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Be Careful


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Be Careful


Always be careful what you say. Nathan Hale said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." They killed him.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


"I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Final Problem"


If your head is wax, don't walk in the sun.
     Benjamin Franklin


"You only think I guessed wrong — that's what's so funny. I switched glasses when your back was turned. Ha-ha, you fool. You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia,' but only slightly less well known is this: 'Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line.' Hahahahahah." [Vizzini falls over dead]
     Vizzini (Wallace Shawn),
     William Goldman, The Princess Bride (movie, 1987)


A collision at sea can ruin your entire day.
     W. B. "Bill" Hayler


When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet.
     Stanislaw Lec


That’s no moon. It’s a space station.
     Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in George Lucas,
     Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
(movie, 1977)


Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night. (spoken by Bette Davis)
     Joseph Leo Mankiewicz, All About Eve (movie, 1950)


Never trust a tree that says we're out of the woods.
     Robert F. Morgan


Always think twice about something you can do only once.
     Hester Mundis, 101 Ways To Avoid Reincarnation,
     or, Getting It Right the First Time


Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.
     Satchel Paige


No one tests the depth of a river with both feet.
     African Proverb


Do not stand in a place of danger trusting in miracles.
     Arabian Proverb


Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.
     Arabian Proverb


Beware of a man's shadow and a bee's sting.
     Burmese Proverb


A full cup must be carried steadily.
     English Proverb


When the fox preaches, look to the geese.
     German Proverb


Where there is a sea there are pirates.
     Greek Proverb


Do not insult the mother alligator until after you have crossed the river.
     Haitian Proverb


Never rely on the glory of the morning or the smiles of your mother-in-law.
     Japanese Proverb


Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.
     Malayan Proverb


After dark all cats are leopards.
     Native American (Zuni) Proverb


When the mouse laughs at the cat, there is a hole nearby.
     Nigerian Proverb


Pray to God but keep on rowing the boat ashore.
     Russian Proverb


Don't throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.
     Swedish Proverb


Never squat with your spurs on.
     Texan Proverb


Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.
     Arthur Weasley in J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)


If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe.
     Lord Salisbury


"There's an old Chinese expression: 'Stay out of harm's way.'"
"That's not a Chinese expression."
"If it works, use it."
     Kim and Paris, "Parturition"
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


In time of peace in the modern world, if one is thoughtful and careful, it is rather more difficult to be killed or maimed in the outland places of the globe than it is in the streets of our great cities, but the atavistic urge toward danger persists and its satisfaction is called adventure. However, your adventurer feels no gratification in crossing Market Street in San Francisco against the traffic. Instead he will go to a good deal of trouble and expense to get himself killed in the South Seas. In reputedly rough water, he will go in a canoe; he will invade deserts without adequate food and he will expose his tolerant and uninoculated blood to strange viruses. This is adventure. It is possible that his ancestor, wearying of the humdrum attacks of the saber-tooth, longed for the good old days of pterodactyl and triceratops.
     John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1941, 1951)


Behold, the fool saith, 'Put not all thine eggs in the one basket' — which is but a manner of saying, 'Scatter your money and your attention;' but the wise man saith, 'Put all your eggs in the one basket and — WATCH THAT BASKET."
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


The most basic rule of survival in any situation is: Never look like food.
     Unknown park ranger


Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!
     Dorothy (Judy Garland), The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger),
     The Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley), and The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)
     Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf,
     The Wizard of Oz
(movie, 1939)





It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport."
     Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)


There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
     Francis Bacon, Essays (1625)
     "Of Beauty"


Bait, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


It was not until I had attended a few postmortems that I realized that even the ugliest human exteriors may contain the most beautiful viscera, and was able to console myself for the facial drabness of my neighbors in omnibuses by dissecting them in my imagination.
     J. B. S. [John Burdon Sanderson] Haldane


I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want — an adorable pancreas?
     Jean Kerr, The Snake Has All the Lines (1958)


All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable. The most common error made in matters of appearance is the belief that one should disdain the superficial and let the true beauty of one's soul shine through. If there are places on your body where this is a possibility, you are not attractive — you are leaking.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)


Violet will be a good color for hair at just about the same time that brunette becomes a good color for flowers. I will not forget this.
     Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies (1981)
     "An Alphabet of New Year's Resolutions for Others"


The loveliest of faces are to be seen by moonlight, when one sees half with the eye and half with the fancy.
     Persian Proverb


Nobody is really happy with what's on their head. People with straight hair want curly, people with curly want straight, and bald people want everyone to be blind.
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature


Beauty is all very well at first sight, but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days?
     George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)


"Thus even as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been." But Mandos said: "And yet remain evil. To me shall Fëanor come soon."
     J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (1977)


If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?
     Lily Tomlin


One is apt to overestimate beauty when it is rare ...
     Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)


One cannot see such things at an instant glance — one frequently only finds out how really beautiful a really beautiful woman is after considerable acquaintance with her ...
     Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)


Even beauty, when out of its place, is a beauty no longer.
     Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764)


The inappropriate cannot be beautiful.
     Frank Lloyd Wright, The Future of Architecture (1953)



Beliefs, Ideas, and Brass-Farthing Opinions


The Electric Monk was a labor-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.
     Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)


When a man you like switches from what he said a year ago, or four years ago, he is a broad-minded person who has courage enough to change his mind with changing conditions. When a man you don't like does it, he is a liar who has broken his promise.
     Franklin Pierce Adams


Man tends to treat all of his opinions as principles.
     Herbert Sebastian Agar, A Time for Greatness (1942)


Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats. [Said to a graduate student worried about others stealing the results in his thesis.]
     Howard Aiken, quoted in Robert Slater, Portraits in Silicon


In order to understand "ideological thinking," we must first grasp the importance of the ideology's claim to "knowledge." The fear of moving into an unknown future forms the attraction to ideology. . . . [The prime function of] an ideology . . . is to explain every thing and every occurrence by deducing it from the premise of the ideology. It seeks to make itself the method for knowing the world. There is a magnetic claim to "knowledge" which attracts the individual because the ideology makes thinking unnecessary.
     Wayne Allen, The World & I (November 1989)


Every man thinks God is on his side.
     Jean Anouilh


There is an illusion of central position, justifying one's own purposes as right and everybody else's as wrong, and providing a proper degree of paranoia. Righteous ends, thus approved, absolve of guilt the most violent means.
     Robert Ardrey


Some men are just as sure of the truth of their opinions as are others of what they know.


The same ideas, one must believe, recur in men’s minds not once or twice but again and again.


People everywhere enjoy believing things that they know are not true. It spares them the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for what they know.
     Brooks Atkinson, Once Around the Sun (1951)


If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.
     Marcus Aurelius


Where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?
     Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)


All colors will agree in the dark.
     Francis Bacon


The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called "sciences as one would." For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.
     Francis Bacon, Novum Organon (1620)


The human understanding supposes a greater degree of order and equality in things than it really finds; and although many things in nature be sui generis and most irregular, will yet invest parallels and conjugates and relatives where no such thing is.
     Francis Bacon, Novum Organon (1620)


Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.
     Francis Bacon, Novum Organon (1620)


One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.
     Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics (1879)


Absurdity, n. A statement of belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so.
     Josh Billings


Most people when they come to you for advice come to have their own opinions strengthened, not corrected.
     Josh Billings


The trouble with most folks ain't so much their ignorance, as knowing so many things that ain't so.
     Josh Billings


There are two kinds of fools: those who can't change their opinions and those who won't.
     Josh Billings


The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
     William Blake, Proverbs of Hell


"Truth" has been displaced by "believability" as the test of the statements which dominate our lives. Almost anything can be made to seem true — especially if we wish to believe it.
     Daniel J. Boorstin


This loosening of the rules of thinking seems to me the greatest blessing which modern science has given us. . . . The belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it seems to me the deepest root of all the evil that is in the world.
     Max Born


The new ideas of one age become the ideologies of the next, by which time they will in all probability be out of date and inapplicable.
      Gerald Brenan


My opinions may have changed . . . but not the fact that I am right.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


The greatest obstacle to discovering the truth is being convinced that you already know it.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


You can never discard too many bad ideas.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Broun said of one fence-straddling radio commentator, "His mind is so open that the wind whistles through it."
     Heywood Broun, quoted in Robert E. Drennan (ed.), 
     The Algonquin Wits


For those who do not think, it is best at least to rearrange their prejudices once in a while.
     Luther Burbank


The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing should be taken too seriously.
     Nicholas Murray Butler


Cursed is he that does not know when to shut his mind. An open mind is all very well in its way, but it ought not to be so open that there is no keeping anything in or out of it. It should be capable of shutting its doors sometimes, or may be found a little draughty.
     Samuel Butler


