Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“V” Quotations


(see also [Hand] SIGNAL and SIGN LANGUAGE and VICTORY)

  • The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories, and a portent of the fate awaiting the Nazi tyranny. Winston Churchill, in BBC-Radio message to the people of Europe (July 20, 1941)

QUOTE NOTE: Churchill may have popularized—and even personified—the V-for-Victory hand sign, but he didn’t originate it. That honor goes to Victor de Laveleye, A Belgian politician who sought exile in England after the Nazi occupation of his country. In a January 14, 1941 broadcast on Radio Belgique—a BBC station transmitting to occupied Belgium—de Laveleye suggested the use of the letter “V” as a symbol of unity and resistance. Almost immediately, “V” graffiti began showing up all around Belgium. In June of 1941, the hand signal became the central component of a “V for Victory” campaign spearheaded by the BBC. For more, go to: V-for-Victory Sign.



  • Television was not intended to make humans vacuous; but it is an emanation of their vacuity. Malcolm Muggeridge, “I Like Dwight” (1962), in Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966)
  • Once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. Tennessee Williams, “On a Streetcar Named Success,” in The New York Times (Nov. 30, 1947)



  • Nature abhors a vacuum. Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics (1677)



  • The words we use are symbolic of the values we hold. Angela Duckworth, in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016)
  • The essence of good taste is a sense of values, and a sense of values is the pivotal point of good living. Millicent Fenwick, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)
  • California…is the place that sets the trends and establishes the values for the rest of the country; like a slow ooze, California culture spreads eastward across the land. Ada Louise Huxtable, in The Unreal America (1993)
  • In a foreign country people don’t expect you to be just like them, but in Los Angeles, which is infiltrating the world, they don’t consider that you might be different because they don’t recognize any values except their own. And soon there may not be any others. Pauline Kael, in I Lost It at the Movies (1965)
  • There is no hierarchy of values by which one culture has the right to insist on all its own values and deny those of another. Margaret Mead, in And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942)
  • Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s own values. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” paper read at University of Wisconsin (Feb. 9, 1961); reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)

Later in the paper, Rand wrote: “Man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

  • Values linger on after the social structures which conceived them. Sheila Rowbotham, in Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World (1973)
  • False values begin with the worship of things. Susan Sontag, a reflection of the character Frau Anders, in a letter to her daughter Lucrezia, in The Benefactor (1963)
  • We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs. Gloria Steinem, in a 1978 speech



  • A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man. John Adams, in Discourses on Davila (1789)
  • Those who prosper take on airs of vanity. Aeschylus, in Agamemnon (5th c. B.C.)
  • Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief. Jane Austen, the character Mr. Knightley speaking, in Emma (1815)
  • There is nothing which vanity does not desecrate. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs From Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • A man’s own vanity is a swindler that never lacks for a dupe. Honoré de Balzac, the voice of the narrator, in The Jealousies of a Country Town [originally Les Rivalités] (1898)
  • The passion of vanity has its own depths in the spirit, and is powerfully militant. Elizabeth Bowen, the voice of the narrator, in the short story, “The Apple Tree,” in Look at All Those Roses (1941)
  • Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1928 diary entry, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10: Barcelona, Berlin, New York, 1928–1931 (2008)

Bonhoeffer preceded the observation by writing: “It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying.”

  • The passion of vanity has its own depths in the spirit, and is powerfully militant. Elizabeth Bowen, “The Apple Tree,” in Look at All Those Roses (1941)
  • Nothing is so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth! Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, in Devereux (1829)

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

  • Hurt vanity is one of the cruelest of mortal wounds. Phyllis Bottome, the character Freya reflecting on Fritz’s wounded vanity, in The Mortal Storm (1938)
  • The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood works, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself. John Calvin, in Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536)
  • What greater vanity is there than that of boasting without any ground for it? John Calvin, in Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol. 1 (1848; John Pringle, ed.)

A moment later, Calvin went on to add: “A man that extols himself is a fool and an idiot.”

  • Guard against that vanity which courts a compliment, or is fed by it. Thomas Chalmers, a journal entry (May 10, 1810), in Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers (1867; William Hanna, ed.)
  • Vanity is a strong temptation to lying; it makes people magnify their merit, over-flourish their family, and tell strange stories of their interest and acquaintance. Jeremy Collier, in Pearls of Great Price (1838)
  • Vanity plays lurid tricks with our memory. Joseph Conrad, the voice of the narrator, Charles Marlowe, in Lord Jim (1900)
  • Is there any vanity greater than the vanity of those who believe themselves without it? Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun), a reflection of protagonist Kate Fansler, in The Question of Max (1976)
  • There is no arena in which vanity displays itself under such a variety of forms as in conversation. Germaine de Staël, quoted in R. R. Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Vol. 1 (1855)
  • Vanity ruins more women than love. Marie du Deffand, from a letter to Voltaire (c. 1750), in Lettres à Voltaire (1922; Joseph Trabucco, ed.)
  • We are so vain that we care even for the opinion of those we don’t care for. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • Vanity is as ill at ease under indifference as tenderness is under a love which it cannot return. George Eliot, the narrator, in Daniel Deronda (1874)
  • Vain people can’t bear to be crossed. They are the center of their world, and if the circumstances don’t allow the world to meet their needs, then the circumstances need to be changed. Their actions appear proportionate to them, because any situation where their needs aren’t being met is an affront. Judith Flanders, the character Mr. Rudiger speaking, in A Bed of Scorpions: A Mystery (2016)
  • It is an indisputable fact that only vain people wage war against the vanity of others. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), a reflection of the unnamed narrator and protagonist, in The Confessions of an Elderly Lady (1838)
  • Naïveté in grownups is often charming; but when coupled with vanity it is indistinguishable from stupidity. Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State of Mind (1955)
  • Stupidity talks, vanity acts. Victor Hugo, “Thoughts,” in Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (1907; Lorenzo O’Rourke, trans.)
  • Vanity is a desire of personal glory, the wish to be appreciated, honored, and run after, not because of one’s personal qualities, merits, and achievements, but because of one’s individual existence. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906; Bailey Saunders, ed. & trans.)

Goethe concluded: “At best, therefore, it is a frivolous beauty whim it befits.”

  • No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (March 23, 1751)
  • Nothing so soothes our vanity as a display of greater vanity in others; it makes us vain, in fact, of our modesty. Louis Kronenberger, in Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954)
  • If vanity does not overthrow all virtues, at least she makes them totter. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Virtue would not go nearly so far if vanity did not keep her company. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • The most violent passions sometimes leave us at rest, but vanity agitates us constantly. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878)
  • An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. H. L. Mencken, “The Fringes of Lovely Letters,” in Prejudices: Fifth Series (1926)

QUOTE NOTE: Mencken was explaining why “rational men and women engage in so barbarous and exhausting a vocation” as writing. About the powerful role vanity plays in the motivation of authors, he added: “His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.”

  • There is scarcely any fault in another which offends us more than vanity, though perhaps there is none that really injures us so little. Hannah More, “Self-Love,” in Practical Piety (1811)
  • Marriage defeats and humbles the man since it soon or late robs him of his greatest bulwark, viz., vanity. George Jean Nathan, “Woman,” in The Theater, the Drama, the Girls (1921)
  • To be a man’s own fool is bad enough; but the vain man is everybody’s. William Penn, in Fruits of Solitude (1682)
  • Everyone has his vanity, and each one’s vanity is his forgetting that there are others with an equal soul. Fernando Pessoa, in The Book of Disquiet (1982; first Eng. trans., 1991)

QUOTE NOTE: This passage has also been translated: “Everyone is vain about something, and the vanity of each of us consists in forgetting that there are others with souls like ours.” The Book of Disquiet, published 47 years after Pessoa’s death in 1935, was presented to the world as the autobiography of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, an unmarried Portuguese bookkeeper named Bernardo Soares. The book was pieced together from thousands of pages of Pessoa’s diary entries, personal and philosophical ramblings, autobiographical vignettes, poems, and other literary fragments. For more on Pessoa, see this review of a new translation of The Book of Disquiet in The Guardian (June 21, 2001).

  • Provided a man is not mad, he can be cured of every folly but vanity; there is no cure for this but experience, if indeed there is any cure for it at all. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Emile: Or, On Education (1762)

Rousseau continued with this advice on dealing with youthful vanity: “When it first appears we can at least prevent its further growth. But do not on this account waste your breath on empty arguments to prove to the youth that he is like other men and subject to the same weaknesses.”

QUOTE NOTE: I’ve also seen the full passage above translated this way: “The sole folly of which one cannot disabuse a man who is not mad is vanity. For this there is no cure other than experience—if, indeed, anything can cure it. At its birth, at least, one can prevent its growth. Do not get lost in fine reasonings intended to prove to the adolescent that he is a man like others and subject to the same weaknesses.”

  • I have a horror of vanity; it is the quicksand of reason. George Sand, the title character speaking, in Mademoiselle Merquem: A Novel (1868)

ERROR ALERT: For well over a century, this quotation has been routinely—and mistakenly—presented as, “Vanity is the quicksand of reason.” The principal culprit appears to be Maturin M. Ballou, who offered the abridged version in his popular Pearls of Thought (1882). The mistaken version is now more common on internet sites than the correct phrasing.

  • We crave support in vanity, as we do in religion, and never forgive contradictions in that sphere. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905–06)
  • The highest form of vanity is love of fame. George Santayana, in Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
  • Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast. Logan Pearsall Smith, in Afterthoughts (1931)
  • Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases it outlives the man. Robert Louis Stevenson, a reflection of the protagonist Loudon Dodd, in The Wrecker (1892; with Lloyd Osbourne)

ERROR ALERT: Many quotation anthologies and internet sites mistakenly identify Stevenson’s novel Prince Otto (1885) as the source of this observation.

  • Let us thank God for imparting to us, poor weak mortals, the inestimable blessing of vanity. How many half-witted votaries of the arts—poets, painters, actors, musicians—live upon this food, and scarcely any other! William Makepeace Thackeray, “The Artists,” in Character Sketches, Part Two of Irish Sketch Book (1843)

ERROR ALERT: The quotation is often mistakenly presented as imparting unto us rather than imparting to us.

  • There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it. Mark Twain, a notebook entry (Nov. 26, 1896), in Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935; Albert Bigelow Paine, ed.)
  • No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity. Edith Wharton, in The House of Mirth (1905)



  • Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity to what we would have others think of us. Jane Austen, the character Mary Bennett speaking, in Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Pride is a wound, and vanity is the scab on it. One’s life picks at the scab to open the wound again and again. Michael Ayrton, in The Maze Maker (1967)

Ayrton added: “In men, it seldom heals and often grows septic.”

  • The sin of pride may be a small or a great thing in someone’s life, and hurt vanity a passing pinprick or a self-destroying or even murderous obsession. Possibly, more people kill themselves and others out of hurt vanity than out of envy, jealousy, malice or desire for revenge. Iris Murdoch, the voice of the narrator, in The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983)
  • Pride is an established conviction of one’s own paramount worth in some particular respect, while vanity is the desire of rousing such a conviction in others, and it is generally accompanied by the secret hope of ultimately coming to the same conviction oneself. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

Schopenhauer continued: “Pride works from within; it is the direct appreciation of oneself. Vanity is the desire to arrive at this appreciation indirectly, from without.”



