897)
  • If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way. Émile Zola, “J’accuse…!” an open letter in the French newspaper L’Aurore (Jan, 13, 1898)

QUOTE NOTE: In his open letter to French president Félix Faure, Zola accused the government of anti-Semitism and corruption in the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer of Jewish background. Dreyfus was ultimately exonerated, in large part because of French intellectuals like Zola. The entire matter is known to history as The Dreyfus Affair. Another popular translation of Zola’s famous observation goes this way: “If the truth is buried underground, it swells and grows and becomes so explosive that the day it bursts, it blows everything wide open along with it.”

[Absolute] TRUTH


  • I have spent a lifetime looking for remedies to all manner of life's problems—personal, social, political, global. I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth. Madeleine Albright, in Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 (2012/
  • There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), “Truth and Convenience” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • I saw one of the absolute truths of this world: each person is worrying about himself; no one is worrying about you. He or she is worrying about whether you like him, not whether he likes you. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)

Courdert continued: “He is worrying about whether he looks prepossessing, not whether you are dressed correctly. He is worrying about whether he appears poised, not whether you are. He is worrying about whether you think well of him, not whether he thinks well of you. The way to be yourself…is to forget yourself.”

  • Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet (1923)
  • Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. André Gide, in So Be It: Or, The Chips Are Down (1959; trans. by Justin O’Brien; orig. published in French in 1952 as Ainsi Soit-il: Ou, Les Jeux Sont Faits)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the observation is usually presented, but it was originally part of this fuller thought: “I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself.”

  • Sincerity that thinks it is the sole possessor of the truth is a deadlier sin than hypocrisy, which knows better. Sydney J. Harris, “Sincerity Can Be Dangerous,” in Clearing the Ground (1986)
  • Add a few drops of venom to a half truth and you have an absolute truth. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Who dares/To say that he alone has found the truth? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the title character speaking, in the poem “John Endicott,” in The New England Tragedies (1868)
  • There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil. Alfred North Whitehead, in the Prologue to Dialogues (1954)

[Naked] TRUTH


  • There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth. Agnes Repplier, “They Gayety of Life,” in Compromises (1904)



  • An error is the more dangerous in proportion to the degree of truth which it contains. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in his Journal Intime (Dec. 26, 1852)
  • Truth emerges more readily from error than confusion. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)
  • It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles. Claude Bernard, in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865)
  • There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. Samuel Butler, “Truth and Convenience” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Error proliferates. Man tracks it down and cuts it up into little pieces hoping to turn it into grains of truth. René Daumal, “The Lie of the Truth” (1938), in Essais et Notes (1972); reprinted in The Lie of the Truth (1989)
  • Many a truth is the result of an error. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Error is to truth as sleep is to waking. I have observed that one turns, as if refreshed, from error back to truth. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in Art and Antiquity (1826)
  • To rise from error to truth is rare and beautiful. Victor Hugo, in Preface to The Legend of the Ages (1859)
  • History warns us, however, that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions. T. H. Huxley, “The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species,” lecture at The Royal Institution (March 19, 1880); reprinted in Science magazine (July 3, 1880)

QUOTE NOTE: Huxley, who so avidly promoted Darwin’s famous treatise on evolution that he was called “Darwin’s Bulldog,” began his lecture by holding up a first edition of The Origin of Species. He likened the 1859 publication of the book to the birth of a baby (he said “the infant was remarkably lively” and described himself as “a sort of under-nurse”). In his talk, delivered a few month’s before the child would be celebrating its 21st birthday, Huxley went on to speak about the evolution of ideas in science, saying “A theory is a species of thinking,” and issuing a warning about treating beliefs as doctrine when he famously said, “The scientific spirit is of more value than its products, and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”

  • An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth. Robert G. Ingersoll, in The Great Infidels (1881)
  • The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922)
  • It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error, and another to put him in possession of the truth. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous web sites and even some respected quotation anthologies mistakenly present the first portion of the saying as that he is in error.

  • It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. Thomas Paine, in “Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation” (1792)

QUOTE NOTE: The Proclamation referred to in Paine’s famous open letter was The Royal Proclamation Against Seditious Writings and Publications, issued by England’s George III on May 21, 1792. Drafted by Prime Minister William Pitt, the proclamation against radical writings was largely a response to the success of Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791). Paine, in danger of arrest for openly advocating a British republic to replace the monarchy, fled to France, never to return to Britain. Several months later, he was tried in absentia and found guilty of seditious libel.

  • The human mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject, till it has first reached the extremity of error. Benjamin Rush, “An Inquiry Into the Effects of Public Punishments Upon Criminals, and Upon Society” (1787), in Essays: Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (1798)
  • It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions—especially selfish ones. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1974; Leopold Labedz, ed.)
  • If you shut your door to all errors, truth will be shut out. Rabindranath Tagore, in Stray Birds (1916)

ERROR ALERT: Most quotation anthologies mistakenly say: “If you shut the door to all errors, truth will be shut out.”

