- Introduction: Fostering Quotational Excellence
- Misquotation: Improper Quoting, Sourcing, Context, Appropriation
- Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias
- Logic versus Fame: Formal Fallacy, Genetic Fallacy, Halo Effect
- Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion
- Classical Logic: Contradiction, Context, Scope, Validity, Generalizability
- Compromise and Subjectivity: Special Pleading and Relativist Fallacy
- Definition and Ramifications: Description, Scope and Corollaries
- Illustrated Quotations: Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes
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Dear Readers and Followers as well as Lovers and Collectors of Fine Quotes,
Quotations have long been a ubiquitous and indispensable facet of life, peppering our talks, texts and thoughts, and echoing our ideas, images and identities in manageable and memorable portions. They can be as enriching and gratifying in vividly colouring certain moments or events as herbs and spices in potently flavouring some dishes or cuisines. Like favourite tunes or beloved ditties, quotations can be recalled straightaway to spring into action or summoned routinely to press into service, thus imparting extra satisfactions to our emotional delight and creative fancy as well as offering further highlights to our narrative prowess and commentary talent. For instance, being a voracious learner and career educator specializing in evaluation, professional development and special education, and “dream[ing] of possibilities, opportunities, and conversations”, Sheila B Robinson speaks for many when she states that “[a] pithy quote can inspire us, compel us into action, challenge or confirm our thinking, and stimulate our conversations.” Quotations have even become convenient surrogates for our thoughts and utterances, as Lord Peter (Death Bredon) Wimsey, the fictional protagonist in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L Sayers (a prominent English crime writer and poet as well as a student of classical and modern languages), unreservedly proclaims: “I always have a quotation for everything — it saves original thinking.”
Hence, it is hardly surprising that we are (quite comfortable with being) surrounded by quotations in both fiction and reality. Yet, once in a while, in moments of clarity, we may come to the realization that quotations are akin to opinions or views in that we are quoting ourselves or others to make certain statements for various purposes and occasions. Rather unfortunately, the ways in which people routinely handle or dispense opinions and quotations (whether of their own or others) are fraught with numerous problems, most of which elude people’s awareness and acknowledgement, since the great majority of people are relatively deprived of intellectual and emotional guideposts to consistently steer an unsullied or impeccable course through the potentially treacherous woods and forests of quotational landscapes. Moreover, that a quotation purportedly resonates with one’s intention, objective, identity, conviction, principle, boundary or status (quo) may not constitute a reasonable basis or sufficient ground for the unadulterated acceptance of its validity and reliability. To qualify this caveat or predicament at a slightly different tangent, a sensible person exercising a discerning attitude, casting a long view or taking an introspective approach may sooner or later realize that the penetrating feeling, instinct, sensation, conclusion, meaning or belief generated by, or invested in, some claim or truth as embodied by even a seemingly profound quotation, is seldom guaranteed to be entirely foolproof, conveniently flawless, categorically well-founded and perennially infallible, especially when both the quotation and the quoter are available for scrutiny or amenable to analysis. As elucidated later in considerable depth, humans have a strong tendency to automatically find certain statements and quotations more comfortable and appealing than others whilst glossing over detail, leaning on stereotype, and dismissing contradiction, especially in the absence of being serviced by a vigilant, critical and sceptical mind to ward off prejudice and preconception, let alone being stymied by outstanding ignorance and unconscious partiality. Indeed, it can be quite easy to fall for the charms of some statements and quotations (particularly when they match the existing narrative, expectation or paradigm), and yet very hard to decode or unpack their fallacies. After all, people’s opinions and beliefs are based on not only their perceptions and predilections but also their cognitive biases and faulty reasonings, a great number of which come to be involved in how people routinely process statements and quotations in everyday life from all sources of information. This perennial condition often fundamentally restricts people’s ability to reach better judgements and decisions, whilst also gives people the false impression of being in control of, or in harmony with, their choice and understanding of statements and quotations, which can have significant, persistent and cumulative bearings on many aspects of people’s lives, as discussed in this multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary post under the rubric of the Quotation Fallacy.
Via a series of analytical and multipronged approaches, this post seeks to uncover and explain a wide range of issues and problems arising from the Quotation Fallacy so that they can be identified and apprehended, if they are to be avoided, alleviated or eliminated successfully. Considering that a good quote can pointedly reflect or meaningfully project one’s worldview, attitude, intention or identity like a shining beacon or scintillating jewel, it does pays great dividends to quote well indeed. As the abbé Joseph Roux states: “A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool.”
To illustrate the prosaic practicality and day-to-day expediency of quotations, one may quote a short passage from Oscar Wilde’s letter written while the Irish poet and playwright was imprisoned: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Considered to be one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, Marcel Proust, a French novelist, critic and essayist, has certainly endorsed the use of quotations as follows: “One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself.” More than mere fodders or fillers, quotations have truly become collectables, treasures and even arsenals in our intellectual, emotional and spiritual lives for a vast number of situations and purposes, thus functioning as the staples of our everyday interactions and transactions, whether casually or strategically. It is no wonder that quotations have come to be spoken, written, printed, recorded and illustrated both ad libitum and ad nauseam, manifesting in a great variety of forms and purposes such as verbal statements, status updates, social tweets, blog posts, personal flags, signature blocks, commercial billboards, customized messages and memorable catchphrases. Quotations are also the staples of academics and researchers who construct or compile expert demonstrations by means of quotational evidences, illustrative quotations, and arguments via quotations in lexicographical works, canonical texts, comprehensive anthologies, expansive encyclopaedias, scholarly publications and other authoritative sources. Scarcely confined to the textual territory, quotations can exist just as well in creative oeuvres of the visual and sonic domains as distinct, repeatable components, whether they are being borrowed straightforwardly or appropriated skilfully. According to Wikipedia: “A quotation can also refer to the repeated use of units of any other form of expression, especially parts of artistic works: elements of a painting, scenes from a movie or sections from a musical composition” via the intentional deployment of excerpts, collages, samplings, interpolations, plunderphonics or musical quotations from the same artist’s work (self-referential) or from a different artist’s work (appropriation). In every practical sense, and for all intents and purposes, quotations are indispensable linking devices providing all and sundry with readymade ingredients, encapsulated ideas, potent expressions and fertile repertoires to draw inspirations from, and make connections amongst, works and peoples across diverse platforms, media, genres, disciplines, cultures and social backgrounds. Thus, quotations can be understood as an essential category of knowledge acquisition and presentation with the ideas and insights of anybody, anytime and anywhere, online and offline. When used properly, quotations are reliable mouthpieces and focussed conduits for highlighting a wealth of information or inspirations with the desired precision and potency. To engage with fine quotations is to search and spotlight some extraordinary gems of ideas or certain meaningful constellations of insights at their most pithy and piquant around particular topics or issues about which we care enough to stake our reputations in restating them via our talks, texts and thoughts, and even in living by them via our social lives, allowing them to frame our ways of knowing and learning, of presenting and expressing ourselves, of being mindful agencies and reflexive citizens in the world. Quotations are indeed the appurtenances of communications as well as the trappings of oral and written cultures.
For example, our manifold associations and relationships with quotes, or rather, our varied approaches and reactions to quotations, are introduced and elaborated enthusiastically at A Quiver Of Quotes:
We live by cultural conventions and social norms, by the promises we give and are given, by the rules of nature. When they are broken, we know, because we can quote the particular article of faith that has been broken.
“I said … ”
“You said … ”
“He said … She said … ”
“It said …”
But what makes a statement worth quoting?
That it conveys meaning or information, that it is memorable or ingenious, that it is pretty, pithy, or that it pierces the very heart of some—any—truth.
There are quotes, good quotes, and better ones. Their quality is defined by the influence they wield over the reader or listener. If they make you break out in goosebumps, or marvel at a turn of phrase, or think—they’re probably quotes that made you quiver inside for a moment. And those might be worth dissecting to see what lies at their core, what figure of speech, what trick of the linguistic trade.
For why not? Everyone who can use language, can also use it a bit more effectively. Crafting quotes is for writers and speakers, sure, but aren’t we all writers of our own lives and speakers of our own stories?
Somewhat ironically, the ubiquity of quotations is capable of betraying, confounding and obfuscating their importance as well as their costs. As useful and tempting as quotations can and have become in our lives and stories, we should neither be blasé nor blind towards the risks, threats, potentials and opportunities resulting from, or afforded by, quotations. There can be plenty of issues and caveats to uncover and heed whenever we make or partake in a quotation by reproducing a passage from a book or author, repeating a statement by a person, or citing a specified entity as the source of a statement. These issues and caveats are collectively identified and discussed in the Quotation Fallacy, a coinage of SoundEagle. Being as enjoyable to read as it is edifying to digest, the Quotation Fallacy can constitute excellent food for thought as well as a splendid guide for living a more examined life, as one proceeds to be a wiser and more discerning quoter who is capable of being sufficiently critical or appreciably methodical in recognizing and fostering quotational excellence. A decent understanding of the Quotation Fallacy can facilitate our acquiring the cognitive tools and intellectual acumen necessary to recognize the errors or defects propagated in quotations and statements from numerous sources, including the media, academia, luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities, politicians, stakeholders, advertisers, Internet users and bloggers, particularly in the era of post-truth politics, fake news, disinformation, sensationalism, alternative facts, false reality and historical negationism, numerous instances of which seem to be intractably stoking our partial or utter ignorance as well as growingly courting our emotional drives, biased attitudes, cardinal urges, primal impulses and tribal instincts. Even though our use of quotations may have started out of personal or professional interest and expression, the detailed explorations and analytical forays into the Quotation Fallacy facilitate much deeper insights into our many otherwise unexamined behavioural patterns and thinking styles involving various tacit assumptions and faulty reasonings, so that we can triangulate these insights with what we already know and do well to surmount ingrained biases and flawed judgements, to improve our experience and deployment of quotations, and to contribute to developing or practising a superior repertoire of fine quotes.
In addition, presented in style at the end of this post is a collection of potentially inspirational and thought-provoking quotes, chosen for you by SoundEagle.
Many quotes have reached us in the present from the distant past. For example, the first quote is a Chinese poem that has existed for more than one thousand years, and is available in several variations.
The first line of the poem, “疾風知勁草”, literally meaning “Strong wind knows tough grass”, has already existed as an idiom as early as 23 AD. It can be translated more freely into English as “The storm puts strong grass to the test”, meaning that one’s true colours are revealed after a severe or daunting test. The whole poem edifies us that only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil; and that only the wise, not the valiant, can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.
The second quote is not only as ancient as the Roman Empire but also indeterminate as to its true source. Even though it has been credited to Marcus Aurelius, a practitioner of Stoicism who became Roman emperor from 161 to 180AD, there are contentions as to its authenticity and authorship due to unresolved historical inconsistencies.
For those who are interested, please read Fabricated Marcus Aurelius Quote and Did Marcus Aurelius say “Live a good life”?. Perhaps one could indeed take George Mikes more seriously when the Hungarian-born British writer, journalist and humourist uttered: “I have made it a rule that whenever I say something stupid, I immediately attribute it to Dr Johnson, Marcus Aurelius or Dorothy Parker.”
Likewise, according to Wikipedia: “Many quotations are routinely incorrect or attributed to the wrong authors, and quotations from obscure or unknown writers are often attributed to far more famous writers. Examples of this are Winston Churchill, to whom many political quotations of uncertain origin are attributed, and Oscar Wilde, to whom anonymous humorous quotations are sometimes attributed.”
A misquotation refers to an act, instance or occasion of quoting a person or a source incorrectly or inaccurately; or of attributing a quotation to the wrong author or incorrect source. Misquotations can easily lead to quoting out of context (also called contextomy or quote mining) as a result of being misleading in the following ways, as outlined by Gary N Curtis in The Fallacy Files regarding familiar contextomies:
A contextomy is a quote that has been taken out of context in such a way as to create a misleading impression of its meaning. A “familiar contextomy” is a contextomy that finds its way repeatedly into print or conversation, usually to support a particular point.…
- Bogus Quotes: Quotes that have been fabricated and falsely attributed.
- Misattributions: Quotes attributed to the wrong person.
- Misquotes: Garbled quotes that are similar to what the quoted person actually said.
- Mistranslations: Quotes garbled in translation.
