Quotations about   speech

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It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with reason when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.

[πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἄτοπον εἰ τῷ σώματι μὲν αἰσχρὸν μὴ δύνασθαι βοηθεῖν ἑαυτῷ, λόγῳ δ᾽ οὐκ αἰσχρόν: ὃ μᾶλλον ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἀνθρώπου τῆς τοῦ σώματος χρείας.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric [Ῥητορική; Ars Rhetorica], Book 1, ch. 1, sec. 12 / 1355b.1 (350 BC) [tr. Roberts (1954)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Absurd were it, if inability to defend oneself, in the case of the body be disgraceful, but in the case of the reason, which is more peculiarly the characteristic of man than the use of his body, be not disgraceful.
[Source (1847)]

It were absurd, if, while it is disgraceful for a man not to be able to assist himself by his person, it were not disgraceful to be unable to do this by his speech, which is more a peculiarity of man than the exercise of the body.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]

It would be absurd that, while incapacity for physical self-defence is a reproach, incapacity for mental defence should be none; mental effort being more distinctive of man than bodily effort.
[tr. Jebb (1873)]

It would be absurd if it were considered disgraceful not to be able to defend oneself with the help of the body, but not disgraceful as far as speech is concerned, whose use is more characteristic of man than that of the body.
[tr. Freese (1924)]

It would make no sense for an inability to defend oneself by physical means to be a source of shame, while an inability to defend oneself by verbal means was not, since the use of words is more specifically human than the use of the body.
[tr. Waterfield (2018)]

It is strange if it is a shameful thing not to be able to come to one's own aid with one's body but not a shameful thing to be unable to do so by means of argument, which is to a greater degree a human being's own than is the use of the body.
[tr. Bartlett (2019)]

Added on 26-Mar-21 | Last updated 26-Mar-21
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If animals could speak as fabulists have feigned, the dog would be a blunt, blundering, outspoken, honest fellow, but the cat would have the rare talent of never saying a word too much.

Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) British artist, art critic and author.
Chapters on Animals, ch. 4 “Cats” (1893)
    (Source)

Sometimes misattributed to Mark Twain.
Added on 2-Mar-21 | Last updated 2-Mar-21
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A man’s tongue is a glib and twisty thing …
plenty of words there are, all kinds at its command —
with all the room in the world for talk to range and stray.
And the sort you use is just the sort you’ll hear.

[Στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ᾽ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ᾽ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ᾽ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ᾽ ἐπακούσαις.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 20, l. 248ff [Aeneas] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), l. 287ff]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

A man’s tongue is voluble, and pours
Words out of all sorts ev’ry way. Such as you speak you hear.
[tr. Chapman (1611), ll. 228-29]

Armed or with truth or falsehood, right or wrong,
So voluble a weapon is the tongue;
Wounded, we wound; and neither side can fail,
For every man has equal strength to rail.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

The tongue of man is voluble, hath words
For every theme, nor wants wide field and long,
And as he speaks so shall he hear again.
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 309-11]

The language of mortals is voluble, and the discourses in it numerous and varied: and vast is the distribution of words here and there. Whatsoever word thou mayest speak, such also wilt thou hear.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

For glibly runs the tongue, and can at will
Give utt’rance to discourse in ev’ry vein;
Wide is the range of language; and such words
As one may speak, another may return.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Glib is the tongue of man, and many words are therein of every kind, and wide is the range of his speech hither and thither. Whatsoever word thou speak, such wilt thou hear in answer.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

The tongue can run all whithers and talk all wise; it can go here and there, and as a man says, so shall he be gainsaid.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Glib is the tongue of mortals, and words there be therein many and manifold, and of speech the range is wide on this side and on that. Whatsoever word thou speakest, such shalt thou also hear.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

The tongue of man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance.
The sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Men have twisty tongues, and on them speech of all kinds; wide is the grazing land of words, both east and west. The manner of speech you use, the same you are apt to hear.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

Pliant and glib is the tongue men have, and the speeches in it are many and various -- far do the words range hither and thither; such as the word you speak is the word which you will be hearing.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]

Added on 17-Feb-21 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech.