  • Variety is the soul of pleasure. Aphra Behn, the character Willmore speaking, in The Rover (1677)
  • Variety’s the very spice of life/That gives it all its flavor. William Cowper, “The Timepiece,” in The Task (1785)

QUOTE NOTE: This is generally regarded as the origin of the proverbial saying Variety is the spice of life. The underlying idea was not original to Cowper, though. The notion that variety was a kind of antidote to staleness was first advanced in the first century B.C. (see the Publilius Syrus entry below).

  • No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)



  • To get the best results, you must talk to your vegetables. Prince Charles (Prince of Wales), quoted in “Sayings of the Week,” The Observer (London; Sep. 28, 1986)
  • Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1978)


(see also VEGETABLES)

  • There’s no such thing as a little garlic. Arthur “Bugs” Baer, quoted in Frank Muir, The Frank Muir Book (1976)
  • The local groceries are all out of broccoli,/Loccoli. Robert Blount, Jr., “Against Broccoli,” in “Three Poems,” The Atlantic Monthly (July, 1976)
  • I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli! George H. W. Bush, quoted in The New York Times (March 23, 1990)
  • The leek is the asparagus of the poor. Anatole France, in Crainquebille (1906)
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Miles Kington, quoted in the Independent (London; March 28, 2003)
  • Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to thise who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter. Fran Lebowitz, in Metropolitan Life (1978)
  • Parsley/Is gharsley. Ogden Nash, “Further Reflections on Parsley” (1942)
  • The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious. Tom Robbins, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

This metaphorical masterpiece is from “Today’s Special” which appears to be a kind of preface or prologue to the work. The narrator continued in a figurative frenzy:

“Slavic people get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

“The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip… [ellipsis in original]

“The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized.”

  • Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. Mark Twain, in Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation appears on most internet sites these days, but it was originally part of this larger thought: “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”

  • Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it. S. J. Perelman, in Acres and Pains (1951)



  • A vegetarian is a person who won’t eat anything that can have children. David Brenner, quoted in Cosmopolitan magazine (Oct. 1985)
  • You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” in The Conduct of Life (1850)
  • Vegetarianism is harmless enough, though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness. Sir Robert Hutchison, in 1930 address to British Medical Association (Winnipeg, Manitoba; specific date undetermined)
  • If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. Paul McCartney, widely attributed, but not confirmed

QUOTE NOTE: An original source for this quotation has not been found, but there is general agreement that it is authentic (in a 2010 video produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), McCartney preceded the thought with the words, “As I’ve often said”). It’s possible the remark was inspired by an 1850 observation from Ralph Waldo Emerson (see his entry above). The full PETA video, which is graphic in its portrayal of animal cruelty, may be seen at If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls.

  • I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized. Henry David Thoreau, “Higher Laws,” in Walden (1854)

A bit earlier in the essay, Thoreau wrote: “I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind.”

  • A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral. Leo Tolstoy, in letter to Dr. Eugen Heinrich Schmitt (specific date undetermined); reprinted in The Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi: Essays, Letters, Miscellanies (1899)






  • If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone. Thomas Hardy, notebook entry (Oct. 17, 1896), quoted in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (1984; Michael Millgate, ed.)
  • Truth shines the brighter clad in verse. Jonathan Swift, “To Stella” (1720), in The Works, Vol. X (1803)


(see also ORGASM and SEX & SEXUALITY)

  • Think of it as a kind of Hamburger Helper for the boudoir. Jane Wagner, the character Judith Beasley describing her vibrator, in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1986)

The character, played by Lily Tomlin in the Broadway play, continued: “Can you afford one, you say? Can you afford not to have one? Why, the time it saves alone is worth the price. I’d rank it right up there with Minute Rice, Reddi-Wrap, and Pop-Tarts.”


(see also EVIL and HYPOCRISY and VICE & VIRTUE and VIRTUE and SIN)

  • Vices are their own punishment. Aesop, “Avaricious and Envious,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • We make a ladder of our vices if we trample those same vices underfoot. St. Augustine, “De Ascenscione,” in Sermons (5th cent.)
  • It is but a step from companionship to slavery when one associates with vice. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884)

QUOTE NOTE: Even though I’ve been unable to find this observation in any of Ballou’s published works, I still lean toward considering it legitimate. Maturin Murray Ballou, the editor of the Treasury of Thought anthology, was Hosea Ballou’s son and something of an authority on his father’s work; I believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  • The vices we scoff at in others laugh at us within ourselves. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • One vice worn out makes us wiser than fifty tutors. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, an observation from the fictional professor Augustus Tomlinson, in “Tomlinsoniana,” an appendix to Paul Clifford (1830)
  • It is only in some corner of the brain which we leave empty that Vice can obtain a lodging. When she knocks at your door, my son, be able to say, “No room for your ladyship—pass on.” Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the character Augustine Caxton in a letter to his son, in The Caxtons: A Family Picture (1849)
  • So in the wicked there’s no vice/Of which the saints have not a spice. Samuel Butler, in Hudibras (1663)
  • Half the vices which the world condemns most loudly have seeds of good in them and require moderate use rather than total abstinence. Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh (1903)
  • Vice is its own reward. Quentin Crisp, playing off the proverbial saying about virtue (see below), in The Naked Civil Servant (1968)
  • I am on the side of those who believe that vice comes from stupidity and consequently that the nearer one draws to wisdom the farther one gets from vice. Marie de Gournay, in Preface to Essais by Michel de Montaigne (Book III; 1595)

QUOTE NOTE: Marie de Gournay was an aspiring young intellectual—and an early feminist—when, at age 23, she first met Montaigne in 1588 (he was 55 and already famous for his Essais, the first volume of which appeared in 1580). Women were denied formal education at the time, but de Gournay was fluent in both Latin and Greek, and already well acquainted with the classical writers of antiquity. Montaigne greatly admired her, clearly viewed her as a protégé, and even described “a fatherly love” for her in one of his essays (although he rendered her name as Marie Gournay le Jars). After Montaigne’s death in 1592, his widow made the young woman a literary executor. In 1595, she put together the first posthumous edition of Montaigne’s essays, introduced by a lengthy Preface in praise of the man and his works.

  • A sympathetic person is placed in the dilemma of a swimmer among drowning men, who all catch at him, and if he give so much as a leg or a finger, they will drown him. They wish to be saved from the mischiefs of their vices, but not from their vices. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)

ERROR ALERT: The closing sentence above is often mistakenly presented as if it began: “Men wish to be saved….”

  • Let thy vices die before thee. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (June, 1738)
  • Vice knows she’s ugly, so puts on her Mask. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (March, 1746)

QUOTE NOTE: Franklin, who “borrowed” so frequently from the writings of English and European writers, was almost certainly inspired by a Thomas Fuller observation, to be found below.

  • What maintains one vice would bring up two children. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Sep., 1947)
  • Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Dec., 1755)
  • Vice would be frightful if it did not wear a mask. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for errors, and those of the poor and lowly for crimes. Marguerite Gardiner (Lady Blessington), in Desultory Thoughts and Reflections (1839)
  • Many a man’s vices have at first been nothing worse than good qualities run wild. Julius C. & Augustus W. Hare, in Guesses at Truth (1827)
  • The hour of reformation is always delayed; every delay gives vice another opportunity of fortifying itself by habit. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler (Sep. 10, 1751)
  • This is the danger, when vice becomes a precedent. Ben Jonson, “Of the Diversity of Wits,” in Timber: Or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter (1640)
  • At the heart of every vice sits selfishness, yawning. Yahia Lababidi, “Aphorisms on Art, Morality & Spirit,” Elephant Journal Nov. 3, 2013)
  • When our vices leave us, we flatter ourselves that we leave them. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • Some, either from being glued to vice by a natural attachment, or from long habit, no longer recognize its ugliness. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Repentance,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • He who hates vices hates men. John Morley, quoting an “old saying,” in Robespierre (1886)
  • To vice, innocence must always seem only a superior kind of chicanery. Ouida, in Wisdom, Wit and Pathos (1884)
  • Vice is a monster of so frightful mien/As to be hated, needs but to be seen;/But seen too oft, familiar with her face,/We first endure, then pity, then embrace. Alexander Pope, “Epistle II,” in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • Astronomy was born of superstition; eloquence of ambition, hatred, falsehood, and flattery; geometry of avarice; physics of an idle curiosity; and even moral philosophy of human pride. Thus the arts and sciences owe their birth to our vices. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750)
  • Depend upon it, of all vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness. Sir Walter Scott, quoted in John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of The Life of Sir Walter Scott, Vol 1 (1837 )
  • What once were vices, are now the manners of the day. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear; Robbed and furr’d gowns hide all. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in King Lear (1605-06)
  • The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/Make instruments to plague us. William Shakespeare, the character Edgar speaking, in King Lear (1605-06)
  • Every vice has its excuse ready. Publilius Syrus, in Moral Sayings (1st c. B.C.)
  • I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices. Mark Twain, “Answers to Correspondents,” in Sketches New and Old (1875)

QUOTE NOTE: Twain is the original author of the redeeming vices sentiment, even though Oscar Wilde is often given the credit (see the Wilde entry below).

  • It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or even perhaps always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at. Simone Weil, in Waiting for God (1950)
  • Vice does not lose its nature, though it become ever so fashionable. John Wesley, in The Character of a Methodist (1742)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous websites mistakenly present an altered version of the observation: Vice does not lose its character by becoming fashionable.

  • He hasn’t a single redeeming vice. Oscar Wilde, quoted in Hesketh Pearson, The Life of Oscar Wilde (1946)

QUOTE NOTE: See the Mark Twain entry above for the original appearance of the redeeming vices sentiment.


(see also EVIL and HYPOCRISY and VICE and VIRTUE and SIN)

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

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

  • Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue. Francis Bacon, “Of Adversity,” in Essays (1625)

Bacon preceded the thought by writing: “Certainly virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed.”

  • It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable bounds. Samuel Butler, in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • The vices of which we are full we carefully hide from others, and we flatter ourselves with the notion that they are small and trivial; we sometimes even embrace them as virtues. John Calvin, in Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (1551)
  • It is easier to get on with vices than with virtues. The vices, accommodating by nature, help each other, are full of mutual indulgence, whereas the jealous virtues combat and annihilate each other, showing in everything their incompatibility and their intolerance. E. M. Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
  • We are more apt to catch the vices of others than their virtues, as disease is far more contagious than health. Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon (1820)
  • There is a capacity of virtue in us, and there is a capacity of vice to make your blood creep. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (April 25, 1831)
  • Every vice is only an exaggeration of a necessary and virtuous function. Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry (1836)
  • Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Dec., 1738)
  • Vice often rides triumphant in virtue’s chariot. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • There are some faults so nearly allied to excellence that we can scarce weed out the vice without eradicating the virtue. Oliver Goldsmith, the character Sir William Honeywood speaking, in The Good-Natur'd Man (1768)
  • There are amiable vices and obnoxious virtues. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • Courage is a quality so necessary for maintaining virtue, that it is always respected, even when it is associated with vice. Samuel Johnson, a June 11, 1784 remark, quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
  • Virtue by calculation is the virtue of vice. Joseph Joubert, in Joubert: Some of the “Thoughts” of Joseph Joubert (1867; George H. Calvert, trans.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is a leaner translation of a thought from Joubert’s Pensées (1842) that was originally presented this way: “Virtue when a matter of expediency and calculation is the virtue of vice.”

  • Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • We try to make a virtue of vices we are loath to correct. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1665)
  • It’s my experience that folks who have no vices have generally very few virtues. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in F. B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln (1866)

QUOTE NOTE: This quotation first emerged four years earlier—and in this exact phrasing—in an article in Macmillan’s Magazine (May, 1862; “Washington During the War”). In the article, Lincoln was quoting an unnamed passenger he had met while traveling on a stagecoach.

  • I prefer an accommodating vice to an obstinate virtue. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), the character Mercury speaking, in Amphitryon (1666)
  • When I the most strictly and religiously confess myself, I find that the best virtue I have has in it some tincture of vice. Michel de Montaigne, “That We Taste Nothing Pure,” in Essays (1580–88)
  • Sometimes Virtue starves, while Vice is fed. Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Man (1733-34)
  • Our virtues and vices couple with one another, and get children that resemble both of their parents. George Savile (Lord Halifax), in Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
  • Vices creep into our hearts under the name of virtues. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), in Letters to Lucilius (c. 65 A.D.)
  • Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,/And vice sometime’s by action dignified. William Shakespeare, Friar Laurence speaking, in Romeo and Juliet (1595)
  • There is no vice so simple, but assumes/Some mark of virtue on his outward parts. William Shakespeare, the character Bassanio speaking, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)
  • The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues. Elizabeth Taylor, quoted in a 1984 issue of New Woman magazine (specific date undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: Taylor was almost certainly inspired by a famous Abraham Lincoln observation (to be seen above).

  • You may have noted the fact that it is a person’s virtues as often as his vices that make him difficult to live with. Kate Douglas Wiggin, the voice of the narrator, from the short story “The Midnight Cry,” in The Village Watch-Tower (1895)
  • Vice is always in the active, virtue often in the passive. Frances E. Willard, in Woman and Temperance (1883)

Willard continued: “Vice is aggressive. It deals swift, sure blows, delights in keen-edge weapons, and prefers a hand-to-hand conflict, while virtue instinctively fights its unsavory antagonist at arm’s length; its great guns are unwieldy and slow to swing into range.”

  • There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (1854)

Thoreau continued: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

  • It is queer how it is always one’s virtues and not one’s vices that precipitate one into disaster. Rebecca West, “There Is No Conversation,“ in The Harsh Voice (1935)
  • Nurse one vice in your bosom. Give it the attention it deserves and let your virtues spring up modestly around it. Then you’ll have the miser who’s no liar; and the drunkard who’s the benefactor of the whole city. Thornton Wilder, the character Malachi Stack speaking, in The Matchmaker (1954)

A moment later, Stack continued: “I discovered an important rule that I’m going to pass on to you. Never support two weaknesses at the same time. It’s your combination sinners—your lecherous liars and your miserly drunkards—who dishonor the vices and bring them into bad repute.”



  • My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived. John Adams, on the vice-presidency, in letter to Abigail Adams (Dec. 19, 1793)

QUOTE NOTE: Adams offered this frank assessment after four years in the office. He served four more years as vice-president before being inaugurated as America's second President in 1797.

  • Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be President, and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be Vice-President. Johnny Carson, a reference to VP Dan Quayle, in Tonight Show monologue (Sep. 11, 1991)
  • Th’ prisidincy is th’ highest office in th’ gift iv the people. Th’ vice prisidincy is th’ nex’ highest an’ th’ lowest. It isn’t a crime exactly. Ye can’t be sint to jail f’r it, but it’s a kind iv disgrace. It’s like writin’ anonymous letters. Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley speaking, in “Mr. Dooley on the Duties of a Vice President,” The Minneapolis Journal (July 23, 1904)
  • Perhaps the cruelest thing ever said of Hubert Humphrey was that he had the soul of a vice president. Susan Estrich, in Love of Country (2016)
  • The vice presidency is the sand trap of American politics. It’s near the prize, and designed to be limiting. Howard Fineman, “Rx for the Veep,” in Newsweek magazine (May 20, 1991)
  • There cannot be a great vice president. A great man may occupy the office, but there is no way for him to become a great vice president because the office in itself is almost wholly unimportant. John Nance Garner, quoted in Colliers magazine (March 20, 1948)
  • A spare tire on the automobile of government. John Nance Garner, on the vice-presidency, in remarks to the press (June 19, 1934); quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)
  • The Vice-Presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. John Nance Garner, a 1960 remark to Lyndon Johnson, quoted in Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (1961)

QUOTE NOTE: According to White, Garner offered this thought to Johnson as he was considering John F. Kennedy’s invitation to be his running mate in the 1960 presidential election. This is the first appearance of the observation in print, but many people believe Garner offered the observation decades earlier (he was FDR’s Vice-President for two terms, serving from 1933-1941). Garner was well known for his salty language, and it is commonly believed that his actual words were “a pitcher of warm piss.” In fact, that version of the quotation contention appeared in O. C. Fisher’s 1978 biography, Cactus Jack: A Biography of John Nance Garner. In the biography, which was published eleven years after Garner’s death, Fisher quoted Garner as saying about the euphemized version: “Those pantywaist writers wouldn’t print it the way I said it.” More on the story behind the quotation may be found in an informative essay by University of Texas historian Patrick Cox.

  • The President has only 190 million bosses. The Vice President has 190 million and one. Hubert H. Humphrey, quoted by Leonard Lyons in a 1965 issue of Reader’s Digest (specific issue undetermined)

QUOTE NOTE: According to Lyons, Humphrey said this to actress Rosalind Russell after she had remarked that the presidency must be the most difficult job in the world. Humphrey claimed the VP’s job was tougher, and he offered the foregoing quote in defense of his contention.

  • You are his choice in a political marriage, and he expects your absolute loyalty. Hubert H. Humphrey, on the relationship between the President and Vice-President, quoted in a 1969 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • If you are very active as vice-president, everyone in America knows your name. But that is your only property. It is not the same as real power—more like being a movie star. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)
  • The Vice-President of the United States is like a man in a cataleptic state: he cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no pain; and yet he is perfectly conscious of everything that is going on about him. Thomas R. Marshall, in remarks to the press, circa 1921; quoted in H. L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations (1942)
  • There were once two brothers. One ran away to sea, the other was elected Vice President, and neither was ever heard of again. Thomas R. Marshall, quoted in George W. Stimpson, A Book About American Politics (1952)
  • The man with the best job in the country is the Vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, “How’s the president?’” Will Rogers, quoted in Gerald F. Lieberman, The Greatest Laughs of All Time (1961)
  • Here is one instance in which it is the man who makes the office, not the office the man. Harry S Truman, in Years of Decision (1955)
  • The vice-presidency is sort of like the last cookie on the plate. Everybody insists he won’t take it, but somebody always does. Bill Vaughan, quoted in Laurence J. Peter, Peter’s Quotations (1977)



  • When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones. Peter De Vries, the character Augie Poole speaking, in The Tunnel of Love (1954)
  • We may right a wrong, but we cannot restore our victim to his primeval state of happiness. Something is lost that can never be regained. Pauline E. Hopkins, in Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (1900)
  • There is a stage in any misery when the victim begins to find a deep satisfaction in it. Storm Jameson, in That Was Yesterday (1932)
  • For to be powerless, to be a complete victim, may be another source of power. Iris Murdoch, in The Unicorn (1963)
  • Why are women raped far away (say, Bosnia) called victims, while those raped nearby (say, a local campus) are playing victim politics? Gloria Steinem, in Moving Beyond Words (1994)
  • What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander. Elie Wiesel, in Harry J. Cargas, “An Interview with Elie Wiesel,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Jan., 1986)



  • When you have gained a victory, do not push it too far. Eustace Budgell, in The Spectator (Oct. 16, 1711)

Budgell continued: ’Tis sufficient to let…your Adversary see ’tis in your Power, but that you are too generous to make use of it.”

  • Victory is by nature haughty and insolent. Marcus Tulles Cicero, in Pro Marcello (1st c. B.C.)
  • For every victory…there is a price. Jacqueline Carey, the character Necthana speaking, in Kushiel’s Dart (2001)
  • In its worst examples, victory has a lot in common with vulgarity. In athletics, business, and the White House, we can hear the voice of victory reduced to language worthy of a kindergartner, a caveman, or a drunkard. D. S. Carroll, in Victory Over Victory (2011)
  • Victory is gay only back home. Up front it is joyless. Marlene Dietrich, on victory in war, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • The god of Victory is said to be one-handed, but Peace gives victory to both sides. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an undated journal entry (circa 1870)
  • All victories breed hate, and that over your superior is foolish or fatal. Baltasar Gracián, in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
  • The human race is intoxicated with narrow victories, for life is a string of them, like pearls that hit the floor when the rope breaks, and roll away in perfection and anarchy. Mark Helprin, the voice of the narrator, an elderly American living in Brazil, in Memoir from Antproof Case: A Novel (1995)
  • Victory is not won in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later win a little more. Louis L’Amour, originally in The Walking Drum (1984); reprinted in A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour (1988; Angelique L’Amour, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: The line originally appeared in L’Amour’s 1984 novel The Walking Drum.

  • Each victory must be applauded, because it is so easy not to battle at all, to just accept and call that acceptance inevitable. Audre Lorde, in A Burst of Light: And Other Essays (1988)

Lorde preceded the thought by writing:“Battling racism and battling heterosexism and battling apartheid share the same urgency inside me as battling cancer. None of these struggles are ever easy, and even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted.”

  • Upon the fields of friendly strife/Are sown the seeds/That, upon other fields, on other days/Will bear the fruits of victory. Douglas MacArthur, verse written c. 1920, repeated in MacArthur’s memoir Reminiscences (1964)

QUOTE NOTE: MacArthur, who wrote the verse while serving as superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point (1919-22), had the words engraved over the entrance to the school’s sports gymnasium. He was almost certainly inspired by a legendary—but apocryphal—quotation attributed to the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley): “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

  • Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann, in 1859 commencement address at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

QUOTE NOTE: Mann, president of the college at the time, collapsed a few days after his address and died at age 63 a few weeks later, on August 2, 1859. This passage from his speech resonated so strongly with the Antioch community that, ever since, the words have been repeated to each graduating class. More than a century later, the saying was adopted as the college’s official motto and inscribed on a monument in Mann’s honor.

ERROR ALERT: Mann’s words are often mistakenly presented as some great victory.

  • The moment of greatest peril is the moment of victory. Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte), in Napoleon in His Own Words (1916; Jules Bertaut, ed.)
  • The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else. Martina Navratilova, quoted in The Independent (London; June 21, 1989)
  • No victor believes in chance. Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science (1882)
  • It is no doubt a good thing to conquer on the field of battle, but it needs greater wisdom and greater skill to make use of victory. Polybius, in Histories (2nd c. B.C.)
  • Another such victory and we are undone. Pyrrhus, quoted in Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans (1st c. A.D.)

QUOTE NOTE: Pyrrhus (319–272 B.C.), emperor of the ancient Greek city-state of Epirus, made this remark after his army’s costly victory over the Romans at the Battle of Asculum in 279 B.C. His legendary remark—also commonly presented as One more such victory and we are lost—has given us the eponymous term pyrrhic (PEER-ick) victory for a win that has inflicted such a devastating toll on the victors that it may be legitimately regarded as a kind of defeat. For more on the subject, go to Pyrrhic Victory.

