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     The Fourth of July





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Sheep Thoughts

Sherlock Holmes





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Space, the Final Frontier

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     Apollo 13 (movie)


Stealing and "Borrowing"




Success and Failure




Science Fiction


Engineers love all of the "Star Trek" television shows and movies. It's a small wonder, since the engineers on the starship Enterprise are portrayed as heroes, occasionally even having sex with aliens. This is much more glamorous than the real life of an engineer, which consists of hiding from the universe and having sex without the participation of other life forms. Consequently, ratings for "Star Trek" will remain high as long as they stay away from any realism.
     Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye 
     View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & 
     Other Workplace Afflictions (1996)


There are so many Star Trek spin-offs that it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that the Star Trek vision is an accurate vision of the future. Sadly, Star Trek does not take into account the stupidity, selfishness, and horniness of the average human being.
     Scott Adams, The Dilbert Future: Thriving 
     on Stupidity in the 21st Century (1997)


The universe has fascinated mankind for many, many years, dating back to the very earliest episodes of “Star Trek” when the brave crew of the starship Enterprise set out, wearing pajamas, to explore the boundless voids of space, which turned out to be as densely populated as Queens, New York. Virtually every planet they found was inhabited, usually by evil beings with cheap costumes and Russian accents so finally the brave crew of the Enterprise returned to Earth to gain weight and make movies.
     Dave Barry, Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits (1988)
     “Where Saxophones Come From”


Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.
     Philip K. Dick, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (1986)
     "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later"


In sci-fi convention, life-forms that hadn't developed space travel were mere prehistory — horse-shoe crabs of the cosmic scene — and something of the humiliation of being stuck on a provincial planet in a galactic backwater has stayed with me ever since.
     Barbara Ehrenreich, The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)
     "Blocking the Gates to Heaven" (1986)


This flight is kind of special to me because being a Star Trek fan and a science fiction fan all of my life, in my lifetime this is as close as I'm going to be to docking with a space station, another space vehicle ... Somewhere back in my imagination I'm stepping onto Deep Space Nine.
     Marsha Ivins, before the Space Shuttle Atlantis 
     docked with the Mir space station (January 1997)


To go where no one has gone before — indeed, before we even get out of Starfleet Headquarters — we first have to confront the same peculiarities that Galileo and Newton did over three hundred years ago. The ultimate motivation will be the truly cosmic question which was at the heart of Gene Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek and which, to me, makes this whole subject worth thinking about: "What does modern science allow us to imagine about our possible future as a civilization?"
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)


Gene Roddenberry has said that the real purpose of the starship Enterprise was to serve as a vehicle not for space travel but for storytelling. ... Indeed, the "continuing mission" of the starship Enterprise is not to further explore the laws of physics, but "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations." What makes Star Trek so fascinating — and so long-lived, I suspect — is that this allows the human drama to be extended far beyond the human realm. We get to imagine how alien species might develop to deal with the same problems and issues that confront humanity. We are exposed to new imaginary cultures, new threats. It provides some of the same fascination as visiting a foreign country for the first time does, or as one sometimes gets from reading history and discovering both what is completely different and what is exactly the same about the behavior of people living centuries apart.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)


According to a recent study, ten percent of 'Star Trek' fans meet the psychological criteria for addiction. Deprived of their favorite show, some Trekkies display withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addicts. Of course, the real difference is that drug addicts aren't nearly as annoying.
     Jay Leno, The Tonight Show (NBC)


The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
    Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in George Lucas,
        Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
(movie, 1977)


I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.
    Darth Vader (David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones) in George Lucas,
        Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
(movie, 1983)


Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.
    Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) in Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay),
        George Lucas (story), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (movie, 1980)


Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.
    Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) in Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay),
        George Lucas (story), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (movie, 1980)


Star Trek, despite its charm and strong international and interspecies perspective, often ignores the most elementary scientific facts. The idea that Mr. Spock could be a cross between a human being and a life form independently evolved on the planet Vulcan is genetically far less probable that a successful cross of a man and artichoke.
     Carl Sagan


I find that science fiction has led me to science. I find science more subtle, more intricate and more awesome than much of science fiction.
     Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain: Reflections 
     on the Romance of Science
     "Science Fiction — A Personal View"


And you people, you're all astronauts, on some kind of star trek.
     Zephram Cochrane, STAR TREK First Contact


When I die, I'm leaving my body to science fiction.
     Steven Wright



Seasons and Holidays


There's No Fool Like an April Fool

April 1. — This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


April Fool, n. The March fool with another month added to his folly.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead lands
Mixing memory with desire, stirring dull roots with spring rains . . .
     T. S. Eliot, "The Waste Lands"


"April is the cruelest month, breeding tax bills out of the dead bank balance," the misanthrope said.
     Russell Baker, Poor Russell's Almanac (1972)




If you want to give a man something practical, consider tires. More than once, I would have gladly traded all the gifts I got for a new set of tires.
     Dave Barry, "Christmas Shopping: A Survivor's Guide"


This is easy. You never have to figure out what to get for children, because they'll tell you exactly what they want. They spend months and months researching these kinds of things by watching Saturday-morning cartoon-show advertisements. Make sure you get your children exactly what they ask for, even if you disapprove of their choices. If your child thinks he wants Murderous Bob, the Doll with the Face You Can Rip Right Off, you'd better get it. You may be worried that it might help to encourage your child's antisocial tendencies, but believe me, you have not seen antisocial tendencies until you've seen a child who is convinced that he or she did not get the right gift.
     Dave Barry, "Christmas Shopping: A Survivor's Guide"


December comes on little reindeer's feet.
     Russell Baker, Poor Russell's Almanac (1972)


Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.
     Kin Hubbard



The Fourth of July

I have suffered in that way myself. I have had relatives killed in that way. One was in Chicago years ago — an uncle of mine, just as good an uncle as I have ever had, and I had lots of them — yes, uncles to burn, uncles to spare. This poor uncle, full of patriotism, opened his mouth to hurrah, and a rocket went down his throat. Before that man could ask for a drink of water to quench that thing, it blew up and scattered him all over the forty-five states, and — really, now, this is true — I know about it myself — twenty-four hours after that it was raining buttons, recognizable as his, on the Atlantic seaboard. A person cannot have a disaster like that and be entirely cheerful the rest of his life.
     Mark Twain, "The Day We Celebrate" (speech, July 4, 1907)




If all our national holidays were observed on Wednesdays, we might conceivably wind up with nine-day weekends.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


November, n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


October 12. The Discovery. — It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"




Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.
     Dorothy Parker


Summer makes me drowsy, Autumn makes me sing, Winter's pretty lousy, but I hate Spring.
     Dorothy Parker, "Constant Reader" 
     (The New Yorker, March 24, 1928)


The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow. Now we just set the clock an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.
     E. B. White, "Hot Weather," Harper's (1944)




Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.
     Erma Bombeck


On Thanksgiving, you realize you’re living in a modern world. Millions of turkeys baste themselves in millions of ovens that clean themselves.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


It [Thanksgiving] was founded by the Puritans to give thanks for bein’ preserved from the Indians, an’ we keep it to give thanks we are preserved from the Puritans.
     Finley Peter Dunne


I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character ... like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy ... The turkey ... is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.
     Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Sarach Bache (January 26, 1784)


I loved my mother very much, but she was not a good cook. Most turkeys taste better the day after; my mother’s tasted better the day before. In our house Thanksgiving was a time for sorrow.
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature


Thanksgiving Day — Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks, now, but the turkeys. In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys, they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.
     Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
     “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar”


... Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist — the Indians having long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with the Lord, with the thanks due.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)





To whom thy secret thou dost tell, to him thy freedom thou dost sell.
     Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac


Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
     Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac


Love, pain, and money cannot be kept secret. They soon betray themselves.
     Spanish Proverb


To whom you tell your secrets, to him you resign your liberty.
     Spanish Proverb


Secrecy is the natural refuge of people who are doubtful about their conduct.
     Mark Twain, "Which Was the Dream?" (1897)



Self-Reliance, Self-Confidence


Self-made men are most always apt to be a little too proud of the job.
     Josh Billings


Look for a long time at what pleases you . . . and longer still at what pains you.


Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals


Never explain. Your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.
     Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book (1927)


No knowledge can be more satisfactory to a man than that of his own frame, parts, their functions and actions.
     Thomas Jefferson


Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.
     Benjamin Jowett


My parents gave us a fantastic sense of security and worth. By the time the bigots got around to telling us we were nobody, we already knew we were somebody.
     Florynce R. Kennedy


People who didn't need people needed people around to know that they were the kind of people who didn't need people.
     Terry Pratchett, Maskerade (1995)


No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
     Eleanor Roosevelt


Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.
     George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)
     "Maxims for Revolutionists"


My people taught me a man does not own land. He doesn't own anything but the courage and loyalty in his heart. That's where my power comes from.
     Chakotay, "Initiations"
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.
     James Stephens


The serene confidence of a Christian with four aces ...
     Mark Twain, letter to The Golden Era 
     (San Francisco, May 22, 1864)



Sheep Thoughts
Baa Humbug!


