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Quoteworthy Sayings That Still Ring True

Common phrases we use today have storied roots


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I can recall an homage in a Cleveland newspaper to an abstract modern painter I once knew who embraced a Jackson Pollock-like style. His obituary featured a quotation from 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope that seemed reflective of his life’s work.

​“Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised, But, as the world, harmoniously confused: Where order in variety we see, and where, though all things differ, all agree.”

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​The quotation comes from the 1713 piece, "Windsor Forest," which describes Pope’s interpretation of hills, vales, earth and water.

​While this lovely sentiment is not mainstream today, you may recognize a more famous Pope quotation from the 1711 work, "An Essay on Criticism.” The text reads: “To err is human. To forgive divine."

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So, please forgive me for starting this article with a bit of poetry, but we often find ourselves nodding along when we read or hear familiar quotations and sayings. It’s because they resonate truth. History’s literary giants have found common ground in the sentiments of generations of hearts and minds.

​ Some of the most enduring prose is packed with insights about the human condition. William Shakespeare, the renowned English playwright and poet, achieved commercial success because his words revealed a deep understanding of society’s relationship with the all-powerful monarchy of his time. For better or for worse, his messages have remained true for over four centuries.​

Here are some of his many famous sayings that are still true today:​

  • "All that glitters is not gold." — The Merchant of Venice (Late 1590s)​
  • "The course of true love never did run smooth." — A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-1596)​
  • "The better part of valor is discretion." — Henry IV, Part 1 (1596)​
  • "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." — As You Like It (1599-1600)​
  • "Brevity is the soul of wit." — Hamlet (1599-1601)​
  • "Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none." — All's Well That Ends Well (1604-1605)

​Profound thoughts from great thinkers have always been inspired by their life experiences and the times they lived in. At the time of America’s birth, Benjamin Franklin traveled to countries such as France and England to find answers to problems facing the New World. ​

Through the development of the postal service, fire insurance and musical instruments, and by sharing his beliefs in freedom, liberty, equal justice and the pursuit of happiness, B. Free Franklin, as his postal stamp nickname notes, spread his wisdom through the printing press, almanacs, speeches and proclamations.

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Franklin’s thoughts are as profoundly true today as when he wrote them.​

  • “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” emphasizes the value of education and lifelong learning.
  • "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" encourages a disciplined and industrious lifestyle.
  • ​"Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn" stresses the importance of active learning and participation.
  • ​"Well done is better than well said" advocates for action and results over mere words.
  • "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” speaks to the importance of proactive measures to prevent problems. Or, as was famously said in Steel Magnolias, "An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”

​My father always told me: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This, too, has been attributed to Franklin.

​Some common phrases don’t even come from the source to which they are usually credited.

​For instance, the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is often attributed to the French writer and philosopher Voltaire. It is commonly associated with his advocacy for freedom of speech and expression, virtues many of us still value amid today’s modern-day battles in the news and on social media.

​However, Voltaire did not write these words. Evelyn Beatrice Hall likely popularized them in her 1906 book, The Friends of Voltaire, in which she summarized Voltaire’s beliefs using this paraphrase. ​ ​

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Tried and true mantras do not come only from the long-ago past. One of the most loved and respected New York Yankees catchers, Yogi Berra, embodied common sense and humorous takes on America’s industrial age and the blue-collar workers who embraced simple pleasures like baseball, apple pie, family, hard work and a cold beer. Berra’s famous “Yogi-isms” include:​

  • "It ain't over till it's over."
  • "It's déjà vu all over again."​
  • "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."​
  • "The future ain't what it used to be."​
  • "You can observe a lot just by watching."​
  • "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."​
  • "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."​ ​

Finally, marketing and branding executives have looked to the root meaning of words and phrases to find commercial success in today’s business world. Sportswear company ASICS is an acronym derived from the Latin phrase “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano,” which translates to “a sound mind in a sound body.” Nike is derived from Greek mythology and is the goddess of victory. The word Nike means “victory,” and reading this article to the end makes us all winners.

​​​Share your experience: What's your favorite quotation and what does it mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.​​

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