  • I had done battle with a great fear and the victory was mine. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Cross Creek (1942)
  • There is no pain in the wound received in the moment of victory. Publilius Syrus, in Sententiae (1st c. B.C.)
  • The Intoxication of Victory. Arnold J. Toynbee, chapter title, in A Study of History: The Breakdowns of Civilizations, Vol. 4 (1939)



  • If one lives long enough, one sees that every victory sooner or later turns to defeat. Simone de Beauvoir, the character Raymond Fosca speaking, in All Men Are Mortal (1946)
  • I am just showing the results of the terrific fight that I have waged inside of myself, and you know that the face of victory often resembles the face of defeat. Jane Bowles, the character Andy speaking, in Two Serious Ladies: A Novel (1943)

QUOTE NOTE: Andy, who is looking somewhat morose even though he has successfully negotiated an internal struggle earlier in the day, offers this thought to Miss Goering after she asks, “What on earth happened to you?” She then replies: “Victory fades so quickly that it is scarcely apparent and it is always the face of defeat that we are able to see.”

  • Victory is fraught with as much danger as glory. Victory has very narrow meanings and, if exaggerated or misused, can become a destructive force. The taste of defeat has a richness of experience all its own. Bill Bradley, in Life on the Run (1976)
  • The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons speech (Nov. 11, 1942)
  • Victory has a hundred fathers, but no one wants to recognize defeat as his own. Count Galeazzo Ciano, a diary entry (Sep. 9, 1942)
  • A defeat borne with pride is also a victory. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • The fullness of life is in the hazards of life. And, at the worst, there is that in us which can turn defeat into victory. Edith Hamilton, in The Great Age of Greek Literature (1942)
  • There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. John F. Kennedy, in a press conference (April 21, 1961)

QUOTE NOTE: In a press conference held three months after his inauguration as president, JFK said this about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (over the years, he employed variations of the saying, sometimes replacing victory/defeat with success/failure). If JFK had known more, he might have chosen not to use the metaphor, for it was a popular saying with Italian and German military officers in WWII. The inspiration for the sentiment came from Mussolini’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who had written in a 1942 diary entry: “Victory has a hundred fathers, but no one wants to recognize defeat as his own.”

  • There are defeats more triumphant than victories. Michel de Montaigne, “On Cannibals,” in Essays (1580–88) Also an example of Oxymoronica.
  • More people are ruined by victory, I imagine, than by defeat. Eleanor Roosevelt, in My Days (1938)
  • Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life,” speech at The Hamilton Club, Chicago, Illinois (April 10, 1899); later reprinted, with other writings and speeches in the book The Strenuous Life (1900)

ERROR ALERT: Numerous internet sites mistakenly present the final words as “knows neither victory nor defeat.” Many other sites, especially those outside America, follow the British English tradition of presenting the color as grey rather than gray.

  • It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” speech at the Sorbonne (Paris; April 23, 1910)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the most widely quoted portion of Roosevelt’s “in the arena” speech, one of history’s most celebrated pieces of political oratory. As you can see by comparing this entry with the one immediately preceding it, some elements of the Paris address were expressed in Roosevelt’s 1899 “The Strenuous Life” speech.

  • A victory described in detail is indistinguishable from a defeat. Jean-Paul Sartre, the Archbishop speaking, in The Devil and the Good Lord (1951)
  • Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory. John Steinbeck, the character Merlin speaking, in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976)
  • Every victory is also a defeat. Nobody gets anything for nothing. Gloria Swanson, in Swanson on Swanson (1980)



  • Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America—not on the battlefields of Vietnam. Marshall McLuhan, quoted in The Montreal Gazette (May 16, 1975)

McLuhan preceded the observation by saying: “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room.”



  • Natural villains are hard to come by, what with all the shrinks and social-scientist types threatening to understand everybody into the ground. Shana Alexander, in Talking Woman (1976)
  • As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow. Colette (pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), in Break of Day (1928; first published in English in 1961)
  • There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains. The people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch. Bette Davis, in The Lonely Life (1962)
  • Democracy produces both heroes and villains, but it differs from a fascist state in that it does not produce a hero who is a villain. Margaret Halsey, in Color Blind (1946)

In her book, Halsey also wrote: “Democracy makes many taxing demands on its practitioners, but suspension of the intelligence is not one of them.”

  • Without will, without individuals, there are no heroes. But neither are there villains. And the absence of villains is as prostrating, as soul-destroying, as the absence of heroes. Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Of Heroes, Villains, and Valets,” in On Looking Into the Abyss (1994)
  • Is there no Villain in this World who doth not regard himself as a poor abus’d Innocent, no She-Wolf who doth not think herself a Lamb, no Shark who doth not fancy that she is a Goldfish? Erica Jong, a reflection of the title character and narrator, in Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones (1980)
  • Charming villains have always had a decided social advantage over well-meaning people who chew with their mouths open. Judith Martin, in Common Courtesy (1985)
  • In the theater, as in life, we prefer a villain with a sense of humor to a hero without one. Mignon McLaughlin, in The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
  • Great villains make great movies. Staton Rabin, “The Swiniest Swine in the World—Writing Movie Villains We’ll Love to Hate,” in Script magazine (Dec. 19, 2017)

Rabin continued: “Actors love to play them because these roles allow them to chew up the scenery. We screenwriters love to write these roles because through creating them, we exorcise our own demons. Many of us would probably be out killing the producers who turned down our last script or who forced us to rewrite Act III, if it weren’t for the catharsis that writing villains gives us.”

  • The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. William Shakespeare, the character Antonio speaking, alluding to Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596)

Antonio continued: “An evil soul producing holy witness/Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,/A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath.”

  • I set it down that/That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Hamlet (1601)



  • The violin—that most human of all instruments. Louisa May Alcott, the voice of the narrator, in Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out: A Sequel to “Little Men” (1886)

QUOTE NOTE: This is how the observation is presented in most quotation anthologies, but it was originally part of a larger observation about Nat Plumfield, one of Jo’s boys and a bashful young man who came alive when playing the violin:

“By and by when the violin—that most human of all instruments—had sung to them the loveliest songs without words, he said, looking about him at these old friends with what Mr. Bhaer called a ‘feeling-full’ expression of happiness and content: ‘Now let me play something that you will all remember though you won't love it as I do.’”

  • Love is like a violin. The music may stop now and then, but the strings remain forever. June Masters Bacher, in Diary of a Loving Heart (1984)
  • The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way that Balzac’s famous observation is usually presented, and it is one of the most popular observations about how clumsy, or even inept, men can be in their intimate relations with women. The popular version of the sentiment appears to be an abridgment of Balzac's original words. Here's his fuller thought: “Woman is a delicious instrument of pleasure, but it is necessary to know its quivering strings, study the pose of it, its timid keyboard, the changing and capricious fingering. How many orangs—men, I mean, marry without knowing what a woman is!”

  • When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story. Joshua Bell in a FaceBook post (April 8, 2015)
  • Fiddle, n. An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse’s tail on the entrails of a cat. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A fiddle is not a fiddle until it touches a human shoulder, until it is tucked warmly under a human chin. Catherine Drinker Bowen, in Friends and Fiddlers (1934)
  • Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), in speech at Somerville Club (London; Feb. 27, 1895); reprinted in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), in The Way of All Flesh (1903)
  • And now, Doctor, we’ve done our work, so it’s time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in “The Red-Headed League” (August, 1891) in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • Draw your chair up, and hand me my violin, for the only problem which we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes speaking, in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” (April, 1892) in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • Sharp violins proclaim/Their jealous pangs, and desperation,/Fury, frantic indignation,/Depths of pains, and height of passion,/For the fair, disdainful dame. John Dryden, in “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” (1687)
  • A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy. Albert Einstein, quoted in Dana Meachen Rau, Albert Einstein (2003)
  • I know that the most joy in my life has come to me from my violin. Albert Einstein, quoted in Brian Foster, “Einstein and His Love of Music,” in Physics World (January 2005)
  • ’Tis God gives skill,/But not without men’s hands:/He could not make Antonio Stradivari’s violins/Without Antonio. George Eliot, in the poem “Stradivarius,” in The Poems of George Eliot (1891)
  • If the souls of lives were voiced in music, there are some that none but a great organ could express, others the clash of a full orchestra, a few to which nought but the refined and exquisite sadness of a violin could do justice. Miles Franklin, in My Brilliant Career (1901)

Franklin continued: “Many might be likened unto common pianos, jangling and out of tune, and some to the feeble piping of a penny whistle, and mine could be told with a couple of nails in a rusty tin-pot.”

  • Without even knowing it, we are assaulted by a high note of urgency all the time. We end up pacing ourselves to the city rhythm whether or not it’s our own. In time we even grow hard of hearing to the rest of the world. Like a violinist stuck next to the timpani, we may lose the ability to hear our own instrument. Ellen Goodman, in Making Sense (1989)
  • The actor must know that since he, himself, is the instrument, he must play on it to serve the character with the same effortless dexterity with which the violinist makes music on his. Just because he doesn’t look like a violin is no reason to assume his techniques should be thought of as less difficult. Uta Hagen, in A Challenge for the Actor (1991)
  • I feel as if I had never seen a violin before. It looks like a fabulous creature-phantom-fox spirit—wedded to the human-turned head and the left shoulder and the hands. As if something had been missing when man was created, and now he has found his needed thing—his needed voice for uttering his strangest cry by his lonely spirit. Katharine Butler Hathaway, in The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith (1946)
  • If it is true that the violin is the most perfect of musical instruments, then Greek is the violin of human thought. Helen Keller, in The Story of My Life (1902)
  • To Jack, his violin is comfort and relaxation. To his inky wife, it’s time to put her head down the waste-disposal unit again. Maureen Lipman, in How Was It for You? (1985)
  • Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like the violin. John Lubbock, in The Use of Life (1894)
  • The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched. Neal A. Maxwell, in The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book (1997)
  • The older the violin, the sweeter the music. Larry McMurtry in Lonesome Dove (1985)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation is not original to McMurtry; he was simply passing along a popular proverbial saying about aging.

  • An actor is supposed to be a sensitive instrument. Isaac Stern takes good care of his violin. What if everybody jumped on his violin? Marilyn Monroe, quoted in Richard Meryman, “Marilyn Lets Her Hair Down About Being Famous,” Life magazine (August 3, 1962)
  • Violins are the lively, forward, importunate wits, that distinguish themselves by the flourishes of imagination, sharpness of repartee, glances of satire, and bear away the upper part in every concert. Richard Steele, in The Tatler (March 31, 1710)

In his essay, Steele was likening musical instruments to the roles that people play in conversation. He continued with a less complimentary thought on the subject: “I cannot however but observe, that when a man is not disposed to hear music, there is not a more disagreeable sound in harmony than that of a violin.”

  • A novel is like a bow, and the violin that produces the sound is the reader’s soul. Stendhal (pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle), in The Red and the Black (1830)
  • We consider that the man who can fiddle all through one of those Virginia Reels without losing his grip, may be depended upon in any kind of musical emergency. Mark Twain, “The Music,” in Virginia city Territorial Enterprise (Jan. 10 1863)
  • The long sobbing of autumn violins wound my heart with a monotonous languor. Paul Verlaine, in “Autumn Song” (1866)
  • A violin should be played with love, or not at all. Joseph Wechsberg, in The First Time Around (1970)
  • The truth is that, unlike pianists and trumpeters, who merely play their instruments, we fiddlers live with ours. Joseph Wechsberg, in The Glory of the Violin (1973)

Wechsberg’s book contains numerous quotable observations on violins and violinists. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Of all musicians, string players have the most intimate relationship with their instruments, and fiddlers have an anthropomorphic attitude toward their violins. We feel they are almost human, members of our family.”

