Herb Stein's Unfamiliar Quotations

May 16 1997 3:30 AM

Herb Stein's Unfamiliar Quotations

On money, madness, and making mistakes.

(Continued from Page 1)

I love this in part because I am proud that I translated it from the French, which, in turn, was translated from the Czech. But I love it even more because it has saved me so much trouble. In the past when I encountered some outlandish inanity--often about taxes--I would sit down at my keyboard and write an answer. I am still tempted to do that, but since I encountered that quotation, I have resisted.

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You may ask: How will I know if he is a madman? The answer is: Don't worry, you'll know. And if you are in doubt, assume he is mad and leave the refutation to others. You have plenty to do in the world without having to worry about debating people who may be mad.

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Never waste any time you can spend sleeping.

--Professor Frank H. Knight, in class at the University of Chicago, 1936

Clear enough, aside from these questions: What qualifies as wasting time, and what should you do if you can't sleep? I recently encountered a somewhat different quotation from the poet Baudelaire:

To kill that particular monster [time] is the most ordinary and legitimate occupation of each person.

It is interesting that Knight should have used the word "waste," which is the gangland term for "kill." Perhaps the reconciliation here is that sleep is the best way of killing time.

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Honesty may not be the best policy, but it is worth trying once in a while.

--Richard Nixon, in a meeting, 1970

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This may seem the ultimate in cynicism, but the second half of the quotation (about trying honesty once in a while) seems foreign to many politicians, among others.

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Surely there is something unlovely, to modern as against medieval minds, about marked inequality of either kind [income or power].

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