December 6, 2017

“Know thyself.” (And thy enemy.)

Temple of Apollo at Delphi WM


“Know thyself.” (“Gnothi seauton.”)
       A saying inscribed at the Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi (4th century BC)             
       This oft-quoted advice is generally attributed to “The Seven Sages of Greece,” a group of famous Greek philosophers, statesmen and politicians. It’s one of 147 pithy sayings inscribed at Delphi.             
       Some of those sayings have been attributed to specific sages. For example, “Know thyself” has been credited to the philosopher Thales, the Greek statesman Solon, and several other Greek wise men.
       However, it’s likely that it and many other maxims inscribed at the Temple of Delphi are proverbial sayings that predate the Seven Sages.       



“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”             
       One of the most-cited quotes from the Tao Te Ching (a.k.a. the  Daodejing or Dao De Jing), a fundamental text of Taoism dating back to the 6th Century BC
       This quote is traditionally attributed to Lao-Tzu (a.k.a.  Lao-Tze or Laozi), the legendary, possibly mythical founder of Taoism who is generally credited with authorship of the Tao Te Ching.  
       Modern scholars tend to believe that text is probably a compilation of ancient Chinese wisdom, rather than the creation of one man.

 Sun Tzu the Art of War


“Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.”
        Sun-Tzu (c. 544 BC-496 BC)
        Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher             
        This is one of the most popular pieces of wisdom in his famed work The Art of War (5th century BC).
        Although “Know thy enemy” and the variation “Know thine enemy” sound like and are sometimes assumed to be Biblical in origin, there is no such quote in the Bible. (Check it yourself if you don’t believe me.)

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's


“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
       Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790)
       American author, inventor, writer, publisher and statesman
       A saying recorded the 1750 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, a yearly almanac published by Franklin under the pseudonym of “Poor Richard” Saunders.

Oscar Wilde


“Only the shallow know themselves.”
       Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
       Irish poet and playwright
       From his collection of aphorisms “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” first published in December 1894 in the one and only issue of the Oxford student magazine The Chameleon.

Andre Gide by_Laurens


“‘Know Thyself’ – a maxim as pernicious as it is odious. A person observing himself would arrest his own development. Any caterpillar who tried to ‘know himself’ would never become a butterfly.”
       André Gide (1869-1951)
       French writer and left-leaning political activist
       A comment in his 1935 book Les Nouvelles Nourritures, meaning “The New Foods” in English. That rambling, part-philosophical, part-poetic, part-political work is a followup to Gide’s Les Nourritures Terrestres, or “Foods of the Earth,” (1897).

Henry Miller


“The study of crime begins with the knowledge of oneself.”
       Henry Miller (1891-1980)
       American writer best known for his boundary-pushing, semi-autobiographical novels             
       A line from his memoir The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), an account of a year-long trip he took across the United States in 1939 after living in Paris for nearly a decade.
        After the quote above, Miller goes on to say: “All that you despise, all that you loathe, all that you reject, all that you condemn and seek to convert by punishment springs from you. The source of it is God whom you place outside, above and beyond. Crime is identification, first with God, then with your own image.”

For fun, also see the video riff on “Know thyself” that I posted on YouTube.

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October 12, 2017

“Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.”

JFK, Desert Fox, Count Ciano

“There’s and old saying that victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.”
       John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
       American Democratic politician; 35th President of the United States             
His widely-cited comment at a press conference on April 21, 1961 that helped popularize the saying in the U.S.
       This was part of Kennedy’s response to a question journalist Sander Vanocor asked about the recent, failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba. Kennedy gained credibility by acknowledging that, although the C.I.A., American military officials, and many anti-Castro Cubans were involved in planning the operation, he had approved it and accepted the ultimate responsibility for its failure.
       According to a letter JFK’s advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. sent to language maven William Safire, Kennedy didn’t recall where he’d heard the saying. However, as Safire and other quotation researchers have noted, it’s likely that Kennedy got it from watching the 1951 movie about German General Erwin Rommel, The Desert Fox.
       In the film, scripted by Nunally Johnson, Nazi Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (played by actor Leo G. Carroll), says to Rommel (actor James Mason): “You must never forget this, my dear fellow: victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.”
       Nunally adapted the line from a quote recoded in the 1950 book the film was based on, Rommel: The Desert Fox by Desmond Young. In the book, Young notes that on September 9, 1942, Count Gian Galeazzo Ciano, the son-in-law and Foreign Minister of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, wrote in his diary: “Victory always finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.”
       Some reference books about proverbs suggest that Ciano may have been using or paraphrasing an existing proverbial saying. It is sometimes given as “Victory has a thousand fathers…”  

