FAKE QUOTE EXPLAINED.

You’ve probably seen the touching statement “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” quite a lot lately, attributed to one of the usual suspects (or “quote magnets,” as Dave Wilton of wordorigins.org calls them); it was actually composed by Jessica Dovey, “a principled and reserved 24-year-old teaching English in Kobe” (according to this interview at The Atlantic). By all means read Megan McArdle’s fascinating account of how Dovey’s Facebook post got reposted without the crucial quotation marks and misattributed and tweeted and retweeted until the entire world seemed to be quoting it; it’s a tale for our hyperconnected times. I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on both Atlantic threads, which are full of the usual asininity and bile; this one (from the interview) illustrates a common confusion about what grammar involves: “I think this young woman’s original post (the words that came from her own mouth) is wonderful. We can’t fault her for a grammatical error made by someone who reposted her comment and lost the original quotation marks.” You’re doing a bad job, English teachers!

Comments

  1. The MLKJR quote didn’t quite apply, but how about this one from John Donne:
    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
    I posted on it at:
    http://stansgreatbooksblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/osama-bin-ladenthe-martin-luther-king.html

  2. The quote is not quite right. A comma is missing, and an “if”:

    “No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

    And what gives with the line breaks, as if the passage were a pome ?

  3. “For whom the bell tolls” – that’s by Ernest Hemingway, silly! Nobel prizewinner.

  4. if I don’t know what is the real quote looks like I would also think that the fake one is real. But it doesn’t matter at all; what important is we understand the true meaning of this quote
    The subject of this post is not “true meaning”, but carelessness that results in fake quotes. Of course I understand your position: what’s the point of quoting at all if your goal is to share warm, right-thinking banalities with the masses ?

  5. I say it’s by AJP Hippo.

  6. Hat, you pulled the rug away under my riposte !

  7. Grumbly, has it really come to this? You’re arguing with spammers??

  8. Heh. Hadn’t seen your latest when I posted mine.

  9. I’ll argue with anyone, Hat, you know that. And I’m feeling especially chipper at the moment. It’s late spring fever, I think.

  10. I may be a touch overweight, but I’m not spam.

  11. Ok, I give up.

  12. dearieme says:

    The goats are getting bolder, AJP – I saw a fieldful near Cambridge yesterday.

  13. Bill Walderman says:

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy”
    “it was actually composed by Jessica Dovey, ‘a principled and reserved 24-year-old teaching English in Kobe’”
    Actually, the person who first uttered this quote was Stalin. It’s from Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics.

  14. That’s a lot of goats, a fieldful.

  15. Anthony says:

    It’s certainly a punctuation error, but does it (in this case) rise to the level of grammatical error?

  16. yonray says:

    I think there is a grammatical error of some sort, or at least an awkwardness. Something is wrong with “one”: from the preceding clause it would seem to imply one (life), but you can’t have a death of one life. So that means we’re left with the death of one (man). And that sounds wrong after the preceding clause.
    What’s the punctuation error, real or supposed, by the way?

  17. What’s the punctuation error, real or supposed, by the way?
    “No man is an island entire of itself”, as if “entire of itself” were intended to narrow down the kind of island meant. But all islands are entire of themselves, so no narrowing down is possible. In the standard printed text I know and reproduced here, Donne wrote: “No man is an iland, intire of it selfe”. Here “entire of itself” just highlights one feature that all islands have.
    This is the difference between restrictive apposition (the misquote) and non-restrictive apposition:

    In English, a non-restrictive appositive must be preceded or set off by commas, while a restrictive appositive is not set off by commas.

  18. Grumbly Stew 1-0 Stan Szczesny

  19. yonray says:

    Oh I see – I was understanding the references to punctuation errors to apply to the Jessica quote. I can see what you mean about Donne, although of course punctuation rules were less specific then. He never won the Nobel either…
    Didn’t he go home to die after delivering that sermon, by the way?

  20. yonray says:

    Actually, Grumbly, after reflection I’m going to take issue with your analysis of Donne’s punctuation. Of course no man is an island – only a metaphysical poet could say something so bleeding obvious as if we were all thinking different. So why is he saying it? Islands are lots of things, depending on how you look at them, such as pieces of land surrounded by water – but that’s not the sense he’s using the word in. He means an island in the sense of entire of itself, and is being kind enough to explain as much. So…
    “No man is an island, (in the sense of) entire of itself, etc etc”
    And now the comma is needed, I’d say.

  21. Yonray 1-1 Stew

  22. Stu: living where you do, I expect that you have had many occasions to make this point about non-restrictive commas and restrictive non-commas. Germans writing in English often put in too many commas because German doesn’t have that rule. I don’t imagine you’re shy about straightening them out.

  23. He means an island in the sense of entire of itself, and is being kind enough to explain as much. So…
    “No man is an island, (in the sense of) entire of itself, etc etc”
    And now the comma is needed, I’d say.

    Yes, that’s what I said. The comma is there in the original, and makes sense there.

  24. empty: I don’t try much to correct Germans, the poor dears, on their enthusiastic spiking of commas into English texts. I just say: “the basic rule is to have no commas, unless you are concatenating sentences, which you shouldn’t do”. This results in considerable improvement.
    But I am a termagant when it comes to correcting Germans, the lazy things, on their omission of commas in German texts. The rules of German punctuation are easy-peasy, and extremely useful in marking speech rhythm. I even put more commas in my English texts these days than are necessary.
    When you think about it, that actually should be the other way around.

  25. I’m not so mean as you insinuate. I expect people to follow the rules only when they can be expected to follow the rules. I am not always a termagant – my usual approach more resembles that of Mary Poppins and Mrs Piggle-Wiggle.

  26. yonray says:

    You’re quite right Stu – I got the wrong end of the stick.
    Crown will now read the football scores again.

  27. I myself sometimes get the wrong end of the shtick.

  28. Grumbly 2-1 Rest of the World

  29. Well, that was a thriller! It looked like it was going to be a draw, but a last-minute goal by Grumbly brought the crowd to its feet. And now for a word from our sponsor.

  30. Bathrobe says:

    As far as relative clauses are concerned, restrictive and non-restrictive have been superseded. The terms are now integrated and supplementary. See Huddleston and Pullum’s Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. They give a number of examples where integrated clauses are not restrictive.
    Here it is an unnecessary quibble that there are no islands that are not entire of themselves, i.e., that ‘entire of itself’ here logically serves to delimit a subset of islands that doesn’t exist. “An island entire of itself” is quite possible as an expression in English.

  31. Here it is an unnecessary quibble that there are no islands that are not entire of themselves … “An island entire of itself” is quite possible as an expression in English.
    My point was that the Donne passage conforms to familiar punctuation rules, and that even if it didn’t it should be cited correctly. That the sky will not fall if someone writes “an island entire of itself”, without a comma, is no excuse for carelessness when citing a text where a comma is present. The Donne misquote was not a case of an editor having “cautiously modernized the orthography” [behutsam modernisiert], as one sometimes reads in the editorial preface to an edition of an Antient Work.
    One can hardly turn around these days without encountering yet another person bleating in protest at conventions (I don’t mean you, Bathrobe). Young programmers are very given to bleating. I consider this to be a generational matter that resolves itself as the years go by. Sometimes the protest can hold its own, mostly it is fleetingly adolescent.

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