Few people would argue with the saying “A man is known by the company he keeps.” But I contend you can know people just as well by the quotations that crop up in their conversation. Those phrases provide equally clear insight into character.
For example, while I was talking with a friend about changing my mind on a subject I had considered closed, my friend replied, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”
I was so impressed by the truth in that one sentence, I committed it to memory, though not before my friend admitted he could not take credit for its originality. As he noted, the wording belonged to Felix Frankfurter, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1939 to 1962. Ever since then, Frankfurter’s quotation has come to mind when I have had to alter a stance I have taken after receiving more accurate information.
Like many other quotations I have squirreled away for future use, it translated into words sentiments that I had felt but never articulated verbally or on paper. The more I considered this, I realized I had amassed a trove of quotations—from lighthearted to serious—that aptly speak for me as well as to me.
For instance, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” has been a steadfast companion whenever I have had to tackle projects I have dreaded or felt incompetent to handle. According to Roosevelt, “you gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Without doubt, she is right.
I connected with this idea so strongly, I had the words etched into a remembrance rock to post by my front door. For the rock’s other side, my husband chose a more lyrical type of message. His consisted of the closing lines from one of his favorite poems, “The Spell of the Yukon,” by the British-Canadian author Robert Service: “It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
On a humorous note, this comment from a Mary Tyler Moore sitcom episode resonated with me and still expresses my feelings when I’m tempted by an especially delectable dessert: “I don’t know why I’m putting this in my mouth. I should just apply it directly to my hips.”
And as someone who enjoys tinkering with words, I have related only too well to an apologetic quotation dating back to 17th century France: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” It takes patience to hone words to mean what you want them to say as concisely and engagingly as possible. Allotted word counts force professionals to do that. So do most online comment sections. But unless under that type of constraint, few people strive to tighten their prose by eliminating unnecessary verbiage, myself included.
One surprising thing I have learned is that many quotations I assumed were attributable to only one individual often were not. Dig back far enough in history, and you may find earlier incarnations with phrasing that varies slightly from what you have come to companion with.
That is okay, too, since it’s not who said the words, or exactly how the message was phrased, that matter as much as the truth within the quotation itself. After all, that is why we fell in love with it and made it our own in the first place. MSN