Cool quotations

Cool stuff

“Cool” is remarkably enduring as a word.  It comes from the West African concept, according to Robert Faris Thompson (Jessica Ogilvie, “You Know It,” LAT, Nov. 10, 2012, p.E7).  Chevere is South American Spanish for “cool.”

Traveling light….

The train done gone and the Greyhound bus don’t run

But walkin’ ain’t crowded and I won’t be here long.

                        Traditional blues verse

Got the key to the highway, I’m booked out and bound to go,

Gone to leave here runnin’ cause walkin’ is mo’ slow

                        Traditional blues verse


The absolute basics:

Nyach gava yuk vayuk yabek yak hak wak vak wak yuka!

(When you see people needing help, help them!) 

Paul Talieje, Walapai elder

Look upon all living beings, thinking them as it were Buddhas; join palms and worship them, as if venerating the World-Honored One; also look upon all living beings, thinking them all as it were great bodhisattvas and good acquaintances.  

Huisi, 6th C AD

Lord, grant me the patience to bear the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

                        St. Francis of Assisi (attrib.).  Still the best advice; the wisdom part is, alas, the rarest.

Almost as important:

The most important time in your life is NOW; the most important person in your life is WHOEVER YOU’RE WITH; the most important thing to do in your life is BE GOOD TO THEM 

Tolstoi, from the ending of the short story “The Three Questions,” in Fables and Fairy Tales, pp. 82-88; the whole story is worth looking up

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; life is about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

We don’t see the tears of those who walk in the rain.

                        Alexis Alvarez (Facebook posting, Sept. 2, 2019)

In the coming world, they will not ask me:  “Why were you not Moses?”  They will ask me:  “Why were you not Zurya?”  

Rabbi Zurya of Annopol (quoted by Martin Buber)

Take what you want, then pay for it, says God.

Mediterranean proverb

God gives the pretext for buying but does not say how much it costs. 

Persian variant, cited by Evliya Çelebi, p 261

When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, then he should plant it.

                        Muhammad (Foltz 2003:254)

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

                        Robert Louis Stevenson

The idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.

                        Paul Farmer

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

                        John Wesley  (attributed only, but no reason to doubt the ascription);

unfortunately begs the question of what is good, so see Paul Talieje above.  Also needs the additional clause of saying you should, when there is a choice, do best at what you do best, not just try to “do good in all the ways you can.”

Lord, make of me an instrument of Your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.

                        St. Francis of Assisi

You cannot prevent the bird of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent him from nesting in your hair.

                        Arab proverb

Live as though you would live forever, and as though you would die tomorrow.    


“My son, everyone has two wolves inside them.  One is a good wolf, courageous and social, always trying to protect and help.  One is a bad wolf, always trying to hurt, destroy, and harm.  And you too have those wolves within you.”
“Father, that’s disturbing.  Which wolf wins out?”

“The one you feed.”

                        Folktale, allegedly Native American but probably too Manichaean to be pre-Columbian; absolutely the most insightful line ever spoken about humanity

I will unite with everybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.

                        Frederick Douglass

Quotes from Edmund Burke:

No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.  [This one has been probably the most valuable piece of advice I ever got.]

Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.  [Close second.  Maybe first.]

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than to be ruined by too confident security.  (Reflections, p. 9)

Society cannot exist unless a controlling power on will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

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 may come and sit softly on your shoulder.

                        Henry David Thoreau  (sometimes quoted, instead of “if you turn your attention to other things,” to say “if you stand still”)

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

                        John Lennon

A long-lost New Yorker cartoon that captures much, if not all, that I have learned about life.  It showed a baseball box score; each of the nine innings had the score Realists 1, Idealists 0.  The final score of the game was Realists 0, Idealists 1. 

“There are people who do not live their present life; it is as if they were preparing themselves, with all their zeal, to live some other life, but not this one.  And while they do this, time goes by and is lost.  We cannot put life back into play, as if we were casting another roll of the dice.” 

Antiphon the Sophist (quoted Pierre Hadot 2002:188)

Your talent is your gift from God; how you use it is your gift to Him.

                        Traditional American

We cannot be sure of life for one moment;

We can, by force and self-discipline, by many refusals and a few assertions, in the teeth of fortune assure ourselves

Freedom and integrity in life or integrity in death.  And we know that the enormous invulnerable beauty of things

Is the face of God, to live gladly in its presence, and die without grief or fear knowing it survives us.

                        Robinson Jeffers (poem, “Nova,” worth looking up)

The wise learn from the mistakes of others, but fools learn only from their own.

Proverb quoted by a student in a class paper; I wish I knew the source

“Let us now praise famous men….

There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.

But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten….

Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.”

Ecclesiasticus 44:1, 8-13

The noble nature devotes itself to wisdom and love, of which the first is a mortal god, the second immortal. 

Epicurus (Sent. Vat. LXXVIII, quoted McEvilley 2002:621).  Epicurus—who lived around 300 BC—got the idea of brotherly love from contemporary cynics.  His was a missionary philosophy, active till 4th C AD.  Relationships to Buddhism are many and close.  Fairly atheistic about the gods, he recognized a First Principle.

The tyrant fears the laugh more than the assassin’s bullet.

                        Robert A. Heinlein, in the short story “Our Fair City”

Variations on a theme:

No hay peor lucha que la que no se hace.  (“The only real failure is not trying.”  Literally, “there is no worse struggle than the one not done.”  “Struggle,” though, gives the wrong tone in English.)

There are no stupid questions; the only stupid thing is not asking.


Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.


If you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together.

                        African proverb

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we are saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the point of view of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. 

Reinhold Niebuhr (from The Irony of American History.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Courtesy costs so little and is worth so much that I’m surprised it is not more popular; but courtesy with encouragement is manna from heaven.  Courtesy not only uplifts the promising, but inhibits the truly dreadful—much more effectively than abuse.  The arrogant actually love abuse and feel obliged to return it with knobs on.  Editors need to know this.

                        Martin Carver (“Editorial,” Antiquity, 334:967-972, p. 967)

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

                        Traditional; the most practical advice of all time.

Cyrus cylinder:  Propaganda by Cyrus the Great after conquering Mesopotamia, but states very clearly his religious and ethnic tolerance policies, shown by his treatment of the Jews and other religions.  See British Museum translation online.  The first known statement of religious tolerance in the world.

When you sit with good company, sit long, for God does not count against your lifespan the time spent eating in good company.

                        Attributed to Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Ṣadīq, the Sixth Shi’a Imam, but not reliably nailed to him in any source I can find.  This is not only a wonderful quote, it is literally true.  There is an excellent correlation between longevity and time spent relaxing with friends.

The most important question in the world is, ‘Why is the child crying?’

Alice Walker (q by Goff et al, psych file, p. 526)

We do not find meaning lying in things nor do we put it into things, but between us and things it can happen. 

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (NY: MacMillan, 1947, p. 36)

The great Jewish theologian Dov Baer once said:  “I went to my teacher not to hear him explain the Torah, but to see how he tied his shoes.”  When called on this rather cryptic remark, he explained:  “Anyone can talk about the Torah.  With him, his slightest act was the Torah.”  Retold from Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim  (I forget the name of the teacher…because somehow this says something about the teacher, but much more about Dov Baer.) 

When the great Hasid, Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name, had a problem, it was his custom to go to a certain part of the forest.  There he would light a fire and say a certain prayer, and find wisdom.  A generation later, a son of one of his disciples was in the same position.  He went to that same place in the forest and lit the fire, but he could not remember the prayer.  But he asked for wisdom and it was sufficient.  He found what he needed.  A generation after that, his son had a problem like the others.  He also went to the forest, but he could not even light the fire.  “Lord of the Universe,” he prayed, “I could not remember the prayer and I cannot get the fire started.  But I am in the forest.  That will have to be sufficient.”  And it was.  Now, Rabbi Ben Levi sits in his study in Chicago with his head in his hand.  “Lord of the Universe,” he prays, “look at us now.  We have forgotten the prayer.  The fire is out.  We can’t find our way back to the place in the forest.  We can only remember that there was a fire, a prayer, a place in the forest.  So, Lord, now that must be sufficient.”   (Story told by Shmuel the Tailor, quoted Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days, 1978, p. 112; this is the most consoling story I know)

Some lines from the Baal Shem Tov himself:  “What does it mean, when people say that Truth goes all over the world?  It means that Truth is driven out of one place after another, and must wander on and on.” 

And:  “Alas!  The world is full of enormous lights and mysteries, and man shuts them from himself with one small hand.”  (Quoted from Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Mezhizh, the “Baal Shem Tov,” by Martin Buber)

Remember that life…is often the choice among lousy alternatives.  The key to functioning, to wisdom and to life itself is often to choose the least lousy alternative that is practicably attainable.  (Edwin Shneidman 1981:153; the most trenchant statement of the world’s leading expert on suicide, on how to view life to keep you from suiciding)

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce….  Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.  The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.  And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.

            Marx, Karl.  1972. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Translated by C. P. Dutt and International Publishers.  (German orig. 1869.)  New York: International Publishers.  P. 15.

The original edn was 1852; a third edited by Engels appeared in 1885.

When the last tree is cut, the last fish is eaten, and the last stream is poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.

                        Alanis Obomsawin (Native American; some slightly different versions exist, and the line has been otherwise attributed, but at least one form of it has indeed been traced to Obomsawin, Abenaki writer and filmmaker)

And if, amid the cataclysms that clamour round us everywhere nowadays, you declare that all this babble about beauty and flowers is a vain impertinence, then I must tell you that you err, and that your perspectives are false.  Mortal dooms and dynasties are brief things, but beauty is indestructible and eternal, if its tabernacle be only in a petal that is shed tomorrow.

                        Reginald Farrer, plant explorer and botanist (from Rainbow Bridge, written not long before he died in the remote mountains of Tibet on a plant expedition)

Savoir pour prévoir, prévoir pour pouvoir.  (Know in order to predict, predict in order to be able to do something.)   —Auguste Comte (19th century) on the goals of sociology.

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. 

                        James Madison, in letter, 1822 (quoted Ross, oil, p. 245).

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

                        Benjamin Franklin (in a strictly local PA context….)

Better in modified form: Those who give up liberty for security will have neither.

They divide us by our color

They divide us by our tongue

They divide us men and women

They divide us old and young

But they’ll tremble at our voices

When they hear these verses sung

For the union makes us strong.
Solidarity forever,…

                        Classic labor union song

If you’re worthy (jun) there’s room for others

If you aren’t there’s none for you

Praising the adept and consoling the inept

A disciple of kindness finds his place

[lit. one who goes with humanity [ren] is in the place of virtue [de]]

                        Han Shan, paraphrasing Zizhang, tr. Red Pine, p. 139

Don’t mourn. Organize!  Organize!

                        Last words (according to legend) of the great labor organizer Joe Hill

We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

                        Elie Wiesel

I have not failed. I have only found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

                        Thomas Edison

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;

But Love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle and took him in.

                        Edwin Markham

We have careful thoughts for the stranger,

And smiles for the sometime guest,

But how oft for our own the bitter tone,

Though we love our own the best.

                        Margaret E. Sangster (1838-1912)

One can always give straw for the cow, a leaf for God, food for the hungry, and kind words for all.

                        Proverb, India

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?

            Robert Browning (from “Andrea del Sarto,” an otherwise forgettable poem, 1855)

One Ainu phrase for death is “to have space for thought” (Batchelor 1901:548)

If you don’t like the news, go out and make your own. 

            Graffito on a Berkeley newspaper rack, ca. 1968

Only dead fish go with the flow.

                        American saying

The Value of Money

With money, we can buy:

A bed but not a dream

Books but not intelligence

Food but not appetite

Adornments but not beauty

A house but not a home

Medicines but not health

Luxuries but not joy

Illusions but not happiness

A crucifix but not a Savior

A church but not belief.

            Mexican folk wisdom (my translation, from a sign in a Mexican restaurant in Redding, CA). 

There’s more (shared by Adolfo Tovar Verduzco online, my trans again):

A position but not respect

A watch but not time

Blood but not life

Sex but not love

I am traveling, I,

I go round the world.

I cause the mist.

When I climb the mountaintops

I cause clouds, I cause the rain. 

Long live Coyote!  He will always be. 

This song cures sadness and relieves bad times.  Life is a dream, and the world is a banquet.

Old Man Coyote, from the Chumash of Fernando Librado (T. Blackburn, December’s Child, pp. 226-227)

The Scythian nomad Anacharsis found himself in Greek lands, where he had a conversation with the super-rich Lydian king Croesus.  ‘Croesus launched a discussion among the court sages as to who was the bravest of beings.  Anacharsis said:  “The wildest animals, for they alone would willingly die in order to maintain their freedom.”  The conversation turned to the most just, and Anacharsis said “The wildest animals, for they alone live in accordance with nature, not in accordance with laws.  Since nature is a work of God, while law is a ordinance of man, and it is more just to follow the institutions of God than those of men.”  Croesus rather sarcastically asked if the beasts were also the wisest, to which Anacharsis replied that they were, because “wisdom consists in showing a greater respect to the truth than to the ordinance of the law.” ‘

Diodoros Sikeliotes (Diodorus Siculus), via Knauer 1998:14

Those who love their parents do not dare to hate those of others;

People who respect their parents do not dare to be negligent toward those of others.

                        From the Xiao Jing (Classic of Filial Piety), tr. By Sabine Wilms, slightly modified

Jai yen yen:  “Cool heart,” a Thai ideal

We are all kernels on the same corncob   

Tewa proverb (quoted Cajete 1994:165)

One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time. 


The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

                        Stephen McCranie

Every fire is the same size when it begins.

                        Seneca proverb

It’s not where you’re bred but where you’re fed.  (Doğduğu yerde değil, doyduğu yerde.)

                        Turkish proverb

A table without vegetables is like an old man devoid of wisdom.

Medieval Arab proverb, quoted Ahsan 1979:13

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

                        Richard Feynman; widely quoted

Angels never fight at all; people quarrel but reconcile without delay; demons fight and remain unreconciled all day or more.

                        Ancient Greek (see Dawes and Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints, p. 225)

Is it as plainly in our living shown,

By slant and twist, which way the wind hath blown?

                        “On Seeing Weather-beaten Trees,” by Adelaide Crapsey (American woman poet, 1878-1914)

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute there remains no being to improve, and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

                        George Santayana, from The Life of Reason (NY 1905), vol. 1, p. 284. 

“He who does not forget the past is master of the future.  This is why the man of superior attainments (chun-tzu), when he handles the state, observes it in the light of antiquity.” 

Jia Yi, ca 170 BCE, quoted Bodde, p. 87.

“Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it, but those who DO know history are condemned to stand  by helplessly while the others repeat it.”

                        New Yorker cartoon (showing a couple of historians talking), 2013

Like to the falling of a star,

Or at the flights of eagles are;

Or like the fresh spring’s gaudy hue

Or silver drops of morning dew;

Or like a wind that chafes the flood

Or bubbles which on water stood;

Even such is man, whose borrowed light

Is straight called in, and paid to night.

