The HyperTexts

The Best One-Liners and Zingers

This page contains some of the greatest one-liners and "zingers" in the English language. One-liners and zingers are humorous forms of the epigram (a brief, pithy or startling statement). Let's begin our inquiry with the following question:

What does this colorful crowd of characters have in common: Woody Allen, Aristotle, Yogi Berra, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Johnny Carson, Winston Churchill, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, JFK, MLK, Abraham Lincoln, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Will Rogers, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde?

Answer: They all produced immortal epigrams!

Other masters of the zinger include Alexander the Great, Brutus, Julius Caesar, Albert Einstein, FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, Bob Hope, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Martial, Steve Martin, Plato, Dorothy Parker, Dolly Parton, Don Rickles, Sappho, Socrates, Jonathan Swift, Mae West and Jonathan Winters.

Now here, to whet your appetite, are some of my favorite "zingers" of all time ...

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Related pages: Best Political Epigrams, Best Epigrams about Sex and Marriage, Best Humorous Epigrams, The Greatest Epigrammatists

The Top Ten One-Liners of All Time ... Okay, Make it a Baker's Dozen

If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and his impersonators would be dead.Johnny Carson
In politics never retreat, never retract, never admit a mistake.Napoleon Bonaparte
An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay: become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.—Mark Twain
I like your Christ, but I do not like Christianity. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.—Mohandas Gandhi
Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.—Oscar Wilde
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.—Oscar Wilde

I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart

But what, exactly, is an epigram, and what do the producers of great epigrams have in common? Well, "in short," epigrams are brief, pithy, hard-hitting sayings, and the great epigrammatists are keen students of humanity who know how to get their points across in the form of verbal wallops. So the best epigrams are often wise or snide commentary on human nature (or both). For example:

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.Dorothy Parker
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.—H. L. Mencken
Your children need your presence more than your presents.Jesse Jackson

Jackson's epigram is a pun, or word-play. Parker's epigram is a stellar example of raillery, which has been defined as "light, teasing banter," "gentle mockery" and "good-humored satire or ridicule." It is also an example of drollery: something whimsically comical. Raillery can be both wonderfully funny, and wonderfully effective:

If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.Marcus Valerius Martial
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.Jonathan Swift
If you think you're too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.—Edith Sitwell

Here's a bit of rather gentle raillery of my own, called "Saving Graces":

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

My epigram is dedicated to Christians who claim they'll inherit heaven at the expense of everyone else. (If you question the idea that Einstein and Gandhi will go to "hell," please read Why "hell" is vanishing from the Bible.)

Perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum from raillery would be waggery (the wisecrack, the bald-faced jest, the ribald joke which is sexual, excretory or somehow offensive, to someone):

A man who says he can see through a woman is missing a lot.—Groucho Marx
A man's only as old as the woman he feels.—Groucho Marx

Another name for Marx's method is "the zinger." The zinger requires upsetting the applecart of our polite polities. But there are many other "flavors" of epigrams. One of my favorite categories is best exemplified by the Divine Oscar Wilde, who upsets the applecart in an entirely different way:

Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.Oscar Wilde

What a wickedly scathing line! This is a wonderful example of the bon mot ("good word"), the best way of saying something. There has never been a better critic of gossip, innuendo and scandal-mongering than Oscar Wilde (perhaps because so many prudes, busybodies and gossips considered him to be scandalous, when the real scandal was that they refused to mind their own business):

Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.Oscar Wilde

Wilde is every moralist's worst nightmare, because he was wise in the ways of the world and human nature, while moralists are usually up to their eyeballs in hypocrisy. Centuries before Wilde, Aristotle proved the ancient Greeks could be scintillantly scathing:

Wit is educated insolence.Aristotle

Epigrams can also be wise, and liberating:

Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.—Native American proverb

Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.Thomas Jefferson

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp; the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ [all] that!Robert Burns

Epigrams like the one above helped fuel the American and French revolutions; Burns was saying that commoners had the same "mettle" and worth as royals and lords. Epigrams which convey truths or principles are called aphorisms:

An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half.—Karl Kraus
Certain brief sentences are peerless in their ability to give one the feeling that nothing remains to be said.—Jean Rostand
My ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book.—Friedrich Nietzsche

The epigram is the simple, elegant black dress of literature; it leaves nearly everything bared and yet still temptingly open to the imagination. The best epigrammatists produce belle lettres ("beautiful letters" or "fine writing") en brief ("in brief"). But there is as much diversity among epigrammatists as there is in the sea. Take the one below from the master of relativity himself, Albert Einstein. Einstein, who was quite the ladies' man, was asked to explain relativity. He chose to describe the perception of time as an aspect of human nature and physical attraction:

Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour. That's relativity!Albert Einstein

Another popular form of the epigram is the limerick. Here's one that delves into the zanier aspects of relativity:

There once was a woman named Bright
who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day
in a relative way
and came back the previous night!

