Quotations

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“History may be read as the story of the magnificent action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity.” — Robert Lynd

“Perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterize our age.” — Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells

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“The mind is at its best when at play.” — J.L. Synge

In this spirit, Synge invented Vish (for “vicious circle”), a game designed to illustrate the hopeless circularity of dictionary definitions.

Each player is given a copy of the same dictionary. When the referee announces a word, each player writes it down and looks up its meaning. Then she chooses one word from the definition, writes that down and looks up its meaning. A player wins when the same word appears twice on her list.

The point is that any such list must eventually yield circularity — if it’s continued long enough, the number of words in the list will eventually exceed the total number of words in the dictionary, and a repetition must occur.

“Vish is no game for children,” Synge writes. “It destroys that basic confidence in the reasonableness of everything which gives to society whatever stability it possesses. To anyone who has played Vish, the dictionary is never the same again.”

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“The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.” — Samuel Johnson

“If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.” — Thomas Fuller

“Always leave something to wish for; otherwise you will be miserable from your very happiness.” — Baltasar Gracián

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“A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.” — Daniel Dennett

Anthropology

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“Man is a biped without feathers.” — Plato

“Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love all year round, madam; that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals.” — Pierre Beaumarchais

“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.” — Samuel Butler

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.” — William Hazlitt

“Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.” — Joyce Carol Oates

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“One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.” — Will Durant

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“Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this.” — Flaubert

Misc

  • Christopher Lee is Ian Fleming’s cousin.
  • £12.12s.8d = 12128 farthings
  • ii is real.
  • Shouldn’t Juliet have asked, “Wherefore art thou Montague?”
  • “Of soup and love, the first is the best.” — Thomas Fuller

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“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” — Lewis Carroll

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“Madam, it is the hardest thing in the world to be in love, and yet attend to business. A gentleman asked me this morning, ‘What news from Lisbon?’ and I answered, ‘She is exquisitely handsome.'” — Richard Steele

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“I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.” — Thoreau

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“It is equally pointless to weep because we won’t be alive a hundred years from now as that we were not here a hundred years ago.” — Montaigne

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“People are usually more firmly convinced that their opinions are precious than that they are true.” — George Santayana

Dress Blues

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“All this buttoning and unbuttoning.”

— Anonymous 18th-century suicide note, cited in The Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations

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“A kitten is so flexible that she is almost double. The hind parts are equivalent to another kitten with which the fore part plays. She does not discover that her tail belongs to her till you tread upon it.” — Thoreau

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“In quarrelling the truth is always lost.” — Publilius Syrus

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“People born to be hanged are safe in water.” — Mark Twain’s mother

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“My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water.” — Mark Twain

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“I know of no rule which holds so true as that we are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.” — Thoreau

Misc

  • The telephone number 266-8687 spells both AMOUNTS and CONTOUR.
  • 38856 = (38 – 85) × 6
  • CARTHORSE is an anagram of ORCHESTRA.
  • The French for paper clip is trombone.
  • “The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them.” — Samuel Butler

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“We can scarcely hate any one that we know.” — William Hazlitt

Misc

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  • Tarzan’s yell is an aural palindrome.
  • CONTAMINATED is an anagram of NO ADMITTANCE.
  • The Swiss Family Robinson have no surname (“Robinson” refers to Robinson Crusoe).
  • x2 – 2999x + 2248541 produces 80 primes from x = 1460 to 1539.
  • “A great fortune is a great slavery.” — Seneca

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“It is a curious thing that people only ask if you are enjoying yourself when you aren’t.” — Edith Nesbit

Memorable Utterances

William Buckland awoke one night and told his wife, “My dear, I believe that Cheirotherium‘s footsteps are undoubtedly testudinal.” They induced a garden tortoise to walk through a paste of flour, and the impression it left matched the fossil footprint.

On summiting the Finsteraarhorn in 1845, M. Dollfus-Ausset cried, “The soul communes in the infinite with those icy peaks which seem to have their roots in the bowels of eternity!”

In 1919 Cecilia Payne bicycled to the Cambridge Solar Physics Observatory, found a man repairing the roof, and said, “I have come to ask why the Stark effect is not observed in stellar spectra.” He was E.A. Milne, and he didn’t know. “Later he became a good friend and a great inspiration to me.”