Two Dogs who had been fighting for a bone, without advantage to either, referred their dispute to a Sheep. The Sheep patiently heard their statements, then flung the bone into a pond.
     "Why did you do that?" said the Dogs.
     "Because," replied the Sheep, "I am a vegetarian."
     Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables (1898)
     "The Disinterested Arbiter"


A Lamb, pursued by a Wolf, fled into the temple.
     "The priest will catch you and sacrifice you," said the Wolf, "if you remain there."
     "It is just as well to be sacrificed by the priest as to be eaten by you," said the Lamb.
     "My friend," said the Wolf, "it pains me to see you considering so great a question from a purely selfish point of view. It is not just as well for me."
     Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables (1898)
     "The Wolf and the Lamb"


"You are a beast of war," said the Sheep to the Lion, "yet men go gunning for you. Me, a believer in non-resistance, they do not hunt."
     "They do not need to," replied the son of the desert; "they can breed you."
     Ambrose Bierce, "Sheep and Lion" in Brian St. Pierre (ed.), 
     The Devil's Advocate: An Ambrose Bierce Reader (1987)


I really can't be expected to drop everything and start counting sheep, at my age. I hate sheep. Untender it may be in me, but all my life I've hated sheep. It amounts to a phobia, the way I hate them. I can tell the minute there's one in the room. They needn't think that I am going to lie here in the dark and count their unpleasant little faces for them; I wouldn't do it if I didn't fall asleep again until the middle of next August. Suppose they never get counted — what's the worst that can happen? If the number of imaginary sheep in this world remains a matter of guesswork, who is richer or poorer for it? No, sir; I'm not their scorekeeper. Let them count themselves, if they're so crazy mad after mathematics. Let them do their own dirty work.
     Dorothy Parker, "The Little Hours" (1944)


An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
     Arabian Proverb


It is the part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not to skin it.
     Latin Proverb


To spare the ravening leopard is an act of injustice to the sheep.
     Persian Proverb


Without a shepherd sheep are not a flock.
     Russian Proverb


This month the first cloning of a sheep was announced. The sheep was called Dolly, because she was cloned from breast tissue.
     Here are this month's cloning announcements from the AIR Research Laboratories.
     1. We have successfully cloned the bacterium E. coli.
     2. A team under the direction of MIT researcher Jim Propp is combining the latest in cloning research with recent advances in physics. As the world knows, Scottish scientists have figured out how to create large numbers (well, at least one) of identical sheep. Not long ago, some of Propp's colleagues figured out how to create coherent beams of matter-particles (rather than just photons). Propp is combining these ideas to produce the sheep-laser. As yet, he has not settled on a proper name for the technique ("Livestock Amplification through ..." is as far as he has gotten). In a second project, Propp is working to create a Bose condensate of identical sheep.
     Unknown, from Annals of Improbable Research



Sherlock Holmes


"Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'm a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. Here in London we have lots of government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault, they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


“I should have more faith,” he said; “I ought to know by this time that when a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions, it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.”
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     A Study in Scarlet (1887) 


"One's ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"I shall have him, Doctor — I'll lay you two to one that I have him. I must thank you for it all. I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon. There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious, because it presents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn. This murder would have been infinitely more difficult to unravel had the body of the victim been simply found lying in the roadway without any of those outre and sensational accompaniments which have rendered it remarkable. These strange details, far from making the case more difficult, have really had the effect of making it less so."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid."
     Sherlock Holmes describing Watson's literary efforts
     in Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Scandal in Bohemia"


"You have heard me remark that the strangest and most unique things are very often connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes, and occasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed. As far as I have heard it is impossible for me to say whether the present case is an instance of crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most singular that I have ever listened to."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Red-Headed League"


Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. "Well, I never!" said he. "I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all."
"I begin to think, Watson," said Holmes, "that I make a mistake in explaining. 'Omne ignotum pro magnifico,' you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid."
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Red-Headed League"


"As a rule," said Holmes, "the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Red-Headed League"


"It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Red-Headed League"


"Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Case of Identity"


"Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is my business to know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook. If not, why should you come to consult me?"
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Case of Identity"


"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Case of Identity"


"Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Case of Identity"


"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"


"... a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Five Orange Pips"


"You will excuse me," said Holmes blandly, "but I could not help overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now. I think that I could be of assistance to you."
     "You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?" [said James Ryder]
     "My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"


"Ah, me! it's a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"


"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
     Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "Silver Blaze"


But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs.
     Dr. Watson, describing Sherlock Holmes'
     housekeeping abilities in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Musgrave Ritual "


"You know my methods in such cases, Watson. I put myself in the man's place, and, having first gauged his intelligence, I try to imagine how I should myself have proceeded under the same circumstances. In this case the matter was simplified by Brunton's intelligence being quite first-rate, so that it was unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation, as the astronomers have dubbed it."
     Sherlock Holmesin Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Musgrave Ritual "


"Excellent!" [Dr. Watson] cried. "Elementary," said [Holmes].
     Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Crooked Man"


"I am so glad that you have come," said he, shaking our hands with effusion. "Percy has been inquiring for you all morning. Ah, poor old chap, he clings to any straw! His father and his mother asked me to see you, for the mere mention of the subject is very painful to them."
     "We have had no details yet," observed Holmes. "I perceive that you are not yourself a member of the family."
     Our acquaintance looked surprised, and then, glancing down, he began to laugh.
     "Of course you saw the J H monogram on my locket," said he. "For a moment I thought you had done something clever. Joseph Harrison is my name, and as Percy is to marry my sister Annie I shall at least be a relation by marriage."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Naval Treaty"


"The authorities are excellent at amassing facts, though they do not always use them to advantage."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Naval Treaty"

"The most difficult crime to track is the one which is purposeless."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Naval Treaty"


"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized."
     Sherlock Holmes describing Professor Moriarty 
     in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Naval Treaty"


"You know my methods. Apply them!"
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)


"The devil's agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not? There are two questions waiting for us at the outset. The one is whether any crime has been committed at all; the second is, what is the crime and how was it committed? Of course, if Dr. Mortimer's surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation. But we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Hound of the Baskervilles


"There go two of my threads, Watson. There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you. We must cast round for another scent."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)


"The more outre and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Hound of the Baskervilles


"You see, my dear Watson" — he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class — "it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"


"Well, well," said he, at last. "It is, of course, possible that a cunning man might change the tyres of his bicycle in order to leave unfamiliar tracks. A criminal who was capable of such a thought is a man whom I should be proud to do business with."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Priory School"


"We have shared this same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell. You know, Watson, I don't mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of my lifetime in that direction. See here!" He took a neat little leather case out of a drawer, and opening it he exhibited a number of shining instruments. "This is a first-class, up-to-date burgling kit, with nickel-plated jemmy, diamond-tipped glass-cutter, adaptable keys, and every modern improvement which the march of civilization demands."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"


"Perhaps, when a man has special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"


"You will, I am sure, agree with me that if page 534 finds us only in the second chapter, the length of the first one must have been really intolerable."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear (1915)


"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius."
     Sherlock Holmes, describing a reasonably bright
     Scotland Yard inspector in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Valley of Fear (1915)


"The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Valley of Fear (1915)


"The London criminal is certainly a dull fellow," said he in the querulous voice of the sportsman whose game has failed him. "Look out of this window, Watson. See how the figures loom up, are dimly seen, and then blend once more into the cloud-bank. The thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces, and then evident only to his victim."
     "There have," said I, "been numerous petty thefts."
     Holmes snorted his contempt.
     "This great and sombre stage is set for something more worthy than that," said he. "It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal."
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"


"All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience."
     Sherlock Holmes describing his brother Mycroft in
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"


"Besides, on general principles it is best that I should not leave the country. Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"


"Should you care to add the case to your annals, my dear Watson," said Holmes that evening, "it can only be as an example of that temporary eclipse to which even the best-balanced mind may be exposed. Such slips are common to all mortals, and the greatest is he who can recognize and repair them. To this modified credit I may, perhaps, make some claim."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"


"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Adventure of the The Devil's Foot"


"Matilda Briggs ... was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"


"We must look for consistency. Where there is a want of it we must suspect deception."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Problem of Thor Bridge"


"Have you the effrontery necessary to put it through?"
"We can but try."
"Excellent, Watson! We can but try — the motto of the firm."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Creeping Man"


"I was slow at the outset — culpably slow. Had the body been found in the water I could hardly have missed it. It was the towel which misled me. The poor fellow had never thought to dry himself, and so I in turn was led to believe that he had never been in the water. Why, then, should the attack of any water creature suggest itself to me? That was where I went astray. Well, well, Inspector, I often ventured to chaff you gentlemen of the police force, but Cyanea capillata very nearly avenged Scotland Yard."
     Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"


"It is only the colourless, uneventful case which is hopeless."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"


"Burglary has always been an alternative profession had I cared to adopt it, and I have little doubt that I should have come to the front."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"


I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry, "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!"
     Henry V before the gates of Harfleur in William Shakespeare,
     Henry V (1598-1599) Act III sc. 1


Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.
     Sherlock Holmes, quoting Shakespeare in Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange "


The game is afoot.
     Data, quoting Sherlock Holmes, quoting Shakespeare,
     "Elementary, Dear Data"
     STAR TREK: The Next Generation


The most famous thing Sherlock Holmes never said:
     "Elementary, my dear Watson."





