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Work that is pure toil, done solely for the sake of the money it earns, is also sheer drudgery because it is stultifying rather than self improving. ~ Mortimer Adler
The only difference as compared with the old, outspoken slavery is this, that the worker of today seems to be free because he is not sold once for all, but piecemeal by the day, the week, the year, and because no one owner sells him to another, but he is forced to sell himself in this way instead, being the slave of no particular person, but of the whole property-holding class. ~ Friedrich Engels

This page is for quotes regarding work.


Alphabetized by author
Work makes one free. ~ Lorenz Diefenbach
Being busy does not always mean real work. … Seeming to do is not doing. ~ Thomas Edison
Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. ~ Albert Einstein
The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them. ~ Robert Frost
One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. ~ Elbert Hubbard
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. ~ L. P. Jacks
99 hundreths of all the work done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary, or harmful and wicked. ~ Herman Melville
It has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself — a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others. ~ William Morris
Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine. ~ Nikola Tesla


  • Plato said that virtue has no master. If a person does not honor this principle and rejoice in it, but is purchasable for money, he creates many masters for himself.
  • Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself; he will not station himself before commonplace men.

Sixteenth century[edit]

  • It is a strange desire which men have, to seek power and lose liberty.
  • Men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves.
  • Adam was created righteous, acceptable, and without sin. He had no need from his labor in the garden to be made righteous and acceptable to God. Rather, the Lord gave Adam work in order to cultivate and protect the garden. This would have been the freest of all works because they were done simply to please God and not to obtain righteousness. … The works of the person who trusts God are to be understood in a similar manner. Through faith we are restored to paradise and created anew. We have no need of works in order to be righteous; however, in order to avoid idleness and so that the body might be cared for an disciplined, works are done freely to please God.
    • Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), M. Tranvik, trans. (Minneapolis: 2008), pp. 73-74.
  • It is always necessary that the substance or essence of a person be good before there can be any good works and that good works follow and proceed from a person who is already good. Christ says in Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” ... The fruit does not make the tree good or bad but the tree itself is what determines the nature of the fruit. In the same way, a person first must be good or bad before doing a good or bad work.
    • Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), M. Tranvik, trans. (Minneapolis: 2008), pp. 74-75.
  • Many have been deceived by outward appearances and have proceeded to write and teach about good works and how they justify without even mentioning faith. … Wearying themselves with many works, they never come to righteousness.
    • Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), M. Tranvik, trans. (Minneapolis: 2008), p. 75.

Seventeenth century[edit]

  • And still be doing, never done.

Eighteenth century[edit]

  • Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice and need.
    • Voltaire,Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759) Chapter 30. Conclusion.

Nineteenth century[edit]

