A collection of quotes, excerpts, and memorable credos from film, television, books, and miscellaneous sources. Some are well-known, others less so, a few quite original.

I’ve done the best I could to fully and accurately cite each source; when I cannot do so, I have tried to make that clear as well.

Danielle Sucher

I don’t like hurting people. Is that so hard to understand? When I go to bed at night, I can sleep easily, knowing that I fought for freedom, and for less suffering rather than more. That I stood by someone accused so that he would not have to stand alone.

I can’t know whether anyone is truly guilty or innocent, or what they deserve, and frankly, I don’t care. We all deserve at least one person on the damn planet willing to stand there next to us and fight on our behalf.

[Legal Agility blog (now unavailable), on why she chose criminal defense law]

Mary Shelley

Are you, then, so easily turned from your design? Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious? Not because the way was smooth and placid as a southern sea, but because it was full of dangers and terror, because at every new incident your fortitude was to be called forth and your courage exhibited, because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome. For this was it a glorious, for this was it an honorable undertaking. You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactors of your species, your names adored as belonging to brave men who encountered death for honor and the benefit of mankind. And now, behold, with the first imagination of danger, or, if you will, the first mighty and terrific trial of your courage, you shrink away and are content to be handed down as men who had not strength enough to endure cold and peril; and so, poor souls, they were chilly and returned to their warm firesides. Why, that requires not this preparation; ye need not have come thus far and dragged your captain to the shame of a defeat merely to prove yourselves cowards. Oh! Be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock. This ice is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be; it is mutable and cannot withstand you if you say that it shall not. Do not return to your families with the stigma of disgrace marked on your brows. Return as heroes who have fought and conquered and who know not what it is to turn their backs on the foe.


Rafael Sabatini

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

[First line of Scaramouche, and the author’s epitaph]

Iain M. Banks

(Once, in a market in Robunde, he had brought her a caged bird because it sang so beautifully. He took it to the room they were hiring while she completed her thesis paper on temple acoustics.

She thanked him graciously, walked to the window, opened the cage’s door and shooed the little bird out; it flew away over the square, singing. She watched the bird for a moment until it disappeared, then looked around to him with an expression that was at once apologetic, defiant and concerned. He was leaning against the door frame, smiling at her.)

[Look to Windward]

Abraham Verghese

She felt the familiar calmness of an emergency, but she understood the falseness of that feeling, now that it was her life at stake.

[Cutting for Stone]

Royal Humane Society

Suppose but one in ten restored, what man would think the designs of the society unimportant, were himself, his relation, or his friend—that one?

[Early days of the Royal Humane Society, dedicated to rescuing drowning victims in Britain]

Royal Humane Society

lateat scintillula forsans

[“a small spark may, perhaps, lie hidden.” Motto of the Royal Humane Society.]

Bertrand Russell

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.


Neil deGrasse Tyson

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

[From a Reddit AMA]


Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.


Kelly Grayson

You should bother, because EMTs are privileged to play in life’s great game. Too many unlucky people watch the action thunder by, stuck at a desk, or watching it on television at home.

[“A Pep Talk...”]

Richard Bausch

You touch one part of it, and the whole thing shivers, from one end to the other. It’s such a delicate thing, revision, and revision is where the artistry is; and so you have to be ruthless, and put away anything—even parts you like the sound of, even the matters that speak from your secret self to who you hope you are—put away anything that does not contribute to the whole thing. And God damn it is hard.


Thom Dick

An EMT’s most basic job is to notice stuff and then wonder about it.

[“Small Talk”]

George Santayana

. . . until the curtain was rung down on the last act of the drama (and it might have no last act!) he wished the intellectual cripples and the moral hunchbacks not to be jeered at; perhaps they might turn out to be the heroes of the play.

[On William James, quoted in Linda Simon’s William James Remembered]

Robert M. Sapolsky

[1] Soon we’re forgoing immediate pleasure in order to get good grades in order to get into a good college in order to get a good job in order to get into the nursing home of our choice.

[2] A relationship is the price you pay for the anticipation of it.

[Assorted, from Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers]

James Boswell

DEMPSTER: We have hardly a right to abuse this tragedy; for bad as it is, how vain should either of us be to write one not near so good.

JOHNSON: Why no, Sir; this is not just reasoning. You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.