“Violins often behave as capriciously as women do. They can be sweet or bored or temperamental. On some days they sound better than on others. They may lovingly respond to your efforts or angrily reject you. They want to be wooed; if you make a mistake, they scream.”

“The violin is, at the same time, a work of art to be looked at and a musical instrument to be played on. It appeals to more of the human senses than any other work of art.”

  • The violin has…at one and the same time a soul and a mind. Eugène Ysaÿe, quoted in Joseph Wechsberg, The Glory of the Violin (1973)



  • while violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958)
  • Generally speaking, violence always arises out of impotence. It is the hope of those who have no power. Hannah Arendt, a 1967 remark, quoted in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt (1982)
  • The extreme form of power is All against One, the extreme form of violence is One against All. Hannah Arendt, in On Violence (1970). An example of chiasmus.

In the book. Arendt also wrote: “Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power.”

  • The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world. Hannah Arendt, “On Violence,” in Crises of the Republic (1972)

In the essay, Arendt also wrote: “Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.”

  • Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Isaac Asimov, a favorite saying of the character Mayor Salvor Hardin, in Foundation (1951)

QUOTE NOTE: Hardin liked the saying so much that he had it framed and placed on a wall in his office.

  • Perhaps violence, like pornography, is some kind of evolutionary standby system, a last-resort device for throwing a wild joker into the game? J. G. Ballard, “News From the Sun,” in Myths of the Near Future (1982)
  • The only thing that’s been a worse flop than the organization of non-violence has been the organization of violence. Joan Baez, in Daybreak (1968)
  • Deceit and violence — these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings. Sissela Bok, in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978)
  • As it does with so many other stimuli, the phenomenon known as “habituation” also operates when it comes to violence. The greater the level of detachment and numbing, the more of the stimulus is needed to bring about what marketing strategists call “arousal” and, in turn, to produce whatever pleasure the activity can bring. Sissela Bok, in Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment (1998)
  • I say violence is necessary. It is as American as cherry pie. H. Rap Brown, in Washington, D. C. speech (July 27, 1967)

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites abridge the observation to read simply: “Violence is as American as apple pie.” For more on Brown’s famous saying, see Robert Deis’s This Day in Quotes post.

  • Only reverence can restrain violence—violence against nature, violence against one another. William Sloane Coffin, “The Spiritual and the Secular,” in The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality (1999)
  • Just as violence is the last refuge of the inarticulate, so it is also the first resort of the incompetent, the easy out for the man who is capable of expressing himself only in the most primitive and vulgar of dramatic terms. Judith Crist, in The Private Eye, the Cowboy, and the Very Naked Girl: Movies from Cleo to Clyde (1968)

Christ continued: “He leaves us with only the obscenity of violence per se—and the pornographer thereof will always be with us, in film as in any other medium. And so will his audience.”

  • Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. Arthur Conan Doyle, the character Dr. Grimesby Roylott speaking, “The Speckled Band,” in Strand magazine (Feb., 1892); reprinted in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • Men are rewarded for learning the practice of violence in virtually any sphere of activity by money, admiration, recognition, respect, and the genuflection of others honoring their sacred and proven masculinity. Andrea Dworkin, in Pornography (1981)

Dworkin continued: “In male culture, police are heroic and so are outlaws; males who enforce standards are heroic and so are those who violate them.”

  • Through violence, you may solve one problem. But you sow the seeds for another. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in The Political Philosophy of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama (1998; A. A. Shiromany, ed.)
  • Violence is its own anesthetist. The numbness it induces feels very much like calm. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in Foreign Bodies (1984)
  • At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don’t have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact desensitizing us. Pauline Kael, in Deeper Into Movies (1973)
  • A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it. Lewis H. Lapham, “Citizen Goetz,” in Harper’s magazine (March, 1985)
  • In violence, we forget who we are. Mary McCarthy, “Characters in Fiction,” in On the Contrary (1961)
  • Violence is the instinctive response to fear. Margaret Millar, the voice of the narrator, in Vanish in an Instant (1952)
  • Violence is like a weed—it does not die even in the greatest drought. Simon Wiesenthal, in Justice Not Vengeance (1989)




  • Virginity is rather a state of mind. Maxwell Anderson, the character Penelope speaking, in Elizabeth the Queen: A Play in Three Acts (1930)
  • Virginity: you don’t get that back, because you were in such a big hurry to get rid of it in the first place. George Carlin, in A Place For My Stuff (1981)
  • It is a crossing of a Rubicon in life history. Paul H. Gephard, on losing one’s virginity, quoted in Jane E. Brody, “More Coeds Find Less Guilt in Sex,” The New York Times (Dec.30, 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: There may be no more significant event in a person’s life than the first experience of sexual intercourse, and Gephard, the director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research at the time, chose an appropriate metaphor to describe it. The Rubicon is a river that, in ancient times, divided Italy and Gaul. In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar crossed the river in a military march against Pompey. Acting in complete defiance of the Roman Senate’s orders not to engage in any military action, Caesar famously said “the die is cast” as he ordered his troops across the river. The event gave birth to the saying Crossing the Rubicon, now a popular metaphor for taking a step in which there is no turning back.

  • Which people desire to lose what they possess? A sick man his fever, a tormented husband his wife, a gambler his debts, and a girl—her virginity. Franz Grillparzer, in Notebooks and Diaries (1808-1810).
  • It is regarded as normal to consecrate virginity in general and to lust for its destruction in particular. Karl Kraus, in Beim Wort Genommen [Take Our Word] (1955)

In the work, Kraus also wrote: “Virginity is the ideal of those who want to deflower.”

  • A virgin—a frozen asset. Clare Booth Luce, the character Nancy speaking, in The Women (1936 play; film version, 1939)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the way the quotation is typically presented, but it was originally part of the play’s smart dialogue. When another character asks Nancy, “And what are you, Pet?” she replies, “What nature abhors, I’m—a virgin—a frozen asset.”

  • I always thought of losing my virginity as a career move. Madonna, quoted in the epilogue of Christopher Andersen's Madonna Unauthorized: The Early Years (1991)
  • It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue. Voltaire, in Notebooks (c. 1735-50)
  • One reaches all great events of life a virgin. Marguerite Yourcenar, from a character in Fires (1936; pub. in English in 1981)



  • To me, virtual reality is just air guitar writ large. Robert J. Sawyer, “On Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines,” a dialog between Robert J. Sawyer and A. K. Dewdney, in The Ottawa Citizen (April 4, 1999)

QUOTE NOTE: In this observation, Sawyer was reprising a sentiment that appeared four years earlier in his Nebula Award-winning sci-fi novel The Terminal Experiement (1995). In the novel, the narrator describes a failed experiment this way: “Virtual reality, it turned out, was nothing but air guitar writ large.”



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

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

QUOTE NOTE: See the very similar quotation from Margaret Deland below.

  • All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. John Adams, in Thoughts on Government (1776)
  • 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)
  • Virtue…is a mean state between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: This is an early expression of a principle that went on to be known as The Golden Mean.

  • Moral virtue is the child of habit. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (4th c. B.C.)

QUOTE NOTE: The observation has also been translated this way: “Moral virtues we acquire through practice like the arts.”

  • Virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed. Francis Bacon, “Of Adversity,” in Essays (1625)

Bacon continued: “Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.”

  • Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set. Francis Bacon, “Of Beauty,” in Essays (1625)
  • Virtue is, perhaps, no more than a kind of politeness of the soul. Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage (1829)
  • Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction. Natalie Clifford Barney, quoted in “My Country ’tis of Thee,” Adam magazine, no. 299 (London, 1962)
  • We should make virtue our master, not our servant. Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), in On Ice: And Other Things (1868)
  • There is no road or ready way to virtue. Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici (1643)
  • Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Virtue knows that it is impossible to get on without compromise, and tunes herself, as it were, a trifle sharp to allow for an inevitable fall in playing. Samuel Butler (1835–1902), “Vice and Virtue” in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
  • Virtue has always been conceived of as victorious resistance to one’s vital desire. James Branch Cabell, in Beyond Life (1919)
  • If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. G. K. Chesterton, “The Book of Job,” in G. K. C. as M. C. 1929)
  • Virtue is the music of the soul, the harmony of the passions. Mary Collyer, in Felicia to Charlotte (1744)

Collyer added about virtue: “It is the order, the symmetry, the interior beauty of the mind; the source of the truest pleasures, the fountain of the sublimest and most perfect happiness.”

  • Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it shall have neighbors. Confucius, in Analects (6th c. B.C.)
  • Virtue, thriving most where little seen. William Cowper, in The Task (1785)
  • There isn’t any virtue where there has never been any temptation. Virtue is just temptation, overcome. Margaret Deland, the character Dr. Lavendar speaking, in The Awakening of Helena Richie (1906)

QUOTE NOTE: Deland might have been inspired by a slightly earlier observation from Lyman Abott, seen above.

  • We can acquire some virtues by feigning them for a long time. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in Aphorisms (1880-93)
  • The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Heroism,” in Essays: First Series (1841)
  • He is ill clothed that is bare of virtue. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack (Aug., 1733)
  • I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. Benjamin Franklin, in letter to his parents (April 13, 1738)

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

  • Virtue’s paths are first rugged, then pleasant. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)
  • Virtue, sir, consists in actions, and not in words. William Godwin, the character Laura Denison speaking, in Caleb Williams (1794)

QUOTE NOTE: While the novel has become known as simply Caleb Williams, it was originally published in three volumes under the title Things as They Are: Or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams. See the Lord Tennyson entry below for a more elegant expression of the idea.

  • The virtue which requires to be ever guarded is scarce worth the sentinel. Oliver Goldsmith, the title character and narrator, Dr. Charles Primrose, speaking, in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)
  • The greatest offense against virtue is to speak ill of it. William Hazlitt, in Characteristics (1823)
  • It is of the essence of virtue that the good is not to be done for the sake of a reward. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (1955)
  • Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Thomas Jefferson, in letter to Nathaniel Macon (Jan. 12, 1819)

QUOTE NOTE: Most internet sites and quotation anthologies present only the concluding phrase: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

  • Virtue would not go nearly so far if vanity did not keep her company. François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, in Maximes (1678)
  • The rouge of sin is often applied with virtue as a mirror. JonArno Lawson, in Love is an Observant Traveller (1997)
  • Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together. Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), in De Remediis, Book II (1354)
  • Assume a virtue, if you have it not. William Shakespeare, the title character speaking, in Hamlet (1601)
  • Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues/We write in water. William Shakespeare, the character Griffith speaking, in King Henry VIII (1613)
  • Virtue must shape itself in deed. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in “Tiresias” (1885)

QUOTE NOTE: This is the loveliest expression of a thought that had been expressed previously by others. For one example, see the William Godwin entry above.

  • The weakest of all weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire. Mark Twain, the voice of the narrator, in “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” Harper’s Monthly (Dec., 1899); reprinted in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories (1900)
  • Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. George Washington, quoted in Maxims of Washington: Political, Social, Moral, and Religious (1854; John Frederick Schroeder, ed.)