As can be deduced from the previous explanations, both misquotation and quoting out of context can be committed deliberately (intentionally) or accidentally (unintentionally), and can result in the compromise, alteration, distortion, falsification or misrepresentation of the meaning and purpose as well as the origin, authenticity, legitimacy, validity, credibility or reliability of a quotation.
Original Statement: This has been the best movie that George has watched this year! Of course, it is the only movie watched by George this year.
Not only has the quotation or restatement failed to capture the context, irony or joke that George has watched only one movie this year, it has also been unfaithful in reproducing the original statement, not the least in conflating “this year” with “all year”, and inferring or assuming that plot or character development has not been a criterion for his consideration of the quality of the movie.
For more examples of blatant misquotation, peruse spoonerism discussed at the end of Misquotation: Improper Quoting, Sourcing, Context, Appropriation to see numerous instances of bogus quotes and misattributions, where a whole class of speech errors encapsulated by various quotations have been concocted and falsely attributed to a person after whom the slip-of-the-tongue condition is named.
Misquotations also apply to quotations that are apocryphal (meaning “false, spurious, bad or heretical”) in any general context or usage, when such quotations are sourced from, or traced to, apocrypha, which are (usually written) works of doubtful origin or unknown authorship. Originally referring to writings and objects that are hidden, secret, obscure, esoteric, non-canonical, or of questionable value, the adjective apocryphal has come to be used in modern English to refer to any text or story deemed to be of dubious authority or veracity, although the text or story may contain some moral truth. In this broader metaphorical sense, the word apocrypha(l) can indeed suggest a claim — as carried or purveyed by a quotation in question — that is in the nature or parlance of folklore (the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people, including customary lore and oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes), factoid (a false statement presented as a fact; a (true but) brief or trivial item of news or information; an item of unreliable information reported or repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact), or urban legend (also called urban myth, urban tale or contemporary legend, a form of modern folklore usually comprising fictional stories, often presented as true, with macabre, humorous, reified, idealized or stereotyped elements rooted in local popular culture for entertainment purposes, or routinely promulgated as semi-serious explanations for random, unsolved, unexplained or intriguing events such as certain conspiracies, mysteries, disappearances and strange objects). As a corollary, the likelihood of committing misquotations can be significantly great(er) when using, making or relaying quotations from such sources, many of which can be as culturally entrenched as they are misleading. Therefore, quoters should be mindful of the circumscribed validity and reliability of folk wisdom, and of the assumptions planted in vernacular rhetoric, belief and mythos. They also need to beware of the reinforcing effects of communal reinforcement as well as the fallacy of argumentum ad populum and argumentum ad nauseam, to the extent that if an unfounded premise, claim or belief, be it in the form of folklore, factoid or urban legend, is mentioned and repeated by numerous individuals, then it will (very likely) be erroneously accepted as the truth — the result of confusing or conflating its justification with its widespread acceptance, especially in the absence of sufficient empirical evidence.
Regarding the origin or authenticity of a quotation spread by any person, entity or media, including files, archives, books, magazines, newspapers, emails, blog posts and social media, in general, it is not always possible to determine or evaluate the accuracy of the source of a quote and the contexts in which the quote is created and used by the author or by other people. This limitation remains valid even when one has the luxury of consulting a database of quotations or an encyclopedia of quotes, where misquotations, if present, can spread rapidly due to the large number of online users relying on the database or encyclopedia on a daily basis. Edmark M Law describes the predicament of ascertaining the authenticity of a quote’s origin in a comment addressed to SoundEagle as follows:
The origins of lots of quotations are difficult to pinpoint. People like to attribute clever quotes to Einstein, Twain, Wilde, etc. since this would look better than attributing them to some unknown nobody. Even authoritative sources like Oxford and Bartlett’s contain a large number of mistakes. Quote Investigator (a website) is rather good since it tries to track down the origin of the quotes they investigate. Unfortunately, I have also found some errors there.
The biggest source of misinformation regarding quotes (and their origins) today is, of course, the Internet. You can find a huge number of misquotations and misattributions in social media and “quotes” websites[.]
That’s why when I post quotes, I seldom use a “Quote” book or website as a reference. Normally, when I find an interesting passage from a book that I read, I’d quote it. Sometimes, when I see an interesting quote from a quote book, I try my best to find the original source. If I can’t find the original source, then I most likely won’t post it.
It is indeed a bitter irony that the supposed benefits conferred by the ascendency and convenience of the World Wide Web providing a vast digital information space containing documents and other web resources have also resulted in the dissemination of countless concocted materials and quoted texts of dubious origins and citations, such that the clear signals of quotations have become increasingly muddied by the noises of misquotations and sullied by the clamours of injudicious quotational deployments by a large number of Internet users. As a result, the authenticity, the original context and the true source of a quotation can no longer be automatically guaranteed or easily established unless one exercises further checks against multiple reputable sources, or by other dependable means of authentications, a few of which are suggested in Wikipedia as follows:
Common quotation sources
Famous quotations are frequently collected in books that are sometimes called quotation dictionaries or treasuries. Of these, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, The Yale Book of Quotations and The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases are considered among the most reliable and comprehensive sources. Diaries and calendars often include quotations for entertainment or inspirational purposes, and small, dedicated sections in newspapers and weekly magazines — with recent quotations by leading personalities on current topics — have also become commonplace.
Quotations and the Internet
Chiefly a text medium in the beginning, the World Wide Web gave rise to any number of personal quotation collections that continue to flourish, even though very few of them seem to facilitate accurate information or correct citation.…
The sheer bulk of online quotations, combined with more efficient search engines, has effectively made the Internet the world’s quotation storehouse, encompassing an unprecedented number of easily obtainable quotations. Though matters of accuracy still remain, features such as Amazon.com’s Search Inside the Book and Google Book Search may serve to alleviate such concerns.
In addition, it is highly prudent and beneficial to seek and read the source of a quotation to uncover how it is originally embedded in the author’s text or statement, so that one can acquire a good knowledge of the context out of which the quotation arises, in order to reduce the risk of quoting out of context and to increase the chance of achieving quotational excellence. For instance, instead of just quoting Henry David Thoreau’s statement “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” from a secondary source, one can visit any reliable source or the original publication to peruse at least the text surrounding the quotation, as shown below:
Longer quotations can be given titles to summarize or clarify their contents. As can be observed, if one were to use the much longer text above as a quotation, it is both possible and desirable to tease out the most salient phrase to be used as the title of the quotation, which in this case is .
Revealing more texts from original sources and deploying longer quotations have become all the more paramount in many cases, since the risks and temptations of misquotation and quoting out of context have never been greater in modern times, considering the ease and flippancy with which quotations and statements can be tossed around in the mass media, public arenas, political platforms and contemporary discourses to support, defend, dismiss or distort a certain issue or argument, or to discredit the opponent of an argument (or any person for that matter in any situation) through false attribution or misrepresentation, as the following excerpt shows:
Quoting out of context (sometimes referred to as contextomy or quote mining) is an informal fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning. Contextomies may be both intentional, as well as accidental if someone misunderstands the meaning and omits something essential to clarifying it, thinking it to be non-essential.
Arguments based on this fallacy typically take two forms:
- As a straw man argument, it involves quoting an opponent out of context in order to misrepresent their position (typically to make it seem more simplistic or extreme) in order to make it easier to refute. It is common in politics.
- As an appeal to authority, it involves quoting an authority on the subject out of context, in order to misrepresent that authority as supporting some position.
The second form of argument, namely appealing to authority or committing an argument from authority (also called argumentum ad verecundiam) based on the informal fallacy of quoting out of context, is both diagnostically discussed and critically analysed in this post under the heading Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion.
For better or worse, both quotations and misquotations can serve as some of the most persuasive means to concentrate partisan perspective, undermine collective cohesion, exacerbate factional conflict, intensify cultural division, deepen ideological cleavage, summon political rally, instigate public protest, or incite social change, even initiate and sustain social movement. However, certain forms or instances of misquotation and quoting out of context are so egregiously misleading, incendiary, libellous or vilifying that they ascend to the category of damaging quotation, to the extent that they can ultimately bring some people or parties into disarray, disrepute, infamy or incredulity, whether rightly or wrongly. Damaging quotations are often exploited as one of the most potent and effective aspects of discrediting tactics, which can range from truthiness, sensationalism, yellow journalism, historical negationism, personal attacks, opposition research, post-truth politics, fake news, disinformation, political infighting and negative campaigning (also called mudslinging) to destabilisation and social undermining. They are not only used as staple arsenals to undermine political, military or economic power, but also deployed as a technique in abuse, brainwashing and other psychological contexts to disorient, disarm or bully the victim. Damaging quotations can also exacerbate damaging allegations of any bad deed, ill conduct, deception, corruption, malpractice or malfeasance. How and why quotations can be produced and weaponized to become damaging are explained (with slight amendments to grammar and spelling) as follows on Wikipedia:
A damaging quotation is a short utterance by a public figure used by opponents as a discrediting tactic. These utterances are often, but not always, taken out of context (a tactic sometimes referred to as contextomy) or otherwise changed to distort their original meaning. These quotations may be inserted or alluded to in negative political ads to discredit the character or intellectual ability of the originator. More typically, however, they are used in political arguments by both politicians and political pundits often in ways which are fallacious. These quotations are compiled into books or posted on the internet and are repeated in other contexts such as in talk radio or in the United States by stand-up comedians in late-night television monologues. The publication of these quotations is justified as a necessary part of maintaining an informed citizenry. In cases where the quotation in question is taken widely out of context it can be difficult for a candidate to find recourse, even though it is very easy to check the accuracy and the context of a quotation by using internet resources (such as search engines); in popular jargon, the quotation (especially if humorous) can grow into a meme.
There are various common categories of quotations: malapropisms or grammatical errors, exaggerations about past achievements, lack of conviction, consorting with the enemy, moral turpitude, indifference towards victims of crime, racism or discrimination, etc.
In the case of malapropisms, it is a rhetorical fallacy (called argument ad hominem) to conclude that the entire argument of whoever made the utterance is incorrect. Yet it has become common in partisan argument in the United States.…
Given the availability of inexpensive computers and the widespread use of the Internet, it has become easy for anyone to accumulate and distribute these quotation lists. Like the “Yogiisms” of baseball great Yogi Berra, or the Colemanballs collected by Private Eye, a damaging quotation purports to give insight into the thinking of the speaker, frequently a politician or of the politicians or political groups that used it as means of attack. As such they belong to the colourful history of political satire.
Overall, great care must be given to avoid misrepresenting the author of a quotation or statement, and to prevent distorting or perverting the original meaning of a quotation or statement through misquotation, misconception, misappropriation, misinterpretation, miscontextualization or misrepresentation. Nevertheless, in certain cases, it is possible to appropriate, recast, resignify or reinterpret a quotation or statement in a new perspective or different light by the inclusion of other semantic rules or contextual information to substitute or modify certain words, such as the switching of rhetorical modes, the injection of some figure of speech (or rhetorical figure), the exploration of multiple meanings, and the use of certain stylistic devices, including but not limited to the deployment of homonymy, metonymy, polysemy, synonymy, auto-antonym, hyponymy and hypernymy as well as irony, paradox, metaphor, simile, synecdoche, ambiguity, allusion, imitation, parody, pastiche and satire, even augmented or enlivened by sketch, burlesque, lampoon and cartoon, as demonstrated by SoundEagle’s previous image entitled “Best Quotation to Win an Exclusive, Loyal Contract to Make Pig Boss’ Company Great Again”.
For those who lack the skill, time, resource or inclination to appropriate, recast, resignify or reinterpret a quotation or statement in a new perspective or different light by elaborate or sophisticated means, there are still plenty of ready-made materials with which to experiment or play around. For example, a well-known proverb such as “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” can be rather unassumingly but somewhat amusingly transformed into “🥩One man’s meaty statement is another man’s quoted poison.⚗️”, flanked by illustrative emojis.
Whilst some notable forms of appropriation, resignification, reinterpretation or recontextualization are based on the intentional modifications of existing quotations or statements, others are due to the situational outcomes of misapplication, contradiction, extemporization, idiosyncratic substitution, unanticipated contextualization, unintentional speech error, or inadvertent witticism. Akin to works of art with respect to flexibility and diversity, both quotations and misquotations can be constituted wholly, in part, or in combination from the products of conscious manipulations, accidental creations or improvisatory utterances, some of which are catchily categorized as anti-proverb (also called perverb), malapropism, eggcorn, Yogi-isms, and spoonerism or Sreudian flip, as the following tables demonstrate.