[Life of Johnson]

Drew Anderson

Depression is an indicator that your life sucks.

[Word of mouth, reportedly paraphrasing Neil Jacobson]

Barry Eisler

“The City. Can’t you hear it? People. Machines. Even thoughts so thick your bones feel it and your ear almost catches it.”

[Rain Fall]

Gregory David Roberts

It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.


Christopher Logue

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.

[“Come to the Edge.” Usually misattributed to Guillaume Apollinaire.]


He surprises me with beauty.

[By the electronic composer Gilmore, in reference to the work of Aphex Twin. Quoted in an academic paper.]

Karel and Josef Capek

And to flash from the forge for a moment, and perish, is all our desire.

[The Insect Play]

Ray Bradbury

The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

[Fahrenheit 451]


There’s a parable about a woman who goes to a psychiatrist. The shrink says, “What’s the problem?” The woman says, “I’m dead.” The shrink tries to explain to her: no, you can’t be dead, you’re walking around, talking, you’re obviously alive. But he can’t convince her. Finally, he gets her to agree that dead people don’t bleed. He whips out a pin and jabs her in the hand. She looks at the blood welling up from the wound and says, “Son of a bitch! Dead people do bleed!”


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.

[Speech to a veteran’s group on Memorial Day, post Civil War]

Norman Maclean

“All there is to thinking,” he said, “is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”

[A River Runs Through It (novel)]


No sé. No hice el mundo.

[Spoken by a lizard, as I recall, in a Spanish-language children’s story]

Edward Albee

There is chaos behind the civility, of course.

[The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?]


Fiat justitia ruat caelum

[“Let Justice be done though the Heavens fall.” Unclear original source. Alternately Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus (Let Justice be done, though the world perish), purportedly the motto of Ferdinand I.]

C.S. Lewis

In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale?—really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing.

[The Chronicles of Narnia, afterword]

John Steakley

“He’s the best of us. The best of our best, the best that each of us will ever build or ever love. So pray for this Guardian of our growth and choose him well, for if he be not truly blessed, then our designs are surely frivolous and our future but a tragic waste of hope. Bless our best and adore for he doth bear our measure to the Cosmos.”


Herman Melville

[1] It is not down in any map; true places never are.

[2] God keep me from ever completing anything.

[3] Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!

[4] A laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer

[5] Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves!

[Assorted, from Moby Dick]

William Shakespeare

FOOL: If thou wert my Fool, nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time.
LEAR: How’s that?
FOOL: Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.

[King Lear]

Ursula K. Le Guin

“ . . . she obeys me, but only because she wants to.”
“It’s the only justification for obedience,” Ged observed.


Eric Shaver

I haven’t gotten to the point of wanting to jump off a building, but there have been a few days where it sounded pretty interesting. At least then I’d know if I could fly.

[Personal correspondence]

Gregory Benford

If you are losing at a game, change the game.

[“A Hunger for the Infinite”]

“Mister Skin”

Dyson spheres need great big walls
To keep the world from spilling out
They make them out of buckyballs
And use gravitons for grout

[Unknown; quoted here]


and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.

[Revelation 1:15, from the New International Version of the Bible]

Simon and Garfunkel

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping.

[“America”, written by Paul Simon, from Bookends]

Oscar Wilde

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world.

[Purportedly in reference to absinthe. Possibly apocryphal.]

Blaise Pascal

When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

[Pensées, section 9]

Maurice Baring

Bright gifts and festal crowns to him they bore.
The brave, the wise, the mighty and the fair
Acclaimed him lord of the unconquered air.
But he who, thanks to more than mortal lore,
The albatross, the eagle could outsoar
Now stripped of his large wings, and unaware
Of the loud jubilee, in mute despair,
Withdrew to weep alone on Cumae’s shore.

To one who asked he spoke: “My son to-day
Was drowned; he flew too near the burning ray,
That struck his wings, and from the empty sky
He was hurled headlong to the envying sea:
He nevermore shall climb the skies with me,
And I no more shall have the heart to fly.”

[“Daedalus,” anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]

Cuthbert Hicks

I am blind: I have never seen
Sun gold nor silver moon,
Nor the fairy faces of flowers,
Nor the radiant noon.

They speak of the dawn and the dusk,
And the smile of a child,
Of the deep red heart of a rose,
As of God, undefiled.