QUOTE NOTE: Schroeder’s book originally presented the observation without source information; it came in a letter to Maj. Gen. Robert Howe (Aug. 17, 1779)

  • Elegance is inferior to virtue. Mary Wollstonecraft, in the Introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
  • Virtue is the roughest way,/But proves at night a bed of down. Henry Wotten, “Upon the Sudden Restraint of the Earl of Somerset”(written c. 1625), in Poems by Sir Henry Wotton (1843; Alexander Dyce, ed.)



  • In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity. John Barth, quoted in Charles B. Harris, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth (1983)
  • My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity. John Barth, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” in Atlantic Monthly (Aug., 1967)

QUOTE NOTE: The phrase passionate virtuosity, which Barth offered on a number of occasions over the years, became so singularly associated with him that Charles B. Harris selected it as the title of his 1983 critical study of Barth’s work (the Harris book also presented Barth’s most quotable version of the sentiment). Barth introduced the idea in an August, 1967 Atlantic Monthly article (“The Literature of Exhaustion”), in which he wrote: “My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity.” He reprised the sentiment in his 1972 novel Chimera, where he had The Genie say to another character: “Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity.”

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



  • The survival of an unseen virus has brought the whole world to its knees without firing a shot. William A. Cummins, in a personal communication to the compiler (March 21, 2020)
  • and I swear sometimes/when I put my head to his chest/I can hear the virus humming/like a refrigerator. Mark Doty, referring to the AIDS virus, in the poem “Faith,” in Atlantis: Poems (1995)

QUOTE NOTE: For the story behind the quote, see the Doty entry in AIDS.

  • A virus is a piece of bad news wrapped in a protein. Peter Medawar, “Viruses,” in National Geographic (July, 1994)



  • Language is a virus. Laurie Anderson, the title song, from the 1986 album Language Is a Virus (1986)
  • Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time. Maya Angelou, in The Heart of a Woman (1981)
  • A satirist is a man whose flesh creeps so at the ugly and the savage and the incongruous aspects of society that he has to express them as brutally and nakedly as possible to get relief. He seeks to put his grisly obsession into expressive form the way a bacteriologist seeks to isolate a virus. John Dos Passos, from “Satire as a Way of Seeing,” in Occasions and Protests (1964)
  • Great writers arrive among us like new diseases—threatening, powerful, impatient for patients to pick up their virus, irresistible. Craig Raine, quoted in the Independent on Sunday (Nov. 18, 1990)
  • the stage is not a profession but a virus. Mary Stewart, in This Rough Magic (1964)



  • Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. Muhammad Ali, in The Greatest: My Own Story (1975; with Richard Durham)

Ali continued: “They have to have the last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

  • Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your Ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)

QUOTE NOTE: Allen was an English philosophical writer who wrote a number of popular inspirational books, including As a Man Thinketh, a classic in self-help literature (the title was inspired by the biblical passage, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The book (in reality, a lengthy essay) heavily influenced Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and a generation of later writers. he preceded the thought above by writing: “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become.”

  • He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it. James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh (1903)
  • When feminism exploded into my life, it gave me a vision of the world totally different from everything I had ever assumed or hoped. Dorothy Allison, in Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, & Literature (1994)
  • We are all visionaries, and what we see is our soul in things. Henri-Frédéric Amiel, entry in Journal Intime (Feb. 5, 1853)
  • Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. Margaret Atwood, a reflection of narrator and protagonist Elaine Risley, in Cat’s Eye (1988)

Risley continued: “It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is not the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future. The ruin you’ve made.”

  • The capacity to create a compelling vision and translate it into action and sustain it. Warren Bennis, his definition of leadership, in Director magazine (April, 1991)
  • With a vision, the executive provides the all-important bridge from the present to the future of the organization. Warren Bennis, in Beyond Leadership (1994; with J. Parikh & R. Lessem)
  • Where there is no vision, the people perish. The Bible—Book of Proverbs (29:18)
  • Imagination pictures the thing you desire. Vision idealizes it. It reaches beyond the thing that is, into the conception of what can be. Imagination gives you the picture; vision gives you the impulse to make the picture your own by directing your Creative Force into it. Robert Collier, in Riches Within Your Reach! (1947)
  • Nothing is so easy to fake as the inner vision. Robertson Davies, the character Saraceni speaking, in What’s Bred in the Bone (1985)
  • Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. Peter Drucker, in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Challenges (1973)
  • The inner eye of vision can see what isn’t yet there, can reach beyond present circumstances, and can see what, up to that point, has never been there. Robert Fritz, in The Path of Least Resistance (1984)

Fritz continued: “It is truly an incredible human faculty that is able to see beyond the present and the past, and from the unknown conceive something not hitherto in existence.”

  • I shut my eyes in order to see. Paul Gauguin, quoted in Alfred Werner, Painting by the Post-Impressionists (1963)
  • Our course of action will be more compelling if guided by a positive vision, a guiding image of what things could be like one day. Daniel Goleman, in A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World (2015)

Goleman continued: “Considering what life could be like invites originality, new ideas, innovations.”

  • Imagination comes from yourself and can deceive you, but vision is a gift from outside yourself—like light striking on your closed eyelids and lifting them to see what’s really there. Elizabeth Goudge, the character David speaking, in Pilgrim’s Inn (1948)
  • If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. George Eliot, the voice of the narrator, in Middlemarch (serialized 1871–72; published as stand-alone novel in 1874)

The narrator continued: “As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

  • Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it. Once realized, it becomes commonplace. Robert H. Goddard, quoted in Milton Lehman, This High Man: The Live of Robert H. Goddard (1963)
  • A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason ((2005)

Harris went on to add: “Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings.” And a little later in the book, he wrote: “Every belief is a fount of action in potentia.”

  • Is life so wretched? Isn’t it rather your hands which are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up. Dag Hammarskjold, in Markings (1964)
  • The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps—we must step up the stairs. Vance Havner, quoted in Douglas M. White, Vance Havner, Journey from Jugtown: A Biography (1977)

ERROR ALERT: All over the internet, this quotation is mistakenly attributed to Vaclav Havel, the writer and former president of the Czech Republic. Note that the observation is also an example of chiasmus.

  • The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. Theodore Hesburgh, quoted in Ezra Bowen, “His Trumpet Was Never Uncertain,” Time magazine (May 18, 1987)
  • Cherish your visions and your dreams. They are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements. Napoleon Hill, in Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind (1967)
  • The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (1951)
  • The idea is to seek a vision that gives you purpose in life and then to implement that vision. Lewis P. Johnson, “Seeking the Spiritual Path,” in Parabola magazine (Feb., 1987)

Johnson added: “The vision by itself is one half, one part, of a process. It implies the necessity of living that vision, otherwise the vision will sink back into itself.”

  • Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes. Carl Jung, in letter to Fanny Bowditch (Oct. 22, 1916); reprinted in Gerhard Adler, C. G. Jung: Letters 1906-1950, Vol. I (1973)

ERROR ALERT: Most internet sites present the following abridged version of this quotation: “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”

  • Now man cannot live without some vision of himself. But still less can he live with a vision that is not true to his inner experience and inner feeling. D. H. Lawrence, “The Risen Lord,” in Everyman magazine (Oct. 3, 1929); reprinted in D. H. Lawrence: Late Essays and Articles, Vol. 2 (2004; James T. Boulton, ed.)
  • When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid. Audre Lorde, in The Cancer Journals (1980)

ERROR ALERT: Mistaken phrasings of this quotation appear all over the internet, with many saying “When I care to be powerful” and ending with “whether I am afraid.”

  • Our visions are essential to create that which has never been, and we must each learn to use all of who we are to achieve those visions. Audre Lorde, in interview with Charles H. Rowell (Aug. 29, 1990), reported in Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters (Winter, 2000)
  • Nobody sees with his eyes alone; we see with our souls. Henry Miller, in The Cosmological Eye (1939)
  • To be obsessed with some vision and to have the continuous opportunity of working to realize that vision could be looked upon as God’s greatest gift to anyone. Henry Moore, quoted in Roger Berthoud, Life of Henry Moore (2003)
  • If others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream. William Morris, in News From Nowhere (1890)
  • A false vision was better than none. Martha Ostenso, the voice of the narrator, in Wild Geese (1925)
  • The engineering is secondary to the vision. Cynthia Ozick, “The Hole/Birth Catalog,” in The First Ms. Reader (1972)
  • Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Ayn Rand, the character Howard Roark speaking to the jury, in The Fountainhead (1943)

Roark continued: “Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time.”

  • To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion—all in one. John Ruskin, in Modern Painters, Vol. 3 (1856)

Ruskin preceded the observation by writing: “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”

  • A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Flight to Arras (1942)
  • Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Further Psychological Observations,” in Studies in Pessimism (1893; pub. posthumously)

Schopenhauer continued: “This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that error of the eye which lets us fancy that on the horizon heaven and earth meet.”

  • Life is a series of near misses. But a lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It’s seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It’s seeing what other people don’t see and pursuing that vision, no matter who tells you not to. Howard Schultz, in Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time (1997; with Dori Jones Yang)

A bit later in the book, Schultz wrote: “No great achievement happens by luck.”

  • Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. Jonathan Swift, in Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1696–1706 (1711)
  • I would give all the wealth of the world, and all the deeds of all the heroes, for one true vision. Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion. Jack Welch, quoted in Noel M. Tichy and Ram Charan, “Speed, Simplicity, and Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch,” Harvard Business Review (Sep.-Oct.,1989)
  • I have heard it said that living out of our vision is more powerful than living out of our circumstance. Holding on to a vision invokes the circumstances by which the vision is achieved. Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love (1991)
  • No man that does not see visions will ever realize any high hope or undertake any high enterprise. Woodrow T. Wilson, in address at Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (May 10, 1915)

QUOTE NOTE: President Wilson was speaking to a group of naturalized Americans who had just taken the oath of U. S. citizenship. He preceded the foregoing thought by saying: “You dreamed dreams of what America was to be, and I hope you brought the dreams with you.” And he concluded it this way: “Just because you brought dreams with you, America is more likely to realize dreams such as you brought. You are enriching us if you came expecting us to be better than we are.”

  • True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. Edith Wharton, on originality in writing, in The Writing of Fiction (1925)

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

  • Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe. Oprah Winfrey, in Commencement Address at Wellesley College (May 30, 1997)



  • Don’t discuss your ailments before visitors. Visitors prefer talking about theirs. Minna Thomas Antrim, in Don’ts for Bachelors and Old Maids (1908)
  • Opportunity is a visitor that comes but once. Mary H. Catherwood, the Abbé Edgeworth speaking, in Lazarre (1901)
  • Visiting is a pleasure; being visited is usually a mixed or ambivalent joy. Barbara Holland, in Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (1995)

Holland went on to add: “The visitor can always go home; the visitee is already home, trapped like a rat in a drainpipe.”

  • Visiting the sick is supposed to exhibit such great virtue that there are some people determined to do it whether the sick like it or not. Judith Martin, in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (1996)

Martin went on to add: “All visitors everywhere are supposed to make plans to depart if they observe their hosts visibly wilting or in pain, but this is especially true at hospitals.”

