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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > John Wesley Powell Quotes

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John Wesley Powell
(24 Mar 1834 - 23 Sep 1902)

American geologist and ethnologist who led an exploration of 1,000 miles of the then-unknown Colorado River with a small party of men in boats. He wrote The Canyons of the Colorado and published the first classification of American Indian languages.

Science Quotes by John Wesley Powell (17 quotes)

Oil portrait, John Wesley Powell, seated on chair, upper body, facing front. His empty right sleeve indicates his amputated arm
Oil portrait of John Wesley Powell (1889)
artist: Edmund Clarence Messer (source)
Economy in speech is the force by which its development has been accomplished, and it divides itself properly into economy of utterance and economy of thought. Economy of utterance has had to do with the phonic constitution of words; economy of thought has developed the sentence.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 74b.
Science quotes on:  |  Accomplishment (95)  |  Division (66)  |  Economy (56)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Sentence (31)  |  Speech (64)  |  Thought (956)  |  Utterance (11)  |  Word (625)

In Seneca the north is “the sun never goes there,” and this sentence may be used as adjective or noun; in such cases noun, adjective, verb, and adverb are found as one vocable or word, and the four parts of speech are undifferentiated.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 73.
Science quotes on:  |  Adjective (3)  |  Adverb (3)  |  Indian (31)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Noun (6)  |  Sun (388)  |  Undifferentiated (2)  |  Verb (4)  |  Word (625)

In Ute the name for bear is “he seizes,” or “the hugger.” In this case the verb is used for the noun, and in so doing the Indian names the bear by predicating one of his characteristics. Thus noun and verb are undifferentiated.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 73.
Science quotes on:  |  Bear (160)  |  Characteristic (150)  |  Hug (3)  |  Indian (31)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Noun (6)  |  Seize (17)  |  Undifferentiated (2)  |  Verb (4)

Indian nouns are extremely connotive; that is, the name does more than simply denote the thing to which it belongs; in denoting the object, it also assigns to it some quality or characteristic.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 72.
Science quotes on:  |  Assign (14)  |  Characteristic (150)  |  Denote (6)  |  Indian (31)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Noun (6)  |  Object (423)  |  Quality (135)

Many years have passed since the exploration, and those who were boys with me in the enterprise are—ah, most of them are dead, and the living are gray with age. Their bronzed, hardy, brave faces come before me as they appeared in the vigor of life; their lithe but powerful forms seem to move around me; and the memory of the men and their heroic deeds, the men and their generous acts, overwhelms me with a joy that seems almost a grief, for it starts a fountain of tears. I was a maimed man; my right arm was gone; and these brave men, these good men, never forgot it. In every danger my safety was their first care, and in every waking hour some kind service was rendered me, and they transfigured my misfortune into a boon.
— John Wesley Powell
In 'Preface' to Canyons of the Colorado (1895), v.
Science quotes on:  |  Bravery (2)  |  Danger (117)  |  Exploration (140)  |  Handicap (7)  |  Safety (55)  |  Teamwork (6)

On my return from the first exploration of the canyons of the Colorado, I found that our journey had been the theme of much newspaper writing. A story of disaster had been circulated, with many particulars of hardship and tragedy, so that it was currently believed throughout the United States that all the members of the party were lost save one. A good friend of mine had gathered a great number of obituary notices, and it was interesting and rather flattering to me to discover the high esteem in which I had been held by the people of the United States. In my supposed death I had attained to a glory which I fear my continued life has not fully vindicated.
— John Wesley Powell
First paragraph in 'Preface' to Canyons of the Colorado (1895), iii.
Science quotes on:  |  Colorado River (5)  |  Esteem (16)  |  Exploration (140)  |  Glory (60)  |  Obituary (11)  |  Tragedy (30)

Possible ideas and thoughts are vast in number. A distinct word for every distinct idea and thought would require a vast vocabulary. The problem in language is to express many ideas and thoughts with comparatively few words.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 55.
Science quotes on:  |  Idea (846)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Problem (680)  |  Thought (956)  |  Vocabulary (9)  |  Word (625)

