Who said it?
July 25, 2007 12:23 PM   Subscribe

What's a good definitive source of quotations on the net? I've been trying to track down the source of a quote, but get differing answers.

The quote is (in part):
"... people get the government they deserve."
I get answers ranging from Adlai Stevenson, to Churchill, to Shaw, to Jefferson, to de Tocqueville. What? No Mark Twain?

What's a source I can trust (and... gee, what's the answer)?

Thanks in advance.
posted by jpburns to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
A book, man. Check a book. "Reliable" on the net means very little when it comes to trivia like this.
posted by boo_radley at 12:25 PM on July 25, 2007


Joseph de Maistre: Every country has the government it deserves/Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.
posted by mdonley at 12:27 PM on July 25, 2007


Yeah, I got de Maistre as well. Where'd you get that from? Anything reliable? See my quandry?

Books? What the heck is a book?

Seriously though, what if I don't have a good reference here? There should be something authoritative on the web, shouldn't there?
posted by jpburns at 12:30 PM on July 25, 2007


Yeah, I got de Maistre as well. Where'd you get that from? Anything reliable? See my quandry?

He's citing Bartleby's, a pre-Internet collection of quotations. But, much more importantly, the quote contains an attribution.
posted by vacapinta at 12:34 PM on July 25, 2007


I also found it attributed to de Maistre in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which is, I imagine, pretty authoritative.
posted by mdonley at 12:35 PM on July 25, 2007


mdonkey:

Duh!

Yeah, I just followed your link. I buy that as an authoritative source. Thanks!
posted by jpburns at 12:37 PM on July 25, 2007


I'd link to the ODQ citation, but it's only available to people who either pay for access or belong to a library which does.

It's in his Lettres et Opuscules Inédits vol. 1, letter 53, written on 15 August 1811 and published in 1851. The Bartleby link gives the date of publication as 1869, but says it's the 5th edition of the work - so I'd say the 1851 date might be when it was first published, but that's just an educated guess.
posted by mdonley at 12:38 PM on July 25, 2007


jpburns: no problem... though mdonkey is what I get called on the playground when the other kids don't want to play with me...stupid last name.
posted by mdonley at 12:39 PM on July 25, 2007


mdonley:

Sorry.

Wait till you get old and have crummy eyes!

Thanks.
posted by jpburns at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2007


There should be something authoritative on the web, shouldn't there?

Maybe there should be, but there isn't. And when it comes to quotations, you really can't trust any source (unless, as here, there's a cast-iron citation); quotations notoriously get attributed to anybody who's famous for being quotable. See my comment here. But yeah, you need printed books from unimpeachable sources; the Oxford Dictionary and the brand-new Yale Book of Quotations are probably your best bets.
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


With time Wikiquote should become a good and accurate resource.
posted by kepano at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2007


languagehat (and others), you may be interested in this short article about how the mis-attribution effect can appear in academia as well.
posted by vacapinta at 1:40 PM on July 25, 2007


quotations notoriously get attributed to anybody who's famous for being quotable

It's even possible to properly attribute a quote to someone who was quoting somebody else. Sometimes these are "correct" in the loosest sense but not in terms of identifying the origin.

Then there are quotes that may have no particular origin at all -- various people at various times have said roughly the same thing different ways.

I think going to Bartlett's on Bartleby is probably as authoritative a free resource as there is, but of course it only works for older stuff. But hey, mdonley linked to a Bartleby book that was originally compiled by the Congressional Research Service -- basically the Ask Metafilter of Congress.
posted by dhartung at 2:05 PM on July 25, 2007


With time Wikiquote should become a good and accurate resource.

I doubt it. Quotations are probably the hardest general category of information to get right; even books from reputable sources get things wrong. And while it's fairly easy to identify and avoid problem areas of Wikipedia, there's no way of knowing which bits of Wikiquote are problematic. Even if there's a cited reference, I wouldn't trust it without tracking it down and verifying it myself. With printed books, someone has done that for me.
posted by languagehat at 2:13 PM on July 25, 2007


Bartleby's isn't a pre-internet compendium of quotations, that's Bartlett's. The linked-to site appears to be citing Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations.
posted by Hildago at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2007


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