But I learnt from the air to-day
(On a bird’s wings I flew)
That the earth could never contain
All of the God I knew.

I felt the blue mantle of space,
And kissed the cloud’s white hem,
I heard the stars’ majestic choir,
And sang my praise with them.

Now joy is mine through my long night,
I do not feel the rod,
For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.

[“The Blind Man Flies” anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]

Christian Hamilton

Gods: I have flown!
All my young body is broken on the rocks
And all the red cliffs swim before my eyes—
The summer haze, perhaps—or my sight fails—
Dim world, these eyes of mine shall open soon
On great Olympus. Hah! I shall tell Jove
That I have flown—I, Icarus, a mortal!
Oh, the sun burns down pitiless upon me
And on my crushed white wings—my wings—my wings—
Why did I fly so high? I might by now
Be safe, if only—only—Ah, but FLYING
High and yet higher into the burning blue
Above the ochre crags and jade green sea!
How could I help it—how do otherwise?
And when the softening wax upon my shoulders
Let the great plumes slip sideways and I fell
Hardly was terror there. I saw the rocks
Rush up to meet me, and I knew that never
Never would Icarus rise again.

But I have flown—have flown. These are my wings,
All crushed and torn and dabbled—they are wings,
And this day on Olympus Jove shall know. . . .

How the cliffs shudder . . . and the sun is scorching . . .
Pain stabs my broken body so—I die—
Gods: I have flown!

[“Icarus” anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]


Bird of the fierce delight,
Brother of foam as white
And winged as foam is,
Wheeling again from flight
To some unfooted height
Where your blithe home is:

   Bird of the wind and spray,
   Crying by night and day
   Sorrowful laughter,
   How shall man’s thought survey
   Your will or your wings’ way,
   Or follow after?

What pride is man’s, and why,
Angel of air, should I
Joy to be human?
You walk and swim and fly,
Laugh like a man and cry
Like any woman.

   I would your spirit were mine
   When your wings dip and shine,
   Smoothly advancing;
   I drink a breathless wine
   Of speed in your divine
   Aerial dancing.

[“To a Sea-Gull” anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]

BP Young

How can they know that joy to be alive
   Who have not flown?
To loop and spin and roll and climb and dive,
   The very sky one’s own,
The urge of power while engines race,
   The sting of speed,
The rude winds’ buffet on one’s face,
   To live indeed.

How can they know the grandeur of the sky,
   The earth below,
The restless sea, and waves that break and die
   With ceaseless ebb and flow;
The morning sun on drifting clouds
   And rolling downs—
And valley mist that shrouds
   The chimneyed towns?

So long has puny man to earth been chained
   Who now is free,
And with the conquest of the air has gained
   A glorious liberty.
How splendid is this gift He gave
   On high to roam,
The sun a friend, the earth a slave,
   The heavens home.

[“Flight” anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]

Ernest Rhys

With the wings of a bird and the heart of a man he compass’d his flight,
And the cities and seas, as he flew, were like smoke at his feet.
He lived a great life while we slept, in the dark of the night,
And went home by the mariners’ road, down the stars’ empty street.

[“The New Icarus,” originally from Rhymes for Everyman. Anthologized in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight (1938, by “R de la Bere”—perhaps Rupert De la Bère?—and cadets of the Royal Air Force academy, World War I era).]


The men who billow down the sea in ships
Have earned these ages tributes justly high;
But now is newly told on peoples’s lips
Of men in airy craft who seek the sky.

Flung freely through their newer kingdom won,
Clean wings describe the geometric arc,
And hurtle down the starlight to the dark
Or gambol with the spear-shafts of the sun.

A newer kingdom and a newer race—
They spurn with pride the lowly creed of earth,
And glory in the boundlessness of space,
Where worlds through aeons past have leapt to birth.

Though mortal span is told in numbered weeks
They brush eternity with youthful cheeks.

[“A Newer Kingdom,” unknown source; reprinted here]


It seems to me not only that absolute greatness will never be great and small at once, but also that greatness in us never admits smallness, and will not be exceeded. One of two things must happen: either the greater will give way and fly at the approach of its opposite, the less, or it will perish. It will not stand its ground, and receive smallness, and be other than it was, just as I stand my ground, and receive smallness, and remain the very same small man that I was. But greatness cannot endure to be small, being great. Just in the same way again smallness in us will never become nor be great; nor will any opposite, while it remains what it was, become or be at the same time the opposite of what it was. Either it goes away or it perishes in the change.