The transformation of a standard proverb for humorous effect.
|Paremiologist Wolfgang Mieder defines anti-proverbs or perverbs as “parodied, twisted, or fractured proverbs that reveal humorous or satirical speech play with traditional proverbial wisdom.” They have also been defined as “an allusive distortion, parody, misapplication, or unexpected contextualization of a recognized proverb, usually for comic or satiric effect.”
From Nigeria, Adeyemi believes that they add humour, colour and beauty to his writing. On a political plane, he believes that they can “stimulate critical consciousness in the readers to fight for their rights but with wisdom.… the conscious manipulation of the so-called fixed proverbs could generate new proverbs, encourage creativity in the writers and expose hidden meanings of proverbs.”
To have full effect, an anti-proverb must be based on a known proverb. For example, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit” is only funny if the hearer knows the standard proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Anti-proverbs are used commonly in advertising, such as “Put your burger where your mouth is” from Red Robin. Anti-proverbs are also common on T-shirts, such as “Taste makes waist” and “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you”.
Standard proverbs are essentially defined phrases well known to many people, such as Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. When this sequence is deliberately slightly changed to “Don’t bite the hand that looks dirty“, it becomes an anti-proverb. The relationship between anti-proverbs and proverbs, and a study of how much a proverb can be changed before the resulting anti-proverb is no longer seen as proverbial, are still open topics for research.
The use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, sometimes humorous utterance.
|Malapropisms often occur as errors in natural speech and are sometimes the subject of media attention, especially when made by politicians or other prominent individuals. Philosopher Donald Davidson has noted that malapropisms show the complex process through which the brain translates thoughts into language.
Humorous malapropisms are the type that attract the most attention and commentary, but bland malapropisms are common in speech and writing. An instance of speech error is called a malapropism when a word is produced which is nonsensical or ludicrous in context, yet similar in sound to what was intended.
An idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect (sometimes called oronyms).
|The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context, such as “old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease“. An eggcorn can be described as an intra-lingual phono-semantic matching, a matching in which the intended word and substitute are from the same language. The term eggcorn was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a blog for linguists. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using “eggcorn” itself as a label.
An eggcorn differs from a malapropism, the latter being a substitution that creates a nonsensical phrase. Classical malapropisms generally derive their comic effect from the fault of the user, while eggcorns are substitutions that exhibit creativity, logic or ignorance. Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word (“baited breath” for “bated breath“).
The phenomenon is similar to the form of wordplay known as the pun except that, by definition, the speaker or writer intends the pun to have some humorous effect on the recipient, whereas one who speaks or writes an eggcorn is unaware. It is also similar to, but differs from, mondegreens or a folk etymology.
Malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical statements.
|Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (12 May 1925 – 22 September 2015) was an American professional baseball catcher, who later took on the roles of manager and coach.
Berra was also well known for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and seemingly unintentional witticisms known as “Yogi-isms”, which frequently took the form of either an apparent tautology or a contradiction, but often with an underlying and powerful message that offered not just humour but also wisdom. Allen Barra has described them as “distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry.”
A slip of the tongue.
|A spoonerism is an error in speech in which corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes are switched (see Metathesis) between two words in a phrase. The condition is named after the Oxford don and ordained minister, the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), who was a warden of New College, Oxford, and who was allegedly famous for manifesting it. A spoonerism is also known as a marrowsky, purportedly after a Polish count who suffered from the same impediment.
An example of spoonerism is remarking “The Lord is a shoving leopard” instead of “The Lord is a loving shepherd.” While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue, and getting one’s words in a tangle, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words.
Spoonerism is definitely a good case of misquotation, as most of the quotations attributed to Spooner are apocryphal, the result of misattributions, outright fabrications and college pranks. Evidence supporting Spooner as the original exemplar of spoonerism is very scant and patchy at best. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979) enumerates only one substantiated spoonerism: “The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer” (instead of “rate of wages”). Spooner himself claimed that “Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take” (instead of “Conquering Kings” in reference to a hymn) was his sole spoonerism. Most spoonerisms were probably never uttered by Spooner but rather concocted by colleagues and students as a pastime. In other words, the vast majority of spoonerisms are really just bogus quotes insofar as they are quotations that have been fabricated and falsely attributed to Spooner, after whom this particular form of error in speech has been coined.
Soon after the dawn of the third millennium, SoundEagle accidentally uttered “The long is too song.” instead of “The song is too long.”, and then blurted out the term “Sreudian flip” on being amused by the slip of the tongue, by spoonerizing “Freudian slip”, which is a well-known term in classical psychoanalysis to describe an error in speech, memory or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of an internal train of thought, unconscious subdued wish, subconscious emotion, repressed feeling or suppressed desire. Those who wish to learn more may read the book entitled “Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition”.
Whether it would be easy or hard to find or cite the source of certain quotes, there exist other more important issues and considerations to be aware of than just those pertaining to misquotations. To begin with, there are valid and even compelling reasons for a discerning and reasonable person to conclude that, irrespective of the source and how a quote eventually comes to be known and used, the message of a quote (when correctly interpreted or understood) is more important than the messenger, whose public status, identity and fame or the lack thereof, as well as our knowledge and assumptions of them, plus the noise and travail of our existence and the hustle and bustle of our lives, can readily or even surreptitiously taint, usurp, prejudice or interfere with our reception and understanding of the message.
The highly subjective and fluid manner in which we arrive at what we consider to be something quotable is in itself a veritable source of enjoyment and a means of discovery. Apart from the mood and setting in which we find or settle ourselves, the tone, form, style and context of what is about to be quoted can have significant bearings on our perception and evaluation of its value and quality. As what is heard, said or read distils into quotations, it is inevitable that our certain emotions and experiences are being evoked, recalled or massaged, along with our existing biases and prevailing expectations, not to mention our longstanding propensities and eccentricities, and to say nothing of our outstanding passions, desires and sentiments. On the whole, we are often inclined or predisposed to pick and choose quotations based on emotions rather than facts, unbiased reasons or holistic considerations, regardless of the specific styles and contents of those quotations. At the very least, such quotations are poised to exert affective influences on our role as perceptive quoters and receptive readers. For some folks, the process of quoting or the action of conceiving quotations can become so resonant, engaging and purposeful that it is almost visceral and even transformative, as described vividly and imaginatively at A Quiver Of Quotes:
How are the quotes chosen?
I find them in the wild. More accurately, I venture into the wilderness of written words and let the quotes find me. (In my experience the quotes like to poke eyes, box guts, deliver spine shivers, and attach wings to the imagination — although, I’m told the latter isn’t an organ of the body, so scrap that if you’re pedantic.)
Let me drop one layer of metaphor and say that again.
I read a book or a magazine or an article, and when a string of words starts to quiver before my mind’s eye, I note it down. Quiver may seem like a strange word to describe the criterion I use, especially because it encompasses so many different phenomena: from the grammatical mistakes and confusing constructions that make my brain itch, to the funny that makes me laugh, to the enlightening that makes me go aha!, to the beautifully poetic that uplifts a soul I didn’t know I had (really?) and makes me want to sing aloud despite my congenital atonality. Also, whether a quote quivers or not is a matter of concentration, emotional balance, blood sugar content; not to mention experiences, foibles and quirks, inclinations and aversions. This is where I insert the disclaimer again: I’m not a professional linguist, I’m only human.
The disadvantage of this approach is that my source of quotes is as finite as I am (not as infinite as the internet, for example).
The advantage of this approach is that I possess a certain, if partial, context for each quote.
Even though how quotes come to life may often seem or feel to be a straightforward matter of placing some words between quotation marks or repeating certain statements verbally, the abovementioned fertile interactions and varied situations that we frequently find ourselves in, or surrender ourselves to, the very moments of encountering, choosing, forming or even extemporizing quotations, have amply demonstrated that the process of quoting or the action of conceiving quotations is open to various influences or interferences, insofar as the conception or creation of any quotation seldom originates from what can be categorically deemed as a rational affair, an objective engagement or a systematic procedure. Unlike computers, machines, robots, automata and artificial intelligence, we as humans are hardly ever equipped with a clear default, tidy reset, handy reboot or even expedient reprogramming for recalibrating our minds to a neutral position to free us from (the costs and effects incurred by) our emotional baggage and aftermath. Throughout the waking hours, we are continually carried along by many psychological processes, mental habits and internal states, which can influence our judgements and decisions by stealth. Given that people are responsive beings whose current emotions (such as joy, pleasure, empathy, trust, pride, confidence, surprise, hope, fear, anger, anxiety, contempt and other conscious experience) habitually influence their decisions, it would be quite difficult to avoid the affect heuristic, a rapid, involuntary emotional response, a kind of mental shortcut described in Wikipedia as “a subconscious process that shortens the decision-making process and allows people to function without having to complete an extensive search for information. It is shorter in duration than a mood, occurring rapidly and involuntarily in response to a stimulus. Reading the words “lung cancer” usually generates an affect of dread, while reading the words “mother’s love” usually generates a feeling of affection and comfort.” In other words, it is a simple, efficient rule that people often intuitively use to form judgements and make decisions such that “emotional response, or “affect” in psychological terms, plays a lead role”, insofar as the human mind is deemed to be a cognitive miser “due to the tendency of humans to think and solve problems in simpler and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and more effortful ways, regardless of intelligence.”
Deprived of a reset button or default setting notwithstanding, we also have to contend with not having full control or command of our emotional patterns, as they mould and stretch themselves to accommodate the ever-changing contours of daily experience, let alone the larger emotional troughs and valleys incurred by more unpredictable or taxing events through the vicissitudes of our lives. In an extensive and detailed post entitled “How to change the world”, Dr Bob Rich acknowledges the often relative, facile and consuming nature of our emotional states and automatic reactions, which are continually affected by, and fluctuating with, the “current norm” or “the norm of the moment” in our surroundings or circumstances, and which are still filtering and altering our perception, judgement and remembrance through our emotional lenses in spite of our intellectual maturity as adults, even after having come a very long way from our cognitive myopia as infants who live only in the present.
Joy is when life is better than usual, though it might be another’s hell. Unhappiness is when things are worse than the current norm, although far better than others could hope for.
Like an animal, an infant lives in the forever-present. When she is miserable, life has always been terrible, and always will be, an unending, terrifying vista of woe. When she is happy, everything has always been wonderful, and happiness is a sea of joy. As adults, intellectually we are far beyond this, with an appreciation of past and future, change and progression. However, our automatic reactions to our surroundings are still that of the baby, of the animal. Change is perceived, judged, remembered in comparison to the norm of the moment.
In addition to being adequately aware that our judgements and decisions can be readily coloured or influenced by our current emotional and psychological states, we must also be significantly vigilant against the many ways in which our emotions can be played or manipulated by the persuasiveness of certain quotations via their appeal to emotion, the scope, occurrence and ramifications of which are indeed considerable if not alarmingly common and frequent, as outlined in Wikipedia:
Appeal to emotion or argumentum ad passiones is a logical fallacy characterized by the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions in order to win an argument, especially in the absence of factual evidence. This kind of appeal to emotion is a type of red herring and encompasses several logical fallacies, including appeal to consequences, appeal to fear, appeal to flattery, appeal to pity, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite, and wishful thinking.
Instead of facts, persuasive language is used to develop the foundation of an appeal to emotion-based argument. Thus, the validity of the premises that establish such an argument does not prove to be verifiable.
Appeals to emotion are intended to draw inward feelings from the acquirer of the information. And in turn, the acquirer of the information is intended to be convinced that the statements that were presented in the fallacious argument are true; solely on the basis that the statements may induce emotional stimulation such as fear, pity and joy. Though these emotions may be provoked by an appeal to emotion fallacy, effectively winning the argument, substantial proof of the argument is not offered, and the argument’s premises remain invalid.