A credulous mind . . . finds most delight in believing strange things, and the stranger they are the easier they pass with him; but never regards those that are plain and feasible, for every man can believe such.
     Samuel Butler, Characters (1667-1669)


The public buys its opinions as it buys its meat, or takes in its milk, on the principle that it is cheaper to do this than to keep a cow. So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered.
     Samuel Butler, Note-Books (1912)
     "Sequel to 'Alps and Sanctuaries'"


I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.
     John Cage


Belief is a virus, and once it gets into you, its first order of business is to preserve itself, and the way it preserves itself is to keep you from having any doubts, and the way it keeps you from doubting is to blind you to the way things really are. Evidence contrary to the belief can be staring you straight in the face, and you won't see it. True believers just don't see things the way they are, because if they did, they wouldn't be true believers anymore.
     Philip Caputo


Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely a minority of one.
     Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship (1841)


'You needn't say "exactually,"' the Queen remarked: 'I can believe it without that. Now I'll give you something to believe. I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day.'
     'I can't believe that!' said Alice.
     'Can't you?' the Queen said in a pitying tone. 'Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.'
     Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one can't believe impossible things.'
     'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'
     Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass (1872)


A person can function "normally" in a million and one ways and hold the most irrational beliefs imaginable, as long as the irrational beliefs are culturally accepted delusions.
     Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary (,
     "Alien Abductions"


No written law has ever been more binding than unwritten custom supported by popular opinion.
     Carrie Chapman Catt, "Why We Ask for the Submission 
     of an Amendment"; speech at a Senate hearing on woman's 
     suffrage (speech, February 13, 1900)


The final delusion is the belief that one has lost all delusions.
     Maurice Chapelain


You cannot build an informed democracy out of people who will believe in little green men from Venus. Credulity — willingness to accept unsupported statements without demanding proof — is the greatest ally of the dictator and the demagogue.
     Arthur C. Clarke, Voices from the Sky: 
     A Preview of the Coming Space Age
     "The Lunatic Fringe"


The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.
     John Cleese


. . . if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.
     William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief"


It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
     William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief"


At its root, objectivity is simply respect for the critical opinions of others.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (1993)


According to my opinion (which I give every one leave to hoot at . . .) classification consists in grouping beings according to their actual relationship, ie their consanguinity, or descent from common stocks.
     Charles Darwin, letter to George Waterhouse (1843), 
     quoted in Adrian Desmond & James Moore, Darwin: 
     The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist


By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.
     Richard Dawkins, "Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder" 
     (Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC1, November 12th, 1996)


We believe whatever we want to believe.
     Demosthenes, Third Olynthiac (384 BC)


... the faculty of accurate cognition is variable and depends, in the final analysis, on what you want to believe, not what is so. ... Thus the will to believe chases out the rational mind, whenever and wherever the two come into conflict.
     Philip K. Dick, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982)


An idea, like a ghost (according to the common notion of a ghost), must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
     Charles Dickens


Deep in human nature is the desire to explain the cosmos with all-embracing schemes.
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)
     "To Teach or Not to Teach" (1990)


They shield themselves from facts, I suppose, by a biased selection of books and newspapers to read. Many violent conflicts of opinion come down to a difference in reading matter.
     Max Eastman, Reflections on the Failure of Socialism (1962)


I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.
     Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (1988)


The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
     Albert Einstein


Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinion which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
     Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954)


Never try to make anyone like you: you know, and God knows, that one of you is enough.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson


Man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.
     Euripides, Helen (412 B.C.)


So, in short, you can't prove anything by one occurrence, or two occurrences, and so on. Everything has to be checked out very carefully. Otherwise you become one of these people who believe all kinds of crazy stuff and doesn't understand the world they're in. Nobody understand the world they're in, but some people are better off at it than others.
     Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All: Thoughts 
     of a Citizen Scientist
(1963; published 1998)


At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.
     F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1920)


[Nick] Pope says somewhere in his book that a mind is like a parachute — it has to be open to work properly. Skeptics might reply that if you leave your mind too open, you will find that there are always plenty of people around to fill it with rubbish.
     Christopher C. French, "An Encounter with the Man from the Ministry: 
     A Review of Open Skies, Closed Minds: For the First Time a 
     Government UFO Expert Speaks Out
by Nick Pope" 
     (Skeptical Inquirer, 21:1, Jan/Feb 1997, p. 50)


We seek opinions that are likely to support what we want to be true.
     Thomas Gilovich, How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility 
     of Human Reason in Everyday Life


Belief is not the beginning but the end of all knowledge.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


When ideas fail, words come in very handy.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Sometimes it happens that a man's circle of horizon becomes smaller and smaller, and as the radius approaches zero it concentrates on one point. And then that becomes his point of view.
     David Hilbert


To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


What is true is what I can't help believing.
     Oliver Wendell Holmes


A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times.
     Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858)


It is perfectly easy to be original by violating the laws of decency and the canons of good taste.
     Oliver Wendell Holmes, Over the Teacups (1891)


It ain't what a man don't know that hurts him; it's what he knows that just ain't so.
     Kin Hubbard


An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
     Victor Hugo, Historie d'un Crime (1852)


A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.
     David Hume


The Four Stages of Public Opinion
I (Just after publication): The novelty is absurd and subversive of Religion and Morality. The propounder both fool & knave.
II (Twenty years later): The Novelty is absolute Truth and will yield a full & satisfactory explanation of things in general — The propounder a man of sublime genius and perfect virtue.
III (Forty years later): The Novelty won't explain things in general after all and therefore is a wretched failure. The propounder a very ordinary person advertised by a clique.
IV (A century later): The Novelty a mixture of truth & error. Explains as much as could reasonably be expected. The propounder worthy of all honour in spite of his share of human frailties, as one who has added to the permanent possessions of science.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley


The destroyer of weeds, thistles and thorns is a benefactor whether he soweth grain or not.
     Robert G. Ingersoll


There are no differences but differences of degree between different degrees of difference and no difference.
     William James, "Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide" (Mind, Volume 7, 1882)


The uncreative mind can spot the wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot the wrong questions.
     A. Jay


It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing than to believe what is wrong.
     Thomas Jefferson


The closed mind, if closed long enough, can be opened by nothing short of dynamite.
     Gerald Johnson


We have less reason to be surprised or offended when we find others differ from us in opinion, because we very often differ from ourselves.
     Samuel Johnson


Every may who attacks my belief diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy, and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy.
     Samuel Johnson, Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791)


I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing, and then I know it — I don't need to believe it.
     Carl Jung


Some things need to be believed to be seen.
     Guy Kawasaki


We have nearly complete misunderstanding between people of different faiths in Lake Wobegon, and that's probably one reason why we get along so very well. It's when you are trying to convince another person to think the same way that you do that there is friction and trouble between people. But when you feel that the other person is dumber than dirt, too dumb for words — why waste your breath — you get along pretty well. There's no bond between people that's quite so strong as when people each feel slightly superior towards the other one.
     Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion
     "News from Lake Wobegon" (April 2, 1994)


John Dewey once explained the nature of genuine intellectual tolerance by using a homely analogy. Being open-minded, he suggested, is like placing a welcome mat outside your front door and being prepared to be hospitable to those who ring the doorbell. It is not tantamount to throwing the door wide open and posting a sign "Come on in. Nobody's home."
     Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (1982)


Yet respect for the truth does not require one to take seriously ideas simply because they are popular or backed by influential people. Once it has become clear that a proposal makes no contribution to our understanding, we are not compelled by tolerance to give it further attention.
     Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (1982)


It is almost intrinsically impossible for ideas about how we are fooling ourselves to gain an adequate hearing. We are good enough at it to keep them nicely at bay.
     Melvin Konner, Tangled Wing


There are two ways to slice easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.
     Alfred Korzybski


Credulity is the man's weakness, but the child's strength.
     Charles Lamb, "Witches And Other Night-Fears"


No one has the right to destroy another person's belief by demanding empirical evidence.
     Ann Landers

It is ... necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders: we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgment and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exciting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion, and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated.
     Primo Levi, The Reawakening (orig. title The Truce) (1963)


[P]eople do not see; they only recognize. And what they do not recognize remains invisible to them.
     Simon Leys, N.Y. Review


Nothing contributes more to peace of soul than having no opinion at all.
     Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms (1799)


The thinker dies, but his thoughts are beyond the reach of destruction. Men are mortal; but ideas are immortal.
     Walter Lippmann


Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon.
     Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics (1914)


Earthly minds, like mud walls, resist the strongest batteries; and though, perhaps, sometimes the force of a clear argument may make some impression, yet they nevertheless stand firm, keep out the enemy, truth, that would captivate or disturb them.
     John Locke


Untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity.
     John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)


