One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
For over 70 years, Oxford has been collecting, sourcing, researching, and authenticating quotations, and in so doing it has developed one of the richest language resources in the world today.
What is a quotation?
Oxford Dictionaries defines a quotation as ‘a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker’. The words ‘other than’ are crucial here: a quotation is a saying that other people think worth repeating because it is well expressed – whether it is beautiful or funny, wise, or incongruous.
Most usually, a quotation is associated with someone famous and introduced with the words 'as X says', calling up the support of a distinguished writer or thinker for our own ideas. This association lends the quoter an enhanced authority, and adds weight to their argument.
Where do we find quotations?
Quotations can represent words in any form: books, newspapers, journals, letters, broadcast interviews, plays, films, online publication, emails, tweets, or simply one person talking to another face-to-face. We face a daily torrent of language, of which just a few words may lodge in the public mind to be remembered and quoted days, weeks, or years later.
Oxford Quotations has a team of readers looking out for quotations and allusions as they are used in daily life. Potential new quotations are entered in a database, the major source of material for new quotations dictionaries and for new editions of existing bestsellers. When a quotation is selected for inclusion in one of our collections, detailed follow-up research is carried out to verify its authenticity and to provide clear details of its context and background.
In the past, this meant digging around in books and newspapers, and most research was done in the darker recesses of libraries. The Internet has made a huge difference in this respect: with many works searchable online and digitized newspaper archives, some forms of search are much easier. On the other hand, misattributions and errors spread much more rapidly online, so the need for reliable sources of genuine quotations has never been greater.
Finding out more
You can find more information about quotations on Oxford Reference, including links to more useful information and a free dictionary of over 12,000 quotations. You can even listen to the original recordings of some of the best-known modern quotations in the famous Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
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