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Words to Live By

Compiled by Terry Morse

All quotations attributed to Terry Morse or to Ambrose Morse © Terry L. Morse. All rights reserved. Fair use, with proper attribution, is permitted.

Last modified: 18 September 2018

Table of Contents

On Insects

“Another village friend of ours dislikes butterflies. ‘To me,’ she says, ‘they are just flying caterpillars, worms with wings.’”– Edwin Way Teale, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm


“Now what sort of man or woman or monster would stroke a centipede I have ever seen? ‘And here is my good big centipede!’ If such a man exists, I say kill him without more ado. He is a traitor to the human race.” –William Burroughs (b. 1914), U.S. author. The Western Lands, ch. 4 (1987).


“This is not . . . the age of man, however great his superiority in size and intelligence; it is literally the age of insects.” – W. C. Allee (1885-1955), U.S. zoologist. The Social Life of Insects, 1939.


“Sir, there is a small, multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.” – Mr. Spock, Star Trek


“A few years ago a gentleman came up to me when I was mounting wasps at a picnic table in a Missouri state park. ‘What is the purpose of a wasp?’ he asked. Had I been a lepidopterist, he doubtless would have asked the purpose of a butterfly, though I am not sure what he would have asked had I been an anthropologist.” – Howard Ensign Evans, Life on a Little Known Planet Ch. 13: Is Nature Necessary?


“. . . I doubt very much that the ant, which moves in a groove, is mentally the superior of the unsocial flea. The last is certainly the most teachable; and if fleas were generally domesticated and made pets of, probably there would be as many stories about their marvellous intelligence and fidelity to man as we now hear about our overpraised ‘friend’ the dog.” – W.H. Hudson, The Naturalist in La Plata Ch. X: Mosquitoes and Parasite Problems.

 

“God made flowers for Insect’s pleasure, not Man’s.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

On Humans

“An inability to stay quiet . . . is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.” – Walter Bagehot, 1826-1877, Physics and Politics (1869), ch. 5.


“I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room.” – Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, Pensees (1670), no. 139.


“Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.” – Laurens van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958), ch. 3.


Tiger got to hunt,

Bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”


Tiger got to sleep,

Bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.

– The Books of Bokonon (from Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

On Nature

“I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719


“To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” – Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences (1854).


“In the study of nature, we never exhaust the possibilities of an area; the area exhausts the possibilities in us.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year.


“It takes days of practice to learn the art of sauntering. Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace.” - Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: July 14.


“It is a great art to saunter.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Journal (1906), April 26, 1841.


“Nearness to nature . . . keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers.” – Ohiyesa, 1858-1939 (Charles Alexander Eastman), The Soul of the Indian (1911).


“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of it plain.”

– Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Journal, October 22, 1839.


“Nature is so uncomfortable. Grass is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful insects.” – Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying (1909).


“Botany, n. The science of vegetablesthose that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devils Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 19.


“There is always a greater love. Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: April 28.


“Nature is shy and noncommittal in a crowd. To learn her secrets, visit her alone or with a single friend, at most. Everything evades you, everything hides, even your thoughts escape you, when you walk in a crowd.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: May 4.

 

“A barnacle is a little shrimplike animal standing on its head within a limestone house and kicking its food into its mouth with its feet.” – Anonymous, in Nature Discoveries with a Hand Lens, by Richard Headstrom (p. 357)

 

“You can walk for hours on the beach with no sense of loneliness, as a dog may walk with its master, whose company is an end in itself.” – Carlton Ogburn, Jr., The Winter Beach, p. 148.

 

“Edible, adj. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 36.

 

“In my experience from trapping many mammal species, injured animals survive far better when immediately released and left untreated in the wild than when sentimental humans attempt to ‘hospitalize’ them.” – Louise H. Emmons, Tupai: A Field Study of Bornean Treeshrews, p. 230

On Walking

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862. 2


“It is a great art to saunter.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Journal (1906), April 26, 1841.


“It takes days of practice to learn the art of sauntering. Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: July 14.


“The cheapest way to travel, and the way to travel the furthest in the shortest distance, is to go afoot . . .” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, ”A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.”