Einstein's epigram might be assigned any of a number of sub-terms: leg-pulling, horseplay, whimsy, a monkeyshine . . . perhaps even a hoodwink, boondoggle or snow job (since the "relativity" being discussed has little to do with physics, but much to do with physiques, body chemistry and sex). Still, Einstein's epigram, whatever we choose to call it, contains considerable wisdom. But sometimes epigrams can be entirely for amusement, such as this one of mine. I call it "Nun Fun Undone":

are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

An epigram like mine that is entirely for the sake of humor might earn sobriquets like: tomfoolery, buffoonery, mummery, a chestnut, a gag, a ha-ha, a jape, a jest, a lark, a rib, a sally, a quirk, a whim, a vagary. A somewhat similar epigram, at least in intent, is the comic's one-liner, or quip. One of the most famous one-liners is:

Take my wife . . . please!—Rodney Dangerfield

One of the funnier types of epigram is the spoonerism, a genre of the pun, or word-play:

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.
Dorothy Parker

Other types of epigrams play on words. A similar category is the chiasmus, which repeats the same or very similar words in a different order, often to scintillating effect:

It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
It's not the men in your life that count, it's the life in your men.—Mae West
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.Ronald Reagan

In effect, a spoonerism is an aural chiasmus: the sounds of words are reversed, rather than the same or similar words being reversed. Then there is short light verse: poetry too un-serious about itself and its aims to assume literary airs. In its silliest and least "literary" forms, light verse may be called doggerel. Masters of English light verse include Lord Byron (the author of "Don Juan") and my personal favorite, Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
in such a fix to be so fertile.
—Ogden Nash

Another category of epigram is the anecdote, a brief account or narrative, often to make or stress an important point:

I came, I saw, I conquered.—Julius Caesar
I have not come to praise Caesar, but to bury him.—Brutus
Et tu, Brut?—Julius Caesar [You too, Brutus?]

Sometimes we can know a man rather intimately through his most concise sayings:

There is nothing impossible to him who will try.Alexander the Great
Heaven cannot brook two suns, nor earth two masters.Alexander the Great
Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal.Alexander the Great
I am dying with the help of too many physicians.Alexander the Great
A tomb now suffices him for whom the whole world was not sufficient.Alexander the Great
To the strongest!Alexander the Great [when asked who should succeed him]

If you want to understand how fascists think, consider the words of one who spoke honestly about himself:

A Constitution should be short and obscure.Napoleon Bonaparte
History is a set of lies agreed upon.Napoleon Bonaparte
A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.Napoleon Bonaparte
A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.Napoleon Bonaparte  
Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.Napoleon Bonaparte
Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.Napoleon Bonaparte
A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.Napoleon Bonaparte
A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.Napoleon Bonaparte
I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.Napoleon Bonaparte
I love power ... as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.Napoleon Bonaparte
If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.Napoleon Bonaparte
In politics stupidity is not a handicap.Napoleon Bonaparte
In politics never retreat, never retract, never admit a mistake.Napoleon Bonaparte
Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.Napoleon Bonaparte
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.Napoleon Bonaparte
It is the cause, not the death, that makes the martyr.Napoleon Bonaparte

Epigrams can be found in every genre of writing. Here's one I love, by a sports columnist:

If you win, you’re colorful. If you lose, you’re incompetent.—David Climer

Then there are "dead serious" epigrams, called epitaphs. These are the inscriptions that appear on headstones. Here's one of mine called "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child":

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch

We have epitaphs that survive from gravestones found in ancient Greece. Here's one I translated, loosely, from an epitaph attributed to Plato:

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.

Sometimes the lines blur. Here's an epitaph that is also a chiasmus, from the headstone of the famous boxer Jack Dempsey:

A gentle man and a gentleman.—Unknown

The epigram above is also an example of encomium (praise or eulogy). The opposite type of epigram, when offered as invective, is the epithet. An epithet defines or characterizes someone or something. In Homer's day epithets were often complimentary. But today epithets are generally non-complimentary, if not insulting or downright offensive. Modern epithets often descend into derogatory slang and racial invective. But in the hands of a master epigrammatist like Will Rogers, they can still be sublime in effect:

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers

Political epigrams can be equally scathing, whether aimed at liberals, conservatives or politicians in general:

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.—Albert Einstein
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.—Groucho Marx
As a snow-drift is formed where there is a lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is a lull of truth, an institution springs up.—Henry David Thoreau
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?—Mohandas Gandhi

A sub-genre of the epithet consists of racial, ethnic or cultural ribbing. Southerners often poke fun at themselves and their neighbors with "hillbilly humor":

You know you're a redneck if your family tree don't fork.—Unknown
You know you're a redneck if your cars sit on blocks and your house has wheels.—Unknown

Another genre of epigrams engages in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

Sometimes the epigram is the salvo a brilliant, battle-savvy epigrammatist launches against human ignorance, intolerance, cruelty and insanity:

