18 Nov 2001
Use your browser's BACK feature to return to your previous location.
 19 Sep 2015 

Some of My
Favorite Quips

In my own writing, it is my preference and usual practice to speak my own mind; I seldom resort to quoting others.  However, I sometimes find it helpful to bolster my own opinion—often at odds with conventional wisdom—by pointing out that some more famous thinkers have held views supporting or similar to my own, while others have built their reputations on atrocious nonsense.  In addition, as a wordsmith, I admire those with the cleverness to phrase ordinary thoughts in extraordinary ways.  This collection is dedicated to utterers of remarkable remarks.

Asimov Augustine Beethoven Bierce Buchan Buddha Burke Caesar Carnegie Chomsky Churchill Clarke Coleridge Confucius Demosthenes Descartes Dick Diderot Durante Einstein Epicurus Everett Fanon Franklin Freud Gandhi Garfield Hoover Hume Huxley Ignatius Ingersoll Jefferson Joyce Kelly Keynes King Lincoln Maher Mead Mencken Montaigne Moynihan Murrow Nehru Nietzsche Paine Pascal Plato Roberts Rogers Roosevelt Russell Schiller Schweitzer Shaw Shelley Spooner Theisman Thurber Truman Twain Ustinov Voltaire Wells Wilde Wollstonecraft Wright Yeats Zinzendorf slogans unknown

"Ordinary men quote the ideas of great men. Great men have ideas of their own." —S.A.J.

"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."  (Asimov's Guide to the Bible)

"When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong.  When people thought the Earth was a sphere, they were wrong.  But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."  ("The Relativity of Wrong," 1988)

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny. . . .'"

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
Russian-born American scientist and writer
author of Asimov's Guide to the Bible

"Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Roman philosopher and Christian theologian

"What I shit is better than anything you've ever thought!"
Was ich scheisse ist besser als was du je gedacht hast!  (response to criticism by fellow composer Carl Maria von Weber)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
German composer

"Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin."

"Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding."

"Opportunity, n. A favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment.

"Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessed unworthy."

"Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the meaning of the Unknowable."

"Vote, n. The instrument and symbol of the freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country."

"Witch, n. (1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the devil. (2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the devil."

(selections from The Devil's Dictionary, 1911)
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
American author

"An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support."

John Buchan, First Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940)
Scottish writer and statesman

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) (563-483 BCE)
Indian mystic

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Irish-born British orator, politician, writer

"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword.  It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.  And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry.  Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.  How do I know?  For this is what I have done, and I am Caesar."

Caius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE)
Roman general and statesman

"I don't believe in God. My god is patriotism. Teach a man to be a good citizen and you have solved the problem of life."

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
American industrialist and philanthropist

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, then we don't believe in it at all." ("The Late Show," BBC-2, 1992)

Noam Chomsky (1928-)
American linguist, philosopher, and political analyst

"Democracy is the worst kind of government—except for all other kinds."

"Nothing in the world is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result."

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
British politican and writer

"A faith that cannot survive collision with truth is not worth many regrets."

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2007)
English writer

"Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an atheist."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
British writer

"Poverty in a democracy is as much to be preferred to what is called prosperity under despots as freedom is to slavery."

Democritus (c.460-c.370 BCE)
Greek philosopher

"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." (Third Olynthiac, 349 BCE)

Demosthenes (c.384-322 BCE)
Greek orator

"Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced he is well supplied with it."

René Descartes (1596-1650)
French mathematician and philosopher

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." (1972)

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982)
American science fiction writer

"The most dangerous madmen are those created by religion, and … people whose aim is to disrupt society know how to make good use of them on occasion." (Conversations with a Christian Lady, 1777)

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
French encyclopedist and philosopher

"Be nice to people on your way up because you might meet 'em on your way down."

Jimmy Durante (1893-1980)
American comedian

"If people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward, then we are indeed a sorry lot."

"If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
German-born American theoretical physicist

"Why should I fear death?  If I am, death is not.  If death is, then I am not.  Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?"

Epicurus (ca.341-270 BCE)
Greek philosopher

"Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army."

Edward Everett (1794-1865)
American cleric, orator, educator, and diplomat

"Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent." (Black Skins, White Masks, 1952)

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)
Martiniquan psychiatriast and philosopher

"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will never be disappointed."