Veni, vidi, Visa. (We came, we saw, we went shopping.)
     Jan Barrett


On shopping: "A saleslady holds up an ugly dress and says, 'This looks much better on.' On what? On fire?"
     Rita Rudner, quoted in Reader's Digest (June 1999)


Buying something on sale is a very special feeling. In fact, the less I pay for something, the more it is worth to me. I have a dress that I paid so little for that I am afraid to wear it. I could spill something on it, and then how would I replace it for that amount of money? Tell me that.
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature (1992)


... missoufreea-phobia: the fear of missing out on something that I might be able to get for free ...
     Rita Rudner, Naked Beneath My Clothes: 
     Tales of a Revealing Nature (1992)


I love to go shopping. I love to freak out salespeople. They ask me if they can help me, and I say, "Have you got anything I'd like?" Then they ask me what size I need, and I say, "Extra medium."
     Steven Wright


I saw a small bottle of cologne and asked if it was for sale. She said, "it's free with purchase." I asked her if anyone bought anything today.
     Steven Wright


I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, "Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours." He said, "Yes, but not in a row."
     Steven Wright


I went into a clothes store the other day and a salesman walked up to me and said, "Can I help you?" And I said "Yeah, do you got anything I like?" He said, "What do you mean do we have anything you like?" I said, "You started this."
     Steven Wright


I went to a garage sale. "How much for the garage?" "It's not for sale."
     Steven Wright


I went to a general store. They wouldn't let me buy anything specifically.
     Steven Wright


I worked in a health food store once. A guy came in and asked me, "If I melt dry ice, can I take a bath without getting wet?"
     Steven Wright


The sign said "Eight items or less." So I changed my name to Les.
     Steven Wright





Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.
     Muhammed Ali


Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.
     Robert Benchley


Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise.
     Bible (Old Testament), Proverbs 17:28


[Silence] ... One of the hardest arguments to refute.
     Josh Billings, The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1919)


It is a sad thing when men have neither the wit to speak well, nor the judgment to hold their tongues.
     Jean de la Bruyére


Speak not all you think. Thoughts are your own; your words are so no more.
     Patrick Delaney


Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in words evidence of the fact.
     George Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)


Teach your child to hold his tongue; he'll learn fast enough to speak.
     Benjamin Franklin


Silence is not always a Sign of Wisdom, but Babbling is ever a Mark of Folly.
     Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Quotations (1975)


Silence is one great art of conversation.
     William Hazlitt


A good listener is usually thinking about something else.
     Kin Hubbard


In our world, silence has become a rare and costly commodity.
     Primo Levi, The Mirror Maker (1989)
     "Dear Horace" (April 14, 1985)


Don't speak unless you can improve on the silence.
     Spanish Proverb


The closed mouth swallows no flies.
     Spanish Proverb


The fish dies because he opens his mouth.
     Spanish Proverb


While you live you dare not speak: when you die, you cannot.
     Yiddish Proverb


Silence is the best course for people who lack confidence.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, 
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


Never miss a good chance to shut up.
     Will Rogers


Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.
     George Bernard Shaw


It is easy for a man with nothing to say to keep quiet.
     Charles T. Sprading, Freedom and its Fundamentals


He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing.
     Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)


Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
     Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1958)





The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.
     Pierre Abelard


"I commend you on your skepticism, but even the skeptical mind must be prepared to accept the unacceptable when there is no alternative. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidæ on our hands."
     Dirk Gently in Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's 
     Holistic Detective Agency (1987)


Earth's bloody past shows how imagination and belief turn into curses unless they're accompanied by critical judgment. ... Above all, mature people must consider that most unpleasant of all possibilities — that their own favorite doctrines might prove wrong.
     David Brin, Brightness Reef (1995)


Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it — even if I have said it — unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
     Gautama Buddha


Science must be skeptical, not open-minded. There are millions of claims in the world, and it isn't possible to prove any one of them false by scientific means. ... Therefore, the burden of proof must be on the believer. If the evidence is convincing enough, the skeptics will in time accept almost anything, even that the continents are drifting about the face of the earth. But until the evidence is there, the only sane course is to reject all claims that are unverified and inconsistent with current knowledge.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The 
     Heretical Nature of Science (1993)


Real discoveries of phenomena contrary to experience are very rare, whereas fraud, fakery, and foolishness are all too common. Thus, a closed-minded "I don't believe a word of it" is going to be correct far more often than not.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The 
     Heretical Nature of Science (1993)


The Argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted.
     Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence 
     of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design


Existing science will undoubtedly be overthrown; not, however, by casual anecdotes or performances on television, but by rigorous research, repeated, dissected and repeated again.
     Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, 
     Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998)


There are all kinds of devices invented for the protection and preservation of countries: defensive barriers, forts, trenches and the like. All these are the work of human hands aided by money. But prudent minds have as a natural gift one safegaurd which is the common possession of all, especially to the dealings of democracies with dictatorships. What is this safegaurd? Skepticism. This you must preserve. This you must retain. If you can keep this, you need fear no harm.


If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
     René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy


A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision . . . So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition.
     Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and 
     Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788)


He that resigns his understanding upon one particular topic, will not exercise it vigorously upon others. If he be right in any instance, it will be inadvertently and by chance.
     William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793)


Reason is not only a large part of our essence; reason is also our potential salvation from the vicious and precipitous mass action that rule by emotionalism always seems to entail. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism — and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.
     Stephen Jay Gould, "The Positive Power of Skepticism" (introduction 
     to Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, 1997)


Skepticism's bad rap arises from the impression that, however necessary the activity, it can only be regarded as a negative removal of false claims. Not so — as this book shows so well. Proper debunking is done in the interest of an alternate model of explanation, not as a nihilistic exercise. The alternate model is rationality itself, tied to moral decency — the most powerful joint instrument for good that our planet has ever known.
     Stephen Jay Gould, "The Positive Power of Skepticism" (introduction 
     to Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, 1997)


To spell out the obvious is often to call it in question.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


Nullius in verba — Take nobody's word for it; see for yourself.
     Horace, Epistulae


... the more a statement of fact conflicts with previous experience, the more complete must be the evidence which is to justify us in believing it. It is upon this principle that every one carries on the business of common life.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, Hume


The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "On the Advisableness 
     of Improving Natural Knowledge" (1866)


An objection remains young until it has been answered.
     Robert Ingersoll


Today we can almost define a good scientist by how skeptical he is of the establishment.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


Authority has every reason to fear the skeptic, for authority can rarely survive in the fact of doubt.
     Robert Lindner, Must You Conform? (1956)


It was not until skepticism arose in the world that genuine intelligence dawned.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


As for me, I am never absolutely certain that I am right, and for the plain reason that I am never absolutely certain that anything is true. It may seem true to me to be true, and I may be quite unable to imagine any proof of its falsity — but that is simply saying that my imagination is limited, not that the proposition itself is immovably sound. Some other man, better born than I was or drinking better liquor, may disprove it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then day after tomorrow, or maybe next week, or next year. I know of no so-called truth that quite escapes this possibility. Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.
     Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (1962)


Even if the [prevailing] opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is ... vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of them who receive it, he held [merely as] a prejudice.
     John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)


You can disagree with a man's position as much as you want — after you have been able to state it, to his satisfaction.
     J. Irwin Miller


We cannot take anything for granted, beyond the first mathematical formula. Question everything else.
     Maria Mitchell


Skepticism is more easily understood by asking, "What do I know?"
     Michel de Montaigne, Essays (1588)


The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.
     George Jean Nathan, Materia Critica


I am, no doubt naively, asking the same questions of supernatural explanations that I do of natural ones. Perhaps this is against the rules, but if I don't understand how the supernatural operates, how can I explain anything with it? Without rules it is possible to explain anything by invoking the supernatural, as a result of which nothing is explained.
     Milton A. Rothman, A Physicist's Guide to Skepticism (1988)


