Susan Ratcliffe

Articles by Susan Ratcliffe

November leaves

Bringing warmth and cheerfulness to November

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member— No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,— November! That was the poet Thomas Hood’s view of November in 1844, and things don’t seem to have improved much in 168 years. So here to add […]

Taking the credit

Taking the credit

October 16 is the anniversary of the birthday of Oscar Wilde, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography simply as ‘writer’ but also one of the stalwarts of dictionaries of quotations. Indeed, he even appears as the subject of some quotations – as Dorothy Parker said: If, with the literate, I am Impelled to […]

royal quotations

‘The glory of my crown’: royal quotations past and present

With the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in full swing, it is perhaps a good moment to look back at some other long-serving monarchs of the British Isles. Inevitably, those who rule for a long time come to the throne early: Queen Victoria was 18 at her accession, and was described by Thomas […]

‘If you want anything said, ask Mrs Thatcher’

10 Downing Street

In May 1979 the United Kingdom elected its first female Prime Minister, in spite of her own comment ten years earlier: ‘No woman in my time will be Prime Minister or Chancellor or Foreign Secretary—not the top jobs. Anyway I wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister. You have to give yourself 100%’. A few years […]


Die, my dear Doctor, that’s the last thing I shall do!

‘Famous last words’ in the literal sense means someone’s final remarks before they die, but the phrase is often said as an ironic comment on an overconfident assertion that may later be proved wrong. A classic example of the two senses combined is the case of the Union general John Sedgwick, whose last words immediately […]


It’s a quotation! It’s a proverb! It’s a phrase!

Superman himself would often have problems deciding whether a saying is a quotation, a proverb, or a phrase. The lines are blurred: a proverb can be defined as ‘a short, well-known pithy saying’, but a quotation is ‘a group of words repeated by someone other than the original author’ and in any case a phrase […]

Quotations for every occasion

Henry VIII

One of the most interesting aspects of working with quotations is seeing how words from one occasion are applicable to another. The recent controversy over the sale of Forestry Commission land brought to mind the words of the poet William Blake, writing over 200 years ago: ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy […]