For your race, in its poverty, has one really effective weapon -- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution -- these can lift a colossal humbug -- push it a little -- weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one? No, you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at all? No, you lack sense and the courage.
-- Mark Twain, in "The Mysterious Stranger"
When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target.
-- George Fisher
Who wants an epitaph that reads: "The Earth and Her People: Died because a few leaders insulted each other."
-- Naoko Maeda, from Tokyo, in Newsweek (International Edition, Feb 11, 1991)
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says, but what it means
-- Umberto Eco, in "The Name of the Rose"
Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.
-- Mark Twain
Men at some time are masters of their fate:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
-- Shakespeare, in "Julius Caesar"
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought ot be done remains undone.
Cultivate the habit of reserving your adjectives and adverbs to make your meaning more precise, and suspect those that you find yourself using to make it more emphatic.
-- Sir Ernest Gowers, in "The Complete Plain Words", revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut
Here, for example, is the response of a child of ten to an invitation to write an essay on a bird and a beast:
The bird that I am going to write about is the owl. The owl cannot see at all by day and at night is as blind as a bat.
I do not know much about the owl, so I will go on to the beast which I am going to choose. It is the cow. The cow is a mammal. It has six sides--right, left, an upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With this it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns and so that the mouth can be somewhere. The horns are to butt with, and the mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes and there is never an end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realised, but it makes more and more. The cow has a fine sense of smell; one can smell it far away. This is the reason for the fresh air in the country.
The man cow is called an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not eat much, but what it eats it eats twice, so that it gets enough. When it is hungry it moos, and when it says nothing it is because its inside is all full up with grass.
-- Sir Ernest Gowers in "The Complete Plain Words", revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut
Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both.
-- John Andrew Holmes
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.
-- H. G. Wells, "The Wife of Isaac Harman"
In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed---they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce...? The cuckoo clock.
-- Orson Welles, "The Third Man"
God is on the side not of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots.
-- Voltaire, "The Piccini Notebooks"
Audentis Fortuna iuvat.
Fortune assists the bold.
-- Virgil, "Aeneid"
One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who haven't and don't.
-- George Bernard Shaw, "The Apple Cart"
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-- George Bernard Shaw, "Man and Superman"
You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'
-- George Bernard Shaw, "Back to Methuselah"
All our knowledge is, ourselves to know.
-- Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Man, Epistle 4"
A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser to-day than he was yesterday.
-- Alexander Pope, "Miscellanies", 'Thoughts on Various Subjects'
Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
-- George Orwell, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
-- George Orwell, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
-- George Orwell, "Animal Farm"
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "A Psalm of Life"
The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
-- Lord Macaulay, "History of England vol. 1"
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
-- Frank Herbert, "Dune"
Copyright © 2002 Shobhna Gujadhur. All rights reserved.