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A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery. ~ James Joyce

Mistakes are avoidable occurrences where a person unintentionally does something that causes an unfortunate result.

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  • Vietnam was worse than immoral — it was a mistake.
    • Dean Acheson, reported in Alistair Cooke, Letter from America: 1946-2004 (2004), p. 378. Sometimes errantly reported in the present tense, e.g. "It is worse than immoral, it's a mistake".
  • Lack of recent information is responsible for more mistakes of judgment than erroneous reasoning.
  • Every person do mistake every day, otherwise, if you deny the mistakes, we deny the human nature of the people...


  • If you have ever, like me,
    Missed the "r" and hit the "t",
    Addressing some fat blister
    As "Mt." instead of "Mr.",
    I trust you left it unamended?

    • J. B. Boothroyd, "Please Excuse Typing", from The Fireside Book of Humorous Poetry (1965), p. 194.
  • Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.


  • The criminal misuse of time was pointing out the mistakes. Catching them―noticing them―that was essential. If you did not in your own mind distinguish between useful and erroneous information, then you were not learning at all, you were merely replacing ignorance with false belief, which was no improvement. The part of the man's statement that was true, however, was about the uselessness of speaking up. If I know that the teacher is wrong, and say nothing, then I remain the only one who knows, and that gives me an advantage over those who believe the teacher.
  • You seemed to be listening to me, not to find out useful information, but to try to catch me in a logical fallacy. This tells us all that you are used to being smarter than your teachers, and that you listen to them in order to catch them making mistakes and prove how smart you are to the other students. This is such a pointless, stupid way of listening to teachers that it is clear you are going to waste months of our time before you finally catch on that the only transaction that matters is a transfer of useful information from adults who possess it to children who do not, and that catching mistakes is a criminal misuse of time.
  • Don't make the same mistake twice seems to indicate three mistakes, doesn't it? First you make the mistake. Then you make the same mistake. Then you make the same mistake twice. If you simply say, "Don't make the same mistake," you'll avoid the first mistake.
  • The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
  • A man looking at a hippopotamus may sometimes be tempted to regard a hippopotamus as an enormous mistake; but he is also bound to confess that a fortunate inferiority prevents him personally from making such mistakes.
  • 主忠信。毋友不如己者。過,則勿憚改。
    • Translation: Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. Then no friends would not be like yourself (all friends would be as loyal as yourself). If you make a mistake, do not be afraid to correct it.
    • Confucius, The Analects, Chapter I.
  • Let go the lure
    The striving to unmake;

    Behold the truth
    Whenever heart may ache
    There is a glory
    In a great mistake.

    • Nathalia Crane, "Imperfection", Swear By the Night and Other Poems (1936).
  • Other kings let their ministers make their mistakes for them, but Louis insisted on making the important mistakes personally.
    • Will Cuppy, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950), Part IV: A Few Greats, Louis XIV.


  • Hell, that's why they make erasers.
    • Clarence Darrow, reported in Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941), p. 75.
  • For my errors loom over my head;
Like a heavy burden, they are too much for me to bear.
My wounds stink and fester
Because of my foolishness.
I am distressed and extremely downcast;
I walk around sad all day long.
  • If errors were what you watch, O Jah,
Then who, O Jehovah, could stand?
For with you there is true forgiveness,
So that you may be held in awe.
I hope in Jehovah, my whole being hopes in him; I wait for his word.
  • It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.


  • Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it's a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.
  • Amerika ist ein Fehler, zugegeben ein gigantischer Fehler, aber nichtsdestotrotz ein Fehler.
    • America is a mistake, admittedly a gigantic mistake, but a mistake nevertheless.


  • The state sometimes makes mistakes. When one of these mistakes occurs, a decline in collective enthusiasm is reflected by a resulting quantitative decrease of the contribution of each individual, each of the elements forming the whole of the masses. Work is so paralysed that insignificant quantities are produced. It is time to make a correction.


  • My heartache, is my mistake you see.
    • Ed Harcourt, "God Protect Your Soul", Here Be Monsters (2001).
  • Everyone thinks I'm a smart arse who can solve any bloody problem. I'm not. I'm just a very old businessman and a very experienced businessman who made every mistake in the book and can recognise one when I see one.
    • Sir John Harvey-Jones (1924-2008), British businessman. Obituary, The Telegraph (UK) newspaper, 10 January 2008.
  • No mans error becomes his own Law; nor obliges him to persist in it.
  • The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.


  • She had an unequalled gift, especially pen in hand, of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities.
  • Mistakes are the inevitable lot of mankind.
    • Sir George Jessel, In re Taylor's Estate (1882) 22 Ch.D. 495, 503.
  • A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery.


  • Every irregularity is not erroneous.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Jackson v. Hunter (1794), 6 T. R. 74; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 107.


  • After it is all over, as stupid a fellow as I am can see that mistakes were made. I notice, however, that my mistakes are never told me until it is too late.
    • Robert E. Lee, quoted in Randall Bedwell's May I Quote You General Lee? (New York: Gramercy Books, 2002), p. 63.


  • Gli spropositi
    Presto si fanno, ma poi spesso costano
    Il pentimento di tutta la vita.
  • Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he's speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily — his own troops or other troops — through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But, he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. There will be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.
  • Those who make no mistakes are making the biggest mistakes of all — they are attempting nothing new.
  • The important thing in my view is not to pin the blame for a mistake on somebody, but rather to find out what caused the mistake.
  • It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing.
  • First mistake, last mistake! Paid by the alliance, to slay all the giants! Next mistake, no more mistakes!
    • Dave Mustaine, "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" (1990), Rust in Peace.


  • A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then, again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revelation of prominent historical figures.


