*   de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil


My signature on e-mail messages and news posts for many years included the Latin phrase de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil. I frequently am asked about this. Here I have placed explanations about various signature quotes I have had from time to time.


de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil.

There are two fairly famous saying in Latin. One is de gustibus, non disputandum est (Cicero, I believe), which means, `There is no arguing taste' (lit. `Of taste, there is no argument'). Another is de mortiis, aut bene aut nihil, which is translated as, `Of the dead, speak well or not at all' (lit. `Of the dead, either good or bad').

In Chekhov's play The Seagull one of the characters, a somewhat pretentious pseudo-intellectual, conflates the two sayings to come up with de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil, which could be translated as, `Taste: you have it or you don't.'


«Quand on veut un mouton, c'est la preuve qu'on existe.» is from chapter IV of Le petit prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I have no idea why I chose it.


Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, translator unknown. Emma has just made a long protestation of her love to him:

He had so often heard these things said that they did not strike him as original. Emma was like all his mistresses; and the charm of novelty, gradually falling away like a garment, laid bare the eternal monotony of passion, that has always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of so much experience, the difference of sentiment beneath the sameness of expression. Because lips libertine and venal had murmured such words to him, he believed but little in the candour of hers; exaggerated speeches hiding mediocre affections must be discounted; as if the fulness [sic] of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest metaphors, since no one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sorrows; and since human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.

I only know that he who forms a tie is lost.
The germ of corruption has entered into his soul.

This quote from Joseph Conrad opens The Human Factor, by Graham Greene. Read the novel for an explanation. (2000-07-01)


She saw that he had singled her out from the three...for no reasoned purpose of further acquaintance, but in commonplace obedience to conjunctive orders from headquarters, unconsciously received by unfortunate men when the last intention of their lives is to be occupied with the feminine.

Jude the Obscure, I-vi, by Thomas Hardy.


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