- WIST is my personal collection of quotations, curated for thought, amusement, turn of phrase, historical significance, or sometimes just (often-unintentional) irony. Please feel free to browse and borrow.
- 16,810 quotes and counting ...
Topic Cloudaction age America belief books change character Christianity death democracy education ego evil faith fear freedom future God government happiness history honesty humanity integrity justice leadership liberty life love morality perspective politics poverty power religion science society success truth tyranny virtue war wealth wisdom writing
- I've been adding topics/tags since 2014, so not all quotes have been given one. Full topic list.
- * Visual quotes (graphics, memes) only
- “Wealth and Poverty,” speech, National… (5,791)
- “The Lesson for Today,” A Witness Tree (1942) (5,674)
- Agamemnon, ll. 175-183 [tr. Johnston (2007)] (5,454)
- Nobel prize acceptance speech (10 Dec 1962) (4,826)
- “The Triumph of Stupidity” (10 May 1933) (4,515)
- “In Search of a Majority,” Speech,… (3,720)
- “On The Conduct of Life” (1822) (3,637)
- “Get a Knife, Get a Dog, but Get Rid of… (3,559)
- “The Historian as Participant,” Daedalus… (3,009)
- “Hallowed Ground” (1825) (2,987)
Most Quoted Authors
Author CloudAdams, John • Bacon, Francis • Bible • Bierce, Ambrose • Billings, Josh • Butcher, Jim • Chesterton, Gilbert Keith • Churchill, Winston • Einstein, Albert • Eisenhower, Dwight David • Emerson, Ralph Waldo • Franklin, Benjamin • Fuller, Thomas (1654) • Gaiman, Neil • Galbraith, John Kenneth • Gandhi, Mohandas • Goethe, Johann von • Hazlitt, William • Heinlein, Robert A. • Hoffer, Eric • Huxley, Aldous • Ingersoll, Robert Green • James, William • Jefferson, Thomas • Johnson, Lyndon • Johnson, Samuel • Kennedy, John F. • King, Martin Luther • La Rochefoucauld, Francois • Lewis, C.S. • Lincoln, Abraham • Mencken, H.L. • Orwell, George • Pratchett, Terry • Roosevelt, Eleanor • Roosevelt, Theodore • Russell, Bertrand • Seneca the Younger • Shakespeare, William • Shaw, George Bernard • Stevenson, Adlai • Stevenson, Robert Louis • Twain, Mark • Watterson, Bill • Wilde, Oscar
- Only the 45 most quoted authors are shown above. Full author list.
- 20-Jan-20 - "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," sermon, New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago (9 Apr 1967) | WIST on “Rediscovering Lost Values,” sermon, Second Baptist Church, Detroit (28 Feb 1954).
- 17-Jan-20 - (Attributed) | WIST on The Screw-Tape Letters, #29 (1942).
- 7-Jan-20 - "Your Future As A Writer," Writer's Digest (May 1986) | WIST on The Outline of History, Vol. 2, ch. 41, sec. 4 (1921).
- 23-Dec-19 - Chamblee54 on Last written note.
- 16-Dec-19 - Dave on Authors.
- 20-Nov-19 - Debbie on Authors.
If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.
Prudent men are in the habit of saying — and not by chance or without basis — that he who wishes to see what is to come should observe what has already happened, because all the affairs of the world, in every age, have their individual counterparts in ancient times. The reason for this is that since they are carried on by men, who have and always have had the same passions, of necessity the same results appear.
The Discourses on Livy, Book 3, ch. 43 (1517) [tr. Gilbert (1958)]
Alt. trans.: "The wise are wont to say, and not without reason or at random, that he who would forecast what is about to happen should look to what has been; since all human events, whether present or to come, have their exact counterpart in the past. And this, because these events are brought about by men, whose passions and dispositions remaining in all ages the same naturally give rise to the same effects." [tr. Thomson]
Don’t flang him off the bluff, boys. Tain’t christian.
Outer Dark (1968)
We therefore must not recoil with childish aversion from the examination of the humbler animals. Every realm of nature is marvelous: and as Heraclitus, when the strangers who came to visit him found him warming himself at the furnace in the kitchen and hesitated to go in, reported to have bidden them not to be afraid to enter, as even in that kitchen divinities were present, so we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.
