Quotations about   play

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Stuff yourself with food all day, never give your mind anything to do, and you’re a problem! There’s chess, isn’t there? There’s weiqi, isn’t there? — wiser at least to busy yourself with these.

[飽食終日、無所用心、難矣哉、不有博弈者乎、爲之猶賢乎已]
[饱食终日无所用心难矣哉不有博弈者乎为之犹贤乎已]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 17, verse 22 (17.22) (6th C. BC – AD 3rd C.) [tr. Watson (2007)]
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There is varied discussion in footnotes as to the specific identity and nature of the game(s) Confucius references. The phrase bo yi or po yi (博弈) can be translated either as "to play chess" or "the game of bo and the game of yi." The game of bo was similar to weiqi (wei-ch'i) (or, in Japan, go; the game of yi was a game like chess, or a board game played with dice (shuanglu), the rules of which have been forgotten. There are also translators who assert it's the other way around, that bo or liubo is the game of chance, and yi was weiqi (go).

(Source (Chinese) 1, 2). Alternate translations:

Hard is it to deal with him, who will stuff himself with food the whole day, without applying his mind to anything good! Are there not gamesters and chess players? To be one of these would still be better than doing nothing at all.
[tr. Legge (1861)]

Ah, it is difficult to know what to make of those who are all day long cramming themselves with food and are without anything to apply their minds to! Are there no dice and chess players? Better, perhaps, join in that pursuit than do nothing at all!
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

It is a really bad case when a man simply eats his full meals without applying his mind to anything at all during the whole day. Are there not such things as gambling and games of skill? To do one of those things even is better than to do nothing at all.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

How hard is the case of the man who stuffs himself with food the livelong day, never applying his mind to anything! Are there no checker or chess players? Even to do that is surely better than nothing at all.
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

Stuffing in food all day, nothing that he puts his mind on, a hard case! Don't chess players at least do something and have solid merit by comparison?
[tr. Pound (1933)]

Those who do nothing all day but cram themselves with food and never use their minds are difficult. Are there not games such as draughts? To play them would surely be better than doing nothing at all.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

I really admire a fellow who goes about the whole day with a well-fed stomach and a vacuous mind. How can one ever do it? I would rather that he play chess, which would seem to me to be better.
[tr. Lin Yutang (1938)]

It is no easy matter for a man who always has a full stomach to put his mind to some use. Are there not such things as po and yi? Even playing these games is better than being idle.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

It is surely difficult to spend the whole day stuffing oneself with food and having nothing to use one's mind on. Are there not people who play bo and yi? Even such activity is definitely superior, is it not?
[tr. Dawson (1993), 17.20]

I cannot abide these people who fill their bellies all day long, without ever using their minds! Why can't they play chess? At least it would be better than nothing.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

Eating all day without thinking about anything, such persons are hard to be trained. Are not there some games? Even if playing some games, it is also better than having nothing to do.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), No. 462]

There are troubles ahead for those who spend their whole day filling their stomachs without ever exercising their heart-and-mind (xin). Are there not diversions such as the board games of bo and weiqi? Even playing those games would be better than nothing.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

One who eats his fill all day long, and never uses his mind on anything, is a difficult case. Are there not such things as gammon and chess? Would it not be better to play them?
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998), 17.20]

All day eating and never thinking: such people are serious trouble. Aren't there games to play, like go and chess? Even that is better than nothing. [tr. Hinton (1998), 17.21]

Spending the entire day filling himself with food, never once exercising his mind -- someone like this is a hard case indeed! Do we not have the games Bo and Yi? Even playing these games would be better than doing nothing.
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

To spend the whole day stuffing yourself and not to put your mind to use at all -- this is hopeless behavior. Are there not such games as bo and yi? It would be better to play these games [than to do nothing at all].
[tr. Annping Chin (2014)]

If a person is well fed the whole day and does not use his brain on anything, it will be difficult for him to be of value in life. Are there poker games and chess? Playing these games is still more beneficial than doing nothing.
[tr. Li (2020)]

