Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“U” Quotations



  • There is nothing ugly. I never saw an ugly thing in my life; for let the form of an object be what it may—light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful. It is perspective which improves the form. John Constable, quoted in a review of Edward J. Poynter’s Lectures on Art (1897); The Saturday Review (Aug. 28, 1897)
  • Everything ugly weakens and depresses man. It reminds him of decay, danger, impotence; he literally loses strength in its presence. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Twilight of the Idols (1889)

QUOTE NOTE: A bit earlier, Nietzsche had written: “Nothing is ugly save the degenerate man.”

  • What is commonly called ugliness in nature can in art become full of great beauty. Auguste Rodin, in L’Art: Entretiens réunis par Paul Gsell [Art: Interviews Brought Together by Paul Gsell] (1911; trans. in 1912 by Romilly Fedden)
  • No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade, or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly. Oscar Wilde, from lecture to art students at the Royal Academy (London; June 30, 1883)


(see also ILLNESS and HEALTH and STRESS and WORRY)

  • You don’t get ulcers from what you eat. You get them from what’s eating you. Vicki Baum, quoted in Joseph L. Baron, A Treasury of Jewish Quotations (1956)



  • Hope and uncertainty, the twin ingredients necessary for romance to thrive. Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of Love (1994)

QUOTE NOTE: In writing this, Ackerman was almost certainly familiar with Oscar Wilde’s similar thought (see his entry below)

  • Uncertainty is the refuge of hope. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, journal entry (Jan. 3, 1879)
  • Where is the world whose people don’t prefer a comfortable, warm, and well-worn belief, however illogical, to the chilly winds of uncertainty? Isaac Asimov, the character Dr. Deniador speaking, in Foundation and Earth (1986)
  • Education. The path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. Author Unknown, quoted in Leo Rosten, Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter (1989)

ERROR ALERT: This saying is widely misattributed to Mark Twain.

  • We know that productivity suffers when uncertainty is high. But we've failed to realize the equally destructive effects of too little anxiety. Judith M. Bardwick, in Danger in the Comfort Zone (1995)

Bardwick went on to add: “By protecting people from risk, we destroy their self-esteem. We rob them of the opportunity to become strong, competent people.”

  • Human knowledge is personal and responsible, an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. Jacob Bronowski, in The Ascent of Man (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: In one of his Dune novels, Frank Herbert put this observation into the mouth of one of his characters (see the Herbert entry below).

  • Without measureless and perpetual uncertainty the drama of human life would be destroyed. Winston Churchill, in The Gathering Storm (1948)
  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Karl von Clausewitz, in On War (1832-34)

Clausewitz continued: “It prefers to day-dream in the realms of chance and luck rather than accompany the intellect on its narrow and tortuous path of philosophical inquiry and logical deduction.”

  • Wou’d any thing but a madman complain about uncertainty? Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing. William Congreve, the character Angelica speaking, in Love for Love (1695)
  • Love of certainty is a demand for guarantees in advance of action. John Dewey, in Human Nature and Conduct (1922)
  • Man lives in a world of surmise, of mystery, of uncertainties. John Dewey, in Art as Experience (1934)
  • Uncertainty is the necessary companion of all explorers. Marilyn Ferguson, in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1987)
  • I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. Richard Feynman, in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)

Feynman continued: “I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”

  • The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself (1947)
  • Without that element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine, and eminently unsatisfying. J. Paul Getty, in My Life and Fortunes (1963)
  • One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. André Gide, the character Edouard speaking, in The Counterfeiters (1925)
  • I knew I wanted to write. I had dreamed about it for years. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who die wondering, “What if?” I would keep putting my dream to the test—even though it meant living with uncertainty and fear of failure. This is the Shadowland of hope, and anyone with a dream must learn to live there. Alex Haley, “The Shadowland of Dreams,” in Reader’s Digest (Aug., 1991)
  • Uncertainty is the prerequisite to gaining knowledge and frequently the result as well. Edith Hamilton, in Spokesmen for God (1949)
  • Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. Frank Herbert, the character Leto speaking, in Children of Dune (1976)

QUOTE NOTE: Herbert borrowed the adventure at the edge of uncertainty expression from Jacob Bronowski, who employed it a few years earlier in his 1973 classic The Ascent of Man (see the Bronowski entry above). Herbert’s character preceded his observation by saying: “Every judgment teeters on the brink of error. To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous.”

  • Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)

Hoffer added: “Thus a feeling of utter unworthiness can be a source of courage.”

  • Uncertainty is the worst of all evils until the moment when reality makes us regret uncertainty. Alphonse Karr, in L’Espirit d’Alphonse Karr (1891)
  • The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next. Ursula K. Le Guin, the character Faxe speaking, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us. Barack Obama, in keynote address at the Democratic National Convention (July 27, 2004)
  • Heisenberg found limited certainty in his principle. Peter A. Olsson, M.D. in a personal communication to the compiler (Oct. 21, 2018)
  • Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security. John Allen Paulos, in A Mathematician Plays The Stock Market (2007)
  • The only certainty is that nothing is certain. Pliny the Elder, in Historia Naturalis (1st c. A.D.)
  • If any part of your uncertainty is a conflict between your heart and your mind—follow your mind. Ayn Rand, the character John Galt speaking, in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. Bertrand Russell, “Introductory,” in A History of Western Philosophy (1945)

QUOTE NOTE: A moment later, Russell went on to add: “To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.”

  • To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy. Bertrand Russell, in Philosophy for Laymen (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: A moment earlier, Russell introduced the thought by writing: “The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice.”

  • For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. Vincent van Gogh, in Artists by Themselves: Van Gogh (1990; Rachel Barnes, ed.)
  • The very essence of romance is uncertainty. Oscar Wilde, the character Algernon speaking, in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)



  • A man must be excessively stupid, as well as uncharitable, who believes there is no virtue but on his own side, and that there are not men as honest as himself who may differ from him in political principles. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (Dec. 8, 1711)



  • In the extraordinary ancestral compost heap of your unconscious mind, I have burrowed too long. Brian Aldiss, the voice of the morel, speaking to Gren, in Hothouse (1962)
  • Psycho-analysis pretends to investigate the Unconscious. The Unconscious by definition is what you are not conscious of. But the Analysts already know what’s in it—they should, because they put it all in beforehand. Saul Bellow, the character Albert Corde speaking, in The Dean's December (1982)
  • The unconscious mind has a habit of asserting itself in the afternoon. Anthony Burgess, quoted in Earl G. Ingersoll & Mary C. Ingersoll, Conversations with Anthony Burgess (2008)
  • The unconscious is the ocean of the unsayable, of what has been expelled from the land of language, removed as a result of ancient prohibitions. Italo Calvino, “Cybernetics and Ghosts,” lecture delivered in Turin, Italy (Nov., 1967); reprinted The Uses of Literature (1986)

Calvino continued: “The unconscious speaks—in dreams, in verbal slips, in sudden associations—with borrowed words, stolen symbols, linguistic contraband, until literature redeems these territories and annexes them to the language of the waking world.”

  • The key to an understanding of the nature of the conscious life of the soul lies in the sphere of the unconscious. Carl Gustav Carus, in Psyche (1846)
  • Even in writing an annual report, the unconscious plays a role. Mason Cooley, in City Aphorisms, 13th Selection (1994)
  • Operating in an unlit world, the unconscious mind is a brilliant detective. Jo Coudert, in Advice From a Failure (1965)
  • The unconscious is selective, when it learns what to listen for. Philip K. Dick, an unnamed character speaking, in A Scanner Darkly (1977)
  • The unconscious mind is decidedly simple, unaffected, straightforward and honest. It hasn’t got all of this facade, this veneer of what we call adult culture. It’s rather simple, rather childish It is direct and free. Milton H. Erickson, in The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson (1992)
  • The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. Sigmund Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams (2nd ed., 1909)
  • The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious; what I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied. Sigmund Freud, said on his 70th birthday; quoted in Lionel Trilling “Freud and Literature,” The Liberal Imagination (1950); originally cited in Philip R. Lehrman, “Freud’s Contribution to Science,” Harofe Haivri (1940)
  • A major character has to come somehow out of the unconscious. Graham Greene, quoted in Francis X. Clines, “How Do You Do It?” The New York Times (Oct. 09, 1985)
  • More than a burial ground for unacceptable ideas and wishes, the unconscious is the spawning ground of intuition and insight, the source of humor, of poetic imagery, and of scientific analogy. Judith Groch, in The Right to Create (1969)
  • The unconscious is like a black dog. And psychoanalysis simply teaches the human being that his happiness and success depend upon his attitude toward the black dog—his beast, his property—his dog. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)

Hathaway continues red: “It teaches that the best way is to make friends with the dog and to understand his nature, to conciliate him, not to be ashamed of him, not brutal to him, nor overindulgent to him. But most of all, to know him.”

* The unconscious of an artist is her greatest treasure. It is what transmutes the dross of autobiography into the gold of myth. Erica Jong, “Jane Eyre’s Unbroken Will.” in What Do Women Want? (1998)

  • Poems, like dreams, are a sort of royal road to the unconscious. They tell you what your secret self cannot express. Erica Jong, in Author’s Foreword to Sappho’s Leap (2003)
  • I have defined intuition as “perception via the unconscious.” Carl Jung, “Conscious, Unconscious, and Individuation” (1939), in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959)
  • The conscious mind allows itself to be trained like a parrot, but the unconscious does not—which is why St. Augustine thanked God for not making him responsible for his dreams. Carl Jung, in Psychology and Alchemy (1952)
  • The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, “divine.” Carl Jung, in The Practice of Psychotherapy (1953)
  • You’re always running into people’s unconscious. Marilyn Monroe, quoted in Richard Meryman, “Marilyn Lets Her Hair Down About Being Famous,” a 1962 issue of Life magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Any writer is inevitably going to work with his own anxieties and desires. If the book is any good it has got to have in it the fire of a personal unconscious mind. Iris Murdoch, quoted in Gillian Dooley, From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction: Conversations With Iris Murdoch (2003)
  • Our unconscious is like a vast subterranean factory with intricate machinery that is never idle, where work goes on day and night from the time we are born until the moment of our death. Milton R. Sapirstein, in Paradoxes of Everyday Life (1955)
  • The idea of the unconscious mental processes was, in many of its aspects, conceivable around 1700, topical around 1800, and became effective around 1900, thanks to the imaginative efforts of a large number of individuals of varied interests in many lands. Lancelot Law Whyte, in The Unconscious Before Freud (1967)
  • The unconscious mind is not blind, and its several levels sustain and nourish the intellect and the imagination. There exist interacting, cooperative levels of the healthy mind, still to be understood, toward which our first tentative approximations, “conscious” and “unconscious,” only crudely point. Lancelot Law Whyte, in The Universe of Experience: A Worldview Beyond Science and Religion (1974)



  • Civilization makes us all as alike as peas in a pod, and it is the very uncouth—uncivilized, if you will—element which individualizes nations. Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, in Sunny Sicily (1904)
  • There is such a thing as too much couth. S. J. Perelman, quoted The Observer (London; Sep. 24, 1971)

FULL QUOTE: This is the way the quotation is often presented on internet sites, but it was originally the conclusion to a fuller observation about the English: “English life, while very pleasant, is rather bland. I expected kindness and gentility and I found it, but there is such a thing as too much couth.”



