Give me a quote!
April 7, 2009 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I am writing a short story and I would like to have one of the characters in this story quote a real historical figure. I do not have a specific quote in mind, but I have certain ideas about the character that dictate certain parameters for the quote. I would like to solicit the hivemind for suggestions, as my Google-Fu has thus far failed me in selecting something viable. If you accept this mission, you will find details below the fold.

Essentially, in broad strokes, this character is a highly educated pretentious asshole. Like, he's an over the top caricature of a highly educated pretentious asshole. Caricature is key.

During a certain conversation, while discussing a really banal subject, I would like for him to quote someone else.

In my mind, the ideal quote would be from an obscure French philosopher - and, even better, he would quote him in French.

I feel like the elements of the quote A) being in a foreign language B) being from an obscure academic-type combine in a perfect storm of hyperbole to illustrate my point.

It could be in German or, really, any language other than English, although an English translation is also necessary for my purposes.

The actual content of the quote is mostly irrelevant. I can pretty much twist the conversation to fit the quote. If you feel like the quote could somehow be applied to a thematic element of Battlestar Galactica, that would be absolutely awesome - but I think at that point I'm asking a little too much of everyone, because, seriously, I understand that makes very little sense.

I found several quotes that I thought were OK, but they had all been translated to English, and I am loathe to run them through a translation engine to get back to the native language because that will undoubtedly look stupid and be wrong.

Alternatively, if you feel like you could translate a quote back to its language of origin, you could make a note of this and I could send you one via Metafilter mail and you could provide me a very helpful service and I would be in your debt.
posted by kbanas to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Derrida (while hardly being obscure) would seem to fit the bill, because his aphorisms and observations can be so dense:

I have always had trouble recognizing myself in the features of the intellectual playing his political role according to the screenplay that you are familiar with and whose heritage deserves to be questioned.

posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2009

Thanks KokuRyu! But, to really fit the bill, I would like the quote in its native language. So, does anyone speak French who could perhaps translate that?
posted by kbanas at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2009

if you feel like you could translate a quote back to its language of origin

This is a very, very bad idea. What you should be doing is finding the quote in the original language, not translating it. This should not be hard to do, and I don't see why you can't do it for the quotes that you "thought were OK, but they had all been translated to English."
posted by languagehat at 12:33 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

What you should be doing is finding the quote in the original language, not translating it. This should not be hard to do, and I don't see why you can't do it for the quotes that you "thought were OK, but they had all been translated to English."

I guess this is where my Google-Fu is failing me, as I found it incredibly difficult to find them in their original language.

Perhaps I am missing a search term or something very obvious and easy.
posted by kbanas at 12:37 PM on April 7, 2009

languagehat, I was attempting to do just that for some suggestions I was going to make to the OP, but I was finding it difficult to do. How exactly would one go about searching for a quote they only know the English translation of?
posted by Night_owl at 12:37 PM on April 7, 2009

For instance, I would find a quote that included the words, "our eyes." I tried then to google "nos yeux" and the author and came up with nothing resembling the quote I was looking for.
posted by Night_owl at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2009

Here you go! (Don't ask me what it means!)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2009

The English Wikiquote page links directly to the French Wikiquote page. I don't know. Perhaps you could click on the French Derrida page, and that would take you to more of his "citations" in French.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:41 PM on April 7, 2009

Here's how Babelfish translates it:
I speak here as Algérien become french one point, having lost his French citizenship, and having found. Of all the cultural riches that I received that I inherited, my Algerian culture is among those who have most strongly supported. The legacy I received from Algeria is something that has probably inspired my philosophical work. All the work I have continued, with respect to European philosophical thought, Western, as they say, Greek and European issues that I had to ask for a degree, a certain exteriority, n 'would certainly not have been possible if, in my personal history, I was not a child of the margin of Europe, a child of the Mediterranean, which was neither just nor simply french African and who spent his time traveling from one culture to another and feeding issues that arise from this instability. All that interested me long for the writing, the trace of the deconstruction of Western metaphysics - that I never, whatever may be said to have identified as something homogeneous or defined in the singular - while it could not not do this also refers to a place whose language and yet unknown to me or prohibited.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:41 PM on April 7, 2009

get the CITATION for the English translation of the quote, and then find the book or article in the original language. Obviously the original won't have the same pagination as the translation, but it will have the same chapter and section breaks, so if you even know a little of the original language (or have a friend that does), you should be able to find the quote.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2009

