Our Fred on Quotes of the Year

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 16 02:21:00 UTC 2008

An AP article of more or less this form has been popping up in papers
around the world.  I wonder if Jesse Jackson's "crude remark" on
Obama and his family jewels was actually quoted in some of the
write-ups.  And wasn't "bitter" a crucial component of the
"bittergate" quote, at least to Obama's detractors?

[Associated Press]

Sarah Palin lost the election, but she's a winner to a connoisseur of

The Republican vice presidential candidate and her comedic
doppelganger, Tina Fey, took the top two spots in this year's list of
most memorable quotes compiled by Fred R. Shapiro.

First place was "I can see Russia from my house!" spoken in satire of
Palin's foreign policy credentials by Fey on "Saturday Night Live."

Palin actual quote was: "They're our next-door neighbors and you can
actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in

Palin also made the third annual list for her inability to name
newspapers she reads. When questioned by CBS anchor Katie Couric,
Palin said she reads "all of them, any of them that have been in
front of me over all these years."

Palin's quotes were pivotal, said Shapiro, associate librarian and
lecturer in legal research at the Yale Law School who compiles the

"This quote helped shape the election results," he said of the Russia
quote. "As it sank in the public realized this was someone really,
really inexperienced and perhaps lacking in curiosity about the

Shapiro issued his Yale Book of Quotations, with about 13,000
entries, two years ago after six years of research. He expects to
release the next edition in about five years, but in the meantime
plans to issue annual top 10 lists.

Picking the best quotes this year was especially challenging because
the presidential race and financial crisis provided so much material,
Shapiro said. Last year's list ranged from "Don't tase me,
bro"--shouted by a Florida college student--to a quote from a Miss
Teen USA contestant who gave a confused and mangled response to a
question about why one-fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a

Shapiro said that when he began the list he thought he would select
the most profound, eloquent or witty quotes. But the celebrity
culture and political discourse led him down a different path.

"What I have come to do is pick some quotes that really say something
about our culture and they tend almost exclusively to be quotes that
are notable for negative reasons rather than being admirable or
eloquent," Shapiro said.

Palin's running mate, Sen. John McCain, also made the list twice,
once for his "the fundamentals of America's economy are strong"
comment in April and again for saying "maybe 100" when asked last
January how many years U.S. troops could remain in Iraq.

Shapiro said the quotes may have been somewhat unfairly construed.
"Nonetheless, these quotes cemented his image as someone who was out
of touch with economic realities or indifferent to economic realities
and being someone who was fanatical about prosecuting the war in
Iraq," he said.

Shapiro relies on suggestions from quote-watchers around the world,
plus his own choices from songs, the news and movies, and then
searches databases and the Internet to determine the popularity of
the quotes.

Phil Gramm, a McCain advisor, made the list for saying "We have sort
of become a nation of whiners" in July in reference to Americans
concerned about the economy.

President-elect Barack Obama didn't make the list, not even for his
much-criticized remark in which he said some small-town Americans
"cling to guns or religion."

"To me it didn't seem like a very remarkable or very foolish quote,"
said Shapiro, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat.
"Ultimately I decided against it, but it was a close call."

However, a crude remark about Obama by the Rev. Jesse Jackson did
make the list. Jackson apologized for the comment during what he
thought was a private conversation in July.

"It indicates Republicans do not have a monopoly on quotes that are
deplorable," Shapiro said.

While Obama dominated the year and produced memorable quotes, "quotes
from people like Palin were more celebrated and said more about our
times than anything Obama said."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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