September 22, 2021

April 2, 1865 – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”

On September 22, 1969, The Band released the great self-titled album that includes what became one of their most famous songs, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Like many songs by The Band, it was primarily written by lead guitarist Robbie Robertson, with creative contributions from the other Band members: Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel.

The haunting lyrics tell a tale about the final days of the American Civil War in 1865 as recalled by Virgil Caine, a fictitious Confederate soldier and farmer.

It opens with the plaintive voice of Helm, singing the now well-known words of the first verse.

Other Band members added harmonies on the chorus, which begins with the line that gave the song its title.

       “Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
       ‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again. 
       In the winter of ‘65, we were hungry, just barely alive. 
       By May the 10th, Richmond had fell,
it’s a time I remember oh so well. 
       The night they drove Old Dixie down...”

On The Band’s website, there’s an interesting in-depth article about the lyrics, compiled by teacher, author and music historian Peter Viney.

As it notes, Richmond had indeed already fallen by “May the 10th.” But that’s not the date when Richmond fell.

Richmond, Virginia — the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War — actually fell to Union troops on the night of April 2, 1865.

That night was, in many ways, the death knell for the Confederacy and the metaphorical “night they drove Old Dixie down.”

The fall of Richmond came after a long siege that started in 1864.

During those months, Union Army troops led by Gen. George Stoneman repeatedly tore up “the Danville tracks” and other railroad lines going to Richmond to keep supplies from reaching Confederate soldiers and civilians.

Meanwhile, at the orders of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the top Union commander, Gen. Phil Sheridan laid waste to the farmland surrounding Richmond. 

In The Penguin Book of The American Civil War, historian Bruce Catton wrote:

“A Federal army trying to take Richmond could never be entirely secure until the Confederates were deprived of all use of the (fertile and productive) Shenandoah Valley, and it was up to Sheridan to deprive them of it. Grant’s instructions were grimly specific. He wanted the rich farmlands so thoroughly despoiled that the place could no longer support a Confederate army; he told Sheridan to devastate the whole area so thoroughly that a crow flying across the Valley would have to carry its own rations. This Sheridan set out to do…Few campaigns in the war aroused more bitterness than this one.”

By late March of 1865, Confederate troops and citizens in Richmond were literally starving.

It was clear the city would soon fall.

So, on April 2, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, his Cabinet, and most of the remaining Confederate troops and civilians abandoned Richmond and fled south.

At the time, Richmond residents called it “Evacuation Sunday.”

Robbie Robertson gave it the more poignant name, “the night they drove Old Dixie down.” 

That day, Confederate soldiers were ordered to set fire to the armories and warehouses they left behind.

The fires spread, setting Richmond ablaze. They continued to burn into the night, devastating large areas of the city.

The “Fall of Richmond” led to a rapidly unfolding downward spiral for the South.

By April 9, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

On May 5, the Confederate Government was dissolved. The Civil War was officially over.

However, two final war-related events did occur on the May 10th date noted in The Band’s song.

On May 10, 1865, Union troops captured Jefferson Davis in Georgia.

By then, most Confederate troops had laid down their arms and accepted the amnesty terms offered by President Abraham Lincoln.

There were a few die-hards, like the notorious “Bushwhacker” William Quantrill, who kept up a guerrilla-style raids on Union towns.

But on same day Jefferson Davis was captured, Quantrill and his men were ambushed by Union troops in Kentucky and Quantrill fatally wounded. He lingered for almost a month before he finally died on June 6. 

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September 15, 2021

On today’s date, the Vulcan blessing “Live long and prosper” became part of our Earthly language…

You don’t have to be a full-fledged Trekkie to be familiar with the “Vulcan blessing” from Star Trek “Live long and prosper” — or with the splay-fingered “Vulcan salute” that is generally used when that saying is spoken.

Actor Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) made both famous by using them in his portrayal of the famed half-human, half-Vulcan Trek character Spock.

If you’re a knowledgeable fan of the original Star Trek television series, you may know the episode that introduced the Vulcan blessing and salute.

It’s titled “Amok Time” and it was first aired on September 15, 1967 (as Episode 1 of Season 2).

I remember watching “Amok Time” that night in ‘67 as a teenager and working to make my fingers split apart in proper Vulcan fashion.

Many Trek fans, including me, consider it one of the best episodes of the original series.

The script for “Amok Time” was written by the legendary science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon.

