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.


37 Answers 37


"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


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)

  • true classic :]
    – radek
    Aug 7, 2010 at 16:29
  • 7
    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, 2010 at 21:26

I always thought there was a cartographic streak in the writers of the TV show Blackadder.

As the Elizabethan Blackadder is preparing to sail around the world he's told:

The foremost cartographers of the land have prepared this for you; it's a map of the area that you'll be traversing. [Blackadder opens it up and sees it is blank] -They'll be very grateful if you could just fill it in as you go along.

As WWI Blackadder is crossing no-mans land to spy on the Germans:

Blackadder: Now, where the hell are we?

George: Well, it's difficult to say, we appear to have crawled into an area marked with mushrooms.

Blackadder: [patiently] What do those symbols denote?

George: It says "mine". So, these mushrooms must belong to the man who made the map.

Blackadder: Either that, or we're in the middle of a mine-field.

George: So, he owns the field as well?

At army HQ:

General: Where's my map. Ah.... God, it's a barren, featureless desert out there, isn't it.

Captain (whispering): Other side sir.

At army HQ:

General: Look, this is the amount of land we've recaptured since yesterday. Erm, what is the actual scale of this map, Darling?

Captain: Erm, one-to-one, Sir.

Melchett:Come again?

Captain: Er, the map is actually life-size, Sir. It's superbly detailed. Look, look, there's a little worm.

General: Oh, yes. So the actual amount of land retaken is?

[Captain whips out a tape measure amd measures the table.]

Captain: Seventeen square feet, Sir.

General: Excellent. So you see those young men didn't die horribly in vain after all.


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

Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Did he really say that???
    – julien
    Aug 8, 2010 at 7:17
  • 2
    Yes - see link. I could not find vid, but i did see it. promise.
    – jakc
    Aug 8, 2010 at 12:48
  • I wish I could +fav answers ...
    – R Thiede
    Oct 10, 2011 at 13:29
  • 1
    @simon I think he actually said "goooooogle" as well Oct 10, 2011 at 21:45
  • 6
    This is the video youtube.com/watch?v=8gc4r7gMz4k
    – nadya
    Oct 18, 2012 at 6:27

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

–Edward Tufte

  • 5
    "Clutter is not an attribute of information, it is an illness of design"
    – julien
    Aug 9, 2010 at 7:26

Geography is just physics slowed down, with a couple of trees stuck in it.

— Terry Pratchett


A number of astronauts, and then all of us who saw the photography from space, marveled at how much the Florida peninsula, meandering Mississippi, the islands of Britain, and the boot of Italy resembled the maps everyone had grown up with. We had taken it for granted that maps were faithful reflections of reality; but we were somehow amazed when reality turned out to be true to the maps.

— John Noble Wilford, The Mapmakers


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.


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

–Roger Tomlinson


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

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island


Question: Why can fish measure distances so well?

Answer: Because they have their own scales.


“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.”


“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


"Can you squish it and rotate it? ... I don't think our [commercial] lot looks big enough on the map, can you make it larger?"

  • real life example? ;]
    – radek
    Oct 10, 2011 at 10:03

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.


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?"



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



Geography has been described as the Los Angeles among academic disciplines because it spreads over a very wide area, merges with its neighbours, and we have a hard time finding the central business area.

Pattison and Natoli


Everything happens somewhere.


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 ...you’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 http://communicationsoffice.tripod.com/2-16.txt)


"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


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

Jack Dangermond

  • 3
    "...and by that I mean the frequency with which my company's software fails"
    – tomfumb
    Oct 30, 2011 at 1:32

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


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!).


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


Without geography, you're nowhere!

-Jimmy Buffett


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

  • I like this... It's another reason GIS is an Art... cartographers are just as artistic as pianists... Masterpiece of a different science
    – LMHall
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:46

GIS is the nervous system for the planet.

Jack Dangermond


"the map is a database & the database is a map" i think from jack dangermond

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