Emotive rather than analytic delivery of a message is an age-old phenomenon. As highly interactive and social animals, human beings have long learnt to engineer or exploit many of their quotations and statements to efficaciously press the emotional buttons of their peers, readers and audiences for the purpose of eliciting emotive reactions, dramatic responses or reactive stances in order to deliver an idea, to drive home some issue, or to incite certain action via the emotional rapport or resonance in positive cases, or via the emotional disgust or agitation in negative cases, all the more so with respect to sensitive, controversial or provocative matters. Emotional reaction or emotive impulse can indeed get the better of those who either fail to recognize appeal to emotion as a formal fallacy (also called logical fallacy, deductive fallacy or non sequitur), or neglect to moderate their feelings, emotional states or reactions as a result of being persuaded or stimulated by some emotion-based claim or argument carried by a quotation or statement, especially if the claim or argument is fallacious (based on a mistaken belief), biased (unfairly prejudiced for or against someone or something), misleading (giving the wrong idea or impression), or misguided (having faulty judgement or reasoning). Therefore, it is a necessity for discerning recipients or acquirers of the information contained in a quotation or statement to check, question or ascertain not just the veracity and validity of the information, but also the vulnerability (as a function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity) of their emotions to any detectable form of persuasion or manipulation conducted via any overt or subtle appeal to emotion.
Emotions fuelling biases and flaring opinions can be seen as a major, volatile contributor to innumerable social flashpoints, cultural minefields and ideological infernos, where truths become victims and martyrs. One of the most influential, intense, high-stakes, polemical and unscrupulous forms of emotional manipulation can be amply observed in post-truth politics, which has been so potent and obtrusive a sociopolitical phenomenon that “post-truth” was designated by English Oxford Living Dictionaries as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016, and was defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Ironically, the Global Language Monitor (GLM), “a media analytics company that documents, analyzes and tracks cultural trends in language the world over, with a particular emphasis upon Global English”, ranked “Truth” as its Top Word of 2017 and placed “Post-Truth” in fourth place after “Narrative” and “Opioids”. Also known as post-factual politics and post-reality politics, post-truth politics is defined in Wikipedia as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of facts by relegating facts and expert opinions to be of secondary importance relative to appeal to emotion.” As a result of privileging emotional appeal to achieve sociopolitical aims at the expense of factual validity and moral integrity, even the most sanctimonious quotations or statements catapulted from the arena of post-truth politics, demagoguery, ochlocracy, narcissistic leadership or the like need to be critically examined or at least taken with a grain of salt, whilst staying not only well equipped with cool-headedness, balance of mind and emotional equilibrium but also well inoculated with moral fortitude and ethical stalwartness.
Gratuitously familiar, at times rather off-putting, but undeniably effectual, alarmingly ubiquitous, almost ineluctable, and often highly addictive or ambivalently seductive, is a vigorous form of appeal to emotion saturating much of contemporary life and manifesting conspicuously in the public sphere. It is formally identified as sensationalism, which may appear to be conveying compelling news through a selection of sensational or even scandalous quotations and statements, but is ultimately partial, deceptive and misleading, if not trivial and superficial, in both substance and deliverance, particularly when journalistic objectivity (encompassing professionalism, fairness, disinterestedness, factuality and non-partisanship) clashes with profit motive or corporate agenda. Characteristically exploiting the shock value and thrill factor of the content, sensationalism is described in Wikipedia as “a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are overhyped to present biased impressions on events, which may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story.… Some tactics include being deliberately obtuse, appealing to emotions, being controversial, intentionally omitting facts and [fabricating] information, being loud and self-centered, and acting to obtain attention.”
Adding to the all too common pitfalls or quandaries of being trapped or seduced by various forms of appeal to emotion is emotional reasoning, yet another consequence of people (falling into the habit of) being creatures of emotion as they reason about certain situations through their emotional lenses and thus come to some distorted views or conclusions about those situations based on their feelings or emotional states, as summarized by Wikipedia:
Emotional reasoning is a cognitive process by which a person concludes that his/her emotional reaction proves something is true, regardless of the observed evidence. For example, even though a spouse has shown only devotion, a person using emotional reasoning might conclude, “I know my spouse is being unfaithful because I feel jealous.”
Emotional reasoning amplifies the effects of other cognitive distortions. For example, a test-taker may feel insecure about their understanding of the material even though they are perfectly capable of answering the questions. If he (or she) acts on his insecurity about failing the written test he might assume that he misunderstands the material and therefore might guess answers randomly, causing his own failure in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Being captives of our emotions notwithstanding, the susceptibility and manipulability of our emotions cannot be denied or underestimated with respect to certain activities, outcomes and objectives of blogging, publishing, advertising, canvassing and interviewing as well as various forms of politics, broadcast and communications on mass media, social media and face-to-face interactions. Pitched to readers and viewers on a highly contrived and gratuitous level, some of the news and information of our contemporary world are significantly dramatized to grab our emotion or seize our attention, as if their validity and veracity have been engineered to be validated by their emotional content and shock value, or by their potential to tease and their potency to titillate. In the article entitled “Is the world really better than ever?” published under the news series called “The long read: In-depth reporting, essays and profiles” by The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman describes the emotional entanglements to which people are being routinely exposed by the ubiquitous foregrounding of opinions at the expense of factual discussion, reasoned argument, rigorous analysis and unbiased reporting:
… we live now in the Age of the Take, in which a seemingly infinite supply of blog posts, opinion columns, books and TV talking heads compete to tell us how to feel about the news. Most of this opinionising focuses less on stacking up hard facts in favour of an argument than it does on declaring what attitude you ought to adopt: the typical take invites you to conclude, say, that Donald Trump is a fascist, or that he isn’t, or that BBC presenters are overpaid, or that your yoga practice is an instance of cultural appropriation. (This shouldn’t really come as a surprise: the internet economy is fuelled by attention, and it’s far easier to seize someone’s attention with emotionally charged argument than mere information – plus you don’t have to pay for the expensive reporting required to ferret out the facts.)
Furthermore, people are at the mercy of attribute substitution, which happens when they have “to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic attribute” or stereotype. It is a psychological process that lies beneath a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. Overall, people characteristically commit or experience attribution bias:
In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately reflect reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.
Attribution bias is very closely related to self-attribution bias, another long-established concept in psychological research dealing with the common phenomenon of people attributing successful outcomes to their own skills, endeavours, capacities or acumens, and unsuccessful outcomes to factors beyond their control. People are prone to self-attribution bias because of their tendency to ascribe successes to their own character, personal skills or innate aspects such as talent or foresight, but to ascribe failures to external factors, unforeseen circumstances, others’ behaviours or outside influences, blaming luck, team, trends or confounding factors for derailing their goal or progress. In other words, self-attribution bias is a cognitive phenomenon in which people attribute successes or positive events to dispositional factors and failures or negative events to situational factors. The upshot of self-attribution bias is that people are more inclined to tout, inflate or overestimate their achievements or positive attributes, but to deflect, ignore, minimize or underestimate their shortcomings or negative attributes; they become overly enthusiastic about positive feedback or praises, and unnecessarily dismissive of negative feedback or criticisms. In attempting to uphold dignity, retain pride, preserve ego, boost self-image or affirm self-esteem, people often defend, justify or rationalize certain outcomes through cognitive biases, perceptual distortions and psychological illusions, becoming more proud, vain, rigid, defensive, complacent, indifferent, irrational or recalcitrant, and thus rendering themselves much more likely to err in judgement and decision-making to the detriment of achieving considerably and consistently more desirable, holistic, optimum or superior outcomes. Self-attribution bias is also known as self-serving bias as follows:
A self-serving bias is any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner. It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors. When individuals reject the validity of negative feedback, focus on their strengths and achievements but overlook their faults and failures, or take more responsibility for their group’s work than they give to other members, they are protecting their ego from threat and injury. These cognitive and perceptual tendencies perpetuate illusions and error, but they also serve the self’s need for esteem. For example, a student who attributes earning a good grade on an exam to their own intelligence and preparation but attributes earning a poor grade to the teacher’s poor teaching ability or unfair test questions might be exhibiting the self-serving bias. Studies have shown that similar attributions are made in various situations, such as the workplace, interpersonal relationships, sports, and consumer decisions.
Both motivational processes (i.e. self-enhancement, self-presentation) and cognitive processes (i.e. locus of control, self-esteem) influence the self-serving bias. There are both cross-cultural (i.e. individualistic and collectivistic culture differences) and special clinical population (i.e. depression) considerations within the bias.…
For example, the myth of the statement or quotation “If I can do it then anybody can.” is perpetuated by similar mental predispositions or cognitive biases, insofar as people tend to evaluate situations based on their assessments, experiences and outcomes of their own prevailing circumstances. The myth is also rooted in the fact that people can have a strong tendency or proclivity to overestimate the ability and autonomy of the individual, and to underestimate the role and influence of the social. Those who are enticed or charmed by the preconceived notion “If I can do it then anybody can.” would have ignored that the structural nature of inequality, the systemic nature of social organization, the influential sphere of sociopolitical ideology, the bargaining power of socioeconomic status, the social relations to the means of production, the transactional advantages of social capital, the symbolic commands of cultural capital, and the pervading effects of social stratification, let alone the perennial issues of race, age, gender, genetics (nature) and upbringing (nurture), can create advantages for some individuals and disadvantages for others, and thus can be the underlying causes of an individual’s success or failure regardless of how hard the person works.
Often oblivious to the abovementioned multifactorial issues affecting and determining the life chances of individuals, various people have been led to believe that emulating the elites, the trailblazers, the rich and famous, the successful and glamorous, or the powerful and eminent in any fashionable domain or socially desirable field of human endeavour by studying the putative formulae or recipes for success, is the answer to the realization of their hopes and aspirations, the ticket to their future prosperity, the pathway to their prospective ascendancy, the means to be ahead of the pack, or the route to reach the top of social hierarchy. Countless supposedly inspirational quotations, slogans and even rules of life (as well as vast amounts of promotions and profits) have been sourced or created from bestsellers and brand leaders in the form of books, videos, seminars, workshops, conferences, coaching sessions, mentoring classes, networking avenues and the like. In rethinking the obvious at the Polymath Project and citing the research of Steven Pinker, Charles Chu, a “writer in Science, Education, Politics, Culture, Self Improvement, Life Lessons, Psychology, Entrepreneurship”, warns us of confusing or conflating accomplishments due to genetic endowment or native talent with those due to diligence or determination, reminds us of the myths or illusions of tabula rasa, “success formula”, functional training, parenting advice and education programme, as well as cautions us against the fallacy of “doing what the best do”, essentially a form of Authority Bias or Author Bias by appeal to Expert Influence or Creator Persuasion, as explicated in the quoted paragraphs chosen as follows:
Here’s one version of the greatest in the world fallacy that I see everywhere:
“To be the best in the world, study the best in the world and do what they do.”
For a long time, I was convinced this was true.
To be a successful investor, I thought you could read books by Warren Buffett or George Soros and emulate them. To be an elite basketball player, I thought you could spend nights and weekends watching footage of Lebron James or Kobe Bryant and train like they train.
Or — as many self-help books claim — I thought you could be successful by imitating the routines of the best in the world…
Humans are not blank slates. We have different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. You can’t run the same ‘success formula’ through each of us like you can run an algorithm through a computer. Sadly, most of the world still seems to think you can.
Tom Brady’s training program isn’t going to work for me. Why? Because I’m not Tom Brady. I don’t have his reaction speed, his proprioceptive awareness, or his ability to recover from training.
Most of us are — by definition — closer to the average, and what works for the exceptional doesn’t always work for the ordinary. If everyone at your local YMCA had to train like a Navy SEAL, most of them would be in the hospital before dinnertime.
This one-size-fits-all, do-what-others-do kind of thinking is naive, but it seems to be everywhere, even in the scientific literature.
Take education, for example. In school, I was able to get A’s without studying. Yet, I looked down on other kids and blamed them for their bad grades, saying, “They get bad grades because they aren’t working hard enough.”
In retrospect, that was both dishonest and egoistical of me. I didn’t work hard at all: Most of my time in school was spent playing video games. My grades were due to talent, and I don’t deserve praise for that.
Another example is parenting advice. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has been pointing out for over a decade now that much of parenting advice is BS (or at least severely misguided).
Like people selling functional training, people selling parenting advice regularly mistake luck (genetics) for skill (parenting).…
Likewise, you shouldn’t look at the kids who get into Harvard or Princeton and apply their study methods. Why? For the same reasons: A big part of getting into top-tier schools is SAT scores. SAT scores are a glorified IQ test, and much of IQ is genetic.
A good education program should make everybody better, not simply help the kids who are already good at taking tests succeed.…
If you think about it, “do what the best do” is another form of argument from authority.
