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Quotations about Language




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We should have a great fewer disputes in the world if words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only, and not for things themselves.  ~John Locke


Language forces us to perceive the world as man presents it to us.  ~Julia Penelope


The quantity of consonants in the English language is constant.  If omitted in one place, they turn up in another.  When a Bostonian "pahks" his "cah," the lost r's migrate southwest, causing a Texan to "warsh" his car and invest in "erl wells."  ~Author Unknown


English is a funny language; that explains why we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway.  ~Author Unknown


The reaction to any word may be, in an individual, either a mob-reaction or an individual reaction.  It is up to the individual to ask himself:  Is my reaction individual, or am I merely reacting from my mob-self?  When it comes to the so-called obscene words, I should say that hardly one person in a million escapes mob-reaction.  ~D.H. Lawrence


Lymph, v.:  to walk with a lisp.  ~From a Washington Post reader submission word contest


No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.  ~Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907


One man's frankness is another man's vulgarity.  ~Kevin Smith


I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.  ~Jane Wagner


Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.  ~Quentin Crisp


Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.  ~Carl Sandburg, New York Times, 13 February 1959


It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.  ~Franklin P. Jones


In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.  ~Mark Twain


At no time is freedom of speech more precious than when a man hits his thumb with a hammer.  ~Marshall Lumsden


What words say does not last.  The words last.  Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.  ~Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin


Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes


We have too many high sounding words and too few actions that correspond with them.  ~Abigail Adams


Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson


A good catchword can obscure analysis for fifty years.  ~Wendell L. Willkie


Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.  ~Edward R. Murrow


If you can speak three languages you're trilingual.  If you can speak two languages you're bilingual.  If you can speak only one language you're an American.  ~Author Unknown


I like the word "indolence." It makes my laziness seem classy.  ~Bern Williams


Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. ~Samuel Johnson


Words signify man's refusal to accept the world as it is.  ~Walter Kaufmann


The English language is nobody's special property.  It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.  ~Derek Walcott


Language is the dress of thought.  ~Samuel Johnson


Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; and thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of the demons.  ~Aldous Huxley


The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.  ~Lewis Thomas


Language is the most imperfect and expensive means yet discovered for communicating thought.  ~William James


Be not the slave of Words.  ~Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, Book I, chapter 8


The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.  When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as if it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.  ~George Orwell


Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.  ~Mark Amidon


Any man who does not make himself proficient in at least two languages other than his own is a fool.  ~Martin H. Fischer


It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profundity, he is talking nonsense.  ~Alfred North Whitehead


He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Kunst and Alterthum


A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words.  ~Samuel Butler (1835-1902), Note-Books


I would never use a long word where a short one would answer the purpose.  I know there are professors in this country who 'ligate' arteries.  Other surgeons only tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes


Our language is funny - a fat chance and slim chance are the same thing.  ~J. Gustav White


Words want to be free!  ~Author Unknown


Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it.  ~Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, Book II, chapter 4


Oaths are but words, and words but wind.  ~Samuel Butler (1612-1680), Hudribas


There is a certain age at which a child looks at you in all earnestness and delivers a long, pleased speech in all the true inflections of spoken English, but with not one recognizable syllable.  There is no way you can tell the child that if language had been a melody, he had mastered it and done well, but that since it was in fact a sense, he had botched it utterly.  ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Whenever ideas fail, men invent words.  ~Martin H. Fischer


Words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Im memoriam A.H.H.," 1850


Learning preserves the errors of the past, as well as its wisdom.  For this reason, dictionaries are public dangers, although they are necessities.  ~Alfred North Whitehead


Every American child should grow up knowing a second language, preferably English.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960


Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.  ~Peter Finley Dunne, Mr. Dooley's Opinions, 1900


W (double U) has, of all the letters in our alphabet, the only cumbrous name, the names of the others being monosyllabic.  This advantage of the Roman alphabet over the Grecian is the more valued after audibly spelling out some simple Greek word, like "epixoriambikos."  Still, it is now thought by the learned that other agencies than the difference of the two alphabets may have been concerned in the decline of "the glory that was Greece" and the rise of "the grandeur that was Rome."  There can be no doubt, however, that by simplifying the name of W (calling it "wow," for example) our civilization could be, if not promoted, at least better endured.  ~Ambrose Bierce


The existing phrasebooks are inadequate.  They are well enough as far as they go, but when you fall down and skin your leg they don't tell you what to say.  ~Mark Twain


Language is by its very nature a communal thing; that is, it expresses never the exact thing but a compromise - that which is common to you, me, and everybody.  ~Thomas Earnest Hulme, Speculations, 1923


Let's not become so worried about not offending anybody that we lose the ability to distinguish between respect and paranoia.  ~Larry King, about political correctness, How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication


The PC [political correctness] movement exists not in order to improve the well-being of those whose oppression it purports to combat.  Rather, its purpose is to wrap its proponents in a kind of verbal comfort-blanket.  ~Erik Kowal, as posted on wordwizard.com


The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.  ~Samuel Butler


A different language is a different vision of life.  ~Federico Fellini


"Children, don't speak so coarsely," said Mr. Webster, who had a vague notion that some supervision should be exercised over his daughters' speech, and that a line should be drawn, but never knew quite when to draw it.  He had allowed his daughters to use his library without restraint, and nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library.  ~Robertson Davies, Tempest Tost


Conversation is the slowest form of human communication.  ~Author Unknown


Learn a new language and get a new soul.  ~Czech Proverb


But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.  ~George Orwell


The word "good" has many meanings.  For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.  ~G.K. Chesterton


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Last modified 2007 Oct 08 Mon 17:16 PDT


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