[“Phaedo,” 102e–103a (Ancient Philosophy, Bard and Kaufmann 5th edition, Cornford translation)]


We are just in that state; we dwell in a hollow of the earth, and think that we are dwelling on its surface; and we call the air heaven, and think it to be the heaven wherein the stars run their courses. But the truth is that we are too weak and slow to pass through to the surface of the air. For if any man could reach the surface, or take wings and fly upward, he would look up and see a world beyond, just as the fishes look forth from the sea, and behold our world. And he would know that that was the real heaven, and the real light, and the real earth, if his nature were able to endure the sight.

[“Phaedo,” 109d–110a (Ancient Philosophy, Bard and Kaufmann 5th edition, Cornford translation)]


[13] First of all the gods she devised Love.
[14] Shining by night with a light not her own, wandering round the earth.

[Fragments. (From Ancient Philosophy, Bard and Kaufmann 5th edition, Cornford translation)]


waeron hleahtorsmithum handa belocene
[the hands of the laughter-smiths were clasped shut]

[“Exodus,” from the Old English Junius Manuscript (section XLII, line 43)]


So the nature required to make a really noble Guardian of our commonwealth will be swift and strong, spirited, and philosophic.

[Republic, III 376c (Ancient Philosophy 5th edition, Bard and Kaufmann, Cornford translation)]

Bill Watterson

Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it’s going to come in handy all the time.

[Commencement address at Kenyon College, 1990, quoted here]

Adam Warren

I don’t do this STUPID JOB because I want to be LIKED or ACCEPTED or whatever —

although that WOULD be fucking NICE —

I do this STUPID JOB because I’m DRIVEN to do it —

unlike YOU, I do this stupid, STUPID job


[Empowered, issue 4]

Tim Minear

Inara: Mal, you don’t have to die alone.
Mal: Everybody dies alone.

[Firefly, “Out of Gas”]

Tim Minear, Joss Whedon

Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you... when you can’t do that...
Zoe: You find someone to carry you.

[Firefly, “The Message”]

Karl Gajdusek, Michael deBruyn

If we have souls, they are made of the love we share.


Jacques Rancière

Disagreement is not the conflict between one who says white and another who says black. It is the conflict between one who says white and another who also says white but does not understand the same thing by it.

[Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy]

Laura Hudson Kittrell

Strong her sails and brave is she

[“Sailing Song”]

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide.


Roger Ebert

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

[“I do not fear death”, originally in Life Itself: A Memoir]

HP Lovecraft

To be bitter is to attribute intent and personality to the formless, infinite, unchanging and unchangeable void. We drift on a chartless, resistless sea. Let us sing when we can, and forget the rest.



[1] Mrs. Nurse, will you hold my hand? I’ve never died before and I’m scared.

[2] Mommy, if I died, would you love me?

[Two separate children in extremis. Quoted by paramedic Alice “Twink” Dalton]

Algernon Charles Swinburne

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

. . . From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

[“The Garden of Proserpine”]

Bruce Cockburn

Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

[“Lovers in a Dangerous Time”]

Niccolò Machiavelli

[1] There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.

[2] Hence it comes that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.

[Assorted, from The Prince]

Craig Douglas

Seek safety at the heart of danger.

[SDF forums (no longer available)]

Robert Nozick

One way to determine if a view is inadequate is to check its consequences in particular cases, sometimes extreme ones, but if someone always decided what the result should be in any case by applying the given view itself, this would preclude discovering it did not correctly fit the case. Readers who hold they would plug in to the machine should notice whether their first impulse was not to do so, followed later by the thought that since only experiences could matter, the machine would be all right after all.


Matthew Woodring Stover

Each of us is the sum of our scars.

[Blade of Tyshalle]


If my memory ever gets wiped I hope the recollection of my former self doesn’t depend on you people.


Pierre Bosquet

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre

[“It is magnificent, but it is not war.” Reportedly spoken during the Crimean War by the French Marshal Bosquet, upon hearing of the events of the infamous “Charge of the light brigade.”]

Louis XIV

Ultima ratio regum

[“Last argument of kings.” Stamped on French cannons during the reign of King Louis XIV.]


