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Shipman's Unfamiliar Quotations

I love a good quote. This file is my personal collection of favorites. Some of them are probably misattributed; I welcome corrections. I don't necessarily agree with all these. Some are in here just to provoke thought.

See also my collection of neologisms, mostly from me and my friends.


There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and (will) be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Martha Graham, to Agnes DeMille
I write to discover what I know.
Flannery O'Connor
To do the same thing over and over is not only boredom; it is to be controlled by rather than to control what you do.
Herakleitos
Not I but the world says it: All is one.
Herakleitos
If your cloak was a gift, I appreciate it; if it was a loan, I'm not through with it yet.
Diogenes
We have complicated every simple gift of the gods.
Diogenes
I pissed on the man who called me a dog. Why was he so surprised?
Diogenes
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
Thomas Jefferson
If God lived on earth, people would knock out all his windows.
Yiddish saying
We're going to have to shit or get off the fan.
A colleague of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, made this remark at a meeting of the ANSI BASIC standards committee. A most apropos comment about a process that had gone on for years with no result.
Bartlett's Law: There are no technical problems in building computer systems, just sociological problems.
Joel Bartlett
It is cheaper and more productive to design machines to fit men rather than try and force men to fit machines.
Dr. Frank Gilbreth, the father of time and motion study, and the father depicted in the book and film Cheaper by the dozen.
You can't make a centipede by gluing ants together.
Greg Titus, 1985
The trouble with structured programming is that your next job is in RPG.
Tom Sanderson, April 21, 1985
Any one who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.
John von Neumann, "Various techniques used in connection with random digits", in Monte Carlo Method (1951), ed. A.S. Householder, G.E. Forsythe, and H.H. Germond
Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.
Howard Aiken, IBM engineer
Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one's native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.
Edsger W. Dijkstra, June 18, 1975
If you don't believe it [your program] is correct before you start testing, what could possibly convince you?
Don Grimes, 1994
When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
R. Buckminster Fuller
Humility is the hallmark of the experienced programmer.
Brent White; collected September 26, 1984
Put out fires during the daytime. Do your real work at night. Sleep is just an addiction.
Dieter Müller
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
Bertrand Russell
The amount of effort necessary to achieve perfection goes exponential as you approach it; one must settle for a position on the curve that gives a high value/effort ratio.
Leonard Compagno's comment on Bob Welles' curve of effort versus percent completion of a project
The Roman Rule: The one who says it cannot be done should never interrupt the one who is doing it.
nmtvax fortune file
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
John Lennon
Horsemen who hold the reins of their horse have no seats in the grandstand at the race course.
Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi
A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for.
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
The only phrase I've ever disliked is, “Why, we've always done it that way.” I always tell young people, “Go ahead and do it (another way). You can always apologize later.”
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, at her retirement ceremony; Albuquerque Tribune, August 15, 1986
Danforth's 1st Law: If you can't laugh with them, laugh at them.
Falline Danforth
Common sense isn't.
Carol Schaffer, May, 1983
Delicacy: that which must be eaten with the fingers to avoid staining the fork.
Joe Martinic, January 20, 1983
Reality is therapy.
Linda Martinic, February 13, 1983
A person does not choose his fate; he only fulfills it. He is bound by his fate as long as he accepts the values that determine it.
Alexander Lowen, M.D.
When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and remedies his incompetencies.
Meng-Tse [Mencius]
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted.
Plutarch
Some people think it's an insult to the glory of their sickness to get well. But the time poultice is no respecter of glories. Everyone gets well if they wait around.
Steinbeck, East of Eden
Don't resist the resistance.
Kathleen Welsh Luiten
If you can't cope, get stronger!
Falline Danforth, September 27, 1984
We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it?
Marcus Aurelius
All the talent in the world is useless without perseverance.
Steve Morse
If you're stuck in a painting, then stop and draw something else. Draw a flower and put your love into that flower. Then your powers will come back again.
Pablo Picasso, Parade, October 13, 1985
For long I feared time, Lord, I who knew that it must take away my lover's strength and my beauty. But after Pwyll died I learned to bless it because now it had done its worst and could only bring me nearer to him. But when I had blessed it my vision changed, and I saw that it was a teacher as well as a destroyer. I saw that, great as was my love and Pwyll's, I must not make a prison of its memory, a walled place, shutting others out. For every walled place is truly a small place, cramping the body and the spirit. And every man and woman is worthy of love, and each calls forth a love that can be given only to himself or herself, never to another. And I remembered you, and knew that I loved you, and by that loving I need not cease to love Pwyll. It is hard to make it clear, that lesson.
Evangeline Walton, Song of Rhiannon, p. 82
Pooh's Law: The minute you decide you're never going to find love, it will sneak up behind you, breathe tenderly down the back of your neck, and when you turn around, sock you in the face.
Wendy Nather
Romantic love was invented to manipulate women.
Jenny Holzer
The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.
Samuel P. Huntington
In February of 1974...I asked a Vietnamese journalist who had lost his wife and three children in the Christmas bombing of 1972 how he had withstood madness, living as he did under continual bombing. “Yes, we live with fear and death,” he replied. “But we do not fear each other. I have heard about your cities, where people live alone with many locks on their doors, and no one is safe on the streets at night. Here, death can come from the sky, but we leave our doors unlocked. Which is worse, to hate and fear the enemy, or to hate and fear each other?”
Mother Jones magazine
You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.
Jeannette Rankin
As Northern Ireland showed us, terrorists can only be defeated when they lose the support of the people. Resolving political, economic and social grievances is therefore a far more important aspect of counter terrorist wars than direct military action, which often adds to the numbers of people prepared actively to support the terrorists.
General Sir Michael Rose
The only way to stop it [terrorism] is to work with the leaders of Islamic nations to insure that tolerance of other religions is taught again, that their people believe they have fair opportunities to participate in government and the economy, and that the social and cultural conditions that breed hatred are bred out.
Richard Clarke
Truly men hate the truth; they'd liefer meet a tiger on the road.
Robinson Jeffers
But women are always attracted to power. I do not think there could ever be a conqueror so bloody that most women would not willingly lie with him in the hope of bearing a son who would be every bit as ferocious as the father.
Gore Vidal, Creation, p. 524
That's when vivisection's not a crime—it's an obligation.
Frank Etscorn, August 27, 1985
In a sick world even the hale are sick.
Olaf Stapledon
Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I knew people who can't even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view.
John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
Hysteria is a chaotic and irrational emotional state caused by seeing how the world really operates.
Robert Anton Wilson, The Earth Will Shake, p. 124
Psychoanalytic doctrine reveals the pig in man, a pig saddled with a conscience; the disastrous result is that the pig is uncomfortable beneath that pious rider, and the rider fares no better in the situation, since his endeavor is not only to tame the pig, but also to render it invisible.
Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice, p. 4
The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality, to look at the finger pointing the way and then to suck it for comfort rather than follow it.
Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, p. 23
I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Thank God for secular humanism.
John F. Kennedy, according to Mort Sahl