It’s one of three scripts Sturgeon wrote for Star Trek.

He also penned the script for the humorous “Shore Leave” episode from Season 1 and a script titled “Joy Machine” that was never produced.

In addition to being the first Trek episode to feature the Vulcan blessing and salute, “Amok Time” is the only episode of the original Trek series that includes scenes set on Vulcan, Spock’s home planet.

The Vulcan blessing and salute, and several other key elements of Vulcan culture featured in this episode, were used throughout the rest of the original series — and in the following Trek spin-off TV series and movies.

The most memorable initial use of the blessing and salute in “Amok Time” comes near the end of the episode.

As Spock prepares to leave the planet, he says to the female Vulcan leader, T’Pau (played by actress Celia Lovsky): “Live long, T’Pau, and prosper.”

T’Pau responds: “Live long and prosper, Spock.”

As they speak, they give each other the Vulcan salute.

In his 1975 autobiography, I Am Not Spock, and in several later interviews, Nimoy said he invented the Vulcan salute hand gesture for the “Amok Time” episode.

He said he based it on a traditional hand gesture used by Orthodox Jewish priests called the “the Priestly Blessing.” In Hebrew, the term is Birkat Kohanim.

Nimoy, who was Jewish, recalled seeing the gesture performed by priests during Synagogue services when he was a child and it stuck in his memory.

Traditionally, the priests, called Kohanim in Hebrew, perform the gesture with both hands raised.

They splay their fingers like the Vulcan salute, but use both hands. They raise their hands and bring their two thumbs together.

The resulting two-handed formation represents the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the way the thumbs and fingers look in the gesture.

That letter appears in both the name El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty God” and in the well-known Hebrew word Shalom (peace).

The spoken blessing the priests say when using the blessing hand gesture is translated in English as “Yahweh bless you, and guard you.”

A version of the blessing is noted in several places in the Old Testament chapters of the Bible. The most cited source is in Numbers 6:23-24.

In those verses, God says to Moses (in the King James translation): “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, / The LORD bless thee, and keep thee.”

It’s somewhat ironic that the female Vulcan T’Pau uses the Vulcanized version of the Jewish Priestly Blessing in “Amok Time.” According to Jewish tradition, only male priests may perform the Birkat Kohanim benediction. But, of course, that’s an Earth custom, not Vulcan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to the readers who emailed me noting that, although the exact saying “Live long and prosper” was popularized by its use in Star Trek, there are several similar earlier lines in literature. For example, in William Shakespeare's 1594 play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says to to his friend and servant Balthasar: “Live and be prosperous, and farewell, good fellow.” And, in the 1894 novel Trilby, author George Du Maurier has a character say of his friend “May he live long and prosper!”

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August 30, 2021

“The power of Christ compels you!” – and the power of BTS, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift

EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to, I write the blog. That one is also about quotations, but has a different format. focuses on the origins and context of famous quotations. uses a famous quote as a starting point, then lists some of what I think are funny, witty, or thoughtful variations on that quote. Every once in a while, for a change of pace, I reprint one of my posts on this blog. Here’s an example based on a famous movie line you probably know



“The power of Christ compels you!”
       The words from the Catholic “Rite of Exorcism” repeated multiple times by the characters Father Merrin and Father Damien (played by Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) in the movie The Exorcist (1973), as they try to exorcize the demon that possesses
Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). 
       You can watch the scene where they chant the line as Regan floats in the air above her bed by clicking
this link or the image at left.
       It still gives me goosebumps. 

Catholic exorcisim rite


“I adjure you, ancient depart from this servant of God, whom almighty God has made in His image. Yield, therefore, yield not to my own person but to the minister of Christ. For it is the power of Christ that compels you.” 
       Part of the official Catholic “Rite of Exorcism”
       The instructions for the rite explain that it should be used get rid of a demon in “the person possessed.” It adds the helpful tip that the afflicted party “should be bound if there is any danger.”



“Power of BTS Compels You: These BTS-Backed Phones Broke Pre-Order Records for Samsung.”  
       Headline of an August 2021 Rolling Stone magazine article about the surge in sales of Samsung mobile phones caused by the brand's use of the South Korean boy band BTS in promotional videos.

the power of Patty compels you       


“The power of Patty compels you!” 
       Line shouted by character Patty Tolan (played by Leslie Jones) in the
the 2016 version of the movie Ghostbusters.
       Patty yells this while slapping the face of her friend Abby Yates (actress Melissa McCarthy), in an attempt to exorcize the ghost that possesses Abby’s body.
       It works. After the ghost leaves, Abby quips: “Ow! That’s gonna leave a mark.”

