Pithy and incisive
July 8, 2014 10:50 AM   Subscribe

"You're not in traffic, you are traffic" and "Prohibition isn't regulation. It's the absence of regulation" are two phrases I've come across that pithily, quickly and directly sum up some situation. They help flip the usual terms of the discussion around, and provide insight. Do you know more?
posted by the man of twists and turns to Writing & Language (54 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
posted by jbickers at 10:56 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

Hurt people hurt people.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:02 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]

Money is the root of all Evil, Evil is the route of all Money.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 11:14 AM on July 8

A favorite of the military - Lead, follow or get out of the way.
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:28 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Meetings are work.
posted by OmieWise at 11:29 AM on July 8

When it comes to the web, if you're not the customer then you are the product being sold.

(There was a pithier way of putting that coined by someone here on MeFi but I don't remember what it was.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:36 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle's: "If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold. Now in T-shirt form.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:57 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

I prefer "Perfect is the enemy of good enough. And vice versa."
posted by Etrigan at 11:58 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

But the actual verse from the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all evil:

Good, fast, cheap--pick any two.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:00 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I only heard this yesterday, but apparently it's the title of a book published in 1984: Tough times never last, but tough people do.
posted by desjardins at 12:01 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I'm partial to "the business of business is business."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:05 PM on July 8

Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:35 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]

If brute force doesn't work, you're not using enough of it.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:13 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

.mil: "Are we on the bus to Abilene?" Meaning, roughly, Uh, is this a good idea? Or are we just agreeing because we think others want to do this? It has been discussed in a previous question to the green.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:38 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
John Kenneth Galbraith

A statistician can have his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer, and he will say that on average he feels fine.

"ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"—is a largely discredited biological hypothesis that in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors.

In the long run, we are all dead. John Maynard Keynes

Experience starts when you begin.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:40 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Previously: The "Going to ????" Problem
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:02 PM on July 8

Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.
posted by Gilbert at 2:05 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]

All bleeding stops eventually.
posted by scruss at 2:14 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

Youth is wasted on the young.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 2:40 PM on July 8

I'm famous!!

How about "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Not quite as flippy, but it is quippy.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:53 PM on July 8

At sea, you're never more than seven miles from land.
posted by teremala at 2:57 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I've always been partial to a Greg LeMond quote about cycling; apparently channeling Marcus Aurelius, he once said:
"It never gets easier; you just go faster."
I've meditated on that one quite a bit, and found it applicable in all sorts of non-cycling contexts.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 3:48 PM on July 8 [16 favorites]

These are pretty good - but I'm looking for that 'Whoa' moment. What, when you heard it, made you go 'whoa'?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:51 PM on July 8

Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.

I always thought that cool-headed folks had been born that way, rather than having learned through trial and error. Whoa.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:00 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

A bad idea with good presentation will fail eventually; a good idea with bad presentation will fail immediately.
posted by magstheaxe at 4:25 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott shares a quote from her preacher friend: "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.'
posted by Greg Nog at 4:37 PM on July 8 [12 favorites]

Never encourage a reluctant surgeon.

(The idea being that surgeons tend to think surgery can cure just about anything, and if even THEY'RE reluctant, it's a really bad idea.)
posted by small_ruminant at 5:06 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Cats are autistic dogs

A simile is like a metaphor

Learning to win, learning to lose, sport is all pain management

Knowing how to avoid failure is not to know how to win

Emotions are like weather, they blow in and blow out; pay attention to the trade winds
posted by mce at 6:11 PM on July 8

I once had to phone a healthcare executive to ask if she had fifteen minutes to install some of my organisation's software that her organisation was going to use. I can't remember her exact words, but she said something like, "I have time now because I never have time."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:15 PM on July 8

"Nothing to fear but fear itself."
posted by tackypink at 6:28 PM on July 8

Never debate the ignorant in front of the uninformed: the crowd can't tell who won the argument. (Syrian proverb)

The grumpier you are, the more assholes you meet.

"The kind of treatment you receive here is not because you merit it but because anything less would be unbecoming of us." Attributed to a Nuremberg lawyer. A sign with this quote hangs at the Guantanamo attorney- client visitors section (per Carol Rosenberg).

"The right believes the poor must have less to be adequately motivated but the rich must have more to ensure their maximum effort." Robert Reich

"A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular." Adlai Stevenson
posted by LiverOdor at 7:14 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]

It's possible, but is it probable?
posted by limeonaire at 7:15 PM on July 8

From Stevenson; "Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much: — surely that may be his epitaph of which he need not be ashamed." - was always a useful antidote to perfectionism and was helpful to me when younger that failure is perfectly acceptable.
posted by smoke at 7:49 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.
posted by lakeroon at 7:52 PM on July 8

A slogan from a continuous quality improvement slideshow that changed the way I thought about post-mortems: "You were not the first to make this mistake." Meaning not that you're excused, but that you could have known better.

