Wisdom and Knowledge


An unsourced quote (or at least one I’ve never found a credible attribution for) that I’m fond of:

“Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster.”

But see xkcd.

The Common Reader: Sourcing Quotes on the Internet


“Language is wine upon the lips.”

-Virginia Woolf, quoted herehere, here, here, and referenced here.

Except: the source of this quote is not immediately clear. And a bit of digging shows you that this quote is lifted from a more interesting, subtle, and stylized context.


Dorothy Parker on Strunk & White


“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

-Dorothy Parker, quoted in The New York Times, The Elements of Style’ Turns 50, April 21, 2009 (minor typographical corrections added).

While I disagree with Parker about The Elements of Style itself, it’s a funny line, and there is something useful to take away from it. More on Strunk & White later.

James Baldwin on Writers


Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent—which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important.

-James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, Autobiographical Notes (1955)

Lincoln in Congress


I’m not sure what the Nineteenth century phrase for “diss track” was, but:

“By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of Gen: Cass’ career, reminds me of my own. I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it, as Cass was to Hulls surrender, and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent a musket pretty badly on one occasion. If Cass broke his sword, the idea is, he broke it in de[s]peration; I bent the musket by accident. If Gen: Cass went in advance of me in picking huckleberries [whortleberries], I guess I surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions.”

From earlier in the same speech:

“But the gentleman from Georgia further says we have deserted all our principles, and taken shelter under Gen: Taylor’s military coat-tail; and he seems to think this is exceedingly degrading. Well, as his faith is, so be it unto him. But can he remember no other military coat tail under which a certain other party have been sheltering for near a quarter of a century? Has he no acquaintance with the ample military coat tail of Gen: Jackson? Does he not know that his own party have run the five last Presidential races under that coat-tail? and that they are now running the sixth, under the same cover? Yes sir, that coat tail was used, not only for Gen: Jackson himself; but has been clung to, with the gripe of death, by every democratic candidate since. You have never ventured, and dare not now venture, from under it. Your campaign papers have constantly been ‘Old Hickories’ with rude likenesses of the old general upon them; hickory poles, and hickory brooms, your never-ending emblems; Mr. Polk himself was ‘Young Hickory”Little Hickory’ or something so; and even now, your campaign paper here, is proclaiming that Cass and Butler are of the true ‘Hickory stripe.’ No sir, you dare not give it up.

Like a horde of hungry ticks you have stuck to the tail of the Hermitage lion to the end of his life; and you are still sticking to it, and drawing a loathsome sustenance from it, after he is dead. A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog. Just such a discovery has Gen: Jackson’s popularity been to you. You not only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had enough of the stuff left, to make Presidents of several comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now to make still another.

Mr. Speaker, old horses, and military coat-tails, or tails of any sort, are not figures of speech, such as I would be the first to introduce into discussions here; but as the gentleman from Georgia has thought fit to introduce them, he, and you, are welcome to all you have made, or can make, by them. If you have any more old horses, trot them out; any more tails, just cock them, and come at us.”

-Abraham Lincoln, Speech in U. S. House of Representatives on the Presidential Question, 27 July 1848

More From Lasch on Abbreviations


This one may be out of date, but the underlying point is still useful.

“Do not use the new postal abbreviations either in the running text or in footnotes. The old abbreviations—Mass., Miss.—are sanctified by custom. The new ones—MA, MS—are bureaucratic innovations designed to surround the postal service with an illusory air of efficiency. Accordingly they fall under the general prohibition of bureaucratic speech and writing, the invariable purpose of which is evasion and obfuscation, even when it appears, as here, to signal the streamlined, computerized elimination of waste motion.”

– Christopher Lasch, Plain Style: a Guide to Written English, 69 (2002)