The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

Quoting people accurately is really hard — and you can quote me on that.


by Frank Herron
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Hitting the Trifecta: Trump, Palin, and Gandhi (together at last!)

MQ 02252016 PalinGandhiTrump
This conjunction is hard to imagine–Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Mohandas Gandhi sharing space in one Facebook-post-turned-Tweet.
Evidently, Mrs. Palin, the erstwhile governor of Alaska, has Facebooked (at 2:33 a.m. on February 25) an artful presentation of a quotation widely attributed to Gandhi over a picture of Trump waving to a host of clicking admirers.
Palin can use Facebook. That’s great. Can she use Google or Bing? Can she stop and think? It’s so easy to check stuff out these days. A couple of keystrokes present the likely origin of the quotation. It is NOT from the mind of Gandhi.
A close variant is found in the 1918 proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. That publication quotes Nicholas Klien:

And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Klein, from Cincinnati, spoke before the ACWA on May 15, 1918, in Baltimore, Maryland. The Christian Science Monitor covered this adequately in 2011.
This is a classic mess. The quotation is misunderstood, misattributed, and misappropriated.
I saw this earlier today thanks to one of my sons. He sent me a Tweet posted by Felicity Morse, social media editor with, I think, the BBC. She correctly wrote (in a burst of refreshingly brief and clear sentences, NOT attributed to Gandhi):

Nothing is right here. Gandhi is not Trump. Gandhi did not say that. No one has ever ignored Trump.


by Frank Herron
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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this misattributed quote from its appointed rounds

MQ 04062015 Angelou stampThis morning’s Washington Post points out that the U.S. Postal Service’s newest “Forever” stamp has apparently done something that has vexed quotation-checkers since, well, forever. Evidence indicates that the USPS has taken a statement originally spoken/written by one lesser-known person and put it in the mouth of a more famous person. The USPS’ new stamp–which will be officially released on Tuesday (April 7) honors poet Maya Angelou, a fine choice. The image of her face is beautiful, the work of Atlanta artist Ross Rossin. The designers of the stamp, however, ignored the many lyrical statements that legitimately and clearly belong to her and, instead, included a quote often attributed to her but of less certain origin:

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Well, this stamp needs some kind of “return to sender” applied. Post writer Lonnie O’Neal (with the help from longtime quote-collector and Emerson College professor Jabari Asim) writes that the statement most likely originated with Joan Walsh Anglund, an author of children’s books. As the Post points out today, the statement appears on Page 15 of Angland’s book A Cup of Sun, published in 1967.
Angelou’s name is much more famous than Anglund’s, however. And as noted quote-checker Ralph Keyes has said many times: “Famous quotes need famous mouths.”
(That’s something that Mark Twain might have wished he had said.)


by Frank Herron
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Even if it looks, sounds, walks, and quacks like an Orwell quote, it still might NOT be an Orwell quote

Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer rightly screams about the quote-approval practice that has sullied some of the New York Times’–among others–coverage of government and politics. His column has appeared all over the Web the last couple of days and in print in numerous papers, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which used the headline “Political Handlers as Editors” (above).
However, he falls into the trap of linking a well-oiled quote to George Orwell (right)–without mentioning that the authorship appears to be in question.
The quotation–which makes journalistic hearts quiver and flutter in appreciation–usually goes like this:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

The trouble is that it’s not all that clear that Orwell wrote that, as far as I can tell–despite what you might be told by sites like quotevadis.com
One place I turned this morning to find out more is the Orwell quotations entry at wikiquote.org.
Here some people are seeking proper attribution and sourcing for the quotation. The search continues. One contributer compares it to something attributed to William Randolph Hearst:

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.”

I certainly have no problem with Mr. Polman using the quotation. It’s relevant to his topic and thought-provoking, too. However, instead of putting it in Orwell’s mouth and saying bluntly that he “once wrote” it, he should say the statement is, instead, often merely attributed to Orwell.
Even so, the error is not worth reporting to the Ministry of Truth.
I look forward to finding the source some day.


by Frank Herron
7 Comments

It’s a MUCH More Effective Quotation to Attribute It to Aristotle, Rather than to Will Durant

Yesterday, longtime offensive lineman Matt Light (left, bearded) announced his retirement from the New England Patriots. During the moving and humorous ceremony, he turned to a quotation attributed to Aristotle (right, also bearded).
Light ended his prepared remarks this way, according to a transcript from espn.com [emphasis added]:

I kind of wanted to end it with this. I always look to something that someone else has said. When I was looking through a list of different quotes, I found one from Aristotle. It was fitting to not only where I’m at in my life, but experiences I’ve had in this organization, but all the people I’ve met: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” We hear it here five thousand times a week. Just worry about yourself, not others, make it part of your routine. Keep striving to do it better and better. The excellence we all shared as an organization, teammates, friends, everyone else. It’s not just as an act, it’s a habit, it’s how we live our lives, what we try to do day-in and day-out. I hope this habit continues. Thank you.

Journalist Julian Benbow described it this way in his recap about the retirement ceremony, which was posted at 12:32 p.m. Monday on Boston.com.

Light said while he was preparing his speech, he pored over quotes until he found one from Aristotle that sounded like a philospher’s [sic] translation of something Belichick says over and over again.
“You are what you do repeatedly,” the philosopher said. “So your excellence isn’t an act, it’s a habit.”

The quotation was also mentioned in the Web site of the Boston Herald in this summary:

Light ended with a favorite quote from Aristotle: ”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

The sentiment certainly sounds great. And it sounds like something that should adorn a wall at Foxboro Stadium.
The trouble is that ARISTOTLE DID NOT SAY IT.
As far as I can tell, those words were actually written by Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers.
In part VII of that book, dealing with “Ethics and the Nature of Happiness,” Durant sums up some of Aristotle’s thoughts. After quoting a phrase from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (“these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions”), Durant sums it up this way: “…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” Then he quotes again from Aristotle’s work. The footnotes 1 and 2 in the excerpt at left refer to passages in Aristotle’s Ethics, ii, 4. (The passage at left is from Page 87 of an edition of Durant’s book that bubbled up in GoogleBooks. One explanation of the misattribution is in this Wikipedia entry.)
This is an example of the way that provocative words tend to gravitate toward famous mouths. As the great quote-sleuth Ralph Keyes wrote in The Quote Verifier: “clever lines … routinely travel from obscure mouths to prominent ones….”
In this case, the journey was from the North Adams, Mass., native Durant (right), who lived from 1885 to 1981, to Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 BC.
I’m not faulting Matt Light. For one thing, it’s refreshing to hear the word “Aristotle” in an NFL-related press conference. He was probably using an Internet source such as BrainyQuote, which wrongly attributes the comment to Aristotle.
Journalists, however, who pride themselves on “checking the facts” should not be lazy about passing on–unthinkingly–such misattribution.
Remember the shopworn journalistic bromide: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

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