Quotations about   folly

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Man is a clever animal, who behaves like an imbecile.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) Alsatian theologian, philosopher, physician, philanthropist
(Attributed)
Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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The ratio of damn fools to villains is high.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
The Puppet Masters, ch. 26 (1951)
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Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 16-Feb-18
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Disgraceful ’tis to treat small things as difficult;
‘Tis silly to waste time on foolish trifles.

[Turpe est difficiles habere nugas,
Et stultus labor est ineptiarum.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 2, #86
    (Source)

As quoted in the Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906). Alt. trans.: "It is absurd to make one's amusements difficult; and labor expended on follies is childish." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
Added on 18-Oct-17 | Last updated 18-Oct-17
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Man has no greater enemy than himself. I have acted contrary to my sentiments and inclination; throughout our whole lives we do what we never intended, and what we proposed to do, we leave undone.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) Italian scholar and poet [a.k.a. Petrarch]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Quoted in Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, An Examination of the Advantages of Solitude and of Its Operations, ch. 5 (1783) [tr. F.S. (1808)].
Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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There are two kinds of fools: those who suspect nothing and those who suspect everything.

Charles-Joseph Lamoral, Prince de Ligne (1735-1814) Belgian military leader, noble, writer [Karl Fürst von Ligne, Charles-Joseph de Ligne]
Mes écarts, ou, ma tête en liberté
Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell, and that God had suffered these magi to place the weapons in the hands of princes, and to say to each prince: “Only because the enemies have such a thing have we devised this for thee, in order that they may know that thou hast it also, and fear to strike. See to it, m’Lord, that thou fearest them as much as they shall now fear thee, that none may unleash this dread thing which we have wrought.” But the princes, putting the words of their wise men to naught, thought each to himself: If I but strike quickly enough, and in secret, I shall destroy these others in their sleep, and there will be none to fight back; the earth shall be mine.

Such was the folly of princes, and there followed the Flame Deluge.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
A Canticle for Leibowitz, “Fiat Homo,” ch. 6 (1959)
Added on 30-Jan-17 | Last updated 30-Jan-17
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Prejudices are what fools use for reason.

voltaire-prejudices-fool-reason-wist_info

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
Added on 6-Dec-16 | Last updated 6-Dec-16
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Of all the creatures that creep, swim, or fly,
Peopling the earth, the waters, and the sky,
From Rome to Iceland, Paris to Japan,
I really think the greatest fool is man.

[De tous les animaux qui s’élèvent dans l’air,
Qui marchent sur la terre, ou nagent dans la mer,
De Paris au Pérou, du Japon jusqu’à Rome,
Le plus sot animal, à mon avis, c’est l’homme.]

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
Satires, Satire 8, l. 1 (1716)
Added on 8-Jun-16 | Last updated 8-Jun-16
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In spite of every sage whom Greece can show,
Unerring wisdom never dwelt below;
Folly in all of every age we see,
The only difference lies in the degree.

[N’en déplaise à ces fous nommés sages de Grèce,
En ce monde il n’est point de parfaite sagesse :
Tous les hommes sont fous, et, malgré tous leurs soins,
Ne diffèrenet entre eux que du plus ou du moins.]

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
Satires, Satire 4, l. 37 (1716)
Added on 25-May-16 | Last updated 25-May-16
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A fool always finds one still more foolish to admire him.

[Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.]

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 1, l. 232 (1674)

Alt. trans.: "A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him."
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The folly which we might have ourselves committed is the one which we are least ready to pardon in another.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #85 (1886)
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Added on 28-Mar-16 | Last updated 28-Mar-16
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The world is full of fools, and he who would not wish to see one must not only shut himself up alone, but also break his looking glass.

Boileau - break his looking glass - wist_info quote

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
(Attributed)

A variant is also attributed to Charles le Petit (1640-1625), Discours satiriques (1686).
Added on 17-Mar-16 | Last updated 17-Mar-16
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A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool.

Roux - fine quotation - wist_info quote

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 1, #74 (1886)
    (Source)
Added on 14-Mar-16 | Last updated 14-Mar-16
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PAROLLES: Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this; for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.

Shakespeare - braggart ass - wist_info quote

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, sc. 3 (1602-04)
    (Source)
Added on 24-Feb-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Virginibus Puerisque, ch. 2 “Crabbed Age and Youth” (1881)
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Ignorance might be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse.

Gervais - ignorant - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (13 Oct 2013)
    (Source)
Added on 18-Feb-16 | Last updated 18-Feb-16
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It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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The greatest height of heroism to which an individual, like a people, can attain is to know how to face ridicule; better still, to know how to make oneself ridiculous and not to shrink from the ridicule.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) Spanish philosopher and writer [Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo]
The Tragic Sense of Life [Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida], Conclusion (1913) [tr. Flitch (1921)]
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Added on 6-Nov-15 | Last updated 6-Nov-15
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He tried
To cross
As fast train neared
Death didn’t draft him
He volunteered
Burma-Shave

Other Authors and Sources
Burma-Shave sign
Added on 5-Nov-15 | Last updated 5-Nov-15
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Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
Added on 16-Oct-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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If I want to stop a research program I can always do it by getting a few experts to sit in on the subject, because they know right away that it was a fool thing to try in the first place.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 25-Sep-15 | Last updated 25-Sep-15
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It’s easy to think that as a result of the extinction of the dodo, we are now sadder and wiser, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that we are merely sadder and better informed.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Last Chance to See, ch. 6 (1990)
    (Source)
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The only wa tu pleze evra boddy, is tu make evry boddy think yu ar a bigger fule than tha ar.