  • My father used to say,/“Superior people never make long visits. Marianne Moore, “Silence” (1921), in Selected Poems (1935)
  • No one is as cold in their own houses as their visitors. Edith Somerville, quoted in Christopher St. John, Ethel Smyth (1959)
  • Now what is a guest? A thing of a day! A person who disturbs your routine and interferes with important concerns. Why should any one be grateful for company? Why should time and money be lavished on visitors? They come. You overwork yourself. They go. You are glad of it. You return the visit, because it’s the only way to have back at them. Gene Stratton-Porter, the character David speaking, in The Harvester (1911)
  • The relationship of host and guest has always been a difficult one, hedged about with practical and spiritual problems. Jan Struther, “Snillocs,” in A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946)



  • My last word is that it all depends on what you visualize. Ansel Adams, quoted in Pat Booth (ed.), Master Photographers: The World’s Great Photographers on their Art and Technique (1984)

Adams continued: “If you don’t visualize a picture before you make it you might as well use a purely automatic camera. They are marvelous devices for their purposes but they cannot create for you, and that’s not photography for me.”

  • Visualization is simply the creation of a strong mental image of the thing desired, the perfecting it each day until it becomes almost as clear as an existing material thing. William Walker Atkinson, in Mind-Power: The Secret of Mental Magic (1912)
  • Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose. Bo Bennett, in Year to Success (2004)
  • Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible. Cherie Carter-Scott, in Negaholics: How to Overcome Negativity and Turn Your Life Around (1999)
  • Whatever you can visualize—and BELIEVE in—you can accomplish. Whatever you can see as yours in your mind’s eye, you can get. Robert Collier, in Riches Within Your Reach: The Law of the Higher Potential (1947)
  • Those who lose visualize the penalties of failure. Those who win visualize the rewards of success. Rob Gilbert, quoted in John C. Maxwell, Put Your Dream to the Test (2009)
  • Visualization, that seeing of that which is not yet, which is not actually before us, as yet, is essential for the attainment of all the good that man may aspire to. Tehilla Lichtenstein, “God in the Silence,” in Jewish Science Interpreter (1947, vol. 21, no. 9); quoted in Ellen M. Umansky and Dianne Ashton, eds., Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality (1992)
  • Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything. David J. Schwartz, in The Magic of Thinking Big (1959)

Schwartz continued: “A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present.”

  • Story is a sacred visualization, a way of echoing experience. There are lessons along the way Terry Tempest Williams, in Epilogue to Pieces of White Shell:A Journey to Navajoland (1984)



  • Vitality…that dangerous divine gift she had in such abundance, the one gift that no art could counterfeit, and the one the gods give least often and with least wish to be kind. Storm Jameson, in Three Kingdoms (1926)



  • As vivacity is the gift of women, gravity is that of men. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (July 27, 1711)


(see also LANGUAGE and WORDS)

  • I want my vocabulary to have a very large range, but the words must be alive. James Agee, in letter to Father James Harold Flye (Nov. 19, 1930); reprinted in Letters of James Agee to Father Flye (1962)
  • Like the growth rings of a tree, our vocabulary bears witness to our past. John Algeo, in Introduction to Fifty Years Among the New Words: A Dictionary of Neologisms 1941–1991 (1991)

Algeo began: “A community is known by the language it keeps, and its words chronicle the times. Every aspect of the life of a people is reflected in the words they use to talk about themselves and the world around them. As their world changes—through invention, discovery, revolution, evolution, or personal transformation—so does their language.”

  • For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devils’s Dictionary (1911)
  • A large vocabulary is like an artist having a large palette of colors. You don’t have to use all those colors in a single painting but it helps to have just the right shade when you need it. Anu Garg, in A.Word.A.Day e-newsletter (Jan. 12, 2015)

Garg continued: “Each word brings its own shade of meaning. Each word helps us to describe our world just the way we see it.” For a similar palette metaphor, see the Jim Rohn entry in WORDS.

  • There is something in the quality of the French mind to which I have always felt a reluctant kinship. They are the only people I know who can leap into an enormous vocabulary of words and beat them up with the wings of their spirit into a fine hysterical eloquence. Corra Harris, in As A Woman Thinks (1925)
  • The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. James D. Nicoll, “The King’s English,” a Usenet Post (May 15, 1990)

QUOTE NOTE: It’s rare for an internet post to take on a life of its own, but that’s exactly what happened with this colorful metaphor from Nicoll, a Canadian book and game reviewer. His observation has been repeated countless times (often with slight changes in the wording) and is often misattributed to Booker T. Washington, Ambrose Bierce, Terry Pratchett, and others. To see his original Usenet post (which misspelled—and later corrected—the word rifle), go to: James D. Nicoll.

  • Vocabulary enables us to interpret and to express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future. Jim Rohn, in a FaceBook post (April 2, 2016)
  • Vocabulary is…a sensitive indicator of thought—or at least of the absence of it. Eleanor Rowland, in The Significance of Art: Studies in Analytical Esthetics (1913)
  • One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die. Evelyn Waugh, diary entry (Dec. 25, 1962); in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1995; Michael Davie, ed.)



  • Vocation is the spine of life. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: Almost all internet sites attribute this quotation to Friedrich Nietzsche, but there is no evidence he ever wrote such a thing.

  • Vocations which we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence. Honoré de Balzac, “Scènes de la vie Parisienee,” in La Maison Nucingen (1838)
  • Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws,” in Essays: First Series (1841)

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

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

  • The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness—whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or songs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” in The Conduct of Life (1860)
  • One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946; English version, 1959)
  • My object is living is to unite/My avocation with my vocation/As my two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost, in “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Saturday Review of Literature (Oct. 6, 1934)
  • To find our unique niche in that Always Larger Life is what we mean by “vocation.” Richard Rohr, “Let Your Life Speak,” daily meditation blog (May 27, 2018)

Rohr preceded the thought by writing: “Your life is not about you. You are about a larger thing called Life. You are not your own. You are an instance of a universal and eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. The myriad forms of life in the universe are merely parts of the One Life—that many of us call “God.” You and I don’t have to figure it all out, fix everything, or do life perfectly by ourselves. All we have to do is participate in this One Life.” Rohr got the wonderful metaphorical title of his blog post from a 2000 book by Parker J. Palmer: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Palmer himself described it as “an old Quaker saying”).

  • The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves. Logan Pearsall Smith, “Art and Letters,” in Afterthoughts (1931)



  • The voice is a second face. Gérard Bauër, in an unpublished work, quoted in The Oxford Book of Aphorisms (1983)

QUOTE NOTE: Some quotation anthologies cite Carnets Inédits as the source, but that is simply the French term for an unpublished work.

  • All the intelligence and talent in the world can’t make a singer. The voice is a wild thing. It can’t be bred in captivity. Willa Cather, the character Ray Kennedy speaking, in The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • The voice has evolved as the medium of communication for human beings, but it communicates far more than words: we are all adept at reading between the lines when people speak. Jennifer Coates, in a 2006 issue of the Times Literary Supplement (specific issue undetermined)

Coates preceded the thought by writing: “Whether we want to or not, the minute we open our mouths we give clues about where we grew up, about our gender, about our ethnicity, about our social class, even about our sexual orientation.”

  • Her voice is full of money. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the character Jay Gatsby describing the voice of Daisy Buchanan, in The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • I have one thing in common with the emerging black nations of Africa: We both have voices, and we are discovering what we can do with them. Miriam Makeba, a 1961 remark, in Makeba: My Story (1987; with James Hall)
  • A loud voice is not always angry; a soft voice not always to be dismissed; and a well-placed silence can be the indisputable last word. Gloria Naylor, “Finding Our Voice: 11 Black Women Writers Speak,” in a 1995 issue of Essence magazine (specific issue undetermined)
  • Your voice dries up if you don’t use it. Patti Page, quoted in Bernard Weinraub, “Patti Page, Proving That Simple Songs Endure,” The New York Times (Aug. 12, 2003)
  • Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice. William Shakespeare, the character Polonious speaking, in Hamlet (1599)
  • My voice had a long, nonstop career. It deserves to be put to bed with quiet and dignity, not yanked out every once in a while to see if it can still do what it used to do. It can’t. Beverly Sills, in a 1983 issue of Time magazine (specific issue undetermined)



  • Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody, rather than for somebody. Franklin P. Adams, in Nods and Becks (1944)
  • When the political columnists say “every thinking man” they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to “every intelligent voter” they mean everybody who is going to vote for them. Franklin P. Adams, in Nods and Becks (1944)
  • A platform is something a candidate stands for and the voters fall for. Gracie Allen, in How to Become President (1940)
  • Suffrage is the pivotal right. Susan B. Anthony, “The Status of Women: Past, Present, and Future,” in Arena magazine (May, 1897)
  • If voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it. Author Unknown

ERROR ALERT: This observation is mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain on countless Internet sites, but he never said anything like it. See the similar observation below.

  • If God wanted us to vote, He’d have given us candidates. Author Unknown

QUOTE NOTE: This saying began showing up on t-shirts in the 1990s. In 2000, Jim Hightower tweaked the saying in a book title: If the Gods Had Meant us to Vote, They Would Have Given us Candidates. And in a 2001 Tonight Show monologue, Jay Leno offered an improved version of the thought when he concluded it with the phrase “better candidates.”

  • When you skip voting, it’s not rebellion. It’s surrender. Author Unknown
  • Vote for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing. Bernard Baruch, quoted in Meyer Berger, New York (1960)
  • A man without a vote in this land is like a man without a hand. Henry Ward Beecher, in Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
  • Vote, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • Politics is not just about voting one day every four years. Politics is the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the road we walk on. Unita Blackwell, in Barefootin’: Life Lessons From the Road to Freedom (2006; with JoAnne Prichard Morris)
  • The system which admits the unworthy to the vote provided they are men, and shuts out the worthy provided they are women, is so unjust and illogical that its perpetuation is a sad reflection upon American thinking. Carrie Chapman Catt, in Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment (1917)
  • The vote is a power, a weapon of offense and defense, a prayer. Carrie Chapman Catt, a 1920 remark, quoted in Mary Gray Peck, Carrie Chapman Catt (1948)
  • The fact that a man is to vote forces him to think. John Jay Chapman, in Practical Agitation (1898)

Chapman continued: “You may preach to a congregation by the year and not affect its thought because it is not called upon for definite action. But throw your subject into a campaign and it becomes a challenge.”

  • The average man votes below himself; he votes with half a mind or a hundredth part of one. A man ought to vote with the whole of himself, as he worships or gets married. G. K. Chesterton, “A Glimpse of My Country,” in Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Chesterton continued: “A man ought to vote with his head and heart, his soul and stomach, his eye for faces and his ear for music; also (when sufficiently provoked) with his hands and feet.” He went on to conclude the thought this way: “The question is not so much whether only a minority of the electorate votes. The point is that only a minority of the voter votes.”

