This is a collection of quotations (currently numbering 484) that I began collecting in the early 1990s. They mostly come from my own reading, but also include clever things from signatures seen on the net somewhere or (in a few cases) simply “classic quotations” that I like. (More detailed sourcing information for some of them can be found in the HTML comments.)

That a quotation appears here does not mean I completely agree with it. Most of them do reflect my opinions, but in some cases I have included observations that I find particularly clever or witty, or extremely well phrased, or especially thought-provoking, even when they reflect a viewpoint I don’t hold. And although it shouldn’t need to be said, the presence of a quotation on this page certainly doesn’t mean that I support all (or, in fact, anything else) that the author said or did—or even that I know who the author is.

A significant subset of these quotations are related (in one way or another) to my philosophy of software design. They are collected together in a separate document.

Wouldn’t the sentence “I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign” have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?

(Swiped from a fortune)

Most people use statistics the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.

—Mark Twain

It didn’t take very much reductio to get right down to absurdum from where you started.

—Mike Jones

Reisner’s Rule of Conceptual Inertia: “If you think big enough, you’ll never have to do it.”

—Quoted by Erik Naggum

Simplicity is the soul of efficiency.

—Austin Freeman (in The Eye of Osiris)

… it is simplicity that is difficult to make.

—Bertholdt Brecht

And there you have several miracles, first among them the wonder of a three-dimensional volume where black squiggles on white paper create worlds.

—Melvin Jules Bukiet (on books)

When a distinguished and elderly scientist says that something is possible, he’s almost certainly correct; when he says something is impossible, he’s very probably wrong.

—Arthur C. Clarke

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

—Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

—Arthur C. Clarke

Sufficiently advanced political correctness is indistinguishable from irony.

—Erik Naggum

There is nothing more ugly than an orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.

—Francis A. Schaeffer

Unix was not designed to stop people from doing stupid things, because that would also stop them from doing clever things.

—Doug Gwyn

Have you never thought as you read that months may lie between any pair of words?

—Gene Wolfe

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”

—Maurice Sendak (in Where the Wild Things Are)

When the coughing increases, I leave out the next variation. If there is no coughing, I play them in order. […] The record so far is 18 variations, in New York.

—Rachmaninoff (on his 20 Corelli Variations)

No, this trick won’t work … How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?

—Albert Einstein

Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

—Vaclav Havel

Please don’t fall into the trap of believing that I am terribly dogmatical about [the goto statement]. I have the uncomfortable feeling that others are making a religion out of it, as if the conceptual problems of programming could be solved by a single trick, by a simple form of coding discipline!

—Edsger Dijkstra

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.

—George Bernard Shaw

Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?

—Thomas Jefferson

A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, Or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair. But no, you sent us Congress! Good God, sir, was that fair?

—John Adams (in “Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve”, from 1776)

Those who believe without reason cannot be convinced by reason.

—James Randi

G: “If we do happen to step on a mine, Sir, what do we do ?”

EB: “Normal procedure, Lieutenant, is to jump 200 feet in the air and scatter oneself over a wide area.”

somewhere in No Man’s Land, BA4

The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.

—Thomas Jefferson

The designer of a new kind of system must participate fully in the implementation.

—Donald E. Knuth

… the designer of a new system must not only be the implementor and the first large-scale user; the designer should also write the first user manual. … If I had not participated fully in all these activities, literally hundreds of improvements would never have been made, because I would never have thought of them or perceived why they were important.

—Donald E. Knuth

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

—Samuel Johnson

Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than by the arguments of its opponents.

As you know, Joel, children have always looked up to cowboys as role models. And vice versa.

| Ceci n’est pas une pipe

—Daniel Case

New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled, the humiliating question arises, “Why then are you not taking part in them?”

—H. G. Wells

A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.

—P. Erdos

Programming languages are like pizzas — they come in only “too” sizes: too big and too small.

More good code has been written in languages denounced as “bad” than in languages proclaimed “wonderful”—much more.

—Bjarne Stroustrup (in The Design and Evolution of C++, 1994)

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.

—Poul Anderson

Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief; All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief.


The trivial has its place, its entertainment value. I can think of no good reason why some people should not specialise in the behaviour of the left-side hairs on an elephant’s trunk. Even at its best, its most deadly serious, criticism, like art, is partly a game, as all good critics know. My objection is not to the game but to the fact that contemporary critics have for the most part lost track of the point of their game, just as artists, by and large, have lost track of the point of theirs. Fiddling with the hairs on an elephant’s nose is indecent when the elephant happens to be standing on the baby.

—John Gardner

… the whole car will work very sweetly and will continue to do so with only a very small fraction of the attention that would be absolutely necessary for the care of a horse.

Instruction Book for Chevy Copper-Cooled Motor Cars, 1923

I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers.

—Sverre Slotte

To find a rhyme for silver, A seemingly rhymeless rhyme, Requires only will, ver- bosity and time.

—W. P. Espy

I have a firm grip on reality. Now I can strangle it.

—Gordon Paynter

… start with Plan 9, which is free of sin …

—Mark V. Shaney

The future belongs to neither the conduit or content players, but those who control the filtering, searching and sense-making tools we will rely on to navigate through the expanses of cyberspace.

—Paul Saffo (Wired, March 1994)

C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes it harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg.

—Bjarne Stroustrup

As the world becomes increasingly inundated with information, value shifts from individual pieces of information to the structure placed on the information.

—Michael F. Schwartz

Lesson number one in dealing with the White House: just because they’re nice to you, doesn’t mean they can actually help.

—Bob Garfield

When David Letterman is on TV each night, what’s there left for the ironist to do?

—Donald Fagen

If I hear the phrase “everything is an object” once more, I think I will scream.

—Michael Stonebraker

If you want a language that tries to lock up all the sharp objects and fire-making implements, use Pascal or Ada: the Nerf languages, harmless fun for children of all ages, and they won’t mar the furniture.

—Scott Fahlman (on adding dangerous features to Lisp)

If a book is worth reading at all it is worth reading more than once … Suspense drags you on; appreciation causes you to linger.

