Quotations about:
    misunderstanding


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It’s through universal Misunderstanding that everybody comes to agreement.
If, by some misfortune, everybody understood each other, one could never come to agree.
 
[C’est par le malentendu universel que tout le monde s’accorde.
Car si, par malheur, on se comprenait, on ne pourrait jamais s’accorder.]

Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet, essayist, art critic
Journaux Intimes [Intimate Journals], “Mon cœur mis à nu [My Heart Laid Bare],” § 99 (1864–1867; pub. 1887) [tr. Sieburth (2022)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree.
For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.
[tr. Isherwood (1930)]

It is by universal misunderstanding that we agree with each other.
If, by some misfortune, we understood each other, we would never agree.
[Source]

 
Added on 27-Nov-23 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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Talk sense to a fool
and he calls you foolish.

[δόξει τις ἀμαθεῖ σοφὰ λέγων οὐκ εὖ φρονεῖν.]

Euripides - Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish - wist.info quote

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Bacchæ [Βάκχαι], l. 480 [Dionysus/Διόνυσος] (405 BC) [tr. Arrowsmith (1960)]
    (Source)

Replying to Pentheus' charge that he's being foolishly evasive.

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

He must seem devoid
Of reason, who mysterious truths unfolds
To those who lack discretion.
tr. Wodhull (1809)]

One will seem to be foolish if he speaks wisely to an ignorant man.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]

Who wiseliest speaks, to the fool speaks foolishness.
[tr. Milman (1865)]

Boors think a wise man’s words devoid of sense.
[tr. Rogers (1872), l. 457]

He were a fool, methinks, who would utter wisdom to a fool.
[tr. Coleridge (1891)]

Wise answers seem but folly to a fool.
[tr. Way (1898)]

Wise words being brought
To blinded eyes will seem as things of nought.
[tr. Murray (1902)]

He who talks wisdom to an ignorant man will seem out of his senses.
[tr. Kirk (1970)]

A wise speech sleeps in a foolish ear.
[tr. Vellacott (1973)]

Talk truth to a deaf man and he
Begs your pardon.
[tr. Soyinka (1973)]

Wise speech seems thoughtless to the ignorant.
[tr. Neuburg (1988)]

What makes no sense is talking sense to a fool.
[tr. Cacoyannis (1982)]

To the ignorant, wisdom will seem folly.
[tr. Blessington (1993)]

To the ignorant man, any speaker of wisdom will seem foolish.
[tr. Esposito (1998)]

Speak wisdom to a fool and he'll think you have no sense at all.
[tr. Woodruff (1999)]

Wise things to the ignorant will sound like nonsense.
[tr. Gibbons/Segal (2000)]

Speak wisdom to a fool and he will think you foolish.
[tr. Kovacs (2002)]

Wise words spoken in the ear of a fool turn into nothingness.
[tr. Rao/Wolf (2004)]

It is not wise for someone to say anything wise to the ignorant.
[tr. Theodoridis (2005)]

Wise words will appear foolishness -- to an idiot.
[tr. Valerie (2005)]

Yes, but, then,
a man can seem really ignorant
when speaking to a fool.
[tr. Johnston (2008)]

Sense is nonsense to a fool.
[tr. Robertson (2014)]

Wisdom always sounds silly to the unwise.
[tr. Pauly (2019)]

Only a fool takes a warning for an insult.
[tr. Behr/Foster (2019)]

One will seem to be foolish if he speaks wise things [sopha] to a senseless man.
[tr. Buckley/Sens/Nagy (2020)]

 
Added on 14-Mar-23 | Last updated 11-Jul-23
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No one would talk much in society, if he only knew how often he misunderstands others.