“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again - if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862. 2


“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Life Without Principle (1863)


“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mohandis K. Ghandi, 1869-1948. 2


“Happy is the man who has acquired the love of walking for its own sake!” – W.J. Holland, “Walking as a Fine Art,” in The Moth Book: A Guide to the Moths of North America.


“The swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854) 2

Right Livelihood

“In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), I. Economy.


“What a pitiable thing it is that our civilization can do no better for us than to make us slaves to indoor life, so that we have to go and take artificial exercise in order to preserve our health.” – George Wharton James, 1908.


“The cheapest way to travel, and the way to travel the furthest in the shortest distance, is to go afoot . . .” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, ”A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.”


“The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection, even though it consist in nothing more than in the pounding of an old piano, is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star.” – Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865-1946, Afterthoughts (1931).

 

“Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it’s always the right thing to do.” – Don Lauer

 

“Adopt the character of the twisting octopus, which takes on the appearance of the nearby rock. Now follow in this direction, now turn a different hue.” – Theognis, fl. c. 545 B.C., Elegies, l. 215.


“It is better to be pessimistic and find out you are wrong, than to be optimistic and find out nothing.” – Howard Pattee, in S.W. Fox (ed.), The Origins of Prebiological Systems and their Molecular Matrices (1963) 4


“The greatest power available to man is not to use it.” – Meister Eckhart, c. 1260-c. 1327, quoted in Nature 245: 279, 1973.


“A longing to be primitive is a disease of culture.” – George Santayana, 1863-1952. 2


“I’d drop out of the Rat Race, but there's a chance I might win.” – Anonymous


“The conservative has but little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions.” – J.B.S. Haldane, 1892-1964, Daedalus, or Science and the Future (1923).


“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” – S.J. Harris. 4


“It has been said ... that there are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold, or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice upon a dark night.” – Ernest Bramah, 1868-1942


“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again - if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862. 2


“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Life Without Principle (1863).


“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mohandas K. Ghandi, 1869-1948. 2


“Happy is the man who has acquired the love of walking for its own sake!” – W.J. Holland, “Walking as a Fine Art,” in The Moth Book: A Guide to the Moths of North America.


“The fate of the country . . . does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Slavery in Massachusetts (1854).


“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), 5. Solitude.


“A man should always consider how much he has more than he wants; and secondly, how much more unhappy he might be than he really is.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, The Spectator, no. 574, July 30, 1714.

Environment

“Environmentalists may be hell to live with, but we make great ancestors.” – Andy Kerr, Oregon Environmentalist


“The long fight to save wild beauty represents democracy at its best. It requires citizens to practice the hardest of virtues - self-restraint. Why cannot I take as many trout as I want from a stream? Why cannot I bring home from the woods a rare wildflower? Because if I do, everybody in this democracy should be able to do the same. My act will be multiplied endlessly. To provide protection for wildlife and wild beauty, everyone has to deny himself proportionately. Special privilege and conservation are ever at odds.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: February 2.


“It is certain that God attaches more importance to a man than to a lion, but I do not know that we can be sure that he prefers one man to the entire species of lions.” – Gottfried von Leibnitz (1646-1716), Theodicee (1710).


On wilderness and development: “The Majority already has its roads and hotels. Only a small minority enjoy art galleries, libraries, and universities. Yet no one would suggest making these facilities into bowling alleys, circuses, or hot dog stands just because more people would use them. Quality has a claim as well as quantity.” – Robert Marshall


“The Endangered Species Act doesn't need to be balanced by economic considerations; the Endangered Species Act is the balance.” (With absolutely no apologies to Rush Limbaugh) – Terry Morse, 1950-

 

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River. (NY: Ballantine, 1970; p. xix)

 

“To argue that we don't need to preserve a species like the marbled murrelet in California, Oregon, and Washington because there are plenty of them in Canada and Alaska (which turns out not to be true) misses an important point: Allowing them to disappear from California, Oregon, and Washington impoverishes the environment of those states. That is important, too.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

 

“Wind chimes: New Age noise pollution.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Devils Dictionary of the Environment.

