Careful Words

action (n.)

action (v.)

action (adv.)

  When Demosthenes was asked what was the first part of oratory, he answered, "Action;" and which was the second, he replied, "Action;" and which was the third, he still answered, "Action."

Plutarch (46(?)-120(?) a d): Lives of the Ten Orators.

  You had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers draws out the harmony of the universe.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797): Reflections on the Revolution in France. Vol. iii. p. 277.

  In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.

Epictetus (Circa 60 a d): Discourses. Chap. xi.

  It is circumstance and proper measure that give an action its character, and make it either good or bad.

Plutarch (46(?)-120(?) a d): Life of Agesilaus II.

Statesman, yet friend to truth! of soul sincere,

In action faithful, and in honour clear;

Who broke no promise, serv'd no private end,

Who gain'd no title, and who lost no friend.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744): Epistle to Mr. Addison. Line 67.

A servant with this clause

Makes drudgery divine;

Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws

Makes that and th' action fine.

George Herbert (1593-1632): The Elixir.

  This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet. Act ii. Sc. 2.

Her father loved me; oft invited me;

Still question'd me the story of my life,

From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,

That I have passed.

I ran it through, even from my boyish days,

To the very moment that he bade me tell it:

Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,

Of moving accidents by flood and field,

Of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach,

Of being taken by the insolent foe

And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence

And portance in my travels' history;

Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,

Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven,

It was my hint to speak,—such was the process;

And of the Cannibals that each other eat,

The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads

Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear

Would Desdemona seriously incline.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Othello. Act i. Sc. 3.

Action is transitory,—a step, a blow;

The motion of a muscle, this way or that.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850): The Borderers. Act iii.

'T is not so above;

There is no shuffling, there the action lies

In his true nature.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 3.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep:

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to,—'t is a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover'd country from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 1.

  The materials of action are variable, but the use we make of them should be constant.

Epictetus (Circa 60 a d): How Nobleness of Mind may be consistent with Prudence. Chap. v.

  Every action is measured by the depth of the sentiment from which it proceeds.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Essays. First Series. Spiritual Laws.

Count that day lost whose low descending sun

Views from thy hand no worthy action done.

Author unknown.

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o'ersways their power,

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Sonnet lxv.

Count that day lost whose low descending sun

Views from thy hand no worthy action done.

Author unknown.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,

Or close the wall up with our English dead!

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility;

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger:

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): King Henry V. Act iii. Sc. 1.

With devotion's visage

And pious action we do sugar o'er

The devil himself.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 1.

  What the Puritans gave the world was not thought, but action.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884): Speech, Dec. 21, 1855.

  Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891): Among my Books. First Series. Rousseau and the Sentimentalists.

  Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 2.

  Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Coriolanus. Act i. Sc. 3.

O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:

For nought so vile that on the earth doth live

But to the earth some special good doth give,

Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use

Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;

And vice sometimes by action dignified.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Romeo and Juliet. Act ii. Sc. 3.