  • Work is healthy, you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is rust upon the blade.
    • Henry Ward Beecher, as quoted in The Teachers' Institute, Vol. 18, No. 1 (September 1895), p. 16.
  • When God wanted sponges and oysters, He made them and put one on a rock and the other in the mud. When He made man, He did not make him to be a sponge or an oyster; He made him with feet and hands, and head and heart, and vital blood, and a place to use them, and He said to him, Go Work.
  • By the way,
    The works of women are symbolical.
    We sew, sew, prick our ringers, dull our sight,
    Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir,
    To put on when you're weary—or a stool
    To tumble over and vex you * * * curse that stool!
    Or else at best, a cushion where you lean
    And sleep, and dream of something we are not,
    But would be for your sake. Alas, alas!
    This hurts most, this * * * that, after all, we are paid
    The worth of our work, perhaps.
  • Get leave to work
    In this world,—'tis the best you get at all.
  • Let no one till his death
    Be called unhappy. Measure not the work
    Until the day's out and the labour done.
  • Free men freely work:
    Whoever fears God, fears to sit at ease.
  • Work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind — honest work, which you intend getting done.
    • Thomas Carlyle, On the Choice of Books : The Inaugural Address of Thomas Carlyle, Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh (1866).
  • The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.
  • The only difference as compared with the old, outspoken slavery is this, that the worker of today seems to be free because he is not sold once for all, but piecemeal by the day, the week, the year, and because no one owner sells him to another, but he is forced to sell himself in this way instead, being the slave of no particular person, but of the whole property-holding class.
  • Mark this well, you proud men of action: You are nothing but the unwitting agents of the men of thought who often, in quiet self-effacement, mark out most exactly all your doings in advance.
    • Heinrich Heine, History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, Vol. III (1834).
  • It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me; the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.
  • In the last analysis, what is the significance of life? If we divide mankind into two great classes, we may say that one works for a living, the other does not need to. But working for a living cannot be the meaning of life, since it would be a contradiction to say that the perpetual production of the conditions for subsistence is an answer to the question about its significance which, by the help of this, must be conditioned. The lives of the other class have in general no other significance than that they consume the conditions of subsistence. And to say that the significance of life is death, seems again a contradiction.
  • The philosophers of antiquity taught contempt for work, that degradation of the free man, the poets sang of idleness, that gift from the Gods.
    • Paul Lafargue, The Right to Be Lazy (1883), H. Kerr, trans. (1907), pp. 11-12.
  • The worker puts his life into the object; but now it no longer belongs to him, it belongs to the object.
    • Karl Marx, “Alienated Labor,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), The Potable Karl Marx (1983), p. 134.
  • The better shaped his product, the more mis-shapen the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbaric the worker; the more powerful the work, the more powerless the worker.
    • Karl Marx, “Alienated Labor,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), The Potable Karl Marx (1983), p. 135.
  • Labor produces marvels for the rich but it produces deprivation for the worker. It produces palaces, but hovels for the worker. It produces beauty, but deformity for the worker. It replaces labor by machines, but it throws one section of the workers back to barbaric labor, and it turns the remainder into machines.
    • Karl Marx, “Alienated Labor,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), The Potable Karl Marx (1983), p. 135.
  • What, then, constitutes the alienation of labor? First, in the fact that labor is external to the worker, that is, that it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel well but unhappy, does not freely develop his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker, therefore, feels himself only outside his work, and feels beside himself in his work. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His work therefore is not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means for satisfying needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that labor is shunned like the plague as soon as there is no physical or other compulsion.
    • Karl Marx, “Alienated Labor,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), The Potable Karl Marx (1983), p. 136.
  • True Work is the necessity of poor humanity's earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure. Besides, 99 hundreths of all the work done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary, or harmful and wicked.
    • Herman Melville, in a letter to Catherine G. Lansing (5 September 1877), published in The Melville Log : A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891 (1951) by Jay Leyda, Vol. 2, p. 765.
  • It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it — he is "employed," as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only "industrious" enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays — in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself — a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others. But as to those on whom they live, I recommend them not to take it on trust, but to look into the matter a little deeper.
    • William Morris, "Useful Work vs Useless Toil" (1885); later published in Signs of Change : Seven Lectures, Delivered on Various Occasions (1896).
  • It is of the nature of man, when he is not diseased, to take pleasure in his work under certain conditions. And, yet, we must say in the teeth of the hypocritical praise of all labour, whatsoever it may be, of which I have made mention, that there is some labour which is so far from being a blessing that it is a curse; that it would be better for the community and for the worker if the latter were to fold his hands and refuse to work, and either die or let us pack him off to the workhouse or prison — which you will.
    Here, you see, are two kinds of work — one good, the other bad; one not far removed from a blessing, a lightening of life; the other a mere curse, a burden to life.
    What is the difference between them, then ? This: one has hope in it, the other has not. It is manly to do the one kind of work, and manly also to refuse to do the other.
    • William Morris, "Useful Work vs Useless Toil" (1885); later published in Signs of Change : Seven Lectures, Delivered on Various Occasions (1896).
  • Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.
  • Looking for work in order to be paid: in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work. They are choosy, hard to satisfy, and do not care for ample rewards, if the work itself is not to be the reward of rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare breed, but so do even those men of leisure who spend their lives hunting, traveling, or in love affairs and adventures. All of these desire work and misery only if it is associated with pleasure, and the hardest, most difficult work if necessary. Otherwise their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure.
  • When men are rightly occupied, their amusement grows out of their work, as the colour-petals out of a fruitful flower;—when they are faithfully helpful and compassionate, all their emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. But now, having no true business, we pour our whole masculine energy into the false business of money-making; and having no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for us to play with, not innocently, as children with dolls, but guiltily and darkly.
  • Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction,—a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse.
  • It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

Twentieth century[edit]

