Mark Twain’s wit and wisdom are still very much with us more than one hundred years after his passing in 1910 (perfectly timed with Halley’s Comet, which also happened to coincide with his birth in 1835). A man who wore many hats, Twain was considered the greatest American humorists of his age.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Twainisms’, Twain’s musings and aphorisms will be familiar to many. Some of these quotes have also been misattributed to him, including this one: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” It couldn’t be further from Twain, who was known for his sharp wit (as an example, he once said that “the problem with the world isn’t that there are too many fools, it’s that lightning isn’t distributed properly”).

Here’s a collection of some favorite Twainisms, some found online, and some from the book Mark Twain’s Helpful Hints for Good Living, a quintessential and “eccentric etiquette guide for the human race”:

  • “Always obey your parents, when they are present… Most parents think they know better than you do; and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgement.”
  • “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
  • “You will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”
  • “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”
  • “Courage… is mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
  • “No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
  • “When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.”

Twain proved that you can dispense legitimate life-wisdom and maintain a sense of humor. In contrast, as highlighted by an article on The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman, the field of self-help is all very earnest, with “grinning gurus preaching happiness” and taking themselves seriously. Acerbic wit and laughter doesn’t fit in, except, of course, it does. “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all,” said Twain. “The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

Image attribute/source: Mark Twain /

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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