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Pithy Sayings

Human Nature


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We all have flaws, and mine is being wicked.
[The Duke of Coffin Castle, in The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, 1950]

Half the people in the world are above average.
(OK, OK, this should be "median" not "average". Try not to be so picky.)
[Martin Leese, 1954 to ?]

Murphey's Law: If there are two or more ways of doing something, and one of them can lead to catastrophe, then someone will do it.
[Edward A Murphy, engineer, 1949, quoted in Lindbergh's Artificial Heart by Steve Silverman, 2003]

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
[Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 to 1962]

Mr Raphaelson, having scored a considerable success on Broadway and in Hollywood, bought himself a yacht – and a nautical cap, on which "Captain" was embroidered. Old Mrs Raphaelson studied the cap on her proud son's head and won immortality by saying, "By you you're a captain, and by me you're a captain; but tell me, Sammy, by a captain are you a captain?"
[From The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten, 1968]

[I]t would be helpful to a beginner who aspires to be a writer first to dispel in him any over-concern with the technique of writing, and tell him to stop trifling with such superficial matters and get down to the depths of his soul, to the end of developing a genuine literary personality as the foundation of all authorship. ... It really does not matter if he is a little confused about points of rhetoric and grammar, provided he can turn out good stuff.
[From The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang, 1937]

Writing Tip #10 If you encounter some seemingly well-meaning critic of your writing, an individual with some pretensions to authority in such matters, be patient. You should be able to recognize most of the commentary as imperfectly disguised attacks on your talent and character motivated probably by envy.
[From It Was a Dark & Stormy Night: The Final Conflict by Scott Rice, 1992]

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.
[From Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854]

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
[Attributed to W C Fields, 1880 to 1946]

I've [Douglas Adams has] come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technology:
1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
[From The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams, 2002]

The experimental analysis of behavior has clearly shown that it is not the quantity of goods that counts ... but the contingent relation between goods and behavior. That is why, to the amazement of the American tourist, there are people in the world who are happier than we are, while possessing far less.
[From Walden Two Revisited by Burrhus Frederic Skinner, 1976]

I ain't tryin' to preach no sermon, but I never seen nobody that's busy as a prairie dog collectin' stuff that wasn't disappointed.
[From The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939]

Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth.
[Robert Redford, in the film Three Days of the Condor, 1975]

Remember that only liars swear they're telling the truth.
[From Dinosaur Brains by Albert J Bernstean and Sydney Craft Rozen, 1989]

The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction.
[From Let the People Think by Bertrand Russell, 1941]

The lady does protest too much, methinks.
[From the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 1603]

If three people call you a horse, buy a saddle.
[From Dinosaur Brains by Albert J Bernstean and Sydney Craft Rozen, 1989]

Just because people have talent, that doesn't mean they have to do something with it.
[Alice Vonnegut, 1917 to 1958]

To have only intelligence and talent is too little. One must also have energy, real interest, clarity of thought and a sense of obligation.
[Daniil Kharms, 1937 from Today I Wrote Nothing edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich, 2007]

The seven deadly sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. The four last things are: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

The seven feelings natural to mankind are: joy, anger, sadness/melancholy, fear, love, disliking, and liking.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!
[From I, Candidate for Govenor by Upton Sinclair, 1935]

There is nothing worse than a deaf man who will neither listen.
[A Russian proverb, quoted in A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes, 1996]

One can't teach a cat not to catch birds.
[From a letter by Albert Einstein, 1936]

The only two things that are infinite in size are the universe, and human stupidity. And I'm not completely sure about the universe.
[Albert Einstein, 1879 to 1955]

There are perhaps 5% of the population that simply can't think. There are another 5% who can think, and do. The remaining 90% can think, but don't.
[Robert Heinlein, 1907 to 1988]

Recite to yourself what Stanley Milgram taught us about obedience: At least six out of ten people will blindly obey to the bitter end an official-looking authority in their midst.
[From The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, 2005]

If normal is being selfish, being dishonest, killing, having guns, and waging war, I do not want any of it.
[From "Insider's Point of View" by Kathy Lissner, in High-Functioning Individuals with Autism edited by Eric Schopler and Gary B Mesibov, 1992]

Really mad people never worry that they're mad. They think they're perfectly sane.
[From A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright, 1997]

[T]he weirdest collection of visitors is likely to turn up. Peculiar people with new theories of the Universe, characters who have been 'cleared' by Dianetics (God knows what they were like before), intense ladies who are liable to go all clairvoyant after the fourth gin – and these are the less exotic specimens. Worst of all, however, are the Flying Sorcerers: no cure short of mayhem has yet been discovered for them.
[From the short story What Goes Up ... by Arthur C Clarke, 1956]

Talk to as many people as possible. Every single person you ever meet knows something you don't know.
[Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut]

Only small minds want always to be right.
[Louis XIV of France, 1638 to 1715]

A man has to know his limitations.
[Clint Eastwood, in the film Magnum Force, 1973]

PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.
[Telegram to the Delaney Club [Friar's Club of Beverly Hills], described in Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, 1959]

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
[Bertrand Russell, 1872 to 1970]

The public invents celebrities mainly in order to revel in their decay and extinction, and fame always breeds sickness and self-abuse.
[From Sexual Chemistry by Brian M Stableford, 1991]

Train wrecks always draw crowds.
[From Hollow Earth by David Standish, 2006]

Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken.
[Bertrand Russell, 1872 to 1970]

Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they have specialized, are just as ordinary, pig-headed, and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous...
[Professor H J Eysenck, King's College London, quoted in The Magic of Uri Geller by The Amazing Randi, 1975]

[Academics would] all love to run the whole show, but they don't have the guts to take responsibility for their own decisions, so it's much more comforting to sit on the sidelines and carp.
[From Wheelers by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, 2000]

It's easy to be a malcontent, but much more challenging (and rewarding) to be a constructive participant.
[Henry Pasternack]

Patience and good judgement should not be confused with stubbornness and prejudice.
[Brant Watson]

Conformity and monotony, even when they are embellished with a froth of novelty, are not attributes of developing and economically vigorous cities. They are attributes of stagnant settlements.
[From The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs, 1969]

I did not know that mankind was suffering for want of gold.
[From Life Without Principle by Henry David Thoreau, 1863]

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.
[From Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854]

The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.
[From the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, 1912]

The best way to convince a skeptic that you are trustworthy and generous is to be trustworthy and generous.
[From The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, 2002]

There's just one thing I want you to remember. You know those chemicals women have in them, when they get PMS? Well, men have the very same chemicals in them all the time.
[From The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, 1993]

The mind of Human Man is murky and dark, but it is as crystal compared to the mind of Human Woman.
[An ancient robot proverb, quoted in Pilgrimage to Earth by Robert Sheckley, 1957]

Great civilizations are not constructed by the hopeless and the skeptical and the permanently unamused.
[From Captured by Aliens by Joel Achenbach, 1999]

When I first met Wolfgang ... he told me he was so depressed he couldn't even get the enthusiasm together to kill himself.
[From The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, 2006]

The difference between dog people and cat people is that dog people are nice and cat people aren't.
[Martin Leese, 1954 to ?]


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