Will the real quotation please stand up?
April 9, 2005 4:53 AM   Subscribe

When a quotation is longer than a few words, Googling for it usually brings up a wide range of variations (example). Anyone have a good strategy for finding the actual quotation verbatim, in situ, when you don't know the exact wording at the outset? Or, failing that, a citation for the quotation in the example above?
posted by bricoleur to Writing & Language (12 answers total)

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

Words to live by when Googling. ;-P
posted by mischief at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2005



"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another
with no loss of enthusiasm."

Hazard yet onward...
posted by mischief at 6:08 AM on April 9, 2005

1) Intuit the most credible source whether you need to cite a reference or not. It's just good practice. It also depends on the topic. If it is a literary quote, then clearly the best source is the actual work it was lifted from, so find a site that contains the actual text, literary ones that quote big chunks of it, or check out a hard copy. If it is a scientific quote, then a science site or a scientific article about the topic would be much better source than a general quotations site or a blog entry. (That said, some good bloggers cite their sources, so these would be worth checking out as well). If there is definite attribution of the quote to only one person, then an official website would be most credible, followed by a well-maintained tribute site or "[quoted person] society" site. If a quote is from an interview or article, then the [site of the] publication would be the best source, or, because the web can get very meta, the well-respected news/magazine sources are just as good.

2) When considering two or more variations of the quote, re-search the exact phrases where the differences lie. In this case, the two most popular would be "failure without loss of enthusiasm" and "failure without losing your enthusiasm". The variation with the most credible sources wins. If all that turns up are general quotes pages, then the one with the greater number of matches is more likely to be correct if only on the strengths of the wideness of its propagation.
posted by Lush at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2005

Pick the keywords of the entire thing you want from Google. From your post, I knew you wanted a "Churchill quote", therefore "Churchill quote" goes into the search box first, then the keywords of the quote itself.

Google works best when you give it something abstract to key on followed by a few details.
posted by mischief at 6:33 AM on April 9, 2005

Always be suspicious of results that come from 'quote farm' sites. They're vehicles for advertising, and the quotes are often not taken directly from the source, verbatim.

I got burned by this when I was writing about Hunter S. Thompson's death. One of the most frequent results was for a quote about the music business, which, due to its purported topic, appeared ubiquitously -- on quote farm sites, and also in articles that had drawn on the quote farms. Only problem? It was a misquote. He had actually been talking about the television business, but it had been misremembered and misquoted so often that most Google returns linked to a misquote.

So always try to find your way to the origin of the quote.
posted by Miko at 7:05 AM on April 9, 2005

So always try to find your way to the origin of the quote.

Yes, exactly. Sorry if I'm a little pissy this morning, but that was the question: HOW to do that? I do not want to use a popularity contest to determine which version, if any, is the veridical quotation, so simply comparing Google scores is out. I'm looking for a strategy to extract a real citation from the mass of "quote farm" instances that Google returns. My "strategy" in the example cited was simply to omit the word "quote" or "quotes," but clearly that was not sufficient to filter out the quote farm results.
posted by bricoleur at 8:13 AM on April 9, 2005

By longer than a few words, do you mean more or less than ten? Isn't that the point where google starts ignoring the rest?
posted by kimota at 9:03 AM on April 9, 2005

I kind of agree with Lush's Point 1 - don't use google for your problem. Or at least: look up "literature search engine" or "quotation search engine" or a variation on that theme.

Or try with this which was in the blue recently. I don't know if it will be successful.

I get a result like this sometimes and I simply read down the page looking for the most credible 'looking' site.

If you are really asking about honing your google skills, there's advanced search/explanations about best search methods at their site.
posted by peacay at 9:07 AM on April 9, 2005

Oh I suppose.....try searching the purported quote at amazon with " " - meaning, after you think you've found it on a website; I would hope that most published books are less free with their language than you find around the traps in ye olde cyberwurld.
posted by peacay at 9:10 AM on April 9, 2005

posted by Lanark at 1:24 PM on April 9, 2005

"I do not want to use a popularity contest to determine which version, if any, is the veridical quotation, so simply comparing Google scores is out."

Yeah, but that's the problem — Google's PageRank algorithm basically amounts to a popularity contest. Essentially, you're using the wrong engine. Try things like WikiQuote, or search for authoritative sources like Bartlett's, etc.
posted by WCityMike at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2005

Thanks, folks. I think you're right—I'm using the wrong engine. WikiQuote seems to be closest to what I'm looking for. But for the aphorism I have in mind, I think I'll have to be content to cite it as "attributed to."
posted by bricoleur at 5:23 AM on April 11, 2005

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