The HyperTexts

The Best Epigrams and Quotes from Literature, Poetry, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Sports and Religion

Epigram definition: a rhetorical device that is brief, concise, memorable, and often witty, humorous, ironic, paradoxical, cutting, scathing and/or satirical.

Who produced the greatest epigrams and quotes of all time? It should come as no surprise that the greatest writers produced many of greatest epigrams: William Shakespeare, Homer, Sappho, Dante, Basho, Martial, Milton, Voltaire, Michel de Montaigne, Albert Camus, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, et al.

But there are some surprises as well. For instance, did you know that superb epigrammists also include Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Yogi Berra, George Carlin, Johnny Carson, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, FDR, JFK, Abraham Lincoln, Groucho Marx, MLK, Marilyn Monroe, Ogden Nash, Dolly Parton, Ronald Reagan, Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jon Stewart and Mae West?

These epigrams, quotes and famous sayings were compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears and Nakba poetry.

—Gabby Giffords

The single-word epigram above was a strong rebuke of the NRA and its powerful gun lobby after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre left twenty children and six educators dead. Gabrielle Giffords is still recovering from the debilitating injuries she suffered in another senseless massacre, after being shot in the head and losing part of her brain. Whether you agree with her position or not, it's hard to deny the power of that single word: "Enough."

In the wake of the Orlando massacre that left more than a hundred people dead or injured, Gabby Giffords spoke just as forcefully, this time emphasizing the word "nothing" after the U.S. Senate once again chose to do just that: "Five years ago, I was shot point blank in the head, and the Senate did nothing. When twenty young children and six educators lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut, the Senate did nothing. San Bernardino, Roseburg, Navy Yard, Charleston, Isla Vista—nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. And in the wake of yet another mass shooting—the deadliest in modern American history—the Senate chose to do the unimaginable: nothing at all."

Enough is enough!—Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama echoed Gabby Giffords' epigram when she responded to Donald Trump's claim that he can "do anything" to women because he's a "star," even grope them without their consent.

Here's an epigram in the form of a quatrain that seems just as pertinent today as the day it was written:

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me―
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee.
Emily Dickinson

Here are other powerful epigrams of the past:

Give me liberty, or give me death.—Patrick Henry
I have not yet begun to fight.—John Paul Jones
I WILL BE HEARD.William Lloyd Garrison (an American abolitionist who risked his life to help end slavery)
We shall overcome.—the rallying cry of the American Civil Rights Movement, and the title of its most popular song and anthem
I have a dream.—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., explaining why he chose to publicly condemn the United States government for seeding violence abroad, in nations like Vietnam then (and in the Middle East today)

The piece below is, in my opinion, the greatest epigram of all time, and the most world-transforming poem. It was written by two accomplished poets, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, in ringing iambic pentameter (the same meter employed in the great blank verse of William Shakespeare and John Milton):

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.
—Thomas Jefferson, with Benjamin Franklin

The stand-up comedian's one-liner is another form of epigram. Here are current examples of the genre, taken from the 2015-2016 American presidential campaign trail:

Donald Trump showed his birth certificate to reporters. Who cares about his birth certificate? I want to know if that thing on his head has had its vaccinations.―Craig Ferguson
Donald Trump is "the kind of person who goes to the Super Bowl and thinks the people in the huddle are talking about him."―Eric Schneiderman
Teddy Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick; Donald Trump prefers to speak loudly and carry a big shtick.—Michael R. Burch

The Best Donald Trump Jokes, Puns, Tweets and Quotations

And with so much violence being triggered by bullying and the anger and resentment it produces, here are three marvelous epigrams that should be considered by the bullies and their victims:

Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.—Jesus Christ
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.—Eleanor Roosevelt
An unbending tree is easily broken.—Lao Tzu

Then of course there is the Golden Rule, which is common to many religions:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.—King James Bible

And here is a related gem of wisdom, delivered by someone who is "smarter than the average bear" ...

Another golden rule
is: don't lose your cool. 
—Yogi Bear (named after another popular epigrammatist, baseball hall-of-fame catcher Yogi Berra, the absolute king of the malapropism)

I also like this little "prayer epigram" by one of the great souls:

Help me to fling my life like a flaming firebrand into the gathering darkness of the world.―Albert Schweitzer

On the lighter, brighter side, epigrams can be wonderfully witty, ironic, sarcastic, even hilarious. For example:

I wanted to be the first woman to burn her bra, but it would have taken the fire department four days to put it out.—Dolly Parton
I don't believe in astrology. I'm a Sagittarius and we're very skeptical.—Arthur C. Clarke
Through space, one thought kept crossing my mind: every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.—John Glenn

Here are ironic epigrams that I call "Redefinitions" ...

Religion: the ties that blind.—Michael R. Burch
Love: a temporary insanity curable by marriage.—Ambrose Bierce
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.Oscar Wilde
Faith: falling into the same old claptrap.—Michael R. Burch

Epigrams come from all walks of life, sometimes in the form of repartee or banter. For example, when Dean Smith, the legendary coach of the North Carolina Tarheels, pointed out to an incoming group of freshmen the standard platitude that "There is no 'I' in team," one of those freshmen, Michael Jordan, allegedly retorted, "But coach, there is an 'I' in win."

Introduction to Epigrams and Quotations

It's no accident that half my picks for the top ten epigrams of all time are by women. After all, the first great lyric poet of antiquity was Sappho of Lesbos; she wrote poems that were set to the music of a lyre (hence, the term "lyric" for a short poem). Thus, Sappho is the mother of lyric poets and singer-songwriters like Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Carole King, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen.

Some of the greatest epigrammists of all time were women: Sappho, Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Wolf, Emily Dickinson and others you will find on this page. Two of my personal favorites may surprise you—Mae West and Marilyn Monroe—but once you've read their insightful, wise and touching epigrams, I think you'll agree that they belong here. Dolly Parton can also be very funny and very wise, simultaneously, as can a number of talented female comics and comedians.

This page also contains some of the greatest pithy sayings of all timefrom Sappho to Shakespeare, from Yogi Bear to Yogi Berra, from Rock to Tweetsalong with information about the various types of epigrams, their history, and the fascinating people who penned them. I have worked with the interests of students young and old in mind, so if you want to learn more about epigrams while reading the exemplars, I think you've discovered the right page. Here are a few quick examples:

The Top Ten Epigrams of All Time (in one person's opinion, anyway)

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.—Albert Camus
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.—Eleanor Roosevelt
If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and his impersonators would be dead.—Johnny Carson
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.—Oscar Wilde
To err is human, but it feels divine.—Mae West
An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.—Mohandas Gandhi
For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.—Virginia Woolf
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton
He does not believe, who does not live according to his belief.—Sigmund Freud (perhaps the all-time best definition of hypocrisy)

Dolly Parton's epigram reminds me of another:

It takes a smart brunette to play a dumb blonde.—Marilyn Monroe, who like Dolly Parton was neither blonde, nor dumb

Here's another epigram that seems especially germane to the discussion at hand:

Improve yourself by other men's writings, thus attaining easily what they acquired through great difficulty.—Socrates, translation by Michael R. Burch

A major theme of this page is learning important lessons the Socratic way—by reading—rather than by dire, difficult, often-harrowing experience. Here's a similar quote by Scotland's greatest poet, who was recently nominated as the greatest Scotsman of all time in a Scottish TV poll:

I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.—Robert Burns

Epigrams about Epigrams

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
—William Shakespeare

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My writings oft displease you: what’s the matter?
You love not to hear truth, nor I to flatter.
—Sir John Harrington

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!
Michael R. Burch

Certain brief sentences are peerless in their ability to give one the feeling that nothing remains to be said.—Jean Rostand
Epigrams succeed where epics fail.Persian Proverb
Aphorisms ... are the forms of ''eternity''; my ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book.Friedrich Nietzsche

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

Types of Epigrams

Adage, anecdote, antic, aphorism, apophthegm, axiom, banter, bon mot, boondoggle, buffoonery, burlesque, buzzword, byword, caper, caprice, catchphrase, chestnut, chiasmus, clowning, commonplace, couplet, daffodil, dictum, doggerel, double entendre, drollery, elegiac couplet, elegy, encomium, enthymeme, epitaph, epithet, equivoque, escapade, farce, folk wisdom, formula, frolic, gag, gambol, game, gnome, ha-ha, haiku, heroic couplet, hillbilly humor, homily, hoodwink, horseplay, humorous verse, insult, jape, jargon, jest, jingle, joke, lampoon, lark, laugh, leg-pulling, light verse, limerick, maxim, mischief, monkeyshines, moral, moralism, motto, mummery, one-liner, parody, payoff, platitude, play, pleasantry, politicism, prank, precept, preface, proverb, pun, put-on, quote, quip, quirk, raillery, rallying cry, repartee, revel, rib, ribbing, riddle, riposte, rule, rule of thumb, sally, saw, saying, sententia, sentiment, sermon, shenanigan, shibboleth, slogan, snow job, spoonerism, sport, spree, stunt, syllogism, tomfoolery, trick, truism, tweet, twist, vagary, waggery, war cry, watchword , wisecrack, whimsy, wisdom saying, witticism, words of wisdom, word-play, yarn, zinger.