Giants & Mondays suck

“The Giants are bad. You might have heard...It is said that victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan. I am proud to report that the Giants’ misery is unlikely ever to see the inside of the great baseball orphanage. An entire, many-armed-and-legged village of Suck has raised the 2017 Giants; there are so many sources of horror that it is difficult to choose which one to consider after any given loss.”
Claire McNear
       Staff writer for the sports and entertainment website
       In a June 27, 2017 post about the San Francisco Giants mind-bogglingly horrible season

Battle of the Sexes movie poster

“It’s been said that victory has a hundred fathers but failure is an orphan, and in a way the reverse is true of true story narratives. When they suck there’s blame to go around and a million causes — the unearned creative liberties, the important points unfairly omitted, the obvious elements unnecessarily fussed over. When they’re good it seems preordained, as if God told the story and all you had to do was write it down.”
       Vince Mancini
       American writer, comedian, podcaster and movie critic
       In his review of the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes on the website. (He put it in the “good” true story narratives category.)

Startup CEO book

“It’s never hard to collect candidates to take credit for success...The flip side of that, though, is that failure is not an orphan. Companies that have a culture of blame and denial eventually go down in flames.”
       Matt Blumberg
       American technology and marketing entrepreneur and writer
       An observation he makes in his book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business (2013)

Donald E. Abelson

“As many have claimed, every successful policy idea has a hundred mothers and fathers; every bad idea is an orphan.”
       Donald E. Abelson
       Professor & Chair of the Western University Political Science at Western university in Ontario, Canada
       In the book The Myth of the Sacred: The Charter, the Courts, and the Politics of the Constitution in Canada (2002)

Comments? Corrections? Post them on my Famous Quotations Facebook page or send me an email.

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October 2, 2017

“What does not kill me makes me stronger” – from Nietzsche and The Donald to Miley and Conan…


“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
(“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.”)
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
       German philosopher and poet
       In the “Maxims and Arrows”
section of his book Twilight of the Idols (1888)
       This famous line by Nietzsche has been translated and paraphrased in various ways, often with Whatever or That which in place of the word What, doesn’t instead of does not, and destroy or some other verb in place of kill. Nietzsche used a similar line in Ecce Homo (written 1888, published 1908), the last book he wrote before going completely insane. In the chapter of Ecce Homo titled
“Why I Am So Wise,” he wrote that a person who has “turned out well” could be recognized by certain attributes, such as a knack for exploiting bad accidents to his advantage. Regarding such a man, Nietzsche said: “What does not kill him makes him stronger.” (“Was ihn nicht umbringt, macht ihn stärker.”)

trump-cartoon playing the media


“What doesn’t kill Trump makes him stronger. And louder.”
       Sarah Rense
       Assistant Editor at Esquire magazine
In a post about FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly's feud with Donald Trump on the website. (Cartoon by Tom Stiglich,


“In our celebrity-obsessed culture, whatever outrageous act doesn’t manage to kill a celebrity’s career simply makes them a bigger celebrity.” 
       Comment posted by “JohnnyYuma” on the ABC News story about Miley Cyrus and her “twerking” performance on the August 2013 MTV Video Music Awards show


“You ask anybody what their number one fear is and it’s public humiliation. Multiply that on a global scale and that’s what I've been through. It changes you and makes you one tough motherf**ker. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s really that simple.”
Mel Gibson 
       In a
January 2010 interview in The Telegraph 
       Commenting on what he learned after the publicity flap over his 2006 arrest for DUI and the anti-Semitic remarks he made to the cops who arrested him. Mel told The Telegraph the incident had a positive effect on his life and he had learned from his mistakes. The interview came out before his highly-publicized, ranting attacks on his former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, which made Mel even stronger (and even less marketable as an actor).