  • Aspiring only to second-place goals is a first-rate way to hedge our bets. Among the least appreciated reasons for doing superficial, second-rate work of any kind is the comfort of knowing that it’s not our best that’s on the line. Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear (1995)

Keyes continued: “Far more is at risk when we do what we really want to do rather than something less. I don’t think we’ll ever fully appreciate the role of not daring to risk a shattered dream in limiting people to second-choice careers and third-choice lives.”

  • To be less than you are is so easy: even a child needs no lesson in this. Theodore Roethke, notebook entry (1948-53), published in Straw for the Fire (1972; David Wagoner, ed.)
  • Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love (1992)


(see also COMPETITION and CONTENDER and CONTEST and DARK HORSE and ELECTION and FAVORITE [as in Predictions], and RACE [as in Contest]

  • An underdog is in a position to take a healthy bite. John Irving, citing advice his high school wrestling coach, in interview with Joan Smith, Salon magazine (March 3, 1977)



  • If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all. Chinua Achebe, “An African Voice” (interview with Katie Bacon), in The Atlantic (Aug., 2000)

QUOTE NOTE: Achebe was one of the first authors to describe European colonization from the perspective of native-born Africans. Prior to his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, almost all stories about Africa had been written by English and European writers. He preceded his remark by saying: “Storytelling has to do with power. Those who win tell the story; those who are defeated are not heard. But that has to change. It’s in the interest of everybody, including the winners, to know that there’s another story.”

  • To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, in How to Read a Book (1940; rev. & updated, 1972)

Adler and Van Doren introduced the thought by writing: “You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, ‘I understand,’ before you can say any one of the following things: ‘I agree,’ or ‘I agree,’ or ‘I suspend judgment.’ These three remarks exhaust all the critical positions you can take.”

  • Before we oppose, we must understand. Steve Allen, in Reflections (1994)
  • I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out. Apocrypha—II Esdras 14:25
  • Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus (1995)
  • I’m not a speed reader. I’m a speed understander. Isaac Asimov, quoted in Thomas Lask, “Asimov at 200,” The New York Times Book Review (Jan. 28, 1979)
  • She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)

QUOTE NOTE: The narrator is describing Mrs. Bennet, the mother of the novel’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet.

  • To look wise is quite as good as understanding a thing, and very much easier. Author Unknown, although widely attributed to Oscar Wilde.
  • The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it. Francis Bacon, in Novum Organum (1620)
  • You can explain things to people, but you cannot understand things to people. Jeff Bezos, in Business Insider interview with Mathias Döpfner (April 28, 2018)
  • One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it. Elizabeth Bowen, the protagonist Stella Rodney speaking, in The Heat of the Day (1949)
  • The feeling of understanding is as private as the feeling of pain. The act of understanding is at the heart of all scientific activity. Percy Williams Bridgman, in Reflections of a Physicist (1950)

Bridgman added: “Without it any ostensibly scientific activity is as sterile as that of a high school student substituting numbers into a formula.”

  • For that is one of the best things about love: the feeling of being wrapped, like a gift, in understanding. Anatole Broyard, “The Gifts of the Magi and the Not-So-Magi,” in The New York Times (Jan. 14, 1979)
  • The goal of education is disciplined understanding. Jerome S. Bruner, “After John Dewey, What?” in Saturday Review (June 17, 1961)

Bruner went on to add: “To understand something is, first, to give up some other way of conceiving of it. Between one way of conceiving and a better way, there often lies confusion.”

  • Understanding is like the Sun, which gives light to all the thoughts. Margaret Cavendish, “Aphorisms,” in The Cavalier and His Lady: Selected From the Works of the First Duke and Duchess of Newcastle (1872)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the quotation is often presented, but it was originally part of this larger observation: “Thoughts are like stars in the firmament; some are fixed, others like the wandering planets, others again are only like meteors. Understanding is like the Sun, which gives light to all the thoughts. Memory is like the Moon, it hath its new, its full and its wane.”

  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1969)
  • Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1969)
  • Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Marie Curie, quoted in Philip Steele, Marie Curie (2006)
  • To understand everything makes one tolerant. Germaine de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker), in Corinne (1807)
  • Those who understand only what can be explained understand very little. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880)
  • The circle of our understanding/Is a very restricted area. T. S. Eliot, a couplet spoken by the Chorus, in The Family Reunion (1939)

The Chorus continues: “Except for a limited number/Of strictly practical purposes/We do not know what we are doing;/and even, when you think about it,/We do not know much about thinking.”

  • The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion. Richard P. Feynman, in “What Do You Care What Other People Think”: Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988)
  • What I cannot create I do not understand. Richard P. Feynman, quoted in James Gleik, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)
  • The growth of understanding follows an ascending spiral rather than a straight line. Joanna Field, in A Life of One’s Own (1934)

QUOTE NOTE: Joanna Field was the pseudonym of Marion Milner, a British psychoanalyst whose book reflected her own attempt at self-analysis (the title was clearly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, published five years earlier). Here is Field’s full observation: “Sometimes the meaning of an experience would only begin to dawn on me years afterward, and even then I often had to go over the same ground again and again, with intervals of years between. In fact, I came to the conclusion that the growth of understanding follows an ascending spiral rather than a straight line.”

  • Understanding why is never enough. Lucy Freeman, in Fight Against Fears (1951)
  • Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius. Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88)
  • The most familiar facts are often hardest to understand. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Human Work (1904)
  • The greatest pleasure is not—say—sex or geometry. It is just understanding. And if you can get people to understand their own humanity—well, that’s the job of the writer. William Golding, quoted in Current Biography Yearbook (1965)
  • Historically, the East was more concerned with understanding the mind and the West was more involved in understanding matter. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in My Spiritual Autobiography (2011)
  • You can’t recover from what you do not understand. Lillian Hellman, in Maybe: A Story (1980)

See the somewhat similar thoughts from Marianne Moore and Alice Walker.

  • There would be no society if living together depended upon understanding each other. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • The crown of life is neither happiness nor annihilation; it is understanding. Winifred Holtby, quoted in Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship (1940)
  • Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. David Hume, “Of Miracles,” in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)

QUOTE NOTE: Hume was referring here to the danger of seductive eloquence, and specifically to its power to arouse “gross and vulgar passions.” He added: “Happily, this pitch it seldom attains.”

  • When however small a measure of jealousy is mixed with misunderstanding, there is going to be trouble. John Irving, the narrator John Wheelright speaking, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel (1989)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly have the quotation end with “always going to be trouble.”

  • We can sometimes love what we do not understand, but it is impossible completely to understand what we do not love. Anna Jameson, in A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies (1854)
  • Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding. Samuel Johnson, a June, 1784 remark, quoted by James Boswell, in Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963); published in Why We Can’t Wait (1963)

QUOTE NOTE: Dr. King’s famous “open letter” came in response to criticism from a number of fellow clergyman for his civil disobedience. Just prior to this passage, he wrote that he was close to the “regrettable conclusion” that the developing Civil Rights Movement was less endangered by outright opponents than it was from white moderates who paid lip service to the cause, but were squeamish about disorderly tactics. King added: “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  • Whatever people in general do not understand, they are always prepared to dislike; the incomprehensible is always the obnoxious. L. E. Landon, the voice of the narrator, in Romance and Reality (1831)
  • No one has ever taken the trouble to stretch and carry his understanding as far as it could go. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)

La Rochefoucauld preceded the thought by writing: “Idleness and constancy fix the mind to what it finds easy and agreeable. This habit always confines and cramps up our knowledge.”

  • Anyone who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but his memory. Leonardo da Vinci, in his Notebooks (c. 1500; translation by Johann Paul Richter)
  • That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way. Doris Lessing, protagonist Martha Quest speaking, in The Four-Gated City (1969; the final volume of her five-volume Children of Violence series)

QUOTE NOTE: The remark comes in a conversation between Martha and her friend Joanna. A few moments earlier, Martha had said: “We keep learning things and then forgetting them so we have to learn them again.”

  • Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less. John Major, in an interview with Mail of Saturday (Feb. 21, 1993)
  • We/do not admire what/we cannot understand. Marianne Moore, from a 1921 poem titled “Poetry,” in Selected Poems (1935)

See the somewhat similar thoughts from Lillian Hellman and Alice Walker.

  • Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation. Edward R. Murrow, quoted in Walter Bryan, The Improbable Irish (1969)
  • To understand is not to forgive. It is simply better than the alternative, which is not to understand. Alec Nove, in An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. (1969)
  • As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fail to grow in discipline, love, and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow. M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled (1978)

QUOTE NOTE: Developing an understanding of the world and our place in it was so important that Peck concluded: “This understanding is our religion.”

  • People who pin their faith to a catchword never feel the necessity of understanding anything. Agnes Repplier, “Women and War,” in Counter-Currents (1916)
  • We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. Carl Rogers, in A Way of Being (1980)
  • Is an intelligent human being likely to be much more than a large-scale manufacturer of misunderstanding? Philip Roth, the character Nathan Zuckerman speaking, in The Counterlife (1986)
  • I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Carl Sagan, in appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation (May 3, 1996)
  • Our dignity is not in what we do but in what we understand. George Santayana, in Winds of Doctrine (1913)
  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Upton Sinclair, a favorite line during his unsuccessful run for governor of California in 1934, in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935)
  • We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Feb. 14, 1851)
  • If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time insight into and understanding of many things. Vincent van Gogh, in letter to his brother Theo (April 3, 1878), in Dear Theo: An Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh (1937)
  • What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears. Alice Walker, the character Zedé speaking, in The Temple of My Familiar (1989)

See the somewhat similar thoughts from Lillian Hellman and Marianne Moore.