  • Some positive persisting fops we know,
    Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
    But you with pleasure own your errors past,
    And make each day a critique on the last.
  • The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
    • John Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love (1990), p. 85.
  • When people once are in the wrong,
    Each line they add is much too long;
    Who fastest walks, but walks astray,
    Is only furthest from his way.


  • Life, like war, is a series of mistakes; and he is not the best Christian nor the best general who makes the fewest false steps. Poor mediocrity may secure that; but he is the best who wins the most splendid victories by the retrieval of mistakes. Forget mistakes; organize victory out of mistakes.
  • There are two kinds of mistakes. There are fatal mistakes that destroy a theory; but there are also contingent ones, which are useful in testing the stability of a theory.
    • Gian-Carlo Rota (with Fabrizio Palombi), Indiscrete Thoughts (1997), p. 202.


  • How far your eyes may pierce, I cannot tell;
    Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.
  • We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.
    • Samuel Smiles, 19th C Scottish author and reformer. 'Self-Culture: facilities and Difficulties', Self-Help (1856), Ch 11.
  • It is a sign of maturity and decency to acknowledge that often all parties participate in making mistakes that can produce discord. In our time, recognizing this fact is part of being an honest person of depth. It helps us understand that trouble between people gets transformed when everyone takes responsibility for their part. Negotiation is a process, first of acknowledgment, and then adjustment to the new information produced by that acknowledgment. Recognizing mutuality of cause is a principle that allows progressive change without scapegoating. Scapegoating, after all, is often rooted in the false accusation that one person or group is unilaterally responsible for mistakes that are actually contributed to by multiple parties.
  • It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.


  • The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
    • Frank Lloyd Wright, New York Times Magazine (4 October 1953); sometimes paraphrased as "A doctor" in place of "The physician".

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 236-37.
  • Errare mehercule malo cum Platone, quem tu quanti facias, scio quam cum istis vera sentire.
    • By Hercules! I prefer to err with Plato, whom I know how much you value, than to be right in the company of such men.
    • Cicero, Tusculanarum Disputationum, I, 17.
  • The cautious seldom err.
  • Man on the dubious waves of error toss'd.
  • Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
    He who would search for pearls, must dive below.
  • Brother, brother; we are both in the wrong.
    • John Gay, Beggar's Opera, Act II, scene 2.
  • Es giebt Menschen die gar nicht irren, weil sie sich nichts Vernünftiges vorsetzen.
  • Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt.
  • Ille sinistrorsum hic dextrorsum abit, unus utrique
    Error, sed variis illudit partibus.
    • One goes to the right, the other to the left; both are wrong, but in different directions.
    • Horace, Satires, II. 3. 50.
  • Dark Error's other hidden side is truth.
  • Knowledge being to be had only of visible and certain truth, error is not a fault of our knowledge, but a mistake of our judgment, giving assent to that which is not true.
    • John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book IV, Of Wrong Assent or Error, Chapter XX.
  • Errare humanus est.
    • To err is human.
    • Melchior de Polinac, Anti-Lucretius, V, 58. Gilbertus Cognatus, Adagia. Seneca the Younger, Book IV. Declam. 3. Agam, 267. Other forms of same found in Demosthenes, De Corona, V, IX. Euripides, Hippolytus, 615. Homer, Iliad, IX. 496. Lucan, Demon., 7. Marcus Antoninus, IX. 11. Menander, Fragments, 499. Plautus, Merc., II. 2. 48. Severus of Antioch, Epigram I, 20. Sophocles, Antigone, 1023. Theognis. V. 327. Humanum fuit errare, Stanza Augustine, Sermon 164, 14. …possum falli, ut homo. Cicero—Ad Atticum., XIII. 21. 5. Cujusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare. Cicero, Phillipics, XII. 2. 5. (Same idea in his De Invent., II. 3. 9). Erasse humanus est, Stanza Jerome, Epistolæ, LVII. 12. Also in Adv. Ruf., III. 33. 36. Nemo nostrum non peccat. Homines sumus, non dei. Petronius—Satyricon, Chapter 75, Chapter 130. Decipi … humanus est. Plutarch. Stephanus's ed, Chapter XXXI. Per humanes, inquit, errotes. Seneca, Rhetoric. Excerpta ex Controversiis, IV, III. Censen hominem me esse? erravi. Terence, Adelphi, IV, II. 40.
  • Les plus courtes erreurs sont toujours les meilleures.
    • The smallest errors are always the best.
    • Molière, L'Etourdi, IV. 4.
  • The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
    • Edward John Phelps, speech at Mansion House, London (Jan. 24, 1889), quoting Bishop W. C. Magee of Peterborough, in 1868.
  • For to err in opinion, though it be not the part of wise men, is at least human.
    • Plutarch, Morals, Against Colotes the Epicurean.
  • 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.
    • Carl Sagan (1987) Keynote address at CSICOP conference, as quoted in Do Science and the Bible Conflict? (2003) by Judson Poling, p. 30
  • Shall error in the round of time
    Still father Truth?
  • The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error.
    • Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique portatif ("A Philosophical Dictionary") (1764), Rivers.
Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 176.
  • There have been errors in the administration of the most enlightened men.
  • Mistakes are the inevitable lot of mankind.
    • Jessel, M.R., In re Taylor's Estate; Tomlin v. Underhay (1882), L. R. 22 C. D. (1883), p. 503.
  • A mistake, as it seems to me, is none the less a mistake because it is made deliberately in the pursuance of a mistaken intention.
    • Lord Russell of Killowen, C.J., Linforth v. Butler (1898), L. R. 1 Q. B. D. 120.
  • I know but of one Being to whom error may not be imputed.

See also

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