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Literally Quotes (30 quotes)

γῆς ἔντερα
[Literally] Earth’s entrails
[or, entrails of earth, or earth’s intestine, or earth’s guts: earthworm. Often seen out of context as “Earthworms are the intestines of the soil.”].
Aristotle
Contrary to the widespread quote, Webmaster has not yet found a complete sentence in the original Greek translating as “Earthworms are the intestines of the soil.” Webmaster believes Aristotle did not write such a sentence. As far as Webmaster can figure out, Aristotle had no other word for an earthworm than the descriptive two-word phrase above. The word γῆς translates directly as “earth” and ἔντερα as “intestine.” In the context, Aristotle wrote only this, without any other wording for “earthworm,” in De Generatione Animalium (On the Generation of Animals), Book III, 10, 762b. Identified in Arthur Platt, De Generatione Animalium (1910), unpaginated page 23, end of 762b, footnote 1. The Greek phrase is given in William Keith and Chambers Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy: Aristotle, an Encounter (1981), Vol. 4, 290, footnote 3. The context, from the Platt translation is: “For all of these [animals], though they have but little blood by nature, are nevertheless sanguinea, and have a heart with blood in it as the origin of the parts; and the so-called ‘entrails of earth’, in which comes into being the body of the eel, have the nature of a scolex.” The translator footnotes that: “These ‘entrails of earth’ are earthworms almost certainly. A. thinks they are spontaneously generated, and develop into eels.” An alternate interpretation is given by A.L. Peck in Generation of Animals, With an English Translation (1943), 361. “The ‘earth’s-guts’ as they are called have the nature of a larva; the body of the eels forms within them.” Peck footnotes: “The ‘earth’s-guts’ are apparently the round-worm Gordius. Webmaster note: These are hairlike, very long, and very thin, nematoid worms that are parasites—not earthworms. Webmaster concludes that gardeners saying “Earthworms are the intestines of the soil” are quoting something that Aristotle did not say, per se, and he did not specifically talk about earthworms as gardeners’ friends conditioning the soil.
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A depressing number of people seem to process everything literally. They are to wit as a blind man is to a forest, able to find every tree, but each one coming as a surprise.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 32
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A great surgeon performs operations for stone by a single method; later he makes a statistical summary of deaths and recoveries, and he concludes from these statistics that the mortality law for this operation is two out of five. Well, I say that this ratio means literally nothing scientifically and gives us no certainty in performing the next operation; for we do not know whether the next case will be among the recoveries or the deaths. What really should be done, instead of gathering facts empirically, is to study them more accurately, each in its special determinism. We must study cases of death with great care and try to discover in them the cause of mortal accidents so as to master the cause and avoid the accidents.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 137-138. (Note that Bernard overlooks how the statistical method can be useful: a surgeon announcing a mortality rate of 40% invites comparison. A surgeon with worse outcomes should adopt this method. If a surgeon has a better results, that method should be adopted.)
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Every leaf and twig was this morning covered with a sparkling ice armor; even the grasses in exposed fields were hung with innumerable diamond pendants, which jingled merrily when brushed by the foot of the traveler. It was literally the wreck of jewels and the crash of gems.
(21 Jan 1838). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: I: 1837-1846 (1906), 224.
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Evolution has encountered no intellectual trouble; no new arguments have been offered. Creationism is a home-grown phenomenon of American sociocultural history—a splinter movement … who believe that every word in the Bible must be literally true, whatever such a claim might mean.
Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History (1998), 270.
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Gifford Pinchot is the man to whom the nation owes most for what has been accomplished as regards the preservation of the natural resources of our country. He led, and indeed during its most vital period embodied, the fight for the preservation through use of our forests … He was the foremost leader in the great struggle to coordinate all our social and governmental forces in the effort to secure the adoption of a rational and far-seeing policy for securing the conservation of all our national resources. … I believe it is but just to say that among the many, many public officials who under my administration rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States, he, on the whole, stood first.