The wind blows out; the bubble dies;

The spring entomed in autumn lies;

The dew dries up; the star is shot;

The flight is past; and man forgot.

                        Henry King, ca. 1640.  (Interesting is the classic Buddhist description of human life:  “Like a dream, like a vision, like a bubble, like a shadow, like dew, like lightning.”  It is hard to believe Henry King didn’t somehow get a look at that line.  The Metaphysical Poets, p. 111.)

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong.  Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.

                        George Washington Carver

The rabbi noticed that a girl left the synagogue to go into the woods to pray.  He followed her, found her praying, and said “Why do you go outside to pray?”  She answered:  “Outside, I feel closer to God.”  The rabbi said: “Don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”  The girl answered, “I know, but I’m not.”

                        Hasidic story

Advice by the Iroquois to a missionary (in 1634) who became ill:  Look on nature, for “Thou wilt become cheerful, and if thou art cheerful thou wilt recover”

Missionary friar Le Jeune, 1634, as quoted by Eleanor Leacock, in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6, p. 193.

God put the fever in Europe and the quinine in America in order to teach us the solidarity that should prevail among all the peoples of the earth.

South American Native guide, quoted in Whitaker, A.  1954.  The Western Hemisphere Idea.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press.  P. 58.

The difference between Indigenous and settler mentality in a nutshell:  “A native [Nuxalk] store-keeper once ruefully commented on the fact that he would gain no advantage from the goods on his shelves, since he hoped merely to sell them, not to give them away.”  T. F. McIlwraith, The Bella Coola Indians, vol. 1, p. 179

Living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo

                        Asai Ryöi, from Ukiyo Monogatari, ca. 1661

Never doubt that a small, committed group of people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

                        Attrib. Margaret Mead; not in her published works but so typical of her thought that it is accepted as something she said.  It also appears to be literally true, as least of beneficial changes.

Talent hits a target no one else can hit.  Genius hits a target no one else can see.

                        Arthur Schopenhauer.

Talent does what it can; genius does what it must.

                        Scottish saying, attrib Scott Skinner

Get it!  Get it better, or get it worse!  No middle ground or compromise.

                        Thomas Eakins (the great artist) to his student Henry Tanner, the first great academically-trained African-American artist, when Tanner was discouraged by the racism he encountered in the art world; Eakins had no patience with racism or with the possibility of Tanner giving up because of it.  Tanner eventually moved to France because of racism in the US, and, tragically, his work is still extremely undervalued, with racism as one sadly obvious reason.

Leadership is about submission to duty, not elevation to power.

            Gordon Tootoosis, Native American, 1941-2011

Do the most perfect thing that can be done by you.

                        Immanuel Kant, paraphrasing Christian Wolff (Kuehn, p. 138).

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. 

                        Theodore Roosevelt

Do your best at what you do best.

                        Old Man Coyote

To avoid criticism, be like the oyster: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

                        Theodore Roosevelt (attrib)

Life is not easy, and almost everything worth having is hard-won.  Therefore, what matters is not happiness or tranquility, but how you manage the bad parts, and above all making sure that the bads are in service of the good.  Working hard for peace or justice is well done even if it kills you.  An easy life is best left to oysters.

                        Old Man Coyote

Everyone should learn a musical instrument, because doing so teaches that nothing worthwhile comes easily; it has to be learned by slow, gradual stages.

                        Old Man Coyote

Nor can it be but touch of arrogant ignorance, to hold this or that Nation Barbarous, these or those times grosse, considering how this manifolde creature man, wheresoever hee stand in the world, hath alwayes some disposition of woorth….                    

So that it is but the clouds gathered about our own judgement that makes us think all other ages wrapt up in mists, and the great distance betwixt us, that causes us to imagine men so farre off to be so little in respect of our selves.  Wee must not look upon the immense course of times past as men overlook spacious and wide countreys, from off high mountains and are never the neere to judge of the true nature of the soile, or the particular sight and face of those territories they see…. the best measure of man is to be taken by his owne foot.

Samuel Daniel, 1603 (A Defense of Ryme, from Daniel’s Poems and a Defence of Ryme, ed. Arthur Sprague.  New York: Russell and Russell, 1963.  Vol. 4, pp. 49, 51-52)

Man proposes, God disposes.

                        Age-old, with Biblical, Greek and Latin ancestry

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

                        Stephen Jay Gould (New Scientist, March 8, 1979, p. 777)

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

                        From the Talmud

There’s no failure in life until you try to be something you’re not.

                        Modern Native American saying, as related by Luke Madrigal

Two answers to an “I am a scientist because…” tag:

“…there are moments when I learn something in the lab and think, I’m the only human that knows this right now!”  Brian D. Ackley

“…science turns ‘I don’t know’ into ‘I don’t know…yet’ and you won’t find anything more empowering than that.”  Chad Orzel

Advice by a famous ancient Greek sculptor, asked for the secret of his success: 
“Make the nose too big and the eyes too small.”

(Working with marble, you can make the nose smaller but not bigger, and the eyes bigger but not smaller.  In other words, make your mistakes in the direction you can fix.  A modern equivalent would be:  Know when to make Type I vs Type II errors.)

Another (originally) ancient Greek line about sculpture:  “The bear was in the stone already; I merely set him free.”   A version of the line is found in pseudo-Diogenes the Areopagite, p. 195.  Recently recycled, with claims it was said by Inuit and other Native American carvers. 

Another oft-quoted ancient Greek line on carving a bear is “First you take a stone.  Then you cut away everything that isn’t a bear.” 

The people strive to imitate all the actions and mannerisms of their prince.  It is thus very true that no one harms the state more than those who harm by example…. The bad habits of rulers are harmful not only to themselves but to everyone.

                        Petrarch (quoted Sarah Kyle, Medicine and Humanism in Late Medieval Italy, p. 157.)

…It was not in nature’s plan for us her chosen children to be creatures base and ignoble—no, she brought us into life, and into the whole universe, as into some great field of contest, that we should be at once spectators and ambitious rivals of her mighty deeds, and from the first implanted in our souls an invincible yearning for all that is great, all that is diviner than ourselves.  Therefore even the whole world is not wide enough for the soaring range of human thought, but man’s mind often overleaps the very bounds of space….  And this why nature prompts us to admire, not


the clearness and usefulness of a little stream, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and far beyond all the Ocean; not to turn our wandering eyes from the heavenly fires, though often darkened, to the little flame kindled by human hands, however pure and steady its light; not to think that tiny lamp more wondrous than the caverns of Etna…”

                        Longinus (Havell 1890:68)

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?  No.  Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?  No.  Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

                        David Hume (Selections, ed. by Charles Hendel, Scribners’ 1927, p. 193)  

Good judgement comes from experience, and experience often comes from bad judgement.

                        Variously attributed, most delightfully to the fictional Near Eastern trickster and joker Mulla Nasruddin.

This life of ours:  A man fell off a cliff.  He managed to grab a small bush and hang onto it.  Below was a huge drop with a tiger and a bear waiting at the base.  Two mice, one black and one white, were slowly gnawing away the roots of the bush.  The man saw a berry on the bush, reached out, picked it and ate it.  How sweet it tasted!

                        Widely known folktale (the mice are our days and nights)

There was a village woman whose son died.  She was heartbroken, and went to the local holy man in hopes that he could bring her son back to life.  The holy man said:  I am sorry, but there is no way to bring the dead back.  They are in peace, and we must remain here to deal as we can.  She persisted, and said:  Holy man, you surely must be able through all your religion to do something.  Finally, he replied:  All right, I will try, but first you must bring me water from a house in the village in which no one has died.  The woman went from house to house.  In the first, the mother sobbed, saying she lost her father just last year.  In the second, a father said he had just lost his wife in childbirth.  And so it went.  The subject of the story got sadder and sadder.  Soon, in tears, she realized what the holy man had really been teaching her….  She devoted her life to helping the bereaved.

                        Indian folktale

Oh body, be held now by whom you love.

Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,

when dirt’s the only animal that will sleep with you

& will touch you with

its mouth.

                        Aracelis Girmay

Long ago, a young king of Persia became obsessed with history.  He assembled a team of the greatest historians, and commissioned them to write a history of the world.  They went to work, and years later came to him with a hundred-volume encyclopedic work.  The king was delighted, but said “I would love to read this, but I’m afraid I am very busy with ruling the realm; can you condense this?”  They went to work, and in a year or two came back with a ten-volume edition.  By this time the king was old, and said “I may not live to finish reading this; can you get it down to one volume?”  Back they went, but when they returned with one volume the king was aged and on his deathbed.  He said, “Friends, I am deeply grateful for all you have done; you have been wonderful workers; but unfortunately now I am about to pass on.  To get at least a little final benefit from all you’ve done, I’m afraid I have to ask you to get it down to a sentence.”  The head historian, himself deeply grateful for the king’s unfailing and devoted support, had known this was coming, and was prepared:  “Certainly, sire.  Man was born, he suffered, and he died.”

            And it is said that the king died content.

                        Folktale, unknown origin


Once, when I was not yet born, how could I know life’s delight?  Now I have not yet died; how can I know that death is not delightful?

                        Last words of an ancient Chinese philosopher (from Zhuangzi—I think)

A way of looking is also a way of not looking.  

Chinese Taoist saying (ascribed—I can’t find the source; it seems to be a free translation; at any rate, it’s a thoroughly Taoist idea).

If I don’t know a foot and make a sandal, I still won’t make a basket…. Tastes are similar: they have the same sense of taste.  Yi Ya [the great chef] got it about what we like to eat;…dogs and horses do not have our tastes in food, being different kinds; but people all have tastes like Yi Ya’s….  why should their minds not be the same?

                        Mencius (my trans; 6A, chp 7), illustrating the point that people should all approve the same moral qualities 

“One adept at learning is like the king of Qi who, when eating chicken, was satisfied only after he had eaten a thousand feet; if he were still unsatisfied, there would always be another chicken foot to eat.”  -Lü Buwei, from his Lüshi Chunchiu, Tr. John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel.  Stanford:  Stanford University Press. ca. 220 BCE (Lü 2000:129).

When people bring up your flaws, you resent them for it; but when a mirror reflects your ugliness, you consider it a good mirror. 

Huai Nan Tzu (“The Tao of Politics,” p. 75)

Zigong asked:  “If everyone in the village likes someone, how is that?”  Confucius said:  “That’s not enough.”  “If all in the village hate him, how is that?”  Confucius said: “Not enough.  It’s better if the good people in the village like him, and the bad ones hate him.”

                        Analects 13:24, tr. D. C. Lau, slightly revised

Someone asked, “What do you think of the idea of returning good for an injury?”  Confucius said:  “How would then pay back the good?  Return justice for injury; return good for good.”

                        Analects 14:36, tr. James Legge, revised

If you care about someone, you care about even the crows on his roof.


A journey of 1000 li begins with a single step.


“There is a saying that the pelt of one fox will not make a costly robe of fur, one limb of a tree will not do for the rafters of a tall pavilion, and the wisdom of one man alone cannot bring about the great ages of the Three Dynasties of old.” 

                        Sima Qian (tr. Burton Watson; Han 1, p. 246.)

Even the greatest fool is right once in a hundred times; even the wisest sage is wrong once in a hundred times. 

                        Chinese proverb, going back to Confucius or his time.   (For the rest of us, that last part is more like one in two.)

The millipede has many legs, but the snake is faster.

                        Chinese traditional (see Huainanzi p. 526)

There are no thousand-year-old states, no hundred-year-old households, and no ten-year-old abilities.

                        Mu He, a tomb text from 168 BCE (Shaughnessy, I Ching, p. 247, retranslated).  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but the message is clear: your talents, and you, are not long for this world; do what you can while you can.

We have not followed a path made by a single footprint, nor taken advice from only one viewpoint, or allowed ourselves to be trapped or bound by things; thus we have not advanced or shifted with the age.

                        Good advice from the authors of the Huainanzi, proudly summing up their accomplishment; tr. Major et al, slightly revised

Whenever people don’t live out their lives or their life is cut short, it is always caused by not loving or cherishing themselves, they exhaust their emotions, push their sense of purpose to the extreme, pursue fame and profit, collect poisons and damage their spirit, internally damaging the bone and marrow and externally spoiling the sinews and flesh.  Qi and blood perish, the channels and network vessels become congested….

                        Sun Simiao, tr. Sabine Wilms

One day Master Huai-jang asked Ma-tsu, “why are you practicing meditation?”  And Ma-tsu answered, “I’m trying to become a buddha.” Huai-jang picked up a brick next to Ma-tsu’s hut and started to grind it on a rock.  When Ma-tsu asked what he was doing, Huai-jang replied, “I’m trying to make a mirror.”  Ma-tsu said, “But how can you make a mirror by grinding a brick?”  Huai-jang answered, “And how can you become a buddha by practicing meditation?”

                        Red Pine (Han-Shan p. 102), from the Chuantenglu.  The expression “No matter you much you polish a brick, you can’t make a mirror” has become proverbial in Chinese, like “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear” in English, specifically in regard to people—you can’t change a fool.

The superior person, in treating others, would rather emphasize the positive than insist on perfection. 

Ouyang Xiu (Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, p. 273, tr. Richard Davis, slightly corrected)

Looking at flowers from horseback. 

                        Proverb; means contemplating a situation from too far off to get it.  Often said of officials looking at the people’s situation.

“If he does not recite and chant (=study) as a child, does not analyze and discuss as a youth, and does not instruct and admonish as an elder, then it can also be said he has become a person without a legacy.”  Da Dai Liji

“When someone in antiquity who was gripped by an obsession for flowers heard speak of a rare blossom, even if it were in a deep valley or in steep mountains, he would not be afraid of stumbling and would go to it.  Even in the freezing cold and the blazing heat, even if his skin were cracked and peeling or caked with mud and sweat, he would be oblivious.  When a flower was about to bloom, he would move his pillow and mat and sleep alongside it to observe how the flower would go from budding to blooming to fading.  Only after it lay withered on the ground would he take his leave…. This is what is called a genuine love of flowers….”  Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610), tr. Judith Zeitlin, in “The Petrified Heart: Obsession in Chinese Literature,” Late Imperial China 12:1-26, 1991, p. 3. 

A Chinese painter stopped at an inn for one night.  He planted bamboos.  Someone asked:  “You are staying here only one night.  Why are you planting bamboos?”  The painter turned to the bamboos and said:  “What is the use of talking to such a person?” 

                        Chinese folktale

“When asked how his family managed to reside together for nine generations, Zhang Gongyi (fl. 665) wrote on a piece of paper the character ren…more than a hundred times.”  Keith Knapp, 2003. Selfless Offspring: Filial Children and Social Order in Medieval China.  Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, p. 17, citing the Jiu Tang Shu by Liu Xu (887-946).