—William Gerhardie

I will not do it as a hack, I will not do it on a Mac, I will not do it for my friends, I will not do it on weekends, I will not write for Uncle Sam, I won’t do ADA, Sam-I-Am!

—Gregory Bond

There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.

—C.A.R. Hoare

… with proper design, the features come cheaply. This approach is arduous, but continues to succeed.

—Dennis Ritchie

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere … yet sublimely pure and capable of stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.

—Bertrand Russell

Simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.

—Alan Kay

Premature optimization is the root of all evil in programming.

—C.A.R. Hoare

Bird-feeding, for human consumption and mnemonic purposes, is perfectly appropriate in comments, but should be kept out of protocols.

—John Klensin

The problem with using C++ … is that there’s already a strong tendency in the language to require you to know everything before you can do anything.

—Larry Wall

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What no person has a right to is to delude others into the belief that faith is something of no great significance, or that it is an easy matter, whereas it is the greatest and most difficult of all things.

—Soren Kierkegaard

Good work is always done in defiance of management.

—R. Woodward

The key to performance is elegance, not battalions of special cases. The terrible temptation to tweak should be resisted unless the payoff is really noticeable.

—Jon Bentley and Doug McIlroy

I never understood people who don’t have bookshelves.

—George Plimpton


“It takes more practice,” I told him irritably.

“FAITH TAKES PRACTICE,” said Owen Meany.

—John Irving

It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a “DestroyBaghdad” procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a “DestroyCity” procedure, to which “Baghdad” could be given as a parameter.

—Nathaniel S. Borenstein (This was a footnote in a 1992 peer-reviewed journal paper.)

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

—Geoffrey Chaucer

… you get enlightened by SGML, and even after you have decided that there must be something better (which shouldn’t be too hard, you think), you will find that you keep coming back.

—Erik Naggum

It is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary …

—Learned Hand

If you’ve been pounding nails with your forehead for years, it may feel strange the first time somebody hands you a hammer. But that doesn’t mean that you should strap the hammer to a headband just to give your skull that old familiar jolt.

—Wayne Throop

I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform them by education.

—Thomas Jefferson (in 1820)

The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

—Ursula K. Le Guin (in her 1976 introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness)

“A person who dies of lung cancer at age 70 will not be hospitalized later with another disease,” said a study released Thursday by [Canada’s] Imperial Tobacco touting the benefits of early death in smokers on the health-care system.

—Reuters (seen in The Chicago Tribune, 9/3/94)

Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs there.

—Sydney J. Harris

I can remember when a good politician had to be 75 percent ability and 25 percent actor, but I can well see the day when the reverse could be true.

—Harry Truman

The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.

—Thomas Sowell

I don’t care how many levels of reality you posit; as soon as you posit even one it’s turtles all the way down.

—Nova Spivak

… A totally spiritual machine. If you write with goose quill you scratch the sweaty pages and keep stopping to dip for ink. Your thoughts go too fast for your aching wrist. If you type, the letters cluster together, and again you must go at the poky pace of the mechanism, not the speed of your synapse. But with the computer your fingers dream, your mind brushes the keyboard, you are borne on golden pinions, at last you confront the light of critical reason with the happiness of a first encounter.

—Umberto Eco (in Foucault’s Pendulum)

Objects in calendar are closer than they appear.

—Jim Duncan

He was a hairy bear. He was a scary bear. We beat a hasty retreat from his lair, And described him with adjectives.

—School House Rock

Don’t anthropomorphize computers. They don’t like it.

—Stefan Chakerian

You could say I’ve lost my belief in our politicians. They all seem like game show hosts to me.


The effect of his affected accent affected her, and effected a change in her affections.

—Steve Chapin

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

—Winston Churchill

A witty saying proves nothing.


We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

—Albert Einstein

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.

—T. E. Lawrence (in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

There are features that should not be used. There are concepts that should not be exploited. There are problems that should not be solved. There are programs that should not be written.

—Richard Harter

Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless gas which, given enough time, turns into people.

—Henry Hiebert

He seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles.

—Naturalist J.B.S. Haldane (on God)

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish and subvert.

—J. Robert Oppenheimer

My view of Microsoft is that they had two goals in the last 10 years: to copy the Macintosh and to copy Lotus’ success in the applications business. And they accomplished those goals. Now, they’re kind of lost. I’ve told Bill that I think it’s in Microsoft’s best interest if NeXT becomes successful because we’ll give him something to copy for the rest of this decade.

—Steve Jobs

Writing code … is not an exercise in manliness.

—Mark Hahn

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

—Bertrand Russell

Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing so gentle as real strength.

—St. Francis de Sales

… you can look forward to reading—I swear this is true—Microsoft Bob for Dummies.

—Joshua Quittner

All bad jazz sounds like Woody Woodpecker.

—Leo Kottke

Luck is the residue of design.

—Branch Rickey

… more men are in love with war than ever get a chance to fight one, and … more guns are bought to satisfy this love than for a pardonable purpose.

—John le Carré

I would pay a lot of money to see this movie with a vegetarian.

—Anthony Lane (describing the visually and aurally graphic battle scenes in Braveheart)

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.


He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun; but he don’t know what it means …


It was man who ended the Cold War in case you didn’t notice. It wasn’t weaponry, or technology, or armies or campaigns. It was just man. Not even Western man either, as it happened, but our sworn enemy in the East, who went into the streets, faced the bullets and the batons and said: we’ve had enough. It was their emperor, not ours, who had the nerve to mount the rostrum and declare he had no clothes.

—John le Carré

When you hear a new violinist, you do not compare him to the kid next door; you compare him to Stern and Heifetz. If he falls short, you will not blame him for it, but you will know what he falls short of … In art, “good enough” is not good enough.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

I think psychoanalyze-pinhead is the important lesson of GNU Emacs.

—Bennett Todd (I love Emacs, but I agree that there’s a lesson there. I’m just not sure what it is.)

I’ll tell you what war is about. You’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough they stop fighting.

—Curtis LeMay

You don’t know what you’re doing—babe, it must be art.


Proprietary shmoprietary … Netscape HTML just looks better. And, depending on the browser, sometimes not even that.