'The Natural Resources of the Nation' Autobiography (1913), ch. 11. Quoted in Douglas M. Johnston, The International Law of Fisheries (1987), 44
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Hubble's observations suggested that there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Under such conditions all the laws of science, and therefore all ability to predict the future, would break down. If there were events earlier than this time, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 8-9.
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I have witnessed a most remarkable drama here, one which to me as a German was very unexpected, and quite shocking. I saw the famous M. Lavoisier hold a ceremonial auto-da-fe of phlogiston in the Arsenal. His wife... served as the sacrificial priestess, and Stahl appeared as the advocatus diaboli to defend phlogiston. In the end, poor phlogiston was burned on the accusation of oxygen. Do you not think I have made a droll discovery? Everything is literally true. I will not say whether the cause of phlogiston is now irretrievably lost, or what I think about the issue. But I am glad that this spectacle was not presented in my fatherland.
Letter to Chemische Annalen, 1789, 1, 519. Quoted (in English translation) in K. Hufbauer, The Formation of the German Chemical Community (1982), 96.
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I took a glass retort, capable of containing eight ounces of water, and distilled fuming spirit of nitre according to the usual method. In the beginning the acid passed over red, then it became colourless, and lastly again all red: no sooner did this happen, than I took away the receiver; and tied to the mouth of the retort a bladder emptied of air, which I had moistened in its inside with milk of lime lac calcis, (i.e. lime-water, containing more quicklime than water can dissolve) to prevent its being corroded by the acid. Then I continued the distillation, and the bladder gradually expanded. Here-upon I left every thing to cool, tied up the bladder, and took it off from the mouth of the retort.— I filled a ten-ounce glass with this air and put a small burning candle into it; when immediately the candle burnt with a large flame, of so vivid a light that it dazzled the eyes. I mixed one part of this air with three parts of air, wherein fire would not burn; and this mixture afforded air, in every respect familiar to the common sort. Since this air is absolutely necessary for the generation of fire, and makes about one-third of our common air, I shall henceforth, for shortness sake call it empyreal air, [literally fire-air] the air which is unserviceable for the fiery phenomenon, and which makes abut two-thirds of common air, I shall for the future call foul air [literally corrupted air].
Chemische Abhandlung von der Luft und dem Feuer (1777), Chemical Observations and Experiments on Air and Fire (1780), trans. J. R. Forster, 34-5.
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It is difficult to conceive a grander mass of vegetation:—the straight shafts of the timber-trees shooting aloft, some naked and clean, with grey, pale, or brown bark; others literally clothed for yards with a continuous garment of epiphytes, one mass of blossoms, especially the white Orchids Caelogynes, which bloom in a profuse manner, whitening their trunks like snow. More bulky trunks were masses of interlacing climbers, Araliaceae, Leguminosae, Vines, and Menispermeae, Hydrangea, and Peppers, enclosing a hollow, once filled by the now strangled supporting tree, which has long ago decayed away. From the sides and summit of these, supple branches hung forth, either leafy or naked; the latter resembling cables flung from one tree to another, swinging in the breeze, their rocking motion increased by the weight of great bunches of ferns or Orchids, which were perched aloft in the loops. Perpetual moisture nourishes this dripping forest: and pendulous mosses and lichens are met with in profusion.
Himalayan Journals (1854), vol. 1, 110-1.
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One of the best examples of a scientific parable that got taken literally at first is the wave-theory of light.
Concluding paragraph of chapter, 'Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics: Or Beyond Common-Sense', contributed to Naomi Mitchison (ed.), An Outline For Boys And Girls And Their Parents (1932), 357.
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Organic chemistry has literally placed a new nature beside the old. And not only for the delectation and information of its devotees; the whole face and manner of society has been altered by its products. We are clothed, ornamented and protected by forms of matter foreign to Nature; we travel and are propelled, in, on and by them. Their conquest of our powerful insect enemies, their capacity to modify the soil and control its microscopic flora, their ability to purify and protect our water, have increased the habitable surface of the earth and multiplied our food supply; and the dramatic advances in synthetic medicinal chemistry comfort and maintain us, and create unparalleled social opportunities (and problems).