  • Work that is pure toil, done solely for the sake of the money it earns, is also sheer drudgery because it is stultifying rather than self improving.
    • Mortimer Adler, A Vision of the Future : Twelve Ideas for a Better Life and a Better Society (1984).
  • I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve immortality through not dying.
    • Woody Allen, as quoted in Silent Strength (1990) by Lloyd John Ogilvie, p. 111.
  • The land of easy mathematics where he who works adds up and he who retires subtracts.
    • Núria Añó, in the short story 2066. Beginning the age of correction.
  • And the one carried in the current said, "I am no more messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure."
    • Richard Bach, Illusions : The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977).
  • The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.
    • Richard Bach, Illusions : The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977).
  • You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true.
    You may have to work for it, however.
    • Richard Bach, Illusions : The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977).
  • Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.
    • J. M. Barrie, as quoted in The new dictionary of thoughts: a Cyclopedia of Quotations (1930) edited by Tryon Edwards, C. N. Catrevas, Jonathan Edwards, and Ralph Emerson Browns.
  • You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play.
    • Warren Beatty, as quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why The Left Is Right (2004) by William Martin, p. 213.
  • Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven't planted.
    • David Bly, as quoted in Peace of Mind : Daily Meditations for Easing Stress (1995) by Amy Dean, p. 187.
  • I slip from workaholic to bum real easy.
    • Matthew Broderick, as quoted in Pooped Puppies : Life's Too Short To Work Like A Dog (2004), edited by Robin Haywood, p. 6.
  • How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?
    • Charles Bukowski, Factotum (1975).
  • When we see a great man desiring power instead of his real goal we soon recognize that he is sick, or more precisely that his attitude to his work is sick. He overreaches himself, the work denies itself to him, the incarnation of the spirit no longer takes place, and to avoid the threat of senselessness he snatches after empty power. This sickness casts the genius on to the same level as those hysterical figures who, being by nature without power, slave for power, in order that they may enjoy the illusion that they are inwardly powerful, and who in this striving for power cannot let a pause intervene, since a pause would bring with it the possibility of self-reflection and self-reflection would bring collapse.
  • Work — other people's work — is an intolerable idea to a cat. Can you picture cats herding sheep or agreeing to pull a cart? They will not inconvenience themselves to the slightest degree.
    • Louis J. Camuti, as quoted in On the Art of Business (2004) by James H Merkel and Abdul Wahad Al-Falaij, p. 257.
  • There's a time when you have to separate yourself from what other people expect of you, and do what you love. Because if you find yourself 50 years old and you aren't doing what you love, then what's the point?
    • Jim Carrey, as quoted in A Touch of Class (2003) by Carol Vanderheyden, p. 70.
  • The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.
  • Remember, work, well done, does good to the man who does it. It makes him a better man.
  • Work is the Rent we pay for our time on Earth.
  • Though thousands of people indulge themselves in it regularly, and even develop a taste for it, there is no doubt in my mind (and that of scientists whom I employ to prove it) that Work is a dangerous and destructive drug, and should be called by its right name, which is Fatigue.
  • I spent a busy day today, but got little done. This is because I am at last becoming perfect in the art of seeming busy, even when very little is going on in my head or under my hands. This is an art which every man learns, if he does not intend to work himself to death.
  • To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.
    • Bette Davis, The Lonely Life : An Autobiography (1962).
  • Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work.
    • Bette Davis, as quoted in The Quotable Woman, 1800-1975 (1977) by Elaine Partnow, p. 315.
  • Arbeit macht frei.
    • Work makes (one) free.
      • Title of a 1873 novel by Lorenz Diefenbach, which became an infamous slogan above the gates of several Nazi concentration camps.
  • The phrase "work-life balance" tells us that people think that work is the opposite of life. We should be talking about life-life balance.
  • No problem is insurmountable. With a little courage, teamwork and determination a person can overcome anything.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
    • Thomas Edison, as quoted in An Enemy Called Average (1990) by John L. Mason, p. 55.
  • Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.
    • Thomas Edison, as quoted in Ford Times, Vol. 6, (1912), p. 136.
  • I owe my success to the fact that I never had a clock in my workroom. Seventy-five of us worked twenty hours every day and slept only four hours — and thrived on it.
    • Thomas Edison, diary entry quoted in Defending and Parenting Children Who Learn Differently : Lessons from Edison's Mother (2007) by Scott Teel, p. 12.
  • When modern men and women insist that they feel completely free in their work, they are in a sense telling the truth, for the triumph of conformity lies in the crushing of all resistance, all experience of conflict.
  • Every individual should have the opportunity to develop the gifts which may be latent in him. Alone in that way can the individual obtain the satisfaction to which he is justly entitled; and alone in that way can the community achieve its richest flowering. For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.
    • Albert Einstein, as quoted in Educational Trends : Journal of Research and Interpretation (June 1936), p. 32.
  • If A equals success, then the formula is: A equals X plus Y plus Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.