When Prime Minister Nakasone visited President Reagan, he asked for the auto import restrictions to be rescinded, saying “We've had a rougher time of it; consider Hiroshima.”

The Gipper was nonplused. “What has that got to do with it?”

“Well, we've never destroyed one of your cities,” replied Nakasone.

Quickly Haig cut in: “What about Detroit?”

I heard Mort Sahl tell this story about Al Haig on the CBS morning TV program on March 24, 1987; this version is paraphrased from my notes. This is an entry in the rec.humor.funny archives.
The holy word of God is on everyone's lips...but...we see almost everyone presenting their own versions of God's word, with the sole purpose of using religion as a pretext for making others think as they do.
Baruch de Spinoza
Patience is a virtue best left to the dead, who can afford it.
Jack Chalker
A lump in the throat is worth two on the head.
Walt Kelly, Beau Pogo, p. 140
I talk to myself because I like dealing with a better class of people.
Jackie Mason
Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principle they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.
Ethan Allen
One can't found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past---they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.
Gene Wolfe, Shadow of the Torturer, pp. 62–3
You're a materialist, like all ignorant people. But your materialism doesn't make materialism true. Don't you know that? In the final summing up, it is spirit and dream, thought and love and act that matter.
Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch, p. 81
Religion and science have always been matters of faith in something. It is the same something.
Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch, pp. 134–5
...in some situations winning consist[s] of disentangling oneself.
Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch, p. 162
We choose—or choose not—to be alone when we decide whom we will accept as our fellows, and whom we will reject. Thus an eremite in a mountain cave is in company, because the birds and coneys, the initiates whose words live in his “forest books,” and the winds—messengers of the Increate—are his companions. Another man, living in the midst of millions, may be alone because there are none but enemies and victims around him.
Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch, p. 308
God is a polytheist.
unix fortune file
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays, 1928
The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.
Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell, p. 112

“You're a little cracked.”