“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger.”
Heath Ledger, as the Batman villain The Joker, in the movie The Dark Knight (2008)


“quod me nutrit
  me destruit.”
Latin saying tattooed on Angelina Jolie’s lower abdomen
       In English, it means “What nourishes me also destroys me.”


“Whatever hurts you makes me stronger.”  
Leslie Stefanson, as the character Capt.
Elisabeth Campbell, in the movie The General’s Daughter (1999)


“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
       Quote shown at the beginning of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie
Conan the Barbarian (1982) and also used as a quip by Clairee Belcher (actress Olympia Dukakis) in the movie Steel Magnolias (1989).

Here’s a link to another Quote/Counterquote post with variations on Nietzsche’s famous maxim.

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August 22, 2017

“The squeaky wheel get the grease”

Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease meme


“I hate to be a kicker, I always long for peace,
But the wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease.”
       Attributed to
Josh Billings (1818-1885)
       American humorist    
       The 1937 edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations attributed these lines to Billings, the pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw, and claimed they came from a poem he wrote around 1870 called “The Kicker.” (In the 1800s, kicker was a slang term for someone who complained a lot.) The attribution to Billings was accepted and repeated for many years. So was the suggestion that the poem was the origin of the saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” an idiom that means the most noticeable problems or loudest complainers are most likely to get attention and be fixed or placated. (Sometimes given as “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”)              
      Modern quote mavens, like Fred Shapiro, editor of
The Yale Book of Quotations, have found no proof that Billings wrote any such poem. It does not appear in any of his published works.
       As noted in a post by Garson O’Toole
on his Quote Investigator site, the earliest documented appearance of the squeaky wheel idiom is in a collection of stories by vaudeville performer and author Cal Stewart published in 1903, titled Uncle Josh Weathersby’s “Punkin Centre” Stories. In that book, Stewart attributes the following epigram to his character Josh Weathersby: 
              “I don’t believe in kickin’,
              It aint apt to bring one peace;
              But the wheel what squeaks the loudest
              Is the one what gets the grease.”

       I think it’s likely that the linguistic concept of squeaky wheels getting greased predates Stewart and Billings. What is certain is that uses and variations of it continue to this day.



“The squeaky wheel gets replaced.”
       Peter H. Diamandis             
       Greek American engineer, physician, and entrepreneur
       In his book
How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World (2015)
       This is one of the principles Diamandis calls
“Peter’s Laws: The Creed for the Sociopathic Obsessive Compulsive” in the book.

Oteo Shamaya pic           


“You know just because the majority thinks something is right, doesn’t make it right. So, it is up to us, the people that see the wrong, that see the injustice, that stay educated, stay informed, stay involved. And there’s an old phrase ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil.’ Right now, our wheels aren’t very squeaky; the other side, they’re the ones making all the racket...We just have to get up, stand up, speak out, and don’t be silent.”
Otep Shamaya
       Heavy metal musician and liberal activist
       In an interview posted in 2009 on the now defunct site

John Tantillo


“Folks, the squeaky wheel of activist conservatism and American populism might be getting the grease (i.e., a lot of media attention) right now, but when election time comes the buzz and passion of a new movement will matter less than appealing to the widest group of voters possible with the most credible candidate possible.”
John Tantillo
       American marketing consultant and columnist for Fox News  
       A comment he made about political trends during the 2010 election, in a
post on the Fox News website. Given the results of the 2016 presidential election, Tantillo’s prediction seems faulty in more ways than one.

