Linguistics Paper on Hidden Meanings in Quotes

Hidden Meanings in Quotes


The use of hidden meaning is one of the most recognized features of clauses, famous quotes and sayings throughout the world. Hidden clauses are often used for different purposes depending on the context of communication, the intended message and the target audience. They are also used to convey meanings where the desired implications would not be achieved through common talk. It is therefore quintessential to find hidden meanings in the media; print and electronic, in oral communications as well as in various other forms of art. Despite this common use of hidden meanings however, very few research articles address the importance or relevance of hidden meaning since they focus on the clause with hidden meaning itself. It is thus crucial for the subject to be explored beyond mere consideration of the clauses themselves.

Many studies have focused on hidden meanings in media representations. However, there are more hidden meanings implied in famous quotes. This has resulted in an information gap with reference to hidden meanings in clauses and famous quotes. Because of this, the present research aims at exploring certain clauses for hidden meaning and presenting these hidden meanings to the public through this report. As such, the study will be guided by a research question which is: How is hidden meaning manifested in various clauses? The study will involve an evaluation of about 20 wise sayings which have been associated with hidden meaning. The meanings in the said clauses will be explored through a review of literature as well as through critical thinking.

Literature Review

Although some studies have been carried out on the hidden meanings in media presentations, there are currently no published articles on hidden meanings in clauses. Authors suggest that there are several reasons and implications or the use of hidden meanings in media. According to a report by Chase, hidden meanings are used in media discourses by presenters as well as those who provide news items for the media. For instance, during media interviews, it is probable to find the interviewees using hidden meanings in their communications. The objectives for using hidden meanings in such contexts are defined to be two way. First, the interviewees and other personnel who provide news for media publication may use clauses with hidden meanings in order to forward their own agenda (Chase, n.d). In such a case, the hidden meaning is implied where the communication may be received by others in a context in which a direct presentation of the intended meaning may not be welcomed.

While agreeing with the concept of using hidden meanings in clauses to portray individual agendas, Alan (2010) further suggest that a critical discourse analysis process can be used in analyzing media presentations for hidden meanings. In such a scenario, hidden meanings may be used to display messages that require critical thinking. There are other purposes that are assigned to hidden meanings in literature besides the aforementioned. From an article by Krasuska (2016) hidden meanings used in various works of literary nature are used to draw the attention of the readers towards the discernment of hidden values and for educative purposes.

According to a Fadaee, literary text is meant to say much through very few words (2011). As such, the effectiveness of literary texts such as poetry, famous quotes, stories and others is improved through the use of figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, symbolism and allegory. While allegories are most often used in stories, the other figures of speech are prevalent in other forms of literary writing. The figures of speech hide great meaning behind a few words and can be used to communicate a lot. Harris and Tolmie describe symbolism as the use of something to represent another (2011). In the same discourse, an allegory is described as a genre that derives from the cognitive capabilities of the listeners and readers while using devices such as topification and personification. A perfect example of an allegory is the story “Animal Farm.” Metaphors and similes use comparison to bring out deeper meaning in speech, rhetorical and other literary genres. Famous quotes are some of the speech forms of literature that derive a lot from the figures of speech in order to display inner meaning (Harris & Tolmie, 2011).

However, Krasuska suggests that in most societies in modern times, the use of famous quotes has been associated with the traditional or the old age. In spite of this, she asserts that famous quotes can and still do satisfy their intended objectives in the implication of messages. This explain additional reports by the same author that famous quotes have both universal appeal and order, and are continuously being created in different contexts to suit intended purposes. Famous quotes increase the vivacity of speech and its importance as a tool for language use. Similarly, famous quotes are described as short and brief as well as capable of providing great teachings through the exploration of their hidden meanings. Through hidden meanings, famous quotes express information similar to that which is presented by various sub-functions of speech acts. Such roles include communicating emotions, approval and disapproval, persuasion and offering advice. Each of these roles is only accomplished through the hidden meanings implied by famous quotes. Additionally, it is the same meanings that help in the creation of the high valued impressions associated with famous quotes (Krasuska, 2016).

Despite the wide recognition of famous quotes and the roles they play in communication, it is evident that the presently available literature on hidden meanings do not fully explore the subject but rather focus on the particular meanings of the concepts presented. It is thus important that other studies be carried out to explain more detailed roles of hidden meanings in various contexts.


The research carried out on hidden meanings was a qualitative research based on secondary sources. The study will focus on analyzing about 20 sayings and famous quotes to find out their deeper meanings. The famous quotes to be analyzed were obtained through secondary searches over the internet and through books. The analysis will be based on the most easily perceived hidden meanings associated with each famous quote and/ or saying. The intention of the analysis in this work is to clearly communicate how hidden meanings communicate a lot more that the superficial meanings associated with famous quotes and sayings as well as how reasonable the hidden meanings make the famous quotes and sayings.