Here are a few more epigrams that demonstrate the tremendous diversity of the species, before we take a look at the history of epigrams:

Never tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon.—Unknown
The real danger lies not in aiming too high and falling short, but in aiming too low and hitting the mark.—Michelangelo
You have to be unique, and different, and shine in your own way.—Lady Gaga
The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.—William Blake
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.Robert Frost (this one makes me think of puppies and kittens)
What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.Ernest Hemingway
Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.John F. Kennedy
If by a Liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the peopletheir health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil libertiessomeone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a Liberal, then I'm proud to say I'm a Liberal.John F. Kennedy

If you're looking for something in particular, you can use CTRL-F to find a word or phrase quickly, such as "pun," "aphorism," "chiasmus," "raillery," "bon mot," "love," "sex," "politics" or a writer's name. Otherwise, please allow me to begin with a question: What does this colorful crowd of characters have in common: Alexander the Great, Woody Allen, Aristotle, Yogi Berra, William Blake, Buddha, Churchill, Dante, Einstein, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, JFK, MLK, Lincoln, Michelangelo, Mohammed, Marilyn Monroe, Napoleon, Plato, Dolly Parton, Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Shakespeare, Socrates, Mark Twain, Mother Teresa, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde?

Answer: They all produced immortal epigrams! Now here, to further whet your appetite, are some of the most touching epigrams ever written:

Ten Wonderfully Moving, Poetic Epigrams

The births of all things are weak and tender, therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.—Michel de Montaigne
Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart, and his friends can only read the title.—Virginia Woolf
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels sing. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.—Anton Chekov
Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale's spout.—Robert Lowell
Always the soul says to us all, "Cherish your best hopes as a faith, and abide by them in action."—Margaret Fuller
The mountain violets have broken the rocks.—Tennessee Williams (slightly paraphrased; please see "The Evolution of Epigrams" below)

Happiness is like a butterfly:
the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.
But if you turn your attention to other things,
it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.
—Henry David Thoreau

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 (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans)

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

It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before,
to test your limits,
to break through barriers.
And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
—Anaïs Nin

Epigrammatic Poems

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.
Sappho, fragment 42, translation by Michael R. Burch

Little strokes
fell great oaks.
Ben Franklin

is dandy,
but liquor
is quicker.
Ogden Nash

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Whatever the mind can conceive
and believe,
the mind can achieve.
Napoleon Hill

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

The Evolution of Epigrams

Epigrams can and do evolve over time. For example, Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) is often credited with the saying "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." However, long before Hendrix was born the liberal British statesman William Gladstone (1809-1898) said: "We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace." Later, Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) said: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then there will be true peace." Another good example of epigrams evolving over time is this one by George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There are now many variations of this saying, with the most common probably being: "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

A Brief History of Epigrams

Ancient Greek epigrams may be the oldest genre of European literature and poetry. There are startling similarities between Greek epigrams and Oriental haiku. For example:

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune:
I wish you a kinder sea.
—Plato, translation by Michael R. Burch

This darkening autumn:
my neighbor,
how does he continue?
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

Some of the earliest Greek epigrams were gravestone inscriptions, or epitaphs. The epigram attributed to Plato above could easily have appeared on the headstone of an ancient mariner. Such early poems may have survived simply because they were carved in stone. The first uses of the term epigramma appear in the writings of Herodotus (circa 484–425 BC) and Thucydides (circa 460–395 BC), but the verses they cited may predate the references by three centuries or more. Sophocles (circa 497-406 BC) and Euripides (circa 480-406 BC) also alluded to verse inscriptions, so the epigram was firmly established no later than the fourth century BC, probably much earlier.

The epitaph is a form of epigram. Here are two epigrams gleaned from Greek graves, which I have paraphrased, under the heading Athenian Epitaphs:

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gull
in his high, lonely circuits, may tell.
—Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Now that I am dead sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouds my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that nurtured me, that raised me;
I take rest at your breast.
—Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

Was the first great poet a woman? Sappho (circa 630–570 BC) predates many of her celebrated male Greek peers. She remains stunningly fresh and relevant today. The poem below could have been written by a modern girl or woman doubtfully eying skimpy attire:

A short revealing frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!
Sappho, fragment 155, translation by Michael R. Burch

Here is my interpretation of a poem by Simonides commemorating the Spartan heroes who died defending the "hot gates" of Thermopylae from invading Persians:

tell the Spartans we lie
here, silent at Thermopylae―
dead at their word,
obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
—Simonides, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

If you're interested in reading more epigrams and epitaphs of the ancients, you can click here. If you prefer to dive into more modern epigrams, or prefer to receive your medicine with a dose of humor, please continue reading this page.

Sex Ed: Women and We Men (Wee Men?)

Some of the best epigrams are humorous (and wise) commentary on sex and human sexual relationships:

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
I'm not going to vacuum 'til Sears makes one you can ride on.—Roseanne Barr
When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler
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
Husbands are like fires: they go out if unattended.—Zsa Zsa Gabor
When women go wrong, men go right after them.—Mae West
Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.—Mae West
I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.—Tom Clancy
You know "that look" women get when they want sex? Me neither.—Steve Martin
Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.—Woody Allen
Oral contraception? I asked a girl to go to bed with me and she said "no."—Woody Allen
Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I don't like and just give her a house.—Rod Stewart
The problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.—Robin Williams
Women may be able to fake orgasms. But men can fake entire relationships.—Sharon Stone
I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done.—Lucille Ball
I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered, except for the catalog description: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.—Eleanor Roosevelt

A husband is a guy who tells you when you've got on too much lipstick
and helps you with your girdle when your hips stick.
Ogden Nash

More Stellar Examples of Epigrams

Imagine...—John Lennon
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.—Will Rogers
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.—Albert Einstein
I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart
Politics is the second-oldest profession; it bears a very close resemblance to the first.—Ronald Reagan
I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell.—"Give 'Em Hell" Harry S. Truman
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.—Mark Twain
It's called the "American Dream" because you have to be asleep to believe it.—George Carlin
If we don't end war, war will end us.—H. G. Wells
Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy
War does not determine who is right, just who is left.—Unknown, associated by fans of Dan Fogelberg with his song "Ghosts"
Comedy is merely tragedy happening to someone else.—W. C. Fields
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.—Oscar Wilde
The problem with most women is that they get all excited about nothing, then marry him.—Cher
My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God. I didn't.—Unknown
Grace Kelly did everything Fred Astaire did: walking backwards, in high heels!—Unknown
I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.—Zsa Zsa Gabor
Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.—Ron Paul
A word to the wise ain’t necessary, it's the stupid ones who need all the advice.—Bill Cosby
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.—Bil Keane
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.—Friedrich Nietzsche
If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.—Malcolm X
Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.—John F. Kennedy
A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.—Eleanor Roosevelt
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.—Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)
Live simply, so that others may simply live.—Mother Teresa
Be the change that you want to see in the world.—Mohandas Gandhi
I'm starting with the man in the mirror.—Michael Jackson
Our job is, first and foremost, to make sure our family is whole.—Michelle Obama
This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.—Barack Obama

The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is!Rick Santorum

Unfortunately, not all epigrams are pearls of wisdom. Of course in reasonable volumes carbon dioxide is not dangerous, but in higher volumes it causes carbon dioxide poisoning. Too much carbon dioxide can poison our planet's atmosphere and seas, turning them acidic. If it concerns you that American presidential candidates seem to harbor irrational beliefs that could lead to terrible suffering for billions of human beings and trillions of animals, please consider what their quotes and epigrams tell us by clicking here: Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich. If you compare their words to those of thinking men and women like Einstein, Gandhi, Lincoln, JFK, MLK and Eleanor Roosevelt, the contrast is striking.

