“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” Dorothy L. Sayers
“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” A. A.Milne
I chuckled when I read the above three quotes, but I sure hoped they were not accurate 100% of the time. I love quotes—and use them often. Fortunately, not everyone agrees with Birece, Sayers, and Milne. Abraham Lincoln, for example, said, “It is a pleasure to be able to quote lines to fit any occasion.”
Geoffrey O’Brien agrees with Lincoln. O’Brien is the general editor of the 18th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. It, therefore, seems fitting that he values quotations and even speculates about the use of quotes as we communicate with each other. In a New York Times column, he suggests some practical reasons to use quotes: enhance a speech, bolster an argument, fill a void in dull conversations, perhaps serve as an outline for writers. But ultimately he says quotes give a glimpse into ourselves and our cultural history. For O’Brien, “In a real sense, we are what we quote — and what can any of us hope to be but a tiny component of that hubbub of voices distilled by books of quotations and epigrams?”
I am not an editor of books of quotations, but I am a writer, teacher, and friend who has loved and used quotes since I was a kid. I learned to collect quotes from my mom, and I won my first essay contest in 6th grade building an essay on America around a quote from John F. Kennedy. I still use quotes in essays, blog posts, and classroom writing assignments; I share them with friends and family. I even collect books of quotations on a wide range of subjects, such as teachers, courage, and leadership. My copy of Bartlett’s is the 15th edition that was published in 1980.
For me, quotes capture the truth about life, about lessons learned, about actions to take to make things better, and about ideas that motivate and inspire. O’Brien offers this observation: “Quotes are the actual fabric with which the mind weaves: internalizing them, but also turning them inside out, quarreling with them, adding to them, wandering through their architecture as if a single sentence were an expansible labyrinthine space.” It would be a real challenge for me to give up using quotes, sharing them, reflecting on them. They give me a way to put life into perspective that I can share with others.
How about you? Do you use quotes or avoid them? What are your favorites?
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SOME OF MY FAVORITE WORDS TO LIVE BY
“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Will Rogers
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Henry Ford
“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.” Sir William Dewar
“If you don’t like something, change. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
“Learning is the discovery that something is possible.” Fritz Perls
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Mark Twain
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” Helen Keller