    • Albert Einstein, as quoted in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Vol. 11, No. 7 (July 1957), p. 48
    • Variant: If A equals success, then the formula is: A = X + Y + Z, X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.
  • It's a living.
  • Peacefulness to be found in writing. Why do I not write every day? Partly because I feel I ought to write well and know I can't. But that is not a good enough reason for not writing, if it gains me poise & peace.
  • The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.
    • Robert Frost, as quoted in The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom (1958) edited by Herbert Victor Prochnow.
  • I need to wake out of my stupor and begin work. body stands frozen in a snow packed tundra waiting for rescue. It may take a few days before that happens, since my mind is on vacation in Alberta right now.
  • My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.
    • Indira Gandhi, as quoted in Taking Charge : Every Woman's Action Guide to Personal, Political and Professional Success (1996) by Joan Steinau Lester, p. 76.
  • If one man has a dollar he didn't work for, some other man worked for a dollar he didn't get.
    • Bill Haywood, Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood (1983) by Peter Carlson, p. 146
    • Paraphrased variant: For every man who gets a dollar he didn't sweat for, someone else sweated to produce a dollar he never received.
  • I believe that the best way to prepare for a Future Life is to be kind, live one day at a time, and do the work you can do best, doing it as well as you can.
    • Elbert Hubbard, "Credo", as published in A Message to Garcia, and Thirteen Other Things (1901), p. 6.
  • One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.
  • If you want work well done, select a busy man ‚ the other kind has no time.
  • The philosopher bent on the enlargement of experience perceives at once that his work cannot be done, cannot even be commenced, until he has cleared away the heaps of verbal detritus under which the bedrocks of experience lie buried.
  • We are the children of an age which spends the best energies of its life in the discussion of life, in an atmosphere of deferred fulfillment, continually postponing the act of living to the work of mentally preparing to live.
  • A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
    • L. P. Jacks, Education through Recreation (1932), p. 1.
  • In his discussion on slavery Aristotle said that when the shuttle wove by itself and the plectrum played by itself chief workmen would not need helpers nor masters slaves. At the time he wrote, he believed that he was establishing the eternal validity of slavery; but for us today he was in reality justifying the existence of the machine. Work, it is true, is the constant form of man's interaction with his environment, if by work one means the sum total of exertions necessary to maintain life; and the lack of work usually means an impairment of function and a breakdown in organic relationship that leads to substitute forms of work, such as invalidism and neurosis. But work in the form of unwilling drudgery or of that sedentary routine which... the Athenians so properly despised—work in these forms is the true province of machines. Instead of reducing human beings to work-mechanisms, we can now transfer the main part of burden to automatic machines. This potentially... is perhaps the largest justification of the mechanical developments of the last thousand years.
  • Vision is where tomorrow begins, for it expresses what you and others who share the vision will be working hard to create. Since most people don't take the time to think systematically about the future, those who do, and who base their strategies and actions on their visions, have inordinate power to shape the future.
  • Early to bed,
    Early to rise,
    Work like hell —
    And advertise!
    • "Old slogan" quoted in The National Provisioner, Vol. 44 (June 1911), p. 35; this has since become misattributed to many people who might have quoted it.
  • I found it hard working really long hours when I was my own boss. The boss kept giving me the afternoon off.
    • Jack Torrance played by Jack Nicholson, The Shining screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
  • A man succeeds in completing a work only when his qualities transcend that work.
  • These bygone workmen did not serve, they worked. They had an absolute honor, which is honor proper. A chair rung had to be well made. That was an understood thing. That was the first thing. It wasn’t that the chair rung had to be well made for the salary or on account of the salary. It wasn’t that it was well made for the boss, nor for connoisseurs, nor for the boss’ clients. It had to be well made itself, in itself, for itself, in its very self. A tradition coming, springing from deep within the race, a history, an absolute, an honor, demanded that this chair rung be well made. Every part of the chair which could not be seen was just as perfectly made as the parts which could be seen. The was the selfsame principal of cathedrals. … There was no question of being seen or of not being seen. It was the innate being of work which needed to be well done.
    • Charles Péguy, Basic Verities, A. & J. Green, trans. (New York: 1943), pp. 82-85
  • Don't sacrifice your life to work and ideals. The most important things in life are human relations. I found that out too late.
  • The trouble with Opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.
  • For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
  • Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.
  • Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
  • I won't take my religion from any man who never works except with his mouth and never cherishes any memory except the face of the woman on the American silver dollar.
    I ask you to come through and show me where you're pouring out the blood of your life.
    • Carl Sandburg, "To a Contemporary Bunkshooter", Chicago Poems (1916), p. 63.
  • When I was young I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.
    • George Bernard Shaw, as quoted in Appropriate Technology : A Focus for the Nineties (1991) by Robert William Stevens.
