Quotations about   politeness

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They continued to mount the winding staircase. A high wind, blowing through the loopholes, went rushing up the shaft, and filled the girl’s skirts like a balloon, so that she was ashamed, until he took the hem of her dress and held it down for her. He did it perfectly simply, as he would have picked up her glove. She remembered this always.

David Herbert "D. H." Lawrence (1885-1930) English novelist
Sons and Lovers, Part 2, ch. 7 “Lad-and-Girl Love” (1913)
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Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

Emily Post (1872-1960) American author, columnist [née Price]
(Attributed)

Often cited to her famous Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922), but not found in that work. Claimed as genuine by the Emily Post Institute.
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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Good manners — the longer I live the more convinced I am of it — are a priceless insurance against failure and loneliness. And anyone can have them.

Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) American gossip columnist, author, songwriter, professional hostess
Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book (1951)
Added on 12-Apr-18 | Last updated 12-Apr-18
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Morals are three-quarters manners.

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) US Supreme Court Justice, jurist and teacher
Felix Frankfurter Reminiscences (1960) [ed. Harlan Phillips]
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Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Social Aims,” Letters and Social Aims (1875)
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Of course I lie to people. But I lie altruistically — for our mutual good. The lie is the basic building block of good manners. That may seem mildly shocking to a moralist — but then what isn’t?

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) English writer and raconteur [b. Denis Pratt]
Manners from Heaven: A Divine Guide to Good Behavior (1984)
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Added on 19-Oct-17 | Last updated 19-Oct-17
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We are justified in enforcing good morals, for they belong to all mankind; but we are not justified in enforcing good manners, for good manners always mean our own manners.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
All Things Considered, “Limericks and Counsels of Perfection” (1908)
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Added on 12-Oct-17 | Last updated 12-Oct-17
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Good general-purpose manners nowadays may be said to consist in knowing how much you can get away with.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
“Manners,” Collected Impressions (1950)
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It is also characteristic of the great-souled man … to be haughty towards men of position and fortune, but courteous towards those of moderate station, because it is difficult and distinguished to be superior to the great, but easy to outdo the lowly, and to adopt a high manner with the former is not ill-bred, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people: it is like putting forth one’s strength against the weak.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4, ch. 3, l. 26 – 1124b.19 [tr. Rackham]
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Sometimes paraphrased: "It is not ill-bred to adopt a high manner with the great and the powerful, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people."

Alt. trans.: "Towards those in high position and prosperity he bears himself with pride, but towards ordinary men with moderation; for in the former case it is difficult to show superiority, and to do so is a lordly mater; whereas in the latter case it is easy. To be haughty among the great is no proof of bad breeding, but haughtiness among the lowly is as base-born a thing as it is to make trial of great strength upon the weak." [tr. Williams (1869)]
Added on 3-Aug-17 | Last updated 3-Aug-17
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The young man appeared disconcerted at the vehemence of Phryne’s discourse, and she changed the subject. One did not wantonly disconcert young men on whom one might be having designs in future.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
Added on 3-Aug-17 | Last updated 4-Aug-17
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Punctuality is the politeness of kings.

[L’exactitude est la politesse des rois.]

Louis XVIII (1755-1824) French monarch (1814-1824) ["Louis the Desired"]
(Attributed)

Attributed in Souvenirs de J. Lafitte (1844)
Added on 15-May-17 | Last updated 15-May-17
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For to be civilized is to be incapable of giving unnecessary offense, it is to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our path.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
“A Question of Politeness,” Americans and Others (1912)
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Added on 24-Apr-17 | Last updated 24-Apr-17
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Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.

Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) English aristocrat, letter writer, poet [née Pierrepont]
Letter to Mary, Countess of Bute (30 May 1756)
Added on 17-Apr-17 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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Better a false “Good morning” than a sincere “Go to Hell.”

Other Authors and Sources
Yiddish proverb
Added on 10-Apr-17 | Last updated 10-Apr-17
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The waiter returned with Ronni’s bourbon. She drank it while he explained about the specials. The explanation took a while and I wondered, as I always did when people recited a menu at me, what I was supposed to do while they did it. To just sit and nod wisely made me feel like a talk show host. To get up and go to the men’s room seemed rude. Once in Chicago I had tried taking notes in the margin of the menu, but they got mad at me.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
The Widening Gyre (1983)
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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“Why now,” said Tazendra. “There is an idea. What do you think of Kytraan’s idea, Piro?”
“It is one I had not thought of,” admitted Piro.
“And do you think it a good one?” said Kytraan.
“I must consider it.”
“Oh,” said Tazendra, “we have nothing against considering.”
“No, indeed,” said Kytraan. “I, myself, have been known to consider on occasion, and would scarcely begrudge another’s chance to consider.”
“That is good, then; I will do so.”
“And will you do so now?” said Tazendra.
“I am considering this very instant,” said Piro. .
“That is good,” said Kytraan.
“Yes. I could not tell, or I should not have asked,” said Tazendra.
“Then it is right that you asked.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am certain of it.”
“Well, then I am pleased.”
“And you should be. But, your pardon, I am considering.”
“Of course,” said Tazendra, falling silent.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Lord of Castle Black (2003)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts (1962)
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 21-Mar-17
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The music that can deepest reach,
And cure all ill, is cordial speech.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
The Conduct of Life, “Considerations by the Way” (1860)
Added on 20-Mar-17 | Last updated 20-Mar-17
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If a civil word or two will render a man happy, he must be a wretch indeed who will not give them to him.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) French monarch (1643-1715) [Louis the Great, the Sun King)
(Attributed)
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Quoted in William Seward, Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons, Vol 4, 5th ed. (1804).
Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #50 (25 Sep 1750)
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Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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Talking is one of the fine arts — the noblest, the most important, the most difficult — and its fluent harmonies may be spoiled by the intrusion of a single harsh note.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
Added on 13-Feb-17 | Last updated 13-Feb-17
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Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as “empty,” “meaningless,” or “dishonest,” and scorn to use them. No matter how “pure” their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love, “Notebooks of Lazarus Long” (1973)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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Be civil, then, to young and old,
Especially to persons who
Possess a quantity of gold
Which they might leave to you.
The more they have, it seems to me,
The more polite you ought to be.