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter DVD


“The Power of Christ Impales You!” 
       Ad tagline for the indie comedy-horror movie Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Robin Williams Weapons of Self Destruction


“The drugs make you so constipated, I thought they were gonna have to bring in a priest to do a f**king exorcism. ‘Demon turd, fall from his ass! The power of fiber compels you! The power of fiber compels you!’
       Robin Williams (1951-2014)
       American comedian and actor
       Riffing on the constipation caused by the pain medication he took after heart surgery, in his 2009 HBO special Weapons of Self-Destruction.

The Power of Kanye Compels You 2


       These words, spray-painted on a brick wall, gained attention when a photo
showing Taylor Swift standing next to them was posted in various places on the internet.
       Commenters on the photo debated whether it was the real Taylor Swift or an impersonator.
Either way, given her famous feud with Kanye West, it ‘s kinda funny.             

The Power of Taylor Compels You


A Photoshopped version of the Kanye graffiti a Taylor Swift fan posted on her blog, with the comment “Fixed it.”

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August 26, 2021

How August 26 became “Women’s Equality Day”

Each year since 1973, August 26th has been officially recognized as “Women’s Equality Day.”

It’s a commemoration of the final approval of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote in all local, state and national elections, says:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In the 1800s, some progressive states had granted local voting rights to women. By the middle of that century, women’s groups began pushing for federal legislation giving all women nationwide the right to vote in all local, state and national elections.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, confirmed that black men and men of all other races had full voting rights. However, that amendment did not include women.

Women’s suffrage groups had to push for a similar amendment covering women for many more decades.

A proposal that would eventually become the 19th Amendment was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1878. It was rejected. But women’s groups persisted.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association and National Woman's Party organized countless marches and demonstrations aimed at getting Congress to do the right thing.

Finally, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, who had previously opposed voting rights for women, announced that he’d changed his mind and supported the women’s suffrage amendment.

He said his new position was partly based on the fact that women were playing an increasingly significant role in supporting America’s involvement in World War I.

In October 1918, Wilson stated in an address to the Senate: “I regard the extension of suffrage to women as vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged.”

The president’s support, growing public awareness and acceptance of the evolving roles of women, and continued public pressure from suffragette groups eventually broke the logjam.

In May 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the amendment. The Senate followed suit in June.

As required by the U.S. Constitution, the amendment then required ratification by three-fourths of all state governments. That meant 36 states at the time. (Now it’s 38.)

By March of 1920, the legislatures of 35 states had ratified the amendment. Most southern states remained opposed.

Then, on August 18, 1920, the Tennessee legislature approved the amendment by one vote and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

So, if the amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, why was August 26 picked as Women’s Equality Day?

Because there was one final step in the process.

After a constitutional amendment has been ratified by the required number of states, it’s not official until it has been certified by the U.S. Secretary of State. At the time, that was Bainbridge Colby.

On August 26, 1920, Colby signed the proclamation that officially added the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

However, that date was not named “Women’s Equality Day” until five decades later.

In 1970, Bella Abzug, a prominent New York lawyer, feminist leader and Democratic activist, won the Congressional election for New York’s 19th District. In 1971, after taking her seat, Abzug submitted a House Resolution to designate August 26th as “Women’s Equality Day.”

The resolution didn’t pass that year. But in 1972, President Richard M. Nixon (who was more socially liberal than some of today’s Republican leaders), issued a Presidential Proclamation naming August 26, 1972 as “Women’s Rights Day.”

In 1973, Congress passed another version of Abzug’s resolution officially designating August 26th as “Women’s Equality Day.” 

Women’s Equality Day has been commemorated annually on that date ever since.

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August 08, 2021

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...”

On August 8, 1966, Capitol Records released the Beatles album Revolver in the United States. (In the UK, the LP was released by Parlophone on August 5.)

Revolver became an immediate chart-topper and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest albums in music history.

It includes several especially famous and popular Beatle songs, like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Here, There and Everywhere.”

Moreover, as a whole, Revolver was a watershed album for the Beatles and popular music — lyrically, musically and even technologically. (Some songs include recording effects never or rarely heard before on a mainstream pop album, like automatic double tracking, tape looping and flanging.)