Also, I think we must question the "faith" and sincerity of men who profess to be Christians when they always favor the richest 1% over the poor, the elderly and the sick. After all, according to the Bible, Jesus Christ dispensed healthcare for free. He, the apostles and the Hebrew prophets all clearly said that the rich should help the needy, not oppress or take advantage of them. But  ironically, many conservative Christians who profess to believe the Bible have abandoned Christian charity for social and economic Darwinism: the survival of the strongest and most ruthless at the expense of the most vulnerable. Furthermore, I think Christians ought to consider what Jesus would have said about the morality of a government that spends so much money on military adventurism abroad, when so many of the veterans end up shell-shocked and homeless. Whatever happened to ...

Blessed are the peacemakers.—Jesus Christ
Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.—Jesus Christ
The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.—Hubert H. Humphrey

Personal Sayings

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 inherit his empire]

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

A Constitution should be short and obscure.—Napoleon Bonaparte
History is a set of lies agreed upon.—Napoleon Bonaparte
Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.—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
Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.—Napoleon Bonaparte
If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.—Napoleon Bonaparte
In politics never retreat, never retract, never admit a mistake.—Napoleon Bonaparte
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.—Napoleon Bonaparte

As I watched Donald Trump assemble his cabinet, I was reminded of one of my epigrams:

Fascists of a feather
flock together.
—Michael R. Burch

Sages of the Ages: Words of Wisdom

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.—Sinclair Lewis
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.—Voltaire
Once fanaticism has gangrened brains the malady is usually incurable.—Voltaire, translation by Michael R. Burch
Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.—George Santayana
The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.Mark Twain
It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.—Galileo Galilei
Heresy is another word for freedom of thought.—Graham Greene
They that approve a private opinion, call it opinion; but they that dislike it, heresy; and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion.—Thomas Hobbes
Heretics are the only remedy against the entropy of human thought.—Yevgeny Zamyatin
The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.—Helen Keller
Read everything, listen to everything, but believe nothing until you've researched it yourself.—William Cooper
A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.—John Milton
There are none so blind as those who will not see.—John Heywood (often attributed to Jonathan Swift)
We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient: that we are only six percent of the world's population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity; and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.—John F. Kennedy

Peace Shorts

Never underestimate the power of pissed-off women.Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement and co-editor of "Freedom Sailors"
I’m here for other children. I’m here because I care. I’m here because children everywhere are suffering.Rachel Corrie, a slain peace activist, written at age ten
I don't think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her.—Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother

Cindy Corrie was responding to Judge Oded Gershon's comment that her daughter should have moved out of the way of the weaponized Israeli military Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (aka "killdozer") that took her life as she strove to protect the home of a Palestinian pharmacist and his family from being demolished. Since 1948 the Israeli military has destroyed hundreds of Palestinian and Bedouin villages, and tens of thousands of individual houses, leading Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter to accuse Israel of practicing apartheid and ethnic cleansing. What, pray tell, is the "defensive" purpose of destroying so many houses, not to mention millions of olive trees and chickens?

Sports Shorts

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see.
Muhammad Ali

It ain't bragging if you can back it up.—Muhammad Ali
Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.—Satchel Paige
All hockey players are bilingual. They know English and profanity.—Gordie Howe
Winners never quit and quitters never win.—Vince Lombardi
You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.—Wayne Gretzky
Somebody's gotta win and somebody's gotta lose and I believe in letting the other guy lose.—Pete Rose
If you can believe it, the mind can achieve it.—Ronnie Lott
If you train hard, you'll not only be hard, you'll be hard to beat.—Herschel Walker
The more I practice, the luckier I get.—Gary Player
It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.—Hank Aaron
Nobody roots for Goliath.—Wilt Chamberlain
I've never been afraid to fail.—Michael Jordan
If you win, you’re colorful. If you lose, you’re incompetent.—David Climer, a sports columnist

More Sports Shorts, of the humorous variety

Famous Insults

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.Mark Twain
He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.—Winston Churchill
They don't hardly make 'em like him any more, but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway.―Hunter S. Thompson
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
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.Oscar Wilde
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.—Abraham Lincoln
Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.—Marilyn Monroe
I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart
The problem with most women is that they get all excited about nothing, then marry him.—Cher
Boy George is all England needs: another queen who can't dress.—Joan Rivers
Mick Jagger could French kiss a moose. He has child-bearing lips.—Joan Rivers
The whole Michael Jackson thing was my fault. I told him to date only twenty-eight-year-olds. Who knew he would find twenty of them?—Joan Rivers
Thanks to politicians like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump, we now have a duh-mock-racy.Michael R. Burch
Donald Trump is "the kind of person who goes to the Super Bowl and thinks the people in the huddle are talking about him."—Eric Schneiderman

More Famous Insults

Famous Last Words

More light!—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Oh Wow!!! Oh Wow!!! Oh Wow!!!—Steve Jobs
'Tis well.—George Washington
It's very beautiful over there.—Thomas Edison
Beautiful!—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The taste of death is upon my lips; I feel something that is not of this earth.—Mozart
Friends applaud, the comedy is over.—Ludwig van Beethoven
Drink to me!—Pablo Picasso
Don't disturb my equations!—Archimedes, to the soldier who killed him
It's better to burn out than to fade away. Peace, Love, Empathy.—Kurt Cobain, quoting Neil Young
I must go in, the fog is rising.—Emily Dickinson
Does nobody understand?—James Joyce, whose writing was famously difficult
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.—Oscar Wilde
I've had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that's the record!—Dylan Thomas
Cool it, brothers.—Malcolm X
Love one another.—George Harrison
Don't mourn for me. Organize!—Joe Hill
Come on! Take action! Let's go!—Sitting Bull
Are you guys ready? Let's roll.—Todd Beamer, United Flight 93, September 11, 2001
God will forgive me. That is his profession.—Heinrich Heine
Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.—Voltaire, on his deathbed, when asked by a priest to denounce Satan

To read more, please click here: Famous Last Words.

Heaven (and how to get there)

The mystics of many religions, from Judaism to Christianity to Sufism, and even agnostics and atheists have at times have had visions of what seems to be heaven:

The lion shall lie down with the lamb and a little child shall lead them.—A common rephrasing of Isaiah 11:6-8
All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.—Julian of Norwich, hearing the voice of God in a vision
Be not dishearten'd—Affection shall solve the problems of Freedom yet; those who love each other shall become invincible.—Walt Whitman
Love suffers long, and is kind; envies not; seeks not her own; thinks no evil; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.—Saint Paul
Love never fails.—Saint Paul
If God is not love, he is nothing, and all the words of the Bible are just clanging gongs and tinkling cymbals.—Saint Paul (paraphrased)
And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.—Saint Paul, concluding his epistle on Divine Love
To love another person is to see the face of God.—Victor Hugo
The love of heaven makes one heavenly.—William Shakespeare
How can one live without grace? One has to do what Christianity never did: be concerned with the damned.—Albert Camus

Saint Peter, in his second sermon after Pentecost, speaking to the men who had crucified Jesus Christ just forty days earlier, spoke of the "restitution of all things to God, spoken of by all the Holy Prophets since the world began." Other Bible verses speak of all men being saved, and of God being all in all. If like me you have a hard time reconciling the idea of unconditional love, grace and forgiveness with an "eternal hell," you may be interested to learn what I discovered: There is no "Hell" in the Bible.


Love keeps the cold out better than a cloak.—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.—William Shakespeare
Love distills desire upon the eyes, love brings bewitching grace into the heart.—Euripides
Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and commune with each other.—Rainer Maria Rilke
All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.—Leo Tolstoy
That Love is all there is, is all we know of Love.—Emily Dickinson
God is Love, and he who abides in Love abides in God, and God abides in him.—Saint John
Keep love in your heart. A life without love is like a sunless garden full of wilted flowers.—Oscar Wilde, slightly paraphrased
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.—Lao Tzu
Love does not dominate; it cultivates.—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.—Helen Keller
There is no remedy for love but to love more.—Henry David Thoreau
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.—Mother Teresa
Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable.—Mohandas Gandhi
A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.—Ingrid Bergman
The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.—Audrey Hepburn
What I feel for you seems less of earth and more of a cloudless heaven.—Victor Hugo
Perhaps love is the process of my gently leading you back to yourself.—Antoine de Saint-Exupery
You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.—Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)
Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.—Kahlil Gibran
God is love, but get it in writing.—Gypsy Rose Lee

Love calls, everywhere and always.
We're sky bound.
Are you coming?

To read more, please click here: The Best Quotes and Epigrams about Love.


