Famous Quotations

A "quotation" is usually a short text - perhaps one or two sentences - written or spoken by one (usually famous) person and often repeated or at least known by others. Every language has its famous quotations, and they range from highly amusing to deadly serious. Often they express a deep truth in a short, clever way - even the amusing ones. Here are 21 of my favourite quotations, arranged (very loosely) from humorous to serious. Have a look at them and try to understand them. You may know some of them already as a few are translations from other languages. Do you agree with them? You can find explanations of some of the more difficult words in Wordchecker at the end.

"You must come again when you have less time." Walter Sickert to Denton Welch

"I never read a book before reviewing it. It prejudices a man so." Sydney Smith

"Arguing with a woman is like trying to fold the airmail edition of 'The Times' in a high wind." Lord Mancroft

"There is less to him than meets the eye." Tallulah Bankhead

"It is a secret in the Oxford sense. You may tell it to only one person at a time." Lord Franks

"Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little." Dr Johnson on divorce laws

"Life is what happens while you are making other plans." John Lennon

"It is possible to be born an aristocrat without ever becoming a gentleman." Nicholas Ridley

"The head cannot take in more than the seat can endure." Winston Churchill on long speeches

"Only the insane take themselves seriously." Max Beerbohm

"This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel." Horace Walpole

"Any intelligent fool can invent further complications, but it takes a genius to attain, or recapture, simplicity." E F Schumacher

"The causes of events are always more important than the events themselves." Cicero

"We become what we behold." William Blake

"The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." Dr Johnson

"The principal task of civilization, its actual raison d'être, is to defend us against nature." Sigmund Freud

"Nobody is despised by other people unless he has first lost his respect for himself." Seneca

"To be uncertain is uncomfortable; but to be certain is ridiculous." Goethe

"Say what you have to say in the fewest possible words." Sir Arthur Bryant

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Santayana

"When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom." Confucius

  • aristocrat: a member of the highest class in some societies
  • comedy: play or film designed to make people laugh
  • condemned: sentenced as a punishment; forced to suffer
  • despised: regarded with contempt; considered worthless
  • endure: suffer patiently; tolerate
  • genius: an exceptionally intelligent person
  • insane: seriously mentally ill
  • prejudice: bias; influence unfairly
  • raison d'être: the real reason for something's existence
  • seat: a person's buttocks
  • tragedy: a serious play or film with an unhappy ending

Quotations selected by Josef Essberger