Most Notable Quotations of 2010

geoffrey nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue Nov 23 17:38:59 UTC 2010

I think that's right, Ron -- as I said, these people just plugged the remark into their prefab narratives, sort of like the way they took Obama's gift of an iPod to Queen Elizabeth as a sign of his arrogance. But it seems that the criterion for inclusion here is no longer that the line be "memorable" in the sense "Worthy of remembrance or note" -- very few of the quotes on Fred's list are that -- but simply that it have been widely reported and picked over. The "whose ass to kick" remark was that, and in fact got a lot of discussion not just on the right but on sites like Washington Monthly, Huffpost, and The Nation (some taxing the right with hypocrisy, others wondering whether it was a calculated effort to demonstrate his capacity for anger, etc.) In fact you could make similar points about Biden's whispered -- and utterly unremarkable -- "this is a big fucking deal" about the health care bill (or for that matter about GHW Bush's overheard "I guess we kicked some ass" afte!
 r the Ferraro debate in 1984). I don't think any of these merit a place on Fred's list, but I do think they underscore the shift that's taken place in the way people memorialize these things, and that Fred is right to say there are a lot of factors at work here.

I suppose you could tie this to the ambiguity of "notable." The OED gives 1."Worthy or deserving of attention, esp. on account of excellence, value, or importance" and "" 2. Without specific connotation of excellence, value, or importance.... Easily noted; attracting notice; conspicuous, pronounced, manifest." We used to interpret "notable quotations" according to the first def; now we assume the second.


> The fact that the Obama-haters picked on a perfectly unremarkable utterance of the president to deride him does not make the quote particularly memorable. There is virtually nothing that he could say that would not bring forth their derision. Even the "interpretations of the remark" do not give it any particular "currency" as a memorable quote. Indeed, the quotes that Geoff cites are not even "interpretations," they are merely springboards for mindless uttering of preconceived notions that have virtually nothing to do with Obama's remark.
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