The tentacles of differential advantage, cumulative dominance, runaway polarization and rampant inequality can penetrate even what are purportedly or supposedly meritocratic spheres of life, including science and academia, thus furnishing dramatically more opportunities, recognitions and resources for those who are already well-established in their respective fields, as abbreviated in the following chosen and concatenated excerpts from Wikipedia:
The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, described in sociology, is a phenomenon sometimes summarized by the adage that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The concept is applicable to matters of fame or status, but may also be applied literally to cumulative advantage of economic capital.
In the sociology of science, “Matthew effect” was a term coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous. For example, a prize will almost always be awarded to the most senior researcher involved in a project, even if all the work was done by a graduate student. This was later formulated by Stephen Stigler as Stigler’s law of eponymy – “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer” – with Stigler explicitly naming Merton as the true discoverer, making his “law” an example of itself.
Merton furthermore argued that in the scientific community the Matthew effect reaches beyond simple reputation to influence the wider communication system, playing a part in social selection processes and resulting in a concentration of resources and talent. He gave as an example the disproportionate visibility given to articles from acknowledged authors, at the expense of equally valid or superior articles written by unknown authors. He also noted that the concentration of attention on eminent individuals can lead to an increase in their self-assurance, pushing them to perform research in important but risky problem areas.
In science, dramatic differences in the productivity may be explained by three phenomena: sacred spark, cumulative advantage, and search costs minimization by journal editors. The sacred spark paradigm suggests that scientists differ in their initial abilities, talent, skills, persistence, work habits, etc. that provide particular individuals with an early advantage. These factors have a multiplicative effect which helps these scholars [to] succeed later. The cumulative advantage model argues that an initial success helps a researcher [to] gain access to resources (e.g., teaching release, best graduate students, funding, facilities, etc.), which in turn results in further success. Search costs minimization by journal editors takes place when editors try to save time and effort by consciously or subconsciously selecting articles from well-known scholars. Whereas the exact mechanism underlying these phenomena is yet unknown, it is documented that a minority of all academics produce the most research output and attract the most citations.
There is always the risk or trap of being so seduced by the glory and accolade heaped upon those who are successful, triumphant or idolized that one ceases to think critically about the deeper implications of an innocently sounding statement or quotation that is as simple, promising and exuberant as “If I can do it then anybody can.”. This lack of critical mindset, faculty or attitude can readily lead one to latch onto a sanguine outlook or feel-good moral position that neglects or negates one’s personal responsibility to make sense of, and account for, the relevant history, contexts and contents as well as the moral, social and political bearings and principles pertinent or peculiar to tall and shining achievements. Overly optimistic beliefs as typified by the statement or quotation “If I can do it then anybody can.” may also be a sign or symptom of survivorship bias or survival bias, which is a fallacy of focusing on the people (or things) that succeed or prosper in some selection process, whilst disregarding those that fail or flop due to their lack of support, resource, visibility, fame, renown, honour or recognition. This form of bias can produce significant blinkers in people’s perceptions and conceptions of success and failure.
Some of the most salient and revealing examples of people disproportionately looking up to, believing in, or concentrating on, those with tall and shining achievements can be exemplified by the so-called “Horatio Alger myth” or “rags to riches”, in which persons of impoverished origins seemingly ascend to middle-class prosperity or even upper-class affluence from humble backgrounds or abject poverties through sheer determination and hard work, though often what ultimately changes their fates and facilitates their emancipations is actually some extraordinary act of redemption, bravery, courage or honesty, certain chance encounter or arranged meeting with a benefactor, influencer, impresario or luminary, and/or a particular set of people, events, happenstances or circumstances, that not only engender the substantive forces and resources required for achieving unstinting liberation and thoroughgoing ascension to eminence, but also sustain such dramatic socioeconomic transformation in the lives of such persons. The ramifications of such myths promulgated by many highly celebrated stories, whether real or fictional, can be far-reaching insofar as the stories deeply entrench certain cultural stereotypes and highly elevate specific life trajectories, whilst they obfuscate, supplant, suppress, usurp or subvert critical social issues and moral matters with romanticized visions of success, mythologized tales of prosperity, legendary retelling of the golden age, or unrealistic archetypes of fame and fortune, whilst emphasizing or even enshrining the narratives of the victorious and the authorities of the jubilant, some of which can also be considered as exemplars of the monomyth or hero’s journey. For instance:
Rags to riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth, and in some cases from absolute obscurity to heights of fame — sometimes instantly. This is a common archetype in literature and popular culture (for example, the writings of Horatio Alger, Jr. and recently J. K. Rowling).
The concept of “Rags to riches” has been criticised by social reformers, revolutionaries, essayists and statisticians, who argue that only a handful of exceptionally capable and/or mainly lucky persons are actually able to travel the “rags to riches” road, being the great publicity given to such cases causes a natural survivorship bias illusion, which help [to] keep the masses of the working class and the working poor in line, preventing them from agitating for an overall collective change in the direction of social equality.
The abovementioned criticism is valid and defensible insofar as the underlying picture or concealed reality beneath such myths is a far cry from something openly inspiring and galvanizing towards achieving some wholesale social change for the good of many instead of just a lucky few or an exceptional minority, and for genuinely initiating and sustaining fundamental or widespread social change for the betterment of all and sundry. Nostalgia and mythology can indeed interact and entangle with the popular beliefs, common narratives, received wisdoms and putative legends of our times through the dynamics of cultural reproductions and social constructions. In other words, nostalgia and mythology can function like social narcotics, rendering many contemporary issues as well as certain past events and recorded histories less pitched, contentious, disputable or problematic than they really are or have been, especially when they have been fermented by survivorship bias or survival bias, which, for better or worse, further reinforces the allure of such myths, and thus perpetuates the legitimacy of their concomitant genres, stories and characters, considering how exuberant, promising and optimistic the cultural phenomena, social aspirations, and collectively held beliefs generated by such myths can become in popular media and contemporary societies, as well as in various exhortations, slogans, manifestos, catchphrases and quotations resulting from such myths.
Moreover, the distorted views or beliefs commonly encountered in people’s ignorance, misunderstanding or underestimation of prominent factors in their social upbringing and systemic socialization practices with respect to how people justify or rationalize the outcomes of their efforts or achievements are also the result of people succumbing to the cognitive processes of motivated reasoning, which is a sort of inferred strategy of justification and a kind of implicit regulation of emotion, in which people’s attitudes, decisions, deliberations and judgements are seldom neutral but often motivated by beliefs and outcomes. People often so desire to maintain or achieve these beliefs and outcomes that their thought processes favour, emphasize or gravitate towards those attitudes, decisions, deliberations and judgements that seek or amplify positive emotional states and avoid or attenuate negative emotional states as a way to dissolve mental discomfort or circumvent psychological stress known in the field of behavioural science as cognitive dissonance. The crux of motivated reasoning is therefore rooted in the tacit connections between emotions and biases, which can cast considerable impacts and raise serious ramifications in both the reliability and validity of judgement and decision-making. Some of these issues are summarized by Wikipedia as follows:
Motivated reasoning is an emotion-biased decision-making phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology. This term describes the role of motivation in cognitive processes such as decision-making and attitude change in a number of paradigms, including:
- Cognitive dissonance reduction
- Beliefs about others on whom one’s own outcomes depend
- Evaluation of evidence related to one’s own outcomes
The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”. This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives”.
All in all, in being more aware of the tacit connections between emotions and biases with respect to our choice of, and response towards, quotations, we shall do very well in achieving higher quotational excellence by guarding against the traps and pitfalls or the downsides and drawbacks of affect heuristic, appeal to emotion, emotional reasoning, attribute substitution, heuristic, stereotype, attribution bias, survivorship bias or survival bias, motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance.
As discussed earlier in Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias, the susceptibility or vulnerability of our emotions to various influences and manipulations as a result of being exposed to, involved in, or persuaded by, affect heuristic, appeal to emotion, emotional reasoning and motivated reasoning, can substantially increase in any quotation or statement containing a formal fallacy, which is able to not only confound or tamper with our emotions but also muddle or invalidate the logic and validity of the claim or argument carried by the quotation or statement. This conundrum or dilemma is all the more acute and inescapable if the quotation or statement is also associated with fame (and fortune).
To establish the (inter)connections between Logic and Fame, let us first examine the former in greater detail. In philosophical logic, a formal fallacy (also known as logical fallacy, deductive fallacy or non sequitur) is defined as a deductive argument that is invalid. It is a kind of fallacy where deduction goes amiss and ceases to be a logical process. In other words, a formal fallacy is (caused by) a pattern of reasoning rendered invalid by a flaw in its logical structure. In the strictest sense, a formal fallacy is the incorrect application of a valid logical principle or an application of a non-existent principle.
Whether or not the claim or argument contained in a quotation or statement is sound and devoid of any formal fallacy can be determined by examining its logic or pattern of reasoning as follows. An argument is a progression from premises to conclusion using valid inference such that one premise follows from its predecessors. It starts with a series of statements called the premises intended for determining the degree of truth of another statement called the conclusion. A true conclusion can only be reached or guaranteed by having true premises and a valid argument. An argument is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises. In other words, an argument is valid if the truth of the premises logically guarantees the truth of the conclusion. Moreover, an argument is sound if it is valid and has true premises such that its true premises necessitate a true conclusion. Simply put, an argument is sound if it is valid and all its premises are true. However, some argument can have true premises but still have a false conclusion, since in a valid argument, premises necessitate the conclusion even if one or more of the premisses is false and the conclusion is false. This may not affect the truth of the conclusion since truth and validity are separate in formal logic, which stipulates that truth is a property of claims or statements (such as premises and conclusions), whereas validity is a property of the argument itself. A few examples of a quote, claim or statement containing a formal fallacy are shown as follows:
“Some of your key evidence is missing, incomplete, or even faked! That proves I’m right!”
“The vet can’t find any reasonable explanation for why my dog died. See! See! That proves that you poisoned him! There’s no other logical explanation!”
“Adolf Hitler liked dogs. He was evil. Therefore, liking dogs is evil.”
The daily frequency with which we encounter fallacious or misguided examples such as the above, let alone other countless similar instances found in everyday interactions and public discourses on mass media, social platforms and political arenas, can be a good gauge of the social mores and mental stance of people in particular environments, in which such or similar quotes, claims or statements are allowed to circulate (with impunity). A social mirror or indicator of baser instincts, uncritical attitudes or intellectual mediocrities aside, when quotations or statements marred by formal fallacies are known or thought to originate from luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities or politicians, their effects and impacts may become dramatically amplified, as such quotations or statements can be much more easily peddled or exploited by virtue of sheer influence, superb impression or consummate stature in spite of their flaws.
Being active members of a highly gregarious and communicative species, we are often content with our many assumptions about other people and their endeavours based on their social status and physical attributes. All too often, if the messenger is known to be famous or deemed to be authoritative, we are far more likely to defer our better judgement, surrender our common sense, forsake our suspicion, suspend our scepticism, relinquish our intellectual autonomy, disregard the yardstick of logic, or throw caution to the wind through our admiration of, or alliance with, the messenger, believing that our use of such a quote and the eminence of its originator will automatically, inevitably or categorically impart significant credence and meaning to our own position, purpose and perspective.
The following example demonstrates that some popular statements or well-known quotations of eminent influence are often assumed to be unquestioningly true and authoritative, even though careful enquiries, critical analyses or logical evaluations can readily uncover their flaws. Lorenzo Pasqualis warns us about famous quotes and logical fallacies by highlighting the case of a fictional private detective, Sherlock Holmes, who is recognized for his uncanny expertise in applying astute observation, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic. Originating from the signature utterance of the famed detective who unswervingly delivers it with sanctimoniousness as he unlocks clues necessary to solving a crime, the renowned quotation or statement “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” typifies a Holmesian fallacy (also called Sherlock Holmes fallacy, process-of-elimination fallacy, far-fetched hypothesis, or arcane explanation). Putting the faulty reasoning that lies behind the famous quote under the spotlight, a Holmesian fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a certain explanation is believed to be true by claiming that alternative explanations are impossible without actually establishing the means or facts to rule them out exhaustively. In other words, it occurs when some explanation is claimed or believed to be true on the basis that other explanations are impossible, and yet not all other explanations have been ruled out.
Logical fallacies will show their ugly head in dialog during your career in tech, and life in general. Do not let that go! It will distort reality and introduce contradictions to supposedly logical arguments. People regularly repeat phrases and quotes as unquestionable truths, because some famous person said them in the past. Such phrases sound smart and are attached to famous names that we would not dare to question. People repeat those phrases because we are used to them, and we assume them to be true.