  • Truth burns up error. Sojourner Truth, quoted in Olive Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1878)
  • Love truth, but pardon error. Voltaire, in Sept Discours en vers sur l’homme (1738)



  • Falsehood is often rocked by truth, but she soon outgrows her cradle and discards her nurse. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • Like all valuable commodities, truth is often counterfeited. James Gibbons, in The Ambassador of Christ (1896)

Gibbons continued: “If it is a crime to counterfeit money, it is a greater crime to adulterate virtue. The more precious the genuine coin, the more criminal and dangerous is the spurious imitation.”

  • When the tongue lies, the eyes tell the truth. George Horace Lorimer, the character John Graham writing in a letter to his son, in Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1903)
  • One falsehood spoils a thousand truths. Proverb (African)
  • Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. Jonathan Swift, in The Examiner (London; November 2–9, 1710)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, this is the earliest appearance of a sentiment that ultimately morphed into an anonymously authored saying commonly misattributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” The fuller passage from Swift’s essay is as follows: “Besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers; and it often happens, that if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect.”

  • A lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright;/But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “The Grandmother” (1847)
  • Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among themselves. Daniel Webster, “The Murder of Captain Joseph White,” a summation in the murder trial of John Francis Knapp, Salem, Massachusetts (August, 1830)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is commonly presented, but it was originally the conclusion of this larger passage: “Truth always fits. Truth is always congruous, and agrees with itself; every truth in the universe agrees with every other truth in the universe, whereas falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among themselves.”




  • The tuba is certainly the most intestinal of instruments—the very lower bowel of music. Peter De Vries, in The Glory of the Hummingbird (1974)
  • To the ears of a musical novice, the tuba ranks lowest in the family of instruments—an oafish cousin with a voice like a bullfrog. It lacks the flash of a saxophone, the brashness of a trumpet or the showiness of a piccolo—the melodic equivalent of a St. Bernard, warbling from the orchestra’s back row. Josh Shaffer, “Fabulous Tuba Museum Opens in Durham. Womp!” in News & Observer [Raleigh, NC] (Feb. 22, 2016)

QUOTE NOTE: These were the remarkable opening words of Shaffer’s enthusiastic review of a unique new musical museum that had recently opened in Durham, NC. For another spectacular description of a musical instrument, see the Shaffer entry in BAGPIPES.


(see also DAWN and DAY and EVENING and MORNING and NIGHT and NIGHT & DAY)

  • It is the time of pause when nature changes her guard. Howard Thurman, on twilight, in The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations (1985)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites mistakenly present the quotation this way: “Twilight: A time of pause when nature changes her guard.” Thurman went on to write: “All living things would fade and die from too much light or too much darkness, if twilight were not. In the midst of all the madness of the present hour, twilights remain and shall settle down upon the world at the close of day and usher in the nights in endless succession, despite bombs, rockets, and flying death.”



  • Twins: Womb-mates. Joyce Armor, in The Dictionary According to Mommy (1990)
  • There are two things in life for which we are never truly prepared: twins. Author Unknown, but often mistakenly attributed to Josh Billings
  • My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. Arthur Conan Doyle, the character Helen Stoner speaking, in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” from Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

QUOTE NOTE: In the story, Helen Stoner asks Holmes to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister, Julia. In doing so, she recounts details about their upbringing and the strange occurrences that preceded Julia’s death. The quote is one of the earliest examples I've found describing the close bond between twins.

  • As an incentive to industry, enterprise, and thrift, there isn’t anything that can beat twins. Florence Heald, quoted in Leta W. Clark, Women Women Women (1977)
  • Anyone who has raised more than one child knows full well that kids turn out the way they turn out—astonishingly, for the most part, and usually quite unlike their siblings, even their twins, raised under the same flawed rooftree. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)

Holland continued: “Little we have done or said, or left undone and unsaid, seems to have made much mark. It’s hubris to suppose ourselves so influential; a casual remark on the playground is as likely to change their lives as any dedicated campaign of ours. They come with much of their own software already in place, waiting, and none of the keys we press will override it.”

  • I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I'd look like without plastic surgery. Joan Rivers, quoted in P. Munier, On Being Blonde (2004)
  • People expect more of twins. Penny Vilagos, quoted in Beth Mende Conny, Winning Women (1993)

TWIST [Dance]


  • The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. Eldridge Cleaver, “Convalescence,” in Soul on Ice (1968)

On the revolutionary impact of the new dance on American culture, Cleaver added: “The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion, and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul what the Supreme Court could only write in the books.”