Ren literally means the way two people should naturally act toward each other.  In China, that normally implies concern, tolerance, civility, respect, mutual accommodation, and just plain being decent because you want to be a decent person in a decent world.  Originally the word ren “person” was simply extended to the moral quality, exactly as “human” was extended to “humane,” and then the “two” was added to mark the moral quality, exactly as we have added “-ness” but with a lot of added semantic force.

When I was in China in 1978, I noticed that almost every hotel had a large painting of a pine in the reception area, labeled “welcoming-guests pine.”  I realized there must be a story, so I asked about this.  I learned that, according to folklore, there was an artist who was so poor that he could not afford a servant, but so absorbed in his painting that he often missed a knock on the door.  He thus painted a pine (symbol of integrity, evergreen against the storm) and labeled it “welcoming-guests pine” to serve the function.  This started a tradition.

There once was a kingdom and in the kingdom a body of water, called the Spring of Madness. Of the people in the kingdom who drank from this spring, none was not mad.  Only the king, who dug a well to draw his own water, did not become afflicted. Since all the people were mad, they considered the ruler’s lack of madness to be madness.  Hence they plotted together, seized the king, and treated his illness of ‘madness’ with moxibustion, acupuncture, and medicinal herbs—there was not one that was left out.  The king could not bear the suffering; hence he went to the spring, drew water, and drank it.  After drinking it, he became mad.  The king and his subjects, high and low—their madness appeared to be the same and all were now happy…. Like the rest I shall try to drink this water.

                        Yuan Can (421-478), tr. Wendy Swartz (Swartz et al. 387)

Highest loyalty and considerateness is like the earth: it creates all things and makes no boast of it.  Highest honor is like the seasons: they change all things without any obligation to do it.  The loyal person does not lie.  The honest person does not weasel out.  The good person is like this: not forgetting the living or turning his/her back on the dead.

                        From a text found in a tomb at Guodian, dated ca 300 BC; my translation, after Scott Cook’s superb workup in The Bamboo Texts of Guodian, Cornell UP, 2012, vol. 1, p. 577.  The whole text is short but extremely powerful.

“Living with good people is like staying a room with orchids; you get sweet-scented. Living with bad people is like living in a dried-fish shop.” (My rephrasing from Keith Knapp, Selfless Offspring, 2003, p. 71.)

“If I am stabbed with a knife yet remain woodenlike, it must be because I am dead.  So it is if people are dying from deprivation yet I just stand by like a block of wood.  Doing good is like drinking when thirsty and eating when hungry….. There are two roads: to be humane, the road to life; and to be inhumane, the road to death.” 

                        Gao Panlong, ca. 1593; tr. Joanna Handlin Smith (2009:60)

Sad rather than wise:  Yin Hao, a famed general, lost a key battle with terrible loss of soldiers.  For the rest of his life, he was in a daze, writing with his finger in air the words “duo, duo, guai shi”—“oh, oh, strange happening” (Liu Yiqing, Shishuo Xinyu, pre-Tang).  Thoroughly believable PTSD. 

Two variants of a Chinese traditional formula for happiness (both from folklore):

If you would be happy for three hours, get drunk.

If you would be happy for three days, kill a pig and eat it.

If you would be happy for three months, get married.

If you would be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.


If you would be happy for an hour, take a nap.

If you would be happy for a day, go fishing.

If you would be happy for a month, get married.

If you would be happy for a year, inherit a fortune.

If you would be happy for a lifetime, help others.

A single leaf blocking the view of Mt. Tai. 

(Proverb.  A prejudice or petty concern keeps you from seeing even the biggest of big pictures.)

A bird in a whole forest can perch on only one branch.

                        Very widespread saying, with many meanings and implications. 

Bargaining with a tiger for his skin (yu hu mou pi)

                        Proverb, with sense of “very bad idea”

Cha-bo-gina-a, ku chhai mia; cha-bo-gin-a, lu chhai chi mia—”a girl child, a chive’s fate; a girl child, a mustard seed’s fate.”  Cut down or mashed without thought (Crook and Hung A Culinary History of Taipei, p. 14).

(So stingy that) “if he were to eat a flea, would save a hind leg for later.” 

                        Proverbial, in Feng Menglong, vol. 2, p. 494.  Cf Texan saying:  “So stingy he’d skin a flea for its hide and tallow.”  Great minds do think alike….

“…the important thing is to do good deeds before thinking of claiming credit for them.”

                        Ibid., p. 740.  Cf. Charles Lamb, “The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good deed by stealth and have it found out by accident.”

The 10 essentials for a Lothario or Don Juan:  “First, act wild.  Second, don’t begrudge time and effort.  Third, be generous with sweet, honeyed words.  Fourth, be soft and gentle.  Fifth, be persistent.  Sixth, put the lance to good use.  Seventh, act the fool [presumably means be playful and humorous].  Eighth, have friends [wingmen!], Ninth, dress well.  Tenth, be all affability.”  

                        Feng Menglong, vol. 2, p. 657.

If you don’t want to have something you did found out, don’t do it in the first place.

                        Proverb, very frequently quoted by Feng Menglong

Water’s nature is to flow downward, humanity’s nature is to go higher. 


The twisted tree lives out its life, the straight tree ends up as a board.


Chinese proverbs (Rohsenow, John.  2002.  ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs.  Honolulu:  University of Hawai’i Press)

He doesn’t blame his household’s short rope, he blames the community for having a deep well (B128)

Don’t value a foot of jade, but value an inch of time (B131; to understand this you have to realize the Chinese used sundials—the shadow advanced about an inch an hour.  Usually translated “an inch of time is worth more than a foot of jade.”).

Mend the roof in fine weather, and when not thirsty start digging a well (B150)

            This one led to a medical saying:  “Waiting for an illness to appear before taking medicine is like waiting until you’re thirsty to dig a well.”  (Red Pine tr., Han-Shan p. 102, from the Suwen Ssuchi Tiaoshan Taolun.)

Don’t fear being slow, just fear stopping (B162; bu pa man, jiou pa zhan)

A man once cheated by a candy seller will not trust a sweet mouth again (C24; that would go great in Southern dialect, double meanings and all: I got took by the candy man and I ain’t trustin’ no sweet mouth no more.)

Lighting up a seven-storey pagoda is not as good as lighting an ordinary lamp in a dark place. (D151)

East gate, carrying-pole lost; west gate says there’s a revolution!.  (By the time the story travels that far, it’s grown that much.  Dongmen shi tiao biandan, ximen shuoshi zaofan.) (D179)

Freezing to death, stand straight and face the wind; starving to death, never bend.  (D183; Chinese history in 10 words.)

Do more, more mistakes; do less, fewer mistakes; do nothing, no mistakes! (D 222)  (Teddy Roosevelt said this even better:  “To avoid all criticism be like the oyster: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”)

Feng sheng feng, long sheng long, laoshu sheng de hui da dong.  (The world’s greatest poem.  Lit. Phoenixes bear phoenixes, dragons bear dragons, rats bear ones that can make holes.  F49)

A white-washed crow isn’t white for long.

In a melon patch don’t tie your shoes; under a plum tree don’t adjust your hat. (G167.  Don’t do things that will obviously arouse suspicion.)

Guan fang lou, guan ma shou, guang zhong tangwu ji shi chou.  The public hall leaks, the public horse is thin, and in the public hall the chicken shit stinks.  (G124; a typical bit of wry Chinese folk poetry.)

The face is easy to wash, the heart more difficult (L96)

Sharp knives cut, the wounds may heal; evil words hurt, the hatred never dies.  (L99)

When hunters enter the mountains they see only game; when herb gatherers enter the mountains, they see only medicinal herbs (L103)

Whole life without slander, no competence. (L123)  (The only people who go through their whole lives without slander are those who can’t do anything.)

Running water is never stale and door hinges are never worm-eaten. (L133; a classic Daoist line)

Dragons many, no water control; hens many, no laying eggs. (L140; dragons control water.  Too many cooks spoil the broth.)

Better one mouthful of heavenly peach than a whole basket of rotten apricots.  (N50)

Better a dog in time of peace than a human in time of war. (N77; this is the nearest real Chinese proverb to Jose Luis Borges’ wonderful “Chinese curse,” “May you live in interesting times.”)

A fur robe worth a thousand gold is not made from a fox’s armpit. (Q40)

When people hit bad luck, a mouthful of cool water will get stuck in their teeth. (R31)

People when many can eat a wolf, wolves when many can eat people. (R47)

When people have pure hearts, dogs won’t eat shit.  (R223; or, just as cynical, “When the millennium comes, dogs will still eat shit and wolves will still eat people.”  Cantonese equivalent I heard:  When a cop has a conscience, a penis will have bones in it.)

A snake may enter a bamboo tube, but in its heart is wriggling.  (S178)

The river may rise, but it won’t rise over the little ducks. (S329; ordinary people survive all!)

Low people talk and don’t do, middling people talk and do, top quality people do and then talk. (X3; variant of ending, “…and say nothing.”)

If the country has no muddy legs, in the city starvation kills the oily mouths. (S35; an answer to those who look down on farmers for being dirty)

In the shallows you can catch shrimp and fish, but enter the deep water and you can catch flood dragons. (X99)

Students like cow hairs, successes like unicorn horns.  (X196; reference is to the relative numbers; certainly true in my experience as a teacher.)

One day no work, one day no food.  (Y254; a classic Zen line, to counter the idea that Buddhist monks should not work.  I posted it on the refrigerator when my kids were young.)

Lots more good ones—see the book.

Another good one, this time from Katy Biggs:  One real dragon is better than a bucketful of lizards (sheng yitiao zhen long, shengguo goumushe yi dong—“dog mother snake” being a colloquial term for lizard)

And some from Donia Zhang (some a bit retranslated):

A thousand cups of wine are not enough when friends meet; half a sentence is too much when unpleasant people are talking.

Rather quarrel with a sensible person than speak a word with a fool.

One monk fetches water to drink; two monks carry water to drink; three monks have no water to drink.  (Let George do it.)


When the axe comes to the forest, the trees say “The handle is one of us.”

                        Armenian proverb

If anything can go wrong, it will.

                        Traditional; Murphy’s Law

An orphan has to cut his own umbilical cord.  [If you’re alone without help, you must get used to doing everything for yourself.]

                        Turkish proverb (Levi and Sela p. 256)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

                        Alexander Pope, from “An Essay on Criticism,” 1711

“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”  David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, p. 462.

A fool can drop into a well a rock that a hundred wise men cannot remove.

                        Russian proverb

Work loves fools.

                        Russian proverb

The cheese mites asked how the cheese got there,

And hotly debated the matter;

The orthodox said that it came from the air,

And the heretics said, from the platter.

                        British, traditional

They say princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship.  The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer.  He will throw a prince as soon as his groom.

                        Ben Jonson (from Timber, or Discoveries, 1640)

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig.  You get dirty, and besides the pig likes it.

                        George Bernard Shaw

I try to argue myself out of one deeply-held belief every morning, to keep my mind exercised.

                        Anonymous  (and possibly misremembered; attributed to George Bernard Shaw but not in his quotes; at any rate it’s about the best advice I ever had, and I try hard to live by it).

Vale mas un pregunta pendeja, que un pendejo que no pregunta.

                        Mexican saying.

“Were one to go round the world with the intention of giving a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently be embarrassed in his choice, and would find that the merits of most men [and women] scarcely amount to the value of either.”     

David Hume, “Of the Immortality of the Soul,” in Writings on Religion, Anthony Flew, ed., pp. 29-38; quote on p. 34,.  Chicago and La Salle, IL:  Open Court.)

“I have never been impressed by the argument that, as complete objectivity is impossible in these matters (as, of course, it is), one might as well let one’s sentiments run loose.  As Robert Solow has remarked, that is like saying that as a perfectly aseptic environment is impossible, one might as well conduct surgery in a sewer.”

Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Chapter 1, page 30

Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely:  all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 41, p. 202 of Penguin 2001 edn.

Man’s greatest good…is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support, gazaing upon and kissing their rosy breasts, sucking their lips which are as sweet as the berries of their breasts.

                        Attrib to Genghis Khan (by folklore, recorded by Rashid al-Din; from “Collected Chronicles,” quoted by Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan, p. 153)

“Cleopatra’s nose:  Had it been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been changed.”  (Modern readers may need this explained.  Short noses were considered ugly in Pascal’s time.  If Cleopatra had been ugly, she would not have seduced Caesar and Mark Antony; the Roman republic might have survived, and thus Rome never fallen; we might all be speaking Latin now….  This is Pascal being sarcastic about conjectural history.)

                        Pascal (tr. Roger Ariew; 2005:6)

We run carelessly over the precipice after covering our eyes to prevent our seeing it.

                        Pascal (ibid. 52 but reworded)

We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who will come when we are no more.  And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us.

                        Pascal (ibid. 33)

A truth that’s told with bad intent

Beats all the lies you can invent.

                        William Blake.  (A bit exaggerated surely, but thought-provoking)

Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that he looks forward to the trip.

                        Winston Churchill

All-purpose advice for down times, from a Macedonian folksong.  A son jilted by his girlfriend sings to his mother:
”The same as your glass is full of wine

My heart is full of sorrow.

Let me drink dear mother till I get drunk

As I’d like to stop this sorrow.”
[His mother responds:]
”Listen to me my dear son. 

Fill up your glass and drink.

Then take your gun, my son, and leave for the green mountains,

There you’ll find faithful friends.”

I.e., go and become a bandit and join a bandit group!  I learned this in Croatia in 1988 from a Macedonian folklorist and singer.  Becoming a bandit sure beats many of the other ways of dealing with the blues.

The purest and most ritually careful imam in town had spent hours dressing and purifying himself for the Friday service.  Just as he came to the mosque, a filthy, unclean, impure street dog came rushing past and ran right into him.  He closed his eyes, turned his face toward heaven, and slowly said: “If Allah wills…it was a cat.”

                        Near Eastern folktale

Mi ddarllenais ddod yn rhywfodd

I’r byd hwn wyth ran ymadrodd,

Ac i’r gwrangedd, mawr lles iddynt,

Fynd a saith o’r wythran rhyngddynt.

  “They say there are eight parts of speech, and they say the women, God bless them, went off with seven of them.” 

            Welsh folk rhyme (from A People’s Poetry, Hen Benillion, Glyn Jones, p. 108)

“The only thing anyone ever learned from the study of history is that no one ever learned anything from the study of history.”  G. W. Hegel (as quoted by Hayden White, 1987:82)

The shortest refutation of environmental determinism:  “Where the Greeks once lived, the Turks now live, and there’s an end on it.”  Georg Hegel (quoted Geertz 1963:6).

“The tree of humanity forgets the labour of the silent gardeners who sheltered it from the cold, watered it in time of drought, shielded it against wild animals; but it preserves faithfully the names mercilessly cut into its bark.”  Heinrich Heine, 1833 (as quoted in Gross 1983:323)

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”—T. S. Eliot (from “Four Quartets”)

It is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.     Abraham Lincoln

A good teacher should inspire the gifted, inform the mediocre, and entertain the rest.

