Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Do We Love Quotations?

I love quotations, not all quotations, but the good useful ones.  I add them to the bottom of my emails as part of the signature file.  Here's one:

"Speak now, kiss now / Before the river freezes altogether."  - Troy Jollimore

If I read that all winter, it reminds me to speak and kiss.  Climate change might stop the river from freezing altogether, but there are still rivers of passion coursing within me.  I wouldn't want them to freeze, so I keep speaking and kissing.  Or this one:

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."  - Albert Camus

That one reminds me to be resilient.  You can tell from those quotes that I live in the north.

A lot of people also add quotations to their email.  We copy one another's.  My friend Sergio in Salvador, Brazil, translates quotations into Portuguese and copies them to the bottom of his email.  They look like this:

"A coragem é resistência ao medo, domínio do medo - não ausência do medo."
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear."  - Mark Twain

Quotations are both reminders for me and little messages to others.  They nod to the great writers and thinkers of past and present.  Lines from speeches, songs, and conversations are pulled out of context.  Lyrics are extracted from songs to sing to the immediate moment:

"You live your life as if it's real, a thousand kisses deep."  - Leonard Cohen

William Renauld wrote me that he loved my sig file quotations because "the quotes stretch a particular experience into a common, shared space."  Yes, they do that - move all readers towards a moment of communal thoughtfulness.  Here's one of my favourite quotations:

"We are all here for a single purpose:  to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better.  We can do this through losing as well as through winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or by failing.  All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class" - Rachel Naomi Remen

It's my birthday Thursday.  Please send me a question or a quotation.  I will use them in my speech.
Update:  Please take a look at   This website is written by Garson O'Toole who applies his enormous investigative skills to verifying the source of quotations.


  1. Lil,
    This is great. I will search for my "invincible summer." I love you, and you can quote me on that ;-) :-)

  2. " up openhearted for class" -- I love it! I think I've been learning to do that more consistently over the past decade or so, but a gentle reminder like this is always welcome.

    I've heard it said that quotations are a lazy person's way of sounding knowledgeable, astute or witty. I get the point but don't entirely agree -- I think quotes can be a succinct and well-put way to, as you say, both remind myself of things that are important in my life, and when included as an email signature give a signal or reminder to others of my own values and philosophies.

    At the moment, mine reads: "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."

    Aldo Leopold

    Great topic! Thanks, Lil

  3. Lil copied this comment from by briandmyers Why Do We Love Quotations?
    Since the fine article didn't really answer the question, I'll try. We love quotations because they are distilled wisdom.

    Here's one of my favourites:

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    -Robert A. Heinlein

    1. Yes, RAH turned out some beauties. I was a passionate devourer of his juvenile SF novels. Two of my favourites are:

      Never try and teach a pig to sing: it's a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.
      --Robert A. Heinlein Time Enough for Love

      Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house.
      --Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love", (Robert A. Heinlein)

    2. Currently my favourite is:

      "There is a thin line between genius and insanity - I have erased this line." - Oscar Levant

      In the Anime film "Ghost in the Shell II" there is a great scene with a pair of cyborgs (in this future just about everyone is one) have their conversation run amuck because they both have "Pithy Quote 2.1" software. One of them uses it to get a pithy quote to use in response to something the other has said and then *that* guy feeds that quote into his "Pithy Quote 2.1" for a response and they sort of get stuck in a loop: rather like when your e-mailer sends out an "I'm on vacation right now" e-mail to someone who sent you a message giving you his vacation schedule and then turned *his* "I'm on vacation" feature. Pretty soon neither one has the faintest idea what their quotes have to do with anything or what the hell they're talking about.

      "If all the world were paper tape,
      and the sea magnetic ink,
      there'd be data, data, everywhere
      and not a thought to think."
      - Ancient Hacker poem

    3. Am very happy you invited me and was able to share a little of the writings that inspire me. One more for good luck: “No matter what they ever do to us, we must always act for the love of our people and the earth. We must not react out of hatred against those who have no sense.”
      ― John Trudell

      Talk soon!

  4. "I always quote myself to lend dignity to my notes and conversations."


    1. George Bernard Shaw said, "I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation."

    2. "I dream quotes that never were and say 'why not?'"


  5. So I'm loving this thread. Everyone is chock full of fantastic quotes, and I will be plucking them freely for a miniature art project I'll be doing for this year's up and coming Burning Man.

    Just wanted to chime in with a little "bing!"

    William Renauld

  6. Hi, too late for your birthday but I like this one a lot. It's from the terrific Tikkunista, the weekly online magazine edited by Peter Marmorek.

    Do not be daunted by the world’s grief.
    Do justly, now.
    Love mercy, now.
    Walk humbly, now.
    You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. The Talmud

    Best wishes.