Rock music historian and critic Richie Unterberger called it “one of the very first psychedelic LPs.”

One of the trippiest songs on the album is “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Written primarily by John Lennon, it is clearly an ode to the hallucinogenic drug LSD. (In 1972, Lennon openly referred to it as “my first psychedelic song.”)

Unlike some other songs on Revolver, few people can recall many of the lyrics from “Tomorrow Never Knows.”     

If you look for them on the Internet or in books, you’ll find several variations. Almost none have all the lyrics right.

But the famous first line — “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” — is well known, cited by thousands of websites and books and usually quoted correctly.

A year or more before they recorded Revolver, John and the other Beatles — Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — began experimenting with “acid,” like many other musicians who were on the cutting edge of rock music and pop culture in the mid-1960s.

As recounted in many books about the Beatles and psychedelic drugs, John got the opening words of the song from a guide for users of hallucinogens that was co-authored by the Acid King himself, Timothy Leary, with his fellow psychoactive drug pioneers Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass).

Titled The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it was published in 1964, a couple of years before Leary began using his catchphrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

In the introduction of the “manual,” Leary, Metzner and Alpert gave this advice to newbie LSD trippers who might feel a bit anxious when they saw the walls melting or felt like they were dying:

       “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream.”

They adapted that recommendation from a line in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an 8th century Buddhist text originally said to be a guide for people who actually were in the process of dying, prior to reincarnation.

That venerable book says that one stage in the process involves scary hallucinations, or “hell-visions.”

According to the translation in The Psychedelic Experience, the Book of the Dead helpfully explains:

       “The teaching concerning the hell-visions is the same as before; recognize them to be your own thought-forms, relax, float downstream.”

I can’t vouch for the translation or for how well this advice may work during the process of dying.

However, not long after the album Revolver was released, back in my Hippie days, I did do my own experimenting with LSD. And, in that context, I can say that the suggestion to relax and float downstream was pretty good advice.

In addition, having listened to “Tomorrow Never Knows” a thousand times or so, I can say that I’m pretty sure the correct lyrics are as follows (although, given the distortion effect used on Lennon’s voice, I can understand why there are several versions floating around):    

      “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
       It is not dying, it is not dying.
       Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,
       It is shining, it is shining.
       That you may see the meaning of within,
       It is being, it is being.
       That love is all and love is everyone,
       It is knowing, it is knowing.
       That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead,
       It is believing, it is believing.
       But listen to the color of your dream,
       It is not living, it is not living.

       Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
       Of the beginning, of the beginning.”

By the way, the title of the song has nothing to do with drugs or death or Tibetan Buddhism. Like “A Hard Day’s Night” it’s another Beatles song title that started out as a Ringo Starr malapropism.

During a 1964 interview, Ringo answered a question by saying “Tomorrow never knows.”

Lennon remembered the quip and later explained that he used it as the song’s title “to sort of take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.”

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July 30, 2021

Ron Popeil created the Veg-o-Matic and inspired the Bass-O-Matic (but didn’t say “It slices! It dices!”)

When Ron Popeil titled his 1995 autobiographical book The Salesman of the Century it was not the kind of exaggeration used in the “As seen on TV” style of ads he pioneered.

Ron was born in New York City in 1935. He’s the son of inventor Samuel Popeil, creator of the Chop-o-Matic food chopper and its ultimately more famous offspring, the Veg-o-Matic food chopper and slicer.

Ron Popeil began his career in the 1950s, by selling those kitchen wonders and other gadgets invented by his father in live demonstrations at retail stores and county fairs.

By 1960 the Sam Popeil-coined name Veg-o-Matic was on its way to becoming a household word.

On November 15, 1960, the family received a trademark registration for it.

Ron helped take the Chop-o-Matic and Veg-o-Matic to the next level by appearing in early TV infomercials promoting them, using the same demonstration techniques and rapid-fire pitchman patter he had honed working for his father.

Contrary to what many people believe, he did not say “It slices! It dices!” in the Veg-o-Matic commercials. I always thought he did myself until I did some more research.

As Popeil adamantly stated in his biography and in interviews that book sparked, he never uttered the words “It slices! It dices!” in any ads.

"The only lines I used on TV about slicing and dicing,” he wrote in the book, “had to do with onions: ‘When slicing or dicing onions, the only tears you'll shed are tears of joy.’”