                        Anonymous (probably a perversion of a line by William Arthur Ward)

“Had I only been a better writer, I could have saved the world!” 

            –Supposedly the last words of a famous French sage, but I have never found an actual reference, and this appears to be academic folklore.  However, “if it isn’t true, it’s a good story” (si non e vero, e ben trovato) as the Italians say, and it certainly is exactly the way I feel on some mornings.

Some ancient Greek tried to lure Diogenes, the cynic who lived in a barrel, back into consumerism, so they lured him down to the Athens city market—extremely busy and active in those days.  They said:  “There, what do you think of that?”  His answer was:  “Behold, how many things there are in the world that Diogenes does not need.” 

Exactly my sentiments in Macy’s or Target….

“Nequiquam, quoniam medio de fonte leporum

Surgit amari aliquit quod in ipsis floribus angat”

Lucretius, Book IV, lines 1133-1134, on the sorrows of love—even having sex with passionately loved ones ends, and leaves some guilt or grief.  (Incidentally, in the standard translation of this, the translator has some fun—in other passages—translating Lucretius’ sarcastically over-learned Greek words as French.)

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority:  still more when you add the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority.”  Lord Acton, 1887, commenting on the then-new idea of Papal infallibility

“We may see the small value God has for riches by the people he gives them to.”  Alexander Pope (Gross, Oxford Book of Aphorisms, 1983:102). 

In my childhood this had become proverbial in the Midwest:  “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at whom he gives it to.”  I like this phrasing better than Pope’s.  Related was a sarcastic Midwestern line on tasteless McMansions:  “Shows what God could do if He had money.”

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.

                        H. L. Mencken (from “The Divine Afflatus,” New York Evening Mail, Nov. 16, 1917,  reprinted in Prejudices, second series, Alfred A. Knopf, 1920, pp. 155-179; on p. 158).  The article is on inspiration and simplistic explanations for it; Mencken’s sarcastic one was that it’s all from indigestion.

Puritanism:  The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. 

                        H. L. Mencken, from A Book of Burlesques, 1916

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority.  The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong.  All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who doubted the current moral values, not the men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.  The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant.

                        H. L. Mencken (ironically, he became an intolerant, dogmatic man in his old age)

The answer is What’s your question? 

                        Sign in a Denver restaurant

To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.

                        Folk wisdom

“The problem with quotes on the Internet is you can never be certain they’re authentic—Abraham Lincoln.”

                        Quote (anonymous) on the Internet

“Here is the familiar paradox that all general theories of the relativity of truth must brand themselves as biased or erroneous.”

Max Black, “Linguistic Relativity: The Views of Benjamin Lee Whorf,” in Theory in Anthropology:  A Source Book, R. A. Manners and D. Kaplan, eds.  London:  Routledge, Kegan Paul.  Pp. 437

“Well, the best recipe for apple pie can’t be eaten but it would be odd to regard that as an inadequacy.”  Same, p. 444.

“I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:

1.  This is worthless nonsense,

2.  This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,

3.  This is true, but quite unimportant,

4.  I always said so.”

                        J. B. S. Haldane, reviewing a book for Journal of Genetics, 58:464 (review title “The Truth About Death”)

“One might recall…an anecdote of Darius.  When he was king of Persia, he summoned the Greeks who happened to be present at his court, and asked them what they would take to eat the dead bodies of their fathers.  They replied that they would not do it for any money in the world.  Later, in the presence of the Greeks, and through an interpreter, so that they could understand what was said, he asked some Indians, of the tribe called Callatiae, who do in fact eat their parents’ dead bodies, what they would take to burn them [as the Greeks did].  They uttered a cry of horror and forbade him to mention such a dreadful thing.  One can see by this what custom can do, and Pindar, in my opinion, was right when he called it ‘king of all.’”  (Herodotus 1954, orig. ca. 400 BCE)

“What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument” (C. S. Lewis; quoted by Peter Coates 1998:46 from Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, Oxford University Press, 1944, p. 28).

Baladi mish baladak,

‘arnab yakul waladak.

This is not your land; here the rabbit might eat your child.

Ababda Beja (nomads of E. Egypt) proverb to discourage outsiders

The fox having urinated into the sea, “the whole of the sea is my urine,” he said.
                        Sumerian proverb, from cuneiform.  Amazing how things like this never end:  in my youth, the way I heard it from Midwestern men was “Every little bit helps, as the whore said when she pissed in the ocean.” 

If you’re poor, even the dogs piss on your leg. 

                        European saying, which I learned from my Finnish relatives; a classic German cartoon illustrates it via a dachshund.  Family advice was and is to carry some cash at all times, “so the dogs don’t piss on your leg.”

Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

                        English proverb (in the old days, everyone knew how to do that; so, don’t insult your elders by assuming they’re dopes). 

Memorably rewritten by some nameless sage:

Teach not thy parent’s mother to extract

The content of the egg by force of suction;

The agèd lady can that deed enact

Without the need of incident instruction.

Related is the bear’s advice to the young wolves:

If you find that the Bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed Sambhur can gore,

Ye need not stop work to inform us: we knew it ten seasons before.

                        From “Maxims of Baloo,” in Rudyard Kipling, Jungle Book 1 (p 46).  I often think of that verse when my students tell me that they have just discovered people can be mean, or that history is often inaccurate.

If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [gunpowder, and military technology in general] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

                        Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Penguin edn, vol. 3, p. 863

La ley de San Garabato: Comprar caro y vender barato. 

                        Mexican saying, recorded from Maya in Yucatan

What the farmer buys is too high yet,

What he has to sell is too low to make a hit.

                        Uncle Dave Macon

The most important protection of the good is that bad people can’t resist being bad even to each other.  The good love to argue with each other, thus failing to present a united front against evil, but then the evil people not only argue but fight with each other, saving the day.

                        Old Man Coyote

I read the history of mankind, age after age,

And little find therein but treachery and slaughter.

No pestilence, no fiend could inflict half the evil

Tor half the desolation that man brings to man.

                        Anonymous, undated Arabic poem, used by Wendell Phillips as the summary of his book Oman: A History (Longmans 1967, p. 24)

The good old rule sufficeth them, the simple plan,

Let him take who has the power, and let him keep who can.

                        Robert Burns (from “Rob Roy’s Grave”)

You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by appealing to logic.

                        Robert A. Heinlein

The tyrant fears the laugh more than the assassin’s bullet.

                        Robert A Heinlein (from the story “Our Fair City”)

Everyone describes the fair according to how well he did there.

                        Spanish proverb on what is now called the Rashomon effect

Failure is an orphan, success has a hundred fathers.   

Anonymous folk wisdom

If you make people think they think, they’ll love you; but if you make them think, they’ll hate you.  

Anonymous folk wisdom

When you’re up to your ears in alligators, it’s hard to remember you set out to conserve the wetland. 

                        Traditional (slightly updated)

Don’t try teaching a pig to sing; you merely waste effort and annoy the pig.

                        American proverb

Futile argument is like shearing a pig: you get too much squealing and too little wool.

                        Russian (rough equivalent to preceding)

Reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.

                        Anonymous folk wisdom

You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.  –Spirit Science

No, but most people are less interested in fixing themselves than in defending their unfixedness by breaking someone else.  –Old Man Coyote

On trying to hurry things up by doing a lot at once:  “You can’t make a baby in one month by impregnating nine women.”  

More anonymous folk wisdom

Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity. 

More folk wisdom

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

                        Napoleon Bonaparte (attrib.  Though if the mistake will involve you as a victim, say if he is planning to blow up the world, you may want to make an exception.)

What can’t be cured must be endured.  

Anonymous proverb, to which Old Man Coyote adds:  what can’t be cured must be uninsured.  (Obamacare briefly made this partially obsolete.)

People will always do what is rational, once they have exhausted all other possibilities. 

                        Old Man Coyote

Life is too serious to take seriously. 

Old Man Coyote

Never give up necessary luxuries for the sake of dispensable necessities.

                        Old Man Coyote

The need for control is the only human need that is never satisfied.  Since understanding is the only form of control that is good in large quantities, the wise will seek understanding instead of other forms.

Old Man Coyote

Whether one thinks the glass is half full or half empty may depend on whether it is filling or emptying.

                        Old Man Coyote

Growing up in a family gives to human life the tension between fair-and-equal and hierarchic-and-respectful.  As adults, if we don’t go primarily with the former, we regress to childhood and ultimately babyhood.

                        Old Man Coyote

Happiness is failing at something worth failing at;

Unhappiness is succeeding at something not worth doing.

                        Old Man Coyote

Self storage.

                        Riverside sign—by a cemetery

“The young scholars soon fell into a way of traveling from one school to another, as the contemporary saying went, seeking the liberal arts at Paris, law at Orleans, medicine at Salerno, magic at Toledo, and manners and morals nowhere”

George Whicher, The Goliard Poets, p. 3.  The universities in question were the leading ones in those fields at that time.  This proves that nothing ever changes….

Los Angeles Times, health section (p 1, 7), Mar 17 2003, notes that married people are happier than single ones not because marriage makes you happier but because happier people get married and stay so—this from prospective studies.  And (later) widows/widowers often happier than when married.  So much for marriage.

Nothing worth doing is worth doing perfectly.

                        Kristin Hawkes (“The Optimizer’s Epigram,” in her article “Why Hunter-Gatherers Work,” Current Anthropology 34:31-362, p. 342)

Without taste, genius is but sublime folly. 

Attributed to various people, most often Chateaubriand but no one is sure.

Lord, I thank Thee for denying me the gift of taste. 

Old man coyote

Modern version of St. Francis’ Prayer (see above): God grant me the coffee to change the things I can, and the wine to bear the things I cannot change.

            From the Internet; “wisdom” of course has dropped out, being not even a concept in the contemporary world.

On prohibition:  “If you were to forbid people to roll camel dung into little balls with their fingers, people would do it, because they would assume there must be pleasure in it.”

Arabic proverb (attributed, not very believably, to Muhammad)

The first novel by Alexandre Dumas, of Three Musketeers fame, did not sell.  So under a false name he wrote a review of it in a leading journal, saying it was a shocking book that would corrupt the morals of the young.  It promptly became a best-seller.

 –folktale; maybe true!

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.  (Aus so krummen Holtze, der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.)

                        Immanuel Kant, tr, Isaiah Berlin and made famous from his book title The Crooked Timber of Humanity; from Kant’s Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose; deriving apparently from:

Consider the work of God; for who can make straight, what he hath made crooked?

                        Ecclesiastes 7:13.

I’m losing money on every skin, and if it weren’t for the turnover I’d go broke.

                        Alleged remark by anonymous 19th-century fur trader who was a bit challenged on economic theory

I said, “I will keep watch upon my ways,

   So that I do not offend with my tongue.

I will put a muzzle on my mouth

   While the wicked are in my presence.”

                        Psalm 39 (Episcopal version)

Alle Leute recht getan

Ist eine Kunst die niemand kann.

(Doing well by everybody is an art known to nobody.) 

   German proverb, as quoted by my anthropologist friend Gabriela Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi

I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, my cousin, brother and I against our village, and our village against the world. 

                        Middle Eastern proverb; a slightly different Afghan version is quoted by Scott Atran, Talking to the Enemy, p. 256

I never borrowed his pot, and anyway I returned it to him in perfect condition, and anyway it was cracked when he loaned it to me! 

                        Folk wisdom (or sarcasm) from India

Malay proverbs:

Where there’s a will there’s a thousand ways, where there’s no will there’s a thousand excuses. 

            Better a wise man for a foe than a fool for a friend. 

            Where there are no eagles, the grasshoppers say, We are eagles. 

            Even if ten ships come, the dogs have no loincloths but their tails.  (The ships are assumed to be bringing costly imported fabrics.)

More than the setting of the Pleiades,

More than hidden reefs and lightning at sea

I fear the man who stays sober

And thus remembers in the morning

What we said last night.

                        Antipater of Thessaloncia, ca 11 BCE; my more vernacular recap from translation by Sam Hammill in Washburn and Major, World Poetry p. 134

Ulrich, Johannes; Joachim I. Krueger; Anna Brod; Fabian Groschupf.  2013.  “More Is Not Less: Greater Information Quantity Does not Diminish Liking.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 105:909-920. 

P. 917:  “We believe

[there is]

a tendency among social psychologists of seeking to prove naïve folk psychologists wrong…. A related epistemological tendency in this field is to identify a psychological bias in the minds of ordinary people and to hold it responsible for a host of irrational, incompetent, or undesirable behaviors…leaving researchers in wonder ‘how people manage to get out of the door in the morning, let alone fly to the moon’ (North & Fiske, 2012, p. 88).”  North, M. S., and S. T. Fiske.  2012.  “A History of Social Cognition.”  In Handbook of the History of Social Psychology, A. W. Kruglanski and W. Stroebe, eds.  New York: Psychology Press.  Pp. 81-99.

Old Man Coyote says:  Well, two people have walked on the moon, eight billion can’t get their lives together….

Quantum mechanics…delivers much, but does not really bring us any closer ot the secret of the Old one.  I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not play dice.

                        Albert Einstein (the actual quote usually summarized as “God does not play dice”)

Belize proverbs:

            Don’ call di halligator [crocodile] “long mout’” till you cross di riba.  (“Long mouth” is presumably insulting to crocodiles.)

            Wat di jankro do befo di jekass die?  (Said of a person who flaunts and shows off his money, especially if his money was gotten by less than noble methods.  “Jankro” is phonetic spelling of “John Crow,” the Caribbean nickname for vultures.  The proverb means “What did the buzzard do before the jackass died?”  I think this gets it absolutely perfectly for most of our corporate rich.)

The world is like a huge guitar.  –William of Conches, tr. G. Dufy (Cathedrals, p.77)


“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart”  Deut. 10:16

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed”  Deut. 30:6

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”  Jer. 4:4

“…and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.” Jer. 9:26

“…ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart… No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary”  Ezekiel 44:7, 9

“and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter” Rom. 29

The world’s first recorded complaint about the food:  “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.  And the manna was as coriander seed…and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh


oil.”  Numbers 11:5-8

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.  Exodus 33:23

So ye shall not pollute the land….  Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.

                        Numbers 35:33-34 (referring to blood in revenge killings, but general enough)

“Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers[e] seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.  Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.  Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers[e] sorts, as of woollen and linen together” (Deuteronomy 22:9-11).  This is the same “no unusual mixing” logic that led to banning homosexuality, so one is free to point this verse out to anti-gay Republicans wearing polyester blend suits.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.  But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one bornamong you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

                        Leviticus 19:33-34.

Thus saith the Lord…: go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass…..