Harry Graham (1874-1936) English journalist, poet, stage lyricist
“Politeness”
Added on 30-Jan-17 | Last updated 30-Jan-17
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If we use no ceremony towards others, we shall be treated without any. People are soon tired of paying trifling attentions to those who receive them with coldness, and return them with neglect.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
Characteristics in the Manner of Rochefoucault’s Maxims, #188 (1837 ed.)
Added on 23-Jan-17 | Last updated 23-Jan-17
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Tact is the art of putting your foot down without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
Peter’s Almanac, “July 26” (1982)
Added on 16-Jan-17 | Last updated 16-Jan-17
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Tact teaches you when to be silent.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
Endymion, ch. 61 (1880)
Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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“Okay,” I said to Teldra. “Look. I’ll concede that, over the years, I’ve learned that there’s no point in making a bad situation worse, and that it’s less work to talk yourself out of a tough spot than to slice your way out, and that words, while potentially deadly, are less deadly than Morganti daggers. But I don’t think that is quite the same thing as being courteous.”

“I believe, Lord Taltos, that it is very much the same thing.”

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Issola (2001)
Added on 16-Sep-16 | Last updated 16-Sep-16
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As with most things in life, Lady Maccon preferred the civilized exterior to the dark underbelly (with the exception of pork products, of course).

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Heartless (2011)
Added on 15-Sep-16 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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To think all you say, is but candor;
To say all you think, would be slander.

William Allingham (1824–1889) Irish poet, diarist
Blackberries Picked Off Many Bushes (1884)
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Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“The Tower of the Elephant” (1933)
Added on 26-Feb-16 | Last updated 26-Feb-16
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He is not well-bred, that cannot bear Ill-Breeding in others.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (1748)
Added on 19-Feb-16 | Last updated 19-Feb-16
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NARRATOR: No moral. No message. No prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight’s very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone.

Serling - civlization to survive - wist_info quote

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
The Twilight Zone, 3×03 “The Shelter” (29 Sep 1961)
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None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowledge himself in error.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Nov 1738)
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This sad little lizard told me that he was a Brontosaurus on his mother’s side. I did not laugh; people who boast of ancestry often have little else to sustain them. Humoring them costs nothing and adds to happiness in a world in which happiness is in short supply.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love (1973)
Added on 16-Dec-15 | Last updated 16-Dec-15
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Man is the only animal that learns by being hypocritical. He pretends to be polite and then, eventually, he becomes polite.

Jean Kerr (1922-2003) American author and playwright [b. Bridget Jean Collins]
Finishing Touches, Act 1 (1973)
Added on 14-Sep-15 | Last updated 14-Sep-15
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SIMON: I swear — when it’s appropriate.

KAYLEE: Simon, the whole point of swearing is that it ain’t appropriate.

Ben Edlund (b. 1968) American cartoonist, writer, producer
Firefly, 1×07 “Jaynestown” (18 Oct 2002)
Added on 11-Jun-15 | Last updated 11-Jun-15
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Whenever the locals rub blue mud in their navels, I rub blue mud in mine just as solemnly.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
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All Politeness is owing to Liberty. We polish one another, and rub off our Corners and rough Sides by a sort of amicable Collision. To restrain this, is inevitably to bring a Rust upon Men’s Understandings.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 1, “Sensus Communis” (1711)
Added on 12-Dec-14 | Last updated 12-Dec-14
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Lower your voice and strengthen your argument.

Other Authors and Sources
Lebanese proverb
Added on 1-Aug-14 | Last updated 1-Aug-14
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I have always been fond of the West African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Roosevelt - big stick - wist_info quote

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Letter to Henry L. Sprague (26 Jan 1900)

Full text. This is the first known use by Roosevelt of his future catch phrase.  It attained more fame when he used it in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair (2 Sep 1901) (there are transcript variants):

  • "There is a homely adage which runs 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.' If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of highest training a thoroughly efficient Navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far."
  • "Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say. A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.' If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power."
Added on 2-Nov-11 | Last updated 12-Jan-16
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Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred in the company.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding (1754)
Added on 14-Apr-10 | Last updated 1-Mar-19
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If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Goodness, and Goodness of Nature,” Essays, No. 13 (1625)
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So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Inaugural Address (20 Jan 1961)
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Added on 12-Sep-07 | Last updated 27-May-16
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Sir Roger told them, with an air of a man who would not give his judgement rashly, that much might be said on both sides.

Sir Roger heard them both […] and after having paused some time told them, with an air of a man who would not give his judgment rashly, that much might be said on both sides.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
The Spectator, #122 (20 Jul 1711)
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A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.

Dave Barry (b. 1947) American humorist
“25 Things I Have Learned In 50 Years,” #21 (1997)
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Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children are smart.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks, # 1 (1956)
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