In 'Synthesis', in A. Todd (ed.), Perspectives in Organic Chemistry (1956), 180.
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Pursuit of the objective of maximum species diversity or even maximum species richness could lead to serious negative consequences if taken literally.
In The Fragmented Forest: Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity (1984), 106.
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Some of what these pamphlets [of astrological forecasts] say will turn out to be true, but most of it time and experience will expose as empty and worthless. The latter part will be forgotten [literally: written on the winds] while the former will be carefully entered in people’s memories, as is usual with the crowd.
On giving astrology sounder foundations, De fundamentis astrologiae certioribus, (1602), Thesis 2, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 4, 12, trans. J. V. Field, in Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 1984, 31, 229-72.
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Telescopes are in some ways like time machines. They reveal galaxies so far away that their light has taken billions of years to reach us. We in astronomy have an advantage in studying the universe, in that we can actually see the past.
We owe our existence to stars, because they make the atoms of which we are formed. So if you are romantic you can say we are literally starstuff. If you’re less romantic you can say we’re the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine.
We’ve made so many advances in our understanding. A few centuries ago, the pioneer navigators learnt the size and shape of our Earth, and the layout of the continents. We are now just learning the dimensions and ingredients of our entire cosmos, and can at last make some sense of our cosmic habitat.
…...
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The biggest danger we face is overfishing. We have too many boats out there. We literally could fish out our oceans, some scientists believe, in the next 40, 50, 60 years. We are trending in that direction. … Every year, for the first time in history, we catch fewer and fewer fish with more and more sophisticated boats going out trying to find them.
From transcript of PBS TV interview by Tavis Smiley (28 Mar 2011).
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The errors of a wise man are literally more instructive than the truths of a fool. The wise man travels in lofty, far-seeing regions; the fool in low-lying, high-fenced lanes; retracing the footsteps of the former, to discover where he diviated, whole provinces of the universe are laid open to us; in the path of the latter, granting even that he has not deviated at all, little is laid open to us but two wheel-ruts and two hedges.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 425:26.
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The mortal enemies of man are not his fellows of another continent or race; they are the aspects of the physical world which limit or challenge his control, the disease germs that attack him and his domesticated plants and animals, and the insects that carry many of these germs as well as working notable direct injury. This is not the age of man, however great his superiority in size and intelligence; it is literally the age of insects.
The Social Life of Insects, Chapter 7 (1939).
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The various particles have to be taken literally as projections of a higher-dimensional reality which cannot be accounted for in terms of any force of interaction between them.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order? (1981), 186.
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The vehicle explodes, literally explodes, off the pad. The simulator shakes you a little bit, but the actual liftoff shakes your entire body and soul.
…...
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The ‘mad idea’ which will lie at the basis of a future fundamental physical theory will come from a realization that physical meaning has some mathematical form not previously associated with reality. From this point of view the problem of the ‘mad idea’ is the problem of choosing, not of generating, the right idea. One should not understand that too literally. In the 1960s it was said (in a certain connection) that the most important discovery of recent years in physics was the complex numbers. The author [Yuri Manin] has something like that in mind.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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There can be no thought of finishing, for aiming at the stars, both literally and figuratively, is the work of generations, but no matter how much progress one makes there is always the thrill of just beginning.
In letter to H.G. Wells (Apr 1932). Quoted in Tom D. Crouch, Aiming for the Stars: the Dreamers and Doers of the Space Age (1999), 20.
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There is another approach to the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFO origins. This assessment depends on a large number of factors about which we know little, and a few about which we know literally nothing. I want to make some crude numerical estimate of the probability that we are frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Now, there is a range of hypotheses that can be examined in such a way. Let me give a simple example: Consider the Santa Claus hypothesis, which maintains that, in a period of eight hours or so on December 24-25 of each year, an outsized elf visits one hundred million homes in the United States. This is an interesting and widely discussed hypothesis. Some strong emotions ride on it, and it is argued that at least it does no harm.