[Niemand würde viel in Gesellschaften sprechen, wenn er sich bewußt wäre, wie oft er die andern mißversteht.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Elective Affinities [Die Wahlverwandtschaften], Part 2, ch. 4, “From Ottilie’s Journal [Aus Ottiliens Tagebuche]” (1809) [Niles ed. (1872)]
    (Source)

(Source (German)). Alternate translation:

We would not say very much in company if we realized how often we misunderstand what others say.
[tr. Hollingdale (1971)]

 
Added on 7-Feb-23 | Last updated 7-Feb-23
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Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false, or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ear Muffs,” New Yorker (20 Jun 1959)
    (Source)

Collected in Lanterns and Lances (1961).
 
Added on 17-Oct-22 | Last updated 17-Oct-22
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To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal Intime, 27 May 1849 [tr. Ward (1885)]
    (Source)
 
Added on 6-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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Many of our disappointments and much of our unhappiness arise from our forming false notions of things and persons. We strangely impose upon ourselves; we create a fairyland of happiness. Fancy is fruitful and promises fair, but, like the dog in the fable, we catch at a shadow, and when we find the disappointment, we are vexed, not with ourselves, who are really the imposters, but with the poor, innocent thing or person of whom we have formed such strange ideas.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American correspondent, First Lady (1797-1801)
Letter to Hannah Lincoln (5 Oct 1761)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-22 | Last updated 1-Feb-22
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The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. Statistical methods and statistical terms are necessary in reporting the mass data of social and economic trends, business conditions, “opinion” polls, the census. But without writers who use the words with honesty and understanding and readers who know what they mean, the result can only be semantic nonsense.

Darrell Huff
Darrell Huff (1913-2001) American writer
How to Lie with Statistics, Introduction (1954)
 
Added on 22-Jul-21 | Last updated 22-Jul-21
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If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other folks then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Moses, Man of the Mountain [Moses] (1939)
    (Source)
 
Added on 10-Jan-18 | Last updated 10-Jan-18
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Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
Comment as Chief of the Prussian General Staff, Battle of Sedan (Sep 1870)
 
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 6-Dec-17
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What is madness? To have erroneous perceptions and to reason correctly from them.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Madness” (1764)
    (Source)
 
Added on 7-Nov-17 | Last updated 7-Nov-17
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The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.

Antony Jay (1930-2016) English writer, broadcaster, director
Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life (1967)
 
Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” speech, Modern Language Association (28 Dec 1977)
    (Source)
 
Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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You’ve never said anything as stupid as what people thought you said.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 5 (2001)
 
Added on 4-Sep-15 | Last updated 4-Sep-15
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Don’t write so you can be understood. Write so that you cannot be misunderstood.

Quintilian (39-90) Roman orator [Marcus Fabius Quintilianus]
De Institutione Oratoria, Book 8, ch. 2, l. 24

Alt. trans.: "We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."

Also attributed to Epictetus, Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Taft.
 
Added on 24-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Jun-16
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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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A Little Learning misleadeth, and a great deal often stupifieth the Understanding.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“False Learning,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
    (Source)
 
Added on 26-Jul-11 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 4 Jul 1898 [ed. Paine (1935)]
 
Added on 8-Feb-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.

Austen - One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other - wist.info quote

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English novelist
Emma, Vol. 1, ch. 9 [Emma] (1816)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Jun-23
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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)

Alternate translation: "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."

Alternate translation: "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 27-Oct-21
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But they think they know it. And their idea is all the same. You can trace it to the same thing, doesn’t make any difference what it is, what their experience is, or why they’re mad with the Court. It’s all because each one of them believes that the Constitution prohibits that which they think should be prohibited, and it permits that which they think should be permitted.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Interview with Eric Serverid and Martin Agronsky, CBS News (1968-12-09)

On the public's misunderstanding of the Constitution. Reprinted in "Newsmakers, Objection Overruled," Newsweek (1968-12-09), and in "Justice Black and the Bill of Rights," Southwestern University Law Review (1977).

Black used the same idea on multiple occasions, e.g., at a news conference in Washington, D.C. (1971-02-25):

The layman's Constitutional view is that what he likes is constitutional and that which he doesn't like is unconstitutional. That about measures up the Constitutional acumen of the average person.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-Jun-23
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