If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.—J. K. Rowling
A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.—Elbert Hubbard
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.—Albert Camus
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one!"—C. S. Lewis
I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell; I have friends in both places.—Mark Twain

Tolerance and Diversity

Treat everyone you meet as if they are God in drag.—Ram Dass
I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way.—Lady Gaga
Class is classlessness.—Tom Merrill
If you're being bullied, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.—Elizabeth Harris Burch
Whether you're gay, straight, Goth or geek, it's okay to be different, so take the power back! It belongs to you.—Elizabeth Harris Burch
When I was being bullied, I had to learn not to judge myself by the opinions of intolerant morons. Then I felt much better.—Michael R. Burch
The world is never as small as small people.—Janet Kenny
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.—John F. Kennedy
Before every man can present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.—Albert Einstein
Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.—Winston Churchill
Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.—Robert Green Ingersoll
What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. Let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly.—Voltaire
Religion is like a pair of shoes. Find one that fits for you, but don't make me wear your shoes.—George Carlin
Without tolerance, our world becomes hell.—Friedrich Durrenmatt
Certainly tolerance and acceptance were at the forefront of my music.—Bruce Springsteen
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.—Rumi
It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.—Thomas Jefferson
Conformists of a feather flock together.—Michael R. Burch
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.—George Carlin
All Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation.—Coretta Scott King
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality ... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kindness and Compassion

Unfading are the gardens of kindness.—Greek proverb
A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that dispenses roses.—Chinese proverb
Always be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.—a variation on Plato, John Watson, James M. Barrie
You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, believing that one day someone might do the same for you.—Princess Diana
As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.—Caroline Kennedy
Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world.—Annie Lennox
As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.—Albert Schweitzer
I'm going to be kind, because then it all just kind of spreads, and the world is a little nicer out there.—Ellen DeGeneres
Recompense injury with justice, and kindness with kindness.—Confucius
My life is unjust, but I can strive for justice. My life is unkind, but I can vote for kindness.—Vachel Lindsay
Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.—Mohammed
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.—Dalai Lama
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.—Dalai Lama
He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.—Saint Basil
He who aspires to paradise should learn to deal with people with kindness.—Abu Bakr
A word of kindness is seldom spoken in vain, while witty sayings are as easily lost as the pearls slipping from a broken string.—George Dennison Prentice

To read more, please click here: Best Kindness and Compassion Quotes and Epigrams.


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A right delayed is a right denied.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.—Eleanor Roosevelt
There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.—Mohandas Gandhi
Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail they become dams that block the flow of social progress.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Trickle down" has proven to be the economic equivalent of a golden shower.—Michael R. Burch
"Trickle up" makes much more sense because the rich own most of the businesses where other people spend their money.—Michael R. Burch
That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.—Algernon Sydney


Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril.—William Lloyd Garrison
Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.—William Lloyd Garrison
No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.—Frederick Douglas
I expose slavery because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.—Frederick Douglas
The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.—Frederick Douglas
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.—Frederick Douglas
When men sow the wind they will reap the whirlwind.—Frederick Douglas
I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more if they had known they were slaves.—Harriet Tubman
It's a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.—Harriet Beecher Stowe
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.—Abraham Lincoln
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.—Abraham Lincoln
If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.—William Wilberforce

Wisdom and Virtue

Wisdom begins in wonder.—Socrates
Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.—David Starr Jordan
Wise sayings often fall on barren ground, but a kind word is never thrown away.—Arthur Helps
Cleverness is not wisdom.—Euripides
If the writing is honest, it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.—Tennessee Williams
Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.—Confucius
It is better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.—Abraham Lincoln
Never get into a wrestling match with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it.—John McCain

Faith, Belief, Courage and Action

Believe in God, but keep your powder dry.—Oliver Cromwell
Believe you can and you're halfway there.—Theodore Roosevelt
Change your thoughts and you change your world.—Norman Vincent Peale
The best way out is always through.—Robert Frost
Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.—Amelia Earhart 
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.—Michelangelo
Faith in oneself is the best and safest course.—Michelangelo
Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.—Clarence Darrow, the great agnostic lawyer and defender of underdogs
The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom.—Clarence Darrow
I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure.—Clarence Darrow
Can anyone with intelligence really believe that a child born today should be doomed because the snake tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam? To believe that is not God-worship; it is devil-worship. I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a devil.—Clarence Darrow

Epigrams can be Vehicles of Social Change and Progress

If we want to live in a better world here on earth—a world of equality, tolerance and peace rather than racism, intolerance and ceaseless violence and war—both the prophets and the great humanitarians have told us what we need to know, understand, and do:

Bigotry is the sacred disease.—Heraclitus
Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.—H. L. Menken
As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.—William Blake (an early proponent of free love)
We may have come in on different ships, but we're all in the same boat now.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
First they [unjust rulers and governments] ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.—Mohandas Gandhi
Give peace a chance.—John Lennon
One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.—Booker T. Washington
Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up.—Jesse Jackson
In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.—Confucius
Poverty must not be a bar to learning and learning must offer an escape from poverty.—President Lyndon B. Johnson

Ethical and Religious Epigrams

Some of the most important ethical teachings of major world religions have been passed down to the world in the form of epigrams. Here are a few quick examples:

To thy faith add knowledge, to thy actions, love, and thy presence among the people will be a benediction.—Order of the Amaranth
Blessed are the peacemakers.—Jesus
Judge not, that ye be not judged.—Jesus
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: this is the Law and the Prophets.—Jesus
The most excellent jihad [struggle] is that for the conquest of self.—Mohammed
The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.—Mohammed
The rights of women are sacred. See that women are maintained in the rights assigned to them.—Mohammed
I like your Christ, but not Christianity. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.—Mohandas Gandhi
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.—Nelson Mandela
Yesterday I was clever, that is why I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, that is why I am changing myself.—Sri Chinmoy
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it, even if I said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.—Buddha

To read more epigrams in this category, please click here: Religious and Ethical Epigrams.


Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.—Douglas Adams
There is never enough time, unless you're serving it.—Malcolm Forbes
I've been on a calendar, but never on time.—Marilyn Monroe
I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.—Albert Camus
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.—Carl Sandburg
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.—George Santayana
We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it.—Michael R. Burch

Famous Flubs

But not all epigrams are wise, witty and wonderful. Here are some of the most "famous flubs" of all time:

This "telephone" ... is inherently of no value to us.—Western Union internal memo, 1876
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?—H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.—Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.—Popular Mechanics, 1949
640K ought to be enough for anybody.—Bill Gates, 1981
During my service in the U.S. Congress, I took the initiative in inventing the Internet.—Al Gore
I am not a crook!—President Richard M. Nixon
Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?—President George W. Bush
You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.—George W. Bush
You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.—George W. Bush
Our enemies never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.—George W. Bush
Deficits don't matter.―Dick Cheney
We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.―Dick Cheney, predicting a quick, easy American victory over Iraq
I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that.―Donald Rumsfeld
Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect.—Sarah Palin
I don't see America having problems.—George W. Bush

The last two quotes suggest that America's worst enemies are politicians like Bush and Palin. If you find such quotes entertaining, you can read more at The Dumbest Things Ever Said and the Worst Predictions of All Time.

Here are some real head-scratchers from people who recently ran for President of the United States:

Corporations are people, my friend ... of course they are ... human beings, my friend."—Mitt Romney
Give the park police more ammo.—Newt Gingrich explaining what to do after a homeless person was shot in front of the White House
[The] right to privacy ... doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution.—Rick Santorum
The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions: I disagree with that.—Rick Santorum
One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is ... the dangers of contraception. ... It's not okay.—Rick Santorum
The state has a right to do that [outlaw contraceptives], I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that.—Rick Santorum

What would alpha males infatuated with money, guns and strange religious beliefs such as outlawing privacy, sex and contraceptives do if they become president? But now let's consider the perspective of one of the world's most intelligent (and wisest) men:

Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.—Albert Einstein

I think we must question the "sanity" of American politicians. Since the end of World War II, the United States has repeatedly unleashed its military and covert "intelligence" forces around the globe, with horrendous results: Korea (1950-53), Iran (1951 CIA-instigated coup of Iran's democratically-elected government, followed by the repressive Shah of Iran being installed as dictator), Vietnam (1955-75), Laos (1957-75 CIA coups, military carpet bombings), Haiti (1959 U.S. military helps bloody "Papa Doc" Duvalier become dictator of Haiti), Cuba (1961 Bay of Pigs invasion), Dominican Republic (1961-63 CIA assassination of Rafael Trujillo followed by installation of a repressive right-wing junta), Ecuador (1961 CIA forces democratically-elected President Jose Velasco to resign), Congo/Zaire (1961 CIA assassinates democratically-elected Patrice Lumumba), Ecuador (1963 CIA-backed military coup), Brazil (1964 CIA-backed military coup overthrows democratically-elected government), Cambodia (1969-79), Nicaragua (1979-89), Iran (1980), Grenada (1983 invasion), Honduras (1983-89), Lebanon (1984 USS New Jersey shells Beirut), Panama (1988-90), Iraq (1991-2012), Bosnia/Herzegovina (1992-96), Somalia (1992-95), Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001-12), Pakistan (2004-12), Somalia (2011 drone attacks), Yemen (2011 drone attacks kill two American citizens), Libya (2011-12).