The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon—forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 397.
Science quotes on:  |  Beauty (301)  |  Bubble (23)  |  Cataract (3)  |  Color (139)  |  Form (961)  |  Fountain (17)  |  Geology (223)  |  Glory (60)  |  Grand Canyon (8)  |  Mountain (189)  |  Raindrop (4)  |  Sound (184)  |  Sunset (27)  |  Tempest (7)  |  Unite (43)

The Grand Canyon, is a land of song. Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks, and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies. All this is the music of waters. The adamant foundations of the earth have been wrought into a sublime harp, upon which the clouds of the heavens play with mighty tempests or with gentle showers.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 394-397.
Science quotes on:  |  Colorado River (5)  |  Grand Canyon (8)  |  Harp (4)  |  Hill (21)  |  Meadow (19)  |  Melody (2)  |  Mountain (189)  |  Music (131)  |  Rain (64)  |  Ripple (10)  |  Rock (164)  |  Shower (7)  |  Song (38)

The integers of language are sentences, and their organs are the parts of speech. Linguistic organization, then, consists in the differentiation of the parts of speech and the integration of the sentence.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 70.
Science quotes on:  |  Differentiation (26)  |  Integer (11)  |  Integration (20)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Organ (116)  |  Organization (115)  |  Part (223)  |  Sentence (31)  |  Speech (64)

The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock—cliffs of rock; plateaus of rock; terraces of rock; crags of rock—ten thousand strangely carved forms; rocks everywhere, and no vegetation, no soil, no sand. In long, gentle curves the river winds about these rocks.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 206.
Science quotes on:  |  Cliff (20)  |  Colorado River (5)  |  Crag (5)  |  Landscape (40)  |  Plateau (7)  |  Rock (164)  |  Sand (63)  |  Soil (87)  |  Terrace (2)  |  Vegetation (24)

The verb is relatively of much greater importance in an Indian tongue than in a civilized language.
— John Wesley Powell
In Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages: With Words, Phrases and Sentences to be Collected (1880), 49.
Science quotes on:  |  Importance (288)  |  Indian (31)  |  Linguistics (38)  |  Tongue (44)  |  Verb (4)

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 394.
Science quotes on:  |  Attempt (252)  |  Failure (162)  |  Feature (45)  |  Geology (223)  |  Grand Canyon (8)  |  Illustration (49)  |  Language (294)  |  Portray (5)  |  Speech (64)  |  Wonder (237)

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 247.
Science quotes on:  |  Channel (22)  |  Cheerfulness (2)  |  Colorado River (5)  |  Conjecture (50)  |  Exploration (140)  |  Hazard (19)  |  Jest (5)  |  Rock (164)

Years of drought and famine come and years of flood and famine come, and the climate is not changed with dance, libation or prayer.
— John Wesley Powell
In 'Our Recent Floods', The North American Review (1892), 155, 152.
Science quotes on:  |  Climate Change (62)  |  Dance (33)  |  Drought (14)  |  Famine (16)  |  Flood (51)  |  Prayer (29)

You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths. It is a region more difficult to traverse than the Alps or the Himalayas, but if strength and courage are sufficient for the task, by a year’s toil a concept of sublimity can be obtained never again to be equaled or the hither side of Paradise.
— John Wesley Powell
In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), 397.
Science quotes on:  |  Alps (9)  |  Changeless (2)  |  Courage (71)  |  Curtain (3)  |  Difficulty (199)  |  Exploration (140)  |  Grand Canyon (8)  |  Himalayas (3)  |  Labyrinth (11)  |  Paradise (14)  |  Spectacle (34)  |  Strength (127)  |  Sublimity (6)  |  Toil (26)  |  Traveling (2)

[The Colorado River] exploration was not made for adventure, but purely for scientific purposes, geographic and geologic, and I had no intention of writing an account of it, but only of recording the scientific results.
— John Wesley Powell
In 'Preface' to Canyons of the Colorado (1895), iii. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee urged that of an account of the historic exploration be published by the government.
Science quotes on:  |  Adventure (57)  |  Colorado River (5)  |  Exploration (140)  |  Geology (223)


See also:
  • Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell, by John Wesley Powell and William deBuys (ed.). - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for John Wesley Powell.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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