The Derrida quote appears to be a fairly straightforward biographical statement (though awkwardly translated by Babelfish), not the standard Derrida-incomprehensible-jargon-nonsense of his academic writing.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2009

What kestrel251 said. It's not hard if you have even a minimal knowledge of the language.
posted by languagehat at 12:49 PM on April 7, 2009

Nil scire tutissima fides.
"To know nothing is the safest creed."
— Motto of Johan (Jan) Van Olden-Barneveldt (1547-16-19), Dutch Statesman

In his youth, Barneveldt, who was fated to be the dominating figure of Holland over a period of thirty-two years, found time away from his law books in Heidelberg to study Calvinism. He hoped to discover therein a satisfying religion to guide him, but the doctrines only bewildered him. In his perplexity he turned to the inscription over the gateway of his great-grandfather's noble house in his native town of Amersfoort, and adopted it—not as counseling ignorance or indifference in worldly matters, but as removing all anxiety about his spiritual fortunes. He still believed in a Creator; to that anchor he would hold fast. He simply threw overboard all the dogmas that had confused him, and determined to perform his earthly duties soberly and faithfully, confident that a generous Eternal would not visit perpetual torture upon his soul for any mistakes that he might make. This was the creed to which he adhered, even to the day when he went to his execution a victim of malevolent injustice.
Pretty easily adaptable to just about any pointless argument, appropriately obscure, and ready with some handy backstory. From Walter Fogg's 1,000 Sayings of History
posted by carsonb at 12:52 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand." - Blaise Pascal.

It sounds wonderful when spoken in French.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2009

Thanks, carsonb. That could do the trick for sure, although I am open to other suggestions. Am I correct in that "Nil scire tutissima fides" is Latin?
posted by kbanas at 12:57 PM on April 7, 2009

La distance n'y fait rien; il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte.
"The distance is nothing; 'tis only the first step that costs."
—Marquise du Defand, Marie de Vichy-Chamrond (1697-1780).

This was the cynical rejoinder of the witty and accomplished Madame du Deffand when the credulous Cardinal de Polignac related to her in all seriousness the tradition that the martyr Saint Denis, carrying his decapitated head in his hands, walked "two leagues" to the spot where his church was afterward erected. She refers humorously to the incident in one of her letters to Horace Walpole (June 6, 1767).
This book's full of crap like this...more?
posted by carsonb at 1:02 PM on April 7, 2009

carsonb, if it's not too much trouble, hit me up with one more and I think that will be everything that I need.

I really appreciate your help. 1,000 Sayings of History sounds like a great book to have on the shelf as a reference.
posted by kbanas at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2009

If it really doesn't matter and you can tweak your context to suit the quote, consider some lines or snippets from Goethe or Schiller.
Like Schiller's "Sieh da! Sieh da, Timotheus, die Kraniche des Ibykus"
This fits every situation where Highly Educated Pretentious wants to say "now the truth comes to light."

Another classic is "Das also war des Pudels Kern" From Goethe's Faust I. To be used in any situation where Highly Educated Pretentious finally understands anything he previously didn't understand, or wants to tell his audience some connection he recently found out about.

A third would be Beethoven's "So klopft das Schicksal an die Pforte" which he is supposed to have said about the beginning of his 5th Symphony. Thus fate knocks at the door. Can be used every time someone makes a ruckus. Like you drop a cup. Highly Educated Pretentious turns his head only slightly, smiles faintly and says "so klopft das Schicksal an die Pforte, as Beethoven would say."

Finally, Caesar's Bellum Gallicum, first words: "GALLIA est omnis divisa in partes tres", which suits especially well as soon as Highly Educated Pretentious talks about a messy breakup with children involved or a car wreck.

That said, the higher you're educated the less pretentious you're likely going to be. The amount of things one won't ever know is depressing.
posted by Namlit at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2009

OK, this one's made for some deep Commander Adama bullshit:

Viam invenia aut faciam. [Latin]
"I will find a way or make one."
—Hannibal, Carthaginian general.