  • Nobody would work for starvation wages if he were not in a situation in which he preferred such wages to not working at all.
  • All work done mindfully rounds us out, helps complete us as persons.
  • My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes to us in dreams.
  • We have lost the old love of work, of work which kept itself company, which was fair weather and music in the heart, which found its reward in the doing, craving neither the flattery of vulgar eyes nor the gold of vulgar men.
  • Work is valued by the social value of the worker.
  • The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get running
It's the best years of your life they want to steal.
  • Laborare est orare. [To work is to pray.] By the Puritan moralist the ancient maxim is repeated with a new and intenser significance. The labor which he idealizes is not simply a requirement imposed by nature, or a punishment for the sin of Adam. It is itself a kind of ascetic discipline, more rigorous than that demanded of any order of mendicants—a discipline imposed by the will of God, and to be undergone, not in solitude, but in the punctual discharge of secular duties. It is not merely an economic means, to be laid aside when physical needs have been satisfied. It is a spiritual end, for in it alone can the soul find health, and it must be continued as an ethical duty long after it has ceased to be a material necessity.
    • R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), p. 242
  • I am credited with being one of the hardest workers and perhaps I am, if thought is the equivalent of labour, for I have devoted to it almost all of my waking hours. But if work is interpreted to be a definite performance in a specified time according to a rigid rule, then I may be the worst of idlers. Every effort under compulsion demands a sacrifice of life-energy. I never paid such a price. On the contrary, I have thrived on my thoughts.
    • Nikola Tesla, in "My Inventions" first published in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919); republished as My Inventions : The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (1983).
  • Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.
    • Nikola Tesla, on patent controversies regarding the invention of Radio and other things, as quoted in "A Visit to Nikola Tesla" by Dragislav L. Petković in Politika (April 1927); as quoted in Tesla, Master of Lightning (1999) by Margaret Cheney, Robert Uth, and Jim Glenn, p. 73 ISBN 0760710058  ; also in Tesla: Man Out of Time (2001) by Margaret Cheney, p. 230 ISBN 0743215362
  • The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes.
    • Nikola Tesla, "Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World", Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934).
  • The bourgeoisie first betrayed society through capitalism and finance, and now labor betrays it by embracing a scheme of things which sees profit only, not duty and honor, in work. This view will seem hopelessly unrealistic to those who do not admit that sentiment toward the whole is the only ultimate means of measuring value.
  • That curious modern hypostatization “service” is often called in to substitute for the now incomprehensible doctrine of vocation. It tries to secure subordination by hypothesizing something larger than the self, which turns out, however, to be only a multitude of selfish selves. The familiar change from quality to quantity may again be noted; one serves not the higher part of the self (this entails hierarchy) … but merely consumer demand. And who admires those at the top of a hierarchy of consumption? Man as a consuming animal is thus seen to be not enough.
  • It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit.
    • Robert Yates, as quoted in The Team Selling Solution : Creating and Managing Teams That Win (2003) by Steve Waterhouse, p. 51.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 907-11.
  • Tools were made and born were hands,
    Every farmer understands.
  • Hâtez-vous lentement; et, sans perdre courage,
    Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage.
    • Hasten slowly, and without losing heart, put your work twenty times upon the anvil.
    • Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, L'Art Poétique (1674), I, 171.
  • The dog that trots about finds a bone.
    • George Borrow, Bible in Spain, Chapter XLVII. (Cited as a gipsy saying).
  • The best verse hasn't been rhymed yet,
    The best house hasn't been planned,
    The highest peak hasn't been climbed yet,
    The mightiest rivers aren't spanned;
    Don't worry and fret, faint-hearted,
    The chances have just begun
    For the best jobs haven't been started,
    The best work hasn't been done.
  • It is the first of all problems for a man to find out what kind of work he is to do in this universe.
  • Genuine Work alone, what thou workest faithfully, that is eternal, as the Almighty Founder and World-Builder himself.
  • All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work is alone noble.
  • With hand on the spade and heart in the sky
    Dress the ground and till it;
    Turn in the little seed, brown and dry,
    Turn out the golden millet.
    Work, and your house shall be duly fed:
    Work, and rest shall be won;
    I hold that a man had better be dead
    Than alive when his work is done.
  • Earned with the sweat of my brows.
  • Quanto mas que cada uno es hijo de sus obras.
    • The rather since every man is the son of his own works.
    • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605-15), Book I, Chapter 4.
  • Each natural agent works but to this end,—
    To render that it works on like itself.
  • Ther n' is no werkman whatever he be,
    That may both werken wel and hastily.
    This wol be done at leisure parfitly.
  • Nowher so besy a man as he ther was,
    And yet he semed bisier than he was.
  • Let us take to our hearts a lesson—
    No lesson could braver be—
    From the ways of the tapestry weavers
    On the other side of the sea.
  • Penelopæ telam retexens.
    • Unravelling the web of Penelope.
    • Cicero, Acad. Quæst, Book IV. 29. 95.
  • All Nature seems at work, slugs leave their lair—
    The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