  • Knowledge is simply a kind of fuel; it needs the motor of understanding to convert it into power. John Wyndham, the voice of narrator Richard Gayford, in The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)



  • To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (May 27, 1849)
  • Can we understand at all, ever, where we do not love? Sherwood Anderson, in letter to Van Wyck Brooks (July 30, 1923), in Letters of Sherwood Anderson (1953; Howard Mumford Jones, ed.)
  • Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. Diane Arbus, in Diane Arbus (1995)
  • One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. Jane Austen, the title character speaking, in Emma (1815)
  • I firmly believe kids don’t want your understanding. They want your trust, your compassion, your blinding love and your car keys, but you try to understand them and you’re in big trouble. Erma Bombeck, in If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1971)
  • To understand another human being you must gain some insight into the conditions which made him what he is. Margaret Bourke-White, in Portrait of Myself (1963)
  • For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity. Charlotte Brontë, the voice of the narrator, in Shirley (1849)
  • For that is one of the best things about love: the feeling of being wrapped, like a gift, in understanding. Anatole Broyard, “The Gifts of the Magi and the Not-So-Magi,” in The New York Times (Jan. 14, 1979)
  • The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. Willa Cather, a reflection of protagonist Godfrey St. Peter as he thinks about his wife Lillian, in The Professor’s House (1925)
  • The unhappy are egotistical, base, unjust, cruel, and even less capable of understanding one another than are idiots. Unhappiness does not unite people, but separates them. Anton Chekhov, in Enemies (1887)
  • More piercing, more unbearable than blame/Is to be understood. Frances C. Cornford, from the poem “The Betrayer,” in Traveling Home and Other Poems (1948)
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1969)
  • Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1969)
  • The best way to understand somebody else is to put yourself in his place. Clarence Darrow, quoted in John Farrell, in Attorney for the Damned (2011)
  • If you understood everything I said, you’d be me. Miles Davis, quoted in London’s Independent newspaper (Oct. 6, 1991)
  • We imagined we knew everything the other thought, even when we did not necessarily want to know it, but in fact, I have come to see, we knew not the smallest fraction of what there was to know. Joan Didion, a realization that came after her husband's death, in The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
  • To understand any living thing, you must, so to say, creep within and feel the beating of its heart. W. MacNeile Dixon, in The Human Situation (1937)
  • The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly. Albert Einstein, in a letter to Morris Raphael Cohen (March 19, 1940), defending the appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position

Einstein preceded the observation by writing: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

  • Of course, understanding of our fellow-beings is important. But this understanding becomes fruitful only when it is sustained by sympathetic feeling in joy and sorrow. Albert Einstein, in Ideas and Opinions (1954)
  • All persons are puzzles until at last we find in some word or act the key to the man, to the woman; straightway all their past words and actions lie in light before us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, undated journal entry (Sep., 1842)
  • I know nothing which life has to offer so satisfying as the profound good understanding, which can subsist, after much exchange of good offices, between two virtuous men, each of whom is sure of himself, and sure of his friend. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Character,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)
  • The best of life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Behavior,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • We do know that no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try. Louise Erdrich, the voice of the narrator, in The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • Young folks don’t want you to understand ’em. You’ve got no more right to understand them than you have to play their games or wear their clothes. They belong to themselves. Edna Ferber, the character Pansy speaking, in Great Son (1944)
  • The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion. Richard P. Feynman, “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”; in Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988)
  • In the sick room, ten cents’ worth of human understanding equals ten dollars’ worth of medical science. Martin H. Fischer, in Fischerisms (1944)
  • “Honesty” without compassion and understanding is not honesty, but subtle hostility. Rose N. Franzblau, quoted in a 1966 issue of the New York Post (specific date undetermined)
  • Understanding a person does not mean condoning; it only means that one does not accuse him as if one were God or a judge placed above him. Erich Fromm, in Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics (1947)

A moment earlier, Fromm had written: “If one fully understands all the circumstances…one may have compassion.”

  • Between/Our birth and death we may touch understanding/As a moth brushes a window with its wing. Christopher Fry, in the verse drama The Boy With a Cart (1938; first performed 1950)
  • What America does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is to understand others. Carlos Fuentes, quoted in Time magazine (June 16, 1986)
  • To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to. Kahlil Gibran, in The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran (1995)
  • If you don’t understand yourself, you don’t understand anybody else. Nikki Giovanni, in James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, A Dialogue (1973)
  • Jealousy is the very reverse of understanding, of sympathy, and of generous feeling. Never has jealousy added to character, never does it make the individual big and fine. Emma Goldman, “Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure,” a circa 1912 lecture, quoted in Red Emma Speaks (1983; A. K. Shulman, ed.)
  • Especially now when views are becoming more polarized, we must work to understand each other across political, religious and national boundaries. Jane Goodall, quoted in Elizabeth LeReverend, “The Irrepressible Dr. Jane Goodall,” in a 2010 issue of Verge magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • The human desire to be understood is never quite sincere. It is on our own terms that we desire to be understood, not on the terms of truth. Elizabeth Goudge, in The Child from the Sea (1970)
  • No human being can really understand another, and no one can arrange another's happiness. Graham Greene, a reflection of narrator Henry Scobie, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)
  • To understand a man is to afford him immense satisfaction. The moment he is understood he begins to feel comforted. Jean Guibert, in On Kindness (1947)
  • There would be no society if living together depended upon understanding each other. Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)
  • No one knows you like a person with whom you’ve shared a childhood. No one will ever understand you in quite the same way. Alice Hoffman, in Practical Magic (1995)
  • The most immutable barrier in nature is between one man’s thoughts and another’s. William James, quoted in Benjamin M. Braginsky & Dorothea D. Braginsky, Mainstream Psychology: A Critique (1974)

QUOTATION CAUTION: This appears to be the original source of a quotation that has become quite popular, but one not to be found in any of James’s works.

  • An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. Carl Jung, in The Development of Personality (1910)
  • If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool. Carl Jung, in Mysterium Coniunctionis (1956)
  • Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962)
  • When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? Franz Kafka, in letter to Oskar Pollak (Nov. 8, 1903)

Kafka continued: “And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful?”

QUOTE NOTE: Kafka returned to the theme in his 1915 classic The Metamorphosis, when he had protagonist Gregor Samsa say plaintively: “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

  • To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it. Søren Kierkegaard, in The Point of View for My Work as an Author(1848)
  • You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Harper Lee, the character Atticus Finch speaking, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Capable people do not understand incapacity; clever people do not understand stupidity. Doris Lessing, in Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (1994)
  • You have to be grown up, really grown up, not merely in years, to understand your parents. Doris Lessing, in Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949–1962 (1997)
  • People don’t want to be understood—I mean not completely. It’s too destructive. Then they haven’t anything left. They don’t want complete sympathy or complete understanding. They want to be treated carelessly and taken for granted lots of times. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Bring Me a Unicorn (1971)
  • Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less. John Major, quoted in London’s Mail on Sunday (Feb. 21, 1993)
  • Until we know what motivates the hearts and minds of men we can understand nothing outside ourselves, nor will we ever reach fulfillment as that greatest miracle of all, the human being. Marya Mannes, in More in Anger (1958)
  • I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. Katherine Mansfield, in Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927)
  • To love is easy and therefore common—but to understand—how rare it is! L. M. Montgomery, in Emily of New Moon (1923)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, the narrator is describing how wonderful the title character feels about being fully understood by her new beau. The narrator preceded the thought by writing: “In Dean Priest Emily found, for the first time since her father had died, a companion who could fully sympathize. She was always at her best with him, a delightful feeling of being understood.”

  • To be understood is not a human right. Even to understand oneself is not a human right. Iris Murdoch, the voice of the narrator, in An Unofficial Rose (1962)
  • To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen. Thích Nhất Hạnh, in How to Love (2014)

Nhất Hạnh beautiful meditation on love also contained these other memorable thoughts:

“Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”

“If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like?”

  • We think we understand each other, but we never really do. Luigi Pirandello, the Father speaking, in Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921)
  • When you want to recognize and understand what takes place in the minds of others, you have first to look into yourself. Theodor Reik, in Listening with the Third Ear: The Inner Experience of a Psychoanalyst (1948)
  • People who pin their faith to a catchword never feel the necessity of understanding anything. Agnes Repplier, “Women and War,” in Counter-Currents (1916)
  • We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. Carl Rogers, in A Way of Being (1980)
  • It’s not always easy for a father to understand the interests and ways of his son. It seems the songs of our children may be in keys we’ve never tried. Fred Rogers, in The World According to Mister Rogers (2003)

Rogers continued: “The melody of each generation emerges from all that’s gone before. Each one of us contributes in some unique way to the composition of life.”

  • To understand children, we must have some memory of how we felt as children. Theodore Isaac Rubin, in Love Me, Love My Fool (1976)
  • If you want to understand others, look into your own heart. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, in Tabulae Votivae (1797)
  • No one feels another’s grief, no one understands another’s joy. People imagine they can reach one another. In reality they only pass each other by. Franz Schubert, diary entry (March 27, 1824)
  • How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the voice of the narrator, in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)

QUOTE NOTE: The line has also been popularly translated: “Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?” See also the related observation from Jonathan Swift below.

  • I have taken great care not to deride, bewail, or execrate human actions, but to understand them. Baruch Spinoza, in Tractatus Politicus (1677)
  • To understand everything makes one tolerant. Germaine de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker), in Corinne (1807)
  • You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself. John Steinbeck, the character Lee speaking, in East of Eden (1952)
  • No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself. John Steinbeck, the narrator and protagonist Ethan Allen Hawley reflecting on his relationship with wife Mary, in The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)
  • People who do not understand themselves have a craving for understanding. Wilhelm Stekhel, in Marriage at the Crossroads (1931)
  • Nothing is so hard for those, who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want. Jonathan Swift, “A Preface to the Bishop of Sarum’s Introduction” (Dec. 8, 1713); reprinted in The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift, Vol. IV (1939–74)

QUOTE NOTE: See the related observation from Alexander Solzhenitsyn above.

  • To try to understand another human being, to grapple for his ultimate depths, that is the most dangerous of human endeavors. Irving Stone, the character Bertoldo speaking, in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961)
  • There is not so good an understanding between any two, but the exposure by the one of a serious fault in the other will produce a misunderstanding in proportion to its heinousness. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding. Henry David Thoreau, a journal entry (Feb. 14, 1851)
  • It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences. Harry S Truman, in White House remarks to members of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (Sep. 25, 1946)
  • A very dangerous state of mind: thinking one understands. Paul Valéry, “Odds and Ends,” in Analects, Vol. 14 of The Collected Works of Paul Valéry (1970)
  • Childhood comes at a time in your life when you are too young to understand what you are going through. And you’re too young to understand that you are too young to understand. Jane Wagner, in My Life, So Far: by Edith Ann (1994)
  • I wonder if we are all wrong about each other, if we are just composing unwritten novels about the people we meet? Rebecca West, in a 1917 letter, selected as an epigraph to Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987)
  • Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title. Virginia Woolf, in Jacob’s Room (1922)



  • Of all the aspects of social misery nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment. Jane Addams, in Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)
  • A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun. Thomas Carlyle, in Chartism (1839)
  • Men might as well be imprisoned as excluded from the means of earning their own bread. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty (1859)
  • An “unemployed” existence is a worse negation of life than death itself. Josè Ortega y Gasset, in The Revolt of the Masses (1930)
  • The greatest deprivation anyone can suffer is to have no chance of looking after himself and making a livelihood. E. F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973)
  • You take my life/When you do take the means whereby I live. William Shakespeare, Shylock speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)
  • A man who has no office to go to—I don’t care who he is—is a trial of which you can have no conception. George Bernard Shaw, the character Marian in a letter to Nelly, in The Irrational Knot (1905)
  • In modern society, fear of unemployment remains the darkest of the shadows thrown by the past. Barbara Ward, in Faith and Freedom (1954)

Ward added: “In an industrial order, a man out of work is almost a man out of life.”