Noise

“An inability to stay quiet . . . is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.” – Walter Bagehot, 1826-1877, Physics and Politics (1869), ch. 5.


“I have often lamented that we cannot close our ears with as much ease as we can our eyes.” – Richard Steele (1672-1729)


“Snowmobiles, jet skis, dirt bikes, ATVs - oh for the days when people lived lives of quiet desperation.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

On Private Property Rights

“Property has its duties as well as its rights.” – Thomas Drummond (inventor of limelight), letter to the Earl of Donoughmore, 22 May 1838.


“Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” – Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U.S. President. Speech at Osawatomie, August 31, 1910.

 

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River. (NY: Ballantine, 1970; p. xix)

All Around Wisdom

“They are ill discoverers that think there is no land when they can see nothing but sea.” – Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, The Advancement of Learning, vii, 5.


“Never go to sea with two chronometers; take one or three.” – Anonymous, in Frederick P. Brooks, The Mythical Man-month (1975). 4


“Never do scientific research with two statisticians; take one or three.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Research (2018)


“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Journal (1906), November 11, 1854.


“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, Essays: First Series (1841). Self-reliance.


“I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.” – Ulysses S. Grant, U.S. President, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1869.


“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, Puddnhead Wilson. Puddn'head Wilson’s Calendar, chapter 1.


“Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910.

 

“Referendum, n. A law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 160.


“Never underestimate the power of a shnook.” – Boris Badenov (cartoon character, from Rocky and Bullwinkle)


“It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, Following the Equator (1897), ch. 45.


“When the going gets tough, it’s the tough who make it that way.” – Laurie Anderson


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005, The Curse of Lono.


“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), I. Economy.


“There’s a seeker born every minute, and two to take him down the path.” – Swami Beyondananda (Steve Bhaerman)


Cynic, n., a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.– Ambrose Bierce, 1842-c. 1914, The Devils Dictionary (1906)


The meek shall be left holding the bag.– Mark Brice


Love means always having to say youre sorry.– Barbara Denman


“It's always something.” – Gilda Radner, 1946-1989


“Live as long as you please, you will strike nothing off the time you will have to spend dead.” – Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 1533-1592, Essays (1580), bk. 1, ch. 201


“Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.” – Sir Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, Essays: Of Cunning1

 

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, quoted in The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, by Paul Krugman (NY: WW Norton, 2005, p. 210).

 

Optimist: One who sees the glass as 1/4 full rather than 3/4 empty (cf. Pollyanna).” – Pastor Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Bonus-Driven Life: A Devil’s Dictionary of Management.

 

Pessimist: One who sees the glass as 1/8 empty rather than 7/8 full.” – Pastor Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Bonus-Driven Life: A Devil’s Dictionary of Management.

 

“If men can run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a little noose around your neck?” – Linda Ellerbee, U.S. broadcast journalist.7

 

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735.1

 

“Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.” – James Thurber, Fables for Our Times. The Shrike and the Chipmunks (1940).1

 

“The early worm gets eaten by the bird.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, Poor Ambrose’s Almanac.

 

“Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.” – Robert A. Heinlein (Source: IMDB)


“Fantasy-based Management, n., The notion that you can get blood out of a turnip; i.e., that you can repeatedly cut workers and hours and still expect to accomplish the same amount of work, or more.” – Pastor Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Bonus-Driven Life: A Devil’s Dictionary of Management.

 

“Every King needs a Court Jester, to let him know when he has gone too far.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, Poor Ambrose’s Almanac.

 

“Rome wasn't sacked in a day.” – Ambrose, King of the Morsigoths (fl. 400 A.D.)

 

“How Not to Get Nervous: Before you attend an important occasion, apply spit to your ear lobe and then breathe in deeply through your nostrils. Then go out. Kick every object you come across. This is the secret.– Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719), The Hagakure (Hidden Behind the Leaves)


“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” – Traditional Zen koan.


“If you meet the Social Influencer on the road, kill it.” – Zen koan for Millennials.