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes ... known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few ... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.James Madison

The Association for Responsible Dissent estimates that by 1987, six million people had died as a result of CIA covert operations. Former State Department official William Blum calls this an "American Holocaust." And there is no telling how many millions more have died as a result of non-covert operations, such as U.S. military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. I am an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry, and I believe the U.S. has created one Holocaust after another: first of Native Americans who were forced to walk the Trail of Tears; then of African Americans who were subjected to 200+ years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, kangaroo courts and public lynchings; then of millions of Palestinians who suffered through the Nakba ("Catastrophe") beginning in 1948 and continuing to this day, due to U.S. favoritism for the racist, repressive government of Israel and its brutal system of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and slow genocide; followed by the long list of atrocities above. We need to heed Albert Einstein, because it is sheer insanity to keep doing the same stupid, evil things over and over again, expecting different results. Or, as another wise man said, in a slightly paraphrased form:

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.—George Santayana

And when we consider the expensive, bloody follies of the U.S. government in the Middle East, we can only wish American politicians had heeded another wise man:

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

Douglas McArthur

In these days when ending war is so vitally important and yet the American public, media and government seem intent on fabricating mindless excuses for needless, endlessly destructive wars that accomplish little or nothing at such exorbitant costs, we ought to consider and heed the words of one of the world's greatest generals, Douglas McArthur:

I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.

It is my earnest hope—indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.

Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would yield every honor which has been accorded by war.

The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative ... If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.

By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder—to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still.

Talk of imminent threat to our national security through the application of external force is pure nonsense. Our threat is from the insidious forces working from within which have already so drastically altered the character of our free institutions—those institutions we proudly called "the American way of life."

Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it.

It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.

One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion, which is tremendously molded by the press and other forms of propaganda.

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear—kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor—with the cry of grave "national emergency."

The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It's the age-old struggle: the roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other.

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

The wisdom of General Douglas McArthur agrees with that of the great peacemakers, humanitarians and philosophers of the past:

In war, truth is the first casualty.—Aeschylus
The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.—Michel de Montaigne
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.—Albert Einstein
I don't know about World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.—Albert Einstein
Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy
Anyone who thinks, must think of the next war as they would of suicide.—Eleanor Roosevelt
If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe.—Lord Salisbury
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 in the holy name of liberty or democracy?—Mohandas Gandhi

Conversely, people who lack wisdom and advocate war often sound like blustering, egomaniacal buffoons:

Bring 'em on!―George W. Bush
We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.―Dick Cheney, predicting a quick, easy American victory over Iraq
I don't do quagmires.―Donald Rumsfeld
Deficits don't matter.―Dick Cheney
I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that.―Donald Rumsfeld
With every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan [to invade Iraq] becomes more apparent.―Dick Cheney

But as another wise man said:

Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We know that peace on this planet requires justice, and that when we treat other men's women and children unjustly, there will eventually be hell to pay, and yet American politicians refuse to address or end those injustices. So when we hear American politicians talking about bombing Iran, or supporting Israel if it attacks Iran, we should question their sanity. The U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel has hundreds of nukes and has never allowed U.N. inspections or signed a non-proliferation treaty. Does it make any sense whatsoever for the U.S. to say that only its allies can have nuclear weapons, and are alone exempt from international treaties? Even if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, an event that may be years or decades away, like every other nation on earth it cannot use them for offensive purposes without being destroyed itself. Israeli military experts have admitted publicly that Israel is not really at risk, and that Israel has been using irrational fears about Iran to get more military hardware from its allies:

We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us ... thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany.―Martin Levi Van Creveld, a Jewish author of seventeen books on military history and strategy

Israel is the strongest country for 1,000 miles around Jerusalem, and we should be self-confident enough not to lose sight of what has to be done [i.e., make concessions for the sake of peace].Ehud Barak, Israel's Defense Minister

Certainly the government’s campaign isn’t on behalf of most Israelis, who are willing and eager to establish a two-state peace. We can see that far from being at a disadvantage, we’re in a position of strength—from our military superiority, to our alliance with the U.S., to the Arab League’s offer of comprehensive peace not once, but twice. Moreover, any security arrangements that will necessarily be part of a peace agreement can only enhance Israel’s safety.Yael Dayan, daughter of Israel's most famous general, Moshe Dayan (he of the famous black eyepatch) and herself an Israeli army officer, member of the Knesset and the current chair of the Tel Aviv city council

American and Israeli politicians should consider whether naked aggression, guns, bombs, cruise missiles and drones are the answer to anything, when the root causes of the violence lie in American and Israeli injustices showered on Palestinians and other Arabs for more than half a century. Wouldn't it cost far fewer lives and far less money to treat other people justly, than to murder their would-be protectors?

We always prefer war on our own terms to peace on someone else's.—Mignon McLaughlin


Hypocrisy has been called "bigoted prejudice with a neon halo," the "legacy of indecency," the "lubricant of society," "self-righteousness," "holy-roller-ism," "false sincerity" and "jealous indignation." Whatever we call it, hypocrisy is singularly unattractive, and when powerful nations like the United States practice it, hypocrisy can also be deadly. For instance, 9-11 was largely the result of the U.S. government acting unjustly and hypocritically in the Middle East for more than half a century. And yet how many American politicians other than Ron Paul have been willing to candidly discuss the real causes of 9-11? How can we correct incredibly serious problems if we can't even see or discuss them honestly? Here are epigrams about hypocrisy that I hope all Americans will consider:

He does not believe, who does not live according to his belief.—Sigmund Freud
Hypocrite! First remove the log from your own eye, then you can help remove the speck from your brother’s eye.—Jesus
A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy.—Benjamin Disraeli
Hypocrisy, the lie, is the true sister of evil, intolerance and cruelty.—Raisa M. Gorbachev
Don`t let the noise of others` opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.—Steve Jobs
There's nothing like the appearance of virtue to cloak the practice of vice. T. Merrill
Hypocrisy may deceive the most perceptive adult, but the dullest child recognizes and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.—Leo Tolstoy, translation by Michael R. Burch

If Americans want peace, rather than endless war, we must abandon the wild hypocrisy that Americans are the "good guys" and that we were attacked on 9-11 by the "bad guys" out of spite, or because Muslims hate our "values." Did Sitting Bull go to war with white Americans because he disagreed with their "values," or because the women and children he was sworn to protect were suffering and dying so unjustly? Did black slaves flee their white masters and sometimes rise up against them over differences in "values," or because their loved ones had been denied basic human rights and freedom? The real battle today is not about religion, but the rights of completely innocent women and children not to be dominated, abused and killed by the U.S. and its allies. Anyone who honestly and objectively studies the history of the Middle East over the last hundred years of constant interference by Western superpowers like Great Britain and the United States cannot fail to understand the real reasons for 9-11 and the subsequent wars. Yes, the Americans who died on 9-11 were innocent victims, but their government was not. When the government of Nazi Germany went berserk, all the German people suffered, not just the Nazis. As Americans we are individuals, but we also have a corporate identity. When our government acts to deny millions of people basic human rights, we are likely to be attacked, just as Germans were attacked when their government acted so unjustly.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was perhaps the most influential first lady in American history. After FDR's death, she was a delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1945 and 1952, a job for which she was appointed by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the United States Senate. During her time at the UN she chaired the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Truman called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements. Her wit and wisdom shine in the following epigrams:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.
I can not believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war.
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
It is not more vacation we need—it is more vocation.
It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.
Never allow a person to tell you "no" who doesn't have the power to say "yes."
When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: "no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall."

Modern Epigrams: Email Sign-Offs, Tweets, Personal Mottos, Slogans, etc.

a Tweet
by any other name
would be as fleet!