This was Hannibal's answer to the skeptics who questioned his amazing plan of invading Italy by taking his army over the Alps. . . . Whether he conquered the mountain-chain by way of the Mt. Genèvre Pass or Mt. Cenis, in the Cottian Alps, or by the little St. Bernard in the Graian Alps, is a matter of difference among historians; some maintain that it was the Pass of Argentière. Be that as it may, he climbed with foot and horse, and thirty elephants, to a height of probably seven thousand feet, in the snow of winter; skirting slippery precipices and fighting off the hostile Gauls who tumbled rocks down from the crags upon the heads of his soldiers. On the ninth day he gained the top, and, giving his weary tropps a rest, pointed out to them the inviting panorama of the rich Campania, which was to be one of the rewards of their courage and fidelity. Animated with fresh strength by this fascinating prospect, they began the descent. . . . . So it was that one spring day in 217 B.C. the great Carthaginian, with 26,000 men, suddenly debouched into the plains of Italy. In his passage of the Alps, accomplished in fifteen days, he had lost half his army but stamped himself as a far greater genius than any captain the Romans could put into the field against him. He had performed one of the most stupendous military feats of all time.
Walter Fogg is a hero of mine; 'debouched' has never been used so well.
posted by carsonb at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The last proposition in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is this:

"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen."

It's very sonorous in the German. It means: "What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence."

This is a quote by an obscure philosopher who has the advantage of not also being a charlatan...yet I've also heard it quoted by pretentious assholes.
posted by Beardman at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could use Marshal Pierre Bosquet's famous remark about the Charge of the Light Brigade:

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre... ["It is magnificent, but it is not war"]

And if you wanted to give your readers a subtle cue as to what a pretentious twit he is, you could have him say 'le guerre' instead of 'la guerre'-- the mistake I made when I looked it up.
posted by jamjam at 1:36 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Qui fugiebat, rusus praeliabitur.
"The man who runs away may fight again."
—Demosthenes (384 or 383-322 B.C.), Attic orator and statesman.

When Demosthenes, who fought as one of the hoplites or heavy infantry in the battle of Chaeronea (August, 338 B.C.), was censured because he abondoned his shield (one of those most disgraceful acts for a Greek soldier) and ran away from the victorious troops of Philip the Macedonian, he retorted iwth a line from Menander, the Greek comedian. . . . . Despite his flight, the Athenians kept their faith in Demosthenes, and he delivered the funeral oration over his three thousand countrymen who, braver or less fortunate than himself, perished or were taken prisoners on the field that he deserted. . . . . There is a modern proverb, "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day," which may perhaps be traced back to this ancient statesman.
posted by carsonb at 1:53 PM on April 7, 2009

If it's foreign, impressive-sounding quotes, there's plenty to be found:

"Audentes fortuna iuvat." Fortune favors the bold. From Virgil's Aeneid. Also from the same source: "Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit." Perhaps someday we will look back upon these things with joy.

Really, there's a whole list of Latin quotes here, which I randomly found: Here's wikiquote:

French? "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." The perfect is the enemy of the good. Attributed to Voltaire, though apparently it appears elsewhere. "L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers." Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Rousseau.

Look on wikiquotes for Rousseau, Voltaire, and French proverbs. Or the page on Nietzsche. Really, it wasn't that hard, if you're not looking for a quote in particular.

If you have a quote translated into English, and it's well-known enough, search for it in quotes with Google. I searched "the heart has its reasons which reason does not understand" (with quotes), which was mentioned above, and several results down, I found "La coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas." Had I found nothing, I'd have added "coeur" to the query, since I know that "coeur" is "heart" in French.

I think you have enough to do this on your own at this point.
posted by Busoni at 2:45 PM on April 7, 2009

"Wit and wisdom from great French and francophone thinkers" is found here:

(an aside: it's probably not accurate to describe Wittgenstein as an "obscure philosopher" -- you'd be hard pressed to find an analytic philosopher who has never read any Wittgenstein, much less one who has never heard of him)

posted by tractorfeed at 5:38 PM on April 7, 2009

Whoops sorry for not linking: Also this has the quotes in the original French and also translated into English.
posted by tractorfeed at 5:39 PM on April 7, 2009

If you're concerned about having correct pretentious foreign language quotes, there were a couple of misspellings in the Latin quotes above:

Viam invenia aut faciam

Should be '(aut) viam inveniam aut faciam'. (Appears in a couple of different forms, according to Wikipedia.)

Qui fugiebat, rusus praeliabitur

Has to be 'qui fugiebat, rursus proeliabitur', but Demosthenes didn't speak Latin. He was Greek. (The quote is from Tertullian, according to Wikiquote; he could be paraphrasing Demosthenes? It looks like Tertullian just calls it a Greek "versicle.")

Pascal: "Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point." (Not a huge difference, but definitely the gender was wrong on coeur, which ought to be written with a ligature, if one is being very pedantic.)

Sort of Baltar-like, if that's what you're going form is Pascal's "La vraie morale se moque de la morale," 'true morality mocks morality'.
posted by lysimache at 7:02 PM on April 7, 2009

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