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.Mark Twain

To determine the truth of Twain's remark, just inquire with any black American slave, or any Native American who walked the Trail of Tears, or any Palestinian who's been herded inside the walled ghetto of Gaza and had the gates slammed shut in his face. None of them will praise the white man's self-avowed "democratic ideals" or his "Judeo-Christian ethics." If you don't agree with Twain, please be assured that he is the keener  observer and savvier student of history and human nature. But if you read his epigrams, you may quickly close the gap! And I believe Einstein was in general agreement with Twain when he said:

I don't know what weapons will be used in World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.Albert Einstein

One has only to be able to put two and two together, to understand why Twain's remark relates to Einstein's. Just consider the millions of Palestinians who suffer inside squalid refugee camps and walled ghettoes, thanks to the "democracies" of the USA, Great Britain and Israel, while 1.5 billion Muslims see and share their agony. If we don't understand why denying other people freedom, human rights and dignity will cause us to end up fighting with sticks and stones after a nuclear Armageddon . . . well, we're just not as observant or wise as Twain and Einstein. But we certainly can't say they didn't warn us, as did an American president who was a master of the chiasmus:

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy, Jr.

The history of such epigrams goes "way back" in time. In the 6th century B.C. the legendarily rich King Croesus of Lydia said:

In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.—Croesus

When we consider the expensive, bloody follies of the U.S. government in the Middle East, we can only wish our politicians had heeded Will Rogers:

If there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.― Will Rogers

And a great French essayist can explain why American freedoms seem to be vanishing:

The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.Michel de Montaigne

Following in the same vein of questioning whether human beings are using their advanced brains to "think" when they do such things as wage war, here are two related epigrams by one of my favorite contemporary writers:

Thinking is often claimed but seldom proven. T. Merrill
It must be hard being brilliant with no way to prove it. T. Merrill

Have we remained savages, while only claiming to be an intelligent species? If we take a step back, open our eyes, look around, and see what man's most "advanced" civilizations are doing to homosexuals, Muslims and women and children on a daily basis . . . well, it's hard to credit the idea that we are actually "thinking." When I was a small boy, evangelical Christian adults informed me that just thinking about sex was "evil" (because Jesus said lust was the same as adultery) and that all adulterers went to hell. Just imagine what happened when I reached puberty: it was a terrifying, soul-shattering experience. Years later, I learned that a place called "hell" was never mentioned in the Old Testament, the epistles of Paul (the earliest-written Christian texts) or the book of Acts (ostensibly the self-recorded history of the early Christian church). The Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades clearly mean "the grave," not "hell." So the bizarre "hell" Christians use to terrorize and brainwash their own children was obviously a very late, very clumsy addition to the Bible. And yet millions of children continue to be tortured psychologically, emotionally and spiritually because "hell" is very good for church business. Mark Twain discovered what I discovered, and said:

I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.Mark Twain

The great epigrammatists often arise from the ranks of the disaffected and oppressed. Oscar Wilde, the greatest epigrammatist of them all, served time in Reading Gaol for "indecency" (he had the temerity to be flamboyantly gay). Twain wrote volumes exposing and expounding on the massive illogic of orthodox Christianity (he had the temerity to be a heretic, but had to hold up the publication of his anti-Christian opus Letters from the Earth for fifty years after his death, in order to protect his family from fire-breathing Christian fundamentalists). Einstein produced many of his epigrams against the backdrop of Nazi Germany (he had the temerity to be a brilliant Jew).  Today many of our best epigrammatists are women who combine sharp minds with even sharper tongues:

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
The phrase "working mother" is redundant.—Jane Sellman
If high heels were so wonderful, men would still be wearing them.—Sue Grafton
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
Grace Kelly did everything Fred Astaire did: walking backwards, in high heels!Unknown

Here's a similar epigram that I absolutely love, although it creates something of a dichotomy:

When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler

Female politicians like Margaret Thatcher may be somewhat at odds (or loose ends) with female comedians like Elayne Boosler, since Thatcher wasn't above an invasion herself (of the Falkland Islands). But Boosler hammers the human funnybone nonetheless. She doesn't have to be perfect, just witty and succinct enough to make us blink, then think.

The stupendous epigrams above prove women's brains are every bit as good as men's, as they extract Eve's revenge at the expense of men's prehistoric prejudices. Here's my favorite epigram in this genre:

Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.Charlotte Whitton

A great female epigrammatist can use her razor-sharp wit to deflate bigotry:

I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton

Has anyone ever made a better case for the combinatory advantages of brains, wigs and peroxide? (I will refrain from mentioning Dolly's other, even more glamorous advantages.)

