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Thursday, 28 May 2009

Who said what?

Header by Samulli

While looking for piano sheet music for Not a Sparrow Falleth in what is formerly known as World Trade Center Bangkok, I ended up instead in a stack of books for sale at half their original price. My eyes widened. Books are what I love to buy besides shoes. I picked one which held my interest longer than any of the rest on the pile. It is titled, You Don't Say! (see, even the name of that award I received earlier and passed on to fellow bloggers must have come from somewhere if not this book :-))

This blurb finalized my decision not to go home without the book:

"The urge to quote is born in all of us. The tendency to misquote is equally innate. Some quotations get bowdlerised or corrupted as they pass by word-of-mouth. Others get vulgarised. You Don't Say!, written with a sharp wit and happy iconoclasm, contains them all."

This is one of those reads that tell you what actually was or wasn't. Jonathon Green endorsed, "...unimpressed by the authorised version of the world's most popular quotations, Barry Phelps has tracked down the things people really said - and the people who actually said them."

These are images, famous and oh so familiar, from whom the misquotes, out of the many listed in the book, are explained why or how they came to be. Despite familiarity, I'm not sure I can name each of them correctly. Maybe you can.

To me they are (in random order) more or less:

1. Winston Churchill
2. George Washington (or Benjamin Franklin?) or not
3. Benito Mussolini (again, or not)
4. Abraham Lincoln. I'm sure that's him
5. Erma Bombeck?
6. Margaret Thatcher certainly
7. Napoleon Bonaparte?
8. JFK of course
9. Jesus of Nazareth no doubt
10. I don't know the lady next to Thatcher. But I'm sure she doesn't look like Marilyn Monroe

11. Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit? (below the lamb)
12. I can't name the lady above Rabbit's ears
13. I can't name the man below Thatcher

And is it just coincidentally Thursday Thirteen or are there really 13 of them on the cover? Hmm... This week I'm listing down 13 quotes about misquotes from the author's introduction to the book on xi - xii:

1. The urge to quote is nicely matched by the tendency to misquote.

2. Quotations are often coded recognition symbols between people of similar backgrounds - whether classics scholars or football hooligans.

3. Quotations bring notable reinforcements to help in debate. It may be no more than showing off - and a harmless piece of one-upmanship.

4. The tendency to misquote is unequally innate. Journalists, especially sub-editors writing headlines, seek brevity: sometimes this is an improvement on the original, often it rubs it of any nuance, balance and subtlety it may have had.

5. Perrenial quotations change from one era to the next.

6. Gresham's Law applies to quotations but not consistently: the bad drive out the good, but ocassionally, the better drives out the worse.

7. Prominent wits - Rochester, Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw, Woollcott, Parker et al. - are apt to have any current witticism ascribed to them in order to give the orphan quotation parentage in a censorious world.

8. Politicians and churchmen have always been the worst offenders (greatest adepts) at twisting or counterfeiting their opponents remarks.

9. The same people are similarly adept at taking remarks out of context and reading into them meanings which are not there. They are of course mere tyros at the game compared with publishers' publicists culling laudatory phrases from condemnatory reviews.

10. There are dying words. These can often be a powerful legacy, but most people don't leave any - so market forces meet the need. Not only are dying words invented but they are invented to please the buyers; the bereaved and the unbereaved heirs.

11. An apt quotation at the right moment enhances conversation.

12. The correct quotation of something usually misquoted scores bonus points. If something's worth quoting it's worth quoting accurately.

13. And if something's worth misquoting it should be done with malice aforethought.


This is part I. Next week I'm listing down some of what I found to be surprisingly informative. Happy Thursday, everyone!

1 comment:

Adelle Laudan said...

Very kewl list. Love quotes and do my T13 on them frequently.
Happy T13!