Quotes and other assorted aphorisms

Nothing in excess

Μηδὲν ἄγαν

One of the maxims inscribed on the forecourt of the temple of Apollon in Delphi

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Robert J. Hanlon, as quoted in Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong (1980)
The Big Lebowski (1998), written by Ethan and Joel Coen, performed by Jeff Bridges

THE DUDE (Bridges): Yeah? Well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’

Edgar Mitchell, lunar module pilot aboard Apollo 14 (1974)
The Simpsons, series 7, episode 24 “Homerpalooza” (1996), written by Brent Forrester, voiced by Dan Castellaneta

HOMER SIMPSON (Castellaneta): You wouldn’t understand, dad. You’re not with it.

ABE SIMPSON (Castellaneta): I used to be with it! But then they changed what “it” was. Now what i’m with isn’t “it”, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!

Men in Black (1997), written by Ed Solomon, performed by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones

AGENT J (Smith): But why the big secret? People are smart; they can handle it.

AGENT K (Jones): A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet. [HE SIGHS] Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views.

Clark Kerr, president of the University of California (1961)

There are some dogs which, when you meet them, remind you that, despite thousands of years of man-made evolution, every dog is still only two meals away from being a wolf. These dogs advance deliberately, purposefully, the wilderness made flesh, their teeth yellow, their breath a-stink, while in the distance their owners witter, “He’s an old soppy really, just poke him if he's a nuisance,” and in the green of their eyes the red campfires of the Pleistocene gleam and flicker.

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (1990)

The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.

Steven McGeady, paraphrasing Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki

I pulled books from the shelf that hadn’t been opened since they were given as birthday presents decades before: Wild Birds of Britain, the Usborne Guide to English Wildflowers, The Observer’s Book of Trees. When I finally cracked their spines, and started to recognise the pictures on the paper as details I had drawn on my walks, my perspective changed: I began to see the trees from the wood. Oak, ash and hazel became distinct from each other, elder, hawthorn, birch and cherry stepped forward from the fray, with temperaments and idiosyncracies, like characters from a play.

There were other books on the shelf. One, by a local amateur historian, details a history of the village so comprehensive that it begins: ‘In Africa some 4.5 million years ago, a species of primate started walking upright…’ Reading that book was like watching a light sinking down a mineshaft into the earth, illuminating Mesolithic communities, sacred groves of Neolithic pagan worship, Celtic tribes, Roman forts and pitched battles between Saxons and Viking invaders, all buried between the neat gardens and greens of the village. King Sweyn and the Viking army had sailed up the Thames and pillaged everything from Reading to Wallingford. Sixty years later, Duke William had just won the Battle of Hastings and, aiming to ford the Thames, was drawn by Wallingford and was the next to raze my village to the ground. It was non-stop ransack.

Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass (2019), pp. 8–9

A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט

Max Weinreich

‘I have this plan,’ Merlin says, ‘that for each formal scientific paper I ever publish, I will also write its dark twin, its underground mirror-piece — the true story of how the data for that cool, tidy hypothesis-evidence-proof paper actually got acquired. I want to write about the happenstance and the shaved bumblebees and the pissing monkeys and the drunken conversations and the fuck-ups that actually bring science into being. This is the frothy, mad network that underlies and interconnects all scientific knowledge — but about which we so rarely say anything.’

Robert Macfarlane, Underland (2019), pg. 108

The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)

I am nothing but a bloody amœba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.

Prince Philip, upon learning that the royal family would continue to bear the Windsor name