Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for cartographers, geographers and GIS professionals. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Programmers' list has been a pleasure to read. Stats' list is growing fast as well. So perhaps there is a place for separate one on this site?

Please share your nuggets of wisdom / humour / inspiration from the world of GIS, cartography and mapping.

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by PolyGeo Jun 4 '15 at 11:21

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

37 Answers 37

up vote 36 down vote accepted

"Here be dragons"

The phrase "Here Be Dragons" (or hic sunt dracones) appears on maps such as the Lenox Globe (from early 1500s) and is now considered to be map shorthand for Here Be Other Stuff We Don't Quite Know About, rather than a claim to have seen a fire-breathing monster.

Usually placed to fill whitespace (un-known uncharted lands or seas) on old maps.


"The Earth is Flat"

dedicated to unraveling the true mysteries of the universe and demonstrating that the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax

share|improve this answer
Those flat-earthers crack me up, when ever I need a good laugh I go to that website. – Nathan W Aug 10 '10 at 10:18
Flatearthers better then those squarial's – Mapperz Aug 23 '10 at 2:47

"A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams." - Gilbert Grosvenor

share|improve this answer

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude of Science

share|improve this answer

Psychoanalysis is to the subconscious what cartography is to Sahara dunes.

-- Anonnymous --


History is nothing but geography over time, such as geography is nothing but history in space.

-- Élisée Reclus -- (translated from french)

share|improve this answer

Let's start with:

"Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things"

Known as "the first law of geography" (Tobler W., (1970) "A computer movie simulating urban growth in the Detroit region". Economic Geography, 46(2): 234-240)

share|improve this answer
Reference for Tobler's law: Tobler W., (1970) "A computer movie simulating urban growth in the Detroit region". Economic Geography, 46(2): 234-240. – glennon Aug 7 '10 at 21:26

It's Turtles all the way down

Here's the detailed explanation via Wikkipedia:

Turtles all the way down

It's only tangentially related to cartography and GIS, but it reminds me that I should question my assumptions and be wary of dogma. Plus it makes me think of Discworld.

share|improve this answer

GIS, ... more than just maps

This came out of pure frustration in a conversation as my non-GIS boss did not truly understand what we do.

share|improve this answer

I like:

"one would have to be singularly unimaginative to experience no excitement when confronted with a map, not least a map of unfamiliar territory studded with exotic names"

by Cordelia Oliver, 1989

And the stat of this one has been mentioned but I thought I'd post the fuller version:

"I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and find it hard to believe. The names, the shapes of the woodlands, the courses of the roads and rivers, the prehistoric footsteps of man still distinctly traceable up hill and down dale, the mills and the ruins, the ponds and the ferries, perhaps the standing stone or the druidic circle on the heath; here is an inexhaustible fund of interest for any man with eyes to see or twopence-worth of imagination to understand with"

Robert Louis Stevenson explaining the inspiration for Treasure Island

share|improve this answer

Made this one myself one day:

"Making a map with GIS is like playing the piano. Somebody else has done the difficult job of making the tools, you just need to know what buttons to push!"

it's true for me, as i don't know programming at all :p

share|improve this answer

How about the appearance of the (fictional) 'Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality' in Season 2 of West Wing? (link to a 4 min clip on you tube) They lobby for the replacement of Mercator Projection maps in schools with Peters Projection maps.

JOSH’re telling me that Germany isn’t where we think it is?

FALLOW Nothing’s where you think it is.

C.J. Where is it?

FALLOW I’m glad you asked. [brings up a new map, which has its continents significantly squished northward] The Peters Projection.


C.J. What the hell is that?

FALLOW It’s where you’ve been living this whole time. Should we continue?

Then they continue with a short discussion about map projections and social equality.

(script quotes from

share|improve this answer

There's always the Bellman's map:

 He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
"They are merely conventional signs!

"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best--
A perfect and absolute blank!"

The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll.

share|improve this answer

Without geography, you're nowhere!

-Jimmy Buffett

share|improve this answer

"The last thing you think of and the first thing you need, a map."

I read it years ago, I think by a USA Colonel but cannot find the original to cerdit him with it

share|improve this answer

"GIS technology is kind of like Google Earth, but beeetter."

Arnold Schwarzenegger

share|improve this answer
Yes - see link. I could not find vid, but i did see it. promise. – Simon Aug 8 '10 at 12:48
@simon I think he actually said "goooooogle" as well – Stephen Lead Oct 10 '11 at 21:45
This is the video – nadya Oct 18 '12 at 6:27

“There is no such thing as information overload, only bad design.”

–Edward Tufte

share|improve this answer
"Clutter is not an attribute of information, it is an illness of design" – julien Aug 9 '10 at 7:26

Geographers never get lost. They just do accidental field work.

-- Nicholas Chrisman

Note: I know it is more generic than GIS, maps and cartography, but very applicable.

share|improve this answer

Question: Why can fish measure distances so well?

Answer: Because they have their own scales.

share|improve this answer

“If you want a database that has everything, you’ve got it. It’s out there. It’s called reality.”

–Scott Morehouse, Director of Software Development, ESRI

I have rephrased this quote and often use it as:

“If you want a map that has everything, you’ve got it. It’s out there. It’s called Earth.”

share|improve this answer

“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

share|improve this answer

“Maps are like campfires – everyone gathers around them, because they allow people to understand complex issues at a glance, and find agreement about how to help the land.”

– Sonoma Ecology Center, GIS/IS Program Web Site

share|improve this answer

"I want anyone who has never used command-line Arc... leave the room right now."


share|improve this answer

“The early days of GIS were very lonely. No-one knew what it meant.”

–Roger Tomlinson

share|improve this answer

From Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll (1893):

"We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well. Now let me ask you another question. What is the smallest world you would care to inhabit?"

share|improve this answer

"The application of GIS is limited only by the imagination of those who use it".

Jack Dangermond

share|improve this answer
"...and by that I mean the frequency with which my company's software fails" – tomfumb Oct 30 '11 at 1:32

"Well I'm sorry San Andreas, but everyone says that it's your fault"

share|improve this answer

NAD83: We're not in Kansas anymore

Does anybody know who coined this quote?

share|improve this answer
"I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." -Dorothy, "The Wizard of Oz" – R Thiede Oct 10 '11 at 13:35

One of mine - and I'd appreciate it if someone tell me who to attribute it to is this:

"Data quality improves with time and distance from the source"

Something to keep in mind when dealing with GIS data. I'd originally heard it from a member of the League of Real Surveyors. Best characterized by this cartoon.

share|improve this answer

Everything happens somewhere.

share|improve this answer

our earth is a globe
whose surface we probe
no map can replace her
but just try to trace her

steve waterman's the world of maps (first stanza. You've no idea how hard it was not to post more, the next two at the least!).

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.