I saw a quote by Leonardo Da Vinci, but didn't catch the meaning of the last sentence which is given in the title.The full sentence was:

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” - Leonardo Da Vinci

What does 'they went out and happened to things' mean?

  • 1
    Could you please post the Italian original? This English version is surely some affectation of the translator swapping "things happened to people" to create "people happened to things". You’ll have to look at the original Italian to be sure of what Leonardo truly said. A cursory glance over at Wikiquote doesn’t reveal any likely candidates.
    – tchrist
    Feb 5, 2018 at 1:20
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    @tchrist - Personally I suspect that the quote was first uttered in English, as I suspect the "they happened to things" is deliberately not-quite-proper English. Google tells me that some people attribute the quote to Elinor Smith, an American who presumably therefore spoke English.
    – AndyT
    Feb 5, 2018 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


It doesn’t really mean anything by itself, it’s being used for rhetorical effect in juxtaposition with “sat back and let things happen to them.” This is emphasised by the slightly nonsensical idea of people happening (rather than events or abstract ideas).

The implied sense of the whole paragraph is that people of accomplishment are active, making things happen, rather than passive, waiting for things to happen.

  • If you like the answer, please could you mark it as correct? Feb 4, 2018 at 13:19

"people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Da Vinci - or whoever wrote it - was playing with words and he meant:

They didn't wait for things to happen, they made them happen.

  • Don’t wait for things to happen. Make them happen. - ascribed to Roy Bennett

which means, some things just don't happen. They happen because somebody makes them happen.

Or, if you sit back and wait for things happen, maybe they will never happen.


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