Most well-known quotes from history
March 10, 2010 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Most well-known quotes from speeches, literature or historical persons.

I'm trying to put together a list of "must-know" quotes from famous speeches, famous works of literature or famous historical persons. I've done lots of searches, but there are so many sites for quotes that there are too many obscure quotes on too many topics to find the absolute most famous ones from history. I need some help!

For example:

FDR's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Regan's "Tear down this wall"
MLK's "I have a dream"
Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"
Jesus: "Blessed are the..."

It can be from any period in history. Thanks so much! This is for a pop-culture quiz for high school students. (Just for fun)
posted by dealing away to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Bartlett's Familiar Quotations? They've been making a list for years.
posted by dortmunder at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

dortmunder: No, I'm not familiar with that work at all. Looks interesting but I'm looking for a more immediate source that I can get quotations from. I'm trying to get this done before Friday's activity. I might go to the library and see if they have it there. Thx!
posted by dealing away at 1:23 PM on March 10, 2010

See if you can borrow a copy of Lend Me Your Ears. Its a collection of famous speeches. Sure to jog your memory.
posted by shothotbot at 1:23 PM on March 10, 2010

dortmunder: No, I'm not familiar with that work at all. Looks interesting but I'm looking for a more immediate source that I can get quotations from. I'm trying to get this done before Friday's activity. I might go to the library and see if they have it there. Thx!

I can almost promise you your local library will have a copy. It's an essential reference work. If they don't they've got some messed up priorities.
posted by dortmunder at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2010

Neil Armstrong, upon setting foot on the moon: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
posted by amyms at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2010

Some of my favorites.

"Veni, vidi, vici" -Julius Caesar
"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." -Mark Twain
"Now we're just haggling about the price" -George Bernard Shaw
"Now we are all sons of bitches" -Kenneth Bainbridge
"It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety." -Isaac Asimov
"Better is the enemy of good." -Voltaire
posted by quin at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

JFK: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
posted by amyms at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2010

I've probably got hundreds if not thousands of snippets of important quotes like the ones you mentioned banging around in my memory, and none of them are really any more or less important than any of the others. Any one of Shakespeare's plays could give you at least a handful of quotes based on the guidelines you've given (ie, any well-known quote). Try narrowing down by subject (the most important quotes on these twenty topics, say) or genre (you've got examples from both political speeches and literature, for example).
posted by frobozz at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2010

Thanks amyms and quin. Those are good and helps me put together my list! Perfect! Keep them coming!
posted by dealing away at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2010

That's the problem frobozz. There simply is too much possibilities and my mind froze up and I just wanted to put together a list of well-known quotations that come to the top of everyone's head. Any help is appreciated.
posted by dealing away at 1:32 PM on March 10, 2010

Anne Frank, in her diary: "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
posted by amyms at 1:33 PM on March 10, 2010

From Lincoln's finest speech, the Second Inaugural:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
And really, all of the Gettysburg Address, especially the last bit—"that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
posted by cirripede at 1:40 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The chanting crowd outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago: "The whole world is watching!" (anti-war protestors were being beaten by police, and it was broadcast on live television for 17 minutes).
posted by amyms at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2010

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman"--Bill Clinton
posted by box at 1:44 PM on March 10, 2010

Also, Bartleby has several books of quotations online.
posted by box at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2010

"Out, damned spot!", "To be or not to be" and "Friends, Romans, countrymen" are some of the most well known ones from Shakespeare.
posted by NoraReed at 1:46 PM on March 10, 2010

These are all great! Keep them coming, I'm putting together the list as you post! Thx!
posted by dealing away at 2:07 PM on March 10, 2010

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!" --Ronald Reagan
"Give me liberty, or give me death!" --Patrick Henry
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" -- Mark Antony in Julius Cesear, Shakespeare
"An eye for an eye makes the world blind"--Ghandi
"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." --HL Mencken
"Beauty is truth - truth, beauty - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" --John Keats
posted by _cave at 2:18 PM on March 10, 2010

A couple more, just because it's kinda fun...

"For fools rush in where angles fear to tread" -Alexander Pope
"Fortune favors the bold" -Virgil
"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." -Sir Winston Churchill
"All would live long, but none would be old" -Benjamin Franklin
"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow." -James Dean
posted by quin at 2:22 PM on March 10, 2010

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina).
posted by SuzB at 2:29 PM on March 10, 2010

"Twas brillig and the slithy toves,
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son,
the jaws that bite and claws that scratch
Beware the jubjub bird
and shun the frumious bandersnatch."
– Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass

Call me Ishmael.
– Herman Melville in Moby Dick

Houston: Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
– Neil Armstrong

Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is...
– Walter Cronkite

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
– Bob Dylan

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
– Pete Seeger

I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
– Thomas Jefferson

I think, therefore I am.
– René Descartes

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the Watchmen?)
– Juvenal

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).
– R.E.M.
posted by WCityMike at 4:19 PM on March 10, 2010

My favourite example of this kind of thing is two phrases which separately are amongst the most quoted in the English language, and which were actually originally written in the same paragraph of John Donne's "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions"

No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
posted by Jakey at 4:47 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

This article, "100 best first lines from a novel," yields many good ideas, and a lot of them high school students might know.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:42 PM on March 10, 2010

"I like big butts and I can not lie; you other brothers can't deny that when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung, wanna pull out your tough because you notice that butt was stuffed deep in the jeans she's wearing. I'm hooked and I can't stop staring; oh baby, I wanna get with you and take your picture. My homeboys tried to warn me, but that butt you got makes me so horny. Ooh, Rump-o'-smooth-skin, you say you wanna get in my Benz? Well, use me, use me, because you ain't that average groupie. I've seen them dancing; to hell with romancing -- she's sweat, wet, got it going like a turbo Corvette. I'm tired of magazines saying flat butts are the thing; take the average black man and ask him that she gotta pack much back. So, fellas, fellas, has your girlfriend got the butt? Tell them to shake it, shake it, shake that healthy butt. Baby got back."
– Anthony Ray
posted by WCityMike at 9:38 PM on March 10, 2010

« Older Nitrogen in the tires   |   What software will help me make a client intake... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.