This is a short list of the best quotes of all time, mostly taken from Peggy Anderson’s book, Great Quotes from Great Leaders. Several of them are popular sound-bites and cliche’s today. It’s interesting to know where they originated.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873, British novelist, poet, playwright and polititian.)

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Jesus Christ (The Bible, Matthew 26:52)

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. (The exact wording varies with the translation referenced.)

J. P. Morgan: (1837-1913, Founder of US Steel, the first billion-dollar company in the world.)

If you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it.

I found three different sources for the origin of this quote.

1. When J. P. Morgan saw a yacht he wanted, he was reported to say something like, “I’ll take it.” When the salesman asked if he wanted to know how much it cost before making a decision, Morgan uttered the famous saying.

2. When a friend mentioned he was thinking about buying a yacht and asked Mr. Morgan how much one cost to maintain, Morgan’s response was the quote.

3. During a business meeting when a prospective customer inquired about the cost of something J. P. Morgan gave the quote as an answer.

Karl Marx: (1843)

Religion is the opiate of the people.

Sun-Tzu: (400 BC; Chinese general and military strategist.)

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Lord Acton: (1834-1902; British historian, politician and educator. Considered the most learned individual of his era, unmatched in the breadth and depth of his knowledge.)

Power Corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Ludwig Feuerbach: (1804-1872; German philosopher, theologian and author.)

Man created God in his own image.

Fred R. Barnard (1920s):

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Many references mistakenly attribute this quote to Confucius. In fact it was coined around 1921 by the advertising writer Fred Barnard to market a baking product. To give the saying more credence he had it translated into Chinese and presented as an ancient proverb. Over time it became attributed to Confusius.

Francois Rabelas (French monk and satirist 1494-1553):

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Alexander Pope (English poet, 1680-1744)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Roger Brinner: (Economist)

The sum of anecdotes is not data.

Horace (65 – 8 BC):

Carpe Diem (Seize the day. (Opportunity))

Julius Caesar:

Divide and Conquer. Thanks to some help from Erik (Thank’s Erik!) I was able to trace the most likely origin of this quote.

Bo Diddley: The famous musician instrumental in the creation of the early Rock and Roll sound. (Nick Pence emailed me the source for this quote. Thanks, Nick!)

You can’t tell a book by its cover.

Correction: I’ve become skeptical about attributing this quote to Bo Diddley because Cary Grant uses it in the 1947 movie, The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer. Since the movie would have been filmed in 1946, when Bo Diddley was only 18, it’s doubtful he would have already established himself with such prominence to be quoted by the great and famous. I suspect that this is one of those universally used phrases that has been around so long that it would be impossible to discover who originated it.

Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

In popular use for over half a century, controversy abounds as to the origins of this adage. The philosophy behind the phrase, if not this exact wording, has been around since before written history. These earlier forms are used referred to as Sod’s Law or Finagle’s Corollary. (”Sod” refers to any poor “sod.”)

Most experts attribute the modern Murphy’s Law to USAF Captain Edward Murphy, a research engineer at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949. Upon learning that a rocket sled test failed because a technician wired the sensors wrong, Murphy is reported to have exclaimed, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll do it.” For some reason the phrase caught on and began evolving. The press got a hold of it when during a press conference the man who eventually rode the sled commented that the reason he survived is that everyone on the project paid close attention to “Murphy’s Law.” When asked to explain he used the form we’re familiar with today.

Napolean Bonaparte (1769 – 1821):

Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.

Thomas Edison (1846 – 1931):

I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Albert Signorella DDS., or Franklin P. Jones (among possible others – I couldn’t find a definitive source for this one, only suggested sources):

You are what you eat.

The following is usually credited to Aesop, the Greek fabulist of around 600 B.C., but one source listed the Roman Philosopher Apuleis (124-170 A.D.) as the originator:

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Eugene McCarthy:

The only thing that saves us from bureaucracy is its inefficiency.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900):

A man can’t be too careful in his choice of enemies.

Howard Ruff:

It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.

Stewart’s Law of Retroaction from Murphy’s Law, Book Two:

It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

(Quote first, then the author… for effect)

Children today are tyrants. They contradict thier parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.

Socrates (470-399 B.C.)

David T. Wolf:

Idealism is what precedes experience.

Ernest Hemmingway (1889-1961):

Never mistake motion for action. (This concept was pushed hard while I was an officer in the USAF, where the version used was “Being busy isn’t the same as accomplishing something.”)

(Can you guess who said the following and why?))

Come quickly! I am tasting stars!

Dom Perignon (1638-1715) at the moment of his discovering champagne.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965):

The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.

Teddy Roosevelt:

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.

No man is justified in doing evil on the grounds of expediency.

Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, “Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”



About the author

Imroz Baig wrote 95 articles for Techstarz.

He is one of the founder members of Techstarz. He holds an engineering degree in computer science and an mba in systems. Imroz is based in mumbai and works for a privately owned software development firm. He blogs at techstarz and his personal blog at

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