Cleanliness

“Cleanliness is . . . next to godliness.” – John Wesley, Sermon 93, On Dress.1

 

“Cleanliness is next to impossible.” – Anonymous

 

“A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.” – Anonymous

 

“[N]o scientist or doctor worth his or her salt would be caught dead with a clean office. Tidy offices bespeak misplaced priorities.” –Joshua Spanogle, Isolation Ward: A Novel of Medical Suspense. NY: Delacorte, 2006, p. 168.

Science and Disputation

“Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.” – Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), Animal Automatism (1874).


“The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, quoted in The Sciences, September-October 1989.


“Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.” – Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection . . ., Chapter 15: Recapitulation and Conclusion.


“First get your facts; and then you can distort them at your leisure.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, The Bee,” in What is Man and Other Essays .


“The general public has long been divided into two parts: those who think science can do anything, and those who are afraid it will.” – Dixy Lee Ray, former U.S. Governor, New Scientist 59 (853): 14, 5 July 1973.


“Facts are ventriloquist’s dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere, they say nothing, or talk nonsense.” – Aldous Huxley, 1894-1963, Time Must Have a Stop (1945).

 

“Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but they don't have a right to their own facts.” – James Loewen, historian, Legacy 18(5), September/October 2007, p. 11.


“All a scientist has is his integrity.” – Olaus Murie, quoted in Mardie Murie, Two in the Far North .


“Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends on what you put in; and as the grandest mill in the world will not extract wheat flour from peascods, so pages of formulae will not get a definite result out of loose data.” – Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 25: 38, 1869.


On the power of linear extrapolation: “Since my own day on the Mississippi, cutoffs have been made at Hurricane Island; at island 100; at Napoleon, Arkansas; at Walnut Bend; and at Council Bend. These shortened the river, in the aggregate, sixty-seven miles. In my own time a cutoff was made at American Bend, which shortened the river ten miles or more. Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cutoff of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cutoff. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present. . . . In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or odiotic (sic), can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. – Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Life on the Mississippi. NY: Airmont Publishing, 1965, pp. 101-102.

 

“If you want to get people to believe something really, really stupid, just stick a number on it. Even the silliest absurdities seem plausible the moment that they're expressed in numerical terms.” – Charles Seife, Proofiness: How You’re Being Fooled by the Numbers. NY: Penguin, 2010.


“To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a postmortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of.” – Sir R.A. Fisher, 1890-1962, Indian Statistical Congress , Sankhya, ca. 1938.


“Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money of them.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, The Bee,” in What is Man and Other Essays .


“Our disputants put me in mind of the skuttle fish, that when he is unable to extricate himself, blackens all the water about him, till he becomes invisible.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, The Spectator, no. 476, September 5, 1712.


“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.” – George Bernard Shaw


“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules.” – Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), Darwiniana. The Origin of Species (1860)


“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” – Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, Introduction to The Descent of Man (1871)


“You can prove almost anything with the evidence of a small enough segment of time. How often, in any search for truth, the answer of the minute is positive, the answer of the hour qualified, the answers of the year contradictory.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalists Year: January 6.


“I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.” – Charles Darwin, 1809-1882.

 

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, quoted in The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, by Paul Krugman (NY: WW Norton, 2005, p. 210).

 

[A]ny scientist who [can't] explain to an eight-year-old what he [is] doing [is] a charlatan.” – Dr. Felix Hoenikker, in Cats Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. NY: Dell, 1963, p. 32.

 

On pronouncing biological names: “Deinotherium, n. An extinct pachyderm that flourished when the Pterodactyl was in fashion.  The latter was a native of Ireland, its name being pronounced Terry Dactyl or Peter O’Dactyl, as the man pronouncing it may chance to have heard it spoken or seen it printed.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devils Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 36.

 

“Geology, n. The science of the earth’s crust–to which, doubtless, will be added that of its interior whenever a man shall come up garrulous out of a well. The geological formations of the globe already noted are catalogued thus: The Primary, or lower one, consists of rocks, bones of mired mules, gas-pipes, miners’ tools, antique statues minus the nose, Spanish doubloons and ancestors. The Secondary is largely made up of red worms and moles. The Tertiary comprises railway tracks, patent pavements, grass, snakes, mouldy boots, beer bottles, tomato cans, intoxicated citizens, garbage, anarchists, snap-dogs and fools.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devils Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 65.