If you are possessed by an idea, you will find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.
     Thomas Mann


An idea isn't responsible for the people who believe in it.
     Don Marquis, The Sun Dial


The invisible and nonexistent look much alike.
     Delos B. McKown


The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it.
     Peter Medawar


To the sober-minded the 'spontaneity' of an idea signifies nothing more than our unawareness of what preceded its irruption into conscious thought.
     Peter Medawar, "Two Conceptions of Science" 
     (Encounter 143, August 1965)


... the intensity of the conviction with which we believe a theory to be true has no bearing upon its validity except in so far as it produces a proportionately strong inducement to find out whether it is true or not.
     Peter Medawar, Pluto's Republic (1982)


The curse of man, and the cause of nearly all his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.
     H. L. Mencken


The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.
     H. L. Mencken


The believing mind is eternally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


All good things which exist are the fruits of originality.
     John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)


He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.
     John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)


Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.
     Michel de Montaigne, Essays (1580)


Never in the world were any two opinions alike, any more than any two hairs or grains of sand. Their most universal quality is diversity.
     Michel de Montaigne, Essays (1588)


If you keep your mind sufficiently open, people will throw a lot of rubbish into it.
     William A. Orton


. . . I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.
     Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1793)


Society, in fact, often holds it to be a virtue to adhere to certain beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary. Belief in that which reason denies is associated with steadfastness and courage, while skepticism is often identified with cynicism and weak character. The more persuasive the evidence against a belief, the more virtuous it is deemed to persist in it.
     Robert L. Park, Voodoo Science: The Road 
     from Foolishness to Fraud


It is not only old and early impressions that deceive us; the charms of novelty have the same power.
     Blaise Pascal


People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come to the minds of others.
     Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670)


It turns out that with hindsight we all honestly think we could have predicted what happened, as long as we know, or think we know, that it actually did happen.
     Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Inevitable Illusions: 
     How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds


The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.
     Terry Pratchett, Diggers


71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans. He didn’t believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren’t true. He believed instead in the things that were true in which no one else believed. There are many such substitions, ranging from “It’ll get better if you don’t pick at it” all the way up to “Sometimes things just happen.”
     Terry Pratchett, Jingo (1997)


The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.
     Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment (2003)


Ideology inhibits independent thinking and all the work that thinking entails; it offers support for like-minded folk who have also put their minds out to pasture.
     Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek (October 10, 1988)


A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood
     Chinese Proverb


Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but, follow no one absolutely.
     Chinese Proverb


It's hard to strike a balance between keeping an open mind and being a sucker.
     Spider Robinson, Lady Slings the Booze (1992)


Nothing so much mars our self-satisfaction as seeing that what we approve of at one time, we disapprove of at another.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, The Maxims 
(translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


A poor mind becomes an obstinate one: we do not believe very quickly in what we do not understand.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, The Maxims 
(translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


Unless they share our opinions, we seldom find people sensible.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, The Maxims 
(translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.
     Will Rogers


It's not what we don't know that hurts, it's what we know that ain't so.
     Will Rogers


Basically, my husband has two beliefs in life. He believes in God, and he believes that when the gas gauge is on empty, he still has a quarter of a tank. He thinks the "E" stands for "Eeeggghh, there's still some left."
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature


I am not myself in any degree ashamed of having changed my opinions. What physicist who was already active in 1900 would dream of boasting that his opinions had not changed during the last half century? In science men change their opinions when new knowledge becomes available, but philosophy in the minds of many is assimilated rather to theology than to science. A theologian proclaims eternal truths. The creeds remain unchanged since the Council of Nicaea. Where nobody knows anything, there is no point in changing your mind.
     Bertrand Russell


It is the things for which there is no evidence that are believed with passion.
     Bertrand Russell


One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
     Bertrand Russell


Some 'advanced Thinkers' are of opinion that anyone who differs from the conventional opinion must be in the right. This is a delusion; if it were not, truth would be easier to come by than it is. There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up unfashionable errors than unfashionable truths.
     Bertrand Russell


I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.
     Bertrand Russell, "Brain Trust" (BBC-Radio)


The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.
     Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays (1928)


I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must of course admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it.
     Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays (1928)


The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible.
     Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945)


Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"


If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. ... The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"


A good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"


Some anthropologists have an attractive theory that the utility of domestic animals was not foreseen, but that people attempted to tame whatever animal their religion taught them to worship. The tribes that worshipped lions and crocodiles died out, while those to whom the cow or the sheep was a sacred animal prospered. I like this theory, and in the entire absence of evidence, for or against it, I feel at liberty to play with it.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "Ideas That Have Helped Mankind"


Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false. To know the truth is more difficult than most men suppose, and to act with ruthless determination in the belief that truth is the monopoly of their party is to invite disaster.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind" (1946)


... skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can he winnowed from deep nonsense. ... The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.
     Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)


Keeping an open mind is a virtue — but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out. Of course we must be willing to change our minds when warranted by new evidence. But the evidence must be strong. Not all claims to knowledge have equal merit.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark


The empiricist . . . thinks he believes only what he sees, but he is much better at believing than at seeing.
     George Santayana, Skepticism and Animal Faith (1955)


People not only jump to conclusions, they frequently rationalize or defend whatever conclusion they jump to. ... It is not surprising that rats, pigeons, and small children are often better at solving these sorts of problems than are human adults. Pigeons and small children don't care so much whether they are always right, and they do not have such a developed capacity for convincing themselves they are right, no matter what the evidence is.
     Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn, How to Think About 
     Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age


We can't make something true simply by believing it to be true If we could, the world would contain a lot fewer unfulfilled desires, unrealized ambitions, and unsuccessful projects than it does.
     Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn, How to Think About 
     Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age


We have good reasons to doubt a proposition when it conflicts with other propositions we have good reasons to believe, when it conflicts with well-established background information, or when it conflicts with expert opinion regarding the evidence. If we have good reason to doubt a proposition, we can't know it. The best we can do is proportion our belief to the evidence.
     Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn, How to Think About 
     Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age


There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if only you begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.
     Arthur Schopenhauer


Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.
     Arthur Schopenhauer, Pessimism (1851)


Our beliefs may predispose us to misinterpret the facts, when ideally the facts should serve as the evidence upon which we base beliefs.
     Alan M. MacRobert and Ted Schultz


The way I see it, it doesn't matter what you believe just so you're sincere.
     Linus Van Pelt in Charles M. Schulz, 
     Go Fly A Kite, Charlie Brown ("Peanuts," 1960)


There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people . . . religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin!
     Linus Van Pelt in Charles M. Schulz, 
     You Can't Win, Charlie Brown ("Peanuts," 1962)


Martyrdom has always been a proof of the intensity, never the correctness, of a belief.
     Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (1932)


If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people's opinions will rush in from all quarters.
     George Bernard Shaw


The man scarce lives who is not more credulous than he ought to be. The natural disposition is always to believe. It is acquired wisdom and experience only that teach incredulity, and they very seldom teach it enough.
     Adam Smith


Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose, and excluding that which is painful.
     Spock, "And the Children Shall Lead"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


In critical moments men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.
     Spock, "The Tholian Web"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


I've always found that when people try to convince others of their beliefs, it because they're really just trying to convince themselves.
     Kira, "Covenant"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


There's a difference between keeping an open mind, and believing something because you want it to be true.
     Captain Archer, "Cold Front"


It is useless for us to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he has never been reasoned into.
     Jonathan Swift


... all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end: and which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience ...
     Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)
     "A Voyage to Lilliput"


Delusion: belief said to be false by someone who does not share it.
     Thomas Szasz


Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather, indicates, his fate.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


Wooden-headedness consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived, fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be confused by the facts.
     Barbara W. Tuchman


We like a man to come right out and say what he thinks — if we agree with him.
     Mark Twain


Truly, "seeing is believing" — and many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them.
     Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)


It always happens that when a man seizes upon a neglected and important idea, people inflamed with the same notion crop up all around.
     Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)


Partialities often make people see more than really exists.
     Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)


The slowness of one section of the world about adopting the valuable ideas of another section of it is a curious thing and unaccountable. This form of stupidity is confined to no community, to no nation; it is universal. The fact is the human race is not only slow about borrowing valuable ideas — it sometimes persists in not borrowing them at all.
     Mark Twain, "Some National Stupidities" (1891-92)