  • The unexamined life is not worth living. Plato, in Apology (4th c. B.C.)
  • Being abroad for the first time brings one's unexamined assumptions into sharp focus. Deryn P. Verity, quoted in Christina Henry de Tessan, Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad (2002)



  • Expect the unexpected. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: I'm still trying to track down the origin of this popular oxymoronic assertion (the earliest version I've seen so far goes back to 1891—in the Alice James entry below—but I believe the basic idea goes back much earlier). The idea has been expressed a wide variety of ways over the years, as you will see in the entires below.

  • No matter what, expect the unexpected. And whenever possible be the unexpected. Lynda Barry, in Cruddy: A Novel (1999)
  • Talk about the joys of the unexpected, can they compare with the joys of the expected, of finding everything delightfully and completely what you knew it was going to be? Elizabeth Bibesco, in Balloons (1922)
  • Intentions often melt in the face of unexpected opportunity. Shirley Temple Black, in Child Star (1989)
  • In a way, all creative writing is about the unexpected. Bonni Goldberg, in Room to Write (1996)

Goldberg continued: “Speakers in poems and essays and characters in narratives are coping with a series of surprises as they move through life, just as we are. The unexpected happens or the expected happens but the reaction is a surprise. We surprise ourselves and we surprise one another. The only thing that isn’t surprising is that we continue to be surprised.”

  • Truly nothing is to be expected but the unexpected! Alice James, an 1891 remark, quoted in Anna Robeson Burr, Alice James (1934)
  • Unexpected invitations are dancing lessons from the Divine. Gary Jaron, in Find Your Way (2018)
  • It is the unexpected, hit-or-miss, instant impulse, these strange accidents, this surrealistic serendipity, out of which great photographs are born. Carolyn Kenmore, in Mannequin: My Life as a Model (1969)
  • Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • None of us knows what the next change is going to be, what unexpected opportunity is just around the corner, waiting to change all the tenor of our lives. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • Breakthroughs, in art, in culture, in personality, come when tackling the unexpected. Lynda Obst, in Hello, He Lied—And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (1996)
  • In life the only thing that you can expect is the unexpected; the only surprise is a day that has none. Joan Rivers, in Bouncing Back (1997)
  • Experience should teach us that it is always the unexpected that does occur. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • Life is always bringing unexpected gifts. May Sarton, from a 1948 letter, quoted in Susan Sherman, May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 (1997)
  • If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens. Fay Weldon, in Moon Over Minneapolis (1991)



  • 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.”

  • Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow. J. M. Barrie, the voice of the narrator, in The Little Minister (1891)
  • Some people pursue unhappiness because happiness is too mild a sensation. Coco Chanel, in a 1968 McCall’s magazine profile (specific issue undetermined); reprinted the following year in Lois Daniel, To Be A Woman (1969)

Chanel continued: “Unhappiness is more dramatic—or rather melodramatic—and they see themselves at the center of the stage. One should not seek happiness, but happy people.”

  • For the unhappy man death is the commutation of a sentence of life imprisonment. Alexander Chase, in Perspective (1966)
  • If you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness. Robertson Davies, “The Table Talk of Robertson Davies,” in Maclean’s magazine (Sep., 1972); reprinted in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (1990)
  • Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations. Edward de Bono, quoted in the Observer (London; June 12, 1977)
  • There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. Anthony de Mello, in Call to Love (1991; pub. in U.S. in 1992 as The Way to Love)

De Mello added: “Because of these false beliefs you see the world and yourself in a distorted way.”

  • Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid. Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Critical Articles: Introduction,” In Complete Collected Works (1895)
  • All artists today are expected to cultivate a little fashionable unhappiness. Lawrence Durrell, the narrator describing the character Pursewarden, who had recently committed suicide, in Justine (1957)
  • This is what I think now: that the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Crack-Up (1945; Edmund Wilson, ed.)
  • He felt the loyalty we feel to unhappiness—the sense that that is where we really belong. Graham Greene, on the character Harris, in The Heart of the Matter (1948)
  • It is well for us that man can only endure a certain degree of unhappiness; what is beyond that either annihilates him or passes by him and leaves him apathetic. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the voice of the narrator, in Elective Affinities (1809)
  • The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy; for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that money would solve their problems—but the rich know better. Sydney J. Harris, in Majority of One 1957)

QUOTE NOTE: For a quotation with strikingly similar phrasing, see the Jean Kerr entry below.

  • Unhappiness is not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it. Don Herold, widely attributed

ERROR ALERT: On all internet sites and in every quotation anthology I’ve seen, Herold is credited as the author of this observation (but never with a source given). It turns out that Helen Follett Jameson beat Herold to the punch, penning the same line except for the addition of one word (“Unhappiness is in not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it”) in Pippins and Peaches (1909), a small collection of aphorisms written by Jameson under the pen names Madame Qui Vive and Penrhyn Stanlaws. To see the original quotation in a digital version of the 1909 book, go to Pippins and Peaches.

  • You don’t seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help. Jean Kerr, the character Sydney speaking, in Poor Richard (1965)

Sydney continued: “I tell you there is no despair like the despair of the man who has everything.”

QUOTE NOTE: In crafting this observation for her play, Kerr was almost certainly inspired by Sydney J. Harris, who offered a thought with strikingly similar phrasing in Majority of One (1957): “The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy; for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that money would solve their problems—but the rich know better.”

  • Into each life some rain must fall,/Some days must be dark and dreary. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “The Rainy Day” (1842)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the original source of one of history’s most popular expressions.

  • Memory is so much better at unhappiness than happiness. Jane Miller, in Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old (2010)
  • I have discovered that all man’s unhappiness derives from only one source—not being able to sit quietly in a room. Blaise Pascal, in Pensées (1670)
  • Your unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwellin’ on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form o’ self-indulgence. Tom Robbins, the character Dr. Wiggs Dannyboy speaking, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

QUOTE NOTE: This was the conclusion to a set of remarks about unhappy people that Dr. Dannyboy (an Irish anthropologist based in part on LSD guru Timothy Leary) makes to Priscilla Partido, an attractive woman he has just met at a party. Contrasting Cheerful Dumb and Gloomy Smart people, Dr. Dannyboy preceded the observation by saying: “When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously. Your truly happy people, which is to say, your people who truly like themselves, they don’t think about themselves very much.”

  • Since unhappiness excites interest, many, in order to render themselves interesting, feign unhappiness. Joseph Roux, in Meditations of a Parish Priest (1886)
  • Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
  • When a man has lost all happiness,/he’s not alive. Call him a breathing corpse. Sophocles, in Antigone (5th c. B.C.)
  • Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies,” in Waiting on God (1950)

Weil added: “The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it.”

  • Submission to unhappiness is the unpardonable sin against the spirit just as submission to poverty is the unpardonable sin against the body. Rebecca West, in The Clarion (Nov. 29, 1912)
  • I am convinced that, except in a few extraordinary cases, one form or another of an unhappy childhood is essential to the formation of exceptional gifts. Thornton Wilder, in Paris Review interview (Winter, 1956)



  • I am astonished at the ease with which uninformed persons come to a settled, a passionate opinion when they have no grounds for judgment. William Golding, the character Mr. Bowles speaking, in Fire Down Below (1989)

[Labor] UNIONS


  • Management and union may be likened to that serpent of the fables who on one body had two heads that fighting each other with poisoned fangs, killed themselves. Peter F. Drucker, in The New Society: The anatomy of the Industrial Order (1951)
  • Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die. Woody Guthrie, lyrics to the song “The Union Maid” (1941)
  • Americans approve of labor unions the way they approve of running marathons or enlisting in the military: admirable in theory, fine for those so inclined, but not something they choose for themselves. Jeff Jacoby, “Americans 'Approve' of Unions But Don't Want to Join Them,” in The Boston Globe (Sep. 7, 2022)
  • It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic modern nation that it have free and independent labor unions. Franklin D. Roosevelt in speech at Teamsters' Union convention, Washington, D.C. (Sep. 11, 1940)
  • It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize. Theodore Roosevelt, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin speech (Oct. 14, 1912)



  • The absolutely banal—my sense of my own uniqueness. W. H. Auden, “Hic et Ille,” in The Dyer’s Hand (1962)
  • Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Author Unknown, but widely attributed to Margaret Mead

QUOTE NOTE: Neither this saying, nor anything like it, has ever been found in any of Mead’s speeches or writings. A 2014 post by quotation researcher Garson O’Toole explains the history behind the misattribution, and identifies a 1971 observation from Jim Wright (to be seen below) as a possible original inspiration for the remark.

  • If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world, it will come through the expression of your own personality—that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature. Bruce Barton, in It’s a Good Old World (1920)
  • When I say “I,” I mean a thing absolutely unique, not to be confused with any other. Ugo Betti, the character Andrea speaking, in The Inquiry (1947)
  • The poetry of art is in beholding the single tower; the poetry of nature in seeing the single tree; the poetry of love in following the single woman; the poetry of religion in worshiping the single star. G. K. Chesterton, “The Advantages of Having One Leg,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)
  • Anybody who is any good is different from anybody else. Felix Frankfurter, in Felix Frankfurter Reminisces (1960)
  • There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. Martha Graham, quoted in Agnes de Mille, Dance to the Piper (1952)

Graham continued: “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

  • Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. Hermann Hesse, in Prologue to Demian (1919)
  • Growing up is after all only the understanding that one’s unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares. Doris Lessing, in The Golden Notebook (1962)
  • Although each of us is unique, there are familiar responses and doubts and joys that let us know we have kin. We are not, after all, too strange to live. Rosalie Maggio, in Introduction to Quotations by Women on Life (1997)

Maggio introduced the thought by writing: “Life seems somehow less shocking, painful, and lonely—and more hopeful, agreeable, and beautiful— when our experiences are confirmed by those of others.”

  • Cherish Forever What Makes You Unique/Cause You’re Really a Yawn When It Goes! Bette Midler, in The Saga of Baby Divine (1983)
  • It is the American vice, the democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything unique to the level of the herd. Henry Miller, “Raimu,” in The Wisdom of the Heart (1941)
  • At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique human being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874), in Untimely Meditations (1876)

Nietzsche continued: “He knows this, but hides it like an evil conscience—and why? From fear of his neighbor, who looks for the latest conventionalities in him, and is wrapped up in them himself.” The complete essay may be seen at ”Schopenhauer as Educator”.

  • In school, you’re always told that everyone is unique in his or her own way. It’s a line used to console those losers referred to as different drummers, and, while it’s a nice idea, it tends to wear pretty thin by the time you reach fifth grade. David Sedaris, in “At The Movies With David & Sarah,” www.esquire.com (Jan. 29, 2007)
  • There never were, since the creation of the world, two cases exactly parallel. Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in a letter to his son (Feb. 22, 1748)
  • Even the paunchy, ugly people of this world believe they love as much as we do and forever. It is the illusion of all lovers to think themselves unique and their words immortal. Han Suyin, the female protagonist, a Eurasian doctor, speaking to lover Mark Elliot, in A Many-Splendored Thing (1952)

Mark replies: “It may be an illusion, but it is the only truth that you and I possess, therefore let us enjoy it while we can.”