 

Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge, the more likely they are to think so.” – Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, 1973.7

 

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “Thats funny . . .” – Isaac Asimov 7

 

“Animals studied by Americans rush about frantically, with an incredible display of hustle and pep, and at last achieve the desired result by chance. Animals observed by Germans sit still and think, and at last evolve the solution out of their inner consciousness.” – Lord Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)4

 

“There is no more convincing proof of the truth of a comprehensive theory than its power of absorbing and finding a place for new facts, and its capability of interpreting phenomena which had been previously looked upon as unaccountable anomalies. Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances among Animals, excerpted in The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History, ed. by Willliam Beebe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944, p. 108.

Books

“A book is like a mirror. If a monkey looks into it no apostle looks out.” – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, 1742-1799. 4


“A big leather-bound volume makes an ideal razorstrap. A thin book is useful to stick under a table with a broken caster to steady it. A large, flat atlas can be used to cover a window with a broken pane. And a thick, old-fashioned heavy book with a clasp is the finest thing in the world to throw at a noisy cat.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910.


“I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.” – Groucho Marx, 1895-1977.


“Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, The Spectator, no. 166, September 10, 1711.


“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), 3. Reading.


“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), 3. Reading.


“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, Walden (1854), 3. Reading.


“A reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure until he knows whether the writer of it be a black man or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, The Spectator, no. 1, March 1, 1711.


“It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door, 1908.7

 

“[On e-books and Kindle] Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry. – Ray Bradbury, Paris Review:The Art of Fiction No. 203, http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury

On Writing (and Reading)

“I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (1657), no. 16.


“The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910, Letter to George Bainton (October 15, 1888).


“Books on nature seldom mention wind; they are written behind stoves.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River. (NY: Ballantine, 1970; p. 97)


“ I write every paragraph four times: once to get my meaning down, once to put in everything I left out, once to take out everything that seems unnecessary, and once to make the whole thing sound as if I had only just thought of it.” – Adolph Murie, The Grizzlies of Mount McKinley (quoted in The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook, by John A Murray, San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, 1995; p. 130)


“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” – Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, Essays: Of Studies1


“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, Tattler (1709-1711), no. 1471

 

“In any age, careful users of language will make distinctions; careless users will blur them. We can tell, by the words someone uses and the way they go together, something about the education and background of that person.” – Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 196.

 

“The mere presence of a word in the dictionary’s pages does not mean that the word is in all respects fit for print. The dictionary merely describes how speakers of English use the language . . . That is why, in the publishing world, it is generally necessary to consult a usage guide in addition to a dictionary. The standards of good usage make demands on writers and editors, whereas common usage can excuse any number of slipshod expressions.” – Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 196.

 

“Goose, n. A bird that supplies quills for writing. These, by some occult process of nature, are penetrated and suffused with various degrees of the birds intellectual energies and emotional character, so that when inked and drawn mechanically across paper by a person called an author, there results a very fair and accurate transcript of the fowls thought and feeling. The difference in geese, as discovered by this ingenious method, is considerable: many are found to have only trivial and insignificant powers, but some are seen to be very great geese indeed.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devils Dictionary. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 68.

 

No one in the world speaks blemishless grammar; no one has ever written it–no one, either in the world or out of it (taking the Scriptures for evidence on the latter point); therefore it would not be fair to exact grammatical perfection from the peoples of the [Mississippi] Valley; but they and all other peoples may justly be required to refrain from knowingly and purposely debauching their grammar. – Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Life on the Mississippi. NY: Airmont Publishing, 1965, p. 138.

 

In addition to having its own specialized vocabulary, academic language is more concise, using complex grammatical structures to express complicated ideas in as few words as possible. This is especially true when it comes to scientific writing.– Strategic Education Research Partnership, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100422153758.htm.

General Humor

“I wasn’t kissing her, I was just whispering in her mouth.” – Chico Marx, 1891-1961, quoted in Marx Brothers Scrapbook, by Groucho Marx and Richard J. Anobile.