“Even a little crack will let in a little light.”

from a book about the Findhorn community
Don't force it, use a hammer.
446th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force (UK)
Who was the anthropologist who thought the Ojibway believed all rocks were alive? A chief had straightened him out: “Open your eyes,” he said, “and you'll see which rocks are alive.”...American anthropology is like virgins writing about sex.
Shea and Wilson, Illuminatus!, p. 494
The music industry went through such a strange stretch in 1977, especially in this country, with the whole punk rock thing coming about. Punk was rebellious—and justified in that response—but it had very little to do with music, and so it created a highly-charged but frighteningly floundering atmosphere that I found very, very disheartening. Musical quality for me has always been an important part of rock'n'roll—and winning recognition for that has long been an uphill battle all the way. Punk seemed like rock'n'roll utterly without the music.
Steve Winwood, Musician, October 1982
You have to stop listening in categories. The music is either good or it's bad.
Duke Ellington
Know the enemy
Know yourself
A thousand battles
A thousand victories
Mao Tse-Tung, paraphrasing Sun Tzu
I can't argue with that. I don't know what you're talking about.
Radar O'Reilly, M*A*S*H TV series
The bonds of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to carry them, sometimes three. [Moms Mabley] Or four, or five.... [Della Reese]
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; the first quote is also attributed to Alexandre Dumas on p. 119 of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, the word “marriage” being replaced by “wedlock”
It's not polite to talk with your foot in your mouth.
David Northrop, May, 1984
There's nothing like a good man to confound a bad woman.
Magail Medina, May, 1984
The nice thing about having your body as your temple is, you get to worship as you please.
Greg Titus, May, 1984
We're all in this alone.
Terry McGovern, KSAN, 1976-3-24, 6:18am
Knowledge of the law is no excuse.
Nancy Pace
The wise duck keeps his mouth shut when he smells frogs.
Ernest Bramah, Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat
Sanity is calming, but madness is more interesting.
John Russell
The cuckold needs no reminder of his horns, and the reject no reminder of his failure.
Tony Hillerman, Blessing Way, p. 23
And the Ring is so heavy, Sam. I begin to see it in my mind all the time, like a great wheel of fire.
Tolkien, Return of the King, p. 240
You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave
Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that my own tears
Do scald me like lead.
Shakespierre, King Lear, IV.7
The bomb has already dropped, and we are the mutants.
Berkeley graffito
“Is it true God answers all questions?”
“Yes...sometimes the answer is no.”
Father Mulcahy, M*A*S*H TV series
Recursion is self-explanatory.
NMT graffito, via Tom Sanderson
Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.
Henry David Thoreau
Man should rule with computers, not vice versa.
Leonard Compagno
I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
Isaac Asimov
Woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor!
Melville, Moby Dick
Television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.
Ernie Kovacs
In magnificentia naturae resurget spiritus.
Anonymous
Fanaticism is redoubling your efforts when you have lost sight of your goal.
George Santayana
I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal—high enough to look up her dress.
Steve Martin
Would someone who runs flatworms be a disciplanarian?
Dave Ortiz, August 10, 1984
“Why don't you ask Dr. Bronowski? He knows everything.”
“Seems like that would take all the mystery out of life.”
Monty Python skit
Knowledge that is not used is dangerous.
Sim van der Rijn
Learning is not compulsory...neither is survival.
W. Edwards Deming
During the last century a seven-year-old boy, Harry Service, was lost from his family's home in Manitoba and lived for two weeks with a badger in its underground den. When he was found he said that the badger had brought him food several times....
Sally Carrighar, Wild Heritage, p. 186
Self-restraint is indulgence of the propensity to forgo.
Ambrose Bierce
Tact: the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have him look forward to the trip.
Jayne LaPlant Frandsen
I went over to the fire to get warm but it was too hot.
Amy Blackburn, North Fork campsite, April 1, 1984
In the depths all becomes law.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Resolve to be always beginning—to be a beginner!
Rainer Maria Rilke
I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each shall stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.
Rainer Maria Rilke
The great lie of capitalism is that human labor exists to feed the future rather than to nurture the here and now.
Vladimir Nabokov
The trouble with the lower classes is that they lack the sense of tragedy given to them by the upper classes.
Oscar Wilde
The state is the great fiction by which everyone expects to live at the expense of everyone else.
Bastiat
We all have strength to endure the misfortunes of others.
Foucault
Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.
Foucault
Old people like to give good advice as solace for no longer being able to provide bad examples.
Foucault
Argument does not teach children or the immature. Only time and experience does that.
Doris Lessing
Expect everything, and the unexpected will never happen.
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
One man's slime is another man's penicillin.
G. Grossman, via Gary Schwede

“The straight tree is the first to be cut down; the well of sweet water is the first to be exhausted. Your aim is to embellish your wisdom so as to startle the ignorant, and to cultivate your person to show the unsightliness of others. A light shines around you as if you were carrying with you the sun and moon, and thus it is that you do not escape calamity....”