People wonder why I go [abroad] so much. Well, I go partly for my health, partly to familiarize myself with the road. I have gone over the same road so many times now that I know all the whales that belong along the route, and latterly it is an embarrassment to me to meet them, for they do not look glad to see me, but annoyed, and they seem to say: "Here is this old derelict again."
     Earlier in life this would have pained me and made me ashamed, but I am older now, and when I am behaving myself, and doing right, I do not care for a whale's opinion about me. When we are young we generally estimate an opinion by the size of the person that holds it, but later we find that that is an uncertain rule, for we realize that there are times when a hornet's opinion disturbs us more than an emperor's.
     I do not mean that I care nothing at all for a whale's opinion, for that would be going to too great a length. Of course, it is better to have the good opinion of a whale than his disapproval; but my position is that if you cannot have a whale's good opinion, except at some sacrifice of principle or personal dignity, it is better to try to live without it. That is my idea about whales.
     Mark Twain, "An Undelivered Speech" (speech, March 25, 1895)


... there is no sense in forming an opinion when there is no evidence to form it on.
     Mark Twain, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)


In fact they and many others said they knew it. Probably because their fathers had know it and had told them; for one gets most things at second hand in this world.
     Mark Twain, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)


"You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


I am persuaded that a coldly-though-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing — if it has indeed ever existed.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of Self-Approval. We all have to bow to that; there are no exceptions. ... We get our notions and habits and opinions from outside influences; we do not have to study them out.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


We are creatures of outside influences, as a rule we do not think, we only imitate. We can not invent standards that will stick; what we mistake for standards are only fashions, and perishable. We may continue to admire them, but we drop the use of them.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats. We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is Conformity.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties — the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety — the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.
     Mark Twain, "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901)


There is nothing more impressive than a miracle, except the credulity that can take it at par.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1904


Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform — (or pause and reflect).
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1904


Each of us knows it all, and knows he knows it all — the rest, to a man, are fools and deluded. One man knows there is a hell, the next one knows there isn't; one man knows high tariff is right, the next man knows it isn't; one man knows monarchy is best, the next one knows it isn't; one age knows there are witches, the next one knows there aren't; one sect knows its religion is the only true one, there are sixty-four thousand five hundred million sects that know it isn't so. There is not a mind present among this multitude of verdict-deliverers that is the superior of the minds that persuade and represent the rest of the divisions of the multitude. Yet this sarcastic fact does not humble the arrogance nor diminish the know-it-all bulk of a single verdict-maker of the lot, by so much as a shade.
     Mark Twain, "3,000 Years Among the Microbes" (1905)


Between believing a thing and thinking you know is only a small step and quickly taken. ... It's the way we are made. We could be better made, but we wouldn't be interesting, then.
     Mark Twain, "3,000 Years Among the Microbes" (1905)


A nation can be brought — by force of circumstances, not argument — to reconcile itself to any kind of government or religion that can be devised; in time it will fit itself to the required conditions; later, it will prefer them, and will fiercely fight for them. As instances, you have all history: ... a thousand wild and tame religions, every kind of government that can be thought of, from tiger to housecat, each nation knowing it has the only true religion and the only sane system of government, each despising all the others, each an ass and not suspecting it ...
     Mark Twain, "What Is Man?" (1906)


Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other; it will unriddle many riddles; it will make clear and simple many things which are involved in haunting and harassing difficulties and obscurities now.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


Very well, the man who disputes none of [these universally-agreed truths] we concede to be entitled to go at large. But that is concession enough. We cannot go any further than that; for we know that in all matters of mere opinion that same man is insane — just as insane as we are; just as insane as Shakespeare was. We know exactly where to put our finger upon his insanity: it is where his opinion differs from ours.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


When I, a thoughtful and unbiased Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unbiased Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you can never prove anything to a lunatic — for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans and Mugwumps know it. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and Mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


Upon a great religious or political question, the opinion of the dullest head in the world is worth the same as the opinion of the brightest head in the world — a brass farthing. How do we arrive at this? It is simple. The affirmative opinion of a stupid man is neutralized by the negative opinion of his stupid neighbor — no decision is reached; the affirmative opinion of the intellectual giant Gladstone is neutralized by the negative opinion of the intellectual giant Newman — no decision is reached. Opinions that prove nothing are, of course, without value — any but a dead person knows that much. This obliges us to admit the truth of the unpalatable proposition just mentioned above — that, in disputed matters political and religious, one man's opinion is worth no more than his peer's, and hence it follows that no man's opinion possesses any real value. It is a humbling thought, but there is no way to get around it: all opinions upon these great subjects are brass-farthing opinions.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


There are seventy-five million men and women among us who do not know how to cut out and make a dress-suit, and they would not think of trying; yet they all think they can competently think out a political or religious scheme without any apprenticeship to the business, and many of them believe they have actually worked that miracle. But, indeed, the truth is, almost all the men and women of our nation or of any other get their religion and their politics where they get their astronomy — entirely at second hand. Being untrained, they are no more able to intelligently examine a dogma or a policy than they are to calculate an eclipse.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


Men are usually competent thinkers along the lines of their specialized training only. Within these limits alone are their opinions and judgments valuable; outside of these limits they grope and are lost - usually without knowing it.
     Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)


... I am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence of any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. ... It is the way we are made. It is the way we are all made, and we can't help it, we can't change it. And whenever we have been furnished a fetish, and have been taught to believe in it, and love it and worship it, and refrain from examining it, there is no evidence, howsoever clear and strong, that can persuade us to withdraw from it our loyalty and our devotion. In morals, conduct, and beliefs we take the color of our environment and associations, and it is a color that can safely be warranted to wash.
     Mark Twain, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" (1909)


Opinions based upon theory, superstition, and ignorance are not very precious.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Letters


Everybody's private motto: It's better to be popular than right.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


Is a person's public and private opinion the same? It is thought there have been instances.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


To my mind, the bulk of any nation's opinion about its president, or its king, or its emperor, or its politics, or its religion, is without value and not worth weighing or considering or examining. There is nothing mental in it; it is all feeling, and procured at secondhand without any assistance from the proprietor's reasoning powers.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


No mind, howsoever brilliant, is in a condition to examine a proposition which is opposed to its teachings and its heredities until, as pointed out by Lord Bacon some centuries ago, those prejudices, predilections, and inheritances shall have been swept away.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


She begged me to let her publish it and said it would do infinite good in the world, but I said it would damn me before my time and I didn't wish to be useful to the world on such expensive conditions.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


Lady Stanley wanted to convert me to her beliefs and her faith, and there has been a time when I would have been eager to convert her to my position, but that time has gone by; I would not now try to unsettle any person's religious faith, where it was untroubled by doubt — not even the savage African's. I have found it pretty hard to give up missionarying — that least excusable of all human trades — but I was obliged to do it because I could not continue to exercise it without private shame while publicly and privately deriding and blaspheming the other missionaries.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
     Mark Twain, Charles Neider (ed.), The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959)


A closed mind gathers no intelligence


Any belief worth having must survive doubt.


Here are the opinions on which my facts are based.


Having precise ideas often leads to a man doing nothing.
     Paul Valéry


When a thought is too weak to be expressed simply, simply drop it.
     Luc de Clapiers Vauvenargues


As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.


It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster.


Prejudices are what fools use for reason.


Every really new idea looks crazy at first
     Alfred North Whitehead


Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new its custodians have fervour, live for it, and, if need be, die for it.
     Alfred North Whitehead


I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.
     Oscar Wilde


I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.
     Oscar Wilde


Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
     Oscar Wilde


The value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.
     Oscar Wilde


An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.
     Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist" (1890)


It is only about things that do not interest one that one can give a really unbiased opinion, which is no doubt the reason why an unbiased opinion is always absolutely valueless.
     Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist" (1890)


If there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.
     Ludwig Wittgenstein


... completely open minds may turn out to be completely empty.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)



Books and Reading


Any ordinary man can . . . surround himself with two thousand books . . . and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy.
     Augustine Birrell


The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.
     Samuel Butler


Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'
     Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)


Books are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense. The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.
     Benjamin Disraeli, Lothair (1870)


This will never be a civilized country until we expend more money for books than we do for chewing gum.
     Elbert Hubbard


M. Mabeuf's political opinion was a passionate fondness for plants, and a still greater one for books. ... He did not understand how men could occupy themselves hating one another about such nonsense as the charter, democracy, legitimacy, the monarchy, the republic, etc. when the world was filled with all sorts of mosses, herbs and shrubs, which they could look at and piles of folios and even thirty-twomos that they could pore over. He took care not to be useless; having books did not prevent him from reading, being a botanist did not prevent him from being a gardener. ... Though poor, he had succeeded in gathering together, through patience, self-denial, and time, a valuable collection of rare volumes of every genre. He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two.
     Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862)


Books are the money of Literature, but only the counters of Science.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "Universities: Actual and Ideal" (1874)


I cannot live without books.
     Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams (June 10, 1815)


I believe that we should only read those books that bite and sting us. If a book we are reading does not rouse us with a blow to the head, then why read it?
     Franz Kafka