Socrates suggested that we define our terms, so for my purposes here I will use the primary term "epigram" and define it with Webster as a "terse, sage or witty and often paradoxical saying." Paradox can be both enlightening and amusing. Here's a stellar example by a contemporary writer:

Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.—Richard Moore

Paradoxical, indeed! But some epigrams are so paradoxical they seem to be best taken for purposes of amusement and bemusement only:

You can observe a lot just by watching.—Yogi Berra
There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra
Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.—Yogi Berra
The future ain't what it used to be.—Yogi Berra
I didn't really say all the things I said.—Yogi Berra

To give us the most possible good material to work with, I will construe the term "epigram" to include one-liners, zingers, spoonerisms, witticisms, aphorisms, saws, pithy sayings, epitaphs, epithets, proverbs, doggerel, the chiasmus (I decline to use the strange plural: chiasmi), brief quotes, short poems, hillbilly humor, maxims, truisms, the wisdom of the ages, etc. I will take as my motto and my guiding light:

Brevity is the soul of wit.—William Shakespeare

One takes one's literary life into one's own hands when one attempts to go beyond the Masters, but then again "nothing ventured, nothing gained" (an epigram and a perfectly good truism), so please allow me to suggest that:

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Michael R. Burch

But then a good epigrammatist won't let us wriggle easily off the hook of a quick assumption:

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.Dorothy Parker

The great epigrammatists will invariably do one of two things: they will either amuse and bemuse us into wisdom, or they will scathe us into wisdom. Let me give some quick examples to illustrate what I mean, before we launch this Enterprise off for the stars, to battle the Klingons (pun on "cling-ons"):

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.—Unknown

To be safe on the Fourth,
Don't buy a fifth on the third.
—James H Muehlbauer

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.
Dorothy Parker

The epigrams above certainly amuse and bemuse, and while most people are unlikely to heed them, they point out the perils of drinking too much: the loss of brain cells, hangovers, fireworks that explode in our hands, etc. Other epigrams may be less overtly funny, but still entertaining and enlightening:

I can resist everything except temptation.Oscar Wilde
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.Oscar Wilde
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.—William Blake
There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.Mark Twain
To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.Michel de Montaigne
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.Mark Twain
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.Mark Twain
Must I do all the evil I can before I learn to shun it? Is it not enough to know the evil to shun it? If not, we should be sincere enough to admit that we love evil too well to give it up.—Mohandas Gandhi

What some of the world's greatest writers and wits seem to be telling us, if I apprehend them correctly, is that orthodox morality is dubious at best, if it is morality at all. The great wits listen to sermons about sex being a "sin" and roll their eyeballs toward the heavens, then write scathing epigrams as a way of possibly curing man of his folly. They know the preacher who lectures his flock on the "evils" of sex is just as randy as the rest of them, and probably less inhibited (unless he's a septuagenarian and his hormones have "petered" out, pun intended). Wilde, Blake and Twain understood human nature and were honest about it, and themselves. Twain pointed out that any red-blooded man would give up any possible shot at heaven for a few blissful seconds with the Eve of his dreams. Anyone who claims the Holy Spirit cures human beings of sexual desire is obviously wrong, because human sexuality is not a "disease." But I digress. To continue . . . on these pages you will find some of the wittiest, funniest, pithiest and scathingest things human beings have said, to this late date, on our planet.

My favorite epigrammatists are Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. Other famous wits sampled herein include Aristotle, Ambrose Bierce, Martial, Ogden Nash and Plato, just to drop a few good names. You won't find many platitudes like "neither a borrower nor a lender be" because my preference is for wince-and-wisdom-inducing humor. After all, Shakespeare was undoubtedly poking fun at Polonius, the banal moralist, whose own children were basket cases. T. S. Eliot "got it," as evidenced by his Prufrock. Most readers don't. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

One of my all-time favorite epigrams consists of this exchange of repartee between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor:

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

But a good epigram can also be a call to action:

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.—Thomas Alva Edison

An epigram can also be a call to compassion, empathy and kindness:

Always be kinder than necessary,
for everyone you meet is fighting
some kind of battle.
attributed to T.H. Thompson and John Watson

Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.Native American proverb

Robert Frost, probably America's last major poet, said "poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom." I would like to paraphrase him, if I may, and say:

Epigrams delight us into wisdom.—Michael R. Burch

Which is not to say that they invariably make us happy! Below is my favorite among my own epigrams; it illustrates, perhaps, how much can be squeezed into a tight compartment while still leaving breathing room for "special effects" like meter, rhyme and alliteration:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

In brief, the epigram is the Harry Houdini of literature.

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

One should always play fairly, when one has the winning cards.
The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is fatal.
If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.
Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes them to live.
I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we are compelled to alter it every six months.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.
Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
Do not speak ill of society . . . only people who can't get in do that.
All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well or badly written.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.
Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
Women are made to be loved, not understood.
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.
How marriage ruins a man! It is as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Deceiving others: that is what the world calls a romance.
Only the dull are brilliant at breakfast.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Only the shallow know themselves.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.
My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people's.
Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
Why was I born with such contemporaries?

