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]

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem neat, plausible, and wrong.
[From the essay "The Divine Afflatus" by Henry Lewis Mencken, first published in the New York Evening Mail on November 16, 1917. Reprinted in Prejudices: Second Series, 1921]

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 difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.
[From The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, 1995]

The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance.
[From Armour of Faith, 2009]

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Envy, Sloth, and Anger.
[From Armour of Faith, 2009]

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

The Seven Feelings Natural to Mankind: 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 Governor 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]

I've learned, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. In Texas they must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but I heard that in Michigan they're allowed to go it alone, which raises the question: How do they find whatever it is they just shot? In addition to that, how do they get it home?
[From "Six to Eight Black Men" in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, 1997]

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

A friend was visiting the home of Nobel Prize winner physicist Niels Bohr ... As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded: "Niels, it can't possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition!?!" "Of course not," replied the scientist. "But I understand it's lucky whether you believe in it or not."
[From "The Wit Parade" by E.E. Kenyon, in The American Weekly, September 30, 1956, page 13. Quoted in "Believing What We Do Not Believe: Acquiescence to Superstitious Beliefs and Other Powerful Intuitions" by Jane L. Risen, in Psychological Review 2016, volume 123, number 2, pages 182 to 207]

[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]

[Telegram to the Delaney Club [Friar's Club of Beverly Hills], described in Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, 1959]

[T]he central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts ... [He] acribes all his failures to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street or some other such den of infamy.
[Henry Louis Mencken, 1880 to 1956, quoted in Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, 2008]

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

The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the celebrity is created by the media. The hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name.
[From The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1961.]

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]

So might a carpenter, looking at the moon, suppose that it is made of wood.
[From "Is the Universe a Computer?" by Steven Weinberg in The New York Review of Books, October 24, 2002 issue, in a review of A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram]

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]

Beauty is only skin deep. but ugly goes clean to the bone
[Dorothy Parker, 1893 to 1967, quoted in The Body by Bill Bryson, 2019]

Should I fake more empathy?
[Wally, in a Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams, 2021]

Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
[Robert J Hanlon, 1963 to 2021]

The more I see of men, the more I like my dog
[Madame de StaŽl, 1766 to 1817, quoted in The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson, 2013]

He [Lewis Mumford (1895–1990)] seemed to think of women as a sort of ladies' auxiliary of the human race.
[From "The End of the Plantation Age" by Jane Jacobs, 2004, in Vital Little Plans edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, 2016]

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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