  • In every tyrant’s heart there springs in the end/This poison, that he cannot trust a friend. Aeschylus, in Prometheus Bound (th c. B.C.)
  • The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny. Aesop, “The Wolf and the Lamb,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: The moral to the Fable has also been commonly translated: “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”

  • Tyranny, according to traditional theory, is the form of government in which the ruler rules out of his own will and in pursuit of his own interests, thus offending the private welfare and the personal liberties of his own subjects. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1949)
  • If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. Author Unknown, but widely misattributed to James Madison.

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

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

  • Thought…is still possible, and no doubt actual, wherever men live under the conditions of political freedom. Unfortunately…no other human capacity is so vulnerable, and it is in fact far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than it is to think. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)
  • None can be Tyrants but Cowards. Mary Astell, in An Essay in Defense of the Female Sex (1697)
  • Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God. John Bradshaw, quoted by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Everett (Feb. 24, 1823)

QUOTE NOTE: Bradshaw (1602–59) was an English jurist admired by Jefferson. This observation has never been found in any of Bradshaw’s writings, but the saying he purportedly penned was so powerfully phrased that Jefferson adopted it as a motto.

  • Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. Edmund Burke, in speech at the Guildhall, Bristol, England ( Sep. 6, 1780)
  • The worst tyrants are those which establish themselves in our own breasts. William Ellery Channing, “Spiritual Freedom,” a speech in Boston, Mass. (May 26, 1830)
  • And of all plagues with which mankind are cursed,/Ecclesiastic tyranny’s the worst. Daniel Defoe, from The True-Born Englishman (1701)

ERROR ALERT: Most quotation reference sources have presented the date of publication of this work at 1712–13, but it was in fact published in 1701. Defoe reprised the couplet (and more) several years later in Jure Divino: A Satyr, Book V (1706), this time formally spelling out the words would and could.

QUOTE NOTE: Defoe’s thought about men in general almost certainly inspired Abigail Adams to write about males in particular in a March 31, 1776 letter to husband John Adams. Mr. Adams was in Philadelphia at the time, working with other American colonists on a document declaring independence from England. Mrs. Adams reminded her own husband of the common problem of husbands tyrannizing wives by writing: “In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”

  • The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Frederick Douglass, in speech in Canandaigua, New York (Aug. 4, 1857)
  • Tyranny and injustice always produce cunning and falsehood. Maria Edgeworth, the title character speaking, in “Lame Jervas,” in Popular Tales (1804)
  • In the last analysis all tyranny rests on fraud, on getting someone to accept false assumptions, and any man who for one moment abandons or suspends the questioning spirit has for that moment betrayed humanity. Bergan Evans, in The Natural History of Nonsense (1946)
  • Truth—which is the first casualty of tyranny. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, playing off the saying truth is the first casualty of war, “Nadia Comaneci” essay, in The Astonishing World, (1992)
  • I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Robert A. Heinlein, a reflection of protagonist John Lyle, in the novella “If This Goes On—” (1940); revised and expanded in the 1953 Heinlein anthology Revolt in 2100.

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

  • Secrecy is the beginning of tyranny. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Benjamin Rush (Sep. 23, 1800)
  • Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Du Pont de Nemours (April 24, 1816)
  • If a sovereign oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut off his head. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that will keep us safe under every form of government. Samuel Johnson, in conversation with Sir Adam Fergusson (March 31, 1772); quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

Johnson preceded the observation by saying: “I consider that in no government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it.”

  • Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. C. S. Lewis, on humanitarianism as a form of tyranny, in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” God in the Dock (1970)

Lewis continued: “The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult.”

  • The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. James Madison, in The Federalist, No. 47 (1788)
  • Let us never forget that tyranny most often springs from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness of one’s beliefs. Ashley Montagu, in Science and Creationism (1984)

Montagu preceded the observation by writing: “Bigotry and science can have no communication with each other, for science begins where bigotry and absolute certainty end. The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof.”

  • Wherever there has been tyranny, there the solitary philosopher has been hated; for philosophy offers an asylum to a man into which no tyranny can force its way, the inward cave, the labyrinth of the heart. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator,” in Untimely Meditations (1876)
  • Tyranny is always better organized than freedom. Charles Péguy, “War and Peace,” in Basic Verities (1943)
  • The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness…. This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector. Plato, in The Republic (4th c. B.C.)
  • ’Tis time to fear, when tyrants seem to kiss. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1607)
  • The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny. Wole Soyinka, “The Man Died,” in The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (1971)

QUOTE NOTE: The poem appeared in a powerful autobiographical work written while Soyinka was a political prisoner during the civil war in Nigeria in the mid-1960s. In 1986, Soyinka became the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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