We can do some calculations. Suppose that the elf in question spends one second per house. This isn't quite the usual picture—“Ho, Ho, Ho,” and so on—but imagine that he is terribly efficient and very speedy; that would explain why nobody ever sees him very much-only one second per house, after all. With a hundred million houses he has to spend three years just filling stockings. I have assumed he spends no time at all in going from house to house. Even with relativistic reindeer, the time spent in a hundred million houses is three years and not eight hours. This is an example of hypothesis-testing independent of reindeer propulsion mechanisms or debates on the origins of elves. We examine the hypothesis itself, making very straightforward assumptions, and derive a result inconsistent with the hypothesis by many orders of magnitude. We would then suggest that the hypothesis is untenable.
We can make a similar examination, but with greater uncertainty, of the extraterrestrial hypothesis that holds that a wide range of UFOs viewed on the planet Earth are space vehicles from planets of other stars.
The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), 200.
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To state a theorem and then to show examples of it is literally to teach backwards.
As quoted, without citation, in Howard W. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, (1988), 159. [Note: E. Kim Nebeuts is probably a pen name since reversed it reads Mike Stueben —Webmaster]
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You are literally filled with the fruit of your own devices, with rats and mice and such small deer, paramecia, and entomostraceæ, and kicking things with horrid names, which you see in microscopes at the Polytechnic, and rush home and call for brandy—without the water—stone, and gravel, and dyspepsia, and fragments of your own muscular tissue tinged with your own bile.
'The Water Supply of London', North British Review (1851), 15, 246
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Your Grace will no doubt have learnt from the weekly reports of one Marco Antonio Bragadini, called Mamugnano. … He is reported to be able to turn base metal into gold… . He literally throws gold about in shovelfuls. This is his recipe: he takes ten ounces of quicksilver, puts it into the fire, and mixes it with a drop of liquid, which he carries in an ampulla. Thus it promptly turns into good gold. He has no other wish but to be of good use to his country, the Republic. The day before yesterday he presented to the Secret Council of Ten two ampullas with this liquid, which have been tested in his absence. The first test was found to be successful and it is said to have resulted in six million ducats. I doubt not but that this will appear mighty strange to your Grace.
Anonymous
'The Famous Alchemist Bragadini. From Vienna on the 1st day of November 1589'. As quoted in George Tennyson Matthews (ed.) News and Rumor in Renaissance Europe: The Fugger Newsletters (1959), 173. A handwritten collection of news reports (1568-1604) by the powerful banking and merchant house of Fugger in Ausburg.
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[Concerning the Piltdown hoax,] that jaw has been literally a bone of contention for a long time.
In 'Quotation Marks', New York Times (29 Nov 1953), SM71.
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[Experimental Physicist] Phys. I know that it is often a help to represent pressure and volume as height and width on paper; and so geometry may have applications to the theory of gases. But is it not going rather far to say that geometry can deal directly with these things and is not necessarily concerned with lengths in space?
[Mathematician] Math. No. Geometry is nowadays largely analytical, so that in form as well as in effect, it deals with variables of an unknown nature. …It is literally true that I do not want to know the significance of the variables x, y, z, t that I am discussing. …
Phys. Yours is a strange subject. You told us at the beginning that you are not concerned as to whether your propositions are true, and now you tell us you do not even care to know what you are talking about.
Math. That is an excellent description of Pure Mathematics, which has already been given by an eminent mathematician [Bertrand Russell].
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 14.
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[Reporting after the now infamous 22 Jun 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River:] Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. “Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown,” Cleveland's citizens joke grimly. “He decays”... The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.” It is also—literally—-a fire hazard.
Magazine
As reported in Time magazine (1 Aug 1969).
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… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 26
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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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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Charles Babbage
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Euclid
Ralph Emerson
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Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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