Deborah Tannen        


“Whereas Americans believe, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ (so it’s best to speak up), the Japanese say, ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered back in’ (so it’s best to remain silent if you don’t want to be hit on the head).” 
Deborah Tannen  
       American professor of linguistics and author
       In her book
Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work (1994)

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August 10, 2017

"Don’t Worry, Be Happy" (Just Slap Me!)

Meher Baba & Bobby McFerrin, Don't Worry Be Happy WM


“Don’t worry, be happy.”             
       First popularized by Meher Baba (1894-1969); made even more famous by Bobby McFerrin              
       “Don’t worry, be happy” is a catchphrase used by Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and featured on his posters and “inspiration cards” in the mid-1960s.
       Baba probably coined the saying. But it achieved far wider fame after being borrowed as the title and chorus of the 1988 song written by McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” McFerrin’s original recording was a huge hit, becoming the first a cappella song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has since been covered by many other musicians and bands.
       Most people now know (and either love or hate) the song, which starts with the following lyrics:
              Here's a little song I wrote             
              You might want to sing it note for note
              Don’t worry, be happy
              In every life we have some trouble
              But when you worry you make it double
              Don’t worry, be happy      
              Don’t worry, be happy now

Public Enemy Fight the power live


“Don’t worry be happy
Was a number one jam
Damn, if I say it you can slap me right here”

       Public Enemy
       Pioneering American hip hop group formed in 1986             
       This was Public Enemy’s mocking response to Bobby McFerrin’s feel-good hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the lyrics of their song “Fight the Power.” The original version of the song was on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing. A second version was featured on Public Enemy's 1990 studio album Fear of a Black Planet.

Putin says don't worry be happy


“Don't worry, be happy...This accord has not yet come into effect; it is supposed to come into effect as of 2021…so we still have time. If we are all constructive in what we do, there are things that we can agree on.”
       Vladimir Putin             
       President of Russia             
       This was Putin’s widely-quoted response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw United States from the Paris Climate Change Accord, an agreement to reduce the use of fossil fuels to mitigate the global warming.
       Putin himself had two reasons not to worry. For him, Trump’s decision was a win-win, since it made the U.S. look bad and because Russia is the third biggest oil producing country in the world (slightly behind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia).
Don't worry be grumpy book


“Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy”
       Ajahn Brahm            
       Australian Buddhist teacher and writer
       The title of a book he published in 2015, subtitled “Inspiring Stories for Making the Most of Each Moment.” I wonder if it sold better than his earlier book “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life's Difficulties.”

Don't Worry Be Crabby, Crabby Bill's


“Don’t Worry, Be Crabby”
       The motto of Crabby Bill’s
       A Florida-based chain of seafood restaurants

Don't worry it gets worse book


“Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse”
       Alida Nugent
       American writer and actress
       The title of Nugent’s book about what she describes in the subtitle as her “(Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood.”

Don't Worry Be NAPPY


“Don’t Worry, Be NAPPY!”
      Jeffery Bradley
      American author and Internet entrepreneur
      The title of his book about “maintaining and living with dreadlocks, a hairstyle that most in American society consider impractical.” (Alas, a hairstyle that for me is impossible, as much as I’d love to have dreads.)     

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July 29, 2017

Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” – original uses & interesting variations...

The New Yorker, Nov 30, 1929 - grace under pressure QC


“Exactly what do you mean by ‘guts’?”
“I mean,” Ernest Hemingway said, “grace under pressure.”
       Ernest Hemingway‘s definition of guts (or courage), as quoted by Dorothy Parker in her profile of Hemingway in the November 30, 1929 issue of New Yorker magazine.             
       Some books and websites mistakenly claim that Hemingway said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” He didn’t. However, according to Parker, what he did say was part of a conversation about courage.
       Here’s the full context of the quote in Parker’s article:
       “That brings me to the point which I have been trying to reach all this time: Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage...Mr. Hemingway did not use the term ‘courage.’ Ever the euphemist, he referred to the quality as ‘guts,’ and he was attributing its possession to an absent friend.
       “Now just a minute,” somebody said, for it was one of those argumentative evenings. “Listen. Look here a minute. Exactly what do you mean by ‘guts’?”
       “I mean,” Ernest Hemingway said, “grace under pressure.”