Saul smote the Amalekites…and he took Agag the king of the Amalekites…, but Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them…. [for which] the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel…and given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.”  (1 Samuel 2:28]

(A bit of context, though: in Samuel 8, the Israelites demand a king, which neither Samuel nor the Lord likes one bit, for all the right reasons—a terrific text for anarchists to quote.  So they get stuck with Saul, and this is only one of the dubious things that follow.)

“But King Solomon loved many strange women….  And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred comcubines; and his wives turned away his heart…after other gods….  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites….  Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.  And likewise did he for all his strange wives….”  1 Kings 11:1-8.

“And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord.  And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” 

                        II Kings 2:23-24; where right-wing “Christians” get their morality!

And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace…and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into.  Nehemiah 2:8, N speaking

I am like a pelican in the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.

                        Psalm 102:6-7 (pelican is “vulture” in modern translation)

Psalm 104 has a lot from Akhenaton’s Hymn to the Sun (or at least a lot of phrases are shared by both)

As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.

                        Proverbs 11:22

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.

                                    Proverbs 15:17

Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.

                                    Proverbs 17:1

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.  [I.e., better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly]

                                    Proverbs 17:12.

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.  Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

                                    Proverbs 23:13-14—Shame!  The OT at its worst.

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.  Isaiah 45:7.  (From context, looks like evil is done by and to enemies of Israel, but still, what a confession)

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.  Proverbs 26:11

The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.  II Peter 2:22.

But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it….  Isaiah 34:15

But Rabshakeh said, hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? Hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?

                                    Isaiah 36:12, from the Assyrian’s insulting speech to Judah.  (The whole story in Isaiah 36-37 is striking; the Lord sent a plague that smote the Assyrians.)

I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spotting.
For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded:  therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.  Isaiah 50:6-7

Note Isaiah 61:1-4 is a source for the Sermon on the Mount.

“Wherefore thus spoke the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.”

                                    Jeremiah 5:14.  (Take that, literalists)

“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.”

                                    Jeremiah 7:18.  Interesting that the “queen of heaven” was a rival of Jehovah then.

“For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the animals; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled; they are gone.”  Jeremiah 9:10

I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it….  In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar; and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing….  Ezekiel 17:22-23 (a lot more fine ecology in Ez 16 through 19)

Jerusalem “lusted after the Assyrians…. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust; and after she defiled herself with them, she turned from them in disgust.  When she carried on her whorings so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I [God] turned in disgust from her…. Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members wer elike those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions.  Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your bosom and caressed your young breasts.”  And so on….

Ezekiel 23:12, 17-21; see also Ez 16, which is even worse

The Lord to Ephraim for worshiping Baalim:  “Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will (I observe them: I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion; the wild beast shall tear them.”

Hosea 13:7-8.  (Lots more like this in Hosea and Joel)

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

                        Habakkuk 3:17-18 (the pinnacle of defiant courage in faith; “faith is the victory”)

“And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness. And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations; both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work….  Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.”  Zephaniah 2:13-14, 3:3  (NRSV makes this “….the desert owl and the screech owl shall lodge on its capitals; the owl shall hoot at the window, the raven croak on the threshold…” and the wolves “leave nothing until the morning.”  Admits the owl ID’s are “uncertain.”)

There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.  Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

                        Ecclesiastes 9:14-16

“Let us now praise famous men….

There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.

But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten….

Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.”

Ecclesiasticus 44:1, 8-13 (quoted above also)

Jesus emphasized on 10 occasions that he spoke in parables (echoing Ezekiel 20:49).  So much for literalism.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

                        Jesus (Matt. 7:13-14)

He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. 

He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me….

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

                        Jesus (Matt. 10:39-42.

Many are called but few are chosen.

                        Jesus (Matt. 22:14)

“And when he [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  neither shall they say, Lo here! Or lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” 

Luke 17:20-21.

I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

                        Jesus (John 12:47)

He will separate people…as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

                        Jesus (Matt. 25:32)

He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. 

                        1 John 4:8

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.

                        John 1:12

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. 

                        Psalm 82:6

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in you law, I said, Ye are gods?

                        John 10:34

Romans 1:26-27 is the sole NT condemnation of homosexuality, but it introduces a whole section of condemnations, all the rest of which apply in spades to right-wing Christians, and then concludes in 2:1:  “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself: for thou that judgest doest the same things.”

Romans 7:14-8:17 is the real source of the anti-flesh idea—Paul being Platonist.  Recall Romans was written BEFORE any of the Gospels.

And then in 8:14-17, this time the RSV because it’s much better:  “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

The whole of Romans is a pretty stunning text.

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another….

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like…  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance….”  Galatians 5:14-23

After a review of Old Testament people of trust from Moses through Abraham to Sarah, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  Hebrews 11:13.  The whole chapter is the main grounding of Kazee’s Faith Is the Victory and one grounding of a lot of (other) existentialist theology, to say nothing of the magnificent old hymn “Standing on the Promises.”

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1, RSV; KJV continues “For in many things we offend all” (3:2). 

“The God that holds you above the pit of Hell, much as one would hold a spider, or some loathesome insect, above the flame, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire.”

            Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon on Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” 1741. 

(That’s just Murphy’s Law in typical Edwards family rhetoric. –Old Man Coyote)

Significantly, Edwards was a direct ancestor of Barbara Anderson….

“How many, even amongst us, will be found upon enquiry, to fancy him [God] in the shape of a Man, sitting in Heaven; and to have many other absurd and unfit conceptions of him?”  (Locke 1975 [1697]: 94)

Preach the Gospel at all times…by voice if neceessary.

                        St. Francis of Assisi

St. Barbara’s day is Dec. 4; wintercress is available then, hence its scientific name, Barbarea.  (It is a watercress-like wild vegetable.)

St. Onuphrius’ Day is June 12.  St. Onuphrius, after whom San Onofre, CA, is named, was abandoned at birth in the Egyptian desert and raised by the wolves.  He grew a long, shaggy coat of fur.  At 15 he was instructed and given communion by an angel, who kept visiting him to provide communion.  He never saw a human till, at 80, he was discovered by one Paphnutius, who recorded the story in his book Peregrinatio Paphnutii (“Paphnutius’ Travels”).  You wouldn’t distrust someone named Paphnutius, would you?

St. Guinefort:  the dog that became a saint in medieval France.  A local churchman named Stephen thought he had eliminated the cult in 1220, but it continued into the 20th century and the tomb is well known, near the beautiful town of Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne north of Lyon.  (See The Holy Greyhound by Jean-Claude Schmitt, 1987; he relocated the tomb.)

Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.


The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be esteemed if it were not so common.  Our Lord God has made his greatest gifts the commonest.


Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog [his pet] watches the meat!  All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat.  Otherwise, he has no thought, wish, or hope.


Even though I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.  [I wonder if he knew Muhammad’s saying.]

                        Martin Luther

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true, by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.

                        Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1, p. 56 (Penguin edn.)

The Buddha and his charioteer (who explained death and religion to him when he was young) were made saints in the Christian church under the names Barlaam and Josaphat. (See David Lang, The Balavariani, U. of California Press 1966, especially the wonderful poem by Israel Zangwill quoted at the beginning.  Their saints’ day is Nov. 27.  I tried hard to get married on that day, but we had to miss in the end—our anniversary is Nov. 28.)

Other saints to remember: St. Roch, who when struck by plague was fed by his dog, who brought bread; and St. Philomena, known only as an anonymous young female skeleton in the Catacombs of Rome, identified as a virgin martyr named Philomena by a medieval savant who apparently learned it in a vision.

St. David the Dendrite was a holy fool who lived in 6th-century Byzantium (died 540).  He was so sought by people wanting words of wisdom (or foolishness) that he went to live in an almond tree for three years.  He left it to petition the emperor to defend Thessaloniki, so he is worshiped as their patron saint today.  His day is June 26.

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions.  It is the opium of the people….

“Criticism has torn up the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man shall wear the unadorned, bleak chain but so that he will shake off the chain and pluck the living flower” (Marx 1986:301-302; italics eliminated).

Various Irish saints included one who stood meditating with his arms out so long that a bird built a nest in his hand; he was constrained to stand there till the young fledged and flew off.  Another had a pet fox and a pet badger.  The fox guarded him but once stole a fish.  The saint sent the badger after it, and the fox had to go through a full penance—which it did with hanging head. 

St. Brigit was a good old farm girl saint, whose miracles including giving to a dog some pork she was cooking for guests, and having the pork miraculously restored, and having a cow give three times as much milk as usual.  When a dog stole a piece of bacon, the dog was too shamed to eat it, and the bacon was found untouched at the dog’s sleeping place.  Best of all, when she gave away all the beer saved for company, she miraculously changed the bath water to beer!  The guests couldn’t bathe, but they could get drunk, so everyone was happy.  With miracles like that…!

St. Melangell was a beautiful girl found by a king when he was hunting hares.  The hare fled to her for protection.  She said she was the daughter of an Irish king, who had come to the remote Welsh wilderness to meditate and stay pure.  The king gave her the land and she stayed there protecting hares; her medieval life story tells that “the hares, which are little wild creatures, surrounded her every day of her life just as if they had been tame or domesticated animals” (Celtic Spirituality, pp. 221-223, quote p 222).

St. Expedit:  A bunch of religious stuff sent from Italy to France 100+ years ago was marked “expedito.”  Nuns took this to be the name of the saint to be worshiped with the stuff, and started a shrine to St. Expedit.  This cult spread to Reunion, where he is now the saint officiating over voodoo, which somehow (probably via Haitian slaves) got there from Haiti or Dahomey.  See Lonely Planet guide to Mauritius etc.

The only real person as interesting as these was St. Martin of Porres, a black servant in colonial Peru, who—according to local tradition there—had a pet rat, a cat, and a dog, so peaceful that they fed together from the same dish.

Yet it was the schoolboy who said “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

                        Mark Twain (Following the Equator, chap. 12)

The protestants have dwelt with malicious pleasure on these characters of “Anti-Christ” [the popes], but to a philosophical eye, the vices of the clergy are far less dangerous than their virtues.

            Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vol. 3 of Penguin edn, p. 139

There are no atheists in foxholes.

                        Folk wisdom, WWII origin; earlier, “we have no atheists in the trenches,” in WWI.  Similar ideas go even farther back.  Kurt Vonnegut memorably added “People think this is a good argument against atheism.  Personally, I think it’s a much better argument against foxholes.”

The folk museum in Taormina, Sicily, has the most ridiculous exvotos I ever saw—my level of art—and for bizarre reasons—one woman shown being attacked by 15 rabid cats!  She miraculously survived.  Apparently cats are a problem in Sicily, because 3 cooks were miraculously saved from enraged fish-grabbing cats in another miracle.  Several miracles of people falling and surviving, often because they fell on other people.  One was a head nun falling on other nuns—the art so bad that it was hilarious.  One wonders why God would do a miracle at the expense of the other nuns.  One father accidentally shot his son, who miraculously survived—again the art was as bad as the (doubtless drunk) father’s judgement.

Chalices of wood, priests of gold,

Ireland had in the church of old;

Things today are not so good—

Chalices of gold, priests of wood.

                        Irish folk poem, my trans.

Comparable to the holy fools of Christianity are the Malāmatiyya Sufis of early medieval Islam; they were like St. Francis in performing silly acts to maintain humility and avoid too much respect.

Weshparkar—Sogdian wind god

The sage Nagarjuna was close friends with a king, and the king could use the sage’s immortality, a reward for virtuous life, to live indefinitely himself.  Eventually a prince (born after hundreds of years) got to thinking it was time for a change, and tried to kill Nagarjuna so the king would also die.  Of course he failed, but Nagarjuna apparently felt it was indeed time for a change, and revealed that there was one way the prince could kill him:  cut off his head with a blade of sawgrass.  The prince did so.  It turned out that in Nagarjuna’s saintly life there was one blip:  as a child he had been a bad boy and cut off a worm’s head with a blade of sawgrass.  The prince was a reincarnation of the worm and the sawgrass he used grew from the same tuft.  Nagarjuna’s head was thrown far off and turned to stone; it is slowly moving toward the body (presumably also stone) and when they join the city of Gaya (the king’s city?) will be destroyed by a demon.  Nagarjuna will revive and teach the true faith.  (In real life he was the founder of Madhyamika.)  (Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, Tibetan Medicine, p. 60.)

Vastu—Indian temple planning—is being hyped as India’s answer to fengshui.

My other vehicle is the Mahayana.

                        Bumper sticker, Seattle (where else?)

Jingu—Japanese goddess of childbirth.  She was the empress, 170-269 AD.  Emp died, troubles occurred, so she kept the heir in her womb for 3 years.  Great way to start.

In ancient Sumer: “The constellation of Orion was identified with the god Sib-zi-an-na, ‘true shepherd of the sky,’ who was identified with Dumuzi” (Joseph Fontenrose, Orion, 1981:233).

Luis Weckmann, The Medieval Heritage of Mexico, NY: Fordham Univ. Press, 1992 (tr Frances Lopez-Morillas; Sp orig 1984).  December 24 was the original Xmas and also was originally the winter solstice.  The date of Christmas was shifted to Dec 25 by Council of Nicaea; the solstice by later calendar change.  June 24 was originally St. John’s Day and the summer solstice (202-3). 

Posadas come from Masses of Aguinaldo, the word is a Celtic one, originally meaning “bindweed,” then, later, a Christmas bonus or celebration; see p 204-5.  And the pinata is from Italian:  pignatta, pine-cone-like vessel. 

The friars included many who wore hair shirts (one made from “the bristles of the filthy hog”) and worse, and mortified themselves bloodily.  Bristle or wire/chain shirts or girdles kept down “desire.”  Not surprisingly, they saw lots of visions.  Sometimes even their fellow friars thought they had gone mad.  One (celibate, remember!) had so many visions of the Eleven Thousand Virgins that he learned the names of all of them (231). 

In those days, a Doctor (any sort—JD, PhD, etc.) was socially equivalent to Knight in old Spain!   And liberal arts got the name because knowledge liberates.

Buddha teaching a student:  “In the transmigration of beings you have been born and died and suffered innumerable sorrows.  Not the smallest spot of land remains on earth where you have not already been born and died.  And there will remain in the world not a single being that you have not murdered and not a single being that has not murdered you.”  (Jens Peter Laut, 2006:306, from an old Turkic text)

Vinayaki or Ganeshini: the female avatar of Ganesha.  Same elephant head, rat vahana, etc.  Rarely represented, but from at least 500 CE.

The Egyptians think it sin to root up, or to bite

Their leeks or onions, which they serve wsith holy rite;

O happy nations, which of their own sowing

Have store of gods in every garden growing.

                        Juvenal (Satire 15, lines 9-11), tr. Sir Walter Raleigh

Summing it all up:

Pierre-Simon de Laplace to Napoleon, on God:  “Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis.”