“The Dallas Morning News” named Jim Wright. Wright criticized a best-selling book from the 1970s called “The Greening of America” by a Yale academic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

  • In other words, the Yale professor’s best-selling work answers the burning question that every teen-age youth revolutionary is asking today: “How can I be unique just like everybody else?” Jim Wright, on The Greening of America, a 1970 book by Yale professor Charles A. Reich; in Wright’s “On Second Thought: By the Numbers” column, The Dallas Morning News (March 13, 1971)

According to quotation researcher Garson O’Toole, Wright’s observation might be the original inspiration for the popular saying: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else,” widely but mistakenly attributed to Margaret Mead (see the Author Unknown entry above)


(see also COSMOS and CREATION and NATURE)

  • A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist!” “However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.” Stephen Crane
  • My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all. Stephen Hawking



  • I am my own University, I my own Professor. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, in Myself (1967)
  • The idea that it is necessary to go to a university in order to become a successful writer, or even a man or woman of letters (which is by no means the same thing), is one of those phantasies that surround authorship. Vera Brittain, in On Becoming a Writer (1947)
  • The true university of these days is a collection of books. Thomas Carlyle, in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840)
  • A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students. John Ciardi, in his Saturday Review column (May 21, 1966)
  • A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. The library is the university. Shelby Foote, quoted in North Carolina Libraries (Vol. 51-54; 1993)
  • The university must be a tributary to a larger society, not a sanctuary from it. A. Bartlett Giametti, quoted in Time magazine (1978, specific issue undetermined)
  • The medieval university looked backwards; it professed to be a storehouse of old knowledge. The modern university looks forward, and is a factory of new knowledge. T. H. Huxley, in letter to E. Ray Lankester (April 11, 1892)
  • A University is, according to the usual designation, an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a foundry, or a mint, or a treadmill. John Henry Newman, in The Idea of a University (1852)

QUOTE NOTE: By the time Cardinal Newman wrote his book, alma mater (Latin for “nourishing mother”) had become a popular term for a university or college. The expression originated in the Roman era. when it was given to a number of female goddesses, including Ceres, Cybele, and Venus. The phrase was first used to describe a university in 1600, when it appeared on a seal for Cambridge University Press. For more, see Alma Mater.

  • It is the function of a liberal university not to give right answers, but to ask right questions. Cynthia Ozick, “Women and Creativity,” in Motive (1969)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and CANADA & CANADIANS and ENGLAND & THE ENGLISH and other nations & their citizens, including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia; see also UNITED STATES AMERICA—SPECIFIC STATES)

  • You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but by family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. Erma Bombeck, in “At Wit’s End” syndicated column (June 28,1982)
  • The United States is like the guy at the party who gives cocaine to everybody and still nobody likes him. Jim Samuels, quoted in Cosmopolitan magazine (July, 1990)
  • The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. Walt Whitman, in Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)


(see also AMERICA & AMERICANS and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the specific states of CALIFORNIA and FLORIDA and TEXAS)


State Motto: Audemus jura nostra defenders (“We Dare Defend Our Rights”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Cotton State, The Heart of Dixie, The Yellowhammer State

State Song: Alabama

  • It is a semi-barbarous state of society. Author Unknown, quoted by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835)

QUOTE NOTE: De Tocqueville was quoting an unnamed person who preceded his observation by saying: “There is no one here but carries [fire]arms under his clothes.”

  • Once upon a time, stars fell on Alabama, changing the land's destiny. Carl Carmer, in Stars Fell on Alabama (1934)

QUOTE NOTE: According to quotation researchers Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, the reference here is to a legendary pre-Civil War meteor shower that became a part of Alabama lore. Carmer also offered this additional thought in his book:

“Some day I hope an American painter will do justice to the loveliness of the masterpieces of the backwoods of Alabama.”

  • Oh! Susanna! Don't you cry for me;/I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee. Stephen Foster, lyric from the 1848 song “Oh! Susanna”
  • When I get to be a composer/I’m gonna write me some music about/Daybreak in Alabama./And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it/Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist/And falling out of heaven like soft dew. Langston Hughes, in the 1940 poem Daybreak in Alabama
  • I was born in Alabama, but I only lived there for a month before I’d done everything there was to do. Paula Poundstone, quoted in Michael Cader, That’s Funny! (1996)
  • Sweet home Alabama/Where the skies are so blue/Sweet home Alabama/Lord I’m coming home to you. Lynyrd Skynyrd, refrain from “Sweet Home Alabama,” a song on the 1974 album Second Helping (written by Ed King, Gary Rossington, & Ronnie Van Zant)


State Motto: “North to the Future.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Last Frontier

State Song: Alaska’s Flag

  • The odds are good, but the goods are odd. Author Unknown, quoted in Dr. Mardy Grothe, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You (1999)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Alaska lore, this example of chiasmus was the response of a clever bartender in the 1970s when he was asked by a new female resident of the state: “What are the odds of finding a good man around here?”

The line has been recounted countless times over the past fifty years, mostly by women opining on the quality (or lack thereof) of available men. To cite a recent example, Kim Barker wrote in The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011): “I was also trying not to date in Kabul, as Afghanistan resembled Alaska if you were a woman—the odds were good but the goods were odd.”

  • Someday…this part of the world is going to be so important that just to say you’re an Alaskan will be bragging. Edna Ferber, in Ice Palace (1958)
  • Alaska’s forests are the most welcoming I know. There are no ticks, no snakes, no poison ivy in Alaska. Charles Kuralt, in Charles Kuralt’s America (1995)
  • As for the hardship, it cannot be conveyed by printed page or word of mouth No man may know who has not undergone [it]. And those who have undergone…claim that in the making of the world God grew tired, and when He came to the last barrow load, “just dumped it anyhow,” and that was how Alaska happened to be. Jack London, “Gold Hunters of the North,” in Revolution and Other Essays (1910)
  • A handful of people clinging to a subcontinent. John McPhee, in Coming Into the Country (1977)

In his book, McPhee also wrote: “Alaska is a foreign country significantly populated with Americans. It language extends to English. Its nature is its own.”

  • We had actual daylight all night long. (This was in June.) True, it wasn’t so light at midnight as it was at noon. But you could stand out in the open at midnight, anywhere on the whole mainland of Alaska, and read a newspaper with ease. Ernie Pyle, in Home Country (1947)

Pyle introduced the thought by writing: “I had always been skeptical about all this all-night-daylight business. It was my belief that it would be an inferior brand, pumped up by the Chamber of Commerce, and not really what an honest man would call daylight at all. But, as usual, I was wrong.”

  • This Alaska is a great country. If they can just keep from being taken over by the U. S., they got a great future. Will Rogers, in Daily Telegrams (Aug. 13, 1935)

QUOTE NOTE: Rogers and his pilot Wiley Post died two days laterin a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska.

  • A quake a day was the norm in Alaska, where every day was a triumph of optimism over experience. Dana Stabenow, the voice of the narrator, in Bad Blood (2013)
  • If you’re willing to travel, or just super-desperate, the best place in the world to meet unattached men is on the Alaska pipeline. I’m told that the trek through the frozen tundra is well worth the effect for any woman who wants to know what it feels like to be Victoria Principal. Linda Sunshine, in Women Who Date Too Much (And Those Who Should Be So Lucky) (1988)


State Motto: Ditat Deus (“God Enriches”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Grand Canyon State, The Copper State, The Valentine State

State Song: The Arizona March Song

Alternate State Song: Arizona

  • Things in Arizona don’t just die; they bake and fry in the heat until there is nothing left. Jeffry R. Halverson, in The Mural: A Novel (2012)
  • The names of Arizona towns tell you all you want to know. Charles Kuralt, in Dateline America (1979)

Kuralt preceded the thought by writing: “Most of those old settlers told it like it was, rough and rocky. They named their towns Rimrock, Rough Rock, Round Rock, and Wide Ruins, Skull Valley, Bitter Springs, Wolf Hole, Tombstone. It’s a tough country.”

  • Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal. George F. Will, in Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1990)


State Motto: Regnat populous (“The People Rule”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Natural State, The Bear State

State Song:

  • If I could rest anywhere, it would be in Arkansaw [sic], where the men are of the real half-horse, half-alligator breed such as grows nowhere else on the fave of the earth. David Crockett, in Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834)
  • Arkansas has its own popular motto, and it is this: “I’ve never seen nothin’, I h’ain't got nothin’, and I don’t want nothin’.” C. L. Edson, quoted in Ernest H. Gruening, These United States (1924)

Edson continued: “These fundamental aims the people of Arkansas have achieved in every particular. Therefore, the Arkansawyers are happy, the only happy and successful people in America.”

  • Well, if you are in the market for some August humidity and some dead polecats and armadillos, I cannot recommend this stretch of road enough. Doris Haddock, on an Arkansas highway, in Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year (2001; with Dennis Burke)

Haddock went on to add: “I was constantly stepping around a great collection of unfortunate armadillos, presenting themselves nearly every tenth mile. It was as if some armadillo Spartacus, fleeing Arkansas, had been captured and executed with all his followers along this road.”

  • A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can’t quite achieve escape velocity. Charles Portis, the character Ray Midge speaking, in The Dog of the South (1979)


State Motto: Eureka, “I have found it”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Golden State

State Song: I Love You, California

(see quotations at CALIFORNIA)


State Motto: Nil sine Numine (“Nothing without Providence”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Centennial State

!st State Song (adopted 1915): Where the Columbines Grow

2nd State Song (adopted 2007): Rocky Mountain High

  • This is the kind of country you dream of running away to when you are very young and innocently hungry, before you learn that all land is owned by somebody, that you can get arrested for swinging through the trees in a loincloth, and that you were born too late or too poor for everything you want to do. Peter S. Beagle, in I See By My Outfit (1965)
  • Colorado is an oasis, an otherworldly mountain place. I’ve played so many shows in Colorado that I think I’m the Colorado house band. Brandi Carlile, quoted in Gary Stoller, “Life on the Road, In a Song” USA Today (June 6, 2012)
  • What's good, thrilling, exciting about Colorado was produced by God–not the Denver Chamber of Commerce. Eugene Cervi, quoted in Neal R. Pierce, The Mountain States of America (1972)
  • We found God lavish there in Colorado/But passing sly. Hart Crane, in the poem “Indiana,” in To the Brooklyn Bridge (1930)
  • Colorado, the most spectacular of the mountain states John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947)

In his book, Gunther also wrote about the state: “Water is blood in Colorado. Touch water, and you touch everything; about water the state is as sensitive as a carbuncle.”