…a quote by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…has a logical fallacy:
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
When you hear someone quote this monstrosity, don’t let it go! It is a logical fallacy, and it is simply wrong. Just because Arthur Conan Doyle was a “Sir” and wrote books about a smart detective, it does not mean he was right all the time.…Once you eliminate the impossible, what remains is “not impossible”, which simply means “possible”. If something is possible it does not mean that it is true, nor likely. It simply means that there is a non-zero chance of it being true, not a certainty.
Logically correct statements, sometimes don’t sound as smart as similar fallacies
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should have stated the principle as follows:
“Once you eliminate everything that is not the truth, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
A Holmesian fallacy is not just a formal fallacy (also called logical fallacy or deductive fallacy) but also an informal fallacy (also called relevance fallacy, conceptual fallacy or soundness fallacy) because it originates in an error in reasoning other than a flaw in the logical form of the argument, such that the argument is formally valid but is unsound because of the falsity or irrelevance of one or more of its premises. In other words, any argument containing an informal fallacy may be formally valid but still fallacious.
Another problem associated with a Holmesian fallacy is its appeal to omniscience, formally called argument from omniscience (also known as allness or absolute thinking), which is the opposite of argument from ignorance. An argument from omniscience occurs when the argument, statement or quotation presents a case that amounts to someone having or claiming to know literally everything about the subject matter at hand. Upholding (the validity or reliability of) an argument from omniscience is a tall order indeed, if not an impossibility, as there may always be unknowns, exceptions, outliers, anomalies, counterexamples and the like to the putative claim or extant generalization. Such an argument, statement or quotation is typically expressed with words like “all”, “everyone”, “no one”, “everything”, “always” or “never”, and is often plagued by false precision (also called overprecision, fake precision, misplaced precision or spurious precision) and precision bias (also known as numeracy bias or range estimate aversion). The latter is a form of cognitive bias in which an evaluator of information commits a logical fallacy as the result of confusing accuracy and precision. Specifically, in assessing the merits of an argument, measurement or report, an observer or assessor mistakenly believes that greater precision implies greater accuracy, and that since a quotation or statement is precise, it is also true.
As revealed by the exemplar of a Holmesian fallacy just described above, it is quite ironic, if not downright unfortunate, that quotations that are logically true may appear to be less clever, appealing, insightful or intelligent than those that are logically flawed. Falling into such a trap and being somewhat fooled or misled by apparently canny, percipient, sagacious and thought-provoking quotations notwithstanding, in willingly assuming famous quotations to be true or valid on account of their provenances without bothering to examine them for harbouring formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies), we fail to assess the phrases and quotations on their respective merits, and thus simultaneously succumb to the genetic fallacy (also called the fallacy of origins or the fallacy of virtue), which “is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context”, and to the halo effect, a form of cognitive bias and a specific type of confirmation bias, in which our overall impression of a famous person influences not only our thoughts and feelings about the person’s character or attributes, but also our opinions and assessments of the person’s writing or saying in quotations. Indeed, it is all too easy to use famous quotations from our favourite celebrities, preferred authorities, esteemed luminaries or honoured dignitaries as shields, excuses, pretexts or justifications to bolster a particular defence or standpoint, to reinforce certain kind of belief or reasoning, to relax the reins on our follies or shortcomings, and to counter any qualms that we might have about specific acts or issues.
On the flip side, the relevance or significance of a quotation can be readily disparaged or tarnished by a mere reference to an infamous person, whose credibility or character is questionable. As a result, we run a great risk of dismissing any intrinsic value of the quotation summarily, unfairly or indiscriminately.
As mentioned, the act of using or even just reading famous quotes can readily or unknowingly cause one to fall into the troubled catchments of formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies), informal fallacies (also known as relevance fallacies, conceptual fallacies or soundness fallacies), genetic fallacy (also called the fallacy of origins or the fallacy of virtue), and halo effect, especially when one tries to appeal to authority or commit an argument from authority (also called argumentum ad verecundiam), in which the support of a professed expert or claimed authority is deployed as evidence for the conclusion of an argument or a quotation, on the basis that an expert knows better and that the reader or audience should conform to the expert’s opinion or assessment. Also rooted in cognitive biases, such an argument presented as statement(s) or quotation(s) is defeasible and thus in principle is open to valid objection, forfeiture, annulment or revision, since it is a sort of reasoning that is rationally compelling but deductively invalid, and since it is a contingent statement, which only amounts to a specific type of non-demonstrative reasoning without a full, complete or final demonstration of a claim, in which fallibility and corrigibility of a conclusion are acknowledged. Whilst appeal to authority or argument from authority is a familiar fallacy, it is a valid inductive argument that can be cogently maintained or effectively deployed when all parties of a discussion agree on the reliability of the authority in the given context.
In general, an appeal to authority or argument from authority by way of quoting a famous person, expert or authority should only be used when the case or context of an argument or quotation has sufficient validity and reliability, if one were to avoid being tarnished or led astray by the authority bias, which is the tendency of an individual or group not only to impute more validity or attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authoritative figure, imposing icon, respected dignitary or reputable celebrity (even when the opinion is unrelated to the content of the case or quotation), but also to be significantly more influenced by the opinion to the detriment of retaining effective autonomy in forming judgements and making decisions. As a matter of fact, the authority bias is another precipitous tendency, involuntary emotional response or mental shortcut described as follows in Wikipedia as the result of informal means of social control through internalization of norms, values and ideologies by the process of socialization, such that an individual normally equipped with very wide range of behavioural repertoires and potentialities is led to develop behaviours confined to the much narrower range of what is acceptable or tolerable to the dominant group standards, what is urged or boosted under social pressures, and what is encouraged or emboldened by social conformities.
In any society, a diverse and widely accepted system of authority allows the development of sophisticated structures for the production of resources, trade, expansion and social control. Since the opposite is anarchy, we are all trained from birth to believe that obedience to authority is right. Notions of submission and loyalty to legitimate rule of others are accorded values in schools, the law, the military and in political systems. The strength of the bias to obey a legitimate authority figure comes from systemic socialization practices designed to instill in people the perception that such obedience constitutes correct behavior. Different societies vary the terms of this dimension. As we grow up, we learn that it benefits us to obey the dictates of genuine authority figures because such individuals usually possess higher degrees of knowledge, wisdom and power. Consequently, deference to authority can occur in a mindless fashion as a kind of decision-making short cut.
For those who prefer ingesting something short and sweet to digesting the long and full discussion above, the fallacy of quoting an authority can be summed up with three one-sentence paragraphs located in the middle of Mark Reijman’s article entitled “Don’t fall for the authority bias” as follows:
Remember that authority typically only applies to a narrow field.
For example, it doesn’t make sense to invoke a quote from Einstein on religion, as his expertise was in physics!
Always look at the strength of the argument, not the person behind it.
Hence, one should ascertain that an alleged authority is not only reasonably fit to function or adjudicate in an area of their expertise, but also reasonably focussed on facts relevant to the argument, discussion or quotation, so as to guard against any appeal to, or argument from, false, misleading or unqualified authority, especially if such an authority happens to be one of those who are believed, approached or consulted merely by reason of their position, influence, wealth and/or status. In addition, one would do well in detecting, discouraging, rejecting or eschewing any attempt at creating or crafting a veneer of legitimacy, a façade of validity, or a semblance of erudition, whether relying on or resulting from an appeal to authority or argument from authority via the gratuitous, unjustified, disingenuous, unscrupulous or exploitative use of quotations or statements originated from certain experts, gurus, leaders, politicians, luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities, superstars, historical figures or the like.
In a comment addressed to SoundEagle, Keith, who is a client manager for a professional consulting firm, and also a blogger providing a source of “[i]ndependent views from someone who offers some historical context”, concedes a similar point about the author of a quote playing a part in our reception or attitude towards the quote: “we have to guard against author bias. Sometimes, we may like a quote and then like it more when we discover the author. It also feeds part of our ego to be able to cite Mark Twain or Confucious [sic].”
Therefore, adding even more caveats to using quotes is the ever-present author bias, which, according to Writing@CSU | The Writing Studio, an open-access, educational website supported by Colorado State University, “can carry an understated or implied judgment … reflect[ing] an author’s bias or preference for one side of an issue over another”, not to mention that an author’s opinion, agenda or subjectivity can significantly affect the content or discussion of an issue. Given that the opinions and backgrounds of different authors will have significantly different bearings on what, how and why certain issues or subject matters are selected and approached, one should be mindful of the underlying assumptions, patterns, paradigms, propagandas and the like, which invariably accompany authors publishing their oeuvres in any medium or format, even something as factual as an academic article from a reputable and long-established source such as a journal or encyclopaedia, let alone those not generally regarded as trustworthy sources, much less those resembling opinion pieces giving little or no citations.
If possible, one should gather and examine the opinions or findings of multiple authors to reveal or review whether they are consistent or divergent, to learn about cross-fertilizations in collaborative works or edited volumes, to discover or identify confluences of data or views, and to have a sense of the interconnections of disciplines and knowledges, since many findings and techniques across distinct domains are variously based or founded on (the (re)organizations or (re)contextualization of) existing data, concepts, ideas, models, theories, archetypes, narratives, rules, codes, lexicons, grammars, logics, syntaxes, equations, derivations, abstractions, generalizations, classifications, quantifications, measurements, instrument(ation)s, interdisciplinarity and so on in vastly interconnected fashions, and have been reliably used or referenced for a long time. Regardless of the level of consensus amongst authors, the cumulative achievements, benefits and synergies resulting from the convergence of evidences and efforts from authors of different disciplines and persuasions can be just as illuminating in their magnitude and diversity as the competitions, animosities and adversities resulting from the divergence of authors’ personalities, approaches, convictions and circumstances.
By extension, one should always establish the validity and reliability of authors’ claims by triangulation using multiple methods or multiple types and sources of information, and should never categorically trust unusual or unconfirmed information from only one or a few sources, especially when (the tasks of assessing or establishing) the authenticity, validity and reliability of those claims and sources are so specialized, conflated or complicated as to be very difficult for laypersons lacking appropriate expert training or professional acumens to gauge or understand. Borrowing the wisdom of Winston Churchill: “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.” Furthermore, in an age where misinformation and falsehoods abound on various digital media and communications channels, and where authors and agents with dubious credentials and spurious claims are free to disseminate any news or contents created to promote agendas and profits, or to propel fads and followings, it would also be highly prudent to be aware of authors’ associations and funding sources as well as authors’ elisions of evidence and evasions of counterarguments. Living in an era of instant gratification, when information is so easily obtainable and disseminated through digital means, one can never take the integrity and authenticity of information for granted, even when the information is presented or repackaged as quotations that appear to be reasonably admissible or seemingly convincing. After all, the Internet is and has been quite saturated with false, inaccurate, erroneous or problematic claims, opinions, interpretations and data from factions who have dubious and even unscrupulous goals, misguided missions and questionable agendas. Passive consumptions of quotations aside, often one may not be aware that many problems and issues can only be apparent or identifiable to those who are truly discerning of some ongoing pitfalls and oversights from which people who lack certain proficiencies and aptitudes invariably suffer, let alone having the wherewithal to see for oneself the social constructionist nature of knowledge and its epistemological dimensions, and how everyday people and even certain scientists could err even in the face of solid evidence gained from multiple lines of independent inquiries and researches from miscellaneous fields.
In examining multiple sources of information from different authors, one must refrain from cherry picking data and ignoring contrary evidences, so that one may obtain not only reasonable exposure to contrasting viewpoints or perspectives, but also the possibility of evaluating and changing one’s standpoints, approaches and behaviours, regardless of how entrenched they might have been. After all, it is important for, and also courageous and admirable of, all of us to confront sensitive and polarizing issues amidst social prejudice, ignorance and bigotry, to have lived an examined life, to be inquisitive and open-minded, and to be watchful and punctilious of why and how we quote any authority or any author, and what we quote from their work.
