Everybody loves quotations, but most people are content to attribute them to the first famous quote-provider that comes to hand (Twain, Wilde, Churchill, the usual suspects). A few intrepid souls undertake the hard work of tracking down who actually said it first; the most prominent in my mind is Fred R. Shapiro, who created the great Yale Book of Quotations, a long-needed replacement for the worthy but unreliable Bartlett’s. But a book either has the quote you want or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t you’re thrown on your own resources; now (since last April) there is a new resource, the Quote Investigator (“Dedicated to the Investigation and Tracing of Quotations”). The first post said “This blog tries to track down correct information about the provenance of sayings by utilizing the massive text databases that are being constructed right now along with other quotation history resources,” and the About page tells you a bit about Dr. O’Toole, who created it. He has the dogged attention to detail and accuracy necessary for the work, and I’m glad he’s taken it on. Send him your dubious quotes!


  1. “The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.” – Abraham Lincoln

  2. Wikiquote deserves credit in this territory. Nowadays it forbids the inclusion of quotations without solid referencing, and it’s not generally realised that, unlike other branches of the Wiki system, it actively encourages original research into sourcing.

  3. Wikipedia encourages original research into sourcing: if you can turn up a reliable secondary source that nobody’s found before, tant mieux. It’s original research into content that is discouraged. (“If you know the field, cite the literature!”)

  4. Wikipedia encourages original research into sourcing:
    As a friend of mine found out. He published a book on an aspect of the French Resistance after 17 years original research, peer-reviewed by an official (state) archivist. He can’t put anything about the subjects of his book on Wikipedia as they won’t accept his original research. I suppose that if another party put up the item citing the book, it might work, but that seems ridiculous.
    I understand the idea of the safeguard, but …

  5. “who actually said it first”: how would we know?
    “Who was first recorded as having said or written it” might be better.

  6. Wikiquotes’ “quote of the day” is a cracker by Acton, containing three palpable hits in one quotation.
    “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    “Great men are almost always bad men”
    “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

  7. I suppose that if another party put up the item citing the book, it might work, but that seems ridiculous.
    It doesn’t seem ridiculous at all, it seems a natural way of handling the situation, to me at least. I can understand why the author who did 17 years of original research would be grumpy about it, but if his discoveries are so important, someone else will in fact put them there and cite the book.
    “Who was first recorded as having said or written it” might be better.
    Well, yes, that’s what I meant.

  8. cracker by Acton
    Looks like it’s interpolated “All” that wasn’t in Lord Acton’s letter.

  9. Curse you, Hat, I’ve now got to read the whole of the Quote Investigator site …

  10. MMcM: Lordy, how on earth did they manage that? Normal Human Fallibility?

  11. LH: Why does quoting the book confer more authenticity on the facts than the author would himself?

  12. If you start allowing authors to cite their own research, Wikipedia will fill up with Time Cube Man and equivalents. It’s the same reason you’re not allowed to self-link on MetaFilter: nobody can be objective about their own work.

  13. Of course, if you’ve done the research, and have your citations, you can quote your own book, referencing the citations you used.
    But then you’ve released some of what you’ve written under a license of which your publisher may not approve.

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