Quintessential Quotations

Writing


Advice on Characters

Never whilst you live, when you have a story to tell, bring in a parcel of people who have nothing to do with the beginning, middle, or end of it.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter XIV

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Arranging One's Ideas

Habits of literary composition are perfectly familiar to me. One of the rarest of all the intellectual accomplishments that a man can possess, is the grand faculty of arranging his ideas. Immense privilege! I possess it. Do you?

Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White, The Third Epoch, The Story Concluded by Walter Hartright

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Art and Life

My dear, you will be woefully disappointed, if in my story you expect any thing like a novel. I once heard a general say, that nothing was less like a review than a battle; and I can tell you, that nothing is more unlike a novel than real life. Of all lives, mine has been the least romantic.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter III

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Coining New Words

If so be there are abstruse things which absolutely require new terms to make them clear, it will be in your power to frame words which never sounded in the ears of a cinctured Cethegus, and free pardon will be granted if the license be used modestly . . . Each generation has been allowed, and will be allowed still to issue words that bear the mint-mark of the day.

Horace
Ars Poetica 48 (Wickham), quoted in footnote to p. 158, year 1750, of Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

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Crime Writers

They had wanted, not a series of case-histories, with statistics and quotations from authorities, but a sparkling recital of my own personal adventures in the murk of London's underworld . . . I realized for the second time that writers on crime are not as other authors. They are expected to have blood on their fingers.

James Byrom
Or Be He Dead

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Critics

My dear Belinda, if you will not quarrel with the quality, you may have what quantity of praise you please.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter IV

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Exaggeration

Sir, it will be much exaggerated in popular talk: for, in the first place, the common people do not accurately adapt their thoughts to the objects; nor, secondly, do they accurately adapt their words to their thoughts: they do not mean to lie; but, taking no pains to be exact, they give you very false accounts. If anything rocks at all, they say it rocks like a cradle; and in this way they go on.

Dr. Sam: Johnson
14 September 1777, in Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

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Explaining Things

Abba Ammon asked Abba Sisoes, saying, "When I read in the Book my mind wisheth to arrange the words so that there may be an answer to any question." The old man said unto him, "This is unnecessary, for only purity of heart is required. From this it ariseth that a man should speak without overmuch care."

Palladius
The Book of Paradise, quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

There is a subtle but profound difference between being abstract and being vague.

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

Special knowledge is a terrible disadvantage. It leads you in a way too far, so that you cannot explain any more.

C. G. Jung
Analytical Psychology, Its Theory and Practice (quoted in Myths, Dreams, and Religion, ed. Joseph Campbell, p. 7)

Technical writing is a form of brain damage caused by an over-development of the corpus callosum—a sort of cerebral cross-wiring. It manifests itself as a compulsion to explain complex things so that mere mortals can understand them.

William Horton
Writer's Pocket Almanack

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Fans and Lovers

And all in you is youth, and you make new,

By quoting them, old things I made for you.

Vladimir Nabokov
Pale Fire (Canto Four)

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Great Writing

Style and structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.

Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters, 1940-1977, ed. Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew J. Bruccoli

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Language and Grammar

Language is a natural production, living and growing, as much as a tree or flower; and no natural development can be called a corruption. The only corrupters of dialects, that I know of, are the literary men who 'improve nature,' by writing them, not as they are, but according to their notions of what they ought to be — i.e. in accordance with the 'rules of grammar' derived from modern languages . . . As though grammar were anything but a systematic statement of usage! What would be thought of a botanist who should mutilate his specimens of flowers and plants to improve their symmetry, or make them fit into pre-shaped artificial systems, instead of following nature, and drawing his laws and systems from her!

Prince L. L. Bonaparte
Quoted in Magical Alphabets by Nigel Pennick

As normative, grammar tends to confine itself to a verbal analysis of How the King Talks, and, though sometimes suggestive, applies no real critical apparatus. In particular, it is not realized that a Usage is only Good for a given universe of discourse, and the order of these different classes of occasions on which words may be used has never been seriously approached.

C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards
The Meaning of Meaning

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Letter Writing

The substance of a lady's letter, it has been said, always is comprised in the postscript.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter XX

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Morals and Manners

But I begin where I ought to end, with my moral, which I dare say you are not impatient to anticipate—I never read or listened to a moral at the end of a story in my life—manners for me, and morals for those that like them.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter III

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Obscurity and Deceit

Do, as a concession to my poor wits, Lord Darlington, just explain to me what you really mean.— "I think I had better not, Duchess. Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out."

