Webster is an example of something I dread, an author who had many quotes in the database before I started saving source information. The orator was featured in today’s quotes (18 January 2016), last night as I was preparing for the issue I had 52 quotes from him, only four or five had sources. Using a combination of Wikiquotes and Project Gutenberg material, I collected three dozen items, about a dozen of which allowed me to add sources to current entries, the rest were new. Then I went digging for the rest.
Ouch! Two quotes (Other sins only speak, … and There is not in nature …) turned out to be from a play, The Duchess of Malfi, staged in 1613 by John Webster.
I couldn’t find a primary source for one (How little do they see …) but many late 19th-century collections agree it was from Robert Southey.
Another (I mistrust the judgment …) was from Arthur Wellesley while he was in India; before he was made Duke of Wellington.
Another (Every man’s life, …) is still listed among Webster’s entries because I don’t have an author entry to match yet. Apparently this one came from a New York probate judge named Gideon J. Tucker, who may be added to the database soon.
Two others ( and Keep cool; anger is not an argument.) turned up no sources, and I flatly don’t believe them. They aren’t going to last long.
I now have six unsourced quotes among the 81 entries for Webster, three of which I hope to find sources for sometime. The 75 I trust represent real progress, don’t use the others in a term paper without research, and if you do, please share the source info with me!
Over the last few years I have been increasingly aware of the dismal quality of the quotation database extant on the internet. While there are certainly those that are very careful, most aren’t, and I’ve come to see that my own reflected this and, in fact, may have been worse than average. In my rush to go from the first four thousand quotes to twenty, I grabbed plenty of quotes from other sites that weren’t doing a decent job, sometimes grabbing the same questionable quote attributed to three or even, in one case, four authors.
When Wikiquotes banished unsourced quotes I was distraught, the quantity of quotes I could lift from them dropped precipitously. But it wasn’t long before I understood the reasons: unsourced quotes have a very high probability of bogosity. They may be sloppy paraphrases. They may be accurate quotations but attributed to more well-known authors (what Nigel Rees calls “Churchillian drift”). They may be memes that grew anonymously. (“There’s always room at the top.” — See next entry. And I’m dead certain that Mark Twain never said “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, someday I’ll relate my logical elimination of that, which was independent of the great research on it by Garson O’Toole at Quote Investigator.)
So I’ve come to agree with Wikiquotes, and though unsourced quotes are not being hoiked en masse here, I’m not adding any and I’m constantly looking for sources for items already in the database. It’s slower, but it feels good, and it neatly connects with the ADD/OCD instincts to go digging in off directions.
I didn’t make note of the date, but several years ago I added a source field to the quotes table and maintained a bias toward including sources. A year ago I became adamant, and I’m sure that over 90% of the quotations I’ve added have been sourced, and for the last few months it’s been closer to 99% — a quote has to be spectacular (and credible) to be added without a reasonable source. As I write this, we’re at 52.06% sourced, and that figure grows slightly every day.
As a long-time sufferer from ADD (no “H” please, anyone that knows me would laugh at that) I hear a very similar comment with some frequency. I don’t know if it was the original, but Belmont University apparently has a class in their catalog called:
“Oh, Look, a Chicken!” Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing
That’s apt. For me, ADD has largely been exactly that. Because with ADD it’s only the first chicken in a wildly-inappropriate setting that grabs attention. You just aren’t impressed enough by the second one, you hardly notice the third one, but a Great Blue Heron or a mongoose would get my focus, as would a cloud of locusts or a flock of chickens suddenly descending in the yard. The ones that do grab you inspire research, and Google and Wikipedia are far more productive than the beloved Encyclopaedia Brittanica of my youth.
On the off chance that you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, there was a ten-minute hiatus before this paragraph as I checked to see if the EB maintained the Latin ligature “ae” in the name, which led to noticing the name of “Charles Van Doren” as editor, which led to revisiting the story of the quiz show scandals of the ‘fifties, and a quick note to myself to make sure to add Mr Van Doren to the database, where he will eventually (depending on other distractions) join his father Mark and uncle Carl.
But, as Tom Lehrer was wont to say, I digress. This blog exists because the WordPress content management system, the basis for most blogs, provides a huge range of features that can be incorporated in any site, and I wanted to take advantage of that. And since I installed WordPress, I figured that it wouldn’t be too great a distraction to go ahead and use it.