The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

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

Blast from the Past: We Have Met the Enemy and It Is…a Misquote


Nearly two years ago, Neil Boyd, professor and associate director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, concluded that Canadians had apparently hit the canvas and were down for the count because of their growing attraction to blood-filled Ultimate Fighting Competition. To make his case, in an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sunon May 17, 2010, he compared ticket prices for seats in the first five rows at various auditoriums for various events. At the GM Place, prices for these premiere seats were $500 for a Simon and Garfunkel concert; $950 for the Eagles; and $800 for Michael Buble. Similarly up-close seats commanded $700 for Sting at the Chan Centre and $400 for Yo-Yo Ma at the Orpheum. With those prices in mind, Mr. Boyd then went in for the kill. He contrasted those prices with the $1,500 per seat ticket price for an upcoming Ultimate Fighting Competition bout. In closing, he asked:

How far removed are we from the days of blood sport as entertainment — lions and gladiators at the Roman Coliseum? Not very far, if at all. The market confirms Pogo’s aphorism: We have seen the enemy and they is us.

His points in the article are well taken, but I was puzzled that he chose not to somehow work a rough-and-tumble NHL hockey game into his price mix. In any case, he tarnishes it all with a mishandling of the Pogo quote. [I know. He doesn’t use quotation marks, making it a paraphrase, but even so, it wasn’t necessary to get it wrong.] His blunder was pointed out by letter-writer Frank M. Archer of Deltatwo days after the publication of the opinion piece. Archer wondered:

How can we trust the accuracy of what Neil Boyd states in his commentary when he mangles Pogo Possum’s famous phrase “We have met the enemy and he is us?”

Then it gets personal:

Shame on you, Neil, for wasting your time reading criminology books when you were a kid, when you should have been reading the comics instead.

I know this is an old example, but it’s still valid, I think. It illustrates a couple of things. First, don’t mess with Pogo. First, the handling of words can reinforce or undermine the credibility of the writer, especially if the words are widely known. Second, and most importantly, don’t mess with Pogo.

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