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

The Edison epigram above has become my personal motto. I've used it to "sign off" many an email and I've received a number of emails that end with epigrams. In fact, I first discovered two wonderfully touching epigrams by Michel de Montaigne and Anaïs Nin (below on this page) in emails sent to me by colleagues. On a related note, before I delve further into the greatest epigrams of all time, I'd like to consider a popular new form of epigram: the Tweet. Here's my favorite Tweet to date:

The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight.—Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords is the Arizona congresswoman who was shot and nearly killed. While so many other American politicians rage and imagine vain things, I find her words wonderfully touching and encouraging. Reading her highly poetic Tweet, I can actually see our nation's Capitol lit up at night, shining like a beacon, and feel her sincerity. How many senators and congressmen are humble enough to feel honored to work for their country, I wonder? In any case, I'm glad to have Gabby back, and to know that she's not only recovering from her injuries, but wants to help her country recover from its own deep-seated (albeit often self-inflicted) wounds. I only hope that other Americans will exhibit some of her grace under fire. After all, since she pulled through her harrowing ordeal, so can we as a nation, if only we emulate her courage and resolve. And as I write this, I am reminded of Gabby's favorite epigram, which appears on her Facebook page:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds.—Abraham Lincoln

To further demonstrate how epigrams can intersect our lives and perhaps influence our stars, Gabby's husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, had inscribed on her wedding ring, "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been"—words from a song by the Goo Goo Dolls that obviously have a very special meaning for them. The inscription is actually a short rhyming poem, an epigram for the ages:

You're the closest to heaven
that I've ever been.

Epigrams in Unexpected Places

As I worked on this page, I was struck by the sweetness, tenderness, honesty and wisdom of one of the world's most famous "dumb blondes." As a famous epigram goes, perhaps we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Please consider the wit and wisdom of Marilyn Monroe ...

Marilyn Monroe

What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course!
It's not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on.
Sex is a part of nature. I go along with nature.
I've been on a calendar, but never on time.
If I'd observed all the rules I'd never have gotten anywhere.
Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.
Before marriage, a girl has to make love to a man to hold him. After marriage, she has to hold him to make love to him.
I've often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull little people.
I love to do the things the censors won't pass.
If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything.
A wise girl kisses but doesn't love, listens but doesn't believe, and leaves before she is left.
Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.
If you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.
I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.
I don't mind making jokes, but I don't want to look like one.
We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.
It's all make believe, isn't it?
I don't want to make money, I just want to be wonderful.
Dreaming about being an actress, is more exciting than being one.
I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy.
Men are so willing to respect anything that bores them.
You believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself.
I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone's wife, since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really.
Beauty and femininity are ageless and can't be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won't like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it's based on femininity.
There was my name up in lights. I said, "God, somebody's made a mistake." But there it was, in lights. And I sat there and said, "Remember, you're not a star." Yet there it was, up in lights.

I believe that everything happens for a reason:
people change so that you can learn to let go,
things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right,
you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself,
and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

Epigrams Defined

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, funny or snide commentary on human nature, societies and beliefs. For example:

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.Dorothy Parker
The ballot is stronger than the bullet.—Abraham Lincoln
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
How can the Bible be "infallible" when from Genesis to Revelation slavery is commanded and condoned, but never condemned?Michael R. Burch

Puns, Word-Play, Raillery and Drollery

Jackson's epigram is a pun, or word-play, as is Lincoln's. 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
Religion is the opiate of the people.—Karl Marx
Religion is the dopiate of the sheeple.—Michael R. Burch
If you think you're too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.—Edith Sitwell
If we don’t want to define ourselves by things as superficial as our appearances, we’re stuck with the revolting alternative of being judged by our actions.—Ellen DeGeneres

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.)

Waggery, Jests, Ribald Jokes

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

The One-Liner, or Zinger

Another name for Marx's method is "the zinger," a potent form of the comedian's one-liner. 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

The Bon Mot

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

But epigrams can also be wonderfully touching and moving:

The births of all things are weak and tender,
therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
Michel de Montaigne

If we are to have real peace in the world,
we shall have to begin with the children.
―Mohandas Gandhi

As an Israeli, I have come to understand:
there is no way to love Israel and reject a two-state peace,
no way to love Israel and reject Palestine.
—Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan, Israel's most famous general

If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.―Ralph Waldo Emerson

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley [go oft awry].—Robert Burns

The line above was written after the great Scottish poet accidentally destroyed a field mouse's nest; his epigram provided the title for John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Epigrams also provided the titles for the novels Gone With The Wind and For Whom The Bell Tolls, and the ideas for the songs I Am A Rock and Islands In The Stream. (These are just some obvious examples; there are many more.)

Epigrams can also be wise, and liberating:

It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.Anaïs Nin

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 last one above helped fuel the American and French revolutions; Burns was saying that commoners had the same "mettle" and worth as royals and lords. Here's a similar epigram by another great poet:

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

Double Entendres

Another category of the epigram is the double entendre, in which two meanings of a word or phrase are exploited simultaneously:

I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart
When women go wrong, men go right after them.—Mae West
Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.—Mae West
Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready to be institutionalized..—Mae West


Epigrams which convey essential truths or principles are called aphorisms:

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.―Unknown
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.―Unknown
A watched pot never boils.―Unknown
Life is short, art long.―Hippocrates
In the end, magnificence trumps all theories of art. The great Masters create; everyone else is limited to explaining (i.e., guessing) how they do it.—Michael R. Burch
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are even aphorisms about 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

The Limerick

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!

Leg-Pulling, Horseplay, Whimsy, Monkeyshines, etc.

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 similar form of epigram is the comic's one-liner, or quip. One of the most famous one-liners is:

Take my wife . . . please!—Henny Youngman


One of the more creative types of epigram is the spoonerism, a type of pun, or word-play:

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

Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.Ernest Dowson

The Chiasmus

Other types of epigrams also play on words. For instance the chiasmus repeats the same or very similar words in a different order:

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
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.—Maya Angelou
Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.—C. S. Lewis
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.Oscar Wilde
Love is either wholly folly, or fully holy.—Michael R. Burch
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
War does not determine who is right, just who is left.”—Unknown, associated by fans with the Dan Fogelberg song "Ghosts"

In effect, a spoonerism is an aural chiasmus: the sounds of words are reversed, rather than the same or similar words being reversed.

Light Verse and Doggerel

Then there is light verse: poetry too un-serious about itself and its aims to assume literary airs. In its silliest and least "literary" forms, light verse is called doggerel. Masters of English light verse include Lord Byron (the author of "Don Juan") and my personal favorite, Ogden Nash:

Reflection on Ingenuity

Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.
—Ogden Nash

The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore,
And that’s what parents were created for.
—Ogden Nash

Samson Agonistes

I test my bath before I sit,
And I’m always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.
—Ogden Nash

A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
—Ogden Nash

Lines On Facing Forty

I have a bone to pick with Fate.
Come here and tell me, girlie,
Do you think my mind is maturing late,
Or simply rotted early?
—Ogden Nash

The Abominable Snowman

I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,
I’m hoping not to see one,
I’m also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.
—Ogden Nash

The Cow

The cow is of bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other is milk.
—Ogden Nash

The Ant

The ant has made herself illustrious
By constant industry industrious.
So what? Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?
—Ogden Nash

The Wasp

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.
—Ogden Nash

The Eel

I don’t mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.
—Ogden Nash

The Fly

The Lord in His wisdom made the fly,
And then forgot to tell us why.
—Ogden Nash

The Ostrich

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I’m glad it sits to lay its eggs.
—Ogden Nash

The Turtle

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, Bruté?—Julius Caesar [You too, Brutus?]