"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are oblig'd to call for help of the Civil Power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." (Letter to Richard Price, 1780)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
American printer, writer, scientist, and statesman

"In the long run, nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction religion offers to both is palpable."

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Austrian physician and pioneer of psychoanalysis

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)
Indian nationalist and spiritual leader

"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."

James A. Garfield (1831-1881)
20th U.S. President

"Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt."

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964)
31st U.S. President

"A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [87])

"The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one." (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [101])

"Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous." (A Treatise of Human Nature)

"A true sceptic will be diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as of his philosophical conviction...." (A Treatise of Human Nature)

David Hume (1711-1776)
British philosopher

"It is as respectable to be a modified monkey as modified dirt." (response to criticism, on biblical grounds, of Charles Darwin's theory of biological evolution)

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
British biologist

"We should always be prepared never to err, to believe that what I see as white is black, if the hierarchic Church defines it thus." (Spiritual Exercises, 1548)

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
Spanish ecclesiastic
founder of Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

"With soap, baptism is a good thing."

"If people were a little more ignorant, astrology would flourish; if a little more enlightened, religion would perish."

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)
American orator

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin will be classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."  (letter to John Adams, 11 Apr. 1823)

"Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong." (Notes on Virginia, 1782)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
3rd U.S. President, philosopher, educator, architect

"Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." (wry comment on human excesses of all sorts, 1990)

Daniel E. Joyce (1919-1999)
my father

The Confederate flag is a relic of an era that confused complexion with virtue, and arrogance with wisdom.  It should be preserved, along with the swastika and the hammer and sickle, as reminders of how civilized people ought not to do things.  Its rightful public place is in a museum of horrors and lost causes, not flying over any public facility in a nation that professes liberty and justice for all. (guest column, Dayton Daily News, 08/31/2015)

S. A. Joyce (b.1944)
me, American whatnot

"We has met the enemy, and he is us!"

Walt Kelly (1913-1973)
American cartoonist, creator of "Pogo"

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again."
  ("A Tract on Monetary Reform" (1923)

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

"Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
American cleric and civil rights advocate

"Universalists consider God too good to damn anyone, while Unitarians consider themselves too good to be damned."

Thomas Starr King (1824-1864)
American Unitarian minister

"Do not do to others what you would not have done to you."  (early maxim, revised five centuries later in Christianity as "The Golden Rule")

K'ung Fu-tzu (Confucius) (c.551-479 BCE)
Chinese philosopher

"The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves."  ("The Object of Government," 1854)

"Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica."  (1855)

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th U.S. President

"Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking."

Bill Maher (b.1956)
American comedian and commentator

"Life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time."

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
American anthropologist

"Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt."

"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."

"Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking."

"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration – courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth."  (1925)

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the same sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

Henry Lewis Mencken (1880-1956)
editor American Mercury

"When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with me more than I am with her?"
Quand je me joue à ma chatte, qui sait si elle passe son temps de moi plus que je ne fais d'elle?

"Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, and yet he makes gods by the dozens."

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
French essayist

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts."

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003)
Presidential Adviser to Richard M. Nixon

"Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences.  No one can eliminate prejudices—just recognize them."

Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
American broadcast journalist

"No country or people who are slaves to dogma and dogmatic mentality can progress."

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
Indian statesman

"Strong belief proves only its own strength, not the truth of what is believed."

Friedrich W. Nietzsche (1844-1900)
German philosopher

"To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead."

"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion, but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law."

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
British-American political activist

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."  (Pensées, 1670)

"Man is obviously made for thinking.  Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought."  (Pensées, 1670)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
French mathematician and philosopher

"If curiosity makes a philosopher, you will find many a strange being will have a title to the name."  (The Republic)

"I am not quite sure that I understand you, though I have a strong suspicion that you are right."  (Socratic Dialogues: "Theætetus")

Plato (ca. 427-337 BCE)
Greek philosopher

"I contend that we are both atheists.  I just believe in one fewer god than you do.  When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-1974)

"You can't say that civilization don't advance . . . for in every war they kill you a new way." (The Autobiography of Will Rogers, 1949)

"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education." (The Autobiography of Will Rogers, 1949)

"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." (The Illiterate Digest, 1924)

"I don't know jokes.  I just watch the government and report the facts."