[διότι δὲ πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ζῷον πάσης μελίττης καὶ παντὸς ἀγελαίου ζῴου μᾶλλον, δῆλον. οὐθὲν γάρ, ὡς φαμέν, μάτην ἡ φύσις ποιεῖ·]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics [Πολιτικά], Book 1, ch. 2, sec. 10 / 1253a.7-11 [tr. Jowett (1885)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "And that man is a social animal in a fuller sense than any bee or gregarious animal is evident; for nature, we say, makes nothing without an object, and man is the only animal that possesses rational speech." [tr. Bolland (1877)]
  • "The gift of speech also evidently proves that man is a more social animal than the bees, or any of the herding cattle: for nature, as we say, does nothing in vain, and man is the only animal who enjoys it." [tr. Ellis (1912)]
  • "And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech." [tr. Rackham (1932)]
  • "That man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear. For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain; and man alone among the animals has speech." [tr. Lord (1984)]
  • "It is also clear why a human is more of a political animal than any bee or any other gregarious animal. For nature does nothing pointlessly, as we say, and a human being alone among the animals has speech." [tr. Reeve (2007)]
  • "It is clear that man is a political animal, more than every bee and herd animal: for nature makes nothing in vain and man alone of living things has reason." [tr. @sentantiq (2011)]
Added on 12-Feb-21 | Last updated 12-Feb-21
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Language is civilization itself. The Word, even the most contradictory word, binds us together. Wordlessness isolates.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) German writer, critic, philanthropist, Nobel laureate [Paul Thomas Mann]
The Magic Mountain [Der Zauberberg], Part 6, “A Good Soldier” (1924) [tr. Woods]
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Alt. trans.: "Speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact -- it is silence which isolates." [tr. Lowe-Porter]
Added on 9-Dec-20 | Last updated 9-Dec-20
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But I never was happy, never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Speech, Society of the Army of the Tennessee Annual Meeting, Chicago (12 Nov 1879)
    (Source)

Twain made quips along this line several times, though there is no evidence he said the more frequently quoted "It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." For more discussion, see here.
Added on 25-Aug-20 | Last updated 25-Aug-20
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Political campaigns tend to be exercises in progressive degeneration. The steady increase, week after week, in excitement and strain and weariness produces an oversimplification of issues, an over dramatization of alternatives, a growing susceptibility to extreme and catastrophic statements. Candidates find themselves shouting things in the fall that they would never dream of whispering in the summer.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
The Age of Roosevelt, ch. 33, sec. 8 (1960)
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Added on 30-Apr-20 | Last updated 30-Apr-20
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SIR HUMPHREY: Well, Minister, if you ask me for a straight answer, then I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day, in general terms, you would probably find that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn’t very much in it one way or the other. As far as one can see, at this stage.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S1E5 “The Writing on the Wall” (24 Mar 1980) [with Anthony Jay
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We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse: we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.

Penelope Lively (b. 1933) British writer
Moon Tiger (1987)
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Added on 2-Oct-18 | Last updated 2-Oct-18
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Man is a talking animal and he will always let himself be swayed by the power of the word.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) French author, existentialist philosopher, feminist theorist
Les Belles Images (1966)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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Not everyone is worth listening to.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation For Unpopularity” (2000)
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She speaks poniards and every word stabs

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2, sc. 1 (1599)
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Everyone stood still, not knowing what to say. Except me. I knew what I should say, which was nothing. And I kept saying it.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Pastime (1991)
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Clarity in language depends on clarity in thought.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
Interview with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN (10 May 1998)
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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 56 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
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In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Annual Message to Congress (1 Dec 1862)
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Kind words also produce their own image in men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They soothe and quiet and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings. We have not yet begun to use kind words in such abundance as they ought to be used.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French scientist and philosopher
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Often attributed without citation in 19th Century works, e.g., The Golden Rule and Odd-Fellows' Family Companion, Vol. 7 (1847).
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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)
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The tongue is not steel, yet it cuts.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum (1651)
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A soft Tongue may strike hard.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Oct 1744)
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Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
New Statesman and Nation (15 Jul 1933)
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Tact teaches you when to be silent.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
Endymion, ch. 61 (1880)
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No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 31 (1907)
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Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.

