Quotations about   repetition

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History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed of the broken fragments of antique legends.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-Day, ch. 47 (1874) [with Charles Dudley Warner]
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Probably the source of the Twain misquote "History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes" (which does not appear prior to 1970).

More discussion of this quotation: History Does Not Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes – Quote Investigator
Added on 29-Nov-21 | Last updated 29-Nov-21
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History, we know, is apt to repeat herself, and to foist very old incidents upon us with only a slight change of costume.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Janet’s Repentance, ch. 10 (1859)
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Added on 8-Nov-21 | Last updated 8-Nov-21
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Beware:
All too often,
We say
What we hear others say.
We think
What we’re told that we think.
We see
What we’re permitted to see.
Worse!
We see what we’re told that we see.
Repetition and pride are the keys to this.
To hear and to see
Even an obvious lie
Again
And again and again
May be to say it,
Almost by reflex
Then to defend it
Because we’ve said it
And at last to embrace it
Because we’ve defended it
And because we cannot admit
That we’ve embraced and defended
An obvious lie.

Thus, without thought,
Without intent,
We make
Mere echoes
Of ourselves —
And we say
What we hear others say.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Parable of the Talents, ch. 18, epigram (1998)
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Internally cited to the book's scripture, Earthseed: The Books of the Living,, and to a poem, "Warrior," written by the protagonist's uncle, Marcos Duran.
Added on 24-Sep-21 | Last updated 24-Sep-21
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Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.

André Gide (1869-1951) French author, Nobel laureate
Treatise on Narcissus [Le Traité du Narcisse] (1891)
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I have no stomach to repeat a long story that has already been plainly told.

[Ἐχθρὸν δέ μοί ἐστιν
αὖτις ἀριζήλως εἰρημένα μυθολογεύειν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 12, l. 453ff (12.453) [Odysseus] (c. 700 BC) [tr. Verity (2016)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

And, for me to grow
A talker-over of my tale again,
Were past my free contentment to sustain.
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

Nor do I love the same tale twice to tell.
[tr. Hobbes (1675)]

Enough: in misery can words avail?
And what so tedious as a twice-told tale?
[tr. Pope (1725)]

I told it yesterday, and hate a tale
Once amply told, then, needless, traced again.
[tr. Cowper (1792), ll. 530-31]

The wordy tale, once told, were hard to tell again.
[tr. Worsley (1861), st. 61]

Distasteful is it to me -- aye again
To harp on tales already clearly told!
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]

It liketh me not twice to tell a plain-told tale.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

And irksome 'tis to me
To tell again of matters that told out clearly be.
[tr. Morris (1887)]

And it is irksome to tell a plain-told tale a second time.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

I hate saying the same thing over and over again.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

And it is hateful [ekhthron] for me to say the same thing over and over again.
[tr. Butler (1898), rev. Power/Nagy]

It is an irksome thing, meseems, to tell again a plain-told tale.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

It goes against my grain to repeat a tale already plainly told.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

It goes against the grain with me to repeat a tale already plainly told
[tr. Rieu (1946)]

Those adventures made a long evening, and I do not hold with tiresome repetition of a story.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]

It is hateful to me
to tell a story over again, when it has been well told.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

I do not hold with telling over what has been well told.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1990)]

It goes against my grain to repeat a tale told once, and told so clearly.
[tr. Fagles (1996)]

To me it is hateful telling again some tale that has once been told to perfection.
[tr. Merrill (2002)]

It is tedious for me to repeat a tale already plainly told.
[tr. DCH Rieu (2002)]

It is annoying, repeating tales that have been told before.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

I really dislike repeating a tale that's been clearly narrated on a previous occasion.
[tr. Green (2018)]

And it’s an irritating thing, I think,
to re-tell a story once it’s clearly told.
[tr. Johnston (2019)]

Added on 30-Jun-21 | Last updated 25-Dec-21
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The formula for prison is a lack of space counterbalanced by a surplus of time. This is what really bothers you, that you can’t win. Prison is lack of alternatives, and the telescopic predictability of the future is what drives you crazy.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) Russian-American poet, essayist, Nobel laureate, US Poet Laureate [Iosif Aleksandrovič Brodskij]
“Less Than One,” Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986)
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Added on 4-May-21 | Last updated 4-May-21
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I will leave it for the present, as this letter is already pretty long. Such is my desire, my anxiety for your perfection, that I never think I have said enough, though you may possibly think I have said too much; and though, in truth, if your own good sense is not sufficient to direct you, in many of these plain points, all that I or anybody else can say will be insufficient.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (18 Nov 1748)
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Chesterfield repeats the sentiment in a later letter (22 Sep 1749):
This letter is a very long, and so possibly a very tedious one; but my anxiety for your perfection is so great, and particularly at this critical and decisive period of your life, that I am only afraid of omitting, but never of repeating or dwelling too long upon anything that I think may be of the least use to you.
Added on 18-Mar-21 | Last updated 18-Mar-21
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Repetition is the only form of permanence that Nature can achieve.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
“Aversion from Platonism” (1914-18), Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, #5 (1922)
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Added on 27-Jan-21 | Last updated 27-Jan-21
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Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) American writer
(Attributed)