“The first art of man thus has been the education of the dog and the fruit of this art [has been] the conquest and peaceful possession of the Earth.”  Buffon, quoted Glacken 1967:676

“There is a saying among hunters that he cannot be a gentlemen [sic] which loveth not hawking and hunting, which I have heard old woodmen well allow as an approved sentence among them.  The like saying is that he cannot be a gentleman which loveth not a dog.”  The Institucion of a Gentleman (anon, 1568, quoted Almond, p 33)

William James, in VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE (p. 281), quoting what is surely the world’s most beautiful dog story, from a Polish religious source:

“Towianski [was] an eminent Polish patriot and mystic… ‘one day one of his friends met him in the rain, caressing a big dog which was jumping upon him and covering him horribly with mud.  On being asked why he permitted the animal thus to dirty his clothes, Towianski replied:  “This dog, whom I am now meeting for the first time, has shown a great fellow-feeling for me, and a great joy in my recognition and acceptance of his greetings.  Were I to drive him off, I should wound his feelings and do him a moral injury.  It would be an offense not only to him, but to all the spirits of the other world who are on the same level with him.  The damage which he does to my coat is as nothing in comparison with the wrong which I should inflict upon him, in case I were to remain indifferent to the manifestations of his friendship.  We ought,” he added, “both to lighten the condition of animals, whenever we can, and at the same time to facilitate in ourselves that union of the world of all spirits, which the sacrifice of Christ has made possible.”’”

Hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,

Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are cleped

All by the name of dogs….

                        Macbeth, act III, scene I (a shough is a type of curly-haired lapdog, a water-rug is a curly-haired water-dog)

(Of the hare in a hare hunt:)

She riseth from her nest, as though on earth she flew,

Forced by some yelping cute to give the greyhounds view.

                        Michael Drayton, ca. 1600, from Polyolbion; he explains that “cute” was a local dialect word for “a cur,” i.e. a mongrel dog.

Lord, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

                        Book of Not Very Common Prayer

The pup for the puddle, the old dog for the long walk home.

Irish proverb, from our Seattle neighbor Mike Mulvihill

St. Guinefort’s Day is Aug. 22.

Even if ten ships come, the dogs have no loincloths but their tails. 

Malay proverb (the implication is that the ships are bringing fine imported textiles)

Marten tails too few, dog tails will do. 

Chinese proverb (Roh D152)

It uludu, kerwan yürüdü   The dog barked, the caravan moved on.

Turkish proverb. 

It urede, karawan koshede in Kazakh.  The proverb also exists in Hindi, Persian and Arabic, and has been borrowed into English—it’s even in Gone with the Wind.  Arabic tanbaḥ al-kilāb wa tasīr al-qafīla.

It ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

                        American proverb

If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

                        American proverb

Related but even more delightfully cynical, and thus more accurate, Caribbean proverb:

Behind dog it is dog, before dog it is Mr. Dog.

quoted E. Tylor, Primitive Culture

Dogs traded their longer lifespan to people in exchange for food and care—so don’t beat them.    

Naxi wisdom (Cai Hua, pp 179-181).

Seattle as of 2006 has 125,000 dogs and only 90,000 children (2000 census; Seattle Times, Aug. 2, 2006).  Childless and “pupwardly mobile” people here!  But Seattle then had only 1 dog per 5 people, while Austin has 1 per 2!

Kienzle, Beverly.  2007.  “The Bestiary of Heretics:  Imaging Medieval Christian Heresy with Insects and Animals.”  In A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science and Ethics. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.).   New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 103-116.

“in Burgundian law, …stealing a valuable dog incurred [!] the penalty to kiss the dog’s posterior in public.”  And the old line about heretics kissing cats under the tail gets full treatment.  Also covers moths, moles, etc.

Luis Weckmann, The Medieval Heritage of Mexico, NY: Fordham Univ. Press, 1992 (tr Frances Lopez-Morillas; Sp orig 1984), p. 191, citing Mendieta.    “The Devil” was worshiped “under the name of Zaualcoiotl and in the shape of a coyote, in Tepetlaoztoc.”  From Karttunen, Zahua means “fast,” so this is apparently the same as Nezahualcoyotl.

There was also an Aztec god Xolotl who took the form of a dog (presumably a xoloitzcuintli).

“By dog’s precious wounds, that was a whoreson villain!”  –coarse character in playlet in Harleian ms., early 16C; quoted in OED to show “dog” as folk euphemism

“Fighting a dog’s fight”—skirmishes and rearguard actions.  Mongol; from de Rachewiltz, p 117.  Lots of other dog lore in here. 

Not all meat is qazi

[horsemeat sausage]

, not all dogs are tazi

[fine hunting hounds]

                        Kazakh proverb

In Iranian [Zoroastrian] ritual the presence of a dog was essential in certain ceremonies.  Not only was the dog a sacred animal, but his gaze on a polluted object was thought to remove the demon of defilement.

                        Cyrus Elgood, A Medical History of Persia, p. 9.

How cruel it is, I think, that men will take the name of “dog” in vain,

When of all creatures dogs will least forget good deeds.

Surely, if some person makes you cross enough to curse,

The proper insult is “You man, son of a man”!

(and in another poem)

I set off with Qatmir [Kitmir], my dog, a fellow traveler

Whose presence warmed my heart along the way.

For every time I paused to rest, he’d pause by me,

Regarding me with looks of love and tenderness.

Fulfilling all the dues of good companionship,

As if he were of all friends the most true.

And this while my own people—of the human race—

All treat me with a meanness that’s insatiable….

            Abu’l-Barakat al-Balafiqi, medieval Andalusian; tr. Tim Mackintosh-Smith

The name Caleb is from Hebrew for “dog” (cf kelb)

A bad poet can only ruin something good,

And he certainly can’t turn a flaw to good effect

In his poems. A dog can overturn

A pile of pots, but can it stack them neatly?

            Nannecoda, ca 12th century, from Classical Telugu Poetry byVelcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, UC 2002. P. 69

Every dog has its day, and every duck has its website.  –Old Man Coyote

dogaressa—female doge  (Venice: “leader.”  Cognate with “Duke” in English)

Great Dog Fish Turtle—a king of Pa’Chan (El Zotz, Guat.)

Og dog—Danish for “although” or something like that; Norwegian for “although” or “however”

Me and my white dog started walkin’ out in Jackson Park;

It would take a man’s appetite, Lord, to hear my white dog bark.

                        Traditional blues verse (of course, Jackson Park is in Memphis)

Blue laid down and died like a man

Now he’s chasin’ possums in the Promised Land

When I hear old Blue bark

Blue treed a possum in Noah’s Ark.

                        Early African-American lament for a hound who lived a long good life.  A survival in the US of the West African praise-song tradition of assimilating the praised individual to the Divine Beings.

Nuskwuplxmx, “one who knows how to track and can seize the right opportunity to act”—the name of the girl dog in the Nuxalk version of the Dog Mother story.  Perfect dog name—if you can pronounce it!

Canina eloquentia:  eloquent nastiness, like barking dogs.  Classical Latin tag.

On a physician can evaluate a patient’s home:  “He anticipates that where there are many dogs there can be importunate and annoying barking.”

–Arnau of Vilanova, ca 1300, tr. Faith Wallis.  (From Arabic sources.  Wallis, p. 218.)

Warrantless canine sniffing is allowed in public places…. (U.S. v. Place, 1983).

                        From sign in Ontario Airport warning of canine checking

Dogs are banned in the Teanaway wilderness area because “they frighten wildlife, cause sanitation issues, and shatter the tranquility of wilderness by their barking.” 

Sign at the wilderness border.  (Apparently the screaming of cougars, roaring of bears, belling of stags, howling of coyotes, crying of eagles, yowling of wildcats, etc., don’t matter.)

She hath more qualities than a water-spaniel—which is much in a bare Christian.

                        Launce (the comic-relief character) in “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” part of a long passage of very half-hearted praise of his truelove.

If St. John had been a border collie….

In the beginning was the Dog, and the Dog was with God, and the Dog was God.

He that loveth not knoweth not Dog, for Dog is Love.

t`ms`n-u 1. (Dog) Investigate, smell. 2. Look for, be on the look out for, feel around for. 3. Infiltrate, worm one’s way in (spy).  t`m`sk`  1. (Dog) investigated, smelled. 2. Sought, looked out for. 3. (Spy) Infiltrated. 4. Pounding, pounding at (e.g., sheep). 

Kazakh, from Buell’s Kazakh dictionary.

Under capitalism it’s dog eat dog, under communism it’s just the reverse.

                        East European saying from communist times, but a general comment on all schemes to make things better

Fenrir was the son of Loki!  See Elder Edda.

“And then Coyote, because he is Coyote, he started thinking up things.”

            From Colville origin myth, as told by Peter Seymour, tr. Anthony Mattina and Madeline DeSautel

…It was Old Man Coyote.  All over this earth was water.  He was going about.  He came, he reached two small red-eyed ducks.  “Well, my younger brothers, in this going around of yours have you suspected that something exists?”  “Why, elder brother, in this our moving about we have not suspected anything.”  It was the ducks that were talking.  “Even though that is so, have you any suggestion to make?”  It was the ducks: “Well, we do not know, yet something our heart believes.”

            From the Crow creation story, told by Yellow-brow, tr. Robert Lowie

Coyote he considers as worthy of the highest respect, despite the ridiculous and lascivious sides of his character; and with him he is strongly inclined to identify the Christ of the whites, for both he and Coyote lived many generations ago, and appeared in this world in order to better th lot of mankind.

                        Edward Sapir, describing the Wishram elder Louis Simpson, who told Sapir coyote stories back in 1905

 “And you will be one who goes around houses picking up scraps with your muzzle!”  –old woman, while changing mythic coyote to actual coyote.  Mirror and Pattern p. 148

Variant:  “You will be coyote, one who goes around houses picking up scraps with his muzzle”!  151

[The Hero-Twins said:]  “We traveled east this day…we saw an animal with a dull brownish coat and a pointed snout, which we tried to shoot.  But before we could cast an arrow at him he took flight.” 

“Beware!”  said their mother.  “That is Coyote you saw!  You must never try to follow him.  And you must not follow his ways.  He makes great mischief, and he brings disorder wherever he goes.”     –Navaho creation myth, as translated by Paul Zolbrod

The Crow Old-Man-Coyote was “wallowing in grossness and buffoonery” (Lowie, Primitive Religion, p. 21).

A Turkic chief on the eve of battle in 1097 “arose when it was midnight and rode away from his army.  He began to howl like a wolf and a wolf answered him and many wolves began to howl,” foretelling victory, which did indeed occur.  –Peter Golden, in An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, quoted in Findley’s The Turks in World History, p. 51

In bocca di lupo: Italian wish for good luck—even in the mouth of the wolf.

Input:  Egyptian jackal goddess, female counterpart of Anubis (who was “Inpu” or “Anpu” in Egyptian; the –t is a feminine ending), worshiped mainly in 17th nome.  See Richard Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, 2003, p. 190, under “Mammalian Deities.”  Obviously the goddess of computer workers!

Wepwawet was definitely a jackal, not a dog.

Set(h), however, was at least sometimes a humanoid aardvark (see Dietrich Wildung, EGYPT, Taschen 2001, p. 62).  It takes some cool to worship an aardvark.

Fox’s bridal procession:  Japanese idiom for will-o-the-wisp and for strange light effects of sun shining through drizzle or rain.  A superb, moving print in the Freer has will-o-the-wisps turning into a procession of foxes dressed as soldiers, porters and maids, with all the boxes and sedan.  It appears out of the mist and is headed for a misty fox castle with fox welcomers at the gate.  A touching series of pictures in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum shows a sequence from wedding to bathing the first baby, a tiny adorably-cute little fox pup.

A fox dies with its head pointed to its home hill.

            Chinese proverb, meaning that a person late in life thinks of his/her original home

The fox buries and the fox digs it up.

            Chinese proverb, in Mathews Dictionary

Hotter’n a fresh-fucked fox in a forest fire.

            Texas folk idiom

Grenjuthu berserkir, guthr vas theim a sinnum,

emjuthu ulhethnar, ok isörn duthu.

Howling the berserkers, swords clashing,

Yelling the wolfcoats, battle in full swing.

            From medieval Norse battle song; Nora Chadwick/Kershaw, Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems, p 90-91.  (th’s all eths ex theim has a thorn)

“Why hast thou robbed him of victory when thou knewest him to be valiant?”

“Because it cannot be clearly known,” replied Othin, “the grey wolf is gazing upon the abodes of the gods.” 

            Another song; p. 97.  Apparently the latter is a proverb meaning you can’t predict misfortune. 

The wolf of Fenrir will be let loose upon the homes of men before so good a prince shall succeed to his vacant place.

            Another; from a lament for a good leader slain; p. 108.

“The basic nature of the liver is wild and urgent like that of a bear.”

                        From a commentary on the Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Unschuld-Tessenow tr, p. 180

Panjurli Bhuta:  Keralan boar spirit (assimilated to the Boar Avatar of Vishnu)

Temple in Yunnan:  Zhutian Si.  “The characters read ‘All Heavenly Sons,’ homophonic with ‘Pigs Heaven’ [tian zhu zi], as known to most of the local residents who associate the temple with the spirit of pigs…. [A rich man] wished to build a temple for the local community:  he picked a scenic site in the mountains, and ordered building materials….  One day, the timbers…vanished; a litter of pigs was seen to have pushed the logs down the hill using their snouts; half way down the hill there stood a giant tree bearing a slight resemblance to a pig’s head.  It dawned on the man of fortune that the pigs were immortals; he then decided that the temple be built by the giant tree, and was so named Pigs Heaven.”  Xiaolin Guo, State and Ethnicity in China’s Southwest (Brill 2008), p. 175. 

May the sheep find the wormwood left behind by the donkey.

            Kazakh proverb (from Buell)

Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.  –Wm. Congreve

True, but the music that charms them is howling, roaring and squeaking!  –Old Man Coyote

The ant-eater, or aardvarken (myrmecophaga), digs large holes in the earth, in which in the day time he lies secure from his enemies….  It digs very expeditiously.  The flesh of it is eaten, and especially the hams, when hung up and dried.

                        Carl Peter Thunberg, Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia,… vol. 1, p. 137.

“The wild goose gradually advances to dry land, and its feathers can be used as an emblem—it is auspicious.”  Line from the Book of Changes.  It led to a particularly inept and tasteless funeral inscription line a few centuries later:  “He served as the feathers of the gradually advancing wild goose” (from an Eastern Han stele).  K. E. Brashier, “Text and Ritual in Early Chinese Stelae,” in Text and Ritual in Early China, Martin Kern (ed.)., pp. 249-284; pp. 251, 253.

“It is generally agreeable to be in the company of individuals who are naturally animated and pleasant.  For this reason, nothing can be more gratifying than the society of Woodpeckers in the forest.”  –J. J. Audubon (Birds of America, vol. 4, p. 282)

Oodham:  Say’s phoebe is “Wind’s Grandchild” (because it was, in myth); phainopepla is “mesquite master (/owner).”  A person with an animal or other nature spirit power is a namkam, one who meets(namk, “meet”), as ban namkam “coyote meeter.”  Amadeo Rea, Pima ornithology

According to Hindu sages, “330 million…gods live in every atom of the cow’s body.” –

Lance Nelson, “Cows, Elephants, Dogs, and Other Lesser Embodiments of Ātman, in A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science and Ethics. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.).   New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 179-193.  From p. 180. Includes the story of Yudhisthira who wouldn’t abandon his dog.  But see fn on p 193 about Indian meat-eating now.  –p. 188.

