Dodgy quotations (possibly slightly OT - sorry)
Posted: 08 August 2009 11:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Can anyone suggest a book or site for verifying dubious quotations?

My father was recently sent a condolence card which included the quotation “They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are” ascribed to St John Chrysostom.
My father, even in bereavement, is as double-dyed a pedant as I am, and his bullsh*t detectors started bleeping. He showed it to me and said “That sounds a deeply implausibly New Agey thing for a 4th-century theologian to say. Can it really be true?”

Google brings up nearly 150 hits for this quotation which ascribe it to Chrysostom, but none that I have confidence in - many are greetings cards sites and the like. I suspect it might perhaps be an extremely free paraphrase of something Chrysostom genuinely said, or have been ascribed to him by a misunderstanding, as that dreary “Desiderata” (‘Go placidly amid the noise…’) is erroneously stated to have been “discovered in Old St Paul’s Church in Baltimore in 1692.

Short of reading the entire works of Chrysostom, how can I find out if he said this or not?

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Posted: 09 August 2009 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Short answer: You probably can’t, because it’s pretty obscure (i.e., a recent invention and false attribution that hasn’t caught on—150 Google hits is practically nonexistent).  In general, your best resource is a carefully researched book of quotations; the most recent and best researched I know of is Fred Shapiro’s Yale Book of Quotations.  There is no way to verify a random quotation that is not included in such a book and cannot be found in the author’s texts online (Google Books, Gutenberg, etc.); Wikiquote can be helpful (they divide quotes into Sourced, Unsourced, and Misattributed), but of course no wiki is as reliable as a carefully researched and edited printed book.  In general, it’s safe to assume that any quote you see attributed online to someone famous without an exact reference is likely to be bogus.

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Posted: 09 August 2009 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In general, it’s safe to assume that any quote you see attributed online to someone famous without an exact reference is likely to be bogus.

This just needs to be highlighted. An excellent summary of the situation. It goes double for alleged quotes from saints, philosophers, or anyone that the average person could not identify, but who has a name that makes them think they would be able to if only they paid more attention in class.

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Posted: 09 August 2009 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Like the quotation about reorganisation which is always attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter, an attribution I’ve never trusted and just now found to be false.

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Posted: 09 August 2009 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Can anyone suggest a book or site for verifying dubious quotations?

Two books you might be interested in:

The Quote Sleuth: a manual for the tracer of lost quotations, by Anthony W. Shipps (Univ. of Illinois Press), is, as the name implies, a guide for those who want to track down real quotations and debunk false ones.  Unfortunately, due to its age (pub. 1990), it deals only with print resources and would have to be regarded as somewhat dated even with respect to those.

They Never Said It: a book of fake quotes, misquotes, and misleading attributions by Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George (Oxford Univ. Press). Instead of focusing on methods and resources, like the first book, this one is primarily a compilation.  Useful, but again dated (1989) and at 160 pages, it is but a teaspoonful thrown back against the tsunami of misinformation that the internet and Web have inundated us with.

Neither book mentions St. John Chrysostom in the index, so they offer no direct help with the present case.

(Amazon offers The Quote Verifier,by Ralph Keyes, which is more up-to-date (2006).  I might have to get myself a copy.

[ Edited: 09 August 2009 10:56 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 August 2009 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Another useful but out-of-date book: Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (Harpercollins, 1993), by Ralph Keyes.

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