We must be skeptical even of our skepticism.
     Bertrand Russell


All science asks is to employ the same levels of skepticism we use in buying a used car or in judging the quality of analgesics or beer from their television commercials.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)

If it is to be applied consistently, science imposes, in exchange for its manifold gifts, a certain onerous burden: We are enjoined, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to consider ourselves and our cultural institutions scientifically — not to accept uncritically whatever we're told; to surmount as best we can our hopes, conceits, and unexamined beliefs; to view ourselves as we really are.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


As I've tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


Uncritically accepting every proffered notion, idea, and hypothesis is tantamount to knowing nothing. Ideas contradict one another; only through skeptical scrutiny can we decide among them. Some ideas really are better than others.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


The citizen's job is to be rude — to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt.
     John Ralston Saul, The Doubter's Companion


We skeptics are free to believe something when the evidence is strong, as long as we are willing to change our views when the evidence swings the other way. Put another way, we can almost be dogmatic. We should always leave the window open a crack for the admission of a worthy new idea, although not quite so wide as to allow all the rubbish flying around outside to be blown in.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses (1990)


Ideologue: A person who uses ideas as incantations. True believer: A person who accepts incantations as ideas. Skeptic: A person who assumes that ideas are incantations until proven otherwise.
     Thomas Szasz, The Untamed Tongue (1990)


Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found.
     Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Essays and Soliloquies (1924)


All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no set limits on thought.


Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
     The Wizard of Oz/Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan)
     Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf,
     The Wizard of Oz (movie, 1939)





"Morning amnesia": Nature's way of keeping you from waking up screaming.
     Dilbert in Scott Adams, Shave the Whales ("Dilbert," 1994)


My first line of defense against reality is called sleep.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Sometimes I think I understand everything, then I regain consciousness.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Getting out of bed in the morning is an act of false confidence.
     Jules Feiffer


3:40 P.M. — I consider getting out of bed. I reject the notion as being unduly vigorous.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)
     "My Day: An Introduction of Sorts"


I love sleep because it is both pleasant and safe to use. Pleasant because one is in the best possible company and safe because sleep is the consummate protection against the unseemliness that is the invariable consequence of being awake. What you don't know won't hurt you. Sleep is death without the responsibility.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)
     "Why I Love Sleep"


It was such a lovely day I thought it a pity to get up.
     W. Somerset Maugham


I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul's good to do each day two things they disliked . . . it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed.
     W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence (1919)


Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one has to stay awake all day.
     Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra (1892)


At the time when all decent people are just going to bed, I must wake up. There's no way things can ever come out even, under this system. This is as rank as injustice is ever likely to get. This is what brings about hatred and bloodshed, that's what this does.
     Dorothy Parker, "The Little Hours" (1944)


Can you remember when you didn't want to sleep? Isn't it inconceivable? I guess the definition of adulthood is that you want to sleep.
     Paula Poundstone


In the morning be first up, and in the evening last to go to bed, for they that sleep catch no fish.
     English Proverb


You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.
     Native American (Navajo) Proverb


If you want your dreams to come true, don't sleep.
     Yiddish Proverb


I used to wake up at 4 a.m. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.
     James Thurber


Go to bed early, get up early — this is wise. Some authorities say get up with one thing, some with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of a lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half-past nine, every time — it is no trick at all.
     Mark Twain, "Advice To Youth" (speech, 1882)


Since forty I have been regular about going to bed and getting up. And that is one of the main things. I have made it a rule to go to bed when there wasn't anybody left to sit up with. And I have made it a rule to get up when I had to. This has resulted in an unswerving regularity of irregularity. It has saved me sound. But it would injure another person.
     Mark Twain, "Seventieth Birthday Dinner Speech" (speech, 1905)


The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.


I hate it when my foot falls asleep during the day because that means it's going to be up all night.
     Steven Wright


I was once arrested for walking in someone else's sleep.
     Steven Wright


When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, "Did you sleep good?" I said, "No, I made a few mistakes."
     Steven Wright



Society and Culture


It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's point of view without the proper training.
     Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless (1992)


"I think we have different value systems" [said Arthur].
"Well, mine's better" [said Ford].
"That's according to your . . . oh, never mind."
     Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless (1992)


At great expense, we have built a vast system of inter-connecting stupidities.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Let's keep a sense of proportion about this! Yes, there's much that we still don't know. But surely our belief that the earth is round and not flat, and that it orbits the sun, will never be superseded. That alone is enough to confound those, endowed with a little philosophical learning, who deny the very possibility of objective truth: those so-called relativists who see no reason to prefer scientific views over aboriginal myths about the world.
     Richard Dawkins, "Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder" 
     (Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC1, November 12th, 1996)


You may not be coming from where I'm coming from, but I know that relativism isn't true for me.
     Alan Garfinkel


The formidableness and uniqueness of the human species stem from the survival of its weak. Were it not for the habit of caring for the sick, the crippled and the weak in general humanity could not have perhaps attained to culture and civilization.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


We are so very much a product of the culture that shaped us that we often fail to recognize it as an artifact of our own making, until we are faced with a very different culture.
     Richard Leakey, The Origin of Humankind (1994)


I don't even separate my colors from my whites. I just throw them all in together so they can learn from their cultural differences.
     Rita Rudner


The only possible conclusion the social sciences can draw is: some do, some don't.
     Ernest Rutherford


Culture is on the horns of this dilemma: if profound and noble it must remain rare, if common it must become mean.
     George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905)


Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society.
     Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1850)


Doctor, you insist on applying human standards to non-human cultures. I remind you that humans are only a tiny minority in this galaxy.
     Spock, "The Apple"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


There is an unfortunate tendency in many cultures to fear what they do not understand.
     Captain Picard, "Contagion"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


You're a culture of one, which is no less valid than a culture of one billion.
     Captain Picard, "Birthright, Part I"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


"It's not your fault that things are the way they are."
"Everybody tells themselves that. And nothing ever changes."
     Bashir and the Clerk, "Part Tense, Part II"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


What men call good fellowship is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter, which lie close together to keep each other warm.
     Henry David Thoreau


A first-grader should understand that his culture isn't a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. ... Of course, now cultural relativity is fashionable . . . But it's more than fashionable — it's defensible, attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma and 
     Granfalloons (Opinions) (1974)
     "Playboy Interview"


Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as though it were dangerous to meet it alone.
     Edith Wharton, Xingu (1916)


A culture is in its finest flower before it begins to analyze itself.
     Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues of 
     Alfred North Whitehead (1953)


I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
     Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance (1893)


To get into the best society nowadays, one has to either feed people, amuse people, or shock people.
     Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance (1893)





Alone, adj. In bad company.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Solitude — a good place to visit, but a poor place to stay.
     Josh Billings


Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year.
     Victor Borge


I too am a member of the human race, (but admittedly not a very active member).
     Ashleigh Brilliant


My social life is much better, since I stopped spending it with other people.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


No man is an island but some of us are long peninsulas.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


A man by himself is in bad company.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


We often boast of not being bored by solitude because we are too conceited to want to find ourselves poor company.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, 
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable, and that we need not come to open war.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)

I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


Hermits have no peer pressure.
     Steven Wright



Space, the Final Frontier:
Space Exploration and Space Travel

The Apollo Missions

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy, "Special Message to the Congress on 
     Urgent National Needs" (speech before Congress, May 25, 1961)


We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy, "Address at Rice University on the 
     Nation's Space Effort" (speech, Houston, September 12, 1962)


Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.
     Neil A. Armstrong, first words to Earth after the Lunar Module 
     Eagle landed on the Moon (Apollo 11, July 20, 1969)


That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
     Neil A. Armstrong, first words from the surface 
     of the Moon (Apollo 11, July 20, 1969)


Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.
     Charles ("Pete") Conrad, Jr. on setting foot 
     on the Moon (Apollo 12, Nov 14-24, 1969)
          [Conrad was a good bit shorter than Armstrong]


Houston, we've had a problem.
     James A. Lovell, Jr., at the beginning of a very 
     long four days (Apollo 13, April 11-17, 1970)


Guess what we just found. Guess what we just found. I think we found what we came for.
     Dave R. Scott, after finding a chunk of anorthosite, 
     a piece of the moon's primordial crust (the "Genesis 
     rock") (Apollo 15, July 26-Aug 7, 1971)


As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley I grow to realize there's a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.
     Dave R. Scott, final reflections before leaving 
     the lunar surface (Apollo 15, July 26-Aug 7, 1971)


Miles and miles and miles . . .
     Alan B. Shepard, Jr. the first (and so far, the only) person ever 
     to hit a golf ball on the Moon (Apollo 14, Jan 31-Feb 9, 1971)



