Sources

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.

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