  • A crystal clear Colorado sky opens above us, a blue so deep it makes you dizzy. The occasional bright white wispy cloud dances across the firmament, punctuating the deep blue vault of heaven stretching over this paradise. Neil Hanson, in Pilgrim Wheels: Reflections of a Cyclist Crossing America (2015)
  • Colorado’s lowest point (3,315 feet along the Kansas border) is higher than the highest point in twenty other states. Rivers begin here and flow away to all the points of the compass. Colorado receives no rivers from another state (unless you count the Green River’s brief in and out from Utah). Keith Heyer Meldahl, in Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains (2011)

A bit earlier, Meldahl had written: “Colorado and Wyoming are America’s highest states, averaging 6,800 feet and 6,700 feet above sea level. Utah comes in third at 6,100 feet, New Mexico, Nevada, and Idaho each break 5,000 feet, and the rest of the field is hardly worth mentioning. At 3,400 feet, Montana is only half as high as Colorado, and Alaska, despite having the highest peaks, is even further down the list at 1,900 feet.”

  • Colorado is a grand seat to see the world from. Will Rogers, in his syndicated column (Jan. 1, 1933); reprinted in Weekly Articles Vol. V (1982)
  • This is the real Switzerland of America. Theodore Roosevelt, in a 1905 speech in Denver

Roosevelt preceded the thought by saying: “Passing through your wonderful mountains and canyons I realize that this state is going to be more and more the playground for the entire Republic.”


State Motto: Qui transtulit sustinet (“He who transplanted sustains”)

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • In a true democracy everyone can be upper class and live in Connecticut. Lisa Birnbach, in The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)
  • New England states are indubitably tiny—Connecticut is only eighty miles across…. Connecticut appeared to be just one suburb. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
  • Equestrian and sailing are sports for people growing up on the mean streets of Connecticut. Craig Ferguson, in monologue on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (July 30, 2012)
  • Eastern Connecticut is very different from Western; we’re more liverwurst than pâté, more bowling than polo. Wally Lamb, in a USA Today interview (Dec. 1, 2016)

Lamb introduced the thought by saying: “Connecticut is in my blood. I’m a very rooted person. I grew up in Norwich, Connecticut, I still live in Connecticut. My novels travel to places I know: mostly in Eastern Connecticut, a fictional town called Three Rivers.”

  • I sing Connecticut, her charms/Of rivers, orchards, blossoming ridges./I sing her gardens, fences, farms,/Spiders and midges. Phyllis McGinley, “Bouquets for Connecticut,” in One More Manhattan (1937)

QUOTE NOTE: If the word midge is unfamiliar to you, you have a lot of company. It’s an uncommon word for a small fly.


State Motto: “Liberty and Independence.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The First State, The Small Wonder, The Blue Hen State, The Diamond State.

State Song:

  • Delaware has fought and bucked, hated, reviled, admired and fawned upon, ignored and courted the Du Ponts, but in the end, it has invariably bowed to Du Pont’s benevolent paternalism. James Warner Bellah, “Delaware,” in American Panorama: East of the Mississippi (1960)
  • Delaware may well be the most obscure of all the American states. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)

Bryson continued: “I once met a girl from Delaware and couldn’t think of a single thing to say to her. I said, ‘So you come from Delaware? Gosh. Wow.’ And she moved quickly on to someone more verbally dextrous, and also better-looking.”

  • A state that has three counties when the tide is out, and two when it was in. John J. Ingalls, on Delaware, an 1895 remark made in the U.S. Senate

QUOTE NOTE: Ingalls, a Kansas senator who was well known for his sarcastic wit, was taking a good-natured swipe at Delaware, which was—and continues to be—subdivided into only three counties.




State Motto: “In God We Trust.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Sunshine State

State Song:

(see quotations at FLORIDA


State Motto: “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Peach State, Empire State of the South

State Song: Georgia On My Mind (see also the Carmichael entry below)

  • Georgia has prospered because we have refused to be divided. We have worked together, and the nation and the world have taken notice. We are where we are today, the envy of other states, because decades ago our leaders accepted change while others defied it. In the long run, it has paid us handsome dividends. Roy Barnes (the 80th governor of the state), in address to the Georgian House of Representatives (Jan. 24, 2001)
  • I am determined that at the end of this administration we shall be able to stand up anywhere in the world—in New York, California, or Florida—and say,“I’m a Georgian,” and be proud of it. Jimmy Carter, in his inaugural gubernatorial address (Jan. 12, 1971)
  • Georgia, Georgia/The whole day through/Just an old sweet song/Keeps Georgia on my mind. Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, the opening lyrics to the song “Georgia On My Mind” (1930; music by Carmichael, lyrics by Gorrell)

QUOTE NOTE: Carmichael and Gorrell (both Indiana natives) were roommates in a Manhattan apartment in 1930 when they co-wrote the song (a few years earlier, a musician friend of Carmichael’s had suggested the idea, and even gave him the famous “Georgia, Georgia” opening lyric). When the song was originally copyrighted, Carmichael was listed as the sole author, but over the years he shared one-half of the royalties with his co-writer. The song has become an American Standard, with legendary versions recorded by Ray Charles, a Georgia native, and Willie Nelson. The state of Georgia officially declared it the state song in 1979.

The lyrics to the song are so familiar, that many can recall them without effort when the song is played. For example: “Other arms reach out to me/Other eyes smile tenderly/Still in peaceful dreams I see/The road leads back to you./Georgia, oh Georgia, no peace I find/Just an old sweet song/Keeps Georgia on my mind.” To listen to the Ray Charles version, go here.

  • You come from Georgia, where the peaches grow./They drink lemonade and speak real slow. Richard B. Cronin, lyric from the song “Summer Girls” (1999)


State Motto: “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Aloha State (official), Paradise of the Pacific, The Islands of Aloha

State Song: Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī

  • Hawaii is like an isolated jewel set in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. And like facets of a gem, the islands have their own unique qualities. Travelers who take the time to look beyond their obvious beauty will discover a chain of islands that is at once lush and stark, modern and ancient, simple and exotic. Rita Ariyoshi, in Hawaii [National Geographic Traveler] (rev. & updated 2006 edition)
  • For all I know, Eden still exists on this planet. If so, Hawaii is a place to look. Helen Bevington, in The Journey Is Everything (1983)
  • Hawaii is not some magical pixie wonderland; it’s an American state populated by atomic weapons, a remnant native population and people too stupid to spell their way out of a paper bag. Douglas Coupland, narrator and protagonist Raymond Gunt, speaking to his sidekick Neal Crossley, in Worst. Person. Ever. (2013)

Gunt continued: “Most of them came here to escape pathetic lives in the forty nine other states, so in some sense, Hawaii is a scenic cul-de-sac filled with people who want to drink themselves to death without feeling judged.”

  • Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress. Francine du Plessix Gray, title of 1972 book

QUOTE NOTE: In her book, du Plessix Gray offered a number of memorable observations about the state, including:

“The spiritual destiny of Hawaii has been shared by a Calvinist theory of paternalism enacted by the descendants of missionaries who carried it there: a will to do good for unfortunates regardless of what the unfortunates thought about it.”

“The vast Pacific ocean would always remain the islanders’ great solace, escape and nourishment, the amniotic fluid that would keep them hedonistic and aloof, guarded, gentle and mysterious.”

  • The nicest thing about Hawaii is that when we select a beauty queen at the university we don't have just one beauty queen. Thomas Hamilton, quoted in Francine du Plessix Gray, Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress (1972)

Hamilton continued: “We have a Polynesian beauty queen, a Chinese beauty queen, a Japanese beauty queen, a Filipino beauty queen, a Portuguese beauty queen, a Puerto Rican beauty queen, a Negro beauty queen, and a Caucasian beauty queen. Six, eight beauty queens all in a row. That's what I like best about Hawaii.”

  • The Hawaiian people have been from time immemorial lovers of poetry and music, and have been apt in improvising historic poems, songs of love, and chants of worship, so that praises of the living or wails over the dead were with them but the natural expression of their feelings. Lydia Kamekeha Liliuokalani, in Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen (1898)
  • In what other land save this one is the commonest form of greeting not “Good day,” nor “How d’ye do,” but “Love”? That greeting is Aloha—love, I love you, my love to you. Good day—what is it more than an impersonal remark about the weather? How do you do—it is personal in a merely casual interrogative sort of a way. But Aloha! It is a positive affirmation of the warmth of one’s own heart-giving. My love to you! I love you! Aloha! Jack London, “My Hawaiian Aloha,” in From Stories of Hawaii (1916)

In the article, London also wrote: “Hawaii is a paradise—and I can never cease proclaiming it; but I must append one word of qualification: Hawaii is a paradise for the well-to-do.”

  • Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is a part of the United States that is an island that is right here. Dan Quayle, in remarks to the press (April 25, 1989)
  • Hawaii is the only place I know where they lay flowers on you while you are still living. Will Rogers, quoted in Alex Ayres, The Wit and Wisdom of Will Rogers (1993)
  • Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace. Paul Theroux, quoted in The Observer (London; Oct. 29, 1989)
  • In my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago. Mark Twain, on the flowers of Hawaii, in an address at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City (April8, 1889) in Mark Twain’s Notebooks & Journals, Vol. I [1855-1873] (1975; Frederick Anderson, ed.)
  • Hawaii is still the single most frequent fantasy destination, not because of political stability or conveniences, but because Hawaii seduces the imagination. It’s the perfect postcard, no props, no fillers. Robert Wintner, in Snorkel Bob’s Reality (& Get Down) Guide to Hawaii (1994)


State Motto: Esto perpetua (“May she endure forever”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Gem State

State Song:


State Motto: “State sovereignty, national union.” Nicknames & Slogans: State Song: INDIANA State Motto: “The Crossroads of America.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Hawkeye State

State Song: “The Song of Iowa”

  • Top-choice America, America cut thick and prime. Harvey Arden, on Iowa, in National Geographic magazine (May, 1981)
  • You can always spot an Iowa man because he is wearing a baseball cap advertising John Deere or a feed company, and because the back of his neck has been layered into deep crevices by years of driving a John Deere tractor back and forth in a blazing sun. Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)

Bryson went on to add: “His other distinguishing feature is that he looks ridiculous when he takes off his shirt because his neck and arms are chocolate brown and his torso is a white as a sow’s belly. In Iowa it is called a farmer’s tan and it is, I believe, a badge of distinction.”

  • Iowans know themselves and what they are doing. They are doing well. Pearl S. Buck, in Pearl Buck’s America (1971)
  • Lancaster, California…that promised land sometimes called “the west coast of Iowa.” Joan Didion, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
  • Iowa spells agriculture, and agriculture in this part of the world spells corn. This is the heart of agrarian America. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • “This must be heaven,” he says. “No, It’s Iowo,” I reply automatically. W. P. Kinsella, dialog between Shoeless Joe Jackson and the protagonist Ray Kinsella, in Shoeless Joe (1982)

QUOTE NOTE: In his adaptation for the 1989 film Field of Dreams, screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson modified the dialog this way: “Is this heaven?” “It’s Iowa.” “I could have sworn it was heaven.”