Never judge a cover by its book.
     Fran Lebowitz


"Is there anything from home that you brought over with you to set up for yourself? Creature comforts?"
     "I brought a book over."
     "What book?"
     "The dictionary. I figure it's got all the other books in it. I like to read the dictionary."
          Interviewer (Clete Roberts) and Hawkeye
               (Alan Alda), "The Interview"
          M*A*S*H (TV series, CBS, 1972-1983)


Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.
     Groucho Marx, quoted by L. M. Boyd


There are two kinds of books: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read.
     H. L. Mencken


But even ordinary books are dangerous, and not only the ones like Make Gelignite the Professional Way.  A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless book about political economy and suddenly thousands of people who haven’t even read it are dying because the ones who did haven’t got the joke.  Knowledge is dangerous, which is why governments often clamp down on people who can think thoughts above a certain caliber.
     Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent (1998)


[The crowd] hadn’t read as many stories as Milicia, and were rather more attached to the experience of real life, which is that when someone small and righteous takes on someone big and nasty, he is grilled bread product, very quickly.
     Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)


I would say the main competition for the book is the video because for some reason people feel they need to come home with a rectangular block of something that they don't know the end of. The big advantage of a book is it's very easy to rewind. Close it and you're right back at the beginning.
     Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage (1993)


Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.
     Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
     "An Apology for Idlers"


Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


[Books:] the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation a standstill
     Barbara Tuchman


There are many sorts of books; but good ones are the sort for the young to read. Remember that. They are a great, an inestimable, an unspeakable means of improvement. Therefore be careful in your selection, my young friends; be very careful; confine yourself exclusively to Robertson's Sermons, Baxter's Saint's Rest, The Innocents Abroad, and works of that kind.
     Mark Twain, "Advice To Youth" (speech, 1882)


In a century we have produced two hundred and twenty thousand books; not a bathtub-full of them are still alive and marketable.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), 
     Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


Mark Twain, the honored guest at a grammar school graduation, was presenting awards to the students. One little boy's prize was a big Webster's dictionary. "This is a very interesting and useful book, my son," said Twain, bestowing it upon him. "I have studied it often, but I never could discover the plot."
     Mark Twain, Alex Ayres (ed.), 
     The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


The multitude of books is making us ignorant.


Books came into being, surely, as practical schemes for transmitting or storing information, no more romantic in Gutenberg's time than a computer in ours. It so happens, though — a wholly unforeseen accident — that the feel and appearance of a book when combined with a literate person in a straight chair can create a spiritual condition of priceless depth and meaning. This form of meditation, an accident, as I say, may be the greatest treasure at the core of our civilization. So we should never give up books, surrendering only crass and earthly matters to the printout and the cathode tube.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Fates Worse Than Death: 
     An Autobiographical Collage
     Essay a Christmas catalogue for Kroch's & 
     Brentano's bookstores in Chicago (1990)


There is nothing like a good book to put you to sleep with the illusion that life is rich and meaningful.
     Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men (1946; restored edition, 2001)


If I had to describe hell, it would be as a place without books. What would life be without their appeal to our fantasy, without their power to change things simply by revealing their hidden message.
     Elie Wiesel, From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences (1990)
     "Inside A Library"


In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.
     Oscar Wilde, "A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated"


There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
     Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)




I went to a bookstore and I asked the woman behind the counter where the self-help section was. She said, "If I told you, that would defeat the whole purpose."
     Brian Kiley


Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
     Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)


A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have the people are still thinking.
     Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage (1993)



Editing and Editors

A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.
     Mark Twain, quoted from a n 1897 letter to Henry Rogers in 
     Charles Neider, ed., The Selected Letters of Mark Twain (1982)


The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1902
     More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


Clemens once commented that writing Pudd'nhead Wilson cost him little effort but that revising it almost killed him.
     Mark Twain, Guy Cardwell (ed.), Mississippi Writings 
(Library of America, 1982)


No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.
     Herbert George [H. G.] Wells




With a novelist, like a surgeon, you have to get a feeling that you've fallen into good hands - someone from whom you can accept the anesthetic with confidence.
     Saul Bellow


A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life.
     Saul Bellow, on accepting the Nobel Prize (1976)


Fiction has nothing to say to probability; the capable writer gives it not a moment's attention, except to make what is related seem probable in the reading — seem true. Suppose he relates the impossible; what then? Why, he has but passed over the line into the realm of romance, the kingdom of Scott, Defoe, Hawthorne, Beckford and the authors of Arabian Nights — the land of the poets, the home of all that is lasting and good in the literature of the imagination.
     Ambrose Bierce, quoted in the Introduction to "Stories of the 
     Supernatural" in Brian St. Pierre (ed.), The Devil's Advocate: 
     An Ambrose Bierce Reader


Novel, n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity, totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before. ...
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


The key to writing fiction is remembering just how closely linked fiction and reality are. Fiction is just like reality, except it's more elegant. It also makes more sense, unless it's written badly, in which case you've got bad fiction. I like stories that make sense; maybe I'm old-fashioned that way.
     Peter David, But I Digress (1994)


Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle, and an end.
     Peter De Vries


An appealing character strives against great odds to attain a worthwhile goal. That's pretty much the formula for all fiction.
     Dan Greenburg, What Do Women Want


The only reason anyone writes stories is so they can understand the past and get ready for some future mortality; that's why all the verbs in stories have -ed endings . . . even the ones that sell millions of paperbacks. The only two useful artforms are religion and stories.
     Stephen King, Different Seasons (1982)
     "The Body"


... all fantasy fiction is essentially about the concept of power; great fantasy fiction is about people who find it at great cost or lose it tragically; mediocre fantasy fiction is about people who have it and never lose it but simply wield it.
     Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and
     Fiction on the Craft of Writing


While the Kor tells a rather far-fetched battle story, the officers of DS9 have a tactical meeting:
BASHIR: Do you believe a word of this?
ODO: Snaking along rivers of lava past walls of fire — not very likely.
KIRA: Three against an army? Even more unlikely.
O'BRIEN: Yeah, but who cares? He tells it well.
     "The Sword of Kahless"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine

What if this life we're leading — all of this, you and me, everything — what if all of this is the illusion. ... maybe, just maybe, Benny isn't the dream — we are. Maybe we're nothing more than figments of his imagination. For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us.
     Captain Sisko, "Far Beyond the Stars"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


I write fiction because it's a way of making statements I can disown, and I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself.
     Tom Stoppard


Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have got about as bad as they reasonably get. ... The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.
     The Player in Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz 
     and Guildenstern Are Dead
(play, 1967)


The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
     Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)




I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
     Jorge Luis Borges


The closest you will ever come in this life to an orderly universe is a good library.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


A man's library is a sort of harem.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life (1860)


No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library.
     Samuel Johnson


The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.
     Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards! (1989)


A library is an arsenal of liberty.


The burning of the library of Wheaton would not be the intellectual catastrophe that the burning of the library of Alexandria, Egypt, was. There were no duplicates of many of the books at Alexandria. Our civilization has since developed a mania for duplication. Because there are so many duplicates of everything, our culture can be said to be fireproof.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (Opinions) (1974)
     "Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973"




Those 25 million or more of out unlettered fellow citizens may not be reading this book, but we can't ignore them. Sooner or later they will appear at the bar stool next to us, asking us what sign we are and insisting that spacemen built the Pyramids. A few may even vote in our elections.
     A. Whitney Brown, The Big Picture: 
     An American Commentary


We live in a nation of 25 million illiterates. I read that in USA Today. That's a scary thought, one out of ten adult Americans can't even read USA Today. What are they all going to do in life? They can't all write for it. Maybe they can dictate the editorials.
     A. Whitney Brown, The Big Picture: 
     An American Commentary


Literacy gives us access to the greatest and most influential minds in history: Socrates, say, or Newton have had audiences vastly larger than the total number of people either met in his whole lifetime.
     Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations 
     on the Evolution of Human Intelligence


The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
     Mark Twain, attributed, but unconfirmed; Ralph Keyes, 
     "Nice Guys Finish Last Seventh" (1992)




All literature is a footnote to Faust. I have no idea what I mean by that.
     Woody Allen


The printing press is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times, one sometimes forgets which.
     Russell Baker


Books say, "She did this because." Life says, "She did this." Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised that some people prefer books. Books make sense. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people's lives, never your own.
     Julian Barnes


Studying literature at Harvard is like learning about women at the Mayo Clinic.
     Roy Blount, Jr.