Space Exploration

There was one great moment of national unity in 1969: The night of July 20, when we all tuned in to watch astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking around on the freaking Moon. It was an amazing thing to see; nearly 94 percent of the nation's households were watching on TV. This raises the question: What were the other 6 percent watching? Hee Haw?
     The only bad thing about the Moon landing is that for the next twenty years, hardly a day would go by without some politician or op-ed columnist asking some whiny question like: "If we can land a man on the Moon, how come we can't develop a workable program for identifying the warning signs of gum disease among lower-income children in grades three through eight?" Fortunately we no longer hear that type of question, because we're quite confident, as a nation, that we no longer can land a man — excuse me, a person — on the Moon. It's a real load off our minds.
     Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998)


Everything in space obeys the laws of physics. If you know these laws, and obey them, space will treat you kindly. And don't tell me man doesn't belong out there. Man belongs wherever he wants to go — and he'll do plenty well when he gets there.
     Wernher von Braun


There is just one thing I can promise you about the outer space program: your tax dollar will go farther.
     Wernher von Braun


We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
     Wernher von Braun


The main sticking point about Apollo would be this: after all the arguments about wasted resources, impoverished multitudes, national insecurities, base political motives, industrial greed, presidential machismo, and more — many of them valid — had been made, the voyages of men to the Moon would still reflect unprecedented managerial and technological prowess within a time frame that was incredible. And the result of that effort was not the conquest of another country or the creation of an awesome weapon, but the greatest human voyage in history; the Odyssey of the new age. The question that would haunt the United States had to do with deciding just how important that was.
     William E. Burrows, This New Ocean: 
     The Story of the First Space Age (1998)


"I always thought Apollo was our unfinished obelisk," said [Stu] Roosa. "It's like we started building this beautiful thing and then we quit." He shook his head with a mixture of sadness and disbelief. "History will not be kind to us, because we were stupid." [Stuart Allen Roosa was Command Module Pilot on Apollo 14.]
     Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon (1994)


Project Apollo remains the last great act this country has undertaken out of a sense of optimism, of looking forward to the future. ... It is the sense of purpose we felt then that seems as distant now as the moon itself. If NASA has lost direction, it is only because we have not chosen to give it one. Instead of letting the moon be the gateway to our future, we have let it become a brief chapter in our history. The irony is that in turning away from space exploration — whose progress is intimately linked to the future of mankind — we rob ourselves of the long-term vision we desperately need. Any society, if it is to flourish instead of merely survive, must strive to transcend its own limits. It is still as Kennedy said: Exploration, by virtue of difficulty, causes us to focus our abilities and make them better.
     Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon (1994)


To go places and do things that have never been done before — that's what living is all about.
     Michael Collins, quoted in Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hamblin, 
     First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, 
     Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. (1970)


While computerization, miniaturization, and the technologies of electronics and artificial materials have all leapt forward, we find ourselves more stolidly earthbound than most scientists would have predicted. By 1972, a total of 24 humans had made it farther from the Earth than low orbit. In 1997, the total is still 24.
     James Gleick, "Lost in the Past: Getting the 
     March of Progress All Wrong" (1997)


It's hard to beat a day in which you are permitted the luxury of four sunsets.
     John Glenn in 1962, after his orbital space 
     flight in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7


Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
     Sir Fred Hoyle, London Observer (1979)


For the first time in my life, I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light — our atmosphere. Obviously, this was not the "ocean" of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.
     Ulf Merbold, German space shuttle astronaut (1988)


This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a final frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate ...)
     Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures (1990)


We belong to a species that has reached out a quarter of a million miles to set foot on the moon, and if that is not miracle enough for us all, I despair for our sense of wonder.
     James Randi, The Mask of Nostradamus


A few million years ago there were no humans. Who will be here a few million years hence? In all the 4.6 billion year history of our planet, nothing much ever left it. But now, tiny unmanned exploratory spacecraft from Earth are moving glistening and elegant, through the solar system. We have made a preliminary reconnaissance of twenty worlds, among them all of the planets visible to the naked eye, all those wandering nocturnal lights that stirred our ancestors toward understanding and ecstasy. If we survive, our time will be famous for two reasons: that at this dangerous moment of technological adolescence we managed to avoid self-destruction; and because this is the epoch in which we began our journey to the stars.
     Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)


Apollo conveyed a confidence, energy, and breadth of vision that did capture the imagination of the world. That too was part of its purpose. It inspired an optimism about technology, an enthusiasm for the future. If we could fly to the Moon, as so many have asked, what else were we capable of?
     Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of 
     the Human Future in Space (1994)



Apollo 13 (movie, 1995)

From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. That's not a miracle — we just decided to go.
     James Lovell (Tom Hanks) in William Broyles, Jr., 
     and Al Reinert, Apollo 13 (movie, 1995)


The astronaut is only the most visible member of a very large team and all of us, right down to the guy sweeping the floor are honored to be a part of it. What did the man say, "Give me a lever long enough and I'll move the world" — well, that's exactly what we're doing here. This is divine inspiration, folks. The best part of each one of us. The belief that anything is possible, things like a computer that can fit in a single room, and hold millions of pieces of information.
     James Lovell (Tom Hanks) in William Broyles, Jr., 
     and Al Reinert, Apollo 13 (movie, 1995)


GENE KRANZ: What about the scrubbers on the command module?
MISSION CONTROL TECHNICIAN 1: They take square cartridges.
MISSION CONTROL TECHNICIAN 2: And the ones on the LM are round.
KRANZ: Tell me this isn't a government operation.
     William Broyles, Jr., and Al Reinert, Apollo 13 (movie, 1995)


We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch. Failure is not an option.
     Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) in William Broyles, Jr., 
     and Al Reinert, Apollo 13 (movie, 1995)





Eternal boyhood is the dream of a depressing percentage of American males, and the locker room is the temple where they worship arrested development.
     Russell Baker


In America it is sport that is the opiate of the masses.
     Russell Baker, New York Times (October 3, 1967)


I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of a hill.
     Erma Bombeck


If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.
     Erma Bombeck


They told me that the fish were cold-blooded and felt no pain. But they were not fish who told me.
     Heywood Broun


After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look lively and interesting; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players — more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.
     Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country (2000)


In boxing they have the "undisputed heavyweight champion." Well, if it's undisputed what's all the fighting about? Undisputed means everybody agrees. Some guys are getting beat up pretty badly over something apparently we all agree on.
     George Carlin


Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)
     "Baseball and Football"


If you practice throwing the discus alone, you have to go get it yourself.
     George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001)


I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.
     G. K. Chesterton


Stuffed dear heads on walls are bad enough, but it's worse when they are wearing dark glasses and have streamers and ornaments in their antlers because then you know they were enjoying themselves at a party when they were shot.
     Ellen DeGeneris


The really depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I will never be as good as the wall.
     Mitch Hedberg


A fishing rod is a stick with a hook at one end and a fool at the other.
     Samuel Johnson


A sportsman is a man who, every now and then, simply has to get out and kill something. Not that he's cruel. He wouldn't hurt a fly. It's not big enough.
     Stephen Leacock


When it comes to sports I am not particularly interested. Generally speaking, I look upon them as dangerous and tiring activities performed by people with whom I share nothing except the right to trial by jury. It is not that I am totally indifferent to the joys of athletic effort — it is simply that my idea of what constitutes sport does not coincide with popularly held notions on the subject. There are a number of reasons for this, chief among them being that to me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab.
     Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life (1978)
     "Modern Sports"


You cannot shoot an animal twice — but you can photograph it twice.
     John Maude


If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States.
     H. L. Mencken


College football would be much more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students, and even more interesting if the trustees played. There would be a great increase in broken arms, legs and necks, and simultaneously an appreciable diminution in the loss to humanity.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


Golf ... combines two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with a stick.
     P. J. O'Rourke


Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.
     George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant (1950)


If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.
     Chinese Proverb


Death to the opposition!
     Worf's infield chatter, "Take Me Out to the Holosuite"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


"Excitable little fellow," said Gandalf, as they sat down again. "Gets funny queer fits, but he is one of the best, one of the best — as fierce as a dragon in a pinch."
     If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even to Old Took's great-granduncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.
     J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)


... at Niagara one place is just as good as another, for the reason that the fish do not bite anywhere, and so there is no use in your walking five miles to fish when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful nearer home. The advantages of this state of things have never heretofore been properly placed before the public.
     Mark Twain, "A Day at Niagara" (1869)


Golf is a good walk spoiled.
     Mark Twain, attributed; in Alex Ayres (ed.), 
     The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


Football combines the two worst features of American life: violence and committee meetings.
     George Will