  • There is a corner of America where the spring is lovely beyond belief, the land rolling and intensely green like the center of France, the rivers small between oak-covered bluffs and crossed by quiet bridges where boys sit with pole and line, hook and worm. Eric Sevareid, on northeast Iowa, in Luther magazine (Summer, 1965)

Sevareid, who had recently delivered the 1965 commencement address at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, went on to add: “This valley of the Upper Iowa River is glory and paradise for children. There are a thousand secret places in the woods; the hills seem like soaring mountains to them, but there is really no place they can get hurt. It is the land of adventure for them, but sanctuary as well; home is never far away when the shadows and the evening fog creep down into the valley.”

  • You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always very well taken care of if you come from Iowa. Gertrude Stein, in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)
  • The character of Iowa is essentially bucolic in the best senses of that word (and, to be quite honest, occasionally in some of the worst). Phil Strong, in Hawkeyes: A Biography of the State of Iowa (1940)

QUOTE NOTE: In his biography, Strong says that the term Hawkeyes comes from Chief Black Hawk, a Native American Indian warrior who was imprisoned by U.S military forces after his defeat in the Black Hawk War of 1832 (in modern day Illinois). He was later set free and spent his remaining days in southeastern Iowa, dying there in 1838. In his history of the state, Strong also observed:

“The gold mines and the diamond mines of the world are cheap and trivial compared to the produce that Iowa breeds out of its land every year.”

  • Innocent, that was the adjective for Iowa. Meredith Willson, quoted in Stanley Green, The World of Musical Comedy (1968)

QUOTE NOTE: Willson, an Iowa native, said “All I had to do was remember” this fact about his home state as he was writing the book, music, and lyrics for the 1957 hit Broadway play The Music Man.


State Motto: “To the Stars Through Difficulties.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them. Truman Capote, on Kansas, in In Cold Blood (1965)


State Motto: “Let us be Grateful to God.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “Union, justice, confidence.”

Nicknames & Slogans: Bayou State, Creole State, Pelican State, Sportsman's Paradise, The Boot.

State Song:

  • In 1803 Louisiana was an unmanned, undefended empire embracing the whole watershed of the Mississippi and comprising the present states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, both Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana–a third of North America. Alistair Cooke. in America1973)
  • Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air—moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh—felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Tom Robbins, the voice of the narrator, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)


State motto: “I lead.”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Pine Tree State, Vacationland.

State Song:

  • In this state there are more different kinds of religion than in any other, I believe. These long cold solitudes incline one to meditation. Katharine Butler Hathaway, a 1936 observation about Maine, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)


State Motto: “Manly deeds, womanly words.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “By the Sword we Seek Peace, but Peace Only Under Liberty.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “The Star of the North.”

Nicknames & Slogans: North Star State, The Gopher State, True North, Agate State, State of Hockey

State Song:

  • What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become! Here the Swede would find again his clear, romantic lakes, the plains of Scane rich in corn, and the valleys of Norrland; here the Norwegian would find his rapid rivers. Fredrika Bremer, in an 1850 letter, reprinted in America of the Fifties: Letters of Fredrika Bremer (1924; A. B. Benson, ed.)

Bremer, a prominent Swedish novelist went on to add: “The climate, the situation, the character of the scenery agrees with our people better than that of any other American States.”

  • Minnesotans hate zeal. Zeal is right up there on the list of suspicious emotional behaviors like joy and despair. Always err on the side of blandness. Tami Hoag, Prior Bad Acts (2006)
  • Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth, but so far all we’ve gotten is Minnesota and North Dakota. Garrison Keillor, “When I’m 64,” in Salon magazine (August 8, 2006)
  • Minnesotans are just different, that's all. On the day of which I speak, with the wind chill factor hovering at fifty-seven below…there were all these Minnesotans running around outdoors, happy as lambs in the spring. Charles Kuralt, in Dateline America (1979)

QUOTE NOTE: Kuralt expanded on this just different theme in his next book of American travels. See the entry below.

  • Minnesotans are nicer than other people. Charles Kuralt, in Charles Kuralt’s America (1995).

Kuralt introduced the thought by writing that “Minnesotans are different from the rest of us” in that they don’t smoke, they recycle, and return grocery carts to the store. He then continued: “Minnesotans bike with their helmets on. Minnesotans fasten their seat belts. Minnesotans hold the door for you. Minnesota men don’t leave the toilet seat up. Minnesotans do not blow the horn behind you when the light turns green; they wait for you to notice.”


State Motto: Virtute et armies (“By Valor and Arms”)

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • When you’re in Mississippi, the rest of America doesn’t seem real. And when you’re in the rest of America, Mississippi doesn’t seem real. Bob Harris Moses, a 1961 remark, quoted in Jack Newfield, Bread and Roses Too (1971). An example of chiasmus.


State Motto: Salus populist supreme lex esto (“Let the Welfare of the People be the Supreme Law”)

Nicknames & Slogans: The Show-Me State

State Song:

  • Missouri is a state of stolen names, bestowed to bring the world a little closer: Versailles, Rome, Cairo, New London, Athens, Carthage, Alexandria, Lebanon, Cuba, Japan, Sante Fe, Cleveland, Canton, California, Caledonian, New Caledonia, Mexico, Louisiana, Paris, our home. George Hodgman, the opening words of Bettyville: A Memoir (2015)
  • Frothy eloquence neither convinces or satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You’ve got to show me. Willard D. Vandiver, in an 1899 speech at the U.S. Naval Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

QUOTE NOTE: This observation, from a Missouri congressman, appears to be the origin of the “Show Me” state motto and the notion that people from Missouri prefer actions over words.


State Motto: “Gold and Silver.”

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State Song:


State Motto: “Equality Before the Law”

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State Song:


State Motto: “All For Our Country”

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State Song:


State Motto: “Live Free or Die”

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State Song:


State Motto: “Liberty and prosperity”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:


State Motto: “It Grows as it Goes”

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State Motto: “Ever Upward”

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State Motto: “To Be, Rather Than to Seem”

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State Motto: “One Sows for the Benefit of Another Age”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song: “North Dakota Hymn” was designated as the official state song in 1947; with words by James W. Foley and arranged by C. S. Putnam, it is sung to the tune of “The Austrian Hymn.”

  • We have four distinct seasons—three are absolutely beautiful, and one is very distinct. Author Unknown, in The New York Times (March 3, 2005)
  • A state of unbounded plains and hills and badlands. Author Unknown, Federal Writers’ Project, in North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State (1938)

The Guide also offered this observation on the state: “Freely admitted is the the rural character of the state, and there is seldom an attempt to cover native crudities with a veneer of Eastern culture.”

  • I don’t think the real America is in New York or on the Pacific Coast; personally, I like the Middle West much better, places like North and South Dakota, Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, I think, are the true Americans. Charlie Chaplin, in My Autobiography (1964)
  • There are more idiosyncracies per square inch in North Dakota than in any state I know. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth, but so far all we’ve gotten is Minnesota and North Dakota. Garrison Keillor, “When I’m 64,” in Salon magazine (August 8, 2006)
  • I would never have been president if it had not been for my experience in North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in E. B. Robinson, History of North Dakota (1966)
  • When my parents first arrived there, North Dakota had just been admitted to the Union, and the country was still wild and harsh. Lawrence Welk, in Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk (1973; with Bernice McGeehan)


State Motto: “With God, All Things Are Possible”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • Ohio is the farthest west of the east and the farthest north of the south. Louis Bromfield, quoted in John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • Basically, Ohio is nothing more nor less than a giant carpet of agriculture studded by great cities. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)


State Motto: “Labor Conquers All Things”

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State Motto: “She Flies with Her Own Wings”

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State Motto: “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence”

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State Song:


State Motto: “Hope”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Ocean State, Little Rhody

State Song: Rhode Island’s It For Me

  • 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.

  • Rhode Island was settled and is made up of people who found it unbearable to live anywhere else in New England. Woodrow Wilson, in a speech in New York City (Jan. 29. 1911)


State Motto: “Ready in Soul and Resource”

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State Song:

  • South Carolina is not a state; it is a cult. Pat Conroy, in A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (2016)
  • South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum. James. L. Petigru, an 1860 remark, quoted in Earl Schenk Miers, The Great Rebellion (1958)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Miers, this was Petigru’s response when he was asked by Robert Barnwell Rhett, a fellow Charleston resident, if he was planning to join the secessionist cause.


State Motto: “Under God the People Rule”

Nicknames & Slogans: The Mount Rushmore State (official)

State Song: Hail, South Dakota!

  • I guess it’s the physical and cultural remoteness of South Dakota that compels everyone to memorize almost every South Dakotan who has left the state and achieved some recognition. Tom Brokaw, in a letter to the author, John Milton, South Dakota: A Bicentennial History (1977)

Brokaw added: “As a child I would pore over magazines and newspapers, looking for some sign that the rest of the world knew we existed. I was even proud when an obscure insurance agent from, say, Watertown would have his name listed with a thousand other agents of a national company.”

  • It is like the world’s first drive-through sensory deprivation chamber. Bill Bryson, on South Dakota, in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)

Bryson preceded the thought by writing: “I drove on and on across South Dakota. God, what a flat and empty state. You can't believe how remote and lonely it feels out in the endless fields of yellow grass.”

  • I don’t think the real America is in New York or on the Pacific Coast; personally, I like the Middle West much better, places like North and South Dakota, Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, I think, are the true Americans. Charlie Chaplin, in My Autobiography (1964)
  • A part of hell with the fires burnt out. George Armstrong Custer, on the South Dakota Bad Lands, quoted in John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • Easily South Dakota’s greatest distinction is in the realm of—pheasants! John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • You can only look forward to a South Dakota winter if, as with childbirth, remodeling a house, or writing a novel, you're able to forget how bad it was the last time. Dan O’Brien, in Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch (2001)
  • I was not prepared for the Bad Lands. They deserve this name. They are like the work of an evil child. John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley (1962)

TENNESSEE State motto: “Agriculture and Commerce” Nicknames & Slogans: State Song:


State Motto: “Friendship”

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State Song:


State Motto: “Industry”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • Alaska is our biggest, buggiest, boggiest state. Texas remains our largest unfrozen state. But mountainous Utah, if ironed out flat, would take up more space on a map than neither. Edward Abbey, in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)
  • Jews in Utah, being non-Morman, are theoretically subject to classification as Gentiles, which gave rise to the well-known remark that “Utah is the only place in the world where Jews are Gentiles.” John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)


State Motto: “May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • All in all, Vermont is a jewel state, small but precious. Pearl S. Buck, in Pearl Buck’s America (1971)

In her book, Buck also wrote: “Vermont is a country unto itself.”

  • Vermont tradition is based on the idea that group life should leave each person as free as possible to arrange his own life. This freedom is the only climate in which (we feel) a human being may create his own happiness. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Vermont Tradition (1935)

In her book, Fisher also wrote: “Compared with more emotional types, Vermonters seem to have few passions. But those they have are great and burning. The greatest is their conviction that without freedom human life is not worth living.”