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

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

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.—John F. Kennedy
The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society.—John F. Kennedy
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.—John F. Kennedy
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.Mark Twain
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.Mark Twain
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.Mark Twain
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.Mark Twain
In our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.Mark Twain
A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time.—Alfred E. Wiggam
A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run.—Elbert Hubbard
A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.—Leo Rosten
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Joni Ernst is an “onion of crazy.”Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Politics is the second oldest profession; it bears a very close resemblance to the first.—Ronald Reagan
My choices in life were to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference!—Harry S. Truman
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.—Harry S. Truman
It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.—Harry S. Truman
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.—Albert Einstein
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, 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
The philosophy you hear from time to time, which is unfortunate, is one of exclusion, rather than inclusion.—Dan Quayle, former Republican Vice President, on the GOP

Ethnic Humor

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

Parody and Lampooning

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

Proverbs and Wisdom Sayings

Yet another class of epigram (although one that is generally less entertaining) has any number of names. Let's begin with "proverb" and a famous illustration by one of the world's best-known epigrammatists:

Early to bed, early to rise
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
—Ben Franklin

Miguel de Cervantes defined a proverb as "a short sentence based on long experience." There are, it seems, a bazillion other names for such bits of homey wisdom: adage, moral, homily, bromide, aphorism, apophthegm, axiom, dictum, maxim, motto, folk wisdom, platitude, motto, precept, saw, saying, truism, catchphrase, formula, gnome, pithy saying, etc. But alas!, many proverbs are boring and some are untrue, to boot. How many men got up early every morning, were poor as dirt, and died early deaths? Surely multitudes! But many epigrams contain both vital wisdom and sparkling humor. Sometimes the epigram is the salvo a brilliant, battle-savvy cynic 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
Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.—Eleanor Roosevelt

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 American 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:

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

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
I know you heard what you thought I said, but what I said isn’t what I meant.—Richard Nixon
More and more of our imports come from overseas.—President George W. Bush


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. Here are some wonderful examples of the former:

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."

Motivational Calls to Action

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

The Method Behind the Madness

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. Here are a few more of my all-time favorite epigrams:

I can't live without you or with you.—Ovid
Take it from me, marriage isn't a word, it's a sentence!—Vidor King
Our existence is a short circuit of light between two eternities of darkness.—Vladimir Nabokov
The secret of getting things done is to act!—Dante Alighieri
Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!Dorothy (played by Judy Garland)
Houston, we have a problem.Jim Lovell
Before Elvis, there was nothing.—John Lennon
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.—John Lennon

Epigrams in Popular Music: Rock, Country, Folk, Soul, R&B, Hip-Hop, Rap, etc.

Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try; no hell below us; above us, only sky.—John Lennon
A change is gonna come.—Sam Cooke
War is not the answer, because only love can conquer hate.—Marvin Gaye
Love is a battlefield.—Pat Benatar
I'm so lonesome, I could cry.—Hank Williams Sr.
Only the good die young.—Billy Joel
I am a rock; I am an island.—Paul Simon
I ain't no fortunate one.—John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival
It's better to burn out, than fade away.—Neil Young
Who wants to live forever?—Freddy Mercury of Queen
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.—Don McLean
And though you want to last forever, you know you never will, and the good-bye makes the journey harder still.—Cat Stevens
The answer is blowin' in the wind.—Bob Dylan
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.—Kris Kristofferson/Janis Joplin
My mama ain't raise no fool because my mama ain't raise me, fool!—Sean Price
Baby, we were born to run.—Bruce Springsteen
Because you're mine, I walk the line.—Johnny Cash

I love you in a place where there's no space or time;
I love you for my life, 'cause you're a friend of mine.
—Leon Russell

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.—Leonard Cohen
Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.—Leonard Cohen
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.—Leonard Cohen
I don't consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin.—Leonard Cohen

An Epigram about Epigrams, giving Honor where Honor is Due

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.
Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker is both succinct and correct: If I hear a really good epigram and can't immediately identify its source, my first guess will almost invariably be the Divine Oscar Wilde. So without further ado, let's kick off this show by surrendering the stage to the greatest epigrammatist of them all ...

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

Wilde Advice on Vice:

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.
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.
Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.

Going Wilde on God, Religion and Morality:

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, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
I can resist everything except temptation.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
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.
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
Always forgive your enemies: nothing annoys them so much.
There is no sin except stupidity.
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.

Going Wilde on Fashion, Fads, Fame, Society, Culture and the Arts:

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.
Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
I love acting. It is so much more real than life.
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.

Going Wilde on Love, Relationships, Women and Men:

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.
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.

Going Wilde on Time, Aging and Human Nature:

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
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.
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
To get back my youth I would do anything except exercise, get up early, or be respectable.

Wilde Truths:

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

Wilde on Oscar:

I have nothing to declare except my genius. [To a customs officer.]
I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.
I want my food dead. Not sick, not dying, dead.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read.
Why was I born with such contemporaries?

Wilde Last Words:

I suppose I shall have to die beyond my means. [Upon learning he needed an operation.]
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. [His final words.]

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

Twain on God, Religion, Morality, Death, Heaven and Hell:

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.
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.
Providence protects children and idiots. I know because I have tested it.
I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell; I have friends in both places.
Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.
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.
Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.
Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.
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.

Twain on Truth and Veracity:

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.

Twain on Money:

Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.
Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
Put all your eggs in one basket, then: watch the basket!
I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
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.

Twain on Wit, Literature and the Arts:

Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which were previously unrelated.
A classic is something that everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read.
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.
The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
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.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.

Twain on Men, Women and Marriage:

Familiarity breeds contempt, and children.
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.

Twain on Politics:

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.
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
In our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

Twain on Youth, Health and the Dubious Joys of Aging:

When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.
I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting.
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I've done it thousands of times.
When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's obvious you're getting old.

Twain on Animals:

Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.
If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.
One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
It is not best that we should all think alike; it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races.
Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.

Twain on Racism, Culture, Custom, Habit and Human Contrariness:

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
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.

Twain on Ignorance and Human Nature (which he seemed to believe were inseparable):

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.
It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.
Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.
Necessity is the mother of taking chances.
Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
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.
Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.
Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.
A person with a new idea is a crank, until it succeeds.
Courage is resistant to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
Man will do many things to get himself loved, he will do all things to get himself envied.
Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live.
It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.

Shocked by Voltaire

Poverty enervates courage.
Ask nothing of anyone; need no one.
Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent people.
There are no sects in geometry.
Sect and error are synonymous.
The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.
Common sense is not so common.

A Brief Take on Blake: Epigrams by William Blake

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery.
Shame is Pride's cloak.
Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of Religion.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of Genius.
The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.
Expect poison from standing water.
What is now proved was once only imagined.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

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.

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
The only 'ism' Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
I've never been a millionaire but I just know I'd be darling at it.
Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.
This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Mae Day: the Wit and Wisdom of Mae West

To err is human, but it feels divine.
She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.
When women go wrong, men go right after them.
Virtue has its own reward, but not at the box office.
Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.
A hard man is good to find.
Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from.
I believe that it's better to be looked over than it is to be overlooked.
I didn't discover curves; I only uncovered them.
I'm no model lady. A model's just an imitation of the real thing.
Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready to be institutionalized.
The best way to hold a man is in your arms.
The score never interested me, only the game.
Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.
You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A right delayed is a right denied.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal."
We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.
It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.
Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail they become dams that block the flow of social progress.
When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.
The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.
The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality ... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Mohandas Gandhi

Peace is its own reward.
Poverty is the worst form of violence.
A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.
Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.
Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.
Be the change that you want to see in the world.
Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.
Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.
Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.
Every formula of every religion has, in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal assent.
Faith ... must be enforced by reason ... when faith becomes blind it dies.
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won't presume to probe into the faults of others.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.
I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
I would heartily welcome the union of East and West provided it is not based on brute force.
If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
Imitation is the sincerest flattery.
In a gentle way, you can shake the world.
In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.
We win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.
What is true of the individual will be tomorrow true of the whole nation if individuals will but refuse to lose heart and hope.
Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.
You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
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?

Walt Whitman

Resist much. Obey little.
I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.
I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.
If you done it, it ain't bragging.
In the faces of men and women, I see God.
Argue not concerning God … re-examine all that you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your soul …
The real war will never get in the books.
Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.
Peace is always beautiful.
And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.
I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained.
The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
There is no God any more divine than Yourself.
To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.
I am for those who believe in loose delights, I share the midnight orgies of young men, I dance with the dancers and drink with the drinkers.
Be not dishearten'd—Affection shall solve the problems of Freedom yet; those who love each other shall become invincible.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Albert Camus

I rebel—therefore we exist.
When the throne of God is overturned, the rebel must create justice, order, and unity.
Nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of man.
I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.
I have seen people behave badly with great morality and note daily that integrity needs no rules.
I begin with the principle of man’s innocence.
We all have a weakness for beauty.
We have exiled beauty; the Greeks took up arms for her.
Happiness implied a choice, and within that choice a concerted will, a lucid desire.
In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
It's better to bet on this life than on the next.
The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown.
The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding.
The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants, and provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.
God is not needed to create guilt or to punish. Our fellow men suffice, aided by ourselves.
A punishment that penalizes without forestalling [i.e., hell] is called revenge.
How can one live without grace? One has to do what Christianity never did: be concerned with the damned.
For those of us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and the torturing images of a vanished beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.