[The only way to please everybody is to make everybody think you are a bigger fool than they are.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
His Sayings, ch. 45 (1867)
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Whenever you look at a piece of work and you think the fellow was crazy, then you want to pay some attention to that. One of you is likely to be, and you had better find out which one it is. It makes an awful lot of difference.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
Comment (1930)
    (Source)

As attributed by Francis Davis, inventor of power steering.
Added on 24-Jul-15 | Last updated 24-Jul-15
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There is a point beyond which perseverance can only be termed desperate folly.

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) Prussian soldier, historian, military theorist
On War, 4.9 (1852) [tr. Graham (1873)]
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You philosophers are sages in your maxims, and fools in your conduct.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
“Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout” (22 Oct 1780)
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Many talk like Philosophers and live like Fools.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #3358 (1732)
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MAL: Well, my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
Firefly, 1×06 “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (2 Oct 2002)
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Wooden-headedness consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived, fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be confused by the facts.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
“An Inquiry into the Persistence of Unwisdom in Government,” Esquire (1980)
Added on 31-Mar-15 | Last updated 31-Mar-15
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If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

An entry in 1901. See Anatole France.
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In public affairs, stupidity is more dangerous than knavery.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
The New Freedom, ch. 3 (1913)
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Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 6 (1891)
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If it’s stupid but works, it ain’t stupid.

Other Authors and Sources
Murphy’s Law for Grunts

In Paul Dixon, "Getting a Handle on Life's Slippery Truths," San Francisco Chronicle (24 Dec 1992)
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EDDIE: Kid, life’s hard. But it’s a lot harder if you’re stupid.

Paul Monash (1917-2003) American producer and screenwriter
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (movie) (1973)

Screenplay based on the novel by George V. Higgins (though the line is not in the book). Played in the movie by Robert Mitchum, to whom the quote is often attributed.
Added on 22-Jan-15 | Last updated 22-Jan-15
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The probability of someone watching you is proportional to the stupidity of your action.

Other Authors and Sources
A. Kindsvater, “MIST’s Law” [Man in the Street]
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It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than ourselves. We love them at once for being so.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) English writer, humorist [Jerome Klapka Jerome]
“On Cats and dogs,” The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1892)
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When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though the war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Plague (1947)
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Evil isn’t the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it’s a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
(Attributed)

Often cited to the short story "Vignette" (also known as "Publicity and Advertising"), but not found there.
Added on 18-Nov-14 | Last updated 18-Nov-14
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There are but two ways of rising in the world: either by your own industry or by the folly of others.

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
“Of the Gifts of Fortune” (52). The Characters [Les Caractères] (1688) [tr van Laun (1929)]
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Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.

Robert Conquest (b. 1917) Anglo-American historian, diplomat, poet
“Conquest’s Second Law”


Attributed in Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (1991). Also known as "Conquest's Law of Organizations."

Variants:

  • "Every organisation behaves as if it is run by secret agents of its opponents."
  • "The behavior of any organization can best be predicted on the assumption that it is headed by a secret cabal of its enemies."
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A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Life” [ed. Jones (1907)]
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Tilting at windmills hurts you more than the windmills.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love (1973)
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If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Attributed)

Attributed to Einstein, but no definitive citation found. See here for more discussion.
Added on 9-May-14 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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We think, I’m not a fool today. I’ve learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we’re not perfect and live accordingly.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“No Particular Night or Morning” (1951)
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April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 21 epigraph: “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894)
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The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Found in Merle Johnson, More Maxims of Mark (1927), and generally considered authentic.
Added on 16-Jan-13 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
“What Is and What Should Be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society,” lecture at the Galileo Symposium, Italy (1964)
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In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity.

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) German politician
(Attributed)

Quoted by Dean Atchison in Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, ch. 11 (1965).
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Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.

[Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens]

Schiller - against stupidity the gods themselves - wist_info quote

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) German poet, playwright, critic [Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller]
The Maid of Orleans [Die Jungfrau von Orleans], Act III, sc. vi (1801) [tr. Swanwick]

Alt. trans:

  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves labor in vain."
  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves fight unvictorious."
  • "Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain."
  • "With stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
  • "With stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."
Added on 5-Jun-08 | Last updated 25-Feb-16
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Heaven-sent calamities you may stand up against, but you cannot survive those brought on by yourself.

Shu Ching (6th Century BC) Chinese collection of political philosophy [Shujing, Shu-kin, Shangshu, The Book of History, The Book of Documents, or The Classic of History]
T’ai Chia

Also cited as Shu Ching 4, 5
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I do now remember a saying,
‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man
knows himself to be a fool.’

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 5, sc. 1, l. 31 [Touchstone] (1599)
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Exactness is the sublimity of fools.

[L’exactitude est le sublime des sots.]

William Cowper (1731-1800) English poet
The Task, Book 3, l. 187 (1785)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Sep-15
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If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

[Si 50 millions de personnes disent une bêtise, c’est quand même une bêtise.]

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
(Attributed)

Sometimes misattributed to Bertrand Russell.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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In a theatre it happened that a fire started off stage. The clown came out to tell the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded. He told them again, and they became still more hilarious. This is the way, I suppose, that the world will be destroyed — amid the universal hilarity of wits and wags who think it is all a joke.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Either/Or, “Diapsalmata” (1843)

Alt. trans.: "It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning. They shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid the general applause from all the wits who believe that it is a joke." Alt. trans.: "A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to the general applause of wits who believe it's a joke"
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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