—Kivi Shapiro

A Wired reader told me once, “Get a life,” which I read from the back of a yacht in the Aegean, while eating fresh sea urchins and drinking terrific Montrachet.

—Nicholas Negroponte

In case you’re not a computer person, I should probably point out that “Real Soon Now” is a technical term meaning “sometime before the heat-death of the universe, maybe.”

—Scott Fahlman

It claims to be fully automatic, but actually you have to push this little button here.

—Gentleman John Killian

When you were born you cried, and the world rejoiced. Try to live your life so that when you die you will rejoice, and the world will cry.

You poor scholastics, you get so swept up in the illusion of being, cataloguing every corner of every special case, that you look at the pointing fingertip, and miss seeing the moon.

—Wayne Throop

Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.

—Wallace Sayre

Men must fumble awhile with error to separate it from truth, I think—as long as they don’t seize the error hungrily because it has a pleasanter taste.

—Walter M. Miller, Jr. (in A Canticle for Liebowitz)

The Law of Software Envelopment: “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.”

—Jamie Zawinski

If I had my life over, I guess I’d believe in reincarnation …

—Ralph Mellor

The Internet is a powerful example of free speech and the free market in action; it is curious that the Net has alarmed the lawmakers of a nation founded on those principles.

—Denise Caruso

If the colleges were better, if they really had it, you would need to get the police at the gates to keep order in the inrushing multitude. See in college how we thwart the natural love of learning by leaving the natural method of teaching what each wishes to learn, and insisting that you shall learn what you have no taste or capacity for. The college, which should be a place of delightful labor, is made odious and unhealthy, and the young men are tempted to frivolous amusements to rally their jaded spirits. I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

… semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie.

—Umberto Eco (in A Theory of Semiotics)

As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning, and meaningful statements lose precision.

—Lotfi Zadeh

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

—Steve Jobs

It’s hard to read through a book on the principles of magic without glancing at the cover periodically to make sure it isn’t a book on software design.

—Bruce Tognazzini

Saving face, I fear, is to have two of them.

—Nicholas Negroponte

The Very Big Stupid is a thing which breeds by eating The Future. Have you seen it? It sometimes disguises itself as a good-looking quarterly bottom line, derived by closing the R&D department.

—Frank Zappa

A charlatan makes obscure what is clear; a thinker makes clear what is obscure.

—Hugh Kingsmill

Anybody who thinks a little 9,000-line program that’s distributed free and can be cloned by anyone is going to affect anything we do at Microsoft has his head screwed on wrong.

—Bill Gates (regarding Java, shortly before Microsoft licensed Java and cancelled the Blackbird project)

The real tight interface is between the book and the reader—the world of the book is plugged right into your brain, never mind the [virtual reality] bodysuit.

—Bill McKibben (in The Age of Missing Information)

… macaroni, a gag, a banana bag, a tan, a tag, a banana bag again (or a camel), …

—Guy Steele

All I can say is that this peacock is a horse of another color.

—Guy Steele

A company culture that isn’t satisfied with winning but also needs to dominate, that isn’t content with getting great results but also has to eliminate everything in its path, is fundamentally destructive—and ultimately self-destructive.

—Morton H. Meyerson (former CEO of EDS)

Guys are lucky because they get to grow mustaches. I wish I could. It’s like having a little pet for your face.

—Anita Wise

Beware of things with a small brain-to-body mass ratio—like cars.


[ActiveX] will have no security, no reliability, and although the demos might be impressive, they are simply clothes with no emperor: it is a pretty face and no more.

—Carmine Mangione

Let’s clean it up out there, guys. Nefarious users could even ship over their own PC binaries and run them on your system, which means that if you aren’t careful, they might do something useful like forcibly upgrade you to Linux. Of course, then the perl.exe? travesty magically goes away, along with a whole lot of other problems. :-)

—Tom Christiansen (discussing a security hole in many PC-based web servers)

I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind, yet I’m ungrateful to those teachers.

—Kahlil Gibran

Good judgment is the result of experience … Experience is the result of bad judgment.

—Fred Brooks

Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute.

—Abelson and Sussman

Is it not, then, better to be ridiculous and friendly than clever and hostile?


Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.

—Charlotte Bronte

Feminists can be as sexist as the next guy!

—Douglas R. Hofstadter

I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.

—Jack Handy

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

—George Orwell (in “Notes on Nationalism”, 1945)

Independence Day marks the glorious realization of what, for me, has been a 25 year wait. Countless prayers have gone unanswered, but on this day, I have finally witnessed on screen what I have only dreamt of all my life, for this film features the complete and total destruction of the city of Houston through the use of nuclear weapons, by the U.S. government’s own hand!

—Christopher Null

Knowing how things work is the basis for appreciation, and is thus a source of civilized delight.

—William Safire

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

—Jack Handey

A language that doesn’t have everything is actually easier to program in than some that do.

—Dennis Ritchie

I’m not young enough to know everything.

—Robert Benchley

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.

—Sir William Drummond

Between the wish and the thing, the world lies waiting.

—Cormac McCarthy

A designer can mull over complicated designs for months. Then suddenly the simple, elegant, beautiful solution occurs to him. When it happens to you, it feels as if God is talking! And maybe He is.

—Leo Frankowski (in The Cross-Time Engineer)

Microsoft puts the “backward” in “backward compatible”.

—Mike Bartman (paraphrased)

Beauty in music is too often confused with something that lets the ears lie back in an easy chair.

—Charles Ives

Programming languages should be designed not by piling feature on top of feature, but by removing the weaknesses and restrictions that make additional features appear necessary.

from Revised4 Report on the Algorithmic Language Scheme (I contend that this statement is true of software systems in general.)

The fearful are often holders of the most dangerous power. They become demoniac when they see the workings of all the life around them. Seeing the strengths as well as the weaknesses, they fasten only on the weaknesses.

—Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom

The question shouldn’t be, “Will it happen?” but “Do we want it to happen, and can we help it happen?”

—Peter G. W. Keen

I should either have been less specific or more correct …

—Andy Armstrong

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em as much as you please.

—Samuel Clemens

I’m old enough not to care too much About what you think of me, But I’m young enough to remember the future And the way things ought to be.


That people do not learn very much from history is the most important of all the lessons history has to teach.

