Food For Thought

A Collection of Heretical Notions and Wretched Adages
compiled by Jack Tourette

author index



Frequently, with serious works and ones of great import, some purple patch or other is stitched on, to show up far and wide.

Horace (65-8 BC)
Ars Poetica, c.13 BC
Line 14

I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.

Montaigne (1533-1592)
Essays, Book I, 1580
Chapter 26

There is not less wit nor less invention in applying rightly a thought one finds in a book, than in being the first author of that thought.

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706)
Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, 1730

Some for renown, on scraps of learning dote, And think they grow immortal as they quote.

Edward Young (1683-1765)
Love of Fame, 1725-1728
Satire I, line 89

Un bon mot ne prouve rien. (A witty saying proves nothing.)

Voltaire (1694-1778)
Le Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers, 1728
"Second Entretien, Pendant le Diner"

"I must claim the quoter's privilege of giving only as much of the text as will suit my purpose," said Tan-Chun. "If I told you how it went on, I should end up by contradicting myself!"

Cao Zhan (c.1715-1763)
The Story of the Stone, c.1760
Volume 3 "The Warning Voice"
Chapter 56
Translated by David Hawkes, 1980

Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, May 1849
Volume 2

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Quotations and Originality"
Letters and Social Aims, 1876

By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. In fact it is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others as it is to invent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Quotations and Originality"
Letters and Social Aims, 1876

The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
"A Profound Thought"
Posted on "Clayton Cramer's Blog",
20:14 Thursday, 06 January 2011

An epigram often flashes light into regions where reason shines but dimly.

Edwin Percy Whipple (1819-1886)
Lectures on Subjects Connected with Literature and Life, 1850

Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author?

Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894)
The Intellectual Life, 1875
Part IV "The Power of Time"
Letter II "To a Young Man of Great Talent and Energy Who
Had Magnificent Plans for the Future"

Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
De Profundis, 1905

A writer expresses himself in words that have been used before because they give his meaning better than he can give it himself, or because they are beautiful or witty, or because he expects them to touch a chord of association in his reader, or because he wishes to show that he is learned and well read. Quotations due to the last motive are invariably ill-advised; the discerning reader detects it and is contemptuous; the undiscerning is perhaps impressed, but even then is at the same time repelled, pretentious quotations being the surest road to tedium.

Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933)
and Francis George Fowler (1870-1918)
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1926

I maintain yet that quotations (such as have point and lack triteness) from the great old authors are an act of filial reverence on the part of the quoter, and a blessing to a public grown superficial and external.

Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920)
Scribner's Magazine
Volume XLIX, Number 1, January 1911

He wrapped himself in quotations - as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of emperors.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
"The Finest Story in the World"
Many Inventions, 1893

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Roving Commission: My Early Life, 1930
Chapter 9

She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
"The Creative Impulse"
Collected Short Stories, 1951

Famous remarks are very seldom quoted correctly.

Simeon Strunsky (1879-1948)
No Mean City, 1944
Chapter 38

After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
On Shakespeare

Misquotation is, in fact, the pride and privilege of the learned. A widely-read man never quotes accurately, for the rather obvious reason that he has read too widely.

Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964)
Common Misquotations, 1934

The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him. That remark in itself wouldn't make any sense if quoted as it stands.

The average man ought to be allowed a quotation of no less than three sentences, one to make his statement and two to explain what he meant. Ralph Waldo Emerson was about the only one who could stand having his utterances broken up into sentence quotations, and every once in a while even he doesn't sound so sensible in short snatches.

Robert Benchley (1889-1945)
"Quick Quotations"
My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew, 1939

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957)
Gaudy Night, 1936

Be careful -- with quotations, you can damn anything.

Andre Malraux (1901-1976)
Anti-censorship address
12 November 1966

An aphorism (this one of course excepted) can contain only as much wisdom as overstatement will permit. It sells the part for the whole. Its plausibility derives from its concision, which stuns, and its wit, which dazzles. Hence our pleasure in it depends upon the partial arrest of our reasoning faculty. (This is true also of its homely cousins -- the proverb, the adage and the maxim; and of its flashy younger brothers -- the epigram and the paradox.) We enjoy it as we do oratory, debate and good conversation -- all minor arts that, like the aphorism, ignore those annoyances, the Exception and the Rounded View.

Clifton Fadiman (1904-1999)
"Lec and the art of the aphorist"
Introduction to Unkempt Thoughts, 1962
By Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)
Translated by Jacek Galazka

I improve in misquotation.

Cary Grant (1904-1986)
"About Cary Grant"
New York Times, 22 July 1973
by Guy Flatley

Too much traffic with a quotation book begets a conviction of ignorance in a sensitive reader. Not only is there a mass of quotable stuff he never quotes, but an even vaster realm of which he has never seen.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995)
"Dangerous Jewels"
Toronto Daily Star
01 October 1960

A quotation, like a pun, should come unsought, and then be welcomed only for some propriety of felicity justifying the intrusion.

Robert Chapman (1881-1960)
"The Art of Quotation"
The Portrait of a Scholar, and other essays written in
Macedonia, 1916-1918
, 1922

I have lifted this speech from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. If more people would acknowledge that they got their pearls of wisdom from that book instead of the original, it might clear the air.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)
Hocus Pocus, 1990
Chapter 18

Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely ironic mimetism -- victimless collecting, as it a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblamatic fragments.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
"Melancholy Objects"
On Photography, 1977

It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn't going to be's better to be quotable than honest.

Tom Stoppard (b.1937)
Interview by Janet Watts
The Guardian, 21 March 1973
Reprinted in Tom Stoppard in Conversation, 1994
Edited by Paul Delaney

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Last update: 03-July-2015
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