The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.
     P. G. Wodehouse


Cross country skiing is great if you live in a small country.
     Steven Wright


I accidentally shot my father-in-law while deer hunting. It was an honest mistake. I came out of the tent in the morning and thought I saw a deer in an orange vest making coffee.
     Steven Wright


I like to skate on the other side of the ice.
     Steven Wright


I was skydiving horizontally.
     Steven Wright


I was watching the Superbowl with my 92 year old grandfather. The team scored a touchdown. They showed the instant replay. He thought they scored another one. I was gonna tell him, but I figured the game he was watching was better.
     Steven Wright


I watched the Indy 500, and I was thinking that if they left earlier they wouldn't have to go so fast.
     Steven Wright


It's a good thing we have gravity or else when birds died they'd just stay right up there. Hunters would be all confused.
     Steven Wright


Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.
     Steven Wright


There's a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.
     Steven Wright


When I was eight, I played Little League. I was on first; I stole third; I went straight across. Earlier that week, I learned that the shortest distance between two points was a direct line. I took advantage of that knowledge.
     Steven Wright



Stealing and "Borrowing"


You ought never to take anything that don't belong to you — if you can't carry it off.
     Mark Twain, "Advice for Good Little Boys" (1865)


"Yes, sir; and when I had slept nine years with burglars, and maintained an expensive burglar alarm the whole time, for their protection, not mine, and at my sole cost — for not a d——d cent could I ever get them to contribute — I just said to Mrs. McWilliams that I had had enough of that kind of pie; so with her full consent I took the whole thing out and traded it off for a dog, and shot the dog. I don't know what you think about it, Mr. Twain; but I think those things are made solely in the interest of the burglars. Yes, sir, a burglar alarm combines in its person all that is objectionable about a fire, a riot, and a harem, and at the same time has none of the compensating advantages, of one sort or another, that customarily belong with that combination."
     Mr. McWilliams in Mark Twain, "The McWilliamses 
     and the Burglar Alarm" (1882)


I have hardly ever stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough to know about the value of it first.
     Mark Twain, "Books, Authors, and Hats" (speech, June 25, 1907)


I am older now sometimes than I was when I used to rob orchards; a thing which I would not do to-day — if the orchards were watched.
     Mark Twain, "The Savage Club Dinner" (speech, July 6, 1907)


I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)


It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


A visitor to Mark Twain's house in Hartford observed mountains of books stacked on the floor. The author apologized for the disorder. "But you see," he lamented, "it is so very difficult to borrow shelves."
     For Mark Twain, borrowing was a more convenient and economical means of acquiring property than buying. But his friends and neighbors soon grew wary of him. When he once asked a neighbor if he could borrow a certain book, the neighbor, aware of Twain's reputation as a notorious book-borrower, replied archly," Why, certainly, Mr. Clemens, you are welcome to read it. But I must ask you to read it here. I make it a rule never to let a book leave my library." A few weeks later, the same neighbor asked if he could borrow Mark Twain's lawn mower.
     "Why, certainly," was Twain's answer. "You're welcome to use it. But I must ask you to use it here. I make it a rule never to let my lawn mower leave my lawn."
     Mark Twain, Alex Ayres (ed.), The Wit and 
     Wisdom of Mark Twain





Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
     Napoleon Bonaparte


The best armor is to keep out of range.
     Italian Proverb


If you can't go over, you must go under.
     Jewish Proverb


Do not throw the arrow which will return against you.
     Kurdish Proverb


SPOCK: It [the tranquilizer] has not been tested.
McCOY: It's not necessary, Captain; it's very simple. Nothing can go wrong.
KIRK: Up to now, everything's gone wrong. I want it tested, now.
      "Spectre of the Gun"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"They can't expect us not to look them over now."
"Now that we're looking down their throat."
"Right. Now that we've got them right where they want us."
     Kirk and Decker, STAR TREK The Motion Picture


"A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that thought never occurred to you?"
"No, sir. It has not."
"How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
"As I indicated, Admiral, that thought had not occurred to me."
"Well now you have something new to think about. Carry on."
     Kirk and Saavik, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


"The Kobayashi Maru scenario frequently wreaks havoc with students and equipment. As I recall, you took the test three times yourself. You final solution was, shall we say, unique."
"It had the virtue of never having been tried."
     Spock and Kirk, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


"You have proved your superior intellect, and defeated the plans of Admiral Kirk. You do not need to defeat him again."
"He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round perdition's flames before I give him up."
     Joachim and Khan, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


I don't believe in the no-win scenario.
     Admiral Kirk, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


"Cloaking device now available in all flight modes."
"I'm impressed. That's a lot of work for a short flight."
"We are in an enemy wessel, sir. I do not wish to be shot down on the way to our own funeral."
"Good thinking."
     Chekov and Kirk, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


Everybody remember where we parked.
     Admiral Kirk, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


What are ye standing around for?! D'ye not know a jailbreak when you see one!
     Scotty, STAR TREK V The Final Frontier


Four hundred years ago, on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihoods threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabot into the machinery to stop them. Hence the word sabotage.
     Valeris, STAR TREK VI The Undiscovered Country


The strongest tactical move is always the one in which you will reap the highest gain at the lowest cost. "Going out with phasers firing" may seem heroic, but in the long run it is merely foolish. Retreat is often the best possible option.
     Tuvok, "Learning Curve"
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did — invent, contrive, create; reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my line.
     Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)





"I have a stupid question . . ."
"There are no stupid questions."
"That's ridiculous . . . If there are no stupid questions then what kind of questions to stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?"
"Were you going to ask me something?"
"See . . . now there's a stupid question."
     Dogbert and Dilbert, Scott Adams, 
     Shave the Whales ("Dilbert," 1994)


"Hmm . . . that was actually a creative little message."
"Demonstrating, once again, that subtle difference between creativity and complex stupidity."
     Dilbert and Dogbert, Scott Adams, 
     Shave the Whales ("Dilbert," 1994)


My theory is that the brain reflexively embraces the most ridiculous explanation of reality.
     Dilbert in Scott Adams, Shave the Whales ("Dilbert," 1994)


There's nothing more dangerous than a resourceful idiot.
     Dilbert in Scott Adams, Fugitive from 
     the Cubicle Police ("Dilbert," 1996)


Dogbert Explains Leadership:
Leaders start their careers as morons. They are drawn to meeting like moths to a porch light. The successful moron will have a very high bladder-to-brain ratio. They prevail in all decisions because they are impervious to logic or coffee. These qualities are perceived as leadership. After several promotions their job tends to match their talent.
Conclusion: Leadership is Nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow.
     Dogbert in Scott Adams, Casual Day 
     Has Gone Too Far ("Dilbert," 1997)


Stupidity is like nuclear power; it can be used for good or evil.
     Wally in Scott Adams, I'm Not Anti-Business, 
     I'm Anti-Idiot ("Dilbert," 1998)


"Dogbert, do you think love is the strongest force in the universe?"
"No, I'd have to go with stupidity. Followed closely by its cousin ignorance."
     Dilbert and Dogbert in Scott Adams, I'm Not 
     Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot ("Dilbert," 1998)


"I'm a manager, so I don't do actual work. . . . and all the decisions are made above me. Carole, tell me again what I produce."
"Carbon dioxide. Our plants would need that if they weren't plastic."
     Pointy-Haired Boss and Carol in Scott Adams, 
     Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


"My invention can detect human stupidity. It has a very simple interface. All I do is point it at people."
"Then what does it do?"
"Why would it need to do anything else?"
     Dogbert and Dilbert in Scott Adams, 
     Journey To Cubeville ("Dilbert," 1998)


"You must use the stars as your management guide."
"Does that work?"
"If you believe it works, then you're not bright enough to make your own decisions anyway. So randomness is probably an improvement."
     Dogbert and the Pointy-Haired Boss in Scott Adams, 
     Random Acts of Management ("Dilbert," 2000)


"People aren't stupid."
"According to my research, they are." [Points to a pie chart of the human brain, showing equal parts "Dumb," "Ignorant," "Stupid," and "Ear Wax."]
     Dilbet and Dogbert in Scott Adams, 
     Excuse Me While I Wag ("Dilbert," 2001)


"I collect crystals. I don't know of any scientific evidence that they can heal. But it's my point of view that they do."
"When did ignorance become a point of view?"
     Dilbert's Date and Dilbert in Scott Adams, When Did 
     Ignorance Become a Point of View ("Dilbert," 2001)


Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions of opinion and taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Why is the competition always so intense to set new records for maximum stupidity?
     Ashleigh Brilliant


"Don't call me stupid."
     "Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I've known sheep that could outwit you! I've worn dresses with higher IQ's, but you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?"
     "Apes don't read philosophy."
     "Yes they do, Otto, they just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked 'em up."
     Otto (Kevin Kline) and Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) in John 
     Cleese (story and screenplay) and Charles Crichton (story), 
     A Fish Called Wanda (movie, 1988)