Moreover, instead of just putting one’s faith in quoting an authority or author to illustrate a point, demonstrate an idea or deliver an opinion, one will be more satisfyingly, if not more authoritatively, poised to acquire and impart knowledge first-hand and reliably, should one be willing to carry out due diligence in exploring areas of interest by conducting some (background) research into the subject matter(s) in question, and then to present the findings by quoting oneself, or quoting from the horse’s mouth. As Emilio J D’Alise summarizes in a comment addressed to SoundEagle, “rather than rely on the intellectual laziness of pressing other people’s words into one’s service, it would behoove a person to formulate their own opinions based on research and the gained understanding of a given subject and then present not only said opinion, but the reasoned path one traveled in reaching it, and do so in their own words” whilst being aware “of various fallacies and guarding against both employing them in support of one’s own argument and in accepting them as having value when offered up by others.”
Providing expert demonstrations by means of quotational evidences, illustrative quotations, and arguments via quotations is an indispensable aspect of lexicographical traditions, canonical texts, comprehensive anthologies, expansive encyclopaedias, scholarly publications and other authoritative sources, as they contain numerous empirical data in the form of quotations to exhibit or explicate particular usages and validities of their respective domains and subject matters. For example, the usefulness of dictionaries is vastly enhanced by the inclusion of demonstrative quotations of how certain words or expressions have been defined and deployed by various writers, literary sources and textual media. Even judicial, journalistic, forensic and exploratory investigations must rely on the veracity of quotations to build or (re)construct cases. Unfortunately and exasperatingly, the validity and reliability of quotations can also be easily abused, hijacked or undermined through egregious cases of misquotation, misconception, misappropriation, misinterpretation, miscontextualization, misrepresentation or falsification to give the illusion of authority or expert endorsement. For instance, the case of misquotation can often be attributed to false attribution, as indicated by the following excerpt from Wikipedia:
False attribution can refer to:
- Misattribution in general, when a quotation or work is accidentally, traditionally, or based on bad information attributed to the wrong person or group
- A specific fallacy where an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased, or fabricated source in support of an argument.
The fallacy of false attribution is a type of appeal to authority, where the proponent either hides or puffs up the credentials or credibility of the source to enhance an argument.
A version of false attribution is where a fraudulent advocate goes so far as to fabricate a source, such as creating a fake website, in order to support a claim. For example, the “Levitt Institute” was a fake organisation created in 2009 solely for the purposes of (successfully) fooling the Australian media into reporting that Sydney was Australia’s most naive city.
A contextomy (taking a quote out of context) is a type of false attribution.
Incorrect identification of source
Another particular case of misattribution is the Matthew effect [of accumulated advantage]: a quotation is often attributed to someone more famous than the real author. This leads the quotation to be more famous, but the real author to be forgotten (see also: obliteration by incorporation).
In Jewish biblical studies, an entire group of falsely-attributed books is known as the pseudepigrapha.
Such misattributions may originate as a sort of fallacious argument, if use of the quotation is meant to be persuasive, and attachment to a more famous person (whether intentionally or through misremembering) would lend it more authority.
Those who would like to cultivate or improve their ability to winnow quotational truth from falsehood may consult the following slightly adapted Quotation Checklist provided by Michael Hopkins in Quotations and Misquotations from The TalkOrigins Archive with respect to being heedful and critical of the fallacy of arguments via quotations as well as misquotation and appeal to authority or argument from authority:
One of the favorite tactics of evolution deniers and other pseudoscientists is to use numerous quotations to make their case. For many people the use of quote after quote makes a very persuasive argument.… The[ir] use of quotations often is a fallacy of argument from authority, selective quotation may be occurring, the quotations are often out-of-date, the quoted authorities are often not appropriate authorities, evolution deniers are sometimes not honest in representing who the people [whom] they quote are, and many of the quotations are misquotations.…
To sum up, when [such people] provide quotations many questions need to be asked[,] including:
- Is the quote itself accurate?
- Do the preceding and following passages change the meaning of the quote?
- Does the quoter use the key terms in the same way as the quoted person?
- What is the quoted person’s actual opinion on the point in question?
- Who was the quoted person addressing?
- Is the quote out-of-date?
- Who is the quoted person?
- Is the quoted person a relevant authority to the issue at hand?
- What do other relevant authorities think?
- Is the quote from a popular source or from the primary peer-reviewed literature?
- Is the quoted person actually correct?
One should be well aware that an authority may present itself not just via an individual of some influence or stature, but also through various entities such as communities, cooperatives, associations, organizations, institutions, departments, faculties, companies, groups, classes, forums, networks, clubs and societies, where like-minded people who are attracted, identified or governed by their own norms, shared values and mutual interests within a dominant, larger society, or within a distinctive culture and institution, can interact via the relationships and (inter)dependencies among its constituent members, including those emerging or thriving under new social forms and relations, whether in cyberspace or via the application of knowledge to social, economic and cultural activities. As mentioned earlier in Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias, people can have a strong tendency or proclivity to overestimate the ability and autonomy of the individual, and to underestimate the role and influence of the social. Therefore, one has to be cognizant of the cultural dynamics and social forces at work, as well as how information or issues are framed as they are being created, presented, propagated or contested in the form of statements or quotations, especially if one also happens to be embedded or involved in those entities, as the following excerpt from Wikipedia explicates:
In the social sciences, framing comprises a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies, organize, perceive, and communicate about reality. Framing involves social construction of a social phenomenon – by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations. Participation in a language community necessarily influences an individual’s perception of the meanings attributed to words or phrases. Politically, the language communities of advertising, religion, and mass media are highly contested, whereas framing in less-sharply defended language communities might evolve imperceptibly and organically over cultural time frames, with fewer overt modes of disputation.…
One can view framing in communication as positive or negative – depending on the audience and what kind of information is being presented. The framing may be in the form of equivalence frames, where two or more logically equivalent alternatives are portrayed in different ways (see framing effect) or emphasis frames, which simplify reality by focusing on a subset of relevant aspects of a situation or issue. In the case of “equivalence frames”, the information being presented is based on the same facts, but the “frame” in which it is presented changes, thus creating a reference-dependent perception.
The effects of framing can be seen in many journalism applications. With the same information being used as a base, the “frame” surrounding the issue can change the reader’s perception without having to alter the actual facts. In the context of politics or mass-media communication, a frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. For political purposes, framing often presents facts in such a way that implicates a problem that is in need of a solution. Members of political parties attempt to frame issues in a way that makes a solution favoring their own political leaning appear as the most appropriate course of action for the situation at hand.
Hence, the framing of quotations or statements, especially in high-stakes, high-strung, volatile, pressurized, controversial, contentious, provocative, polarizing, polemic, politically charged, emotionally saturated or contextually sensitive situations or environments, necessitates that the quotations or statements be considered not just on their own but also in conjunction with the entities purveying them, at least to the extent that whilst there can be good reasons or justifications for allowing the merits or intrinsic worth of some quotations or statements to stand on their own regardless of the origins and authors of those quotations or statements, we should indeed be careful about how the manners or methods of deliverance, the surrounding contexts and underlying agendas, as well as the various cultural lenses, social distortions and framing effects, may significantly change or affect the meanings and tones of those quotations or statements to the detriment of their reception, conveyance, relevance, reliability, validity and integrity, particularly when there is a confluence of Emotions and Biases as well as Authority Bias and Author Bias.
May we always be adequately mindful of both authority bias and author bias to attain a significant degree of intellectual autonomy, if not dispassionate objectivity. A timely reminder in the form of a pithy article entitled “Contrary to Reason” by George (Joshua Richard) Monbiot, a writer, investigative journalist, zoologist, environmentalist and political activist, alerts us to the constant assaults on reason, intellect and integrity as well as the dilutions of idea and substance, which are brazenly stoked by the chronic inducements of consumerist ethos, pop culture and tabloid mentality in the unrelenting cult of celebrity and hero-worship saturating the mass media and contemporary living:
One of the curiosities of our age is the way in which celebrity culture comes to dominate every aspect of public life. Even the review pages of the newspapers sometimes look like a highfalutin version of gossip magazines. Were we to judge them by the maxim “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”, they would not emerge well. Biography dominates, ideas often seem to come last. Brilliant writers like Sylvia Plath become better known for their lives than their work: turning her into the Princess Diana of literature does neither her nor her readers any favours.
Even when ideas are given prominence, they no longer have standing in their own right; their salience depends on their authorship. Take, for example, the psychology professor Steven Pinker, who attracts the kind of breathless adulation that would seem more appropriate in the pages of Hello magazine.
Whilst it may appear to be neat and convenient to rely on aspects of an author’s identity or background such as their personal traits, career profiles or biographical attributes, including age, gender, religion, ethnicity, psychology, social status, professional achievements, political views and historical context, to distil relevance, pinpoint validity or extract meaning from the author’s work or quote, such knowledge about, or profiling of, the author may unduly influence or constrain one’s ability to limit or transcend what one has inferred from such identity and background information, which can lead to interpretive tyranny and other distortions caused by attribution bias, motivated reasoning, stereotype and survivorship bias or survival bias, as well as formal fallacies, genetic fallacy and halo effect in conjunction with authority bias and author bias, thereby frustrating one’s effort to be open-minded and unprejudiced towards the author’s writing or statement, regardless of its form and purpose, as well as irrespective of how it is quoted.
For these reasons, the Illustrated Quotations showing Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes at the end of this post are allowed to stand alone with their full weights and implications carried by their contents alone, which readers and followers can appreciate without prior knowledge or preconception of the quotes’ creators. Moreover, these quotes have been chosen on the basis of their heuristic potentials and edificatory strengths as well as their veracity and validity.
Closer examination, deeper assessment and better reasoning have been applied in the process of selecting suitable quotes for inclusion as a collection here, given that quotes can come in many forms and flavours. SoundEagle has had to be vigilant and to realize that numerous quotes are characteristically subjective, biased, one-sided, tendentious or even invidious, if not significantly flawed, fallacious, specious or spurious. Fortunately, quotes can often be better understood or critiqued via analysis, comparison, logic, scoping and contextualization so that their limitations, idiosyncrasies or inconsistencies could be uncovered.
For instance, what might first appear to be very persuasive and highly sensible quotes could be inescapably self-contradictory, meaning that one can find quotes that are apparently reasonable on their own but are at odds with each other when put side by side, or when examined from other perspective(s). At the very least, one needs to concede the validity of the law of noncontradiction, which dictates that contradictory quotes or conflicting statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time (‘Nothing can both be and not be’), as well as the law of excluded middle, which mandates that for any proposition, either that proposition is true or its negation is true (‘Everything must either be or not be’). In short, some quotes that people use or encounter daily are quite circumscribed in their validities and reliabilities. Upon applying careful inspection and higher-level scrutiny, they can be revealed to be far from universally true and/or comprehensively applicable.
As the examples in the following table show, there are plenty of quotations or statements that apparently contradict each other. Stoking confusion or evoking befuddlement aside, contradictory quotations or statements could provoke conflict, scepticism or incredulity if they were used or found in close proximity to each other in any given situation. Nevertheless, many, if not all, of the contradictions would be alleviated, resolved or eliminated by observing the contexts surrounding the quotations or statements. Only then could any pertinent nuance, subtext, mishandling, misquotation, miscontextualization, misrepresentation and other concomitant defect or associated irregularity be identified. In other words, when using, treating or encountering a pair of quotations or statements that appear to be incongruous or contradictory with one another, it pays to examine and comprehend the intended purpose and relevant context of those quotations or statements, and to know which quotation or statement is applicable when, so as to mitigate or avoid being mired or stymied by the conflicts and inconsistencies arising from the inappropriate juxtaposition of certain quotations or statements.
Table of Contradictory Quotations or Statements
Each row below contains opposing quotes or polarising sayings.
|Absence makes the heart grow fonder.||Familiarity breeds contempt.
Out of sight, out of mind.
|Actions speak louder than words.||The pen is mightier than the sword.
It is the thought that counts.
|Attack is the best form of defence.||He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.|
|Birds of a feather flock together.||Opposites attract.|
|Clothes maketh the man.||Never judge a book by its cover.|
|Do it well, or not at all.||Half a loaf is better than none.|
|Don’t cross your bridges before you come to them.||Forewarned is forearmed.|
|Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.||Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.|
|Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.||Put the shoe on the other foot.|
|Doubt is the beginning of wisdom.||Faith will move mountains.|
|Face is the index of mind.||Appearances are often deceptive.|
|Good things come to those who wait.
Slow and steady wins the race.
|A stitch in time saves nine.
