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Much of the joy of science is the joy of solid work done by skilled workmen. Many of us are happy to spend our lives in collaborative efforts where to be reliable is more important than to be original. There is a great satisfaction in building good tools for other people to use.

Freeman Dyson
Freeman Dyson (1923-2020) English-American theoretical physicist, mathematician, futurist
Disturbing the Universe, ch. 1 (1979)
Added on 18-Jul-22 | Last updated 18-Jul-22
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A nation that silences or intimidates original minds is left only with unoriginal minds and cannot hope to hold its own in the competition of peace or of war.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Free Enterprise in Ideas,” Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)

Originally published in the Saturday Review (1952), based on a speech to the Advertising Council's American Round Table, New York City (1951).
Added on 2-Feb-22 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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What is originality? Undetected plagiarism. This is probably itself a plagiarism, but I cannot remember who said it before me. If originality means thinking for oneself, and not thinking differently from other people, a man does not forfeit his claim to it by saying things which have occurred to others.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
London Evening Standard (1927)

Parallel to this, in James Marchant, ed., Wit and Wisdom of Dean Inge (1927), Inge is cited as saying, "Originality, I fear, is too often only undetected and frequently unconscious plagiarism."

The sentiment is, appropriately, not original with Inge; see here for more discussion and earlier uses.
Added on 14-Sep-20 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)

Recounted in the Pennsylvania School Journal, Vol. 46, #7 (Jan 1898) as an anecdote from a clergyman printed in the New York Tribune.
Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 25-May-17
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Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What Life Means to Einstein,” Interview with G. Viereck, Saturday Evening Post (26 Oct 1929)

Reprinted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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The most original modern authors are not so because they advance what is new, but simply because they know how to put what they have to say, as if it had never been said before.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
“The Poet’s Year,” A Criticism of the Poems of J. H. Voss (1804) [tr. Austin]
Added on 22-Jul-14 | Last updated 25-Oct-22
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The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none.

[L’écrivain original n’est pas celui qui n’imite personne, mais celui que personne ne peut imiter.]

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French writer, politican, diplomat
The Genius of Christianity [Le génie du Christianisme], Part 2, Book 1, ch. 3 (1802)

Alternate translations:
  • "The original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing." [tr. White (1856)]
  • "An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate."
Added on 22-Apr-14 | Last updated 22-Apr-14
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When we are convinced of some great truths, and feel our convictions keenly, we must not fear to express it, although others have said it before us. Every thought is new when an author expresses it in a manner peculiar to himself.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes] (1746) [tr. Lee (1903)]
Added on 12-Dec-13 | Last updated 12-Dec-13
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Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear, but forgetting where you heard it.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
The Peter Principle (1969)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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Our debt to tradition through reading and conversation is so massive, our protest or private addition so rare and insignificant, — and this commonly on the ground of other reading or hearing, — that, in a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.

Emerson - by necessity proclivity delight we all quote - wist.info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Quotation and Originality,” Letters and Social Aims (1876)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Nov-22
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