Quotations about:
    luck


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You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

Cormac McCarthy (1933-2023) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
No Country for Old Men (2005)
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Added on 6-Mar-24 | Last updated 6-Mar-24
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Lucky yet sad? My friend, should Fortune find
You lacking gratitude, she’ll change her mind.

[Tristis es et felix. Sciat hoc Fortuna caveto:
Ingratum dicet te, Lupe, si scierit.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 6, epigram 79 (6.79) (AD 91) [tr. B. Hill (1972)]
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"To Lupus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Th' art rich & sad; take heed lest fortune know;
She 'll call th' unthankefull, Lupus, if she do.
[tr. May (1629)]

How? sad and rich? Beware lest Fortune catch
Thee, Lupus, then she'll call thee thankless wretch.
[tr. Fletcher (1656)]

Th'art rich and sad; take heed lest Fortune see,
And, as ungrateful, do proceed with thee.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

What! sad and successfull! let Fortune not know.
Ingrate! would she brand thee, did she see thee so.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 12, ep. 88]

You are sad in the midst of every blessing. Take care that Fortune does not observe, or she will call you ungrateful.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

You are sad, although fortunate. Take care Fortune does not know this; "Ingrate" will be her name for you, Lupus, if she knows.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

In spite of your luck you seem gloomy of late:
Take care, or Dame Fortune will dub you 'Ingrate.'
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

You are sad and lucky. Mind you don't let Fortune know. She will call you ungrateful, Lupus, if she gets to know.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Lupus, you're sad, though lucky. Don't disclose it.
Fortune will call you thankless if she knows it.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

You've got it all, Lupus, but you're glum, moping, dour.
Do you want Fortune to think you're ungrateful to her?
[tr. D. Hill (2023)]

 
Added on 1-Dec-23 | Last updated 1-Dec-23
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Fortune sumtimes shows us the way, but it iz energy that achieves sucksess.

[Fortune sometimes shows us the way, but it is energy that achieves success.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist, aphorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, ch. 131 “Affurisms: Plum Pits (1)” (1874)
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Added on 19-Oct-23 | Last updated 22-Dec-23
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To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success — the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history — with a society that provides opportunities for all.

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell (b. 1963) Anglo-Canadian journalist, author, public speaker
Outliers: The Story of Success, Part 2, ch. 9 (2008)
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Added on 10-Apr-23 | Last updated 10-Apr-23
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Although our intellect always feels itself urged towards clearness and certainty, still our mind often feels itself attracted by uncertainty. Instead of threading its way with the understanding along the narrow path of philosophical investigations and logical conclusions, in order almost unconscious of itself, to arrive in spaces where it feels itself a stranger, and where it seems to part from all well known objects, it prefers to remain with the imagination in the realms of chance and luck.

[Obgleich sich unser Verstand immer zur Klarheit und Gewißheit hingedrängt fühlt, so fühlt sich doch unser Geist oft von der Ungewißheit angezogen. Statt sich mit dem Verstande auf dem engen Pfade philosophischer Untersuchung und logischer Schlußfolgen durchzuwinden, um, seiner selbst sich kaum bewußt, in Räumen anzukommen, wo er sich fremd fühlt, und wo ihn alle bekannten Gegenstände zu verlassen scheinen, weilt er lieber mit der Einbildungskraft im Reiche der Zufälle und des Glücks.]

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) Prussian soldier, historian, military theorist
On War [Vom Kriege], Book 1, ch. 1 “What Is War? [Was ist der Krieg?],” § 22 (1.1.22) (1832) [tr. Graham (1873)]
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(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

Although our intellect always feels itself urged toward clarity and certainty, our mind still often feels itself attracted by uncertainty. Instead of threading its way with the intellect along the narrow path of philosophical investigation and logical deduction, in order almost unconsciously, to arrive in spaces where it finds itself a stranger and where all familiar objects seem to abandon it, it prefers to linger with imagination in the realms of chance and luck.
[tr. Jolles (1943)]

Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. It prefers to day-dream in the realms of chance and luck rather than accompany the intellect on its narrow and tortuous path of philosophical enquiry and logical deduction only to arrive -- hardly knowing how -- in unfamiliar surroundings where all the usual landmarks seem to have disappeared.
[tr. Howard & Paret (1976)]

 
Added on 21-Feb-23 | Last updated 21-Feb-23
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The vulgar are never really happy with their luck, even when it is best, or unhappy with their intellect, even when it is worst.

[Vulgaridad es no estar contento ninguno con su suerte, aun la mayor, ni descontento de su ingenio, aunque el peor.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 209 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]
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Gracian frames this as an old saying. (Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

No man is content with his own condition, though it be the best: nor dissatisfied with his wit, though it be the worst.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

... the common prejudice that any one is satisfied with his fortune, however great, or unsatisfied with his intellect, however poor it is.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

None is content with his fortune even though the best, and none is discontented with his mind, even though the worst.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

 
Added on 18-Jul-22 | Last updated 19-Dec-22
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I’m extremely skeptical of the “language of addiction.” I never saw heroin or cocaine as “my illness.” I saw them as some very bad choices that I walked knowingly into. I fucked myself — and, eventually, had to work hard to get myself un-fucked.

And I’m not going to tell you here how to live your life.

I’m just saying, I guess, that I got very lucky.

And luck is not a business model.

Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) American chef, author, travel documentarian
Medium Raw, ch. 5 (2010)
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Added on 6-Aug-21 | Last updated 6-Aug-21
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A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them.

P. J. O'Rourke (b. 1947) American humorist, editor
Parliament of Whores, Preface (1991)
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Added on 28-Jul-21 | Last updated 28-Jul-21
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Luck is probability taken personally.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author
(Attributed)

While Jillette says this often, he attributes it to statistician and fellow skeptic, Daniel "Chip" Denman.
 