Oscar Wilde
Lady Windermere's Fan, quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Craft must have clothes, but truth loves to go naked.

Thomas Fuller

It is double the pleasure to deceive the deceiver.

Jean de la Fontaine

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On Reading

You read, I see!—I did not know you were a reading girl.—So did I once! but I never read now. Books only spoil the originality of genius. Very well for those who can't think for themselves—but when one has made up one's opinions, there is no use in reading.

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter XVII

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Passion for Writing

I necessarily must have the passion to write this, and you must have the passion to condemn me; we are both equally foolish, both toys in the hands of destiny. Your nature is to do ill, mine is to love truth, and to publish it in spite of you.

Voltaire
Dictionnaire Philosophique, quoted in Prigogine and Stengers, Order Out of Chaos

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Persuasion

Disputes are multiplied, as if everything was uncertain, and these disputes are managed with the greatest warmth, as if everything was certain. Amidst all this bustle 'tis not reason which gains the prize, but eloquence; and no man need ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favorable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and sword; but by the trumpeters, drummers, and musicians of the army.

David Hume
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

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Telling Too Much

Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire. [The secret of being boring is to tell everything.]

Maria Edgeworth
Belinda, Chapter XXXI. (Quote translated by Eilean Ni Chuilleanain.)

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The Limits of Language

An Englishman, a Frenchman, a German, and an Italian cannot by any means bring themselves to think quite alike, at least on subjects that involve any depth of sentiment: they have not the verbal means.

Prof. J. S. Mackenzie
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

A definition, if it is to be called perfect, must explain the inmost essence of a thing, and must take care not to substitute for this any of its properties.

Benedict de Spinoza
On the Improvement of the Understanding

Learning is in activity. Learning through words alone is minor activity.

Maghribi
quoted in Idries Shaw, The Way of the Sufi

The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever receives a name must be an entity or being, having an independent existence of its own: and if no real entity answering to the name could be found, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something peculiarly abstruse and mysterious, too high to be an object of sense.

J. S. Mill
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

All life comes back to the question of our speech—the medium through which we communicate.

Henry James
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Show a man too many camel's bones, or show them to him too often, and he will not be able to recognize a camel when he comes across a live one.

Miraza Ahsan of Tabriz
quoted in Robert E. Ornstein, The Mind Field, Chapter 8

Nothing is more usual than for philosophers to encroach on the province of grammarians, and to engage in disputes of words, while they imagine they are handling controversies of the deepest importance and concern.

Hume
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Error is never so difficult to be destroyed as when it has its root in Language.

Bentham
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Language is a labyrinth of paths. Your approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
quoted in Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll, Philosophy Made Simple

Scientific controversies constantly resolve themselves into differences about the meaning of words.

Prof. A. Schuster
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

We have to make use of language, which is made up necessarily of preconceived ideas. Such ideas unconsciously held are the most dangerous of all.

Poincare
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Philosophy is battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations, paragraph 109

By the grammatical structure of a group of languages everything runs smoothly for one kind of philosophical system, whereas the way is as it were barred for certain other possibilities.

Friedrich Nietzsche
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Since words are a part of the imagination—that is, since we form many conceptions in accordance with confused arrangements of words in the memory, dependent on particular bodily conditions,—there is no doubt that words may, equally with the imagination, be the cause of many and great errors, unless we keep strictly on our guard. . . . Many things we affirm and deny, because the nature of words allows us to do so, though the nature of things does not. While we remain unaware of this fact, we may easily mistake falsehood for truth.

Benedict de Spinoza
On the Improvement of the Understanding

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The Power of Words

He who shall duly consider these matter will find that there is a certain bewitchery or fascination in words, which makes them operate with a force beyond what we can naturally give account of.

South
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

Le mot, qu'on le sache, est un etre vivant . . . le mot est le verbe, et le verbe est Dieu. [ The word, if one only knew it, is a living being . . . the word is the Word, and the Word is God. ]

Victor Hugo
quoted in C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning

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The Ultimate Disclaimer

The Guide is definitive. Reality is often inaccurate.

Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

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Will Power

A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.

Dr. Sam: Johnson
March 1750, in Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

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Writing

It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter, with ease, cannot write ill.

Jane Austen
Pridge and Prejudice, Chapter X

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