  • No Vermont town ever let anybody in it starve. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the voice of the narrator, in the short story “Henry and His Aunt Anna,” in Four-Square (1949)
  • Vermonters, it seems to me, are like ethnics in their own land. They are exceedingly conscious of their difference from other Americans, and they talk a great deal about outsiders, newcomers, and people from the south. Jan Morris, “Justin Morgan and the Enjoyment Industry,” in Locations (1992)
  • Vermonters are not only charmless of manner, on the whole; they are also, as far as I can judge, utterly without pretence, and give the salutary impression that they don’t care ten cents whether you are amused, affronted, intrigued, or bored stiff by them. Hardly anybody asked me how I liked Vermont. Not a soul said “Have a nice day!” Jan Morris, “Justin Morgan and the Enjoyment Industry,” in Locations (1992)
  • Winter in Vermont is like a great white cat, apparently asleep, with only its twitching tail tip warning that tense muscles are flexed under the white fur. Marguerite Hurrey Wolf, in I’ll Take the Back Road (1975)


State Motto: Sic semper tyrannis: “Thus Always to Tyrants”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • Virginia reeks of tobacco. Its odor saturates her like the coat of a veteran smoker. The brown stain of tobacco juice is on every page of her history. Virginia Moore, in Virginia Is a State of Mind (1942)
  • Virginians were nice, they confided to each other, if caught singly. Two Virginians, of course, talked horses. Isabel Scott Rorick, the voice of the narrator, in Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy Marriage (1940)

In the book Rorick also wrote: “There's not a person in Virginia won’t try to sell you a horse. It’s in ’em.”


State Motto: “By and By”

Nicknames & Slogans:

State Song:

  • The wildest, the most remote, and I think the most picturesque beach area of our whole coastline lies under a pounding surf along the Pacific Ocean in the state of Washington. William O. Douglas, in My Wilderness: The Pacific West (1960)


State Motto: “Mountaineers Are Always Free”

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State Song:

  • The state is one of the most mountainous in the country; sometimes it is called the “little Switzerland” of America, and I once heard an irreverent local citizen call it the “Afghanistan of the United States.” John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)


State Motto: “Forward”

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State Motto: “Equal Rights”

Nicknames & Slogans: Equality State (official), The Cowboy State.

State Song: “Wyoming” (see the Charles Edwin Winter entry below)

  • If anything is endemic to Wyoming it is wind. This big room of space is swept out daily, leaving a bone yard of fossils, agates, and carcasses in every stage of decay. Gretel Ehrlich, in The Solace of Open Spaces (1985)

Erlich continued: “Though it was water that initially shaped the state, wind is the meticulous gardener, raising dust and pruning the sage.”

  • Here is America high, naked, and exposed; this is a massive upland almost like Bolivia. John Gunther, in Inside U.S.A. (1947)
  • In the nation’s banner free/There’s one star that has for me/A radiance pure and a splendor like the sun;/Mine it is, Wyoming’s star/Home it leads me near or far;/O Wyoming! All my heart and love you’ve won! Charles Edwin Winter, closing lyric in the 1913 song Wyoming (the official state song of Colorado since 1955


(see UNITY)



  • Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! The Bible—Psalms 133:1 (RSV)



  • The universe is a machine for making gods. Henri Bergson, in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932)
  • The universe /is God’s self-portrait. Octavia E. Butler, in The Parable of the Sower (1993)

This is the conclusion to an eighteen-line poem that began this way: “Create no images of God./Accept the images/that God has provided./They are everywhere,/in everything.”

  • I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction. Rachel Carson, quoted in Linda Lear, Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1998)
  • Many and strange are the universes that drift like bubbles in the foam of the river of time. Arthur C. Clarke, “The Wall of Darkness,” in The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (2002)
  • The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe. Peter De Vries, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Stanley Waltz, in Let Me Count the Ways (1965)

Waltz introduced the observation by saying: “If you want my final opinion on the mystery of life and all that, I can give it to you in a nutshell.”

  • The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. Anne Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)
  • People having religions is an insult to the universe. Celia Green, in The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
  • It is said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch. Alan Guth, in A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988)
  • The universe may/be as great as they say./But it would’t be missed/if it didn’t exist. Piet Hein, “Nothing is Indispensable,” in Grooks (1966)
  • It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. John Andrew Holmes, in Wisdom in Small Doses (1927)
  • In my youth I regarded the universe as an open book, printed in the language of physical equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which in our rare moments of grace we are able to decipher a small fragment. Arthur Koestler, in Epilogue to Bricks to Babel (1980)
  • My theology, briefly,/Is that the Universe/Was Dictated/But not Signed. Christopher Morley, “Safe and Sane,” in Hide and Seek (1920)
  • The most powerful force in the Universe is gossip. Mary Pettibone Poole, in A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938)
  • The universe is energy, energy that responds to our expectations. James Redfield, the character Julia summarizing The Third Insight, in The Celestine Prophecy (1993)
  • The universe is made of stories,/not of atoms. Muriel Rukeyser, “The Speed of Darkness,” in Out of Silence: Selected Poems (1992)
  • If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980)

QUOTE NOTE: This has become one of Sagan’s most popular quotations, even though many have trouble explaining exactly what the saying actually means. In the book, a companion volume to his historic 1980 PBS television series, Sagan preceded the observation by writing:

“To make an apple pie, you need wheat, apples, a pinch of this and that, and the heat of the oven. The ingredients are made of molecules—sugar, say, or water. The molecules, in turn, are made of atoms—carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and a few others. Where do these atoms come from? Except for hydrogen, they are all made in stars. A star is a kind of cosmic kitchen inside which atoms of hydrogen are cooked into heavier atoms. Stars condense from interstellar gas and dust, which are composed mostly of hydrogen. But the hydrogen was made in the Big Bang, the explosion that began the Cosmos.”

  • The universe is one of God’s thoughts. Johann Friedrich von Schiller, “Letter 4: Theosophy of Julius,” in Essays: Aesthetical and Philosophical (1884)
  • Huddled together in our little earth we gaze with frightened eyes into the dark universe. Arnold Toynbee, “Notes and Jottings,”, in Lectures on the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century in England (1884)
  • Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity. Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace (1947)
  • The entire universe is nothing but a great metaphor. Simone Weil, in First and Last Notebooks (1970)
  • The universe is an intelligence test. Heathcote Williams, in The Immortalist (1978)
  • To trust in the force that moves the universe is faith. Faith isn't blind, it’s visionary. Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (1993)



  • Kindness in ourselves is the honey that blunts the sting of unkindness in another. Walter Savage Landor, the character Epicurus speaking, in Imaginary Conversations (1824–53)
  • Unkindness is death to the home. One unkind, unsocial, critical, eternally dissatisfied member can destroy any family. Kathleen Thompson Norris, in Hands Full of Living (1931)
  • In nature there’s no blemish but the mind;/None can be call’d deform’d but the unkind. William Shakespeare, the character Antonio speaking, in Twelfth Night (1601)
  • I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness. Mother Teresa, in a 1959 letter to her religious order, quoted in Georges Gorrée and Jean Barbier, The Love of Christ (1982)



  • Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)



  • It is true that the unknown is the largest need of the intellect, though for it, no one thinks to thank God. Emily Dickinson, from an 1876 letter, in Letters of Emily Dickinson, Vol. 2 (1894; Mabel Loomis Todd, ed.)
  • He said he should prefer not to know the sources of the Nile, and that there should be some unknown regions preserved as hunting-grounds for the poetic imagination. George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871)
  • Childhood is only the beautiful and happy time in contemplation and retrospect: to the child it is full of deep sorrows, the meaning of which is unknown. George Eliot, from an 1844 letter (1844), quoted in J. W. Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885)
  • Every age is an unknown country. Eleanor Roosevelt, in Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
  • It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more. J. K. Rowling, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  • As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don’t know. Donald Rumsfeld, remark as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, at Defense Department news briefing (Feb. 12, 2002)
  • Once men are caught up in an event they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939)
  • But settled things were enemies to me and soon lost their newness and color. The unknown called. Agnes Smedley, a reflection of protagonist Marie Rogers, in Daughter of Earth (1929)
  • Faith and doubt both are needed—not as antagonists but working side by side—to take us around the unknown curve. Lillian Smith, in The Journey (1954)
  • To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. Freya Stark, in Baghdad Sketches (1929)
  • The unknown always passes for the marvelous. Tacitus, in Agricola (1st c. A.D.)
  • I knew in some marvelous way I had touched the hem of the unknown. And being me, I wanted to lift that hemline a little bit more. Mae West, in Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It! (1959)



  • A fierce unrest seethes at the core/Of all existing things:/It was the eager wish to soar/That gave the gods their wings. Don Marquis, the opening quatrain of “Unrest” (1915), reprinted in Louis Untermeyer (ed.), Modern American Poetry (1919; rev. ed. 1921)

QUOTE NOTE: The full poem may be seen at “Unrest”. Marquis had presented a slightly different version of this quatrain when the poem made its first appearance in The Pacific Monthly (Jan., 1909): “A fierce unrest seethes at the core/Of all existing things—/It is the restless wish to soar/That gave a god his wings.”



  • The upper crust is a bunch of crumbs held together by dough. Joseph A. Thomas, quoted in Robert Byrne, The Fourth—and by far the Most Recent—637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1990)



  • Upright is not a matter of degree. In every second, you either are or you ain’t.” Harvey Stanbrough, the character Wes Crowley speaking, in Assignment Brownsville (2021)




  • What praise is implied in the simple epithet useful! David Hume, “Of Benevolence,” in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)

QUOTE NOTE: Referring to useless without formally mentioning the word, Hume continued: “What reproach in the contrary!

  • If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. William Morris, “The Beauty of Life,” in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882)




  • There is a tyranny in the womb of every Utopia. Bertrand de Jouvenal, in Sovereignty: An Inquiry Into the Political Good (1957)
  • Every daring attempt to make a great change in existing conditions, every lofty vision of new possibilities for the human race, has been labeled Utopian. Emma Goldman, “Socialism: Caught in the Political Trap,” a c. 1912 lecture; reprinted in Red Emma Speaks (1972; A. K. Shulman, ed.)
  • Thinking about profound social change, conservatives always expect disaster, while revolutionaries confidently anticipate utopia. Both are wrong. Carolyn Heilbrun, in Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1973)
  • Literature is my Utopia. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1903)
  • For our chronically and extremely hungry man, Utopia can be defined simply as a place where there is plenty of food. Abraham H. Maslow, in Motivation and Personality (1954)

Maslow continued: “He tends to think that, if only he is guaranteed food for the rest of his life, he will be perfectly happy and will never want anything more.”

  • An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Lord Bacon,” in Edinburgh Review (July, 1837)

Macaulay continued: “The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promises of impossibilities.”

  • Utopias rest on the fallacy that perfection is a legitimate goal of human existence. Lewis Mumford, in Findings and Keepings: Analects for an Autobiography (1975)
  • Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. George Orwell, “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun,” in The Tribune (London; Dec. 20, 1943)

Orwell continued: “They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.”

  • Utopia is what the imagination of man has to say about the possibilities of the human spirit. Howard Thurman, from A Search for Common Ground (1971)
  • A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in Fortnightly Review (Feb., 1891)

Wilde continued: “And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopia.”

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