Added on 3-Jun-21 | Last updated 3-Jun-21
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Men have made an idol of luck as an excuse for their own thoughtlessness. Luck seldom measures swords with wisdom. Most things in life quick wit and sharp vision can set right.

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 119 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
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Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter. Alternate translations:

  • "Men have fashioned an image of Chance as an excuse for their own stupidity. For Chance rarely conflicts with intelligence, and most things in life can be set in order by an intelligent sharpsightedness." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "Men fashioned the image of chance as an excuse for their own thoughtlessness; for chance rarely fights with wisdom, and a man of intelligence will, by foresight, set straight most things in his life." [tr. Barnes (1987)]
 
Added on 12-Jan-21 | Last updated 23-Feb-21
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Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Wealth,” The Conduct of Life, ch. 3 (1860)
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Added on 14-Apr-20 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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You can have the other words — chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Sand Dabs, Five,” Winter Hours (1999)
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Added on 17-Mar-20 | Last updated 3-Jan-24
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If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same ….

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English writer
“If–” st. 2 (1910)
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Added on 3-Jul-17 | Last updated 3-Jul-17
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“Well?” said Greycat. “Does fortune smile upon us?”
“She smiles,” said Dunaan. “And she frowns.”
“How, at the same time?”
“Yes.”
“Fortune has a very flexible countenance.”
“That is well known.”

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Five Hundred Years After (1994)
 
Added on 24-Feb-17 | Last updated 24-Feb-17
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Convinced that character is all and circumstances nothing, [the Puritan] sees in the poverty of those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ch. 4 (1926)
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Added on 15-Dec-16 | Last updated 17-Apr-20
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You know, if you’re an American and you’re born at this time in history especially, you’re lucky. We all are. We won the world history Powerball lottery, but a little modesty about it might keep the heat off of us. I can’t stand the people who say things like, “We built this country!” You built nothing. I think the railroads were pretty much up by 1980.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Victory Begins at Home (20 Jan 2004)
 
Added on 4-May-16 | Last updated 4-May-16
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It is a very rare thing for a man of talent to succeed by his talent.

Joseph Roux
Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #88 (1886)
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Added on 4-Apr-16 | Last updated 4-Apr-16
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Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Open Door (1957)
 
Added on 15-Jan-16 | Last updated 15-Jan-16
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A consecutive series of great actions never is the result of chance and luck; it is always the product of planning and genius. … Is it because they are lucky that they have become great? No, but by being great, they have been able to master luck.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Remarks to Emanuel Las Cases (14 Nov 1816)

In The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words, ch. 56 [ed. J. Herold (1955)]
 
Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 2-Dec-15
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Success is ten percent opportunity and ninety percent intelligent hustle.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
An American Bible [ed. Alice Hubbard] (1918)
 
Added on 20-Feb-15 | Last updated 20-Feb-15
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One overmuch elated with success
A change of fortune plunges in distress.

Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet and satirist [Quintus Horacius Flaccus]
Epistles, 1.10 [ed. Kraemer, Jr (1936)]
 
Added on 30-Jan-15 | Last updated 30-Jan-15
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I’ve always been in the right place at the right time. Of course, I steered myself there.

Bob Hope (1903-2003) American comedian, actor, humanitarian (b. Leslie Townes Hope)
In Merla Zellerbach, “Revealing Secrets of Their Success,” San Francisco Chronicle (11 Jul 1979)
 
Added on 23-Jan-15 | Last updated 23-Jan-15
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Trusting to luck is only another name for trusting to lazyness.

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist, aphorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, ch. 131 “Affurisms: Plum Pits (1)” (1874)
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Added on 14-Jul-11 | Last updated 22-Dec-23
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A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“Elements of Success,” speech, Spencerian Business College, Washington, D.C. (29 Jul 1869)
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Added on 11-Jul-11 | Last updated 20-Nov-20
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If there is such a thing as luck, then I must be the most unlucky fellow in the world. I’ve never once made a lucky strike in all my life. When I get after something I need, I start finding everything in the world I don’t need — one damn thing after another. I find ninety-nine things I don’t need, and then comes number one hundred , and that — at the very last — turns out to be just what I had been looking for.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) American inventor and businessman
Remarks to M. A. Rosanoff, “Edison in His Laboratory,” Harper’s (Sep 1932)
 
Added on 4-Jun-09 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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We play out our days as we play out cards, taking them as they come, not knowing what they will be, hoping for a lucky card and sometimes getting one, often getting just the wrong one.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “The World,” ii (1912)

Full text.

 
Added on 29-Jan-09 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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Fortune is not on the side of the faint-hearted.

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Phaedra, fragment 842

Also "Fortune never helps the fainthearted" [Fragments, l. 666]
 
Added on 23-Jun-08 | Last updated 17-Aug-16
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Fortune is like glass — the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.

[Fortuna uitrea est: tum cum splendet frangitur.]

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 280
 
Added on 5-Jun-08 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) French writer, filmmaker, artist
Comment (1955)

On his election to Académie Française. Alt. trans.: "Of course I believe in luck. How else does one explain the successes of one's enemies?"
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Sep-16
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Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances — it was somebody’s name, or he happened to be there at the time, or it was so then, and another day would have been otherwise. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Worship,” The Conduct of Life, ch. 6 (1860)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Spurious)

Variations:

  • "I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."
  • "The harder I work, the more luck I have."

Not found in any of Jefferson's written works. The sentiment long predates him, but this particular quotation (and variants) date to the 1920s. More discussion here: I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have – Quote Investigator.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Apr-22
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