“The perfect man does not seek to be heard of. How is it that you delight in doing so?”

Confucius said, “Excellent.” Thereupon he took leave of his associates, forsook his disciples, retired to the neighborhood of a great marsh, wore skins and haircloth, and ate acorns and chestnuts. He went among animals without causing any confusion among their herds, and among birds without troubling their movements. Birds and beasts did not dislike him; how much less would men do so!

Chuang Tzu, XX.4–5
Housework can kill you, if you do it right.
Erma Bombeck
One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.
A. A. Milne
Never sweep. After four years the dirt gets no worse.
Quentin Crisp
Don't keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.
Quentin Crisp
You can grow as much corn on a crooked row as on a straight one.
Marcel Ledbetter, fide Jerry Clower
The greatest wizard would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn't that be our case?
Novalis
People who want a sane, static, measurable world take the first aspect of an event or person and stick to it, with an almost self-protective obstinacy, or by a natural limitation of their imaginations. They do not indulge in either deepening or magnifying.
Anais Nin, in D. H. Lawrence, an unprofessional study
One of the chief sources of cultural paranoia is the ever-widening rift between the beliefs of people and their actual behavior, and the tacit assumption among these same people that this practice—this contradiction between idealism and practice—is a normal state of affairs.
Lionel Rubinoff, The pornography of power
Gestorben ist nicht, was für ewig ruht; und mit unbekannten Äonen mag sogar der Tod noch sterben.
H. P. Lovecraft
None have ever shown themselves more skillful than the Japanese in licking off the bait of knowledge and leaving the hook of fanaticism standing naked.
A. L. Sadler, Maker of Modern Japan, speaking of Tokugawa Ieyasu's dealings with the Jesuits
Ignorance and greed are part of the evolutionary process, which is just to say that mistakes are part of learning. There is nothing bad about behaviors or perceptions that do not work; they simply have to be given up and replaced by behaviors or perceptions that do work.
Bucky Fuller

Robert Anton Wilson: What can the average man or woman do to achieve the total success of our species and stave off the dangers we've mentioned?

Buckminster Fuller: Live with integrity.

RAW: Is that all?

BF: It is both necessary and sufficient.

A small amount of power corrupts a small man absolutely. A little knowledge is dangerous to a little man. To a great man only great knowledge is dangerous.
Leonard Compagno, June 2, 1981
When you write, you can hide behind your words. When you talk, you are up front, like the clown in the midway booth; and passersby can bean you with a ball.
Willard R. Espy, Say it My Way
I'll not only retract any comment anyone finds offensive, but also deny under oath ever having said it.
Tom Lehrer
Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.
Robert Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long
Three moves equals a fire.
Pioneer saying about moving one's belongings
[The First Amendment] means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can...pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can [they] force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.
Justice Hugo Black, quoted in Gore Vidal, The Second American Revolution, p. 231
He can't be alone, because the company is so bad.
Lynne Van da Griff, of the late George Cline, June 27, 1983
Eighty-eight percent of all people are mental cases.
Edward Matama, a Xhosa friend of Leonard Compagno's
Three rules for managers:
  1. Open up your territory.
  2. Assume you will make mistakes.
  3. Always complain upwards, not downwards.
John Cleese
White's Rule: The magnitude of any non-trivial task can only be known after the information has ceased to be of any practical value.
Brent White
There are very few problems in computer science that are not susceptible to brute force.
Ed Runnion; paraphrased by Tom Sanderson
User-friendly, my ass.
Sally Breeden (my sister), commenting on the IBM PC, October 28, 1983
Murphy's Law: If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, someone will do it (or, in other words: "If anything can go wrong, it will").
John Paul Stapp, Edward A. Murphy, Jr., and George Nichols. See The Fastest Man on Earth, Nick T. Spark, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 9, no. 5, Sept.–Oct 2003.
Sometimes I feel like a fodderless cannon.
George Starbuck
Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.
Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace—he wrote Ben-Herrera, didn't he?
Steve Senn, March 3, 1984

Linda Martinic: I've got some live beets here and some dead beets.

Steve Senn: The only good beet is a dead beet.

March 5, 1984
Tools may limit the user, but the utility of tools is limited by the skill of the user.
Leonard Compagno, letter of February 27, 1984
A man becomes what he does.
J. Madison Wheeler, quoted in Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
Keep a stiff upper chin.
Bob Knight, helping me through a rough day on March 15, 1984
There are as many strata at different levels of life as there are leaves in a book. When on the higher levels we can remember the lower levels, but when on the lower we cannot remember the higher.
Henry David Thoreau
All rising to great place is by a winding stair.
Sir Francis Bacon

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