—Aldous Huxley

On that of which one cannot speak, one must remain silent.


Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious” becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.

—R. Buckminster Fuller

Unformed people delight in the gaudy and in novelty. Cooked people delight in the ordinary.

—Erik Naggum

Some cynical people think that every activity must revolve around the mighty dollar, and that anyone saying otherwise is just attempting to delude the public. I will probably never be able to convice them that that isn’t always the case, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing that I live in a less dingy world than they do.

—John Carmack

… the cost of adding a feature isn’t just the time it takes to code it. The cost also includes the addition of an obstacle to future expansion. … The trick is to pick the features that don’t fight each other.

—John Carmack

I would be content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

—Anna Quindlen

Increasingly, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling—the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration. Possibly this trend results from a mistaken belief that using a somewhat mysterious device confers an aura of power on the user.

—Niklaus Wirth

Hushed are the stars, whose power is never spent; The hills are mute: yet, how they speak of God!

—C. H. Towne

Although NT has lots of the cool stuff I discovered in UNIX, what it doesn’t have is personalities.

—Rik Farrow

Education: The ability to train yourself.

—John Browning and Spencer Reiss (in “Encyclopedia of the New Economy”, Wired 6.04)

[The French] have always hated us, of course … but now they REALLY hate us, because our culture has become so dominant that they’re having trouble completing so much as a single sentence without using American words. They’re always blurting out statements like: “Le software de la hardware est un humdinger!” And then they get so mad that they could spit.

—Dave Barry

To keep large programs well structured, you either need superhuman will power, or proper language support for interfaces.

—Greg Nelson

As for a picture, if it isn’t worth a thousand words, the hell with it.

—Ad Reinhardt

People buy holes, not drill bits.

—Peter Deutsch

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.

—Alfred Korzybski

… with the right value system, making good short-term decisions leads to good long-term results. … I think that is the purpose of a value system. We need to figure out the way to live so that when we are in the middle of life we “do the right thing.” When our neighbor comes over to argue with us, we are not going to start thinking about how this will effect our life ten years from now, but we react according to the way we were taught, and the way we taught ourselves.

—Ralph Johnson (Unlikely as it may seem, this quote came from a discussion of programming practices.)

… your Web browser is Ronald Reagan.

—Neal Stephenson (In its context, this statement is actually the punchline of one of the most insightful descriptions I’ve ever read of how computers work their magic on strings of numbers. But out of context, it is one of the more bizarrely absurd statements I’ve ever read.)

Starsky and Hutch reruns, dubbed into diverse languages, may turn out, in the long run, to be a greater force for human rights than the Declaration of Independence.

—Neal Stephenson

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.

—Bertrand Russell

One of the great skills in using any language is knowing what not to use, what not to say. … There’s that simplicity thing again.

—Ron Jeffries

There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep.

—John Irving (in A Widow for One Year)

Crappy old OSes have value in the basically negative sense that changing to new ones makes us wish we’d never been born.

—Neal Stephenson

In a society where there is democratic tolerance and freedom under the law, many kinds of evils will crop up, but give them a little time and they will usually breed their own cure.

—Bourke Cockran (to Winston Churchill, November 1895)

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.

—J. R. R. Tolkien (in The Hobbit)

If you threw Microsoft into a room with truth, you’d risk a matter/anti-matter explosion.

—Nicholas Petreley

Forget the messiness of years and days—every work of human artifice has a proper viewing distance.

—Tracy Kidder

The ideal engineer is a composite … he is not a scientist, he is not a mathematician, he is not a sociologist, or a writer; but he may use the knowledge and techniques of any or all of these disciplines in solving engineering problems.

—N. W. Dougherty

You can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

—They Might Be Giants

Sometimes, the best applause lies in knowing you have offended a fool.

When we use a language, we should commit ourselves to knowing it, being able to read it, and writing it idiomatically.

—Ron Jeffries (in Wiki:ReturnBooleanEvaluations)

Learning research tells us that the time lag from experiment to feedback is critical …

—Kent Beck (in Wiki:IsExtremeProgrammingWacko)

If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.


“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something.”

—T. H. White (in The Once and Future King)

One of the most dangerous (and evil) things ever injected into the project world is the notion of process maturity. Process maturity is for replicable manufacturing contexts. Projects are one-time shots. Replicability is never the primary issue on one-time shots. More evil than good has come from the notion that we should “stick to the methodology.” This is a recipe for non-adaptive death. I’d rather die by commission.

—David Schmaltz

My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.

—Indira Gandhi

I think it’s tragic that scientific advances have caused many people to imagine that they know it all, and that God is irrelevant or nonexistent. The fact is that everything we learn reveals more things that we do not understand.

—Donald E. Knuth (on Proverbs 3:16)

A rational mind like mine generally wants to nail everything down, to understand concepts fully. Yet I am glad that true religion is a great mystery, something I can feel but not describe, something I can ponder and learn about, something that will always remain tantalizingly beyond my grasp.

—Donald E. Knuth (on 1 Timothy 3:16)

“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien

“… I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien

“Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien

“… generous deed should not be checked by cold counsel.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien

We don’t think of ourselves as being perfectionists, really. To us it’s more about desperately trying to have it sound more or less OK.

—Donald Fagen

I don’t know why any right-thinking person would play anything but a blues-based style on electric guitar.

—Walter Becker

Christ … forms the spiritual atmosphere breathed by a believer’s soul.

—Donald E. Knuth (on 1 Peter 3:16)

You think you know when you can learn, are more sure when you can write, even more when you can teach, but certain when you can program.

—Alan Perlis

“Open your present …” “No, you open your present …” Kaczinski Christmas.

—Unabomber Haiku Contest, CyberLaw mailing list

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

—Daniel Boorstin

… it is poor civic hygiene to install technologies that could someday facilitate a police state.

—Bruce Schneier

Nothing in progression can rest on its original plan. We may as well think of rocking a grown man in the cradle of an infant.

—Edmund Burke

… society is tradition and order and reverence, not a series of cheap bargains between selfish interests.

—Poul Anderson (in “Iron”)

No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.

—Nora Ephron

Inspiration comes from the act of writing.