  • My present attitude toward politics as it is practiced in the United States: it is a beautiful fraud that has been imposed on the people for years, whose practitioners exchange gilded promises for the most valuable thing their victims own, their votes.” Shirley Chisholm, in Unbought and Unbossed (1970)
  • At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point. Winston Churchill, in House of Commons speech (Oct. 31, 1944)
  • Calling out people for not voting, what experts term “public shaming,” can prod someone to cast a ballot. Charles Duhigg, “Campaigns Mine Personal Lives to Get Out Vote,” in The New York Times (Oct. 13, 2012)
  • Hell, I never vote for anybody. I always vote against. W. C. Fields, quoted in Robert Lewis Taylor, W. C. Fields, His Follies, His Fortunes (1949)
  • Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a 2013 dissent to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision striking down part of 1965 Voting Rights Act
  • Let me confess that I have a record. I am a political recidivist. An incorrigible, repeat voter. A career lever-pusher. My electoral rap sheet is as long as your arm. Ellen Goodman, in her syndicated column Boston Globe (Nov. 5, 1996)

Goodman continued: “Over the course of three decades, I have voted for presidents and school board members. I have voted in high hopes and high dudgeon. I have voted in favor of candidates and merely against their opponents. I have voted for propositions written with such complexity that I needed Noam Chomsky to deconstruct their meaning. I have been a single-issue voter and a marginal voter. I have even voted for people who ran unopposed. Hold an election and I’ll be there.”

  • I vote because even the lesser of two evils is the lesser of two evils. Ellen Goodman, in her syndicated column Boston Globe (Nov. 5, 1996)

This was one of “Ten Reasons Why I Vote.” Some others were:

“I vote because when I was a kid, voting was grown-up.”

“I vote because women spent over a century fighting for ‘the cause’ so I could vote.”

“I vote because Election Day is for me a national day of stillness when the conflict and the attack ads suddenly halt and the whole country waits to see what citizens will decide.”

“Without blushing, I vote because it’s what small-d democracy is about. Because there are places where people fight for generations and stand for hours to cast a ballot knowing what we ought to remember: That it makes a difference. Not always a big difference. Not always an immediate difference. But a difference.”

  • I never vote for anybody, I always vote against. W. C. Fields, quoted in Robert Lewis Taylor, W. C. Fields, His Follies, His Fortunes (1949)
  • I always voted at my party’s call,/And I never thought of thinking for myself at all. W. S. Gilbert, in libretto for HMS Pinafore (1878)
  • Urging people to “get out and vote” who have not taken the time to study the issues or the candidates, represents subversion of democracy more than support of it; for the larger the number of ignorant persons who vote, the less the chance of a rational result. Syndey J. Harris, in For the Time Being (1972):
  • Voting is a civic sacrament. Theodore Hesburgh, quoted in Reader’s Digest (Oct., 1984)
  • “A straw vote,” says I, “only shows which way the hot air blows.” O. Henry, the protagonist Mr. Bowers speaking in the short story “A Ruler of Men,” in Rolling Stones (1913)
  • Urging people to “get out and vote” who have not taken the time to study the issues or the candidates, represents subversion of democracy more than support of it; for the larger the number of ignorant persons who vote, the less chance of a rational result. Sydney J. Harris, in For the Time Being (1972)
  • If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for, but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. Robert A. Heinlein, an entry in “More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” in Time Enough for Love (1973)

Long continued: “By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.”

  • If your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t try so hard to take it from you. Samuel L. Jackson, in a 2020 political advertisement for the Biden-Harris campaign
  • I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice! Mother Jones, quoted in Mary Field Parton, The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925)
  • The vote, I thought, means nothing to women. We should be armed. Erica Jong, a reflection of protagonist Isadora Wing, in Fear of Flying (1973)

QUOTE NOTE: In her 2012 memoir Country Girl: A Memoir, Edna O’Brien was almost certainly inspired by this observation when she wrote: “It’s not the vote women need, we should be armed.”

  • The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. John F. Kennedy, in speech at Vanderbilt University (May 18, 1963)
  • In the past, we needed to worry about uninformed voters, those who didn’t know much about politics. These days, we need to worry about the much more dangerous misinformed voters who are often wrong, never uncertain. Brian Klaas, “‘Knowingness’ and the Politics of Ignorance,” in a Garden of Forking Paths blogpost (May 12, 2023)

Klaas preceded the thought by writing: “Deliberate ignorance has become one of the biggest threats to our fragile democracies.”

  • No man has the right to be ignorant. In a country like this, ignorance is a crime. Louis L’Amour, the character Tell Sackett speaking, in Sackett: A Novel (1961)

Sackett continued: “If a man is going to vote, if he’s going to take part in his country and his government, then it’s up to him to understand.”

  • Rare is the citizen who will accept responsibility for the politician he voted into office. Doug Larson, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Oct. 3, 1962)
  • The ballot is stronger than the bullet. Abraham Lincoln, in speech in Bloomington, Illinois (May 1856)
  • The effort to calculate exactly what the voters want at each particular moment leaves out of account the fact that when they are troubled the thing the voters most want is to be told what to want. Walter Lippmann, “The Bogey of Public Opinion,” in Vanity Fair (Dec., 1931)
  • Not voting is voting to hand your power over, to throw it away and give it to somebody whose interests are going to be harmful to your own. Eric Liu, “Why a Decentralized Swarm of Resistance is the Best Way to Contain Trump”, Washington Post (April 25, 2017)
  • If Voting Changed Anything, They’d Abolish It. Ken Livingstone, title of 1987 book
  • Voting is simply a way of determining which side is the stronger without putting it to the test of fighting. H. L. Mencken, in Minority Report (1956)
  • Any person who does not vote is failing to serve the cause of freedom—his own freedom, his people’s freedom, and his country’s freedom. Constance Baker Motley, in keynote address at 1965 convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Motley introduced the thought by saying: “A Negro who does not vote is ungrateful to those who have already died in the fight for freedom.”

  • Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote. George Jean Nathan, quoted in Clifton Fadiman, The American Treasury (1955)

QUOTATION CAUTION: The same quotation first appeared four years earlier (without any source information), in a 1951 issue of The Defender magazine. In Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (2010), the editors at The Library of Congress say of this quotation: “Unverified in Nathan’s works.” The observation has been repeated in many slightly varying forms, as when A Guide to the 99th Congress (1985) quoted U. S. Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon as saying: “Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.”

  • When moral principles, rather than persons, are candidates for power, to vote is to perform a moral duty, and not to vote is to neglect a duty. Thomas Paine, in the Trenton [New Jersey] True-American (April, 1803)
  • Real men vote…because not bothering to vote reveals a kind of moral lethargy, an unforgivable passivity, and an adolescent nihilism. Tony Parsons, “Voting is the Most Important Thing a Man Can Do,” GQ (Gentleman's Quarterly) magazine (April 24, 2017)
  • Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
  • I do strive to think well of my fellow man, but no amount of striving can give me confidence in the wisdom of a congressional vote. Agnes Repplier, quoted in Emma Repplier, Agnes Repplier (1957)
  • Voting, in public, with history in the balance, concentrates the mind and the conscience. James Reston, Jr. (son of James “Scotty” Reston, in The Los Angeles Times (May 31, 2019)
  • The single most impressive fact about the attempt by American women to obtain the right to vote is how long it took. Alice S. Rossi, “Along the Suffrage Trail,” in The Feminist Papers (1973)
  • People tend to vote the present tense—not the subjunctive. Diane Sawyer, remark on CBS-News election night broadcast (Nov. 8, 1988)
  • Perhaps America will one day go fascist democratically, by popular vote. William L. Shirer, quoted in The New York Times (Dec. 29, 1969)
  • It’s true that voting isn’t the most we can do—but it is the least. Gloria Steinem, “Voting As Rebellion,” in a 1982 issue of Ms. magazine.

QUOTE NOTE: Steinem reprised this sentiment many times over the years. In My Life on the Road (2015), for example, she wrote: “All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one.”

  • It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting. Tom Stoppard, the character Dotty, quoting her friend Archie, in Jumpers (1972)
  • All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right or wrong, with moral questions. Henry David Thoreau, in “Resistance to Civil Government,” in Aesthetic Papers journal (May, 1849); reprinted as title essay in Civil Disobedience: And Other Essays (1849)

In the essay, Thoreau went on to write: “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”

  • The voters are the people who have spoken—the bastards. Morris K. Udall, quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times (Jul 14, 1976)
  • Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President—the same half? Gore Vidal, “The Prince and the Pauper,” in Screening History (1992)
  • In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote. David Foster Wallace, in McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express (2006)

QUOTE NOTE: In his role as Rolling Stone magazine’s designated reporter to John McCain’s first presidential campaign in 2000, Wallace preceded the observation by penning this message to Young Voters,: “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home . . . on primary day. By all means stay at home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting.”

  • We must get rid of the habit of classing all women together politically and thinking of the “woman’s vote” as one and indivisible. Laura Ingalls Wilder, a 1919 remark, quoted in Stephen W. Hines, Little House in the Ozarks: A Laura Ingalls Wilder Sampler, The Rediscovered Writings (1991)
  • A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in. Raphael Warnock, in a January 2021 Tweet
  • Voters don’t decide issues, they decide who will decide issues. George Will, in his regular Newsweek column (March 8, 1976)



  • Vulgarity has its uses. Vulgarity often cuts ice which refinement scrapes at vainly. Max Beerbohm, in letter to the editor of London’s Daily Herald (May 21, 1921)
  • Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm. Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise (1938)
  • Vulgarity is no substitute for wit. Julian Fellowes, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) scolding Lady Sybil, in Downton Abby (Season 3, Episode 2)

QUOTE NOTE: The Dowager Countess is reprimanding Lady Sybil for jokingly suggesting to Lady Edith that she should conserve her strength for her upcoming wedding night.


(includes invulnerability; see also AUTHENTICITY and FEAR and INTIMACY and OPENNESS)

  • Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experience. Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)

In the book, Brown also wrote: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”

  • When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly (2012)
  • vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy. Brené Brown, IN Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution (2015)
  • Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Anne Lamott, in Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993)

Lamott continued: “Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraduluent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

  • To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1980)

L’Engle preceded the thought by writing:“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability.”

  • When women can cherish the vulnerability of men as much as men can exult in the strength of women, a new breed could lift a ruinous yoke from both. Marya Mannes, in Out of My Time (1971)
  • To mourn is to be extraordinarily vulnerable. It is to be at the mercy of inside feelings and outside events in a way most of us have not been since early childhood. Christian McEwen, “The Color of the Water, the Yellow of the Field,” in Christian McEwen and Sue O'Sullivan, Out the Other Side (1988)
  • I feel terribly vulnerable and “not-myself” when I’m not writing. Sylvia Plath, in a 1957 letter, in Letters Home (1973; Aurelia Schober Plath, ed.)
  • A man who believed himself invulnerable was very vulnerable indeed. Kate Ross, a reflection of the character Julian, in The Devil in Music (1997)
  • Anger is a passion, so it makes people feel alive and makes them feel they matter and are in charge of their lives. Merle Shain, in Hearts That We Broke Long Ago (1983)

Shain continued: “So people often need to renew their anger a long time after the cause of it has died, because it is a protection against helplessness and emptiness just like howling in the night. And it makes them feel less vulnerable for a little while.”

  • A refugee is not just someone lacking in money and everything else. A refugee is vulnerable to the slightest touch: he has lost his country, his friends, his earthly belongings. He is a stranger, sick at heart. Maria Trapp, in A Family on Wheels (1959; with Ruth T. Murdoch)

Trapp continued: “He is suspicious; he feels misunderstood. If people smile, he thinks they ridicule him; if they look serious, he thinks they don't like him. He is a full-grown tree in the dangerous process of being transplanted, with the chance of possibly not being able to take root in the new soil.”

  • Being vulnerable sometimes has negative results and sometimes has positive results. But it is the only route to intimacy. Janet Geringer Woititz, in Struggle for Intimacy (1985)

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