    And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
    Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
    And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
    Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
  • Every man's work shall be made manifest.
    • I Corinthians, III. 13.
  • Work thou for pleasure—paint or sing or carve
    The thing thou lovest, though the body starve—
    Who works for glory misses oft the goal;
    Who works for money coins his very soul.
    Work for the work's sake, then, and it may be
    That these things shall be added unto thee.
  • Better to wear out than to rust out.
    • Bishop Cumberland, to one who urged him not to wear himself out with work. See Horne, Sermon on the Duty of Contending for the Truth. Boswell, Tour to the Hebrides, p. 18. Note. Said by George Whitefield, according to Southey, Life of Wesley, II, p. 170. (Ed. 1858).
  • The Lord had a job for me, but I had so much to do,
    I said, "You get somebody else—or wait till I get through."
    I don't know how the Lord came out, but He seemed to get along:
    But I felt kinda sneakin' like, 'cause I know'd I done Him wrong.
    One day I needed the Lord—needed Him myself—needed Him right away,
    And He never answered me at all, but I could hear Him say
    Down in my accusin' heart, "Nigger, I'se got too much to do,
    You get somebody else or wait till I get through."
  • All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
    • Ecclesiastes. I. 8.
  • The grinders cease because they are few.
    • Ecclesiastes, XII. 3.
  • All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.
  • 'Tis toil's reward, that sweetens industry,
    As love inspires with strength the enraptur'd thrush.
  • Too busy with the crowded hour to fear to live or die.
  • A woman's work, grave sirs, is never done.
    • Mr. Eusden, Poem, Spoken at a Cambridge Commencement.
  • Chacun son métier;
    Les vaches seront bien gardées.
    • Each one to his own trade; then would the cows be well cared for.
    • Florian, Le Vacher et le Garde-chasse.
  • A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.
  • Handle your tools without mittens.
  • Plough deep while sluggards sleep.
  • "Men work together," I told him from the heart,
    "Whether they work together or apart."
  • In every rank, or great or small,
    'Tis industry supports us all.
    • John Gay, Man, Cat, Dog, and Fly, line 63.
  • In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.
    • Genesis, III. 19.
  • So eine Arbeit wird eigentlich nie fertig; man muss sie für fertig erklären, wenn man nach Zeit und Umstand das Möglichste getan hat.
    • Properly speaking, such work is never finished; one must declare it so when, according to time and circumstances, one has done one's best.
    • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italienische Reise (March 16, 1787).
  • He that well his warke beginneth
    The rather a good ende he winneth.
  • A warke it ys as easie to be done
    As tys to saye Jacke! robys on.
    • James Halliwell-Phillipps, Archæological Dictionary. Quoted from an old Play. See Grose—Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar tongue. Hudson, the English singer, made popular the refrain, "Before ye could cry 'Jack Robinson.'"
  • Joy to the Toiler!—him that tills
    The fields with Plenty crowned;
    Him with the woodman's axe that thrills
    The wilderness profound.
  • Haste makes waste.
  • The "value" or "worth" of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power.
  • Light is the task when many share the toil.
    • Homer, The Iliad, Book XII, line 493. Bryant's translation.
  • The fiction pleased; our generous train complies,
    Nor fraud mistrusts in virtue's fair disguise.
    The work she plyed, but, studious of delay,
    Each following night reversed the toils of day.
    • Homer, The Odyssey, Book XXIV, line 164. Pope's translation.
  • When Darby saw the setting sun
    He swung his scythe, and home he run,
    Sat down, drank off his quart and said,
    "My work is done, I'll go to bed."
    "My work is done!" retorted Joan,
    "My work is done! Your constant tone,
    But hapless woman ne'er can say
    'My work is done' till judgment day."
  • Facito aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum.
    • Keep doing some kind of work, that the devil may always find you employed.
    • St. Jerome.
  • I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.
  • Tho' we earn our bread, Tom,
    By the dirty pen,
    What we can we will be,
    Honest Englishmen.
    Do the work that's nearest
    Though it's dull at whiles,
    Helping, when we meet them,
    Lame dogs over stiles.
    • Charles Kingsley, Letter. To Thomas Hughes (1856), inviting Hughes and Tom Taylor to go fishing. See Memoirs of Kingsley, by his wife, Chapter XV.
  • For men must work and women must weep,
    And the sooner it's over the sooner to sleep,
    And good-bye to the bar and its moaning.
  • But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,
    We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, Amen.
  • The gull shall whistle in his wake, the blind wave break in fire.
    He shall fulfill God's utmost will, unknowing His desire,
    And he shall see old planets pass and alien stars arise,
    And give the gale his reckless sail in shadow of new skies.
    Strong lust of gear shall drive him out and hunger arm his hand,
    To wring his food from a desert nude, his foothold from the sand.
    • Rudyard Kipling, The Fareloper (Interloper). Pub. in Century Magazine, April, 1909. First pub. in London Daily Telegraph, Jan. 1, 1909. Title given as Vortrekker in his Songs From Books.
  • And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
    And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame;
    But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
    Shall draw the Thing as he sees It, for the God of Things as They Are!
  • And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed—they know the angels are on their side;
    They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied;
    They sit at the Feet, they hear the Word, they see how truly the Promise runs;
    They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!
