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12 of Stephen Fry's Wise, Witty Quotations

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Stephen Fry is an actor, writer, poet, TV host, narrator, and for all I know a terrific cook -- the man is so prolific he has a Wikipedia page devoted simply to listing his works. Through all of his work he weaves threads of good humor, keen intellect, and a tremendously open attitude about his own life: the result is a tapestry of wit that is eminently quotable, and deserving of careful reading. Below, I've collected my favorite Fry quotations.

1. On Incuriosity

"The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 1265-1266).

2. On Kindles

"This is the point. One technology doesn't replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators."

From Fry's Twitter account.

3. On Cultural Diversity

"...[L]ook at the kind of people who most object to the childishness and cheapness of celebrity culture. Does one really want to side with such apoplectic and bombastic bores? I should know, I often catch myself being one, and it isn't pretty. I will defend the absolute value of Mozart over Miley Cyrus, of course I will, but we should be wary of false dichotomies. You do not have to choose between one or the other. You can have both. The human cultural jungle should be as varied and plural as the Amazonian rainforest. We are all richer for biodiversity. We may decide that a puma is worth more to us than a caterpillar, but surely we can agree that the habitat is all the better for being able to sustain each. Monocultures are uninhabitably dull and end as deserts."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 3852-3857).

4. On Libraries

"What's great about them is that anybody can go into them and find a book and borrow it free of charge and read it. They don't have to steal it from a bookshop. ... You know when you're young, you're growing up, they're almost sexually exciting places because books are powerhouses of knowledge, and therefore they're kind of slightly dark and dangerous. You see books that kind of make you go 'Oh!'"

From Fry's March 2001 appearance on Room 101.

5. On New Age Philosophy

When asked his opinion about a Dream Catcher:

"The key word for me (my spleen isn't really big enough to explode with all the splenetic juices of fury that drive me when I consider this), but the real key word that triggers my rage is the word 'energy', when people start talking about it in terms of negative or positive types. For instance, 'there's very negative energy in here.' What are you talking about? What do you mean? I mean, let's think about it. What does energy mean? Well, we know what it means: energy from petrol when it's burned, it moves the car. 'This room has positive energy' — well, where the f***'s it going then? It's not moving. It's covering up such woolly thinking, such pathetic nonsense.

"And astrology: most people will say of astrology, 'Well, it's harmless fun.' And I should say that for 80% of the cases it probably is harmless fun, but there's a strong way in which it isn't harmless. One, because it is so anti-science. You will hear things like, 'Science doesn't know everything.' Well, of course science doesn't know everything. But, because science doesn't know everything, it doesn't mean that science knows nothing. Science knows enough for us to be watched by a few million people now on television, for these lights to be working, for quite extraordinary miracles to have taken place in terms of the harnessing of the physical world and our dim approaches towards understanding it. And as Wittgenstein quite rightly said, 'When we understand every single secret of the universe, there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.'"

From Fry's March 2001 appearance on Room 101.

Stephen Fry on a couch
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6. On Smoking

"I think I have always linked smoking and sex. Maybe this is where I have been going wrong all my life."

From The Fry Chronicles (Kindle Locations 439-440).

7. On Clichés

"It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me."

From Moab Is My Washpot (p. 113).

8. On His Singing Voice

"I have to mime at parties when everyone sings 'Happy Birthday.' ... mime or mumble and rumble and growl and grunt so deep that only moles, manta rays and mushrooms can hear me.

"I'm not even tone deaf, that's the arse-mothering, f***-nosed, bugger-sucking wank of the thing."

(Note: this bit appears below the heading "I Can't F***ing Join In" and above the heading "I'm Not Even Tone F***ing Deaf.")

From Moab Is My Washpot (pp. 85-86).

9. On Poetry and Laziness

"You cannot work too hard at poetry. People are bad at it not because they have tin ears, but because they simply don't have the faintest idea how much work goes into it. It's not as if you're ordering a pizza or doing something that requires direct communication in a very banal way. But it seems these days the only people who spend time over things are retired people and prisoners. We bolt things, untasted.

"It's so easy to say, 'That'll do.' Everyone's in a hurry. People are intellectually lazy, morally lazy, ethically lazy...

"... When people get angry with a traffic warden they don't stop and think what it would be like to be a traffic warden or how annoying it would be if people could park wherever they liked. People talk lazily about how hypocritical politicians are. But everyone is. On the one hand we hate that petrol is expensive and on the other we go on about global warming. We abrogate the responsibility for thought and moral decisions onto others and then have the luxury of saying it's not good enough."

From Fry's interview with The Daily Telegraph promoting his book The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

10. On Critics

Stephen Fry"It may be true that critics perform a service, that actors and writers and artists need their egos deflating, that the public needs to be advised about how, where and when to spend their money on artistic activities, that ‘standards’ must be maintained. All the foregoing may be fine and convincing reasons for the existence of critics. The point is that no one would volunteer for this dreadful trade but the kind of worthless and embittered offal that we, by and large, get. What decent person would want to spend a life picking and caviling? Picture this scene. A critic arrives at the gates of heaven. ‘And what did you do?’ asks Saint Peter. ‘Well’, says the dead soul. ‘I criticized things’. ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘You know, other people wrote things, performed things, painted things and I said stuff like, “thin and unconvincing”, “turgid and uninspired”, “competent and serviceable,” know'."