Parts of Animals [De Partibus Animalium], Book 1, part 5 (645a.15) (c. 350 BC) [tr. Ogle (1912)]
Alt. trans.: "For this reason we should not be childishly disgusted at the examination of the less valuable animals. For in all natural things there is something marvelous. Even as Heraclitus is said to have spoken to those strangers who wished to meet him but stopped as they were approaching when they saw him warming himself by the oven -- he bade them enter without fear, "for there are gods here too" -- so too one should approach research about each of the animals without disgust, since in every one there is something natural and good." [tr. Lennox (2001)]
The future always arrives too fast — and in the wrong order.
You have to look at yourself objectively. Analyze yourself like an instrument. You have to be absolutely frank with yourself. Face your handicaps, don’t try to hide them. Instead, develop something else.
Quoted in Barry Paris, Audrey Hepburn, ch. 4 (2002)
I see men assassinated around me every day. I walk through rooms of the dead, streets of the dead, cities of the dead: men without eyes, men without voices; men with manufactured feelings and standard reactions; men with newspaper brains, television souls and high school ideals.
Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews and Encounters, 1963-1993 (2003)
When asked his reaction to the assassination of John Kennedy.
Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.
[L’ineptie consiste à vouloir conclure. […] Oui, la bêtise consiste à vouloir conclure.]
Letter to Louis Bouilhet (4 Sep 1850)
The phrase is used twice in the letter. The initial phrase is usually translated to "foolishness" or "folly," the second to "stupidity."
Madam, I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damn business.
In various sources, this was a reply made to a temperance reformer about his drinking alcohol, against journalists writing of his late wife and children, or to a gossip commenting on rumors he was seeing other women.
Wisdom is publicly rejected, affairs are pursued with force,
A good speaker is spurned, and the wretched warrior is loved.
Men strive not with educated speeches but instead with insults
attack one another and enter into mutual enmity.
They seize property suddenly not by the right of law but with swords
As they seek sovereignty and wander with the power of the mob.
[Pellitur e medio sapientia, vi geritur res,
spernitur orator bonus, horridus miles amatur.
haut doctis dictis certantes nec maledictis
miscent inter sese inimicitiam agitantes,
non ex iure manum consertum, sed magis ferro
rem repetunt regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi.]
Annales, Book 8, Sec. 3, l. 262-8
On public discourse during wars. Fragment quoted by Cicero in Epistle 171.
Alt. trans.: "Pushed away from the centre good sense, force rules the day, / despised the good orator, the horrid soldier cherished. / Fighting, not with learned words or curses, / they clash with one another, pushing hostilities, / laying hand onto one another not rightfully, but rather with the sword / they seek material gain and strive for power, advancing with brute force."
We give the highest and the most peculiar praise to the precepts of Machiavelli, when we say that they may frequently be of real use in regulating conduct — not so much because they are more just, or more profound, than those which might be culled from other authors as because they can be more readily applied to the problems of real life.
I have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me,
Can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it,
Didn’t choose it
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it
Give account if I abuse it
Just a tiny little minute
but eternity is in it.
This poem, and variants of it, have a wide trail of misattribution. It was used frequently by Elijah Cummings, US Representative, including during his first floor speech, and is often connected with him. Cummings in turn said it was a favorite of Parren Mitchell, US Representative. It is most correctly attributed in turn to civil right leader Benjamin May, but May claimed it was from an anonymous source. It has also been attributed to Welcome McCullough, history teacher Saugus High School, MA, in the 1940s, though without primary citation that I can find.
The variant used by Cummings:I only have a minute,
Sixty seconds in it,
Forced upon me,
I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it,
Give account if I abuse it,
Suffer if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
“Cargo Cult Science,” commencement address, California Institute of Technology (1974)
When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.
Blood Meridian, ch. 5 (1985)
Added on 22-Jan-20 | Last updated 23-Jan-20
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And the man who is arrogant belittles his victim. For arrogance is doing and saying things which bring shame to the victim, not in order that something may come out of it for the doer other than the mere fact it happened, but so that he may get pleasure. … The cause of the pleasure enjoyed by those who are arrogant is that they think that in doing ill they are themselves very much superior. That is why the young and the wealthy are arrogant. For they think that in being arrogant they are superior.