       Parker’s profile of Hemingway, titled “The Artist’s Reward,” made the phrase “grace under pressure” famous. But Hemingway had used it before. One previous recorded use was in a letter Hemingway wrote to his fellow writer and frenemy F. Scott Fitzgerald on April 20, 1926.
       Fitzgerald had mentioned to “Papa” that he’d told a mutual friend something Hemingway once said about the bravery involved in bullfighting. Interestingly, in the 1926 letter, Hemingway specified that he “was not referring to guts but to something else. Grace under pressure. Guts never made any money for anybody except violin string manufacturers.”
       Thus, either Hemingway later changed his mind about the meaning “grace under pressure” or Parker put that spin on it in her New Yorker piece.
       In the book Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise, author Sally Cline documents a third reported use of “grace under pressure” by Hemingway and suggests it may have been a favorite phrase he liked to use. It also appears that Hemingway coined the phrase, since his is the earliest documented use.
       EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to my friend, environmental activist Tamela Fish, for asking me about the origin of “grace under pressure,” which led to this post.

Peter Murtagh


“I went to a bullfight once in Mallorca. It was ghastly; horrific. No grace under pressure, no death with dignity. Just cruelty and butchery and degradation of man and beast.”
       Peter Murtagh             
       Irish journalist and author.
       An observation he makes in the book Buen Camino!, co-written with his daughter Natasha            



“Real courage is not grace under pressure. It’s doing the right thing when it’s frightening and hurts.”
       Ramsey Clark
       American lawyer and activist who served at U.S. Attorney General under Lyndon B. Johnson 
       A comment he made about feisty attorney Stephen Yagman, who is known for taking unpopular cases, particularly lawsuits against local and federal law enforcement officials, in an article in George magazine, June 1998.            

A-Rod & Derek Jeter


“It is a bonus for baseball fans that Derek Jeter’s final season as a New York Yankee will be one that Alex Rodriguez spends in baseball banishment. Jeter will be feted in 2014, A-Rod will be forgotten. It would have been indecorous and incongruous to see them sharing the left side of the Yankees infield, Jeter at shortstop and Rodriguez at third base, the captain and the charlatan, grace under pressure next to disgrace under pressure.”
       Christopher L. Gasper
       Sports columnist for the Boston Globe
       In his February 14, 2014 column in the Boston Globe
       Gasper went on to explain: “Jeter will be remembered as one of baseball’s classiest competitors and a consummate winner. A-Rod, sitting out the 2014 season with the longest performance-enhancing drug suspension in major league history, will be remembered as one of baseball’s biggest frauds and fallen heroes.”            

dead cat graphic bd


“When they make the Bill Frist biopic, it's got to be called Disgrace Under Pressure. (Either that or Silence of the Kittens, given his med-school penchant for adopting shelter kitties and then dissecting them for ‘science.’)”
       Shelley Lewis
       American journalist, news producer and writer             
       One of the comments Lewis makes about William H. Frist in her book Naked Republicans: A Full-frontal Exposure of Right-wing Hypocrisy and Greed
       Frist is a doctor who became a Conservative Republican politician, serving two terms as U.S. Senator for Tennessee. As noted by his political opponents and critics like Lewis, when Frist was a medical school student in the 1970s he performed fatal medical experiments on cats he acquired from animal shelters by falsely claiming he wanted to adopt them.

Jeff Danziger cartoon - Ivanka Trump


“It took real courage for Ivanka to stand before 35 million help advance substantive policies that will dramatically improve U.S. law in favor of all women, parents and children. Grace under pressure is what she does best.”
       Jared Kushner             
       Wealthy businessman and husband of Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump
       In an he wrote article titled “Why Ivanka Trump Is the Perfect Champion for Women’s Issues,” published in Variety magazine in September 2016
       (Cartoon by the great political cartoonist Jeff Danziger. To read some of the news stories behind it, click this link.)

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