Results and Discussions

Famous quotes and sayings can be classified differently through their hidden meanings. In this research, the quotes are classified according to the figures of speech through which they define their hidden meanings. The set of quotes chosen comprise of those which use allegoric/ direct symbolism and those that use metaphors for communication. The quote by John Shedd ‘A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for’ will be analyzed first. The quote is an allegory that brings out the perception that being safe or comfortable does not always mean one is doing what he/ she was made for. This means that each person has a distinctive purpose in life and that purpose can only be achieved by getting out of one’s comfort zone and taking risks you would rather not take. In this context, it is meant for the readers to gain the information that life is meant to be about taking risks. This quote can be linked to Franklin Roosevelt’s quote that ‘A smooth Sea never made a skilled sailor’ which is also an allegory as it relies on topification. Through Roosevelt’s quote, it can be argued that he meant to communicate that every individual has to go through tough times in order to be perfected. Being confined to smooth times does not give one the strength and endurance desirable in tough situations. As such, those used to good times may find it rough when difficult times come. On the other hand, those who have gone through tough times can easily go through the smooth times without any struggles. This quote can thus be said to mean that the level of endurance during smooth times should not be used as the measure of perfection in any role or responsibility as it is how one handles the tough times that eventually gives reason for recognition.

Another quote, whose author is unknown, is that ‘Your Dream doesn’t have an Expiration date.’ In this quote too, the hidden meaning is portrayed through allegoric symbolism in that the dream is personified. The author probably meant to communicate the message that every dream is achievable as long as the owner does not give up dreaming. Therefore no one should give up their dreams on the basis that they have delayed in achieving them. Instead, one should always try to find ways of achieving those dreams and believe in the dreams. The quote ‘Only dead fish go with the flow,’ can also be described through its symbolism dependent inner meaning. Despite being of unknown origin, the quote can be clearly explained through the argument that dead fish have neither reason nor choice and are therefore likely to follow the direction taken by the water. As such, the deeper meaning associated with the quote can be that only individuals who have no life within them follow others without questioning on the rationale behind their following. Those who are alive and active in all aspects of their lives have to make individual decisions rather than relying on the heard perception.  Individuals who are dead in reason will not be able to make decisions that help them individually and will follow the decisions of others without questioning the justifiability of those decisions.

Other quotes that rely on symbolism to communicate the inner meaning are also analyzed. For instance, ‘Do not worry about those who talk behind your back, they are behind you for a reason,’ is a quote that clearly exhorts people to only focus on what lies ahead. The quote, when analyzed at a deeper level reveals that those who talk behind one’s back only talk about the things that are in one’s past. As such, they have no impact on one’s dreams or aspirations. It is therefore crucial for them to be ignored as one seeks to achieve greater goals and objectives in life. In most cases, people tend to use their challenges as issues that impede and slow down their movements towards their life goals. NajwaZebian also uses an allegoric symbolism to prohibit this victim mentality through the quote that ‘These mountains that you are carrying, you were supposed to climb.’ Through this quote, it is clear that the source intended for people to avoid considering themselves as victims based on their challenges and instead focus on finding ways through which they can rise above those challenges. It is crucial for people to realize that being victims of their challenges is synonymous to carrying them and would only crush them as opposed to finding ways to go through them which will slow down progress. From this perception, it is thus clear that slow progress is more preferable to no progress.

In the same context, Mooji posited that ‘feelings are just visitors, let them go.’ This quote resonates with the situations most people find themselves in where their feelings impede their progress or enjoyment of the day. In the quote, the feelings mentioned are personified hence it can be argued that the quote is allegoric. At the same time, the allusion that feelings are visitors is metaphorical since the feelings are compared to the visitors. Mooji intended for people to be aware that feelings are ephemeral and should not dictate how one goes about their day. Instead, people should focus on treating their feelings as an outsider that has no place in the home, in this case in the heart, life and its functions. A Chinese quote asserts that ‘Give a man fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man how to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.’ This famous quote, also an allegory, communicates the importance of solving problems from the origin rather than focusing on the symptoms of a problem. In this regard, if the problem is lack of food, giving fish will only solve hunger temporarily. On the other hand, teaching the victim how to fend for themselves will probably solve the problem permanently. It is therefore important to always consider the origin of a problem and only then find a lasting solution to it. Other famous quotes and quotes also draw similarly strong inspiration. For instance, ‘do not let your past steal your future,’ means that people should only focus on their dreams and hopes about the future rather than on the failures of the past and how they could have performed better.