—Steven Dunn

Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.

—Bjarne Stroustrup

… as a slow-witted human being I have a very small head and I had better learn to live with it and to respect my limitations and give them full credit, rather than to try to ignore them, for the latter vain effort will be punished by failure.

—Edsger W. Dijkstra

Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.

—Winston Churchill

There is nothing permanent except change.


We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.

—Rutherford D. Rogers

That’s all there is … You. And you and you and you and you and you. I thought there was something more, something larger, but I was wrong. One by one. That’s all there is.

—Nancy Kress (in Beggars in Spain)

Perhaps there was no way for the young to be serious without being tiresome. They lacked that all-important dimension of physics: torque. Too much time ahead, too little behind, like a man trying to carry a horizontal ladder with a grip at one end. Not even an honorable passion could balance very well. And while jiggling hard to just keep your balance, how could anything ever be funny?

—Nancy Kress (in Beggars in Spain)

To a database person, every nail looks like a thumb. Or something like that.

—Jamie Zawinski

There’s no sense being exact about something if you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

—John von Neumann

I don’t know or trust Demeter.

—David Brady

Just as playing Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t turn a kid into a wizard, pretending to be a homicidal maniac online doesn’t make a man a killer. But determining what it does make him is one of the biggest ethical dilemmas facing modern society.

—Rita Ferrandino (in Terms of Service, Ferrandino’s account of her time as an AOL moderator.)

There is nothing on earth more exquisite than a bonny book, with well-placed columns of rich black writing in beautiful borders, and illuminated pictures cunningly inset. But nowadays, instead of looking at books, people read them.

—George Bernard Shaw

Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.

—James Burke

It is almost impossible to catch a speedy invisible model automobile even when one is a skillful dentist.

—E. B. White

Newton was a genius, but not because of the superior computational power of his brain. Newton’s genius was, on the contrary, his ability to simplify, idealize, and streamline the world so that it became, in some measure, tractable to the brains of perfectly ordinary men.

—Gerald M. Weinberg

Every time I write about the impossibility of effectively protecting digital files on a general purpose computer, I get responses from people decrying the death of copyright. “How will authors and artists get paid for their work?” they ask me. Truth be told, I don’t know. I feel rather like the physicist who just explained relativity to a group of would-be interstellar travelers, only to be asked: “How do you expect us to get to the stars, then?” I’m sorry, but I don’t know that, either.

—Bruce Schneier

If you keep your mind sufficiently open, people will throw a lot of rubbish into it.

—William Orton

Wit is cultured insolence.


The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.

—Robert Pirsig

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.

—Edwin Schlossberg

If, after reading Tuesday one evening before bed, [kids] look out the window and see frogs flying by—well, we should all be so lucky.

—David Wiesner

If you like your remote messaging fat, dumb, and interoperable, you could also look into the SOAP libraries distributed with Ruby.

—Dave Thomas

Good engineering is not a matter of creativity or centering or grounding or inspiration or lateral thinking, as useful as those might be, but of decoding the clever, even witty, messages the solution space carves on the corpses of the ideas in which you believed with all your heart, and then building the road to the next message.

—Fred Hapgood

Java development without a little heresy would be a dull place, and a dangerous one.

—Bruce Tate

First you listen to the users; then you ignore them.

—Ken Arnold

… wisdom is in large part the knowledge of how to avoid doing dumb things, and thus grows globally as a function of the published inventory of stupid mistakes.

—Tim Bray

… the closer you get to the truth, the messier your sentence gets.

—Paul Graham

The atmosphere of the average workplace is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed.

—Paul Graham

The really important thing about Ajax is that it’s tricked us into adopting a really powerful language when we wouldn’t have chosen to do so on our own.

—Stuart Halloway

It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.

—Frank Herbert (in Dune)

How can one foresee, without first remembering?

—David Brin

Some fogies of advancing years have suggested the initial price point [for Apple’s iPhone] of $499 is too high. They fail to understand: The “cool” of owning this phone, particularly for the early adopters, is worth an easy $497, bringing the phone itself down to $2 even.

—Bruce Tognazzini

Facts don’t squeal when you stuff ‘em where you want ‘em to go.

—John R. Erickson

It would be well if engineering were less generally thought of, and even defined, as the art of constructing. In a certain important sense it is rather the art of not constructing: or, to define it rudely, but not inaptly, it is the art of doing well with one dollar, which any bungler can do with two after a fashion.

—Arthur Mellen Wellington

The hardest part of design … is keeping features out.

—Donald Norman

English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages into dark alleys, beats them up for their words and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.

—Raina Bird

In the fight between Calvin and Arminius, back Jesus. He was not a systematic theologian, and I consider this to be a feature, not a bug.

—Simon Cozens

The more we learn about these Bush people, the more we see the answer to the question: “What if Frodo had kept the Ring?”

—Rod Dreher

Simplicity does not mean want or poverty. It does not mean the absence of any decor, or absolute nudity. It only means that the decor should belong intimately to the design proper, and that anything foreign to it should be taken away.

—Paul Jacques Grillo

Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything— That’s how the light gets in.

—Leonard Cohen

Every task involves constraint, Solve the thing without complaint; There are magic links and chains Forged to loose our rigid brains. Structures, structures, though they bind, Strangely liberate the mind.

—James Falen

Beauty is more important in computing than anywhere else in technology because software is so complicated. Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity.

—David Gelernter (in Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology)

Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.

—G. Sand

A simple [writing] style is the result of very hard work.

—William Zinsser

Design is the art of separation, grouping, abstraction, and hiding. The fulcrum of design decisions is change. Separate those things that change for different reasons. Group together those things that change for the same reason.

—Uncle Bob Martin

The tragedy of our time is that we’ve got it backwards, we’ve learned to love techniques and use people.

—Herb Kelleher

We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

—D.H. Lawrence

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together are monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say, listen to this, it is important.

—Gary Provost (in 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing (1985))

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize ‘til you have tried to make it precise.

—Bertrand Russell

Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.

—Gottfried Leibniz

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.

—Naguib Mahfouz

Systems programmers are the high priests of a low cult.

—Bob Barton

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility.

—Albert Einstein

I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.


