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Our Brand New Quotations Page: Sourced Quotes for All Occasions

It's hard to find reliably attributed quotes online. Introducing our brand new Quotations page, full of great quotes, complete with source information!

By Mary Murphy | Posted on October 26, 2017 in Writing


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Just a few of the sources and quotation anthologies we used to track down quotes for our Quotations page.

Just a few of the sources and quotation anthologies we used to track down quotes for our Quotations page.
© Little Birdie Me

I’m a little bit bummed out today. Fortunately though, that feeling is more than offset by a goodly amount of excitement! First, the good news. I’m really excited to announce that we just launched a new addition to the Gifting Resources section of the site: a Quotations page. Essentially, it’s a big pin board for a whole host of quotations that passed the awesomeness test here at Little Birdie Me, quotations that I hope folks will find useful as they put pen to paper to express themselves.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to capture a moment or a feeling, and a good quote can help start you off on the right direction. Some, I have found, speak volumes all by themselves and are perfect little nuggets of wisdom or humor for homemade greeting cards, while others work best as launchpads for expressing more complex feelings, or a range of emotions in an expansive letter.

Moving forward, my goal is to keep adding to this library of quotations, growing it slowly but surely over time, emphasizing quality over quantity. But, I hear you thinking - there are already a lot of quote sites out there. True. And, if you’re wondering what the difference is between our quote collection and most other quote sites, it’s twofold: first, the quotes are chosen specifically because they might work well in a greeting card type context, at a time when you’re trying to convey an emotion or inspire a certain feeling. If you’re at a loss for words - whether it’s trying to offer words of encouragement, to express your love, to convey condolences, or simply to give a friend a good chuckle - hopefully one of the quotes we’ve included will help out, be it as food for thought, calligraphic source material, or epistolary inspiration.

The second main distinguishing feature of our Quotations page is that we provide source information, unlike the majority of quote sites out there. And, it is that difference that brings me to what’s bumming me out. In the course of researching quotations for the site, I discovered that many (and seemingly the majority of the ones I wanted to include here on Little Birdie Me) were, in fact, total fabrications - or, at the very least, misattributed. And, what bummed me out even more was discovering that a lot of the “go-to” quote sites, the ones that pop up at the top of browser search results, are perpetuating these fake quotes and false attributions, doing no due diligence whatsoever.

As I worked on Little Birdie Me’s quotation page, invariably the pattern would be me watching something on television, spotting a snazzy quote on Instagram, or catching a glimpse of some pithy words on a passing t-shirt, that I would hurry to scribble down. Then, getting back to my computer, I would pull out the crumpled up napkin, unfold the old receipt, or pull up the saved “quote note” on my smartphone, so that I could verify it and add it to the list. Guesstimating here, I feel as though about 60% of the quotes I noted down this way turned out to be either straight up false or unverifiable.

Why is this, you ask? Unfortunately, I think there may be a domino effect cascading from all of these unscrupulous sites that post quotes without bothering to source them. For example, screenwriters are perhaps consulting these same websites. I happened to be watching the TV show, Criminal Minds, one evening and, at the end of Season 1, Episode 6, the character Hotch says in a voiceover, “Shakespeare wrote: ‘nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable.’” This wasn’t a quote I was considering for the site, as it’s not really a greeting card sentiment, but I was curious about which play or sonnet it came from. Turns out, it doesn’t come from either. In fact, it wasn’t written by Shakespeare at all. I even had a search on Open Source Shakespeare with no results. What clinched it though was finding the quote, almost word for word, in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. as, “nothing is so common-place as the wish to be remarkable.”

Resources online and at various local libraries really helped us track down some quotes.

Resources online and at various local libraries really helped us track down some quotes.
© Little Birdie Me

It’s not just screenwriters though that seem to be using quotes without double-checking their sources, it’s publishers, authors, t-shirt printers, paperweight producers, and magnet makers, among others. Many of the quotes that I thought were especially clever - quotes splashed all over gift shop items and posters - are those same ones that appear to be total fabrications.

Here are just a few of the quotes I thought were good candidates for inclusion but are ones for which I could not find a reliable source:

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” attributed to Lucille Ball - in addition to extensive online searching, I watched several interviews with Ms. Ball on YouTube to try to pin this one down, but couldn’t find a source.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” attributed to Winston Churchill but it seems unlikely

“To begin, begin.” usually attributed to William Wordsworth but also sometimes to Peter Nivio Zarlenga

“If you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”widely attributed to Marilyn Monroe but I can find no evidence she actually said this

“Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”another one attributed to Marilyn Monroe but, again, I could find no evidence she ever said or wrote this

“Forget conventionalisms; forget what the world thinks of you stepping out of your place; think your best thoughts, speak your best words, work your best works, looking to your own conscience for approval.”attributed to Susan B. Anthony but, unfortunately, have not been able to find the source

“The more I learn about people, the more I like dogs.”widely attributed to Mark Twain but it seems no primary source has been found (even in his short story ‘A Dog’s Tale’). Others seeking the source of this quote have speculated it may actually originate with Madame de Stael, Voltaire, or Alfonse de Lamartine (among others).