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

The Twain Well Met: Epigrams by Mark Twain

It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.
To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.
I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins.
There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice.
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same, but the medical practice changes.
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain't so.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
Facts are stubborn; statistics are more pliable.
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so.
Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.
A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
Once you've put one of his [Henry James] books down, you simply can't pick it up again.
Anyone who can only think of only one way to spell a word lacks imagination.
If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and children.
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
Good breeding means concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of others.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.
It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit; there's no use being a damn fool about it.
The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal.
The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.
There are people who can do all fine and heroic things but one: keep from telling their happiness to the unhappy.
In our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

The Elegant Epigrams and Side-Splitting Spoonerisms of Dorothy Parker

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. [Speaking of Katharine Hepburn]
The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant―and let the air out of the tires.

The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Wilson Reagan

We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.
I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.
Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.
Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Detente — isn't that what a farmer has with his turkey — until Thanksgiving?
Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.
I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.
The difference between them and us is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.
Government's view of the economy: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.
How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.

Moore Succinct: the Epigrams of Richard Moore

Richard Moore is one of my favorite contemporary poets and epigrammatists. There is a collection of his more philosophical epigrams further down on this page, but for now I will concentrate on his funniest and pithiest zingers:

Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.
Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.
When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3,000 years.
It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do!
It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?

Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of Albert Einstein

Whoever set himself up as a judge of Truth is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
Our technology has exceeded our humanity.
I don't know about World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Information is not knowledge.
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research, now would it?
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.

Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.
A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
Kings and philosophers defecate, and so do ladies.
Our religion is made to eradicate vices, instead it encourages them, covers them, and nurtures them.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
Marriage: a market which has nothing free but the entrance.

The Church Gets the Burch Rod

There's no better tonic for other people's bad ideas, than to think for oneself.Michael R. Burch

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Michael R. Burch

are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

Hell hath no fury like a frustrated fundamentalist whose God condemned him to "hell" for having "impure thoughts."Michael R. Burch

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch

It's not that every leaf must finally fall,
it's just that we can never catch them all.
Michael R. Burch

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Michael R. Burch

Epigrammatic Poems about Poets and Poetry:

I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.
—Hilaire Belloc

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
Marcus Valerius Martial, translated by R. L. Barth

Though Edgar Poe writes a lucid prose
Just and rhetorical without exertion,
It loses all lucidity, God knows,
In the single, poorly rendered English version.
—Thom Gunn

Celebrity Inebriety

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.
Dorothy Parker

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.—Unknown

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

To be safe on the Fourth,
Don't buy a fifth on the third.
—James H Muehlbauer

I am armed against Love with a breastplate of Reason,
neither shall he conquer me, one against one;
yes, I a mortal will contend with him the immortal:
but if he has Bacchus to second him,
what can I do alone, against the two?

Dowager Power

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.—Eleanor Roosevelt
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher

Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest—and so am I.
—John Dryden

Take my wife . . . please!—Rodney Dangerfield

Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce

Applause, n. The echo of a platitude.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.

The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died.
—Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639), on the death of Sir Albert Morton's wife

Her whole life is an epigram: smack smooth, and neatly penned,
Platted quite neat to catch applause, with a sliding noose at the end.
—William Blake

Errors and Terrors

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool
—William Blake

Bigotry is the sacred disease.—Heraclitus

A Brief Take on Blake: Epigrams by William Blake

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of Genius.

Type Cast

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham

A Word to the Wise, by the Wordwise

It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.—Aristotle
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.—Plato
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.—Adlai Stevenson

Sagely Aging

Old age ain't no place for sissies.—Bette Davis
I can't afford to die. It would wreck my image.—Jack LaLane (a fitness guru)
Being "over the hill" is much better than being under it.—Unknown
The reward of suffering is experience.—Aeschylus
I refuse to think of them as chin hairs. I think of them as stray eyebrows.—Janette Barber
The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.—Helen Hayes
Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them.—Unknown
Adults are just obsolete children.—Dr. Seuss
Inside every older lady is a younger lady . . . wondering what the hell happened.—Cora Armstrong

Sports Shorts

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra
So I'm ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.—Yogi Berra

A Smidgen of Religion

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.Voltaire
Some people attend church three times in their lives: when they're hatched, when they're matched, and when they're dispatched.—Unknown
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.G. K. Chesterton

Women and We Men (Wee Men?)

A man's got to do what a man's got to do. A woman must do what he can't.—Rhonda Hansome
Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
The phrase "working mother" is redundant.—Jane Sellman
If high heels were so wonderful, men would still be wearing them.—Sue Grafton
I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.—Zsa Zsa Gabor
I'm not going to vacuum 'til Sears makes one you can ride on.—Roseanne Barr
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and I'm also not blonde.—Dolly Parton
Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.—Charlotte Whitton

Funny Money

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.Aeschylus
Money is the wise man's religion.—Euripides
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.Voltaire
The shortest road to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.Seneca
If you'd know the power of money, go and borrow some.Ben Franklin
If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Mike Burch
I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.—Mark Twain


In war, truth is the first casualty.
The reward of suffering is experience.
It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.
Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.
It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.
Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him enslaved by another's might.
It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.