Photo: Getty Images. Quotation from Paperweight, via wongaBlog.

11. On Drugs and Music

"LSD reveals the whatness of things, their quiddity, their essence. The wateriness of water is suddenly revealed to you, the carpetness of carpets, the woodness of wood, the yellowness of yellow, the fingernailness of fingernails, the allness of all, the nothingness of all, the allness of nothing. For me music gives access to every one of these essences of existence, but at a fraction of the social or financial cost of a drug and without the need to cry “Wow!” all the time, which is one of LSD's most distressing and least endearing side-effects."

From Moab Is My Washpot (pp. 83-84). Random House Inc Clients. Kindle Edition.

12. On Believing in Oneself

"I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, not all that Carrie teenage telekinetic wank, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform. Yet I was unwanted, rejected and unthought of. My mother, yes, she believed in me, but everybody's mother believes in them. No one else believed in me.

"Principally of course—oh how one sees that now—myself. Principally, I did not believe in me. I believed in ghosts more than I believed in me, and take my word for it, I never believed in ghosts, I'm far too spiritual and emotional and passionate to believe in the supernatural."

From Moab Is My Washpot (p. 381).

Big exciting note: Next Wednesday is 12-12-12. To celebrate, we're planning 24 (!) 12-lists, which we'll post 12 minutes past every hour, starting at 12:12am. Consider this a little tease.

Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
10 Pats Born on St. Patrick's Day
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Need some St. Patrick's Day conversation fodder that doesn't involve leprechauns or four-leaf clovers? Ask your friends to name a "Pat" born on St. Patrick's Day. If they can't, they owe you a drink—then you can wow them with this list of 10.


Princess Patricia was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who gave up all of her royal titles when she married a commoner. She was born at Buckingham Palace on March 17, 1886.


The Dallas star was born on March 17, 1949. And here's a totally random fact about Duffy: His nephew is Barry Zito, former MLB pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.


Pattie Boyd
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Pattie Boyd is well-known to lovers of classic rock: She has been married three times, including once to George Harrison and once to Eric Clapton, who both wrote a couple of the most romantic songs in rock history in her honor (including The Beatles's "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"). Boyd was a model when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964; the pair were married two years later. They divorced in 1977 and she married Clapton, Harrison's close friend, in 1979. She also had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones toward the end of her marriage to The Quiet Beatle.


Belfast-born Pat Rice is a former footballer and coach who spent the bulk of his career with Arsenal F.C. (that's "football club," a.k.a. soccer to us Americans). He joined the Gunners in 1964 as a mere apprentice, turning pro a couple of years later. He became captain in 1977 and left the club for a few years in the early 1980s to go to Watford, but returned after he retired from playing in 1984. In 2012, after nearly 30 years with the organization, he announced his retirement.


Patty Maloney is an actress with dwarfism who stands just three feet, 11 inches tall. She has appeared in many movies and T.V. shows over the years, including operating the Crypt Keeper puppet in Tales from the Crypt. She also played Chewbacca's son Lumpy in The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick in 'Six Feet Under'

Ok, so Mathew St. Patrick is the stage name of the actor, but he was born Patrick Matthews in Philadelphia on March 17, 1968. You probably know him best as David's boyfriend Keith on Six Feet Under.


He may not be a household name, but the recording artists Patrick Adams writes for and helps produce certainly are. Adams has been involved in the careers of Salt-N-Pepa, Sister Sledge, Gladys Knight, Rick James, and Coolio, among others.


It's possible you look at Patrick McDonnell's work every day, depending on which comics your newspaper carries. McDonnell draws a strip called Mutts featuring a dog and a cat named Earl and Mooch, respectively. Charles Schulz called it one of the best comic strips of all time.


 Singer/Guitarist Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs onstage during Live Earth New York at Giants Stadium on July 7, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Yes, you know him better as just plain old Billy Corgan: he's the face of the Smashing Pumpkins, engages in public feuds with Courtney Love, and maybe once dated Jessica Simpson. He made his debut on March 17, 1967.


Patricia Ford is a retired model probably best known for her Playboy photoshoots in the 1990s.

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11 Incredible Stephen Hawking Quotes
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When Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at age 21, doctors thought he'd only survive a few more years. But the theoretical physicist defied the odds: Hawking, who passed away yesterday, lived to be 76. Here are 11 quotes from the director of research and founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time


"At school, I was never more than about halfway up the class. It was a very bright class. My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers. But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better. When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don't know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided."

— From the lecture "My Brief History," 2010


"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010


“I wouldn’t compare it to sex, but it lasts longer.”

— From a lecture at Arizona State University, April 2011


"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one's physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway. On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal. My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can."

— From "Handicapped People and Science," Science Digest 92, No. 9, September 1984


"I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy."

— To The New York Times, May 2011


"I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."

— From Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays


"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010


"Next time someone complains that you have made a mistake, tell him that may be a good thing. Because without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010

9. On HIS I.Q.

"I have no idea. People who boast about their I.Q. are losers."

— To The New York Times, December 2004


“They are a complete mystery.”

— To New Scientist, January 2012


"One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010


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