Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pithy Stuff

I am a collector of quotations. I have been ever since I learned to love writing.

I am particularly fond of what I like to call "pithy stuff". These short quotations can cover an unlimited variety of subjects: love, religion, politics, human nature, etc. What unites them is their ability to say more in one or two sentences than could be expressed in a thousand-word treatise. It's like being able to pour a gallon of coffee into a coffee cup.

They are superb examples of Mark Twain's famous dictum, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

Any collection of pithy stuff must necessarily be biased in terms of what it includes and excludes. I make no apologies for my selections, only for the hundreds of other meritorious quotations I had to leave out. No one will agree with all these quotations; this was not their intention. You may even find some of them repugnant or outrageous. This was their intention. Remember - A conclusion often marks the place where a person got tired of thinking.

We seldom learn anything of value from what we already agree with. Only those ideas that grate on our nerves can open our minds. As with oysters, irritation can produce pearls. So if anything you are about to read annoys or shocks you, try to think clearly and dispassionately about what it is saying. You will either be confirmed in your current belief or shaken into re-examining it.

Either way, you win!

I have already mentioned Mark Twain, so I will begin with him. He offers such a treasure trove of witty, perceptive quotations that it would be almost unthinkable to start with anyone else.

Like all great authors, Mark Twain's books, essays, and other writings go far beyond geography. They are universal.

So In no particular order, here are his pithy stuff on a variety of subjects.

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.

A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.

Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

All generalizations are false, including this one.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know.

I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Man - a creature made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.

Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.

One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does all the work.

When a person cannot deceive himself, the chances are against his being able to deceive other people.

You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

Mark Twain is an almost inexhaustible source of pithy stuff. The quotations included here barely scratch the surface. Let me conclude with a comment by perhaps the only other source of pithy stuff more prolific. Our good friend from a previous post - Anon.

"Most of us prefer to disparage a person who is almost always right rather than asking why we ourselves are almost always wrong." - Anon.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Twain and Mr. Anon are both to be honored for their wisdom and bravery.