Added on 19-Sep-22 | Last updated 19-Sep-22
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Consequently, happiness is not found in amusement, for it would be also absurd to maintain that the end of man is amusement and that men work and suffer all their life for the sake of amusement. For, in short, we choose everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, since happiness is the end of a man. So to be serious and work hard for the sake of amusement appears foolish and very childish, but to amuse oneself for the sake of serious work seems, as Anacharsis put it, to be right; for amusement is like relaxation, and we need relaxation since we cannot keep on working hard continuously. Thus amusement is not the end, for it is chosen for the sake of serious activity.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 10, ch. 6, sec. 6 (10.6.6) / 1176b.28ff (c. 325 BC) [tr. Apostle (1975)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Happiness then stands not in amusement; in fact the very notion is absurd of the End being amusement, and of one’s toiling and enduring hardness all one’s life long with a view to amusement: for everything in the world, so to speak, we choose with some further End in view, except Happiness, for that is the End comprehending all others. Now to take pains and to labour with a view to amusement is plainly foolish and very childish: but to amuse one’s self with a view to steady employment afterwards, as Anacharsis says, is thought to be right: for amusement is like rest, and men want rest because unable to labour continuously. Rest, therefore, is not an End, because it is adopted with a view to Working afterwards.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 5]

And, hence it follows, that happiness does not consist in mere amusement. For, it is inconceivable that amusement should be the end and consummation of everything, and that a man should endure a lifetime of labour and suffering, with nothing higher than amusement in view. And this would be the case, were happiness identical with mere amusement. For there is, indeed, nothing whatever upon earth which we do not choose for the sake of something else beyond itself, with the one exception of happiness -- happiness being the one end of all things els. Now, that all earnestness and toil should tend to no higher end than mere amusement, is a view of life which is worse than childish, and fit only for a fool. But the saying of Anacharsis, "play makes us fit for work," would seem to be well spoken; for it would seem that amusement is a species of rest, and that men stand in need of rest, inasmuch as continuous exertion is not possible. And, hence, rest cannot be an end in itself, inasmuch as it is only sought with view to subsequent action.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

Happiness then does not consist in amusement. It would be paradoxical to hold that the end of human life is amusement, and that we should toil and suffer all our life for the sake of amusing ourselves. For we may be said to desire all things as means to something else except indeed happiness, as happiness is the end or perfect state. It appears to be foolish and utterly childish to take serious trouble and pains for the sake of amusement. But to amuse oneself with a view to being serious seems to be right, as Anacharsis says; for amusement is a kind of relaxation, and it is because we cannot work for ever that we need relaxation. Relaxation then is not an end. We enjoy it as a means to activity.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

Happiness, therefore, does not consist in amusement; and indeed it is absurd to suppose that the end is amusement, and that we toil and moil all our life long for the sake of amusing ourselves. We may say that we choose everything for the sake of something else, excepting only happiness; for it is the end. But to be serious and to labour for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish; while to amuse ourselves in order that we may be serious, as Anacharsis says, seems to be right; for amusement is a sort of recreation, and we need recreation because we are unable to work continuously. Recreation, then, cannot be the end; for it is taken as a means to the exercise of our faculties.
[tr. Peters (1893), 10.6.6]

Happiness, therefore, does not lie in amusement; it would, indeed, be strange if the end were amusement, and one were to take trouble and suffer hardship all one's life in order to amuse oneself. For, in a word, everything that we choose we choose for the sake of something else -- except happiness, which is an end. Now to exert oneself and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish. But to amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as Anacharsis puts it, seems right; for amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work continuously. Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken for the sake of activity.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

It follows therefore that happiness is not to be found in amusements. Indeed it would be strange that amusement should be our End -- that we should toil and moil all our life long in order that we may amuse ourselves. For virtually every object we adopt is pursued as a means to something else, excepting happiness, which is an end in itself; to make amusement the object of our serious pursuits and our work seems foolish and childish to excess: Anacharsis' motto, Play in order that you may work, is felt to be the right rule. For amusement is a form of rest; but we need rest because we are not able to go on working without a break, and therefore it is not an end, since we take it as a means to further activity.
[tr. Rackham (1934)]

