Quotations that I like

Here are some quotes that have made me think, or made me smile, plus some of my comments.

First, a warning:

Voltaire: A witty saying proves nothing. (Un bon mot ne prouve rien.) Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (1767): Deuxième Entretien

But on the other hand...

Oscar Wilde: A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889)

That leads me onto my first category:

Truth, lies and stupidity

That may seem an odd mixture. But here stupidity is not ignorance, or slowness of thought, but inability to see the truth (which of course means what the writer thinks is true!)

Oscar Wilde: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility! The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
All right, he was being flippant. But worth thinking about, all the same!

?: Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Attributed to many people, including Mark Twain Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein! Neat rather than true, perhaps.

Mark Twain: When in doubt, tell the truth. Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar
Mark Twain suggested that he wouldn't do this himself! But as a piece of advice, I've found it to be surprisingly useful. You have to deal with the consequences, of course. But covering up has its own consequences. Perhaps it would be better to say "When in doubt, consider telling the truth."

Oscar Wilde: If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.The Nightingale and the Rose

Albert Einstein: Truth is what stands the test of experience.The Laws of Science and the Laws of Ethics (1950)

Albert Einstein (attrib): Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
A standard gag, with a little doubt as to whether Einstein said it in this form, or was quoting an earlier saying. Neat, though!

Oscar Wilde: The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young (1894)
A similar quote is J. M. Barrie: I am not young enough to know everything. The Admirable Crichton (1903)

British politicians are not allowed to call each other liars in the House of Commons. Here are some of the synonyms they use:
telling porkies: comes from 'pork pie' which is rhyming slang for lie.
economical with the truth: used it during the Spycatcher trial in 1986, but similar quotes go back to Edmund Burke.
economical with the actualité: Alan Clark's version.
terminological inexititude: Winston Churchill first used this in 1906, referring to inaccurate terminology. Now it means an outright lie.

I feel that we're being led onto:



Mario Cuomo: You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.Governor of New York from 1983 to 1994
I can't help feeling that if more people tried to do the job of a politician, they would have more sympathy for them. This explains one of the problems.

Winston Churchill: Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Hansard, November 11, 1947

Abraham Lincoln (attrib): You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
Attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but it's disputed. While perhaps not entirely true, it's true enough to make democracy work.

Abraham Lincoln: government of the people, by the people, for the people Gettysburg Address 1863
The memorable phrase from this famous speech and the best definition of democracy that I know.

G.K. Chesterton: The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all. As quoted in Grace at the Table : Ending Hunger in God's World (1999) by David M. Beckmann and Arthur R. Simon

G.K. Chesterton: Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it. A Miscellany of Men

Benjamin Disraeli: All power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people, and for the people all springs, and all must exist. Vivian Grey (1826)


Voltaire (attrib): I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Possibly just a summary of Voltaire's beliefs. Definitely someone ought to have said it!

Mahatma Gandhi: Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.
I can't track this quote to its source, I'm afraid.


Bill Clinton's campaign strategist: The economy, stupid. 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush
This is often quoted as the most important factor in any political election.

Jane Austen: Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves. Mansfield Park

Oscar Wilde: Those who have much are often greedy; those who have little always share. De Profundis

Bible: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8

Bible: And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. Mark 12

Bible: Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Luke 18

Bible: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6

Other political quotes

Benjamin Disraeli: Individualities may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation. Speech at Manchester (1866)

Donald Rumsfeld: The message is that there are no "knowns." There are thing we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels 2002
Look - I like this quote! Read it carefully and you can see what he means. What's more, how about the unknown knowns? (Things that you suddenly realise that you knew all along.)

Winston Churchill: The British nation is unique in this respect. They are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst. Hansard 1941

Mark Twain: The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them. Notebook, 1935

Benjamin Disraeli: What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens. Henrietta Temple (1837)
This sounds like the often quoted Events, dear boy, events, supposed to have been said by Harold Macmillan in reply to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course (but that may be apocryphal).

Science and Mathematics

?: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Mark Twain attributed this to Disraeli. To tell the truth, it sounds more like Twain himself! Anyone who understand statistics is aware that they have a limit in scope or accuracy. But if someone who doesn't understand statistics uses this quote, I suspect they mean that they don't trust any numbers.

Albert Einstein: One may say "the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." article "Physics and Reality" (1936)

Woody Allen: Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought-- particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things. Side Effects (1980)

Woody Allen: It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off. Side Effects (1980)

Flanders & Swann: The first and second law of thermodynamics (summarised version)
The first law of thermodynamics
Heat is work and work is heat
The second law of thermodynamics
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body
Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
You can try it if you like but you far better notter
'Cause the cold in the cooler will be hotter as a ruler
Because the hotter body's heat will pass through the cooler
Heat is work and work is heat
And work is heat and heat is work
Heat will pass by conduction
And heat will pass by convection
And heat will pass by radiation
And that's a physical law
Heat is work and work's a curse
And all the heat in the universe
It's gonna cool down as it can't increase
Then there'll be no more work
And they'll be perfect peace
Yeah, that's entropy, man!

At the Drop of Another Hat (1964)
Remarkably accurate!


Winston Churchill (attrib): This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.
Gowers attributed this to Churchill in the book Complete Plain Words, as a marginal comment against a sentence that clumsily avoided a prepositional ending. Good style is more important than good grammar.

T.S. Eliot:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.
From Little Gidding of 'Four Quartets'(1942)
A lovely description of good language!

Samuel Goldwyn: Let's have some new clichés.
I don't know if this quote is genuine or not.

AS opposed to...

The English

?: The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity
I like this quote, but it's hard to track down who said it. There are suggestions of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), and also Lord Mancroft in his biography Bees in Some Bonnets (1979).

Oscar Wilde: We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language. The Canterville Ghost (1882)
'We', of course, being the English, or British.

Relationships with other people

Oscar Wilde: Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Something to be remembered by all parents (and perhaps, children!)

Oscar Wilde (attrib): Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
THis is quite similar to the Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12:
[19] Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
[20] Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
[21] Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Oscar Wilde: The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself. An Ideal Husband (1895)

Oscar Wilde: To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Oscar Wilde: Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend's success. The Soul of Man under Socialism (1881)

Mark Twain: Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to. Following the Equator (1897)

J. R. R. Tolkien: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. The Fellowship of the Ring - Lord of the Rings (1954)

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Proverb

Benjamin Disraeli: My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me. Lothair (1870)

William Shakespeare: Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night (about Malvolio)
Sir Toby Belch is a very disreputable character! Still, Shakespeare must have seen Puritans starting to appear in Britain - they tried to close the theatres down, so we can see that Shakespeare would not approved of them! So, in a way, it's a plea for tolerance of other people's views.


Oscar Wilde: In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy! Lady Wildermere's Fan

Robert Browning: Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? Andrea del Sarto (Called "The Faultless Painter") (1855)
I find this inspiring - I'm not quite sure why.

Reinhold Niebuhr: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. sermon in 1943

Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The Way of Lao-tzu

Seven deadly sinsSeven heavenly virtues

Odd quotes

Benjamin Franklin: Fish and visitors smell in three days. Poor Richard's Almanack (1736)

R.J.Yeatman and W.C.Sellar: In our endeavour to be scrupiously fair, i.e. neither partial nor impartial, we feel bound to quote not only from the best but also from the worst possible authorities. Horse Nonsense (1933)

G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. Tremendous Trifles (1909) This is more or less the correct quote. Chesterton actually said "bogey" rather than dragon.

Mark Twain: The report of my death was an exaggeration. New York Journal (1897)

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