We forgive once we give up attachment to our wounds.

—Lewis Hyde

The general problem with ambitious systems is complexity. […] it is important to emphasize the value of simplicity and elegance, for complexity has a way of compounding difficulties.

—Fernando J. Corbató

Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.

—Albert Einstein

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

—Albert Einstein

Having a short-term memory is good for your long-term happiness.

—Alan Cooper

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.

—Albert Einstein

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.

—Timothy Keller

Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.

—Richard Feynman

English in the mouths of the English was a dream language, an affair of allusion and code.

—Michelle de Kretser

Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.

—Brian Eno (in A Year with Swollen Appendices)

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

—Thomas Merton

When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem.

But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

—R. Buckminster Fuller

My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.

—Noam Chomsky

If one meets a powerful person—Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates—ask them five questions:

  • What power have you got?
  • Where did you get it from?
  • In whose interests do you exercise it?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • And how can we get rid of you?

—Tony Benn

Simplicity and elegance are unpopular because they require hard work and discipline to achieve and education to be appreciated.

—Edsger Dijkstra

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

—C. S. Lewis

Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.

—Herbert Simon

Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.

—George Bernard Shaw

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

—Michael Crichton

Architecture is the tension between coupling and cohesion.

—Neal Ford

Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics.

—Edsger W. Dijkstra

Anyone could learn LISP in one day, except that if they already knew Fortran, it would take three days.

—Marvin Minsky

So much complexity in software comes from trying to make one thing do two things.

—Ryan Singer

The purpose of abstraction is not to be vague, but to create a new semantic level in which one can be absolutely precise.

—Edsger Dijkstra

Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back.

—Piet Hein

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

—Thomas Merton (in a letter to Dorothy Day)

The road to wisdom? Well, it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.

—Piet Hein (in Grooks, 1966)

I explain business stupidity to machines.

—Jason Gorman (explaining his programming job as if to a five-year-old)

The amount of terror in a speaker’s stomach is proportional to the square of the amount he doesn’t know about his audience.

—Donald Knuth

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behavior.

Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behavior.

—Dee Hock

Programmers spend the first 5 years of their career mastering complexity, and the rest of their lives learning simplicity

—Buzz Andersen

Bookes, Bookes, Pyles of bookes, Left arounde the hous Toweres high of mirth and lore Skyscrapers ye kan browse


Overload, clutter, and confusion are not attributes of information, they are failures of design.

—Edward Tufte

The best performance improvement is the transition from the nonworking state to the working state.

—John Ousterhout

Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: a very stupid daughter of a very wise mother.


A week of coding can often save an hour of thought.

—Josh Bloch

Simplicity is the unavoidable price we must pay for reliability.

—C.A.R. Hoare (This is the pithy line that is most often quoted, but I think I prefer the expanded version.)

Encryption science denial is climate science denial, but for Democrats.

—Tommy Collison

Good design adds value faster than it adds cost.

—Thomas C. Gale

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.

—Helen Keller

Without privacy there was no point in being an individual.

—Jonathan Franzen

Silence is not only golden, it is seldom misquoted.

—Bob Monkhouse

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

—Gustave Flaubert

The thing that makes software design difficult is that we must express thoughts about a problem and a solution we typically do not understand fully, using a language that does not contain many of our accustomed features of expression, to a system that is unforgiving of mistakes.

—Alistair Cockburn

The question of software correctness ultimately boils down to, “Does it do what we have in our minds, even the things we have not gotten around to thinking about yet?”

—Alistair Cockburn

Wisdom begins when we discover the difference between “That makes no sense,” and “I don’t understand.”

—Mary Doria Russell

Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.

—Dwight Eisenhower

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with a magic bullet.

—Gerald Jay Sussman

Nobody knows her own heart— You might’ve been introduced But you drifted apart.

—Rhett Miller
(in The El)

Scope doesn’t creep; understanding grows.

—Jeff Patton

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The Brundtland Commission (This definition from the domain of public policy and economic development fits my understanding of software architecture quite well.)

I’ll renounce cynicism when it ceases having predictive powers.

—Dave Vandenbout (@devbisme)

Constraints are not limitations; they are insight.

—Steve Sanderson

If you are a creative person then you are never really off the clock. Even sleeping feels creative.

—Jennifer Carpenter

To hell with computer literacy. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Study mathematics. Learn to think. Read. Write.

—Butler Lampson (Given what “computer literacy” meant when Lampson said this in 1986, I agree. But I do believe coding should be taught as a fundamental skill, alongside the others he recommends.)

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.

—Madeleine L’Engle

If you put a switch in a cave with a sign on it saying “End-of-the-World Switch. DO NOT TOUCH”, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.

—Terry Pratchett

The paradox is that when managers focus on productivity, long-term improvements are rarely made. On the other hand, when managers focus on quality, productivity improves continuously.

—John Seddon

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.

—Niels Bohr

Conformism and non-conformism are symmetrical expressions of a lack of originality.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny …”

—Isaac Asimov

The true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade. But to produce a uniform pattern of public utterances in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.

—Leonard Shapiro (on Stalinism)

Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.

—Thomas Paine

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy— they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

The only secret of magic is that I’m willing to work harder on it than you think it’s worth.

—Penn Jillette

People forget how fast you did a job, but they remember how well you did it.

—Howard Newton

We in science are spoiled by the success of mathematics. Mathematics is the study of problems so simple that they have good solutions.

—Whitfield Diffie

I don’t know what I’ll need to learn next, but it will probably be something I previously dismissed as useless.

—John D. Cook

You don’t pay engineers to write code, you pay them to understand subtleties and edges of the problem. The code is incidental.

—Ted Dziuba

The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

—Alexander von Humboldt

The purpose of abstractions is to conceal undesirable properties; desirable ones should not be hidden.

—Butler Lampson

Almost anything in software can be implemented, sold, and even used given enough determination. There is nothing a mere scientist can say that will stand against the flood of a hundred million dollars. But there is one quality that cannot be purchased in this way—and that is reliability. The price of reliability is the pursuit of the utmost simplicity. It is a price which the very rich find most hard to pay.

—C.A.R. Hoare in The Emperor’s Old Clothes (This is an expanded version of a shorter, more common quotation.)