“I’m trying to think, but nothing happens.” – Curly Howard (The Three Stooges)


“With friends like these, who needs enemas?” – Edward Abbey


“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910.


“Ideas: Headaches with pictures.” – Phillip J. Fry, Futurama (television cartoon by Matt Groening)

 

Wind is caused by the trees waving their branches. – Ogden Nash (1902-1971)4

 

“The grand leap of the whale up the Fall of Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen it, as one of the finest spectacles in nature.” – Benjamin Franklin, satiric 1765 letter to the editor of a London newspaper.

 

“Lighthouse, n. A tall building on the seashore in which the government maintains a lamp and the friend of a politician.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, p. 112

 

“I say, when life gives you a lemon, wing it right back and add some lemons of your own!” – Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes.

 

“Ignorance is bliss. Follow your bliss.” – Ambrose J(oseph) C(ampbell) Morse, 1706-1913, Poor Ambrose’s Almanac of Modern American Culture.

 

“If Yogi Berra was alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Devil’s Dictionary of Sports.

Robots Say the Darnedest Things! Small declaiming robot image

 

[I find myself feeling this way about many things in life.]


“Don't try to engage my enthusiasm because I haven’t got one.” – Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams


“Life, don’t talk to me about life.” – Marvin the Paranoid Android, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, ch. 11.


“The first ten million years were the worst, and the second ten millions years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline.” – Marvin the Paranoid Android, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams, ch. 18.

Me

[Modesty failed to prevent me from including these pearls of wisdom.] :-)


“Think diuturnally, act contemporaneously.” – Terry Morse, 1950-


“I’m mad as heck and I’m thinking seriously about not taking it anymore.” – Terry Morse, 1950-


“Purists are the Jiminy Crickets to Society’s Pinocchio.” – Terry Morse, 1950-


“Snowmobiles, jet skis, dirt bikes, ATVs - oh for the days when people lived lives of quiet desperation.” – Terry Morse, 1950-


Zen koan for moderns: What is the sound of one velcro opening? – Terry Morse, 1950-


“The Endangered Species Act doesn't need to be balanced by economic considerations; the Endangered Species Act is the balance.” (With absolutely no apologies to Rush Limbaugh) – Terry Morse, 1950-


“Life in the 13 American colonies was nasty, British, and short.” – Terry Morse, 1950- [Note: This is not intended to insult or offend anyone from Great Britain. It is merely a play on the words of Thomas Hobbes that came to me years ago while reading Dave Barry Slept Here, by Dave Barry. I'm surprised Dave didn't think of it himself.]


A park ranger wearing a clean uniform isn’t doing his or her job.– Terry Morse, 1950-

 

“If you have any doubt that instinct exists in humans, you need only observe the irresistible impulse of children to chase birds at the beach and pigeons in the park, or to throw rocks.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

 

“The early worm gets eaten by the bird.” – Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, Poor Ambrose’s Almanac.

 

“God made flowers for Insect’s pleasure, not Man’s.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

 

“No molehill is so insignificant that a determined and clever manager can’t turn it into a towering mountain.”– Ambrose Morse, 1706-1913, The Bonus Driven Life: A Devil’s Dictionary of Management.

Sources

1) Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th ed., by John Bartlett (Justin Kaplan, General Editor). Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

2) The Complete Walker III, by Colin Fletcher. NY: Knopf, 1984.

3) A Dictionary of Environmental Quotations, comp. by Barbara K. Rodes and Rice Odell. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

4) A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, rev. ed., comp. by Alan MacKay. Bristol: Adam Hilger, 1991.

5) The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, fourth ed., ed. by Angela Partington. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

6) The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, ed. by Tony Augarde. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

7) Speaking of Science: Notable Quotes on Science, Engineering, and the Environment, ed. by Jon Fripp, Michael Fripp, and Deborah Fripp. Eagle Rock, VA: LLH Technology Publishing, 2000.

Plus, in many instances, the original works.

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All quotations attributed to Terry Morse or to Ambrose Morse © Terry L. Morse. All rights reserved. Fair use, with proper attribution, is permitted.