Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations

“Z” Quotations



  • Whether zeal or moderation be the point we aim at, let us keep fire out of the one, and frost out of the other. Joseph Addison, in The Tatler (Sep. 5, 1710)

Addison introduced the thought by writing: “We should be careful not to overshoot ourselves in the pursuits even of virtue.”

  • Zeal should not outrun discretion. Aesop, “The Thirsty Pigeon,” in Fables (6th c. B.C.)
  • Never let your zeal outrun your charity. Hosea Ballou, quoted in Puck (April 18, 1883)
  • Zeal without knowledge is like fire without a grate to contain it; like a sword without a hilt to wield it by; like a high-bred horse without a bridle to guide it. John Bate, in A Cyclopedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths (1865, 2nd ed.)
  • There are few catastrophes so great and irremediable as those that follow an excess of zeal. Robert Hugh Benson, the voice of the narrator, in A Winnowing (1910)
  • Zeal, n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced. A passion that goeth before a sprawl. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

QUOTE NOTE: Bierce is playing off “Pride goeth before a fall,” an English proverb derived from the biblical passage: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Book of Proverbs: 16:18)

  • The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Louis Brandeis, in dissenting opinion in Burdeau v. McDowell (1921)

Justice Brandeis preceded this famous judicial opinion by writing: “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.”

  • All zeal for a reform, that gives offense/To peace and charity, is mere pretense. William Cowper, “Charity” (1782); in The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, Esq. (1869; H. Stebbing, ed.)
  • Zeal without knowledge is the sister of folly. Sir John Davies, in The Scourge of Folly (1610)
  • Fanaticism is the child of false zeal and of superstition, the father of intolerance and of persecution. John Fletcher (1729–1785), “Thoughts on Fanaticism,” in The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher, Vol. IV (1833)
  • Because zeal is an ardent and vehement love, it requires guidance; otherwise it can become excessive. St. Francis De Sales, in Treatise on the Love of God (1616)

QUOTE NOTE: An earlier translation of the passage went this way: “As zeal is an ardor and vehemence of love it stands in need of guidance; otherwise it would exceed the limits of moderation and discretion.”

  • Zeal without knowledge is fire without light. Thomas Fuller, M.D., in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732)

ERROR ALERT: A number of web sites, including Wikiquote, mistakenly attribute this quotation to English Biologist T. H. Huxley. In Gnomologia, Fuller also wrote on the subject: “Zeal, when it is a virtue, is a dangerous one.”

  • Zeal is a volcano, on the peak of which the grass of indecisiveness does not grow. Kahlil Gibran, in The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul (1994, Juan R. I. Cole, ed.)
  • “Minnesotans hate zeal,” Elwood said. “Zeal is right up there on the list of suspicious emotional behaviors like joy and despair. Always err on the side of blandness.” Tami Hoag, in Prior Bad Acts (2006)
  • There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics, as well as in religion. By persuading others, we convince ourselves. Junius, in The Public Advertiser (London, Dec. 19, 1769); reprinted in The Letters of Junius (1772)
  • We often excuse our own want of philanthropy by giving the name of fanaticism to the more ardent zeal of others. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Drift-Wood (1857)
  • A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points…have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. James Madison, on “the latent causes of faction…sown in the nature of man,” in The Federalist (No. 10; Nov. 22 1787)
  • Zeal is only fit for wise men; but it is chiefly in fashion among fools. John Tillotson, “The Danger of Zeal Without Knowledge,” a sermon (Nov. 5, 1682), in Sixteen Sermons Preached on Several Subjects and Occasions (1700)

QUOTE NOTE: Within fifty years, this sentiment from Archbisop Tillotson had become proverbial. In Gnomologia (1732), a collection of English proverbs by Thomas Fuller, M.D., it is presented this way: “Zeal is fit only for wise men, but is found mostly in fools.”



  • Instead of clearing his own heart, the zealot tries to clear the world. Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)
  • A zealot is somebody who berates us for not having the courage of his convictions. Sydney J. Harris, in On the Contrary (1964)
  • To me, at least, the greatest blasphemy in the world is not the denial of God’s existence, but the claim that we have a pipeline to Him, and that all other claimants are wrong. Sydney J. Harris, in his “Strictly Personal” syndicated column (Jan. 20, 1985).

Harris continued: “This assertion is what plunged the world into the bloodiest of wars in the past, and might well do so again if the zealots had their way.”

  • At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice, and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism, and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols. Aldous Huxley, in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1956)
  • We must not forget that in our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic, and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds—that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous. Robert H. Jackson, dissenting Supreme Court opinion, in American Communications Association v. Douds (1950)
  • A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII (1781-83)

ERROR ALERT: For nearly two centuries, biographies and historical works have mistakenly presented the quotation this way: “A single zealot may become persecutor, and better men be his victims.”