Language design and implementation is engineering. We make decisions using evaluations of costs and benefits or, if we must, using predictions of those based on past experience.

—Russ Cox

If you think good architecture is expensive, try bad architecture.

—Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder in Big Ball of Mud

A good design is not the one that correctly predicts the future, it’s one that makes adapting to the future affordable.

—Venkat Subramaniam

You can prematurely optimize maintainability, flexibility, security, and robustness just like you can performance.

—John Carmack

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called “sciences as one would.” For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and inflict the understanding.

—Francis Bacon Novum Organon (1620)

Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever.


The art of programming is the art of organizing complexity, of mastering multitude and avoiding its bastard chaos as effectively as possible.

—Edsger Dijkstra Notes on Structured Programming

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

—Peter Drucker

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

—John Steinbeck

I don’t know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

—Richard Feynman

If society lacks the unity based upon the commitment of men’s wills to a common objective, then it is no more than a pile of sand that the least jolt or the slightest puff will suffice to scatter.

—Émile Durkheim

Beauty is the promise of happiness.

—Edmund Burke

We turn toward God only to obtain the impossible. As for the possible, men suffice.

—Lev Shestov

In software development there’s no greater level of design detail than what is captured in the code itself.

—Kevin Hooke

There is no data that can be displayed in a pie chart, that cannot be displayed better in some other type of chart.

—John Tukey

All grown-ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

He who fights with monsters, should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.


Questions about whether design is necessary or affordable are quite beside the point: design is inevitable. The alternative to good design is bad design, not no design at all.

—Douglas Martin

I am so constituted that I can accept authority, but I cannot and will not accept bad reasons.

—G.K. Chesterton

To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge.

—Grace Hopper

Design depends largely on constraints.

—Charles Eames

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.

—Enrique Peñalosa

An evolving system increases its complexity unless work is done to reduce it.

—Meir Lehman

I quote others only in order the better to express myself.

—Michel de Montaigne

Fiction is a piece of truth that turns lies into meaning.

—Dorothy Allison

Raisins are always optional. There is nothing a raisin can do that an M&M can’t do better.

—Alton Brown

If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.

—Kent Keirsey

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

How does one hate a country, or love one? I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain ploughland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love for one’s country? Is it hate for one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession … Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.

—Ursula K. Le Guin (in The Left Hand of Darkness)

Young Americans who leave their great big homogeneous country and visit some other part of the world typically go through several stages of culture shock: first, dumb wide-eyed astonishment. Then a tentative engagement with the new country’s manners, cuisine, public transit systems and toilets, leading to a brief period of fatuous confidence that they are instant experts on the new country. As the visit wears on, homesickness begins to set in, and the traveler begins to appreciate, for the first time, how much he or she took for granted at home. At the same time it begins to seem obvious that many of one’s own cultures and traditions are essentially arbitrary, and could have been different; driving on the right side of the road, for example. When the traveler returns home and takes stock of the experience, he or she may have learned a good deal more about America than about the country they went to visit.

—Neal Stephenson (I love this quote because it precisely describes my experience living for three years in Australia.)

I began to suspect that the world is divided not only into the happy and the unhappy, but into those who like happiness, and those who, odd as it seems, really don’t.

—C. S. Lewis

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

—Terry Pratchett

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

—Frank Wilhoit

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

—Thomas Mann

American Protestants don’t have to believe in God, because they believe in belief.

—Stanley Hauerwas

Libertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism.

—Robert Locke

We have forsaken the good, the true, and the beautiful for the effective, the powerful, and the opulent. And we are lost.

—Joan Chittister

To forgive is to set a prisoner free, only to discover that the prisoner was you.

—Corrie Ten Boom

Struggling to understand another’s perspective so as to engage it sympathetically and accurately is a Christian action.

—Fleming Rutledge (@flemingrut)

utilize is, 99 times out of 100, much inferior to use; the other one time it is merely inferior.

—Eric Partridge in Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English

Things are the way they are because they got that way.

—Gerald Weinberg (in Secrets of Consulting)

Sometimes the problem is to discover what the problem is.

—Gordon Glegg

Much of the essence of building a program is in fact the debugging of the specification.

—Fred Brooks

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: a complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a simple system.

—John Gall (this is known as “Gall’s Law”)

In 1952, at the Nevada Test Site, Ted Taylor added to his already considerable reputation by holding up a small parabolic mirror and lighting a cigarette with an atomic bomb.

—George Dyson (in Project Orion)

To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.


I believe one of the greatest human failings is to prefer to be right than to be effective.

—Stephen Fry

If a Christian’s political ideas and actions are not intended toward the good of their enemies, then their political witness is not Christian in its character.

—Michael Wear

Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary? When I first read it, I thought it was a really really long poem about everything.

—David Bowie

The substitution of means for ends is the essence of fanaticism.

—Richard Weaver

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.

—Millard Fuller

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.

—Ethel Barrymore

It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream.

—W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk

Enthusiasm jumps when there is a running system, even a simple one. One always has, at every stage in the process, a working system. I find that teams can grow much more complex entities in four months than they can build.

—Harlan Mills

Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel … and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

—James Baldwin

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

—W. Somerset Maugham

A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.

—James Baldwin

Aren’t there parts of ourselves that are just better left unfed?

—David Foster Wallace

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

—Dwight Eisenhower

Programming is the art of doing one thing at a time.

—Michael Feathers

Make it work, then make it beautiful, then if you really, really have to, make it fast. 90% of the time, if you make it beautiful, it will already be fast. So really, just make it beautiful!

—Joe Armstrong

Projects promoting programming in “natural language” are intrinsically doomed to fail.

—Edsger Dijkstra

Man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.

—Miles Davis

There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.

—Dave Akin (Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design, #12)

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.

—Oscar Wilde

Complexity is a fact of the world, whereas simplicity is in the mind.

—Donald Norman

When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.

—Sarah Kendzior

Big changes are an illusion. All changes are small. There are only longer and shorter feedback cycles.

—Kent Beck

The traditional vows seize love by the scruff of the neck and set it down in real life, in the real world.