Hence happiness does not lie in amusement, since it would indeed be strange if the end were amusement and we did all the work we do and suffered evil all our live for the sake of amusing ourselves. For, in a word, we choose everything -- except happiness, since end it is -- for the sake of something else. But to engage in serious matters and to labor for the sake of amusement would evidently be silly and utterly childish. On the contrary, "amusing ourselves so as to engage in serious matters," as Anacharsis puts it, seems to be correct. For amusement is like relaxation, and it is because people cannot labor continuously that they need relaxation. End, then, relaxation is not, since it occurs for the sake of activity.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

It follows that happiness does not consist in amusement. Indeed, it would be paradoxical if the end were amusement; if we toiled and suffered all our lives long to amuse ourselves. For we choose practically everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, because it is the end. To spend effort and toil for the sake of amusement seems silly and unduly childish; but on the other hand the maxim of Anacharsis, "Play to work harder," seems to be on the right lines, because amusement is a form of relaxation, and people need relaxation because they cannot exert themselves continuously. Therefore relaxation is not an end, because it is taken for the sake of activity.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

Happiness, then, is not found in amusement, for it would be absurd if the end were amusement, and our lifelong efforts and sufferings aimed at amusing ourselves. For we choose practically everything for some other end -- except for happiness, since it is the end; but serious work and toil amed only at amusement appears stupid and excessively childish. Rather, it seems correct to amuse ourselves so that we can do something serous, as Anacharsis says; for amusement would seem to be relaxation, and it is because we cannot toil continuously that we require relaxation. Relaxation, then, is not the end, since we pursue it to prepare for activity.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

Happiness, then, does not consist in amusement, because it would be absurd if our end were amusement, and we laboured and suffered all of our lives for the sake of amusing ourselves. For we choose virtually everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, since it is the end; but serious work and exertion for the sake of amusement is manifestly foolish and extremely childish. Rather, as Anacharsis puts it, what seems correct is amusing ourselves so that we can engage in some serious work, since amusement is like relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot continuously exert ourselves. Relaxation, then, is not an end, since it occurs for the sake of activity.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Added on 9-Feb-22 | Last updated 9-Feb-22
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The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health.

Ashley Montagu (1905-1999) British-American anthropologist and humanist [b. Israel Ehrenberg, a/k/a Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu]
Growing Young (1981)
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In the 2nd edition (1989), Montagu rephrased this a bit less prosaically: "Play is, of course, among the clearest of neotenous behavioral traits; it is the neoteny of the intellect, a principal criterion of mental health." Montagu uses the term "neoteny" to mean "growing young."
Added on 17-Aug-21 | Last updated 17-Aug-21
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Oh, progeny playing by itself
Is a lonely little elf,
But progeny in roistering batches
Would drive St. Francis from here to Natchez.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“Children’s Party,” Many Long Years Ago (1945)
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Added on 16-Oct-20 | Last updated 16-Oct-20
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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Plato, starting in the 1950s, but not found in his works. Earliest citation is as a Portuguese proverb, in A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs, tr. Henry G. Bohn (1857): "Mais descobre huma hora de jogo, que hum anno de conversação." For more see here.
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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Girls … were allowed to play in the house … and boys were sent outdoors. … Boys ran around in the yard with toy guns going kksshh-kksshh, fighting wars for made-up reasons and arguing about who was dead, while girls stayed inside and played with dolls, creating complex family groups and learning how to solve problems through negotiation and roleplaying. Which gender is better equipped, on the whole, to live an adult life, would you guess?

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
The Book of Guys (1993)
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HENRY: I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
The Real Thing, Act 2, sc. 5 (1982)
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Added on 31-Oct-14 | Last updated 1-Dec-21
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If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (19 Sep 1777)

In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
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When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me.

[Quand je me joue á ma chatte, qui sçait si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d’elle.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Apology for Raymond Sebond,” Essays, Book 2, ch. 12 (1580) [tr. Frame (1958)]

Alternate translation: "When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with me more than I am amusing myself with her?"
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He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, ch. 2 (1876)
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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic
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The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler “Dogs” (1912)
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All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts ….

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 7, l. 146ff [Jaques] (1599)
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