  • The enemy of idealism is zealotry. Neil Kinnock, quoted in the Observer (London; Dec. 27, 1987)
  • A little knowledge and an over-abundance of zeal always tends to be harmful. In the area involving religious truths, it can be disastrous. Kathryn Kuhlman, in I Believe in Miracles (1962)
  • We often excuse our own want of philanthropy by giving the name of fanaticism to the more ardent zeal of others. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Table-Talk,” in Drift-Wood (1857)
  • Zealous men are ever displaying to you the strength of their belief, while judicious men are showing you the grounds of it. William Shenstone, in Essays on Men and Manners (1804)
  • Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. Mother Teresa, quoted in Angelo Devananda, Mother Teresa: Contemplative in the Heart of the World (1983)
  • Enthusiasm is ever a gracious, pardonable thing, because in its essentials are youth and zeal and all high, white-hot qualities whose roots strike not in the base earth. Katherine Cecil Thurston, the narrator describing the character Maxine, in Max: A Novel (1910)
  • It takes six simpletons and one zealot to start a movement. Anzia Yezierska, “One Thousand Pages of Research,” in Commentary (July 1963)



  • Zen is to religion what a Japanese “rock garden” is to a garden. Zen knows no god, no afterlife, no good and no evil, as the rock-garden knows no flowers, herbs or shrubs. It has no doctrine or holy writ. Arthur Koestler, “A Taste of Zen,” in Bricks to Babel: Selected Writings (1980)

About Zen, Koestler continued: “Its teaching is transmitted mainly in the form of parables as ambiguous as the pebbles in the rock-garden which symbolize now a mountain, now a fleeting tiger. When a disciple asks ‘What is Zen?’, the master’s traditional answer is ‘Three pounds of flax’ or ‘A decaying noodle’ or ‘A toilet stick’ or a whack on the pupil’s head.”

  • The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. Robert M. Pirsig, the character Chris speaking, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenenace (1974)
  • Zen takes hold of the enlivening spirit of the Buddha, stripped of all its historical and doctrinal garments. D. T. Suzuki, in Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series (1934)
  • The discipline of Zen consists in opening the mental eye in order to look into the very reason of existence. D. T. Suzuki, in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (1964)
  • Zen…does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. Alan Watts, in The Way of Zen (1957)



  • Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without it. Christian Dior, quoted in Ladies’ Home Journal (April, 1956)
  • Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Strength to Love (1963)

King preceded the thought by writing: “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. ”

  • Good swearing is used as a form of punctuation, not necessarily as a response to pain or insult, and is utilized by experts to lend a sentence a certain zest, like a sprinkling of paprika. George Plimpton, on swearing in football, in Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback (1965)
  • What hunger is in relation to food, zest is in relation to life. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)



  • Zingers should glow with intelligence as well as drip with contempt. Maureen Dowd, “Decline of the Insult,” in The New York Times (June 21, 1997)


  • If God were a woman, She would have installed one of those turkey thermometers in our belly buttons. When we were done, the thermometer pops up, the doctors reaches for the zipper conveniently located beneath our bikini lines and out comes a smiling, fully diapered baby. Candice Bergen, in a 1992 Woman’s Day magazine article; reprinted in Weekly World News (June 16, 1992)
  • To think we have the garment industry instead of nature to thank for the zipper concept when it would have come in so handy for childbirth. Jane Wagner, in Appearing Nitely (1977)



  • Just as it is important to avoid trivial conversation, it is important to avoid bad company. By bad company I do not refer only to people who are vicious and destructive; one should avoid their company because their orbit is poisonous and depressing. Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving (1974)

Fromm continued: “I mean also the company of zombies, of people whose soul is dead, although their body is alive, of people whose thoughts and conversation are trivial; who chatter instead of talk, and who assert cliché opinions instead of thinking.”



  • Nature is to zoos as God is to churches. Margaret Atwood, the character Crake speaking, in Oryx and Crake (2003)
  • Here in their ugly, empty cages the monkeys were no more tropical than a collection of London rats or dirty park pigeons. L. M. Boston, describing the Monkey House at the London Zoo, in A Stranger at Green Knowe (1961)
  • Life is a zoo in a jungle. Peter De Vries, the character Joe Sandwich speaking, in The Vale of Laughter (1967)
  • In the false country of the zoo/Grief is well represented there. Jean Garrigue, “False Country of the Zoo,” in The Ego and the Centaur (1947)
  • A zoo is a prison. Nadine Gordimer, in Get a Life (2005)

Gordimer introduced the thought by writing: “The caged eagle become a metaphor for all forms of isolation, the ultimate in imprisonment.” Most presentations of this quotation use the word becomes, but Gordimer wrote become in the original.

  • All zoos actually offer the public, in return for the taxes spent upon them, is a form of idle witless amusement, compared to which a visit to the state penitentiary, or even a state legislature in session, is informing, stimulating, and ennobling. H. L. Mencken, “Zoos,” in Damn! A Book of Calumny (1918)
  • The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo. Desmond Morris, in The Human Zoo (1969)
  • I think the discomfort that some people feel in going to the monkey cages at the zoo is a warning sign. Carl Sagan, in The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (2006)



  • Zoology, n. The science and history of the animal kingdom, including its king, the House Fly (Musca maledicta). Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • History is the zoology of the human race. Franz Grillparzer, in Notebooks and Diaries (1837)



  • A five-year-old with a stick, a seed, and a watering can could grow zucchini—the original, no-talent, guaranteed-gratification vegetable. Karen Kijewski, in Katwalk (1989)

Kijewski continued: “Tomatoes are the runner-up to zucchini in the no-talent, guaranteed-gratification vegetable department.”

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