By dint of railing at idiots you run the risk of becoming idiotic yourself.
     Gustave Flaubert


It is occasionally possible to charge Hell with a bucket of water but against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.
     Doris Fleeson


If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
     Anatole France


The hardest thing to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity. One needs the talents of an animal trainer to deal with the stupid.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.
     Elbert Green Hubbard


Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match.
     Karl Kraus


Don't play dumb! You're not as good at it as I am!
     Col. Flagg (Edward Winter), "Rally Round the Flagg, Boys"
     M*A*S*H (TV series, CBS, 1972-1983)


Incompetents invariably make trouble for people other than themselves.
     Larry McMurtry


Nature abhors a moron.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "Sententiæ — The Mind of Man"


The thoughtless are rarely wordless.
     Howard W. Newton


Never attribute to evil what can be satisfactorily explained by stupidity.
     Spider Robinson, Lady Slings the Booze (1992)


If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?
     Will Rogers


A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.
     Bertrand Russell


Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.
     Johann von Schiller, The Maid of Orleans (1801)


It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.
     George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)


Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.
     Will Hamilton in John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)


All right, brain. You don’t like me and I don’t like you, but let’s just do this and I can get back to killing you with beer.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons (TV series)


Hello, operator?! Give me the number for 911!
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


In high school I was voted most likely to be a mental patient, hillbilly, or chimpanzee.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


Sometimes the only way you can feel good about yourself is by making someone else look bad. And I'm tired of making other people feel good about themselves.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals — except the weasel.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


"You remember the story of Oedipus? He killed his father and married his mother."
"Yeesh! Who pays for THAT wedding!?!"
     Lisa and Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


As if there were safety in stupidity alone.
     Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854)


It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
     Mark Twain, attributed, but unconfirmed; 
     cf. Ralph Keyes, "Nice Guys Finish Last Seventh" (1992)


Stupidity's cause hasn't been advanced much by its many martyrs.


See the happy moron,
He doesn't give a damn.
I wish I were a moron,
My God! Perhaps I am!
     Unknown, Eugenics Review (July 1929, 86/2)


The stupidity of a stupid man is mercifully intimate and reticent, while the stupidity of an intellectual is cried from the rooftops.
     Peter Ustinov


Strange as it may seem, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and formal education positively fortifies it.
     Stephen Vizinczey, "Europe's Inner Demons" (1975)





You're at a level where you can only afford one mistake. The higher up you go, the more mistakes you're allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style. (Advice to Jack Lemmon)
     Fred Astaire


Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.
     Tony Brown


In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.
     Oscar Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies 
     for the Use of the Young" (1894)


Only the great masters of style ever succeeded in being obscure.
     Oscar Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies 
     for the Use of the Young" ( 1894)


In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.
     Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)



Success and Failure


Eighty percent of success is showing up.
     Woody Allen, quoted in Ralph Keyes, 
     "Nice Guys Finish Last Seventh"


If at first you do succeed — try to hide your astonishment.
     Harry F. Banks


Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
     Samuel Beckett


I'd give up now, but I don't have the time.
     Jane Belenky


Achievement, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Success, n. The one unpardonable sin against one's fellows.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Doing it wrong fast is at least better than doing it wrong slowly.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I am eagerly awaiting my next disappointment.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I have many unrecognized talents — but my faults have somehow succeeded in securing wide recognition.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I've learned so much from my failures that I'm thinking of having some more.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


If I do enough different things in enough different ways, I may, eventually, do something right.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


If you can't learn to do it well, learn to enjoy doing it badly.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


If you never try anything new, you'll miss many of the world's great disappointments.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


My success lies in having achieved a record numbers of failures.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Sometimes the only way you can win is to stay out of the game.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


The surest way to remain a winner is to win once, and then not play any more.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


To be sure of winning, invent your own game, and never tell any other player the rules.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Unfortunately, it's possible to be able to do something extremely well that nobody ever wants done.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


We can all learn from our failures. What I've learned is how much it hurts to fail.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


I'd rather be a failure at something I enjoy than be a success at something I hate.
     George Burns


There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.
     Robert Byrne


If the reason for climbing Mt. Everest is that it's hard to do, why does everyone go up the easy side?
     George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001)


Never give in, never, never, never, never.
     Sir Winston Churchill


Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.
     Sir Winston Churchill


To stumble twice against the same stone is a proverbial disgrace.
     Marcus Tullius Cicero


I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
     Bill Cosby


Tragic failures become moral sins only if one should have known better from the outset.
     Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee (1992)


"We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo, for it begins in defeat and ends in victory."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"


"Have you the effrontery necessary to put it through?"
"We can but try."
"Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try — the motto of the firm."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Creeping Man"


It is all right to say yes once to a dumb idea, to try it out and see if it is any good. But you are a fool if you say yes twice to the same dumb idea. After things turn out badly the first time, you say no.
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)
     "Beacons" (1988)


Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
     Thomas Alva Edison


If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
     W. C. Fields


There is no point at which you can say, “Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.”
     Carrie Fisher


Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.
     Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education (1869)


Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.
     Henry Ford


     "Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that."
     "It just got too hard."
     "It's supposed to be hard! If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."
     Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) and Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) in
     Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, A League of Their Own (movie, 1992)


It's a good rule to follow the first law of holes: if you are in one, stop digging.
     Denis Healey


The passion to get ahead is sometimes born of the fear lest we be left behind.
     Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)


Success is ten percent opportunity and ninety percent intelligent hustle.
     Elbert Hubbard


If you haven't struck oil in the first three minutes, stop boring.
     George Jessel


There is an old motto that runs, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." This is nonsense. It ought to read, "If at first you don't succeed, quit, quit at once."
     Stephen Leacock


“All right, I’ll give it a try.”
“No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
    Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) in Leigh Brackett &
     Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay), George Lucas (story), Star Wars: Episode V -
     The Empire Strikes Back
(movie, 1980)


Failure makes people bitter and cruel. Success improves the character of man.
     W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938)


Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again next time.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "Sententiæ — The Mind of Man"


Be nice to people on the way up, because you'll meet them on the way down.
     Wilson Mizner


The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films.
     Paul Newman


If at first you don't succeed, you may be at your level of incompetence already.
     Laurence Johnston Peter


If you can't keep up, drag them down to your level.
     Laurence Johnston Peter


There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.
     Laurence Johnston Peter


There are two kinds of losers: the good loser and those who can't act.
     Laurence Johnston Peter


Many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little.


... it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history.
     Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites (1987)


Granny Weatherwax was not a good loser. From her point of view, losing was something that happened to other people.
     Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad (1991)


If you can't lick 'em, join 'em.
     American Proverb


The dog with the bone is always in danger.
     American Proverb


He who would leap far must first take a long run.
     Danish Proverb


He who undertakes too much seldom succeeds.
     Dutch Proverb


Don't fall before you're pushed.
     English Proverb


We know the worth of a thing when we have lost it.
     French Proverb


The beginning is the half of every action.
     Greek Proverb


It is not enough to aim; you must hit.
     Italian Proverb


Fall seven times, stand up eight.
     Japanese Proverb


If you don't crack the shell, you can't eat the nut.
     Persian Proverb


If you would be pope, you must think of nothing else.
     Spanish Proverb


It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong — but that is the way to bet.
     Damon Runyan


Failures are divided into two classes — those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.
     John Charles Salak


The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people.
     George Bernard Shaw


Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


Trying is the first step towards failure.
     Homer Simpson in The Simpsons


     "You make me sick Homer. You're the one who told me I can do anything if I just put my mind to it."
     "Well now that you are a little bit older I can tell you that that's crock. No matter how good you are at something there always about a million people better than you."
     "Gotcha. Can't win. Don't try."
          Bart and Homer Simpson in The Simpsons



If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot.
     Dean Smith


In this business you either sink or swim or you don't.
     David Snell


"The Battle of the Alamo would make a hell of a holosuite program. ... There's nothing more noble than a heroic defeat, especially against overwhelming odds."
"In life, maybe, but not in a holosuite!"
     O'Brien and Bashir, "Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive; the true success is to labor.
     Robert Louis Stevenson


Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
     Leo Szilard, "Ten Commandments," quoted in 
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)


Success is a great deodorant.
     Elizabeth Taylor


The battle is sometimes to the small, for the bigger they are the harder they fall.
     James Thurber, Fables For Our Time & 
     Famous Poems Illustrated (1940)
     "The Elephant Who Challenged the World"


One cannot have everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his mind to get even.
     Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)


"It's human life, Washington — just an epitome of human ambition, and struggle, and the outcome: you aim for the palace and get drowned in the sewer."
     Col. Sellers in Mark Twain, The American Claimant (1892)