More Greek Speak

Wit is educated insolence.Aristotle
Money is the wise man's religion.Euripides
By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.—Socrates

Assorted Epigrams

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.Groucho Marx
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married. H. L. Mencken
If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and the impersonators would be dead.Johnny Carson
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who lack it.—G. B. Shaw
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.—George Bernard Shaw

Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Epigrams of Will Rogers

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
Communism to me is one-third practice and two-thirds explanation.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
The U.S. Senate opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
Congress in session is like when the baby gets hold of a hammer.
A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.
You can't say civilization don't every war they kill you in a new way.
A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.
All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that's an alibi for my ignorance.
America is becoming so educated that ignorance will soon be a novelty.
An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just found out.
An onion can make people cry but there's never been a vegetable that can make people laugh.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.
Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff.
Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious.
Don't let yesterday use up too much of today.
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
Everything is changing. People are taking comedians seriously and politicians as a joke.
Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else.
Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."
It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier 'n puttin' it back in.
Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
Money and women are the most sought after and the least known things we have.
One Ad is worth more to a paper than forty Editorials.
One-third of the people in the United States promote, while the other two-thirds provide.
Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.
People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers, not their conscience, be their guide.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
People's minds are changed through observation and not through argument.
Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.
Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.
Live so you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.
The best way out of a difficulty is through it.
The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.
The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing.
The schools ain't what they used to be and never was.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.
There is no more independence in politics than there is in jail.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day , just one, when there is open season on senators.
Things ain't what they used to be and never was.
Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.
This thing of being a hero, about the main thing to it is to know when to die.
We can't all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.
We don't seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?
We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.
You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is.
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we rushed through life trying to save.
If there's one thing we do worse than any other nation, it's managing somebody else's affairs.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
I have a scheme for stopping war: no nation can enter a war till it's paid for the last one.
Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need.
Never condemn the other fellow for doing what we do every day, only in a different way.
Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it ... take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall flat in a week.
The time to save is now. When a dog gets a bone, he doesn't go out and make a down payment on a bigger bone. He buries the one he's got.
Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.
Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what's going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate?
When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do well, that's Memoirs.
Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.
I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you get so sore at yourself you forget to hate your enemies.
Let advertisers spend the same amount of money improving their product that they do on advertising and they wouldn't have to advertise it.
On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does.
Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.
Some men learn by reading. A few learn by observation. The rest have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Woody Allen

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?
I can't listen to Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.
If only God would give me some clear sign! Like a large deposit in a Swiss bank.
Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.
Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon.
Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all.
My education was dismal. I went to a series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers.
My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down.
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room.
Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?
You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100.
The lion and the lamb shall lie down together but the lamb won't get much sleep.
It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.

Jonathan Swift

Every dog must have his day.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.
A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
As love without esteem is capricious and volatile; esteem without love is languid and cold.
Books, the children of the brain.
Don't set your wit against a child.
Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.
Government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.
He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
I've always believed no matter how many shots I miss, I'm going to make the next one.
Interest is the spur of the people, but glory that of great souls.
Invention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of age.
It is in men as in soils where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
May you live all the days of your life.
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
Most sorts of diversion in men, children and other animals, are in imitation of fighting.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions.
Poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance.
Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.
Principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.
Promises and pie-crusts are made to be broken.
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.
The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.
The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.
The want of belief is a defect that ought to be concealed when it cannot be overcome.
There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake.
There is nothing constant in this world but inconsistency.
There were many times my pants were so thin I could sit on a dime and tell if it was heads or tails.
Vanity is a mark of humility rather than of pride.
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
We are so fond on one another because our ailments are the same.
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not do we are told expressly.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
Where I am not understood, it shall be concluded that something very useful and profound is couched underneath.
Where there are large powers with little ambition, nature may be said to have fallen short of her purposes.
The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable, for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.
The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.
Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and poison in the provision of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction.
No man was ever so completely skilled in the conduct of life, as not to receive new information from age and experience.
Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room.
A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying that he is wiser today than yesterday.
The latter part of a wise person's life is occupied with curing the follies, prejudices and false opinions they contracted earlier.
Nothing is so great an example of bad manners as flattery. If you flatter all the company, you please none; If you flatter only one or two, you offend the rest.
Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and speakers because, whoever shares his thoughts with the public will convince them as he himself appears convinced.
I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular, but some degree of persecution.

Under this window in stormy weather
I marry this man and woman together;
Let none but Him who rules the thunder
Put this man and woman asunder.

Martial Law: the Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
Fortune gives too much to many, enough to none.
If fame is to come only after death, I am in no hurry for it.
There is no living with thee, nor without thee.
Gifts are hooks.
To the ashes of the dead glory comes too late.
To be able to look back upon one's past life with satisfaction is to live twice.
Laugh, if thou art wise.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.
Too late is tomorrow's life; live for today.
Be content to be what you are, and prefer nothing to it, and do not fear or wish for your last day.
You give me nothing during your life, but you promise to provide for me at your death. If you are not a fool, you know what I wish for!

