Most Notable Quotations of 2010

Tue Nov 23 18:43:52 UTC 2010

        Fred, is there a web page that compiles your various annual
lists of quotations?  I think it would be interesting to compare the
changes in character, if any, that appear from year to year.

        I think Fred is right to point out limitations in compiling a
list of notable quotations of the year, and I think these limitations
apply to any compiler, not just him personally.  Who in 1851, the year
that Moby-Dick was published, would have named "Call me Ishmael" as one
of the year's top quotations?  It can take a long time for the truly
notable quotations to come to the fore.

        In addition, sometimes a quotation has such a viral quality that
it is difficult to recognize it as new and identify its source.  I have
in mind such quotations as "It doesn't _do_ anything, that's the beauty
of it," originally a reference to the Red Hat Club, IIRC.

        In light of these considerations, high-profile quotations from
politics, entertainment, and news, easily recognized and readily
sourced, are likely to dominate.  In the most recent election, both
parties ran essentially on the negative message that they should be
chosen because they are not the other party.  Their messages were
relatively more positive in 2008, although of course there was plenty of
mudslinging then too.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 7:16 AM
Subject: Re: Most Notable Quotations of 2010

The phenomena that Geoff points out could simply be artifacts of my
particular approach to compiling "notable quotations of the year" list
rather than being symptomatic of any larger trends.  But in my own mind
I do have some explanations for why my lists are turning out the way
they are:

-- "They don't make quotations the way they used to" in the sense that
eloquent lines from literature, movies, song lyrics, political speeches
are scarce nowadays.  Even if this were not true, it usually takes some
years before eloquent lines from literature and other art forms become
obvious, and such lines would be unlikely to make a "quotations of the
year" list.

-- Our political discourse and celebrity culture are nowadays dominated
by stupidity and venality, and the lines that are memorable tend to be
memorable because of their stupidity or venality.

The origins of this kind of quotation list may go back to the 1960s,
when there were booklets published with titles like "Quotations of
Chairman LBJ," "Wit and Wisdom of Spiro Agnew," "An Evening with Richard
Nixon" (compiled by Gore Vidal).  The purpose of such booklets was to
portray the subject as an idiot or as scarily dangerous.  Jacob
Weisberg's "Bushisms" compilations are more recent examples.  Currently,
negative political campaigning and YouTube serve to spotlight quotations
for their embarrassing or foolish aspects.

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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