I can't attribute this quotation: "Never break the rules accidentally." Meaning, rules exist for reasons. If you understand why a rule exists, you'll also know when it doesn't apply. That's when you should break it.

"Do unto others." This goes into the OODA loop, which models behavior as a cycle of Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action. In theory, people reset back to Observation every time the situation changes enough. So if you throw enough stimuli at the opponent, you can keep resetting his loop before he manages to take any Action.

"The world's first chemical weapon was oxygen." The atmosphere used to contain a much lower fraction of oxygen. When the first bacteria evolved photosynthesis, they produced one of the largest extinction events in world history.

From theatre: "Good is good. Done is better."

From an MIT orientation session: "Sleep, Study, Socialize: pick two." Similar in spirit to, but less reliant on insider jargon than, Caltech's "You flick, you flame, UASH." At CalTech, "flicking" means goofing off instead of studying, and UASH (pronounced you-ash) stands for Undergraduate Academic Standards and Honor, which is the committee that puts you on academic leave.

Yog's Law: "Money should flow toward the author." This was coined to combat vanity presses, shady agents, and other bad people in the publishing world who would charge people money to print their work. Apparently, it is not valid in academic publishing, where even respected journals charge publication fees.

Apparently something the U.S. Army Reserve shouts during PT: "Sweat more, bleed less!"
posted by d. z. wang at 8:24 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I had to say this to one of our PMs recently: "Nine women can't make a baby in a month."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:29 PM on July 8 [13 favorites]

Death is an effective anti-aging treatment.

Mr. Can't lives on Won't street.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:17 AM on July 9

Good enough never is.

Fail again. Fail better.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal name. [NOT TAOIST]

From a longer saying by Bruce Lee: Be water, my friend.
posted by Errant at 1:00 AM on July 9

A fool with a tool is still a fool.

To the guy with a new hammer, everything looks like a nail.
posted by cross_impact at 7:42 AM on July 9

rom an MIT orientation session: "Sleep, Study, Socialize: pick two."

Related to this is the golden triangle, which I learned as a designer but have found applies in almost everything: Fast, cheap, and good. You can have two of these, but always at the expense of the third.
posted by maxsparber at 8:43 AM on July 9

Plans are nothing; planning is everything.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:23 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

> Fail again. Fail better.

As the naïve opening salvo of something much darker and nihilistic, maybe, but not the cheery delusion it has become.
posted by scruss at 2:40 PM on July 9

Ignorance can be cured, but stupid is for life.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:11 PM on July 9

"We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:07 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

"I'm looking for that 'Whoa' moment. What, when you heard it, made you go 'whoa'?"

Oh, for me, that's easy. George Orwell noted (as part of a longer quote about autobiographies) that "any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats."

This really made a profound difference in my life. All the little things I was ashamed of, the underachieving, the times I failed, the things I hoped no one would ever find out about me -- EVERYONE has those. They're not "the real me," and my successes weren't all just flukes and illusions.

Because of that quote, and thinking about the implications of it, I've learned to become much, much more forgiving of myself.
posted by Alaska Jack at 1:01 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]

Don't compare your inside to other peoples' outsides.

(people may seem outwardly confident/happy, but they may feel just as insecure/worried as you)
posted by guy72277 at 1:18 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

"The standard isn't perfection, the standard is the alternative."

I first heard that in a documentary about non-lethal weapons in police work. They were talking about guns that fire bean-bags, and one specific case involved a woman standing on a bridge holding a gun to her head and threatening to commit suicide. One of the officers fired a beanbag at her arm and knocked the gun away. Unfortunately, it also broke her arm.

But the commentary made the point that this was still a better result than if they had not fired, and she had shot herself. When judging the outcome of your own actions, you shouldn't compare them to the idea case, but rather to what you think would have resulted if you had not gotten involved. If your participation results in an improvement, then it was the right thing to do even if the eventual result is still sub-optimal. (And even if the eventual result is tragic.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:54 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Just remembered one that a boss hung on my brain years ago (and that I've used here on MeFi in the past):

"'Should' is a much bigger word than it looks."
posted by Etrigan at 6:30 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Rats. shouldn't compare them to the ideal case...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:47 AM on July 10

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
--- James Nicoll
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:03 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

(This is often used in discussions of experiments at work. A negative result doesn't tell you anything without a proper positive control alongside it.)
posted by maryr at 7:37 PM on July 13

PS: The MIT one referenced above - I remember it being phrased "Grades, social life, sleep: Pick two." and it absolutely held true for everyone I knew.

Edit: Everyone I knew who was remotely on some level happy. You could try to do all three, but you generally didn't get to enjoy any of them. Picking 2 at least meant you could enjoy those two. But then, I did not pick grades...
posted by maryr at 7:43 PM on July 13

Your loss is others' gain.
posted by TaylorHannigan at 12:20 AM on July 14

This too will pass.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:28 PM on July 14

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