NT is a weak form of unix like a doughnut is a weak form of a particle accelerator.


Samuel Shem

Once, when I mentioned this to second-year medical students, one raised his hand, “We learned empathy already.” What? “Yes, last year in interviewing. Empathy is when you repeat the last three words the patient says and nod your head.”

[Harvard Medical School commencement, 2009]

Samuel Shem

[1] I make my patients feel like they’re still part of life, part of some grand nutty scheme instead of alone with their diseases. With me, they still feel part of the human race.

[2] You’ve always perched yourself at a slight angle to the universe.

[Assorted, from The House of God]

Joe Connelly

I usually try to imagine what a regular person would do, someone more in tune with the supplies and demands of human nature, and once I realize a regular person would never find himself in this position, I try to think like a hero in the movies.

[Bringing Out the Dead, novel]

Paul Schrader

It’s not your fault. No one asked you to suffer. That was your idea.

[Bringing Out the Dead, film]

Atul Gawande

At times, in medicine, you feel you are inside a colossal and impossibly complex machine whose gears will turn for you only according to their own arbitrary rhythm. The notion that human caring, the effort to do better for people, might make a difference can seem hopelessly naive. But it isn’t.



The modest merits of this good citizen may, so far as the public are concerned, be summed up in the simple statement that he has saved upwards of 30 lives from drowning. When we consider what are the awards usually apportioned by mankind to the destroyers of their species, the presentation of a gold watch and chain, accompanied by a framed parchment from the Royal Humane Society, in the precincts of a disused School Room, must appear an inadequate acknowledgment of services so signal. But we are new at the business and shall improve as we go forward.

[Town of Sunderland, recognizing Harry Watts for the individual rescue of thirty-six near-drownings. Quoted in Life of Harry Watts: Sixty years sailor and diver]

Alfred Spencer

There is a hackneyed platitude to the effect that virtue is its own reward, but it is safe to say that the average man does not find such a result sufficient. It might be so in an ideal world inhabited by ideal people, but in this work-a-day world, in addition to the approval of our conscience, we love to have the approval of our fellows and to know that our acts are appreciated, and especially is this the case when we are actuated by altruistic motives. This is, of course, a form of vanity, but then vanity is almost a universal failing.

[Life of Harry Watts: Sixty years sailor and diver]

Jeph Jacques

Maturity is knowing you were an idiot in the past. Wisdom is knowing that you’ll be an idiot in the future. And common sense is knowing that you should try not to be an idiot now.

[Questionable Content]

Friedrich Nietzsche

How much of personal timidity and vulnerability does this masquerade of a sickly recluse betray?

[From Beyond Good and Evil, on Spinoza]

Friedrich Nietzsche

Two different things wanteth the true man: danger and diversion. Therefore wanteth he woman, as the most dangerous plaything.

[Thus Spake Zaruthustra]

Anais Nin

I want to leave a scar on the world.

[Henry and June]

Richard Linklater

[1] As the pattern gets more intricate and subtle, being swept along is no longer enough.

[2] Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling into a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized that — at last — something was happening to him.

[3] Exercise your human mind as thoroughly as possible, knowing it is only an exercise. Build beautiful artifacts, solve problems, explore the secrets of the physical universe, savor the input from all the senses.

[4] The trick is to combine your waking, rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams — ’cause if you can do that, you can do anything.

[5] I have but recently returned from the valley of the shadow of death. I am raptorously breathing in all the odors and essences of life. I’ve been the brink of total oblivion. I’ve remembered and ferment a desire to remember everything.

[Assorted, from Waking Life]

!Kung bushman

Why should we plant, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?

[Quoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers]

Malcolm Gladwell

He’d had to make his way alone, and no one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone.


John L Parker

You don’t even get to play unless you have already won the genetic lottery. Then you have to win the nurture lottery, then the happenstance lottery, and then just in general be incredibly lucky in every conceivable way, and then you will have earned the right to work your ass off like most civilians could never possibly imagine. Then you might — might — get to stand up there like a dodo all teary-eyed pretending you knew the words to your anthem.

[Again to Carthage]

William Faulkner

they kilt us but they ain’t whupped us yit


Leonardo DaVinci

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always want to be.