Douglas Adams

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
You live and learn. Or at any rate, you live.
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Anyone capable of getting made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.
He hoped and prayed there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized the contradiction involved and merely hoped there wasn't an afterlife.
In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.

John Adams

You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.
In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

Mystery and Dreams

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and all science.
He to whom this emotion is a stranger,
who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
—Albert Einstein

This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible as music,
But positive, as sound.
—Emily Dickinson

Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?—Edgar Allen Poe

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
—from the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur"

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
—Langston Hughes

Life is like a journey, taken on a train
With a pair of travellers at each windowpane.
I may sit beside you all the journey through,
Or I may sit elsewhere, never knowing you.
But if fate should make me sit by your side,
Let's be pleasant travellers; it's so short a ride.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it
That in the process he does not become a monster.
If you gaze for long into an abyss,
the abyss gazes also into you.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Aging Gracefully

This ignorance upon my tongue
Was once the 'wisdom' of the young.
—John Williams

Live as to die tomorrow.
Learn as to live forever.
—Isadore of Seville

I like not only to be loved but also to be told that I am loved. The realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech. And I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.—George Eliot

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature. Let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.—Etienne Griellet

Oh God of dust and rainbows, help us see that without dust the rainbow would not be.—Langston Hughes

Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin

Little strokes fell great oaks.
Plough deep while sluggards sleep.
Vessels large may venture more, but little boats should keep near shore.
There never was a good war nor a bad peace.
A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Diligence is the Mother of good luck.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Fish and visitors smell after three days.
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.
He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
He who multiplies riches multiplies cares.
Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?
If Jack's in love, he's no judge of Jill's beauty.
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
Necessity never made a good bargain.
Never confuse motion with action.
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girl friends.
To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.
Well done is better than well said.
Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.
Where sense is wanting, everything is wanting.
We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Immersed in Emerson: the Epigrammatic Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

To be great is to be misunderstood.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.
If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
We are taught by great actions that the universe is the property of every individual in it.
Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Men live on the brink of mysteries and harmonies into which they can never enter, and with their hand on the doorlatch they die outside.


Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research.—Unknown
Space is a dangerous place . . . especially if it's between your ears!—Unknown
The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
Success comes in cans, not can't s.—Unknown
The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer but rather what they miss.—Thomas Carlyle
When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
When the earth reclaims your limbs, then shall you truly dance.—Kahlil Gibran
A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.—Henrik Ibsen
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.—Rudyard Kipling
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.—Helen Keller
I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.—Voltaire
Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.—Ovid
All things come round to him who will but wait.—Henry W. Longfellow
The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.—Robert G. Ingersoll
Art is long, life is short.—Goethe
The poetry of earth is never dead.—John Keats
May you live all the days of your life.—Jonathan Swift
There is none so blind as they that won't see.—Jonathan Swift
They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.—Sir Philip Sidney
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.—Jennifer Whenifer
Every time I close the door on reality, it comes in through the windows.—Jennifer Whenifer

The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn
When teachers themselves are taught to learn.
—Bertolt Brecht

To speak of morals in art is to speak of legislature in sex.
Art is the sex of the imagination.
—George Jean Nathan

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.—Isaac Asimov

To the living we owe respect but to the dead we owe only the truth.—Voltaire

The past is history,
The future is a mystery
and now is a gift.
That's why we call it the present.

If I have seen a little farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.—Sir Isaac Newton

Life is real! life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
—Henry W. Longfellow

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
—Henry W. Longfellow

No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own.
—Henry W. Longfellow

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.
—Henry W. Longfellow

We are ancients of the earth,
And in the morning of the times.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
—John Keats

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
—John Keats

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
Is Truth's superb surprise.
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind,
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
—Emily Dickinson

Of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
—John Greenleaf Whittier

I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.—Nikos Kazantzakis

More Epigrams of Richard Moore:

Here is a more extensive collection of the thoughts of Richard Moore on poetry, physics, psyche-ologoy, etc. (a smaller collection appeared earlier on this page).

More Moore on Mankind (and Man unkind):

Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.

The social animal—at least, in the human case—is necessarily an imitative animal; for it would seem to be our capacity to imitate others and to let their thoughts and personalities invade ours that makes coherent society possible.

We descendants of Christianity, we creations of that book, The Bible, can't endure Lucretius' lush relish and appreciation of the sensuous life here on earth. Everything in our abstract, celluloid-charmed, computer-driven, and, above all, money-maddened lifestyle separates us from that life on earth.

Christians, humanists, existentialists—whatever we are—we gaze toward higher, or at least more interesting things.

