Recently in the Quotations Category

Let them eat...


Mary Anne was talking about eating cake the night before surgery. I noted that cake is the best medicine.

Which led me to think there could be a whole series of proverbs with “cake” substituted in, along the lines of the Star Warspants” meme (that linked-to Words & Stuff column is NSFW; the pants quotes are at the end of it).

So I came up with the following:

  • Cake is a dish best served cold.
  • Red cake at morning, sailors take warning; red cake at night, sailors delight.
  • A cat may look at a cake.
  • All cake comes to he (or she) who waits.
  • All that glisters is not cake.
  • An army marches on its cake.
  • You made your cake; now you have to lie in it.
  • Half a cake is better than none.
  • You can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs.
  • Cake is wasted on the young.
  • Misery loves cake.

Eric Z replied with a comment about “the boy who cried cake.”

And then Shmuel took the idea and ran with it:

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of cake.
  • It was the best of cake, it was the worst of cake.
  • Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover cake.
  • They say when cake comes close ranks, and so the white people did.
  • There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved cake.
  • He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the cake which swung from the rafters.
  • Cake, light of my life, fire of my loins . . .

As Mary Anne noted, that last one may be hard to top.

However, I invite y'all to try, or at least to have fun with the idea. Take a well-known phrase, saying, or quotation, substitute in “cake” for one or more words, and post it as a comment here.

Okay to make slight alterations to make the grammar come out right, make it funnier, or otherwise improve the MFQ, but try to stick close to the original where possible.

Fear no noxious

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The other day, Kam and I watched the Lost (season 2) episode titled “The 23rd Psalm.” And she joked, “The 23rd Psalm—isn't that ‘I must not fear; fear is the mind-killer’?”

(For those unfamiliar with the reference, it's a line from Dune.)

Which I was really amused by. And now I'm even more amused, because I just came across two pieces of comment spam that take the 23rd Psalm in a different direction:

When i ocean on the vally associated with death.....I see absolutely no evil. As I attractive satans family room, I believe little nasty. [and then some advertising text]

And, presumably from the same spammer:

When i surfing throughout the vally connected with fatality.....I see absolutely no noxious. As I approach satans family den, I think basically no satanic. We're the online world, We are net. Do you really be aware of the connection on the electricity we need to cope with in this case? Ignored.

I especially like the phrase “surfing throughout the vally connected with fatality.” Nice work, spambot!

(I also like the phrase “satans family room.” And if you Google that phrase, you'll find a bunch more spam from this bot, including lines like “As I walk into satans family room, I'm basically no malefic.” Words to live by!)

The mills of the gods

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Back in 2002, I posted an entry in my main blog about the Longfellow line “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small” and its antecedents, specifically a German poem written by Friedrich von Logau in 1654.

A new comment on that entry spurred me to finally write up some info I collected in 2007, when I discovered that in that 2002 entry, I didn't go nearly far enough back.

A slightly earlier rendition appeared in George Herbert's Jacula Prudentum: “God's mill grinds slow, but sure.” (Though there's apparently some doubt as to his authorship.) I'm not sure whether that line was in the first (1640) edition; the second edition appeared in 1651. But Herbert died in 1633, so if he wrote the book, then he wrote that line earlier. And it was a book of aphorisms, not necessarily things he came up with.

But that's still not nearly far enough back. Sextus Empiricus, in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., wrote something in Latin (“Est mola tarda dei, verum molit illa minutim”) that's been translated as “The mill of god is slow [or late], but it grinds fine [or small].” (From Against the Professors, I.xiii.287; maybe specifically from Against the Grammarians.)

And then there's a line from a Latin translation of the Sibylline Oracles (“a collection of oracular utterances [...] ascribed to the Sibyls,” which Wikipedia says were composed from the second to the fifth century A.D.), book VIII, line 14: “Sed mola postremo pinset divina farinam,” which I've seen translated as “Late will the mills of God grind the fine flour.”

And before that (probably sometime in the late first or early second century A.D.), Plutarch wrote something (in Moralia) that's been translated as “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind to powder.” (From “De Sera Numinis Vindicta,” “On the Delays of Divine Vengeance,” end of chapter 3.)

Going another step further back, I'm told that Tibulius's Elegies I.IX.4 has a relevant line (sometime before 19 B.C.), but I don't know what the line was.

And Horace wrote, in Carmina III.II.31:

raro antecedentem scelestum

deseruit pede Poena claudo

Semi-literal translation: “Rarely does Punishment desert the retreating criminal, although her foot is lame.” Conington translation: “Though Vengeance halt, she seldom leaves / The wretch whose flying steps she hounds.”

And finally, the farthest-back reference I know of comes from Euripedes around 405 B.C., translated as “Slow but sure moves the might of the gods.” (The Bacchae, line 882.)

So, in summary:

  • The idea of the line dates back at least to the ancient Greeks.
  • Variants referring to either “the gods” or “God” also date back to Classical times.
  • The specific reference to the mills of the gods (or God) grinding “fine” or “small” dates back to at least the second century A.D.
  • I have yet to see a citation that uses the word "exceeding" before Longfellow's 1845 translation of von Logau, as “Retribution,” in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems. I'm guessing that Longfellow contributed the word “exceeding” (translating von Logau's “trefflich”), and that subsequent renditions in English that use “exceeding” or “exceedingly” derive from Longfellow.

I'm still not entirely clear on the question that brought me to this topic in the first place: why do so many modern versions of the line use the phrase “exceeding fine” instead of Longfellow's “exceeding small”? “Fine” is a reasonable translation of some of the Classical sources, but if “exceeding” comes from Longfellow, then why are the Classical sources getting mixed in?

It makes me wonder whether the 1875 speech that I quoted in the original entry (by Rep. Richard H. Cain, an African-American Representative addressing the House) is what popularized the phrase, since Cain did say “exceeding fine.”

Anyway, I think that's enough on this topic for now. Apparently the mills of Jed's research grind very slowly; it took me five years to find out more about this topic, and then another three to get around to writing it up and posting it.

Many thanks to Kendra Eshleman for translations, confirmations, dates, and huge amounts of general information, and to Kevin W. Woodruff for a posting to a librarian mailing list with several of these cites. Thanks also to the New York Times's “Queries and Answers” column, August 29, 1920.

(Added later: On looking at the title of this entry, I've now got a song stuck in my head. “The mills of the gods go round and round. . . .”)


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I've been meaning for a while to collect in one place all the quotes from my sardonic pal Jack Mantis.

Recently discovered the "pages" publishing system in Movable Type—sort of like blog entries without dates attached, which are outside of the regular flow of entries. Seems like a good place to put material that's going to be updated over time.

So now I have two pages in the Mantis Files section of this blog: Mantis Speaks and Mantis at the Movies. Most of the material in both pages has previously appeared elsewhere on my site at one time or another.

Gell-Mann quotes


Just came across two quotes attributed to physicist Murray Gell-Mann:

  • If I have seen farther than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarves.
  • [On the Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm]
    1. Write down the problem.
    2. Think very hard.
    3. Write down the answer.

(In case you're unfamiliar with the original of that first bit, the line is a parody of a line from Newton.)

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