You aren’t a desert rat when you start talking to lizards, you’re a desert rat when lizards start talking to you.

                        Old saying from our deserts; current in Riverside County in my youth

The sage Jājali was immobile while a bird nested in his hair and raised the young, and even after they fledged, for a while, in case they came back; “Cyavana, while meditating under water, was hauled up by fishermen’s nets along with a multitude of fishes.  Seeing that great slaughter of fish surrounding him, the sage declared that he had lived with the fish for so long that he could not abandon them, and thus he should either die with them, or the fishermen should sell him along with the catch.”  –p. 198. 

Edwin Bryant, “Strategies of Vedic Subversion.”  In A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science and Ethics. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.).   New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 194-203.

Ooligan is haalmmoot “savior” in Tsimshian; the same word was used for Jesus!  Susan Neylan, The Heavens Are Changing (McGill-Queen’s UP 2003), p 167.

Verethragna:  Zoroastrian/ Mithraic deity of victory who can appear as a horse, bull, boar, etc.

Tempitzaton:  “It has a slender little muzzle.”  (“Mouse,” Florentine Codex, 12, p 17.)

Palms:  The biggest leaves in the plant kingdom are on the raffia palm Raphia regalis:  to 83 feet long!  Biggest inflorescence, talipot palm Corypha umbraculifera, to 33’ with millions of flowers.  Biggest seed, coco-de-mer, to 44 lb.  Hardest seed, ivory palm. 

Acrofolia:  bitterly pungent plants.  Used in medieval and medical Latin

“When someone in antiquity who was gripped by an obsession for flowers heard speak of a rare blossom, even if it were in a deep valley or in steep mountains, he would not be afraid of stumbling and would go to it.  Even in the freezing cold and the blazing heat, even if his skin were cracked and peeling or caked with mud and sweat, he would be oblivious.  When a flower was about to bloom, he would move his pillow and mat and sleep alongside it to observe how the flower would go from budding to blooming to fading.  Only after it lay withered on the ground would he take his leave…. This is what is called a genuine love of flowers….”  Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610), tr. Judith Zeitlin, in “The Petrified Heart: Obsession in Chinese Literature,” Late Imperial China 12:1-26, 1991, p. 3. 

A Chinese painter stopped at an inn for one night.  He planted bamboos.  Someone asked:  “You are staying here only one night.  Why are you planting bamboos?”  The painter turned to the bamboos and said:  “What is the use of talking to such a person?” 

                        Chinese folktale

When I was in China in 1978, I noticed that almost every hotel had a large painting of a pine in the reception area, labeled “welcoming-guests pine.”  I realized there must be a story, so I asked about this.  I learned that, according to folklore, there was an artist who was so poor that he could not afford a servant, but so absorbed in his painting that he often missed a knock on the door.  He thus painted a pine (symbol of integrity, evergreen against the storm) and labeled it “welcoming-guests pine” to serve the function.  This started a tradition.

And if, amid the cataclysms that clamour round us everywhere nowadays, you declare that all this babble about beauty and flowers is a vain impertinence, then I must tell you that you err, and that your perspectives are false.  Mortal dooms and dynasties are brief things, but beauty is indestructible and eternal, if its tabernacle be only in a petal that is shed tomorrow.

                        Reginald Farrer, plant explorer and botanist (from Rainbow Bridge, written not long before he died in the remote mountains of Tibet on a plant expedition)


In addition to eros, philia, and agape, the Greeks had philautia (loving self), ludus (playful love), and pragma (longstanding love).

Nihik’inizdidláád, “cessive-straight-faraway-in a line-light,” “luminescence all around as during female rains.”  The poet loved the similarity of the cessive particle nihi- to nihi- “our.”

Webster, Anthony.  2010.  “On Intimate Grammars, with Examples from Navajo English, Navlish, and Navaho.”  Journal of Anthropological Research 66:187-208. P. 200.

“Rival” is from rivus, Latin for “riverbank,” for the obvious reason (fights over irrigation water)

Climbing fool’s hill:  Old-time phrase (cited by Buell Kazee) for young people trying out more than they know how to manage.

C. T.:  In Berlin, people are so universally late that they routinely use the phrase C.T., from Latin cum tempore, “with time,” to indicate things will start predictably late; I gave a lecture there at 6:00 C.T., which meant in reality that it started at 6:20.

Homeoteleuton:  A text error produced by the scribe missing a line of text (e.g. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and all our yesterdays…”). 

Liu Bang had captured the capital of Chu, “had seized possession of its treasures and beautiful women, and was spending his days in feasting and revelry.”  [Old-time war in a nutshell.  Of course this set him up to be all too successfully attacked by Xiang Yu, Chu’s warlord—a moral lesson from Sima.]

                        Sima Qian (tr. Burton Watson; Han 1, p. 37.)

Bimaru states:  Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and UP—a pun on the acronyms and bimar, “sick.” 

Meat-eating and Human Evolution reveals that the Hadza forage seeds out of baboon shit.  New idea for the original human niche?  Would fit.  (“…the Hadza separate the ripe seeds from the fruit in baobab and other large-seeded fruits and also collect them from baboon dung.”  -p. 187 in Margaret Schoeninger, Henry T. Bunn, Shawn Murray, Travis Pickering, and Jim Moore:  “Meat-Eating by the Fourth African Ape.”  M-e and H E pp. 179-195.  OUP 2001.)

Los Angeles Times, health section (p 1, 7), Mar 17 2003, notes that married people are happier than single ones not because marriage makes you happier but because happier people get married and stay so—this from prospective studies.  And (later) widows/widowers often happier than when married.  So much for marriage.

Ellison, Peter T.  2009.  “Evolutionary Biology for Doctors” [review of Principles of Evolutionary Medicine by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle, Mark Hanson; OUP 2009].  Science 325:1207.  Lots of people have “endorsed the incorporation of evolutionary principles in medical curricula.  And yet one can probably count on the digits of a three-toed sloth the number of medical schools currently offering such instruction.”

The clarinet was so identified with female, erotic stuff in classical music that the archbishop of Salzburg banned Mozart from using it in any composition to be performed in that city!  (Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 630.)

When Woppy killed Philip:  old Jamaican figure of speech.  It happened so long ago that nobody knows who they were or what the fight was about.  Thus it means an incalculably long time back, as in “I’ve been here since Woppy killed Philip.”

From de Rachewilz:  quda, Mongol kinterm for parent of son- or da-in-law
Bella gerant alli, tu felix Austria nube;

Namque Mars aliis, dat tibi regna Venus. 

Pseudo-Classical version of the old line “let others fight; thou, happy Austria, marry.”  Henry Serruys sent him this one.  P 332 (The Austrian Empire was put together by selective marrying of princesses of other kingdoms.)

Feminism triumphant:  Queen Rusudan ruled Georgia 1223-1245, shortly after Queen Tamar

Anthropology triumphant:  Alpha Oumar Komare, anthropologist, saved democracy in Mali and built it up, and Eduardo Mondlane, BA anthro (Oberlin) and Soc (Northwestern), was the father of independence in Mozambique.

Agonothete:  head of Olympic Games

Megalopsychia:  greatness of soul—noble ambition and scope.

Great names—Wulfthryth, Aelfthryth, etc. (see Edgar in Saints) and on a pleasanter note St. Emerentiana.  –thryth app is the –dred(a) of later Eng and got assimilated to the  –trudis of Latin.   


Ipu-Wer, 2200 BCE: “Why really, the land spins around as does a potter’s wheel.  The robber is (now) the possessor of riches….  Why really, all maidservants make free with their tongues…..  I show thee the son as a foe…and a man killing his (own) father.  Every mouth is full of  ‘Love me!’ and everything good has disappeared…. I show thee the undermost on top…. It is the paupers who eat the offering-bread, while the servants jubilate…”

Wilson, John A.  1951.  The Culture of Ancient Egypt.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.  Pp. 107-8.

The priest who is desirous of…knowledge…begins to investigate the causes and dependence of form, as follows:  When this body comes into existence, it does not arise in the midst of nymphaeas, nelumbiums, lotuses, and water-lilies, etc., nor of jewels, pearl-necklaces, etc.; ut ill-smelling, disgusting, and repulsive, it arises between the stomach and the lower intestines, with the belly-wall behind and the back-bone in front, in the midst of the entrails and mesentery, in an exceedingly contracted, ill-smelling, disgusting, and repulsive place, like a worm in rotten fish, carrion, or rancid gruel, or in a stagnant or dirty pool or the like.

                        From the Visuddhi-Magga, an ancient Buddist text; tr. Henry Clark Warren, Buddhism in Translation (Harvard University Press, 1953; reprint of 1896 work), p. 242

If the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky does not move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is plague, the cry is at once, “The Christians to the lions!”

                        Tertullian (ca. 155-240), from Apologeticum

Also: “The first reaction to truth is hatred.”  He also started the “Credo quia absurdum” line.

Prime Minister Li Si explaining to the future Qin Shi Huang Di why Qin needed to get some civilization and culture:
“Now the beating of earthen jugs, knocking on jars,…and striking on thigh bones, the while singing and crying “Wu! Wu!”…such indeed was the music of Ch’in.”

                        Tr. Derk Bodde, in Twitchett and Loewe, p. 32.

And more fun with good music:

“When music is seductive and wild so as to be nefarious, the people will be indulgent and indolent, iniquitous and base.  Dissipated and indolent, they will cause disorder; iniquitous and base, they will cause conflict.”

                        Xunzi, as quoted in Erica Fox Brindley, Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China, p. 46.

“Sometimes such items as onion, ginger, jujube fruit, orange peel, dogwood berries or peppermint are boiled along with the tea….  Drinks like that are no more than the swill of gutters and ditches.”

                        Lu Yü, 8th century (tr. Francis Carpenter; 1974:116)

“The bone of a man long since dead and decomposed, is to be admitted, forsooth, within the precincts of the Imperial Palace!”

                        Han Yu on a Buddha relic, to the Emperor, Tang Dynasty; Tr. Herbert Giles (Gems of Chinese Literature: Prose, p. 127)

Genghis Khan’s mother, on his already-bad-dude character after in childhood he and a brother killed another brother: “The other was like the wild dog (khasar) that devours its own afterbirth.  You are like the panther that dashes itself against the cliff-side, like the lion that cannot quell its wrath, like the boa-constrictor that swallows its prey alive, like the falcon that flings itself at its own shadow, like the pike that gulps silently, like the randy he-camel that bites the heels of its own young, like the wolf that works havoc under cover of the snow-storm, like the mandarin-duck that eats the ducklings that cannot keep pace with her, like the jackal guarding its lair, like the tiger that with no second thought pounces on its prey, like the wild barus [giant; ogre] that dashes into things at randon!  With no friend but your own shadow, no whip but your own tail, you must needs do a thing like this!”

                        (From an early Chinese version of the Secret History of the Mongols, as translated by Arthur Waley; The Secret History of the Mongols and Other Pieces, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963, p. 228.)

The most outrageous regional putdown AND the greatest be-careful-what-you-wish-for line in history—written by the great Turkic emperor Babur after conquering India (16th century) and taking a long look at what he had won:

“The people of Hindustan have no beauty; they have no convivial society, no social intercourse, no character or genius, no urbanity, no nobility or chivalry.  In the skilled arts and sciences there is no regularity, proportionality, straightness or rectangularity.  There are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, no muskmelons or first-rate fruits, no ice or good water, no good bread or cooked food in the bazaars, no hammams, no madrasas, no candles, no torches, or candlesticks.”  (From the Babur-nama; tr. Stephen Dale, in The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, p. 73)

“Fiscal administration in those days [Southern Sung] must have been superior to ours by myriads and millions of times.” 

Sheng Te-fu (1578-1642), on fiscal management at the end of the Ming Dynasty; tr., Ray Huang, 1969. “Fiscal Administration during the Ming Dynasty.”  In Chinese Government in Ming Times: Seven Studies, Charles O. Hucker, ed.  New York: Columbia University Press.   Pp . 73-128, p. 126.  The hyperbole is bad enough, but the real bite is that Sheng and his readers knew that Southern Sung fiscal management was notably poor!

John Randolph, ca 1820, on the brilliant but incredibly evil Henry Clay (LAT, Dec. 3, 1995): 

“Like a rotten mackerel by moonlight, shining and stinking.”

The Ming princes in the early 1400s “were in general a loutish collection of arrogant and violent men, fond of high living and low scheming.” 

                        Frederick Mote, Imperial China 900-1800, p. 606

Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027)’s father told him and his brothers, speaking of an accomplished and powerful aristocrat, “you couldn’t even get close enough to him to tread on his shadow.”  To which Michinaga replied, “I may not tread on his shadow, but I’ll walk all over his face.” 

                        Brown, Delmer.  1993.  “The Early Evolution of Historical Consciousness.”  In The Cambridge History of Japan.  Vol 1: Ancient Japan, Delmer Brown, ed.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Pp. 504-548.  Michinaga did indeed eventually take the aristocrat down.

“The remark, that in Professor Hall’s theory of the origin of mountains the elevation of mountains is left out, was made by me in volume xlii of the last series of this Journal (p. 210, 1866)…and not without due consideration.”

                        The great geologist J. Henry Dana, all too accurately assessing another’s theory, American Journal of Science, 1873, p. 347.

Oscar Wilde on an English gentleman hunting a fox:  “The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”             

                        From his play “A Woman of No Importance.”

C. D. Darlington’s remake to describe badly-done plant ecology:  “Pursuit of the incomprehensible by the incompetent.” (Cited in Making Eden by David Beerling, p. 80.)

A pretty but somewhat airheaded woman (in the liberated Edwardian era) once propositioned George Bernard Shaw by saying “We should have a child together—think if it had my beauty and your brains!”  Shaw calmly replied: “Yes, my dear, but think if it had my beauty and your brains?”


When Winston Churchill was campaigning against Clement Attlee in the 1940s, Churchill was at his usual self-promotion and putting down Attlee; finally one staffer got fed up and said something to the effect of “At least Mr. Attlee is modest.”  Churchill didn’t turn a hair; he simply fired back “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man.  Indeed he has a lot to be modest about.”

                        (Seems too good to be true, but he really did say that.)

So low he’d need a ladder to harvest potatoes. 

So low he’d have to rise up on his hind legs to kiss a snake’s ass.  (My all-time favorite.  From an Oklahoma ex-Marine friend of mine.)

So low she sucked a earthworm’s dick.

So low he has to carry an umbrella to keep from pissing on himself.  (Thanks to Sue Trowbridge for that one.)