  • Who first invented work, and bound the free
    And holyday-rejoicing spirit down * * *
    To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood? * * *
    Sabbathless Satan!
  • The finest eloquence is that which gets things done; the worst is that which delays them.
  • Unemployment, with its injustice for the man who seeks and thirsts for employment, who begs for labour and cannot get it, and who is punished for failure he is not responsible for by the starvation of his children—that torture is something that private enterprise ought to remedy for its own sake.
  • Never idle a moment, but thrifty and thoughtful of others.
  • No man is born into the world whose work
    Is not born with him; there is always work,
    And tools to work withal, for those who will;
    And blessed are the horny hands of toil!
    • James Russell Lowell, A Glance Behind the Curtain, line 202. "Horny-handed sons of toil." Popularized by Denis Kearney (Big Denny), of San Francisco.
  • Divisum sic breve fiet opus.
    • Work divided is in that manner shortened.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book IV. 83. 8.
  • Why do strong arms fatigue themselves with frivolous dumb-bells? To dig a vineyard is a worthier exercise for men.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XIV, Epigram 49.
  • God be thank'd that the dead have left still
    Good undone for the living to do—
    Still some aim for the heart and the will
    And the soul of a man to pursue.
  • I am of nothing and to nothing tend,
    On earth I nothing have and nothing claim,
    Man's noblest works must have one common end,
    And nothing crown the tablet of his name.
    • Thomas Moore, Ode upon Nothing. Appeared in Saturday Magazine about 1836. Not in Collected Works.
  • Has it ever been really noted to what extent a genuinely religious life … requires a leisure class, or half-leisure—I mean leisure with a good conscience, from way back, by blood, to which the aristocratic feeling that work disgraces is not altogether alien—the feeling that it makes soul and body common. And that consequently our modern, noisy, time-consuming industriousness, proud of itself, stupidly proud, educates and prepares people, more than anything else does, precisely for “unbelief.”
    • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, W. Kauffman, trans. (New York: 1992), § 58.
  • The uselessness of men above sixty years of age and the incalculable benefit it would be in commercial, in political, and in professional life, if as a matter of course, men stopped work at this age.
    • William Osler, address, at Johns Hopkins University (Feb. 22, 1905).
  • Study until twenty-five, investigation until forty, profession until sixty, at which age I would have him retired on a double allowance.
    • William Osler. The statement made by him which gave rise to the report that he had advised chloroform after sixty. Denied by him in Medical Record (March 4, 1905).
  • Many hands make light work.
    • William Patten. Expedition into Scotland (1547). In Arber's Reprint of 1880.
  • Ease and speed in doing a thing do not give the work lasting solidity or exactness of beauty.
  • Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
    • Psalms. CIV. 23.
  • When Adam dalfe and Eve spane
    So spire if thou may spede,
    Where was then the pride of man,
    That nowe merres his mede?
  • How bething the, gentliman,
    How Adam dalf, and Eve span.
    • Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century. British Museum.
  • When Adam dolve, and Eve span,
    Who was then the gentleman?
    • Lines used by John Ball in Wat Tyler's Rebellion. See Hume, History of England, Volume I, Chapter XVII. Note 8. So Adam reutte, und Eva span, Wer war da ein eddelman? (Old German saying).
  • Der Mohr hat seine Arbeit gethan, der Mohr kann gehen.
  • Hard toil can roughen form and face,
    And want can quench the eye's bright grace.
  • What work's, my countrymen, in hand? where go you
    With bats and clubs? The matter? speak, I pray you.
  • Why, universal plodding poisons up
    The nimble spirits in the arteries,
    As motion and long-during action tires
    The sinewy vigour of the traveller.
  • A man who has no office to go to—I don't care who he is—is a trial of which you can have no conception.
  • I am giving you examples of the fact that this creature man, who in his own selfish affairs is a coward to the backbone, will fight for an idea like a hero…. I tell you, gentlemen, if you can shew a man a piece of what he now calls God's work to do, and what he will later call by many new names, you can make him entirely reckless of the consequences to himself personally.
  • A day's work is a day's work, neither more nor less, and the man who does it needs a day's sustenance, a night's repose, and due leisure, whether he be painter or ploughman.
  • How many a rustic Milton has passed by,
    Stifling the speechless longings of his heart,
    In unremitting drudgery and care!
    How many a vulgar Cato has compelled
    His energies, no longer tameless then,
    To mould a pin, or fabricate a nail!
  • Nothing can be done at once hastily and prudently.
  • Ne laterum laves.
    • Do not wash bricks. (Waste your labor).
    • Terence, Phormio, I, IV. 9. A Greek proverb.
  • A workman that needeth not to be ashamed.
    • II Timothy, II. 15.
  • Heaven is blessed with perfect rest but the blessing of earth is toil.
  • Too long, that some may rest,
    Tired millions toil unblest.
  • But when dread Sloth, the Mother of Doom, steals in,
    And reigns where Labour's glory was to serve,
    Then is the day of crumbling not far off.
  • In books, or work, or healthful play.
  • There will be little drudgery in this better ordered world. Natural power harnessed in machines will be the general drudge. What drudgery is inevitable will be done as a service and duty for a few years or months out of each life; it will not consume nor degrade the whole life of anyone.
    • H. G. Wells, Outline of History, Chapter XLI. Par. 4.
  • Thine to work as well as pray,
    Clearing thorny wrongs away;
    Plucking up the weeds of sin,
    Letting heaven's warm sunshine in.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)[edit]