The pen is mightier than the sword.
     Edward Bulwer-Lytton


In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest.
     Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Caxtoniana Essay X


Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice.
     Cyril Connolly, Casual Chance (1964)


"Proust was right: life is represented better by bad music than by a Missa solemnis. Great Art makes fun of us as it comforts us, because it shows us the world as the artists would like the world to be. The dime novel, however, pretends to joke, but then it shows us the world as it actually is - or at least the world as it will become. ... What has taken place in the real world was predicted in penny dreadfuls."
     Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (1988)


Anonymous statements have, as we have seen, a universal air about them. Absolute truth, the collected wisdom of the universe, seems to be speaking, not the feeble voice of a man.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "Anonymity: An Enquiry" (1925)


What is so wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote, and brings to birth in us also the creative impulse. Lost in the beauty where he was lost, we find more than we ever threw away, we reach what seems to be our spiritual home, and remember that it was not the speaker who was in the beginning but the Word.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "Anonymity: An Enquiry" (1925)


If we write and speak clearly, we are likelier to think clearly and to remain comparatively free.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "George Orwell" (1950)


For many years there were efforts in American science fiction magazines to write short-short-short-short stories. One of the best was titled "The Shortest Horror Story Ever Written.": The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. Ron Smith shortened this one letter by changing knock to lock.
     Martin Gardner, Gardner's Whys and Wherefores (1989)
     "Kickshaws II"


... the moral of Moby Dick: it is not good to make one's ultimate concern in life the killing of one particular whale.
     Martin Gardner, Gardner's Whys and Wherefores (1989)
     "The Ancient Mariner"


In a good play everyone is in the right.
     Friedrich Hebbel


Compared to the dullest human being actually walking about on the face of the earth and casting his shadow there, the most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones.
     Attributed to Thomas Hardy by the narrator in 
     Stephen King, Bag of Bones (1998)
          [The narrator believed this was probably something his English 
          teacher made up himself and attributed to Thomas Hardy to give it 
          more weight, and I haven't been able to find out anything different.]


"'Tis not a cipher," [Billy Keogh] said, finally. "'Tis what they call literature, and that's a system of language put in the mouths of people that they've never been introduced to by writers of imagination. The magazines invented it, but I never knew before that President Norvin Green had stamped it with the seal of his approval. 'Tis now no longer literature, but language. The dictionaries tried, but they couldn't make it go for anything but dialect. Sure, now that the Western Union indorses it, it won't be long till a race of people will spring up that speaks it."
     O. Henry, "Fox-in-the-Morning"
     Cabbages and Kings (1904)


... the primary duty of literature — to tell us the truth about ourselves by telling us lies about people who never existed.
     Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and
     Fiction on the Craft of Writing


Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget you have one of your own. That is why you read it, and might even sit up in bed till dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who — you know perfectly well — are made up.
     Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tuscan


Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way around.
     David Lodge


Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
     Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851), opening lines


So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.
     Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.
     Arthur Miller, Harpers (August, 1958)


A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.
     George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant (1950)


There are two situations that make interesting stories: when an extraordinary person is plunged into the commonplace, and when an ordinary person gets involved in extraordinary events.
     Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking


What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.
     Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts (1931)


You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingonese.
     Chancellor Gorkon, STAR TREK VI The Undiscovered Country


Stories change with each person who tells them.
     Worf, "Homeward"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


KES: On my home world, it's so much simpler. You choose a mate for life. There's no distrust, no jealousy, no envy, no betrayal.
THE DOCTOR: Hmm. Your world must have very dry literature.
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
     Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat — for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.
     I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
     John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)


We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — "Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought."
     John Steinbeck, "In Awe of Words" (1977)


ROS: I mean, what exactly do you do?
PLAYER: We keep to our usual stuff, more or less, only inside out. We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Why is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.
     Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (play, 1967)


For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.
     J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)


To my mind that literature is best and most enduring which is characterized by a noble simplicity.
     Mark Twain, "Dinner Speech in Montreal" (speech, 1881)


Literature is well enough, as a time-passer, and for the improvement and general elevation and purification of mankind, but it has no practical value.
     Mark Twain, letter to H. H. Rogers (January 24, 1899)


Plain clarity is better than ornate obscurity.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)


In literature imitations do not imitate.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     Self-Interview, The Paris Review (1977)


In 1996, with movies and TV doing such good jobs of holding the attention of literates and illiterates alike, I have to question the value of my very strange, when you think about it, charm school. There is this: Attempted seductions with nothing but words on paper are so cheap for would-be ink-stained Don Juans or Cleopatras! They don't have to get a bankable actor or actress to commit to the project, and then a bankable director, and so on, and then raise millions and millions of buckareenies from manic-depressive experts on what most people want.
     Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone."
     Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake (1997)


You won't get anywhere trying to explain that you subscribe to the Miss Marple theory of literature, which maintains that you don't have to go farther than your front yard to understand the universe.
     Connie Willis, Impossible Things (1993)
     Introduction to "Time Out" (1989)


I liked Slaughterhouse Five, but I can't find the first four anywhere.
     Steven Wright


If the pen is mightier than the sword, in a duel I'll let you have the pen.
     Steven Wright


My grandfather invented Cliff's Notes. It all started back in 1912. Well, to make a long story short ...
     Steven Wright



Loaning Books

'Do you ever lend books?' someone may say in a public-spirited tone of voice at this point. Yes, I do, and they are not returned, and still I lend books. Do I ever borrow books? I do, and I can see some of them unreturned around me. I favour reciprocal dishonesty.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "In My Library" (1949)


I never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.
     Anatole France


Everything comes to him who waits. Except a loaned book.
     Kin Hubbard


Your borrowers of books — those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.
     Charles Lamb


Shelves are so hard to borrow.
     Mark Twain, explaining a pile of books to a visitor to his house;
     quoted by Garrison Keillor on The American Radio Company
     "A Visit to Mark Twain's House" (1990)



Publishing and Publishers

Dear Author, Congratulations!  We have decided to publish your novel.  First printing will be one copy.  If we sell it, we’ll print another.
     Note from publisher received by Snoopy in Charles M. Schulz,
          It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Snoopy
(“Peanuts,” 2004)


Mark Twain met a publisher named Carleton who had rejected a book of his twenty-one years previously. The publisher told him that "I am substantially an obscure person but I have a couple of such colossal distinctions to my credit that I am entitled to immortality — to wit: I refused a book of yours, and for this I stand without competitor as the prize ass of the nineteenth century." Twain wrote in his Autobiography that "It was a most handsome apology, and I told him so, and said it was a long delayed revenge but was sweeter to me than any other that could be devised; that during the lapsed twenty-one years I had in fancy taken his life several times every year, and always in new and increasingly cruel and inhuman ways, but that now I was pacified, appeased, happy, even jubilant; and that thenceforth I should hold him my true and valued friend and never kill him again."
     Mark Twain, Chapters from My Autobiography 
(North American Review, 1906-1907)


How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember with charity, that his intentions were good.
     Mark Twain, letter to Henry Alden ( November 11, 1906)


All publishers are Columbuses. The successful author is their America. The reflection that they — like Columbus — didn't discover what they expected to discover, and didn't discover what they started out to discover, doesn't trouble them. All they remember is that they discovered America; they forgot that they started out to discover some patch or corner of India.
     Mark Twain, Bernard DeVoto (ed.), Mark Twain in Eruption (1940)


Publishers are not accountable to the laws of Heaven and earth in any country, as I understand it.
     Mark Twain, quoted by Lawrence Teacher, "A Short Note 
     from the Editor," The Unabridged Mark Twain (1976)




I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
     Woody Allen


To read without reflecting, is like eating without digesting.
     Francis Bacon


Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
     Francis Bacon, Essays (1625); “Of Studies”


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books may also be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others.
     Francis Bacon, Essays (1625)
     "Of Studies"


My life has been greatly influenced by many books which I have never read.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I have often wondered how anyone who does not read, by which I mean daily, having some book going all the time, can make it through life. Indeed if I were required to make a sharp division in the very nature of people, I would be tempted to make it there: readers and nonreaders of books… It is astonishing how the presence or absence of this habit so consistently characterizes an individual in other respects; it is as though it were a kind of barometer of temperament, of personality, even of character. Aside from that, for me it constituted something like sanity insurance.
     William Brinkley, The Last Ship


Drinking strange wine pours strength into the imagination. The dinosaurs had no strange wine. They had no imagination. They lived 130,000,000 years and vanished. Why? Because they had no imagination. Unlike human beings who have it and use it and build their future rather than merely passing through their lives as if they were spectators. Spectators watching television, one might say. The saurians had no strange wine, no imagination, and they became extinct. And you don't look so terrific yourself.
     Harlan Ellison, "Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! 
     And You Don't Look So Terrific Yourself" (1978)
     Strange Wine (1978)


There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" (1837)


'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakenly meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude (1870)


When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.
     Clifton Fadiman, Any Number Can Play


One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.
     E. M. Forster


The books that everybody admires are those that nobody reads.
     Anatole France