Lower than whale shit at the bottom of the ocean.

So crooked that when he dies they’ll have to screw him into the ground. (Thanks to Peter Golden for that one.)

American folk sayings

Smells like two skunks fucking in an onion patch.

                        African-American comparison

Persecutors must expect the hatred of those whom they oppress; but they commonly find some consolation in the testimony of their conscience, the applause of their party, and, perhaps, the success of their undertaking.  But the hypocrisy of Michael [Paleologus of Byzantium], which was prompted only by political motives, must have forced him to hate himself, to despise his followers, and to esteem and envy the rebel champions by whom he was detested and despised.

                        Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Vol. 3 of Penguin edn., p 754

And on land-and-water houses:  “we may not perhaps, without flattery, compare them to the architecture of the beaver…[but the humans are] an animal less cleanly, less diligent, and less social than that marvellous quadrupede.”

                        Gibbon (again), vol. 2, p. 691

Vincent Cronin on the Santa Caterina church, Palermo:  product of a “frenzied mind…throwing out powerful and extravagant images before tumbling over the verge of madness.” 

The church is actually extremely beautiful and tasteful.  Cronin must have been drinking the local wine when he wrote that.

May the wings of the Angel of Death pass over your house, and the owl of misfortune hoot above your door.

                        Arab curse

My daughter thinks the world of him, but he’s a sluffed-up sack of Siberian sheep shit, to me. 

                        Texan father, overheard by a folklorist (from Texas Crude by Ken Weaver, illus. R. Crumb, Plume, 1984)

A fish rots from the head.

                        Very widespread proverb

A shackeroon, a ragnell….

                        From Edward Taylor; neither is in the OED, but “shackerell” is there, defined as “a vagabond,” and “ragnell” is easily figured out.

Like an ant crawling up an elephant’s ass yelling “Rape!”

                        American folk idiom for vaunting ambition.

The opposite is seen in the Mexican poem:

Con paciencia y salivita

El elefante lo metio el chile en la hormiguita.

            (“with patience and a little spit the elephant got it up the little ant”—a great metaphor for getting the work done.)

Most tasteless thing I’ve ever seen:  In Victoria, BC, stacked bumper stickers on the back of a car, successively reading:

This car protected by a pit bull with AIDS

This car protected by a poodle with PMS

PMS hell, this is one of my better days.

Gary Snyder, who had a rather scraggly beard, told that when he worked in the woods a woods boss once said to him: “Snyder, you cultivate that thing? I got better hairs than that growing wild around my ass.”

‘You Moulting Desert Ram’: 12 Early Irish Insults

By Colm on September 15, 2015 in Archaeology blogs, Irish archaeology blog posts, Short Histories:

This colourful collection of Irish insults dates from the Early Medieval era and is primarily based on the period’s satirical poetry and prose. The insults are sourced from the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language  which in this instance relies heavily on Róisín McLaughlin’s ‘Early Irish Satire.’  Note, if you can read Gaelic, that most of them fit classic Irish verse forms, #11 being particularly hilarious doggerel.

1 ‘you moulting desert ram‘ (a reithi folta fasaigh ar fiadh)

2. ‘you ugly, case-carrying, cold-handed bag carrier!’ (a thíagánaig étig aitig úarlámaig!)

3. ‘you grandson of a ploughman [who is] filthy like a badger’ (uí airim brocṡalaig)

4. ‘you flea-ridden woodcock‘ (a chrebair chuilig)

5. ‘you son of a stammering, surly, puffed-up foreign woman‘ (mac ro boí oc gaillsig goit grúcbuirr)

6. ‘you sallow … bog-barren one‘ (a apaide acaite anachluim)

7. ‘you greedy voracious ox‘ (a chonadmairt chícaraig)

8. ‘you comb of a castrated cockerel, smoky-coloured, bent and crooked‘ (a ulcha gaillín detbudánaig cúarlúpánaig)

9. ‘you pitch on the rim of a goblet‘ (a bí ar burd ardáin)

10. you ‘boiled cow’s udder‘ (uth bo bruithi)

11. you are ‘dark and crooked, harsh and wrinkled, harsh and pot-bellied‘ (doburlúpánaig bodurgrúcánaig bodurmétlánaig)

12. you ‘horn of an infertile cow‘ (adarc bó rodraige)

Some modern Gaelic curses (Michael Newton, The Nauty Little Book of Gaelic, Cape Breton University Press, 2014—he gives the Gaelic)

May you suffer the death of the raven!  (Its young kill it—in folklore)

May you go into the mountain pass of destruction!  (or) May you travel an evil mountain pass!

The sleep of the sheep in the brambles to you!

May you have the black burning of your disaster!

May the black arrow of wounding enter your side!

–and many more—


“We would like to thank the Journal [of Public Health Research] for highlighting mental health as a chronic disease in the December 2010 issue.”

                        From a letter to said journal, 2013

Title of session at American Anthro Assn meeting, years ago:  “Mental Health Promotion and Prevention”

Opening line to a student paper turned in to my daughter Amanda Sigala: “Often times communication is never really talked about.” 

“Traditional culture and customs, such as those that have facilitated cohabitation with the Giant Pandas in our study area for generations…”

from a manuscript I refereed for an ecology journal

A real expert is someone who knows how much dynamite to shove up a bull’s ass to blow off his horns without bringing tears to his eyes.

                        From Rex Hull; family wisdom

“El chingo de vocales que tiene este ingles” tr. “the many vowels in the English language” (recorded, and translated, by my friend Alicia Re Cruz in Urban Anthropology; the humor here is that Alicia was too genteel to translate it right—it really means “what a fucking lot of vowels English has!”)

More cool Spanish that Alicia recorded in Denton, TX:  “Yo no te voy a dar rides si quieres ir a trabajar” (“I’m not going to give you ‘rides’ [in English’ if you need to get to work”; lousy husband to wife who wanted to work and needed him to give her a ride) (ibid)

From the code of conduct for the Sequim bus service:  Prohibited are “drugs or alcohol, smoking, fighting, spitting, possession of strong odors, playing audible music, swearing, or otherwise behaving in an unruly or harassing manner….  Refrain from eating.”

Refrain from breathing, while you’re at it.

The universe is 83% dark matter.  Small galaxies have proportionately much more.  Some small galaxies are as little as 0.2% ordinary matter.  (Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit.  2010.  “Inventory Asks:  Where Is All the Non-Dark Matter Hiding?”  Science 327:258.)

Thought for the day:  “When a buffalo invades your village, you cannot waste time blaming others, whining, or wishing it hadn’t happened.”  Vincent Muli Wa Kituku, “Overcoming Buffaloes at Work and in Life”

Truly outrageous proverb:  “Set a beggar on horseback and he rides to the devil.”  Fortunately untrue.

Life:  A sexually transmitted condition, invariably fatal.

                        Folk cynicism

Useful words from BBC Online (Oct. 10, 2008)….  Mallemaroking:  The carousing of seamen on icebound ships.

Tmesis:  breaking a word up, as in “in-fucking-credible.” 

Best of all, kakistocracy, rule by the worst.

“Negotiate” is from “neg-otium,” “opposite (or negation) of leisure”!  Perfect word for the concept.

Accent marks matter in Spanish:  Mi papá tiene 47 años, my father is 47 years old; mi papa tiene 47 anos, my potato has 47 assholes.  (From the internet)

More silly Spanish:  Te quiero mucho, como la trucha al trucho.  (From the Oxford Sp Dictionary!  “I love you much, as the she-trout loves the he-trout.”  There is no such word as “trucho” in Spanish.)  I can add, from LA street Spanish, “ponte trucha!”  (“Make like a trout,” i.e. “be careful,” the trout being a notoriously wary fish.)

Another great bit of street Spanish is referring to stray dogs as “perros eléctricos.”  They are, in proper Spanish, perros corrientes, “dogs running around,” and corrientes also means electric currents.

An Ice Age man hunted the mastodon,

But its skin he was always the last to don;

He said “I will wear

The hide of a bear,

The mastodon is too low class to don.”


Pun:  an argumentum ad homonym.  –anon.

Helen Waite is our credit manager.  If you want credit, go to Helen Waite.

                        Sign posted in a million cheap bars and lunchrooms, back in the day (mid-20th century).  Variants: …our complaints manager, etc.

Great thoughts from Stephen Wright:

Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

My psychic girlfriend left me before we met.

You need either good manners or fast reflexes.

When everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.

Energizer Bunny was arrested for battery.

Corduroy pillows make headlines.

Quantum mechanics:  the dreams stuff is made of.

As the amoeba said, “I encyst on it!”

Some of my own:  locust of control, alleycategory (allegory + category…and think “dogagory,” etc.), cape-abilities, pomme de terrorist, cur-vile-linear.  A Thoreauvian tooth doctor is a transcen-dentalist, and his shoes believe in the oversole.

After a day of dealing with student requests (many of them absurd), Barbara said:  “I have to turn down the soup.”  I immediately replied “Why? What did it ask for?”

The first failure of information technology occurred when a Sumerian servant bringing the beer fell and spilled the beer all over the baked clay tablets, dissolving them.  And to this day information technologists say “the server is down.”

 All Puns Intended

1.  Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married.  The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

2.  A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.’

3.  Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

4.  A dyslexic drunk walks into a bra.

5.  A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says ‘A beer please, and one for the road.’

6.  Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: ‘Does this taste funny to you?’

7.  ‘Doc, I can’t stop singing ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home.’  ‘That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.’   Is it common?’ ‘Well, It’s Not Unusual.’

8.  Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, ‘I was artificially inseminated this morning.  ”I don’t believe you,’  says Dolly. ‘It’s true; no bull!’ exclaims Daisy.

9.  An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

10.  Deja Moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.

11.  I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn’t find any.

12.  A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, ‘Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!’  The doctor replied, ‘I know you can’t – I’ve cut off your arms!’

13.  I went to a seafood disco last week…and pulled a mussel.

14.  What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

15.  Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, ‘Dam!’

16.  Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft.  Unsurprisingly it  sank …proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

17.  A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.  After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse.  ‘But why,’ they asked, as they moved off.  ‘Because,’ he said, ‘I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.’

18.  A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption.  One of them goes to a family in Egypt, and is named ‘Ahmal.’  The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him ‘Juan.’  Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother.  Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, ‘They’re twins!  If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.’

19.  Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet.  He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him…..  (Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good) ….. A super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

20.  And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least a couple of the puns would make them laugh.  No pun in ten did.

Better to be appalled than to be a pall-bearer.  –Zee (at an elderly relative’s funeral where he was the latter, when somebody was “appalled” by something)

Buddhist at hot dog stand (surely a vegetarian one):  “Make me one with everything!”  But when he paid and asked for change, the vendor said “Change comes from within,” and gave him nothing.

The count of Riverside County must be Noah Count.

Dear Algebra, don’t ask us to find your x.  She left you and we don’t know Y. 

                        Sign observed in a store in Montana

26 more:

1. The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in LinoleumBlownapart.
8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’
13. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’
15. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
17. A backward poet writes inverse.
18. In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.
19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
21. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.’  (Variant:  What does a vulture do when he takes a plane trip?  He takes his carrion luggage.)
22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall.  One turns to the other and says ‘Dam!’

23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

If they’d done it 2000 years ago, it would prove we can’t have archaic and eat it too.
24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’
25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

A past, present and future went into a bar.

It was a tense situation.

Big blowout tire sale!

                        Sign on a San Bernardino tire dealer (the pun was clearly intentional)

Bear with me. 

                        Opening line of an economist’s discussion of a collapse of the Chinese stock market.  I’m pretty sure the pun was intended.

You can’t run through a campground, you can only ran, because it’s past tents.

                        Alastair Clark (posting on internet)

A psychiatrist’s client told him:  “Doctor, I keep thinking I’m a wigwam, then thinking I’m a teepee.”  The doctor:  “Why, man, you’re too tense!”

Another patient told him:  “Doctor, you must help me—I have this awful recurrent dream that I’m having sexual intercourse with small pieces of dry bread!”  The doctor:  “Why, man, you’re fuckin’ crackers!”

The best Elizabethan pun:  a book of songs for the virginal (the ancestor of the piano) was given the Greek title Parthenia (“for virgins”).  Then they wanted to add parts for viols…so the next book was Parthenia Inviolata.  (This is a true story.  Look them up.)

A dog’s life:

Did you hear about the millionaire who owned a beautiful bay but put an ugly boat on it?

His barque was worse than his bight.

Did you hear about the Arabic dog who had a nice house but whose blessings were only so-so?

His barak was worse than his bayt.

When you have petted a dog, you have only scratched the surface.

Every dog has his day and every duck has its website.

An Indian restaurant is a nan profit organization—and this explains why Indian religions equate existence and nonexistence. 

To which my daughter Tamar replied:  I don’t want any more of your nan scents.

To Starkist indeed I will tune a verse,

Although they may be to my tune averse;

They can’t tune a piano

But they can tuna fish,

Thus inspiring my bonito tuna verse.

An ice age man hunted the mastodon,

But its hide he was always the last to don;

He said, “I will wear

The skin of a bear,

The mastodon is too low class to don.”

An incompetent fucker of Gilead

Dreamed all the time of the Iliad,

But while thinking of Helen

He fucked an old melon—

The best he could do with the skill he had. for versions of “a sol-, a sol-“ and other grossery.

What is this that roareth thus?

Can it be a Motor Bus?

Yes! The smell and hideous hum

Indicat motorem bum;

Implet in the Corn and High

Terror me motoris bi;

Bo Motori clamitabo

Ne motori caeder a Bo;

Dative be or Ablative

So thou only let us live;

Whither shall thy victims flee?

Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!

Thus I sang; and still anigh

Came in hordes Motores Bi;

Et complebat omne forum

Copiae Motorem Borum.

How shall wretches live like us,

Cincti Bis Motoribus?

Domine, defende nos

Contra hos Motores Bos!
                        Alfred Denis Godley (poem to teach Latin cases to Oxford students)

(…indicates a motor bus, singular accusative;

So in the Corn and High streets (of Oxford)

Motor buses (ablative) terrorize me;

Motor bus! (vocative) I cry,

Not to die from a bus (accusative)…

Spare us, motor buses (vocative again)…

Came in hordes motor buses (nominative plural)

And filled the whole square

With vast supplies of motor buses (genitive plural).

How shall wretches live like us,

Surrounded by motor buses (ablative plural)

Lord, defend us

From these motor buses! (accusative plural)

2 replies on “Cool quotations”

We are working on a book for UC Climate Stewards and trying to track down Eugene Anderson to get his permission to point the readers to the work he did restoring California walnuts. If whoever reads this can point us in his direction, please email us at the address provided. Thanks so much!

All I did was write the short article in the bibliography there. 2002 “Some Preliminary Observations on the California Black Walnut (Juglans californica). Fremontia 30:12-19. I have grown the tree from gathered walnuts. Somebody should do more with this. Best wishes, Gene Anderson

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