Highland Hijinks: the Epigrams of Robert Burns, The Bard of Scotland

The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw, he dearly lov’d the lasses, O. [Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines]
O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us! [written after seeing a louse on a churchgoer's fancy bonnet]
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to min’? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days o’ auld lang syne?
We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!
There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley [go oft awry].
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp; the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ [all] that!
Affliction's sons are brothers in distress; a brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!
Dare to be honest and fear no labor.
Firmness in enduring and exertion is a character I always wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint and cowardly resolve.
The snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn, and violets bathe in the wet o' the morn.
Critics! Appalled I ventured on the name: those cutthroat bandits in the paths of fame.
Suspense is worse than disappointment.
Suspicion is a heavy armor and with its weight it impedes more than it protects.
Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord, [you see that dandy called a lord]
Wha struts, and stares, and a’ that;
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that: [he's but a fool, for all that]
For a’ that, and a’ that,
His riband, star, and a’ that,
The man of independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a’ that.

William Lloyd Garrison (a leading American abolitionist who risked his life to help abolish slavery)

The compact which exists between the North and the South is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.
Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril.
Liberty for each, for all, and forever!
We may be personally defeated, but our principles never.
The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers.
Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.
With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.
I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.
On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation.
No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher.
I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.
The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
I have not come here with reference to any flag but that of freedom.
If your Union does not symbolize universal emancipation, it brings no Union for me.
If your Constitution does not guarantee freedom for all, it is not a Constitution I can ascribe to.
If your flag is stained by the blood of a brother held in bondage, I repudiate it in the name of God.
To say that everything in the Bible is to be believed, simply because it is found in that volume, is equally absurd and pernicious ... To discard a portion of scripture is not necessarily to reject the truth, but may be the highest evidence that one can give of his love of truth.

Virginia Woolf

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.
Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart, and his friends can only read the title.
One has to secrete a jelly in which to slip quotations down people's throats, and one always secretes too much jelly.
Yet, it is true, poetry is delicious; the best prose is that which is most full of poetry.
Really I don't like human nature unless all candied over with art.
I want the concentration and the romance, and the worlds all glued together, fused, glowing: have no time to waste any more on prose.
The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.
Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Wilson Reagan

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! (at the Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, June 12, 1987)
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.
I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things.
There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit.
I know it's hard when you're up to your armpits in alligators to remember you came here to drain the swamp.
In America, our origins matter less than our destination, and that is what democracy is all about.
There are simple answers to the nation's problems, but not easy ones.
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."
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.
There are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified "top secret."
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. You can find a larger collection of his humorous and philosophical epigrams by clicking on his hyperlinked name, then going to the bottom of his poetry page. Here's a small handful of 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.
One has to take risks, as the capitalists say, and I have staked my life—as we all must—on my hunches.
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!

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

A question that sometimes drives me hazy:
am I or are the others crazy?

Never lose a holy curiosity.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
Morality is of the highest importance—but for us, not for God.
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.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
Information is not knowledge.
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.
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.
Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity.
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.
The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.
I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.
There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
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.
A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.
An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.
Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.
Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.
As far as I'm concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.
Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.

Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

The clatter of arms drowns out the voice of law.
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.
Obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness.
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.
If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because it was he, because it was I.
Kings and philosophers defecate, and so do ladies.
No propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, whatever contrast it offers to my own.
Our religion is made to eradicate vices, instead it encourages them, covers them, and nurtures them.
Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.
I have gathered a garland of other men’s flowers, and nothing is mine but the cord that binds them.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
The only thing certain is that nothing is certain.
There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.
Marriage: a market which has nothing free but the entrance.
It is not death, it is dying that alarms me.
I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself.
He who is not very strong in memory should not meddle with lying.
Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be.
Confidence in the goodness of another is good proof of one's own goodness.
Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face.

Abraham Lincoln

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.
Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.
I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.
It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
Knavery and flattery are blood relations.
The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.
The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.
To give victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.
We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.
What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.
When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds.

H. G. Wells

Our true nationality is mankind.
If we don't end war, war will end us.
Cynicism is humor in ill health.
Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.
Advertising is legalized lying.
Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
One of the darkest evils of our world is surely the unteachable wildness of the Good.
Heresies are experiments in man's unsatisfied search for truth.
What really matters is what you do with what you have.
In politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is to lay them face upwards on the table.
A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own.

William Shakespeare

Brevity is the soul of wit.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.
Love is too young to know what conscience is.
Love sought is good, but given unsought, is better.
Speak low, if you speak love.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
The golden age is before us, not behind us.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
This above all; to thine own self be true.
To be, or not to be: that is the question.

Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.
A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he'll never crow. I have seen the light and I'm crowing.
It's not bragging if you can back it up.
At home I am a nice guy: but I don't want the world to know. Humble people, I've found, don't get very far.
Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.
I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and peace.
I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free.
I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.
I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.
If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.
It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.
It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.
It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.
My toughest fight was with my first wife.
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer.
Superman don't need no seat belt.
The man who has no imagination has no wings.
There are no pleasures in a fight but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.
Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.
When you can whip any man in the world, you never know peace.

John F. Kennedy

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society.
If we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
We must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House!
Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.
If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.
Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.
Politics is like football; if you see daylight, go through the hole.
The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.
The best road to progress is freedom's road.
The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.
A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems, for conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.
We prefer world law in the age of self-determination to world war in the age of mass extermination.
Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.
When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

The Church Gets the Burch Rod

The best tonic for other people's bad ideas is to think for oneself.Michael R. Burch
Hell hath no fury like a frustrated fundamentalist whose God condemned him for having "impure thoughts."Michael R. Burch
Religion is the difficult process of choosing the least malevolent invisible friends.Michael R. Burch
An ideal that cannot be realized is, in the end, just wishful thinking.Michael R. Burch

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

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

Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.
Michael R. Burch

God and his "profits" could never agree
on any gospel acceptable to an intelligent flea.
Michael R. Burch

Dowager Power

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

Take my wife . . . please!—often attributed to Rodney Dangerfield, but Henny Youngman came up with it first

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

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

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

Art Smart

Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.—Leonardo da Vinci
Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.—Virginia Woolf
Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.—Francisco Goya

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 by Yogi Berra

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
It's déjà vu all over again.—Yogi Berra
It ain't over till it's over.—Yogi Berra
We make too many wrong mistakes.Yogi Berra
Baseball is 90% mental; the other half is physical.—Yogi Berra
So I'm ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.—Yogi Berra
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.—Yogi Berra
Never answer an anonymous letter.—Yogi Berra
It gets late early out here.—Yogi Berra
A nickel ain't worth a dime any more.—Yogi Berra
The similarities between me and my father are different.—Dale Berra (Yogi Berra's son)

A Smidgen of Religion

Don’t give up. Moses was once a basket case.—Unknown
Forbidden fruit creates many jams.—Unknown
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

Believe nothing because it is written in books.
Believe nothing because wise men say it is so.
Believe nothing because it is religious doctrine.
Believe it only because you yourself know it to be true.

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 to pay his bills?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.
Death is a better, a milder fate than tyranny.
This is tyranny's disease, to trust no friends.
It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.


Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
—Translation by Michael R. Burch

More Greek Speak

Bigotry is the sacred disease.Heraclitus
Wit is educated insolence.—Aristotle
Hope is a waking dream.—Aristotle
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.—Aristotle
Cleverness is not wisdom.—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
Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.—Macaulay
Education, like neurosis, begins at home.—Milton R. Sapirstein
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who lack it.—George Bernard 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.—G. B. 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.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
If there's one thing we do worse than any other nation, it's managing somebody else's affairs.
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.
You can't say civilization don't advance: in every war they kill you some new way.
A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.
An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just found out.
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.
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.
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.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
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.
Things ain't what they used to be and never was.
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.
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.
When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did, that's Memoirs.
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.

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 sizes?
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 full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it's all over much too soon.
Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
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.
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 proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.
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.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.
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.

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.
Gifts are hooks.

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.

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

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

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

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.
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.
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.
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.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.


Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research.—Unknown
Space is a dangerous place ... especially if it's between your ears!—Unknown
If God had intended us to fly he would have made it easier to get to the airport.—Jonathan Winters
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
A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.—Henrik Ibsen
The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.—Robert G. Ingersoll
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
Art is long, life is short.—Goethe
They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.—Sir Philip Sidney
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
If I have seen a little farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.—Sir Isaac Newton
Beauty is truth, truth beauty.—John Keats

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

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

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