People do not understand what it costs in time and suffering to learn how to read. I have been working at it for eighty years, and I still can't say that I've succeeded.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in J. P. Eckerman, 
     Conversations with Goethe (1836)


It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read we can live as many more lives and as many kinds as we wish.
     S. I. Hayakawa


All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that that all happened to you.
     Ernest Hemingway, Esquire (December, 1934)


One day Mother Plutarch was reading a romance novel in one corner of the room. She read aloud, as she understood better that way. In reading aloud you assume authority for what you are reading. There are people who read very loudly, and who appear to be giving their word of honor for what they are reading.
     Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862)


I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. ... We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
     Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak (27 January 1904)


Book reading is a solitary and sedentary pursuit, and those who do are cautioned that a book should be used as an integral part of a well-rounded life, including a daily regimen of rigorous physical exercise, rewarding personal relationships, and a sensible low-fat diet. A book should not be used as a substitute or an excuse.
     Garrison Keillor, The Book of Guys (1993)


There are some people who read too much: the bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


I know of no sentence that can induce such immediate and brazen lying as the one that begins: "Have you read ..."
     Wilson Mizner


After three days without reading, talk becomes flavorless.
     Chinese Proverb


There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
     Bertrand Russell


People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
     Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts (1931)


... Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.
     John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)


How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


"Classic." A book which people praise and don't read.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


... classic - something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
     Mark Twain, "Disappearance of Literature" (speech, November 20, 1900)


Read it aloud. I may be wrong, still it is my conviction that one cannot get out of finely wrought literature all that is in it by reading it mutely[.]
     Mark Twain, "William Dean Howells" (1906)


Moral, by the Cat: You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they will be there.
     Mark Twain, "A Fable" (1909)


Now for the socially fruitful sort of meditation, which has filled this noble building here: When writers meditate, they don't pick bland, meaningless mantras to say over and over to themselves. They pick mantras that are hot and prickly, full of the sizzle and jingle-jangle of life. They jazz the heck out of their inner beings with the mantras they pick. I will give you some examples: War and Peace. The Origin of Species. The Iliad. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Critique of Pure Reason. Madame Bovary. Life on the Mississippi. Romeo and Juliet. The Red Badge of Courage.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     "The Noodle Factory"-Speech at the dedication of a library 
     at Connecticut College, New London (October 1, 1976)


Reading exercises the imagination — tempts it to go from strength to strength. ... By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle. The motto of this noble library is the motto of all meditators throughout all time: 'Quiet, please.'
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     "The Noodle Factory"-Speech at the dedication of a library 
     at Connecticut College, New London (October 1, 1976)


Reading is such a difficult thing to do that most of our time in school is spent learning how to do that alone. If we had spent as much time at ice skating as we have with reading, we would all be stars with the Hollywood Ice Capades instead of bookworms now.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     "The Noodle Factory"-Speech at the dedication of a library 
     at Connecticut College, New London (October 1, 1976)


[Reading] is the most profound and effective form of meditation practiced on this planet, and far surpasses any dream experienced by a Hindu on a mountaintop. Why? Because [readers], by reading well, can think the thoughts of the wisest and most interesting human minds throughout all history. When [readers] meditate, even if they themselves have only mediocre intellects, they do it with the thoughts of angels. What could be more sacred than that?
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     Graduation speech at Fredonia College, 
     Fredonia, New York (May 20, 1978)


I just got out of the hospital. I was in a speed reading accident. I hit a book mark and flew across the room.
     Steven Wright


I took a course in speed reading. Then I got Reader's Digest on microfilm. By the time I got the machine set up, I was done.
     Steven Wright




Words are more interesting than letters, and sentences are more interesting than words.
     Fannie Jackson Coppin


The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
     Thomas Jefferson


... the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.
     Mark Twain, "Reply to the Editor of 'The Art of Authorship'" (1890)


As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Speeches (1923)



Writers and Writing

If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing.
     Kingsley Amis


... I have never written a book that didn't teach me far more than it taught any reader.
     Isaac Asimov, "Essay 400 - A Way of Thinking" (The Magazine 
     of Fantasy and Science Fiction
, December 1994)


I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life.
     J. M. Barrie


It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
     Robert Benchley, quoted in Robert E. Drennan (ed.), 
     The Algonquin Wits (1985)


Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by as ass. This use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


There are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; and the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings.
     Quentin Crisp


If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.
     Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant (1968)


I am just now beginning to discover the difficulty of expressing one's ideas on paper. As long as it consists solely of description it is pretty easy; but where reasoning comes into play, to make a proper connection, a clearness & a moderate fluency, is to me, as I have said, a difficulty of which I had no idea.
     Charles Darwin, from a letter to his sisters (1836), quoted in Adrian Desmond
     & James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1991)


I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.
     Peter De Vries


I felt like poisoning a monk.
     Umberto Eco, on why he wrote the novel The Name of the Rose


The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.
     Marty Feldman


Shakespeare often doesn't mind about his people. And when I am reading him one of my difficulties is to detect when he does mind and when he doesn't. This may be heresy on my part, but it seems to me that a great deal of Shakespearean criticism is invalid because it assumes that his characters are real people, and are never put in just to make the play go. The play's the thing, I suggest.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "Julius Caesar" (1942)


Few things are more tempting to a writer than to repeat, admiringly, what he has said before.
     John Kenneth Galbraith


Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.
     Edward Gibbon


The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.
     Robert Graves


The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.
     Ted Hughes


Almost everyone thinks they could write if only they had the time. People think they can do it, so they don't really think what you do is anything special. They think you're getting away with something.
     Margo Kaufman


I like being a famous writer. Problem is, every once in a while, you have to write something.
     Ken Kesey


I was sitting one day and thinking about cannibalism, because that's what guys like me do and I thought, suppose a guy was washed up on a rocky island, how much of himself could he eat?
     Stephen King


It would be an advantage to the literary world if most writers stopped writing entirely.
     Fran Lebowitz


"When are you at a loss for words?" When I'm writing.
     Fran Lebowitz


Contrary to what many of you might imagine, a career in letters is not without its drawbacks — chief among them the unpleasant fact that one is frequently called upon to actually sit down and write. This demand is peculiar to the profession and, as such, galling, for it is a constant reminder to the writer that he is not now, nor will he ever really be, like other men.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)
     "Writing: A Life Sentence"


Writers have a rare power not given to anyone else; we can bore people long after we are dead.
     Sinclair Lewis


To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.
     Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.
     H. L. Mencken


The vanity of man is quite illimitable. In every act of his life, however trivial, and particularly in every act which pertains to his profession, he takes all the pride of a baby learning to walk. It may seem incredible but it is nevertheless a fact that I myself get great delight out of writing such banal paragraphs as this one. The physical business of writing is extremely unpleasant to me, as it is to most other human beings, but the psychic satisfaction of discharging bad ideas in worse English is enough to make me forget it entirely.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


Author: A fool who, not content with having bored those who have lived with him, insists on tormenting the generations to come.
     Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat)


If you've nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.
     Larry Niven, N-Space (1990)
     "Niven's Laws for Writers"


I am not a teacher; only a fellow traveller of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead — ahead of myself as well as of you.
     George Bernard Shaw


A man does not write one novel at a time or one play at a time or even one quatrain at a time. He is engaged in the long process of putting his whole life on paper. He is on a journey and he is reporting in: "This is where I think I am and this is what this place looks like today."
     Irwin Shaw


I'm no writer, but if I were, it seems to me I'd want to poke my head up every once in a while and take a look around — see what's going on. It's life, Jake. You can miss it if you don't open your eyes.
     Captain Sisko, "The Visitor"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.
     John Steinbeck


We write to show what life looks like through our own little broken piece of beer bottle.
     Robert Traver, heard on an obituary of the author 
     on NPR's "Morning Edition" (March 20, 1991)


If you have reason to believe that you're another Dostoyevsky, there is no reason to be concerned about the effect what you write might have on the life of some member of your family. Your art is considerably more important than any such consideration. ... If you have reason to believe that you're another Dostoyevsky, you can say anything you need to say. If you don't have reason to believe that you're another Dostoyevsky, you can't.
     Calvin Trillin, Family Man (1998)


There are few stories that have anything superlatively good in them except the idea — and that is always bettered by transplanting.
     Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells (1876)


When an honest writer discovers an imposition it is his simple duty to strip it bare and hurl it down from its place of honor, no matter who suffers by it; any other course would render him unworthy of the public confidence.
     Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (1880)


My works are like water. The works of the great masters are like wine. But everyone drinks water.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1885


There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1, to tell him you have read one of his books; 2, to tell him you have read all of his books; 3, to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spenser is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I am not feeling very well myself.
     Mark Twain, "Statistics" (speech, 1899)