Rhetoric, Book 2, ch. 2 (1378b23-29)
- "Insolence is also a form of slighting, since it consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to yourself, or because anything has happened to yourself, but simply for the pleasure involved. ... The cause of the pleasure thus enjoyed by the insolent man is that he thinks himself greatly superior to others when ill-treating them. That is why youths and rich men are insolent; they think themselves superior when they show insolence." [tr. Roberts (1924)]
- "And he who is insolent to someone also slights him, for insolence is doing and saying such things as are a source of shame to the person suffering them, not so that some other advantage may accrue to the insolent person or because something happened to him, but so that he may gain pleasure thereby .... And a cause of the pleasure the insolent feel is their supposing that, by inflicting harm, they themselves are to a greater degree superior. Hence the young and the wealthy are insolent, for they suppose that, by being insolent, they are superior." [tr. Bartlett (2019)]
The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter! — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
Speech on the Excise Bill, House of Commons (Mar 1763)
Added on 21-Jan-20 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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Yes, he thought, between grief and nothing I will take grief.
The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem], ch. 9 (1939)
Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.
Future Shock, Introduction (1970)
Men speak the truth of one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant?
“The Ethics of Belief,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same.
Some Saian mountaineer
Struts today with my shield.
I threw it down by a bush and ran
When the fighting got hot.
Life seemed somehow more precious.
It was a beautiful shield.
I know where I can buy another
Exactly like it, just as round.
Fragment 79 [tr. Davenport (1964)]
Fragment from Plutarch, "Laws and Customs of the Lacedaemonians". Alt. trans.:
Identified elsewhere as Fragment 6.
- "Let who will boast their courage in the field, / I find but little safety from my shield. / Nature's, not honour's, law we must obey: / This made me cast my useless shield away, / And, by a prudent flight and cunning, save / A life, which valour could not, from the grave. / A better buckler I can soon regain; / But who can get another life again?" [tr. Pulleyn (18th C)]
- "A Saian boasts about the shield which beside a bush / though good armour I unwillingly left behind. / I saved myself, so what do I care about the shield? / To hell with it! I'll get one soon just as good." ["To my shield" (D6, 5W)]
- "I don't give a damn if some Thracian ape struts / Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got. / Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot / I kept my hide intact. Good shields can be bought." [tr. Silverman]
- "Some barbarian is waving my shield, since I was obliged to leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind under a bush. But I got away, so what does it matter? Life seemed somehow more precious. Let the shield go; I can buy another one equally good." [tr. Lattimore (1955)]
Let us shun extremes, not only because each extreme is in itself a positive evil, but also because each extreme necessarily engenders its opposite. If we love civil and religious freedom, let us in the day of danger uphold law and order. If we are zealous for law and order, let us prize, as the best safeguard of law and order, civil and religious freedom.
Speech on re-election to Parliament, Edinburgh (2 Nov 1852)
We observe that men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries — for heavy ones they cannot; hence an injury done to a man should be such that it does not fear revenge.
The Prince, ch. 3 (1513) [tr. Gilbert (1959)]
The human animal needs a freedom seldom mentioned, freedom from intrusion. He needs a little privacy quite as much as he wants understanding or vitamins or exercise or praise.
The Province of the Heart (1959)
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
[πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ’ἓν μέγα]
As quoted in Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953). The fragment is found in a group of proverbs collected by Zenobius. Alt. trans.:
- The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.
- The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog one good one.
- The fox knows many tricks; and the hedgehog only one; but that is the best one of all.
- Fox knows many, Hedgehog one solid trick.
- Fox knows tricks and still gets caught; Hedgehog knows one but it always works. (Source)
Added on 17-Jan-20 | Last updated 21-Jan-20
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For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.
“The Meaning of Life: The Big Picture,” Life Magazine (Dec 1988)
BOB: No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!”
Luxury has been railed at for two thousand years, in verse and in prose, and it has always been loved.
Philosophical Dictionary [Dictionnaire philosophique], “Luxury [Le Luxe],” sec. 2 (1764)
- "Luxury has been declaimed against for the space of two thousand years, both in verse and prose; and yet it has been always liked." [tr. Fleming (1905)]
- "For these two thousand years past, luxury has been declaimed against, both in verse and prose: but still mankind has always delighted in it." [Source (1835)]
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Sometimes given as "The illiterate of the future ..." This ubiquitous (mis)quotation of Toffler is a conflation of two sentences in ch. 18 of Toffler's Future Shock (1970).
- On p. 414, Toffler writes, "By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education."
- In the next paragraph, he quotes psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy: "Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn."
Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering — because you can’t take it in all at once.
Quoted in David Hofstede, Audrey Hepburn: A Bio-bibliography (1994)
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
“Abide with Me” (1847)
Who kindly sets a wand’rer on his way
Does e’en as if he lit another’s lamp by his:
No less shines his, when he his friend’s hath lit.
