Quotations about   mistake

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Back of every mistaken venture and defeat is the laughter of wisdom, if you listen. We go forward by failure. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us and only those who are willing to fail shall taste the dangers and splendors of life. To be a good loser is to learn how to win. The real coward is he who sees no glory in failure.

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) American poet, biographer
Incidentals (1904)
Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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Which is it? Is man one of God’s blunders? Or is God one of man’s blunders?

[Wie? ist der Mensch nur ein Fehlgriff Gottes? Oder Gott nur ein Fehlgriff des Menschen?]

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
Twilight of the Idols [Die Götzen-Dämmerung], “Apophthegms and Darts [Sprüche und Pfeile]” #7 (1889)

Alt. trans.:
  • "How is it? Is man only a mistake of God? Or God only a mistake of man? --" [tr. Common (1896)]
  • "What? Is man just one of God's mistakes? Or is God just one of man's? --" [tr. Large (1998),"Maxims and Barbs"]
  • "What? Is man just God's mistake? Or is God just man's mistake?" [tr. Norman (2005), "Arrows and Epigrams"]
  • "What? Is man merely a mistake of God's? Or God merely a mistake of man's?" [tr. Hollingdale (1968)]
  • "Which is it? Is man only a blunder of God? Or is God only a blunder of man?" [tr. Ludovici (1911), "Maxims and Missiles"]
Added on 12-Oct-20 | Last updated 12-Oct-20
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A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) Russian novelist
“Critical Articles: Introduction,” Complete Collected Works (1895)
Added on 1-Oct-20 | Last updated 1-Oct-20
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DEXTER: I’d rather do something and make a mistake, than be frightened into doing nothing. That’s the problem back home. Folks have been conned into thinking they can’t change the world. Have to accept what is. I’ll tell you something, my friends, the world is changing every day. The only question is, who’s doing it?

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×20 “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” (14 Oct 1996)
Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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His view of war — and he had seen a great deal of it — was that a general made as many blunders as he fought battles, but, by the grace of the gods, the opposing generals’ blunders were sometimes worse.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
A Conspiracy of Women (1966)
    (Source)

See Tartakower.
Added on 2-Sep-20 | Last updated 2-Sep-20
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A candid admission of a blunder is refreshing and not often heard in human affairs. It is the saint alone who is large-minded enough to think and speak in this way. This is part of his authenticity.

Thomas Dubay (1921-2020) American Catholic priest, author, spiritual director
Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment, Part 2, ch. 6 (1977)
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Added on 24-Aug-20 | Last updated 24-Aug-20
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For nothing stands out so conspicuously, or remains so firmly fixed in the memory, as something in which you have blundered.

[Nihil est enim tam insigne, nec tam ad diuturnitatem memoriae stabile, quam id, in quo aliquid offenderis.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Oratore [On the Orator], Book 1, ch. 28, sec. 129 (55 BC)

Alt trans.:
  • "For nothing makes so remarkable, so deep an impression upon the memory as a miscarriage." [tr. Guthrie (1742)]
  • "Nothing, indeed, is so much noticed, or makes an impression of such lasting continuance on the memory, as that in which you give any sort of offense." [tr. Watson (1855)]
  • "For nothing so immediately attracts attention, or clings so tenaciously to the memory, as any defect." [tr. Calvert (1870)]
  • "Nothing attracts so much attention, or retains such a hold upon men's memories, as the occasion when you have made a mistake." [Source]
  • Original Latin
Added on 10-Aug-20 | Last updated 10-Aug-20
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A successful career has been full of great blunders.

Charles Buxton (1823-1871) English brewer, philanthropist, writer, politician
Notes of Thought, #482 (1873)
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Added on 3-Aug-20 | Last updated 3-Aug-20
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For there is no gardening without humility, an assiduous willingness to learn, and a cheerful readiness to confess you were mistaken. Nature is continually sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. But, by the due exercise of patience and diligence, they may work their way to the top again.

Alfred Austin (1835-1913) English poet, UK Poet Laureate (1986-1913)
The Garden That I Love, “April 30th” (1894)
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Added on 27-Jul-20 | Last updated 27-Jul-20
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Brooding over blunders is the biggest blunder.

Muhammad Ali (b. 1942) American boxer [b. Cassius Clay]
“What I’ve Learned,” Esquire (Jan 2004)
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Added on 20-Jul-20 | Last updated 20-Jul-20
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It takes a lot of things to prove you are smart, but only one thing to prove you are ignorant.

Don Herold (1889-1966) American humorist, cartoonist, author
So Human (1924)
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Added on 5-Jun-20 | Last updated 5-Jun-20
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Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.

Bernard Ingham (b. 1932) British journalist, civil servant, press secretary
Quoted in The Observer (17 Mar 1985)

Often paraphrased, "Cock-up before conspiracy." Cf. Hanlon.
Added on 1-May-20 | Last updated 1-May-20
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Human blunders, however, usually do more to shape history than human wickedness.

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) British historian, journalist, broadcaster [Alan John Percivale Taylor]
The Origins of the Second World War, ch. 10 “The War of Nerves” (1961)
Added on 15-Apr-20 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.

[Success doesn’t consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Molassis Kandy” (1874)
    (Source)

More discussion of this quotation here.
Added on 5-May-19 | Last updated 5-May-19
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Remember, too, that you have the right to make mistakes. Exercise it. Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 4 (1988)
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Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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HAL9000: The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 12-Dec-17 | Last updated 12-Dec-17
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No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.