My uncle, John A. Quarles, was a farmer, and his place was in the country four miles from Florida. ... I have never consciously used him or his wife in a book, but his farm has come very handy to me in literature, once or twice. In "Huck Finn" and in "Tom Sawyer Detective" I moved it down to Arkansas. It was all of six hundred miles, but it was no trouble, it was not a very large farm; five hundred acres, perhaps, but I could have done it if it had been twice as large. And as for the morality of it, I cared nothing for that; I would move a State if the exigencies of literature required it.
     Mark Twain, Chapters from My Autobiography 
(North American Review, 1906-1907)


I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.
     Mark Twain, "Dinner Speech at Annapolis" (speech, 1907)


From a letter to Howells on A Connecticut Yankee: Well, my book is written — let it go, but if it were only to write over again there wouldn't be so many things left out. They burn in me; they keep multiplying and multiplying, but now they can't ever be said; and besides they would require a library — and a pen warmed up in hell.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 
     Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.
     Mark Twain, Charles Neider (ed.), 
     The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959)


The humorous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness - your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture. ... He takes upon himself to be the week-day preacher.
     Mark Twain, "Notes on Thackeray's Essay on Swift" (undated); 
     quoted in Alex Ayres (ed.), The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem saner than sane.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (Opinions) (1974)


I would add that novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale's department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes it time.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)


Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don't write about Man, write about a man.
     E. B. White, "Some Remarks on Humor" (1941)
     Essays of E. B. White (1977)


Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.
     Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

I have the oldest typewriter in the world. It types in pencil.
     Steven Wright





Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Dullard, n. A member of the reigning dynasty in letters and life. The Dullards came in with Adam, and being both numerous and sturdy have overrun the habitable world.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Everyone is a bore to someone. That is unimportant. The thing to avoid is being a bore to oneself.
     Gerald Brenan


Being able to entertain yourself in boring situations is an essential part of survival.
     Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks At Fifty (1998)


Bore, n. One who fails to regard us as interesting.
     Victor L. Cahn


When a fellow says, "Well, to make a long story short," it's already too late.
     Don Herold


Unpredictability, too, can become monotonous.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


Some people can stay longer in an hour than others do in a week.
     William Dean Howells


Boredom, like necessity, is very often the mother of invention.
     Dr. Smith in Lost in Space (TV series)


Blessed are they who have nothing to say and who cannot be persuaded to say it.
     James Russell Lowell


The average male gets his living by such depressing devices that boredom becomes a sort of natural state to him.
     H. L. Mencken, In Defense of Women (1922)


The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


A great talker-he has the knack of telling you nothing in a big way.
     Molière, Le Misanthrope (1666)


We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those whom we bore.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld,
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


We are almost always bored by people with whom we are not permitted to be bored.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.
     Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)


I would have been bored silly if I hadn't been there myself.
     George Bernard Shaw


There are few wild beasts more to be dreaded than a talking man having nothing to say.
     Jonathan Swift


A bore is a man who, when you ask him how he is, tells you.
     Bert Liston Taylor, The So-Called Human Race (1922)


A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.
     John Updike


The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
     Voltaire, Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)


Dullness is the coming of age of seriousness.
     Oscar Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" (1894)



Business and Commerce


A well-formatted, stupid proposal will get farther than a good idea which is poorly formatted.
     Dogbert in Scott Adams, Build A Better Life By Stealing Office
     Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business
("Dilbert," 1991)


Dogbert's Theory of Delegation: All assignments are eventually delegated to the person who understands them the least.
     Dogbert in Scott Adams, Build A Better Life By Stealing Office
     Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business
("Dilbert," 1991)


DILBERT: You saved one million dollars by having programmers in Elbonia write software for us. But we wasted four million dollars trying to debug the software. And the entire staff of our quality assurance group quit to become mimes.
POINTY-HAIRED-BOSS: Let's blame the mimes; they won't talk.
     Scott Adams, I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot ("Dilbert," 1998)


ALICE: I need to hire a programmer for my project team.
CATBERT, EVIL H.R. DIRECTOR: Our policy is to first seek candidates from within the company. If none is qualified, you must use a sock puppet.
ALICE: How many of your policies are designed for the sole purpose of satisfying your sadistic tendencies?
CATBERT: All of them. Some are just more obvious.
     Scott Adams, Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


ALICE: As far as I can tell, every layer of management exists for the sole purpose of warning us about the layer above.
DILBERT: Are you saying they have a purpose?
     Scott Adams, Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


ALICE: The mandatory unpaid overtime is immoral. It's destroying the quality of my life.
CATBERT, EVIL H.R. DIRECTOR: Alice, Alice, Alice . . . Companies are designed to maximize stockholder value, not employee happiness.
ALICE: Maybe the head of human resources should be a human.
CATBERT: Privately I refer to myself as the director of disgruntled cat toys.
     Scott Adams, Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


Of all my projects, I like the doomed ones best.
     Wally in Scott Adams, Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


... there is nothing more dangerous than a marketing person with a little bit of knowledge.
     Dilbert in Scott Adams, Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


Is it a bad sign if you spend the day wondering why there are no laws against what you do for a living?
     Dilbert in Scott Adams, Don't Step in the Leadership ("Dilbert," 1999)


Dogbert's First Law of Business: Reality is always controlled by the people who are most insane.
     Dogbert in Scott Adams, Don't Step in the Leadership ("Dilbert," 1999)


In your workspace no one can hear you scream.
     Scott Adams, Another Day in Cubicle Paradise ("Dilbert," 2002)


"The training budget got slashed.  You have to cancel your class."
"We already paid for the class."
"We’ll look bad if you go."
"So, our plan is to appear smart while secretly being stupid?"
"You can make anything sound bad."
          Pointy-Haired Boss and Dilbert in Scott Adams,
               When Body Language Goes Bad
(“Dilbert,” 2003)


CATBERT:  The other engineers are complaining because you have a private office.
DILBERT:  Maybe you should explain to each of them that life isn’t fair.
(Dilbert is back in his cubicle.)
DILBERT THINKS:  Yeah, I guess it is easier to explain it to one person.
     Scott Adams, When Body Language Goes Bad (“Dilbert,” 2003)


"Our new chip is slower than our competition’s product."
"We’ll claim we’re the fastest.  If anyone does benchmark tests, we’ll say they used old drivers."
"Whenever I talk to you, I feel like I should be wearing a wire."
"Since when is marketing a crime?"
          Dilbert and the Pointy-Haired Boss in Scott Adams, Don’t Stand
               Where the Comet is Assumed To Strike Oil
(“Dilbert,” 2004)


The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.
     Ambrose Bierce


Commerce, n. A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money belonging to E.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


What corporate efficiency means is nothing odd, no loose ends, no sparks — Everything reduced to the blandest common denominator.
     Roy Blount, Jr., First Hubby (1990)


Life is cheap, never forget it. Corporations make marketing decisions by weighing the cost of being sued for your death against the cost of making the product safer. Your life is a factor in cost-effectiveness.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Clearly this is not true. Have you been shopping lately? Only a naive person would believe that you get what you pay for. In point of fact, if you check your purchases carefully, you'll find that you get whatever they feel like giving you. And if corporations get any more powerful, you soon might not even get that.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)
     "Popular Beliefs"


YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY, AND YOU TAKES YOUR CHOICE. I think what I said earlier still applies: You pays your money and you takes whatever they jolly well give you. Actually, when you get right down to it, you pays your money and you loses your money.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)
     "Popular Beliefs"


THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO. Actually they do make 'em like they used to, they just don't sell 'em anymore. They make 'em, and they keep 'em!
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)
     "Popular Beliefs"


Gardner's Law: Eight-seven percent of all people in all professions are incompetent.
     John Gardner


The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.
     J. Paul Getty


. . . the amount of expert financial help an individual or company needs rises in direct proportion to how many people that person or business is screwing.
     Andy Dufresne in Stephen King, Different Seasons (1982)
     "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption"


Parkinson's Third Law: Expansion means complexity, and complexity decay.
     Cyril Northcote Parkinson, In Laws and Outlaws (1962)


Live together like brothers and do business like strangers.
     Arabian Proverb


When you go to buy, use your eyes, not your ears.
     Czech Proverb


Don't open a shop unless you know how to smile.
     Jewish Proverb


Criminal: A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.
     Howard Scott


My axiom is, to succeed in business: avoid my example.
     Mark Twain, "Business" (speech, March 30, 1901)


I know all those people. I have friendly, social, and criminal relations with the whole lot of them.
     Mark Twain, "Taxes and Morals" (speech, January 22, 1906)


I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.
     Mark Twain, Charles Neider (ed.),
     The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959)