[The] constant of uncertainty—'Planck's constant'—is a very important number in physics and makes its appearance in many experiments and theories. It has been grandly called 'the quantum of the cosmos;' but its full title should be 'the quantum of whimsicality of the cosmos.' Thus, in its ultimate detail the cosmos is unpredictable, and this is so because we affect the cosmos by looking at it, that is, because the observer and what he observes cannot be separated. The metaphor, the myth, of separation between the subjective observer and objective reality has broken down. There is no observer, no observed. There is only experience.. . . in any intense experience the self vanishes. It only enters later as a social and linguistic convenience when there is talk about the experience. It arises, not from experience as a whole, but from language—our human language of the last few dozen millennia—in particular.

So I relax—or try to, trying to forget the useless conceptions I have been taught—and let myself change minute by minute. Glitter of sunlight and great shadows pass over the landscape. If I exist at all, I am like music, forever modulating into new keys.

Sometimes when I can leave off for a while the actions and thoughts which keep defining a self for me unawares, I sit still and feel that nothing—feel it as something positive, something mysteriously, actually there. The zero, the real person, the central being. That which will slip and slide outside of any definition, any set of actions, any work of art even. This central person, this true self, will never be found. We deal with it every day.

More Moore on Poetry and the Arts:

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

The poet writes for himself as the other.
Poetry deepens and expands on the reality we share which makes us social.
There's a wildness in poetry—especially when it rhymes.
Let us have more wildness, more madness, in poetry; let us have more rhyming!
No two poets rhyme exactly alike.
. . . what I love best is humor and horror happening at once . . .
I am very concerned that the new formalism will revert to the old stodginess.
I think the public has good reasons for its lack of interest [in contemporary poetry].

Metaphor is the soul of poetry, and the essence of metaphor is resemblance; so the poet, throwing away his Immanuel Kant, cries out that resemblance is the source of all categories. (And a theorem or two in higher algebra will bear him out.)

Read other poets, poets! Relish their rhymes and do likewise. Your own private rhyming dictionary will form in the depths of your soul and deliver you into eternity."

Rhyming, done correctly, clarifies the difference between responsible philosophy and irresponsible poetry. The philosopher writes what he thinks; the poet discovers what he thinks when he writes: he is borne (perhaps I mean born) into what he believes by the rhyme, the rhythm, the eloquence of what he is saying.

Rhymes are always local. They belong to the nitty-gritty specificity (try saying that phrase out loud, Reader!) of the language. They are almost impossible to translate.

. . . the greatest poetry has always been local. International poetry is like the English spoken at the U. N. Everyone understands it, and it means next to nothing. So let us leave the Great World Cities to their raging proletariats and hope that somewhere in the boring boondocks something bold and gutsy is stirring, something alive with subtle rhythms and wild rhymes.

Art thrives on difficulty. The audience (if there is one) delights when the poet, like the impossible archer, hits the mark. What effortless grace! Such deeds seem beyond human skill. He must be a god.

It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?

When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3000 years. It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?

Jacob Brownowski said that atomic physics has been the great poem of the twentieth century. Good to know that there has been one! It's curious how, as poets and their work fall into near total disrepute, that word "poem" still retains its mystical aura, so that even scientists rush to label themselves with it in public.

"Poems have to be genuine performances—by which I mean: I'm not going to please others ultimately unless I please myself, and, ditto, I am not going to please myself ultimately unless I please someone else too."

"One [i.e., the poet] has to take risks, as the capitalists say, and I have staked my life—as we all must—on my hunches. Emily Dickinson did that with incredible resolve and courage. She's my hero at the moment. She imagined a reasonable person to write for, and she stuck to it. Pleasing that person was the only way to please herself."

"Poets like Milton or Hopkins who use complicated language usually have simple, familiar ideas to express; poets like Swift who have shocking, complex ideas usually express them in the simplest possible language. I love Swift." [Younger poets, and older poets too, should take note of the word "love" here, since Richard Moore didn't use words loosely.]

"My mouse [the hero of The Mouse Whole] modeled his epic on Dante: that darling, that pet of the age, / with professors for every page."

"I wonder how many unindoctrinated "common men" actually read Whitman. I ran a little Whitman experiment once. I had been reading quite extensively in the works of that canny, tough-minded politician, Abraham Lincoln. After I had finished reliving—perhaps I mean, redying—his assassination, I thought it might be interesting to imagine that I was Lincoln's ghost, reading Whitman's famous elegy on me, 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.' What dreadful, verbose, sentimental rubbish is this? cried the author of the Second Inaugural Address. Personally I am an admirer of that elegy and was shocked to hear Lincoln's ghost say that, but there is no accounting sometimes for the tastes of statesmen and politicians. And your Mr Everyman, poptune lover, of the present time will never like listening to Whitman. Whitman's poems don't rhyme."

"It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do! The Parisians in its first audience threw rotten vegetables at Stravinsky's Rites of Spring. Now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, everybody politely sits, pretending to enjoy it." [This reminds us of one the very best, and most hilarious, books on modern art and literature: Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word.]

"Years ago, when I taught a class in poetry writing in Brandeis University, the students had never heard of me, but they all knew about John Ashbery and knew how great he was, though none of them could explain why."

The HyperTexts