  • The day is short, the labor long, the workers are idle, and reward is great, and the Master is urgent.
    • Aboth, 2:15, saying of Rabbi Tarfon. Pirkay Avot, often known in English as the "Chapters of the Fathers", is the best known of the books of the Mishnah, first part of the Talmud. Translations vary; that above is from A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, ed. Joseph L. Baron, p. 277 (1956).
  • Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.
    • Attributed to Sir James Matthew Barrie, The International Encyclopedia of Quotations, comp. John P. Bradley, Leo F. Daniels, and Thomas C. Jones, p. 781 (1978). Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • The most unhappy of all men is the man who cannot tell what he is going to do, who has got no work cut-out for him in the world, and does not go into it. For work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind,—honest work, which you intend getting done.
    • Thomas Carlyle, inaugural address as rector of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, April 2, 1866.—Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, vol. 6 (vol. 29 of The Works of Thomas Carlyle), p. 455 (1899, reprinted 1969).
  • Do the day's work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don't be a stand-patter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don't be a demagogue. Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don't hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.
    • Calvin Coolidge, speech to the Massachusetts state Senate on being elected its president, Boston, Massachusetts, January 7, 1914.—Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts, p. 7–8 (1919).
  • Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.
    • Eric Hoffer, "Thoughts of Eric Hoffer", Including: 'Absolute Faith Corrupts Absolutely,'" The New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1971, p. 55.
  • If you work for a man, in heaven's name work for him!<br.If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him—speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents.
    I think if I worked for a man I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give an undivided service or none.
    If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
    • Elbert Hubbard, "Get Out or Get in Line", Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard, p. 59–60 (1928).
  • In the Great Society, work shall be an outlet for man's interests and desires. Each individual shall have full opportunity to use his capacities in employment which satisfies personally and contributes generally to the quality of the Nation's life.
    • Lyndon B. Johnson, Manpower Report of the President, March 5, 1965. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, book 1, p. 262.
  • I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.
    • Attributed to Helen Keller, Charles L. Wallis, The Treasure Chest, p. 240 (1983). Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • As good play for nothing, you know, as work for nothing.
    • Sir Walter Scott, letter to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, December 30, 1808.—John Gibson Lockhart, The Life of Sir Walter Scott, vol. 3, p. 144 (1902, reprinted 1983). Another use of this proverb was attributed, in an obituary, to [[Sir Alexander Cockburn, Lord Chief Justice of England. "He subsequently acquired a large practice in London in railway and election cases. Although he did his best for his clients, he was careful that they should do their duty by him, and the story is told that on one occasion, when an election committee met, Mr. Cockburn, the counsel for one of the parties, was absent because his fee had not accompanied the brief and the only message left was that he had gone to the Derby, with the remark that 'a man might as well play for nothing as work for nothing.'" Canada Law Journal, January 1, 1881, p. 11.
  • You must obey this now for a Law, that he that will not worke shall not eate (except by sicknesse he be disabled:) for the labours of thirtie or fortie honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintaine an hundred and fiftie idle loyterers.
    • Captain John Smith, advice to his company when he was governor of Jamestown Colony, Virginia, 1608.—Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles, vol. 1, chapter 10, p. 174 (1907). The preceding paragraph notes that "six houres each day was spent in worke, the rest in Pastime and merry exercises, but the untowardnesse of the greatest number caused the President [to] advise as followeth".

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