[attributed to Leonardo DaVinci]


In an apparently non-political case of imitation of Thich Quang Duc, the young son of an American officer based at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. He was seriously burned before the fire was extinguished and later could only offer the explanation that “I wanted to see what it was like.”

[Wikipedia on Thich Quang Duc]

Eric Weinberg

I love you and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

[Scrubs, “My Words of Wisdom”]

Prentice Penny

Why do I want to be a doctor? Well... because doctors give people second chances. And we all deserve a second chance.

[Scrubs, “Our Couples”]

Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

You need to resign yourself to the awkwardness of life. Only if you find peace within yourself will you find true connection with others.

[Before Sunset]

Chris Adrian

It seemed a marvel to her that any mortal should suffer for lack of love, and yet she had never known a mortal who didn’t feel unloved. There was enough love just in this ugly hallway, she thought, that no one should ever feel the lack of it again. She peered at the parents, imagining their hearts like machines, manufacturing surfeit upon surfeit of love for their children, and then wondered how something could be so awesome and so utterly powerless.

[“A Tiny Feast,” The New Yorker, April 20, 2009]

Carolyn Delaney

He always said if there was any way he could help someone, he would.

[On her late husband Joe Delaney, killed rescuing three children from drowning; quoted by CollegeFootball.org (now unavailable)]

Joe Posnanski

He had track-star speed, but what caught you was the way he attacked bigger men, ran fearlessly through tiny fractures of daylight.

[On Joe Delaney, from NepaChiefs.com (now unavailable)]


I think I am in love.
And I don’t know if I want to be.
I am kind of scared.


Michael Allin

It is difficult to associate these horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, the knights of Europe, the samurai... they worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.

[Enter the Dragon]

David Mamet

Those who have “something to fall back on” invariably fall back on it. They intended to all along. That’s why they provided themselves with it. But those with no alternative see the world differently.


William James

[1] We find hope satisfactory.

[2] As they stand, they remind one of Hegel’s man who wanted “fruit,” but rejected cherries, pears, and grapes, because they were not fruit in the abstract. We offer them the full quart-pot, and they cry for the empty quart-capacity.

[Assorted, from The Meaning of Truth]

Neil Gaiman

He was close enough that Shadow could see his face: old but contented, the face of a man who had sipped life’s vinegar and found it, by and large, to be mostly whiskey, and good whiskey at that.

[American Gods]

Mark Twight

Can you feel how empty and hollow your days are, how devoid of meaning? Have you forgotten what it’s like to really live a day that fulfills you deeply as a human being?

[From the old Gym Jones website]

Joe Simpson

It seemed, sometimes, fleetingly, you could come close to the ineffable edge of perfection when it all goes to glory for the briefest of moments, an inarticulate moment, that leaves you with a vulnerable shattered sense of wonderment. It was life enhancing: pure emotion.

[On mountaineering, from The Beckoning Silence]

Eli Attie

I would rather spend my life close to the birds than waste it wishing I had wings.

[House, “Dying Changes Everything”]

David Shore

There’s no cure for dying.

[House, “One Day, One Room”]


May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.

[Oath of Maimonides]

Max Ehrmann

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.


Samuel Gross

The person, although severely injured, congratulates himself upon having made an excellent escape, and flatters himself that he is not only in no danger, but that he will soon be well; in fact, to look at him one would hardly suppose, at first sight, that there was anything serious the matter with him; the countenance appears well, the breathing is good, the pulse is but little affected, except that it is too soft and frequent, and the mind, calm and collected, possesses its wonted vigor, the patient asking and answering questions very much as in health. But a more careful examination soon serves to show that deep mischief is lurking in the system; that the machinery of life has been rudely unhinged, and the whole system profoundly shocked; in a word, that the nervous fluid has been exhausted, and that there is not enough power in the constitution to reproduce and maintain it.

[A System of Surgery, on shock]

Wilfred Trotter

Disease often tells its secrets in a casual parenthesis.

[The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter]

Eric Roston

Carbon structures life. Oxygen ignites it.

[The Carbon Age]


It was a common practice to light a bonfire close to any shipwreck that could not be rescued immediately. This was done to let the surfmen have enough light to see the shipwreck, help keep the watching surfman warm, and let the survivors of the shipwreck know that they had not been abandoned.

[Wikipedia article on Joshua James]