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A Little Happier: A Single Letter Reverses the Meaning of This Quotation from Leonardo da Vinci.


Ever since I was a child, one of my favorite occupations has been to copy down my favorite quotations. For years, I handwrote these passages in what I called my “blank books.” At some point, I switched to typing, and now I have two giant documents filled with my favorite quotations, as well as collections of quotations related to particular subjects, such as the nature of biography, color, and of course, happiness.

Because I love identifying and copying quotations so much, I take great pleasure in sending out my free, daily “Moment of Happiness” newsletter, where I highlight one of my favorite quotations each day.

Because I do spend a lot of time collecting, copying, and re-reading quotations, I have fragments of beautiful writing knocking around in my head at all times.

In my reading, I’ve noticed how often visual artists are also great writers. For instance, in his Notebooks (Amazon, Bookshop), Leonardo da Vinci wrote: "Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind." "It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end." And also "Human subtlety…will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does Nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous."

In the past, for years, I was haunted by an illuminating observation by Leonardo da Vinci, also from his Notebooks: "Intellectual passion drives our sensuality."

Well, in checking that quotation, I discovered that for all this time, I've been pondering something I mis-read, or at least mis-typed, years ago. The actual quotation is "Intellectual passion drives out sensuality."

Exactly the opposite meaning!

It’s astonishing how changing just one letter—changing an “r” to a “t”—can alter the entire meaning of the line.

I think it’s thought-provoking in both versions, but I have to say, I think my version is far superior. I've improved on Leonardo da Vinci.

With whom do you agree?

  • Leonardo da Vinci: Intellectual passion drives out sensuality
  • Gretchen Rubin: Intellectual passion drives our sensuality

Perhaps they’re both true.

Do you have quotations that run through your head? Let me know—I do love quotations.

If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, click here and then select "Moment of Happiness."

Quote From the Podcast

Intellectual passion drives out sensuality.
Leonardo da Vinci

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