Non-Definitive History: Words of wisdom: why we quote

A reflective piece on why we like to collect, remember, and share quotes. I have a collection of quotes called, Stillpoints, which I'm putting together to giveaway in my upcoming newsletter. There's an original Stillpoint bonus at the end of this article.

Collection of quotes from my original 2013 article. All background images are my own photography.


When you can’t find the words to say what you feel, finding a quote (profound, witty, or clichéd) on pretty paper or in a card has always made a great substitute. Words people can relate to either internally or externally, that trigger self-realisation, actualisation, understanding, and recognition of others are important to us. But why?


I won't look at quotes for academic writing in this article—that’s enough for an entire article all on its own and I am not an academic writer.


This piece looks at why popular quotes are so… well, popular and while I have put in my usual few minutes of Google Search (as opposed to full on Research—this is non-definitive history after all), this is my take on the topic.


Sometimes it’s hard to put into words the feelings, thoughts, epiphanies that are swirling around in our heads. So when someone else says something that resonates with us, we want to keep those words. They may belong to someone else but they help us feel we are not alone (in whatever it is we may go through). They show us that others feel the same pain and anguish, the same happiness and love, wonder, disgust, understanding as we do.


All the quotes used in this post are ones I’ve searched for and chosen because something in them related to the images (and ticked a little box in my head). The quotes are words I wanted to share—not any old line I happened across. They are a broad reflection on the philosophies and values that form my thinking patterns.


Some people drop quotes into a conversation to make them seem intelligent and widely read (or to make sure people know they are). Unfortunately for me, I may be reasonably intelligent and I read a lot, but I have a shocking memory and can’t remember a quote to save my life!


My children can quote liberally from their favourite movies and tv shows, and often use them as a private joke. I do not know what they’re talking about yet they quote back and forth using the lines for a funny conversation. Their quotes (as well as the films they watch) reflect their fine sense of irony and sarcasm.


The older generation often quote proverbs to the younger, hoping to impart wisdom and education.


Actions speak louder than words
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

We may pass along words that we feel may help someone through a rough patch.


And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you find there, With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
Mumford & Sons

I believe we quote “words of wisdom” to link to each other and to share emotions and feelings that we can’t find the words for in ourselves. Some thoughts are indescribable or we lack the confidence in sharing our own words, so we connect to a good quote as the reflection of our inner-self.


Stillpoints: a beat in time when you stop, think, and recognise a truth before carrying on.




Further reading:

Why do we quote: the culture and history of quotation Ruth Finnegan


Quollective lets you capture, style and share quotes from Gandhi to your grandmother


This article was originally published in September 2013


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