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From Latin To Literature, Here Are Our Favorite Jerry Brownisms

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California Gov. Jerry Brown presents his final California budget Jan. 10, 2018.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

This is part of our look at Jerry Brown's impact on the state of the California as he prepares to leave office. See more stories, interviews, videos and photos here.

Love him or hate him, Jerry Brown is one-of-a-kind. The man whose record fourth term as California governor will come to an end Monday has always relished reeling off Latin quotes and obscure literary and historical references.

Here are of some of Brown’s more memorable — and entertaining — quips during his final stint as governor.

I’ve often used the phrase, from Thomas Hobbes, ‘Bellum omnes contra omnes.’ Or rather, ‘Bellum omni contra omnes. War of all against all.’ It will be — everyone will retreat to their corner and devise strategies on what California does.

Brown quoting a 17th-century English philosopher during his state budget update in May 2011, when California faced a $27 billion deficit. He was urging Republicans to strike a deal that would let voters decide whether to extend expiring tax increases.


There’s a very simple — I want to invoke a Latin phrase here. ‘Nemo dat non habet. It means, ‘no man gives what he does not have.’ The state cannot give what it does not have.

Later that year, after signing a budget with “trigger cuts” if state revenues came in below projections, Brown again turned to Latin. The full quote is actually “Nemo dat quod non habet.” But the governor used it in context: The state didn’t have the money, so it couldn’t spend it.


Not every human problem needs a law.

Brown would also sprinkle in little quips when speaking off the cuff. For example, in September of 2011 he used this phrase as he was slogging through hundreds of bills on his desk. It's a statement he sometimes echoed in his veto messages, which themselves were often quite entertaining.


I’m not here to make news. I’m here to enlighten you.

This came in December at the Sacramento Press Club, perhaps the most Jerry Brown quote ever.


Let me end in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie ...

This land was made for you and me. California is not turning back. Not now, not ever. His truth is marching on!

In his 2017 State of the State Brown quoted Guthrie’s progressive folk anthem “This Land is Your Land” as he urged a state still reeling from President Donald Trump’s election to respond with “courage and perseverance.” Oh, and that last line was an ad lib, inserted in the moment from another famed American anthem: the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Bonus Literary Supercut

As for literary and historical references, you’d be hard pressed to top the 20 that Brown weaved into his 2013 State of the State address.

Here's the list in case you're keeping track at home:

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Genesis
  • Then the lean cows ate up the fat cows
  • The Pharaoh took the advice of Joseph
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Rendezvous with destiny
  • Remember how California began
  • King Charles III
  • Jose de Galvez
  • Gaspar Portola
  • Flesh of emaciated pack mules
  • El Camino Real, the King's Highway.
  • Father Serra
  • President Lincoln
  • Transcontinental Railroad and Land Grant Colleges
  • Montaigne, the great French writer of the 16th Century
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Quiz-bits
  • William Butler Yeats
  • The principle of Subsidiarity
  • The Little Engine that Could.

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