[Homo qui erranti comiter monstrat viam,
Quasi lumen de suo lumine accendat facit;
Nihilo minus ipsi lucet, cum illi accenderit.]
Quoted in Cicero, On Duties [De Officiis], Book 1, ch. 16 [tr. Miller]
There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.
In Richard B. Woodward, “Cormac McCarthy’s Venomous Fiction,” New York Times (19 Apr 1992)
Because a body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody.
The Rights of Man (1791)
The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.
Sexus, ch. 14 (1949)
In the affluent society no sharp distinction can be made between luxuries and necessaries.
The Affluent Society, ch. 21, sec. 4 (1998, 4th ed.)
On sales taxes. Sometimes quoted (from other editions?) as "useful distinction."
Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.
Florentine Histories, Book 3, ch. 2 (1521-5)
As commonly given, specific translation unknown. Alt. trans.:
- "It is in the power of any man to begin a war, but he cannot end it when he pleases." [tr. Lester (1843)]
- "People may go to war when they will, but cannot always withdraw when they like." [Bohn's Standard Library (1891)]
- "Wars begin at the will of anyone, but they do not end at anyone's will." [tr. Banield and Mansfield (1988), Book 3, ch. 7]
So we have to make guesses in order to give any utility at all to science. In order to avoid simply describing experiments that have been done, we have to propose laws beyond their observed range. There is nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that it makes science uncertain. If you thought before that science was certain — well, that is just an error on your part.
The Character of Physical Law, ch. 3 “The Great Conservation Principles” (1965)
Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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A mule will work for you ten years for the privilege of kicking you once.
The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem], (Ch. 6) “Old Man” (1939)
Variant: "... [V]indictive and patient (it is a known fact that he will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once) ...." (Sartoris (1929))
Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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A person can go on living fairly well, seem to be a human being, be occupied with temporal matters, marry, have children, be honored and esteemed — and it may not be detected that in a deeper sense this person lacks a self. Such things do not create much of a stir in the world, for a self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.
The Sickness unto Death, “The Forms of This Sickness, i.e., of Despair,” 1.a.1 (1849)
- "A man may nevertheless be perfectly well able to live on, to be a mn, a it seems, to occupy himself with temporal things, get married, beget children, win honor and esteem -- and perhaps no one notices that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. About such a thing as that not much fuss made in the world for a self is the thing the world is least apt to inquire about, and the thing of all things the most dangerous for a man to let people notice that he has it. The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed." (Source)
- "But to become fantastic in this way, and therefore be in despair, although usually obvious, does not mean that a person may not continue living a fairly good life, to all appearances be someone, employed with temporal matters, get married, beget children, be honored and esteemed -- and one may fail to notice that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. Such things cause little stir in the world; for in the world a self is what one least asks after, and the thing it is the most dangerous of all to show signs of having. The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed." (Source)
The owner of the library is not he who holds a legal title to it, having bought and paid for it. Anyone and everyone is owner of the library who can read the same through all the varieties of tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter with ease and take residence and force toward paternity and maternity, and make supple and powerful and rich and large.
Leaves of Grass, Preface (1855)
Reprinted on the wall of Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini, Greece.
She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.
Work: A Story of Experience, ch. 2 (1873)
Comparison is the thief of joy.
A successful party is a creative act, and creation is always painful.
“Party Line,” Ladies’ Home Journal (1962)
Later reprinted in Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964).
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
“If We Must Die,” The Liberator (Jul 1919)
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Frequently attributed to Bonhoeffer, but not found in his works. The origins of its attribution are discussed here, and the phrasing seems to more or less originate with Robert K. Hudnut, A Sensitive Man and the Christ (1971).
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America — not the battlefields of Vietnam.
If someone tells you he is going to make a “realistic decision,” you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad.
“American Realist Playwrights,” On the Contrary (1961)
The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury.
My Autobiography, ch. 22 (1964)
Nations are most commonly saved by the worst men in them. The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths which are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants.
Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, Vol. 1, ch. 12 (1859)
- "The adventurer's career suggests the reflection that nations are usually saved by their worse men, since the virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths needed to rouse the people against their tyrants." (Source)
- "The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths that are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants."
- Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the lengths necessary to save it."
- Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men, because good men may not go to the lengths that may be necessary."
Added on 7-Jan-20 | Last updated 7-Jan-20
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