Let your secret sympathies and your compassion be always with the under dog in the fight — this is magnanimity; but bet on the other one — this is business.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 
     Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


When a man arrives at great prosperity God did it; when he falls into disaster he did it himself.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


If you're already in a hole, it's no use to continue digging.
     Roy W. Walters


I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has to overcome while trying to succeed.
     Booker T. Washington


"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a silly proverb. "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer the truth.
     Alfred North Whitehead


It's not the big failures one minds so much. It's the constant pitter-patter of little defeats!
     Tom Wilson


The opportunities of life are limitless; unfortunately, so is my capacity for missing them.
     Tom Wilson


I would rather fail in a cause that someday will triumph than win in a cause that I know someday will fail.
     Woodrow Wilson


To have the energy to face a difficult problem day after day, one needs to attitude that victory is just around the corner. But probably it isn't.
     Edward Witten


Any closet is a walk-in closet if you try hard enough.
     Steven Wright





The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.
     Francis Bacon


Magic, n. An art of converting superstition into coin. There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is [merely] through a transfer of idolatry.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series (1841)


"He seems to believe some old superstition that if you see your name on a tombstone, it means you're gonna die."
"Hell, Nadine, if you see your name on a birth certificate, it mean you're gonna die."
     Nadine and Grace, Grade Under Fire (TV show)


The only thing that separates us from the animals is superstition and mindless rituals.
     Daniel Klein


To carry piety to the extent of superstition is to destroy it.
     Blaise Pascal


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"


And Liza said patiently, "Why do you be forever testing, Samuel? Gray ones [pigeons] taste just as good and they're bigger."
"I'll let no flimsy fairy tale push me," Samuel said.
And Liza said with her dreadful simplicity, "You're already pushed by your own contentiousness. You're a mule of contention, a very mule!"
"Someone's got to do these things," he said sullenly. "Else Fate would not ever get nose-thumbed and mankind would still be clinging to the top branches of a tree."
     John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)


Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


I supposed it to be true, but it is not allowable to endorse wandering maxims upon supposition — except when one is trying to make out a case.
     Mark Twain, "Postscript to 'Concerning 
     the Jews': The Jew as Soldier" (1900)


"I wish there was something in that miserable spiritualism, so we could send them word."
     Mark Twain, "Extract from Captain 
     Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" (1907)


... when the human race has once acquired a superstition nothing short of death is ever likely to remove it.
     Mark Twain, Charles Neider (ed.), 
     The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959)


Superstition may be defined as constructive religion which has grown incongruous with intelligence.
     John Tyndall, "Science and Man" 
     (Fragments of Science, Volume II)


Whatever you do, crush the infamous thing [superstition], and love those who love you.
     Voltaire, letter to d'Alembert (November 28, 1762)





In today's modern Galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that, were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme cases shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech and writing is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed and totally un****ed-up personality. . . . But even though words like "joojooflop," "swut," and "turlingdrome" are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the Galaxy except for use in Serious Screenplays. There is also, or was, one planet where they didn't know what it meant, the stupid turlingdromes. [That word is "belgium."]
     Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982)


Take not God's name in vain: select a time when it will have effect.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.
     Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley's Opinions (1900)


Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain unless you've used up all the other four-letter words.
     W. C. Fields


I'm sorry if I offend you. But I don't swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damned few words that everybody understands.
     Henry Drummond in Jerome Lawrence and 
     Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind (play, 1955)


The nowadays ruling that no word is unprintable has, I think, done nothing whatever for beautiful letters. The boys have gone hog-wild with liberty, yet the short flat terms used over and over, both in dialogue and narrative, add neither vigor nor clarity; the effect is not of shock but of something far more dangerous — tedium. Obscenity is too valuable a commodity to chuck around all over the place; it should be taken out of the safe on special occasions only.
     Dorothy Parker, book review, "Best Fiction 
     of 1957" (Esquire, December 1957)


There were such things as dwarf gods. Dwarfs were not a naturally religious species, but in a world where pit props could crack without warming and pockets of fire damp could suddenly explode they’d seen the need for gods as the sort of supernatural equivalent of a hard hat. Besides, when you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer it’s nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, “Oh, random fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!” or “Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept on a crutch!”
     Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms (1993)


"Hey why don't you watch where you're going, you dumb ass?!"
"Well, a . . . double dumb ass on you!"
     Motorist and Admiral Kirk, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


     "Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall I say, more colorful metaphors — 'double-dumb ass on you,' and so forth. ..."
     "That's simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word. You'll find it in all the literature of the period."
     "For example?"
     "Well, the collected works of Jacqueline Susann, the novels of Harold Robbins."
     "Ah. The giants."
          Spock and Kirk, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


Are you sure it isn't time for a colorful metaphor?
     Spock, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


"Spock, where the hell's that power you promised me."
"One damn minute, Admiral."
     Kirk and Spock, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


You swear well, Picard. You must have Klingon blood in your veins.
     Governor Vagh (a Klingon), "The Mind's Eye"
     STAR TREK The Next Generation


... when it comes down to pure ornamental cursing, the native American is gifted above the sons of men.
     Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)


Nobody knows better than I that there are times when swearing cannot meet the emergency.
     Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells 
     (Hartford, January 28, 1882)


... and then he bitterly thinks what a lie it is to call this a free country, where none but the unworthy and the undeserving may swear.
     Mark Twain, "On Speech-Making Reform" (speech, 1884)


I saw by what followed that nothing but early neglect saved him from being a very profane man.
     Mark Twain, "Yale College Speech" (speech, 1888)


[While staying in Rouen, Mark Twain got lost in his hotel while wandering off at night to find a bathroom. Eventually, he managed to find his way back to his room in the dark.] Then straightway my temper went up to 180 in the shade and I began to put it into form. Presently an admiring voice said — "When you are through with your prayers, I would like to ask where you have been all night."
     Mark Twain, letter to H. H. Rogers (October, 1894)


When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


"Don't reform any more, it isn't any improvement."
     Olivia Clemens on another of her husband's (failed) attempts 
     to give up profanity in Mark Twain, Notebook, 1896


The spirit of wrath — not the words — is the sin; and the spirit of wrath is cursing. We begin to swear before we can talk.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1898


Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1898


For it is not the word that is the sin, it is the spirit back of the word. When an irritated lady says "oh!" the spirit back of it is "damn!" and that is the way it is going to be recorded against her. It always makes me so sorry when I hear a lady swear like that. But if she says "damn," and says it in an amiable, nice way, it isn't going to be recorded at all.
     Mark Twain, "Taxes and Morals" (speech, January 22, 1906)


The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong; he can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way. The historian, John Fiske, whom I knew well and loved, was a spotless and most noble and upright Christian gentleman, and yet he swore once. Not exactly that, maybe; still, he — but I will tell you about it.
     One day, when he was deeply immersed in his work, his wife came in, much moved and profoundly distressed, and said: "I am sorry to disturb you, John, but I must, for this is a serious matter, and needs to be attended to at once." Then, lamenting, she brought a grave accusation against their little son. She said: "He has been saying his Aunt Mary is a fool and his Aunt Martha is a damned fool." Mr. Fiske reflected upon the matter a minute, then said: "Oh, well, it's about the distinction I should make between them myself."
     Mark Twain, "Taxes and Morals" (speech, January 22, 1906)


In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 
     Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


[Mark Twain used to conceal his profanity from his wife. One morning she overheard him swearing as he was dressing. When he came into her room she repeated to him his last terrific remark. The humor of it struck him.]
     "Livy," he said, "did it sound like that!"
     "Of course it did," she said, "only worse. I wanted you to hear just how it sounded."
     "Livy," he said, "it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds like that. You got the words right, Livy, but you don't know the tune."
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 
     Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It's dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 
     Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


From Susy's Biography: Papa uses very strong language, but I have an idea not nearly so strong as when he first married mamma. A lady acquaintance of his is rather apt to interupt when one is saying, and papa told mamma that he thought he should say to the lady's husband "I am glad your wife wasn't present when the Deity said Let there be light."
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)

Once Mark was with his most intimate friend, the Reverend Doctor Joseph H. Twichell, and he began to swear with his usual fluency, when Twichell asked him to stop, saying it really wasn't necessary for him to be quite so profane. "Oh, Joe," said Mark, "you and I use exactly the same words, you in your prayers and I in my conversation; but we don't either of us mean anything by it."
     Mark Twain, William Lyon Phelps, "As I Like It," 
     Scribner's Magazine 95 (June 1934): 434


One evening while delivering a speech, Mark Twain forgot a word, strained his memory, faltered, then fumed at his own forgetfulness: "I'll forget the Lord's middle name sometime, right in the midst of a storm, when I need all the help I can get!"
     Mark Twain, Alex Ayres (ed.), The Wit 
     and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)