Leaf through a dictionary or try to make one, and you will find that every word covers and masks a well so bottomless that the questions you toss into it arouse no more than an echo.

Paul Valery, French poet and critic, Collected Works of Paul Valery: Vol. 14: Analects, 1970 [via Wordspy]


Give the people a new word, and they think they have a new fact.

Willa Cather

Hold! You crafty ones, strangers to work, and pilferers of other men’s brains. Think not rashly to lay your thievish hands upon my works. Beware! Know you not that I have a grant from the most glorious Emperor Maximilian, that not one throughout the imperial dominion shall be allowed to print or sell fictitious imitations of these engravings? Listen! And bear in mind that if you do so, through spite or through covetousness, not only will your goods be confiscated, but your bodies also placed in mortal danger.

[This] caution to the literary pirates of his day is appended by Albert Diirer to his edition of Epitome in diva; parthenices Maria, folio. Nuremberg, 1511

And it’s pretty safe to bet that if a fellow needs a six or seven-syllabled word to describe his profession, he’s a corn doctor when you come to look him up in the dictionary. And then you’ll generally find him in the back part of the book where they tuck away the doubtful words.

Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son

I was awed by his intonation of the word “Selah.” “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.” I had no idea what the word meant; perhaps he had not. But, as he uttered it, it became oracular, the most sacred of words.

My Antoniá

I know only two words of American slang, ‘swell’ and ‘lousy.’ I think ‘swell’ is lousy, but ‘lousy’ is swell.

J.B. Priestley

Formal grammatical rules may help a weak or stupid mind, but a vigorous intellect creates new and more accurate forms and less gifted thinkers intuitively accept without a thought these beautiful creations as they accept without a thought the countless creations of nature with which they are surrounded. Thus our language is growing richer from generation to generation.

G. Curme, Has English A Future Tense?, The Journal of English and German Philolog, 12(5):528-529

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

[too bad Wikiquote has it only as “attributed”]