"I'm not a member of any organized political party.  I'm a Democrat."

Will Rogers (1879-1935)
American humorist

"A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward."

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics." (1937)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)
32nd U.S. President

"Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or the other whatever the state of the law may be." (Marriage and Morals: "The Taboo on Sex Knowledge," 1929)

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as criticism of themselves." (The Conquest of Happiness, 1930)

"As for the view that God's eternal blessedness should be a comfort to the poor, it has always been held by the rich, but the poor are beginning to grow weary of it.  Perhaps, at this date, it is scarcely prudent to seem to associate the idea of God with the defence of economic injustice." (Religion and Science: "Cosmic Purpose," 1935)

"The believers in Cosmic Purpose make much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it." (Religion and Science: "Cosmic Purpose," 1935)

"Those to whom intellectual freedom is personally important may be a minority in the community, but among them are the men of most importance to the future." (Religion and Science: "Conclusion," 1935)

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

"The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment." (Unpopular Essays: "Philosophy and Politics," 1950)

"In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, all men being equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors." (Unpopular Essays: "Ideas that Have Harmed Mankind," 1950)

"A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress—though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is unknown." (A Free Man's Worship and other Essays, 1976)

"Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for cooperation with oneself." (A Free Man's Worship and Other Essays, 1976)

"Those who forget good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires." (A Free Man's Worship and Other Essays, 1976)

"The fundamental defect in Christian ethics consists in the fact that it labels certain classes of acts 'sin' and others 'virtue' on grounds that have nothing to do with their social consequences." (The Quotable Bertrand Russell, 1993)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
British mathematician, philosopher

"Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."
Mit der Dummheit kämpfen die Gõtter selbst vergebens.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)
German writer

¤"Humanism, in all its simplicity, is the only genuine spirituality." (Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1952)

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
German / French theologian, musician, philosopher, physician, medical missionary

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE - 65 CE)
Roman stoic philosopher, writer, dramatist

"The fact that a believer may be happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."  (Androcles and the Lion, 1916)

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Irish-born British playwright

"If God has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?"

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
British poet

"Sir, you have tasted two whole worms; you have hissed all my mystery lectures and been caught fighting a liar in the quad; you will leave by the next town drain."

Rev. W. A. Spooner (1844-1930)
Warden of New College, Oxford

"Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."  (1996)

Joe Theisman (b.1949)
American football commentator, former player

"You can fool too many of the people too much of the time."

James Thurber (1894-1961)
American writer and cartoonist

"Always be sincere, even if you don't mean it."

"I don't give people hell.  I just tell the truth, and they think it's hell."

Harry S Truman (1884-1972)
33rd U.S. President

"If man could be crossed with a cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat."

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." (Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894)

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

"Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world—and never will."

"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

"Religion is believing what you know ain't so."  (Following the Equator, 1897)

"Always do right—this will gratify some and astonish the rest."

"It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

"I can quit smoking anytime I like. I've done it a thousand times."

"There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it."

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (1835-1910)
American author

"It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously."

Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
British actor

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."

"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

"When neither he to whom is spoken nor he who speaks to him understands what is said, that is metaphysics."

Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) (1694-1778)
French philosopher, author

"Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946)
British author

"When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers."

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Irish actor and playwright

"Children, I grant, should be innocent; but when the epithet is applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term for weakness."  (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792)

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
British author, feminist

"I believe in God, only I spell it 'N-A-T-U-R-E'."

Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959)
American architect

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Irish writer

"He who wishes to comprehend God with his mind becomes an atheist."

Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
German Pietist minister

"Honk if you love peace and quiet!" (bumper sticker, 2005)

"What if the Hokey-Pokey really is what it's all about?" (bumper sticker, 2004)


"I'll get you ... and your little god, too!"  (paraphrase from the motion picture The Wizard of Oz)

"No good deed goes unpunished."

"Remember you are a unique individual—just like everybody else."

"There are three kinds of people: those who can do math, and those who can't."

"There are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary math, and those who don't."


(If you know either the source or the correct version of any of these quotes, please e-mail me.)

Use your browser's BACK feature to return to your previous location.