A comment from Hemingway to Arnold Samuelson in 1934, as retold in Samuelson, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba (1984). More discussion here and here.
Added on 17-Dec-20 | Last updated 17-Dec-20
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Don’t repeat yourself. It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant, and people have heard it before.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
Who Could That Be At This Hour?, ch. 1 (2012)
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Added on 24-Nov-20 | Last updated 24-Nov-20
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There is nothing that you may not get people to believe in if you will only tell it them loud enough and often enough, till the welkin rings with it.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos, “Friendship” (1884)
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"Welkin" is an obsolete word for "heavens."
Added on 4-Aug-20 | Last updated 4-Aug-20
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This is the Achilles heel of quotation collections: An initial error in one will be repeated so often by others that over time it gains authority through repetition alone.

Ralph Keyes (b. 1945) American author.
“Nice Guys Finish Seventh”: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations, ch. 13 (1992)
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Added on 19-May-20 | Last updated 19-May-20
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There is a role for bureaucracy; it’s very useful for certain tasks. In particular, it facilitates standardization and interchangeability. Bureaucracies excel at performing tasks that must be done consistently whether the people assigned to them are brilliant performers or bumbling fools. You can’t always count on having Albert Einstein in the patent office, so you design its procedures to work even if you hire Mr. Bean by mistake.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
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Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.

Jackie "Moms" Mabley (1894-1975) American standup comedian [stage name of Loretta Mary Aiken]
(Attributed)

Also attributed to a number of other comics of the era.
Added on 8-Dec-16 | Last updated 8-Dec-16
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Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ch. 1. (1852) [tr. Padover]
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Often paraphrased: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.

Charles Reade (1814-1884) English novelist and dramatist
(Attributed)

Attributed in Notes and Queries, 9th series, vol. 12 (7 Nov 1903). Not found in any of his works, but attributed to many other authors over time. See here for more discussion.
Added on 7-Sep-15 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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If an idiot were to tell you the same story every day for a year, you would end by believing it.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
(Attributed)

Cited in J.F. Boyes, Lacon in Council (1865). Also attributed to Horace Mann.
Added on 6-Feb-15 | Last updated 6-Feb-15
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The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“The Myth of Sisyphus”, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
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Added on 10-Nov-14 | Last updated 10-Nov-14
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The misery of man proceeds not from any single crush of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Lives of the English Poets, “Pope” (1781)
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Added on 1-Aug-14 | Last updated 1-Aug-14
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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

[Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.]

Alphonse Karr
Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) French journalist and novelist
Les Guêpes, vi (Jan 1849)
Added on 18-Feb-14 | Last updated 18-Feb-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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Few things are so immutable as the addiction of political groups to the ideas by which they have once won office.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Affluent Society, ch. 13, sec. 4 (1958)
Added on 22-Jun-12 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Forecast: To observe that which has passed, and guess it will happen again; to anticipate the future by guessing at the past; to predict that an event will happen, if it does, by basing calculations on events that have already happened, if they did.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
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Added on 18-Apr-12 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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In fact, nothing is ever said that has not been said before.

[Nullum est iam dictum quod non dictum sit prius.]

Terence (186?-159 BC) African-Roman dramatist [Publius Terentius Afer]
The Eunuch [Eunuchus], l. 41, Prologue (161 BC) [tr. Bolton (2019)]
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Alternate translations:
  • "In short, there's Nothing say'd , but what before / May have been say'd." [tr. Cooke (1755)]
  • "In fine, nothing can be said now, that may not have been said before." [tr. Patrick (1767)]
  • "Nothing's said now, but has been said before." [tr. Coleman (1768)]
  • "In fine, nothing is said now that has not been said before." [tr. Riley (1853)]
  • "Ah, there is nothing new beneath the sun, / Whatever is, or may be, has been done." [tr. Rose (1870)]
  • "In fact nothing is said that has not been said before." [tr. Sargeaunt (1918)]
  • "The bottom line: you can't say anything that's never been said before." [tr. Christenson (2012)]
  • There's nothing ever said, unsaid before. [tr. Bolton (2019), shortened Prologue]
Added on 15-Sep-10 | Last updated 4-Oct-21
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Cato said the best way to keep good acts in memory was to refresh them with new.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Apothegms, #247 (1624)
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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια] (c. 325 BC) (paraphrase)

Variants: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." "We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit."

Not actually Aristotle, but a summary by  Will Durant,  The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926), ch. II "Aristotle and Greek Science," Part VII "Ethics and the Nature of Happiness" (1926):
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'"
The quoted phrases are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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Marriage must continually vanquish the monster that devours everything, the monster of habit.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) French novelist, playwright
Physiology of Marriage (1829)

Alt. trans.: "Marriage must constantly fight against a monster which devours everything: routine."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Sep-17
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