However, Popeil also noted that in some pitches and print ads the Veg-o-Matic was described as the product that “slices and dices and juliennes to perfection.”

And, at some point, the words “SLICES AND DICES” began being used on the Veg-o-Matic box. Moreover, many current online ads for the product, which is still being sold, say:

The Ronco Veg-o-Matic is the one kitchen appliance you'll wonder how you ever did without! It slices, it dices, and so much more!”

So there is a connection between the Veg-o-Matic and the famous marketing phrase. It’s not just a figment of our imaginations.

In 1964, Ron created the Ronco company and went on to even greater fame and fortune.

During the following two decades, he invented or licensed a long list of Ronco products and perfected the “As seen on TV” approach to marketing them.

Some of the Ronco TV ads featured Ron himself, such as the one for GLH (short for “Good Looking Hair”), the much-mocked colored spray designed to cover bald spots on men’s (or women’s) heads.

Other Ronco commercials were announcer voiceover style demonstrations, showing the ingenious aspects of products like the Ronco Bottle and Jar Cutter, the Buttoneer, the Smokeless Ashtray, Mr. Microphone, the Salad Spinner, and the Pocket Fisherman.

Popeil, his products and his marketing approach inspired many imitators. Some Ronco products, like the Veg-o-Matic, were also licensed and further promoted in TV commercials by K-Tel, another pioneering “As seen on TV” company.

His Veg-o-Matic ads also inspired one of the greatest Saturday Night Live TV ad spoofs of all: the ”Bass-O-Matic” sketch performed by Dan Aykroyd on Episode 17 of Season 1.

In addition, Popeil led the way for later infomercial pitchmen like Billy Mays and Anthony “Sully” Sullivan.

He may not have been “the greatest” salesman of the 20th Century. But he certainly was one of them.

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June 21, 2021

“Luke, I am your father!” — the most famous movie misquote ever?

On May 21, 1980, The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the original Star Wars movie trilogy, had an initial release at a limited number of theaters in the US.

The nationwide release came nearly a month later on June 20, 1980.

Now called Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back since George Lucas decided to start producing Star Wars prequels, it’s still a favorite of many Star Wars fans — including me.

I can’t recall if I first saw The Empire Strikes Back at my local move theater in May or June of 1980.

But I know I went as soon as it was shown there, along with my daughter, who was already a Star Wars fan at age 6.

I vividly remember that, like other fans who saw it for the first time, my mind was blown by the shocking climactic scene in the huge air shaft of Cloud City on the planet Bespin, when Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) fights a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, with the voice overdubbed by James Earl Jones).

The first shocker in that scene (which you can watch in video clips online) is seeing Darth Vader cut off Luke’s right hand with his lightsaber.

Then Darth shocks viewers — and Luke — even more by saying he is Luke’s father.

Vader’s revelatory line is widely misquoted and often spoofed for comedic effect as: “Luke, I am your father!”

As serious Star Wars buffs know, Vader doesn’t say those exact words.

But somehow, the misquoted version took on a life of its own shortly after The Empire Strikes Back was released.

For example, a review in the June 28, 1980 edition of the Montana newspaper The Missoulian, says of the final fight scene between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader:

“Both are silent. After a few minutes, Luke’s hand is cut off and his lightsaber falls into a chasm surrounding him. Then all of a sudden Vader turns off his lightsaber and says ‘Luke, I am your father!’”

I’d guess that a review in a small Montana paper didn’t create the famous misquote.

I suspect it was floating around elsewhere in print and conversations in the weeks after the film was released.

At any rate, since 1980, “Luke, I am your father” has become one of the most familiar movie misquotations of all time.

Indeed, it’s often included in lists of top movie misquotes.

In case you can’t recall what Darth Vader really said, here’s a transcript of the exchange between him and Luke Skywalker with the actual “I am your father” quote.

DARTH VADER: “Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.”
“I’ll never join you!”
“If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father.”
LUKE: “He told me enough! He told me you killed him.”
DARTH: “No. I am your father.”

This freaks out Luke as much as it did audiences.

He cries: “No! That’s not true. That’s impossible!”

Then he pushes himself off into the void of the Cloud City air shaft, seemingly falling to his death.

Of course, Luke lived on.

In the highly unlikely event that you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t explain how he survived.

What also survived long after The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 is one of the most famous movie misquotes in the known universe.

Maybe the most famous.

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