Adams - read think speak and write - wist_info quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” (1765)
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Brevity is the best recommendation of speech, whether in a senator or an orator.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
(Attributed)
    (Source)

In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891).
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I don’t care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words.

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Josh Billings: His Sayings, “Affurisms” (1865)
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Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
(Attributed)
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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)
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And when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcome
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Lorde - still afraid - wist_info

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“A Litany for Survival,” The Black Unicorn (1978)
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They taught me that the truth would make me free but failed to warn me of the kind of trouble I’d get into by trying to tell it — I remain duly grateful.

Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian writer, literary critic, environmental activist
“Attitude,” Commencement Address, University Of Toronto (14 Jun 1983)
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I must say I’m not very fond of oratory that’s so full of energy it hasn’t any room for facts.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Arrowsmith, ch. 22, part 3 (1925)
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An able man shows his Spirit by gentle words and resolute actions.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (15 Jan 1753)
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I think the most un-American thing you can say is, “You can’t say that.”

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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There should be a reason for speech but not for silence.

Other Authors and Sources
French proverb
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Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Proverbs 17:28
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It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

This quotation, and close variants, are frequently attributed to Twain or Abraham Lincoln, but appears to have first been phrased this way by Maurice Switzer, Mrs. Goose, Her Book (1906): "It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it." Another point of origin is in the Bible, Proverbs 17:28: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." See here for more information.
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I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Union Meeting, Washington (6 Aug 1862)
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He cannot speak well, that cannot hold his Tongue.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #1820 (1732)
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I will begin to speak, when I have that to say which had not better be unsaid.

Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) Roman politician, statesman, orator [Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, Cato Minor]
In Plutarch, “Cato the Younger,” Parallel Lives [tr. Dryden (1693)]
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I may be arrested, I may be tried and thrown into jail, but I never will be silent.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
“Address to the Jury,” Mother Earth (Jul 1917)
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A man’s character is revealed in his speech.

Menander (c. 341 - c. 290 BC) Greek comedic dramatist
Fragment, 72 [tr. Allinson (1921)]
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KEATING: Now, language was developed for one endeavor, and that is? Mr. Anderson? Come on! Are you a man or an amoeba? Mr. Perry?
NEIL: Uh, to communicate.
KEATING: No! To woo women!

Tom Schulman (b. 1951) American screenwriter, director
Dead Poets Society (1989)
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Added on 2-Jun-14 | Last updated 18-Sep-20
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Consider not so much who speaks, as what is spoken.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 109 (1725)
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Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Social Aims,” Letters and Social Aims (1876)
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A word spoken is past recalling.

John Clarke (d. 1658) British educator
Proverbs: English and Latine [Paroemiologia Anglo-Latina] (1639)
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Think before thou speakest.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 1, Book 4, ch. 3 (1605) [tr. Motteux and Ozell (1743)]
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For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451, “Coda” Afterword (1979 ed.)
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No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Hannibal Courier-Post (6 Mar 1835)
Added on 29-May-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the End of Speech is not Ostentation, but to be understood.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
Some Fruits of Solitude, Part 2, “Of Conduct and Speech,” #122 (1682)
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Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927) [Concur]
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That is as well said as if I had said it myself.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation, Dialogue 2 (1738)
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You are eloquent enough if truth speaks through you.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 861 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
Added on 19-Nov-09 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity. In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
Added on 11-Jun-08 | Last updated 2-Apr-15
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Speak the truth and shame the Devil.

François Rabelais (1494-1553) French writer, humanist, doctor
Le Quart-Livre des faicts et dicts héroïques du bon Pantagruel, Prolog (1552)
Added on 13-Sep-07 | Last updated 19-Apr-18
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If thou thinkest twice before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
Fruits of Solitude, #132 (1682)
    (Source)

See Cervantes.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-Apr-14
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