Other Authors and Sources
Turkish proverb
Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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There is no harm in being sometimes wrong — especially if one is promptly found out.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“Alfred Marshall,” The Economic Journal (Sep 1924)
Added on 1-Mar-17 | Last updated 1-Mar-17
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But, on the other hand, Uncle Abner said that the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn’t, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was gitting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn’t ever going to grow dim or doubtful.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Tom Sawyer Abroad, ch. 10 (1894)
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Frequently misquoted as "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
Added on 10-May-16 | Last updated 10-May-16
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Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.

[La science, mon garçon, est faite d’erreurs, mais d’erreurs qu’il est bon de commettre, car elles mènent peu à peu à la vérité.]

Verne - science and error - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 31 (1864) [tr. Malleson (1877)]
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Alt. trans.: "Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 10-Mar-16
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If a man makes a slip, admonish him gently and show him his mistake. If you fail to convince him, blame yourself, or else blame nobody.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 10, #4
Added on 1-Mar-16 | Last updated 1-Mar-16
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That’s not a nuts thing, that’s a “humans hate to admit error even as they stand there, black and smoldering, with the stub of a cigarette in one hand, in the middle of a wide crater containing them and the remains of a sign that once read ‘DANGER: VOLATILE EXPLOSIVES'” thing. It’s pretty universal.

James Nicoll (b. 1961) Canadian reviewer, editor
“Proposal for a new FAQ or two,” rec.arts.sf.written, Usenet (10 Jun 2005)
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Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-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)
Added on 24-Feb-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.

Atwood - stupidity evil - wist_info quote

Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian writer, literary critic, environmental activist
Surfacing, ch. 3 (1972)
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Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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There is something to be said for every error; but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Illustrated London News (25 April 1931)
Added on 13-May-15 | Last updated 13-May-15
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Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (16 Feb 1748)
Added on 9-Mar-15 | Last updated 9-Mar-15
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Like many men of genius, he could not understand why things obvious to him should not be so at once to other people, and found it easier to believe that they were corrupt than that they could be so stupid.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Apple Cart, Preface (1928)
Added on 26-Feb-15 | Last updated 26-Feb-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]
Added on 8-Jan-15 | Last updated 8-Jan-15
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If you leap into a Well, Providence is not bound to fetch you out.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2975 (1732)
Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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If the first button of one’s coat is wrongly buttoned, all the rest will be crooked.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) Italian philosopher
(Attributed)
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Attributed in John Emerich & Edward Dalberg, The Cambridge Modern History (1904).
Added on 8-Dec-14 | Last updated 8-Dec-14
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The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong.

Georges Bidault (1899-1983) French politician, diplomat
In The Observer (15 Jul 1962)
Added on 11-Nov-14 | Last updated 11-Nov-14
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There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men. Imagine a congress of eminent celebrities, such as More, Bacon, Grotius, Pascal, Cromwell, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Napoleon, Pitt, etc. The result would be an Encyclopedia of Error.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
Letter to Mary Gladstone (24 Apr 1881)
Added on 14-Jan-14 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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Experience: The name every one gives to his mistakes.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
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Added on 13-May-11 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Any manifest error on the part of an enemy should make us suspect some stratagem.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses on Livy, Book 3, ch. 48 (1517) [tr. Detmold (1882)]
Added on 22-Apr-11 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
The Second World War, Vol. 3: The Grand Alliance, ch. 20 “The Soviet Nemesis” (1950)
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Specifically, on the USSR failing to form an allied front in the Balkans against Hitler prior to his attack on them.
Added on 18-Oct-10 | Last updated 10-Aug-20
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Failure: A man who has blundered but is not able to cash in on the experience.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
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Added on 9-Mar-10 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Finish every day and be done with it. For manners and for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letter to one of his daughters
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Added on 18-Jul-07 | Last updated 31-Aug-20
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Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1842)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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Logic is an organized way of going wrong with confidence.

Kettering - ketterings law - wist_info quote

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
“Kettering’s Law,” from address before American Society of Mechanical Engineers (c. 1944)

Quoted in Heinlein, The Number of the Beast (1980).

Alternately quoted:

  • "Beware logic. Logic is an organized way to go wrong -- with confidence."
  • Logic is an organized way to go wrong with confidence. We should all know by now that a logical course is not always the right one."

Sometimes referred to "Kettering's Observation."

Cited in Food Industries magazine, vol. 16 (1944), referring to the speech being "recent" (the magazine is also referred to as Food Engineering).

This site previously incorrectly attributed the quote to Iris Murdoch.  That attribution seems to have been duplicated at some other sites, but was an error.  I have also found citations to L. Walter Lundell and Karl Popper.

Another "Kettering's Law" that is referenced is: "Parts left out cost nothing, require no maintenance, and do not fail."

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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Great blunders are often made, like large ropes, of a multitude of fibers.

[Les fortes sottises sont souvent faites, comme les grosses cordes, d’une multitude de brins.]

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Les Misérables, Vol. 2 “Cosette,” Book 5 “A Dark Chase Requires a Silent Hound,” ch. 10 “In Which it is explained how Javert lost the Game” (1862) [tr. Wilbour]

Alt. trans. [N. Denny (1980)]: "The greatest blunders, like the thickest ropes, are often compounded of a multitude of strands. Take the rope apart, separate it into the small threads that compose it, and you can break them one by one. You think, 'That is all there was!' But twist them all together, and you have something tremendous." Full text. Cited as Part 2, ch. 5 "Hunt in the Darkness."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-May-19
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The pillow is a silent Sibyl, and it is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], #151 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 31-Jan-20
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Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.

Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956) Russian chess grandmaster
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Sep-20
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