What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork.

— Pearl Bailey (United States singer 1918-1990)

One teacher said, paperwork in this sentence meant marriage certificate. But I’m not sure about it.

I checked on dictionaries and find that the word means

routine work involving documents such as forms, records, or letters.

To my understanding, it doesn’t necessarily mean “marriage certificate”.

I searched on internet, but can’t find a certain answer. Therefore I put this question here.

Does it mean marriage certificate in this sentence? If not what does it mean?

Thanks in advance!

  • And why would the dictionary answer not work? It works fine. Of course, it does not mean marriage certificate per se. It means all the stuff we all do in our lives and work that is "routine work involving" etc.
    – Lambie
    Feb 19, 2019 at 3:36

2 Answers 2


You need context to be entirely sure. I haven't been able to find the context in which Pearl Bailey said this quote.

On its own, the sentence is not inherently about marriage, and paperwork does not literally ever mean 'a marriage certificate'.

However, it could be using 'paperwork' as a metaphor for the act and state of marriage.

What the world needs is for people to worry more about whether people love each other than the details of whether they are legally married.

  • Not sure why this was downvoted. Care to explain?
    – fred2
    Feb 19, 2019 at 3:57
  • I would add: "marriage certificate" is sometimes called "paper(s)", as in: "it is not papers that keep us together". So, even without a broader context available, marriage was not intended to be implied. "Paperwork" is about bureaucracy, not about a document. +1
    – virolino
    Feb 19, 2019 at 6:48
  • @virolino: It's contextual. The speaker could mean to focus more on your spouse and your love for them as opposed to the legalities of marrying them (in this case, paperwork = marriage certificate). The speaker could've made a similar statement but in regards to a prenup instead of a marriage certificate. Or, more broadly, the speaker could've meant interpersonal actions for all people (love each other) as opposed to focusing on bureaucracy (and then paperwork = bureaucracy). It very much hinges on the broader context.
    – Flater
    Feb 19, 2019 at 9:29

You may refer to this link for more details on the quote.


Since you're specifically asking about the word paperwork, I'd agree with fred2. It really depends on the context. However, the word generally means something like documents, reports, etc. It could be an official document or a book report.

At the start of the quote is "What the world really needs". This suggests that "love" in this context does not mean romantic love between two people, but rather a warm and helpful kind of love, like the love between you and your parents.

  • Could you add the pertinent information from the link? Answers should be self-contained, because links can be broken. Unless you feel that part isn't as necessary, which may be the case. +1 either way Feb 19, 2019 at 8:09
  • As a general matter, in English, paperwork is a generic thing that most people hate doing. There is no need for "context". "Sorry, Mabel, I can't go to the theater tonight. I have too much paperwork to catch up on." [paying bills, etc.]. I fear there may be an e-generational issue here.
    – Lambie
    Feb 19, 2019 at 14:33

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