—Wendell Berry

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

—George Bernard Shaw

If you want to prosecute whistle-blowers, you are saying, “It should be illegal to tell me what crimes are being committed by government in my name.”

—Steven Brust

Each divorce is the death of a small civilization.

—Pat Conroy

What could be more absurd than the claim that God’s ways so exceed comprehension that we dare not presume even to distinguish benevolence from malevolence in the divine?

—David Bentley Hart

We would rather be ruined than changed.

—W. H. Auden

Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.

—Bertrand Russell

There is always power in understanding.

—Alton Brown

Without music, life would be a mistake.


All models are wrong, but some are useful.

—George Box

Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.

—Burt Rutan

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. [They] build castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination.

—Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month

All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.

—Tennessee Williams

Lacking the guarantee of Nature’s mathematical laws, the human sciences are much harder than rocket science.

—Edward Tufte

The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary passion soon appeased.

—CLR James

Neutrality, as you know, is the most abominable demonstration of partiality because it means choosing the side of power and injustice without assuming responsibility for them.

—Allan Boesak

Scripture does not just contain a few scattered anthropomorphisms but is anthropomorphic through and through. From the first page to the last it witnesses to God’s coming to, and searching for, humanity. The whole revelation of God is concentrated in the Logos, who became “flesh” and is, as it were, one single act of self-humanization, the incarnation of God.

—Herman Bavinck

First sentences are doors to worlds.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

We need to take the Bible away from most American Christians and make them crawl up on Ash Wednesday to read the Bible on their knees where they’re told that they’re dust.

—Stanley Hauerwas

All long-lived programs are either implemented in dynamic languages, or eventually Greenspun themselves into subverting static programming languages to create a dynamic system.

—Paul Khuong

One real thing is closer to God than all the diagrams in the world.

—Robert Farrar Capon

Don’t believe everything you think.

—Greg Boyd

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.

—George Bernard Shaw

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

—Haruki Murakami

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

—Jonathan Swift

Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.

—C. S. Lewis

Live slowly enough to be able to think deeply about God.

—J.I. Packer

[Calvin] should never have fought the battle of faith with the world’s weapons.

—T. H. L. Parker in Portrait of Calvin (alluding to 2 Corinthians 10:4)

For me, “engineering” means knowing that all decisions are tradeoffs. It means considering both upsides and downsides of each technical choice, and doing so with explicit consideration of the larger system context.

—Sarah Mei

The enjoyment of one’s tools is an essential ingredient of successful work.

—Donald Knuth

God is indeed no respecter of persons; but it is not without cause that God takes a more special care of the poor than of others, since they are most exposed to injuries and violence.

—John Calvin

Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows.

—Marvin Minsky

Where books are burned, they will end up burning people, too.

—Heinrich Heine, 1823

There’s a kind of injustice that goes by the name of thoroughness. Who could hold up under trial by biography?

—George Packer in “Our Man”

You can measure an organization (government, business, church, etc.) by the number of lies you need to tell to be a part of it.

—Parker Palmer

I cannotand I cannot stress this enoughstress this enough.

—Raj Parameswaran

Trump, if you didn’t know he was a real person, would fail the Turing Test.

—Rick Wilson

Abstraction is a great tool and a terrible goal.

—Jessica Kerr

“Capitalism” is not a synonym for “free market fundamentalism” nor is “socialism” a synonym for “central planning fundamentalism”.

—Jason Yip

When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.

—Pablo Picasso

Self-expression is a hard and selfish thing. It eats everything, even the self. At the end you find you haven’t got a self to express.

—Graham Greene

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.

—Patrick Henry

The best programs are the ones written when the programmer is supposed to be working on something else.

—Melinda Varian

There’s one technique that you must use if you want people to listen to you: listen to them.

—Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.

—John F. Kennedy

When someone says “I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done,” give him a lollipop.

—Alan Perlis

The agile movement is not anti-methodology; in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan, but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.

—Jim Highsmith in History: The Agile Manifesto

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.

—Theodore Roosevelt (1918)

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being.


Madness is something rare in individualsbut in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

The most valuable thing you can make is a mistakeyou can’t learn anything from being perfect.

—Adam Osborne

Scripture is not the answer book to all of our problems but a doorway into the world of God’s mystery. And one of the mysteries of this life is that God isn’t interested in solving all our problems in the ways we think they should be solved.

—Eugene Peterson

Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence boils down to curiosity.

—Aaron Swartz

We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.

—Marcus Aurelius

The essential thing in heaven and in earth is that there be a long obedience in the same direction that thereby results in something which makes life worth living; virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spiritualityanything that is transfiguring, refined, foolish, or divine.


To announce that there must be no criticism of the President … is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.

—Theodore Roosevelt

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

—John F. Kennedy

There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.

—Dorothy Parker

It’s easier to become a Christian if I am not a Christian than to become a Christian if I am one.


Don’t pop and lock. It’s the dad joke of dancing.

—Taliesin Jaffe

Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, and I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives Tradition such a bad name.

—Jaroslav Pelikan

Taking things too seriously is an indication of lack of seriousness about how one takes things.

—Michael Feathers

Objectivity is both underrated and overrated, sometimes by the same persons.

—Thomas Nagel, in The View From Nowhere

One particular talent stands out among the world-class programmers I’ve knownnamely, an ability to move effortlessly between different levels of abstraction.

—Donald Knuth

Logicians write about formal logic, but they don’t actually use it.

—Leslie Lamport

Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people — people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

—E. B. White

Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

—Maya Angelou

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

—C. S. Lewis

Fiction is the human attempt to discover, understand, and apply truth through stories.

—Karen Swallow Prior

Wisdom is the recovery of innocence on the far side of experience.

—David Bentley Hart

Travel is fatal to prejudice.

—Mark Twain

A pathology of conservatism is that “things used to be simple.” No; you used to be a child. Your parents shielded you from complexity. Things are complex because you’re an adult now. Conservatism is the desire to be a child.

—Cory Doctorow

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

—John Stuart Mill

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

—John Kenneth Galbraith

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

—John Rogers

The only simplicity for which I would give a straw is that which is on the other side of the complex — not that which never has divined it.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes (Often restated for clarity as: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”)

Last updated 10 June 2024