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”among others, this one has been attributed to Julia Child, Buddha and Oscar Wilde, but no source data is ever given

Although I wasn’t able to find sources for the above sampling of quotes, perhaps they do exist? In fact, if you happen to know of a legit source, please do let me know in the comment section below and I will happily add them to the Quotations page. The quotes are good ones - witty, amusing and/or pithy - and I would like to include all of them if verifiable sources can be found.

It’s very important to me that Little Birdie Me always be a reliable source of information - whether we’re talking about gift ideas, or sharing quotations. For that reason, when building the quotes page, each quote was subjected to a mini investigation when it came to verification and attribution. Almost all of the quotes on our Quotations page are accompanied by a link to the original primary source material. There are only a few quotes included that are not associated with a primary source - for example, anonymous sayings or proverbs, and one where (due to my lack of German), I wasn’t sure if the source was primary or secondary. That said, if you would like to stick with quotes that are attributable and personally verifiable, I added a filter so it is possible to view only those with primary sources.

Another thing I wanted to ensure on the site was that a distinction was drawn between words “spoken” by a fictional character and words an author/speaker actually wrote or said directly to others. For that reason, where a quote can be attributed to a fictional character, the real life author is given primacy of place in attribution, but the character’s name is also specified to clarify that the quote is not something that can necessarily be taken to represent the author’s own personal views. Similarly, for film quotes, the appropriate screenwriter (or screenwriters) is given primacy of place attribution-wise, but the character in the film that voiced the words is also listed.

One thing that’s a little trickier to offer folks is the context in which words are said. As we all know, people’s views can change over time, and fictional characters do not always speak for their creators. My hope is that by providing as much source information as possible, it will be much easier for those who wish to view any of the quotations in their original context to do so.

Verifying quotations sometimes involved deep dives at the library - from centuries old volumes, to magazines on microfilm.

Verifying quotations sometimes involved deep dives at the library - from centuries old volumes, to magazines on microfilm.
© Little Birdie Me

By the by, if you have happened upon a gem of a quote yourself and are interested in verifying it, there are a few resources I would highlight that, based on my own experiences, may prove helpful. First up is Quote Investigator where, if you are tracking down the origins of a specific quote, you may be lucky enough to find your work has largely been done for you. I was also appreciative of the fact that Wikiquote made the decision some years back to only include quotes where a verifiable source can be found - again, if you’re investigating a specific quote, you may find that someone has linked to a reliable source there or, conversely, confirmed that it has been misattributed, providing the correct attribution. If you look at Shakespeare’s Wikiquote page, for instance, you’ll find the above-mentioned Oliver Wendell Holmes correction included in the misattribution section. You’ll still want to verify the source provided on Wikiquote (I encountered at least one erroneous bit of source information when doing my own research), but the site is often helpful for that initial clue as to where a quote comes from.

The third online source I would highlight, especially if you fancy browsing quotes, is WIST (an acronym for “wish I’d said that”). I do not know Dave, the man behind the site, but applaud the fact that he provides source information for the quotes he publishes, so if you find something you like, or a turn of phrase you think is particularly apt, chances are he has made it easy for you to check the primary source.

In terms of print sources, there are tons of books out there purporting to be quote anthologies but, again, a lot don’t include sources. I recommend only using ones that include a source for each quote, such as The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, or Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. All that said, the final step in doing proper research is verifying that the listed source is indeed accurate. For example, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations attributes the quote, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” to Eleanor Roosevelt, citing her autobiography, This Is My Story (1937). The thing is, you can search the book and you’ll turn up precisely zero results for that phrase. In fact, Quote Investigator did an in-depth analysis on this quote and found that although it may be a rough paraphrase of sentiments she expressed, there does not seem to be any record of her actually saying those exact words - you can read their conclusion here.

Suffice it to say, if you really want to be sure about a quote, you’ll need to consult the source yourself, regardless of where you find it listed. A great place to do this online is Google Books which, by providing access to easily searchable primary source material, really helped me ascertain the origins of a large portion of the quotes referenced on the site. YouTube was a great help too for songs, movies and the odd interview.

In summary, if you find a quote you would like to reference - be it on a homemade greeting card, a blog post, or in a screenplay - I highly recommend sussing out and consulting primary source materials yourself to verify origins before referencing its purported author. Although the internet has made the proliferation of false attributions much more likely, it has happily given us the tools to confirm and verify (in most cases) almost as easily. And, please do check out our new Quotations page, where we may already have done all the legwork for you! I hope you find it helpful.

Tags: gift messages, greeting cards, thank you notes


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