Another quote by Jala ad-Din Rumi says ‘Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.’ The quote, has its meaning concealed through the use of allegoric symbolism in the terms thunder and rain. Its hidden meaning is that in order to make an impression through words, one should focus on raining the value associated with those words rather than the tone in which those words are spoken. Raising the tone may be a common way through which people seek to get attention yet it is the weight of the words that actually gets the desired attention, just like thunder versus rain. Similarly, ‘shallow waters are noisy, deep waters are silent,’ by an unknown authors brings out the need to avoid unnecessary use of language where silence could help to indicate wisdom. This is done through metaphoric use of language via comparison. Alternatively, this quote could be taken to mean that those who have content or are wise keep their words to themselves in most cases as they need very few words to make an impact. On the other hand, the unwise use too many words to explain even simple concepts. The subject of depth of life is also represented allegorically and symbolically by other quotes such as ‘deep roots are not reached by frost’ and ‘when nothing goes right, go left.’ The first famous quote means that greater achievements cannot be realized by half hearted efforts, one has to add depth to actions and plans in order to achieve greater dreams. The second quote implies that one has to review their plans and actions when the original plans cannot help to realize the intended outcomes. It communicates the importance of avoiding repetitive mistakes.

Michelle Williams once said ‘I want to be like water, to slip through fingers yet hold up a ship.’ This quote, founded on a simile, means that she intended that she would desire to be unlimited by the small hindrances in life but instead be strong enough to go through the most difficult times unscathed. This implies that she desired a strong personality, one that would pursue dreams regardless of limitations and be capable of building and supporting those dreams to life. The quote may be related to an anonymous symbolic one i.e. ‘you may paint over me, but I’ll still be there.’ This other quote has its meaning hidden in a similar manner to the previous one. In this quote, the author means that they would be there regardless of efforts by others to diminish their impacts. Trying to dull their shine can only be compared to painting them in that their personality, frame and all that makes them up will still be in existence. It brings out the message that one cannot reduce the significance or impact of another through covering them up or hiding their visible strengths.

‘Die with memories, not dreams’, is a symbolic quote that calls for people to follow their dreams to achievement. The purpose of memories in the quote is to bring out the contrast that is desirable in the message in that while dreams focus on the future, memories are of the past. As such, people should only focus on moving into the future rather than dwelling in the past. The past should be in memories, not worth pursuing while the future is dictated through dreams which should be pursued to the end of life. The past has already been experienced hence dies with one while the future remains alive. Dolly Parton asserts that ‘storms make trees take deeper roots.’ This quote is linked to the role played by hard times on people’s life. This quote uses symbolism to show that when one expects only fair weather at all times, life tends to be superficial. On the other hand, those who expect tough weather make better plans for enduring through the tough times hence have deeper lives and better capacity to go through the tough times. The depth of life is also communicated by Ralph Waldo’s quote that ‘it is not the lengthy of life but the death.’ This symbolic quote implies that the quality of life is more important than the duration one lives. From this, it can be deduced that the quote means that it is better for one to live a short but meaningful life rather that a long and empty life.

Similarly other quotes also call for people to live a more meaningful life. Patrick Meaghar said that ‘some people are so poor, all they have is money.’ This allegoric quote implores people to be aware that life is more than material wealth. True wealth is measured by the virtues held by an individual rather than material wealth. As such, those who have material wealth alone are as good as the poor. Rachael Bermingham said that ‘It is not about having time, it is about making time.’ This symbolic quote can be said to be similar to Meaghar’s call for a virtuous life through creation of time for the loved ones and to serve others. The deeper meaning of this quote could be that no one has extra hours in a day. As such, the only way to have time for others is to create it within the time given to you. In resonance to this, Abraham Lincoln also said that ‘the only way to predict your future is to create it.’ This symbolic quote means that one has to make use of the present to dream and to plan on how to achieve the dreams that would lead them to the kind of life they desire in the future.


The use of hidden meanings in media is of great essence to communication. Hidden meanings help to enhance communication through advancing personal objectives, education and projection of intended meanings. It is a most profound feature of famous quotes in that the deeper meaning always provides the core message of the quotes. The analyzed famous quotes describe the need for endurance and risk taking as well as the need for living a virtuous and deep life away from material wealth through the use of allegoric symbolism and metaphors. .



Alan, D. (2010). Meaning in the Media: Discourse, Controversy and Debate. Cambridge University Press.

Chase, D. (n.d). Finding Hidden Meaning in Mass Media through Critical Discourse Analysis and Implications for Language Teaching. TESOL, 37-43. Retrieved from

Fadaee, E. (2011). Symbols, Metaphors and Similes in Literature: A case Study of Animal farm. Journal of English and Literature, 2(2), 19-27.

Harris, R.A. & Tolmie, S. (2011). Cognitive Allegory: An Introduction. Metaphor and Symbol, 26 (2).

Krasuska, D. (2016). Famous quotes and their Functions. Edga