Time and tide wait for none.
|Great minds think alike.||Fools seldom differ.|
|Great starts make great finishes.||It ain’t over till it’s over.|
|Hold fast to the words of the ancestors.||Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.|
|If you want something, work for it.||If it’s meant to be, it will happen.|
|Just be yourself.||Fake it till you make it.|
|Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone.||Misery loves company.|
|Live as though today’s your last day.||There’s always tomorrow.|
|Look before you leap.||He who hesitates is lost.
Strike while the iron is hot.
|Nobody’s perfect.||You are perfect just the way you are.|
|Nothing ventured, nothing gained.||Better safe than sorry.|
|Opposites attract.||Birds of a feather flock together.|
|Practice makes (one) perfect.||All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.|
|Quitters never win and winners never quit.||Quit while you’re ahead.|
|Silence is golden.||The squeaky wheel gets the grease.|
|Something is better than nothing.||Half knowledge is a dangerous thing.|
|Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.||The pen is mightier than the sword.|
|The best things in life are free.||You get what you pay for.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
|The early bird catches the worm.||The early worm gets eaten.
The second mouse gets the cheese.
Haste makes waste.
|The more, the merrier.||Two’s company; three’s a crowd.|
|There are no stupid questions.||It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.|
|Too many cooks spoil the broth.||Many hands make light work.|
|Winners never quit and quitters never win.||Quit while you’re ahead.|
|You are never too old to learn.||You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.|
|You only live once, so live your life to the fullest.||You only live once, so be careful and preserve your life.|
|If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. (American proverb)||If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten. (George Carlin)|
|He who knows others is wise, but he who knows himself is enlightened. (Lao Tzu)||Only the shallow know themselves. (Oscar Wilde)|
|Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. (Benjamin Franklin)||Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. (Mark Twain)|
|Time is money. (Benjamin Franklin)||Time is a waste of money. (Oscar Wilde)|
|All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. (William Shakespeare)||If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting? (George Carlin)|
|To be, or not to be, that is the question: (William Shakespeare)||To be or not to be… Neither one nor the other. (Emile M Cioran)|
|The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. (Vincent van Gogh)||Hug the shore; let others try the deep. (Virgil)|
|God is subtle (as well as slick, crafty and cunning) but not (so) malicious (as to build unpredictability into the basic laws). (Albert Einstein, as paraphrased by SoundEagle)||Much of the subatomic world is uncertain and probabilistic. (Quantum Physics, as worded by SoundEagle)|
|God does not play dice with the universe. (Albert Einstein)||So Einstein was wrong when he said, “God does not play dice.” Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen. (Stephen Hawking)|
Regardless of our own logics, beliefs or persuasions, the examples in the table above exemplify that many quotations or statements that appear to be coherent and convincing actually have limited scope, reliability and validity, given that they are only meaningful, cogent or justifiable in certain contexts. As a corollary, we should be adequately aware of the risks and limits of subscribing to certain quotations or statements, in view of their dependencies on, or sensitivities to, contexts or milieus. Consequently, the contextual dependency of any quotation or statement requires us to be more diligent in availing ourselves of contextual information or contextual clues.
That either or both opposing quotations or statements can make sense, seem sensible or sound reasonable in the presence of contextual information or clues should not always be considered a sufficient condition for the full affirmation, total acceptance or complete endorsement of either or both contrary claims, given that the accuracy, authenticity or veracity, not just the scope, validity and generalizability, of either or both opposing quotations or statements, can only acquire substantial validation through the use of reliable logics, empirical data or scientific facts, plus other definitive methods, records or sources, if they exist.
Rather than cancelling each other out, contrary quotations or statements can indeed define each other’s existence and delineate one another’s validity, as well as promote a discourse between two or more people or parties holding differing viewpoints about a certain issue but wishing to establish a truth or truce via reasoned arguments, bilateral agreement, mutual understanding, compromise, negotiation, cooperation or synthesis, and in cases of ongoing dispute or conflict, via intercession, conciliation, adjudication, arbitration or settlement. After all, reality often abounds with stark contradictions and polar oppositions, many of which await resolutions, even potentially or eventually arriving at some form(s) of fusion, hybridity, syncretism, synergism, inclusivism, eclecticism or consilience. For example, vast wealth and power coexist alongside sheer poverty and misery, even though the former is supposed to (be able to) eradicate the latter. Such a severe degree of juxtaposition or polarization patently exposes, demarcates and foregrounds the contentious, provocative or confrontational issues flanked by the contrary quotations or statements.
All in all, the ostensibly divergent or incompatible, and in some instances, diametrically opposed or outright antagonistic, quotations or statements in the table above demonstrates that the scope, reliability and validity of any quotation or statement can be checked against, and contrasted with, those of its opposing form or contradictory counterpart, if the latter can be found or formulated. It is somewhat ironic or paradoxical that to ascertain the soundness of a certain quotation or statement is to involve knowing, recognizing or even appreciating its contrary kind, opposite exemplar, reversed archetype or antithetical equivalent. Herein lies an implicit but palpable lesson that we ought to be mindful of being overly confident about our understanding of, and adherence to, certain quotations or statements, and that we stand to gain better or extra perceptivenesses, perspectives and insights by being receptive and empathetic towards those conflicting quotations or clashing statements that seem to be (purveying the) oppugnant or irreconcilable, as the latter can potentially shed light on the validity, consistency, reliability and generalizability of our claims, positions or convictions.
Although our chances of causing discrepancy, contradiction, confusion or befuddlement, and subsequently, of inducing conflict, scepticism or incredulity as a result of committing unruly juxtapositions of opposing quotes or polarising sayings are usually slim at the best of times (especially when sobriety and propriety are present), or at any point in time for that matter, our likelihoods of doing so over a larger span of time, and ultimately across our lifespan, are significantly higher if not inexorable or unpreventable, as we gradually or suddenly change our minds, goals, values, opinions, standpoints, convictions, allegiances, affiliations, aspirations, identities, lifestyles, careers and so on, particularly when our certain circumstances alter or evolve, never mind how and to what extent we can (hope, pretend or strive to) be feasibly independent of, or reasonably undeterred by, those circumstances. What is once (perceived or believed to be) a reasonable, equitable, justifiable, unbiased, agreeable, rational, logical or undebatable quotation or statement may no longer be valid, upheld or cherished; and conversely, what is once (considered or thought to be) unreasonable, antithetical, undesirable, objectionable or indefensible may gradually or suddenly be acceptable, defended or endorsed. Furthermore, such a large shift, reversal, defection, conversion, turnaround or change of heart from one position, perspective or paradigm to another may also involve significant amounts of compromise and subjectivity, as discussed immediately below. All in all, whilst our choice quotations, prime sayings and prize statements are fit to be scintillating gems capturing the fire and brilliance of certain ideas, claims or occasions, in time, we may doubt, regret, cringe at, be haunted by, or have various issues with, some of our past quotations, bygone sayings and former statements, since it can be forbiddingly difficult and soul-searchingly confronting to resolve critically the emotional travails of our lives as well as the trials and tribulations of our existence and conscience with the unyielding, impersonal dictates of Classical Logic: Laws of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle. Nevertheless, where we fall within a particular spectrum of opinion or line of thought that is diametrically framed or straddled by some opposing quotations or polarising statements may indeed reveal to us the underlying risk, limit, pitfall, provision, contingency, peculiarity, changeability, fragility and fallibility (in relation to the validity and generalizability) of our claims, positions or convictions, whether or not we are indeed prepared to live and die by those quotations or statements.
‘🥩’One man’s meaty statement is another man’s quoted poison.‘⚗️’
That there are plenty of conflicting or contrasting quotations and statements coexisting in a pluralistic environment conducive to social and cultural diversity such that a plethora of claims, opinions, interests and beliefs can flourish (with relative autonomy and impunity), should not convince any reasonable person that those quotations and statements are automatically or necessarily equal in quality, reliability and validity. Moreover, citing or asserting (the existence of) right, equality, entitlement or freedom of expression cannot constitute or qualify as a justification for using or upholding a quotation or statement, since whether one has (been granted particular) right, equality, entitlement or freedom of expression is irrelevant to whether (one’s opinion or assertion of) the quotation or statement is true or false. In other words, to assert (the existence of) the right or entitlement to an opinion is to fail to assert any justification for the opinion. Worse still, such an assertion, often in the form of “I’m entitled to my opinion.”, “Let’s agree to disagree.”, “That’s your choice.”, “Each to their own.”, or “It’s all subjective.”, may function or masquerade as a defense mechanism to reaffirm a confirmation bias, or as a refusal to participate in logical discussions, reasoned arguments, efficacious adjudications, holistic assessments or constructive criticisms, especially when the assertion is expressed as, or accompanied by, some stereotype, truism, truthiness, bromide, red herring or thought-terminating cliché to sidetrack other spectra of opinion, to divert attention away from other lines of thought, or to mislead or distract (a project or debate) from a relevant, central or important issue.
Of course, one can always retort or argue in the defence of (one’s opinions or assertions of) their quotations or statements, by special pleading or committing the relativist fallacy (also called the subjectivist fallacy), that:
- Specific quotes are “special cases” beyond scrutiny or immune to analysis.
- Some quotes are true for one person but not true for someone else.
- Particular quotes are always at the outer fringes of consensus or comprehension.
- Certain quotes are exceptions to generally accepted rules or principles even in the absence of reasonable explanations or valid justifications.
- Any statement by any person can be cited or quoted against any other statement on the basis that every statement counts and every statement is open to interpretation or creative license.
- All quotes have their places in the (grand) scheme of things whether or not they are problematic, ambiguous, sensible, engaging, meaningful, logical, moral(istic), provocative, consequential, prejudicial, prejudiced, or otherwise.
- The “text is … a multi-dimensional space … a tissue [or fabric] of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture”, as opined by Roland Barthes.
- The meanings and currencies of quotes are always fluctuating as a result of being conditioned by culture and history, and thus are subject to biases and misinterpretations, even if rationality can be consistently strengthened or appealed to.
- Even if an idealized process of discourse is available to achieve consensus in people’s opinions on the meanings and currencies of quotes, their opinions may all be erroneous nonetheless, since those people can be ill-informed or misguided, whether or not they harbour biases and misinterpretations.
- A widely (up)held but unproven “truth” of a quote replete or imbued with a rich history of philosophical, metaphysical or theoretical interpretations may lose its intellectual value, introspective potential or spiritual potency by the time research has reduced it to a mere fact verified but removed from its sociocultural context.
- The relevance and quality of quotes are fundamentally filtered and moulded by class structures, social stratifications, cultural reproductions and communication frameworks, and therefore cannot be unified neatly, explained fairly or understood impartially in any centralizing perspective or intellectual stance.
- Various quotes and their significances are rooted in social constructivism, social constructionism and symbolic interactionism to the extent that all quotations are socially manufactured viewpoints and historically embedded extracts arising from the active, creative, subjective, strategic and intentional aspects of human beings, agencies and constructive potentials, and therefore are neither products of pure observations nor representations of objective realities.
- The validities of quotes are inescapably constrained by, or contingent upon, contemporary modes of thought, standards of reasoning, epistemic principles, theoretical perspectives, ideological standpoints, leading paradigms, social conventions, cultural traditions, moral ideals and the like, which necessitate a postmodernist “attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward grand narratives, ideologies, and various tenets of universalism, including objective notions of reason, human nature, social progress, moral universalism, absolute truth, and objective reality”.
- Many quotes are not so much amenable (contextually, semantically, symbolically, metaphorically, stylistically, idiomatically, thematically, philosophically or otherwise) to any positivist-empiricist conception of science, mathematics, reason, logic or the laws of physics as they are to the pragmatic, utilitarian, emotional, psychological, existential, phenomenological, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of life, let alone the ontological and epistemological aspects of being and becoming.
Nevertheless, all things being equal, any quote that can also possess or exhibit scientific, mathematical, empirical and/or logical validity or truth will tend to be more reliable, abiding, cogent, authentic, compelling, defensible, comprehensive and/or universal. However, if (one were to believe or insist that) scientific truth, or any truth for that matter, is merely one sort of truth and therefore not to be singularly believed, especially privileged or taken for granted, and if everything is a matter of opinion or view relative to differences or divergences in perception and consideration, then there can be no universal, objective truth or logical yardstick. Instead, each viewpoint holds its own truth or validity. Hilary Whitehall Putnam, an American philosopher, mathematician and computer scientist with significant contributions to philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science, warns that those who adopt certain forms of relativism put themselves in a highly compromised and untenable position in which it is impossible to believe or admit that one is in error, since if there is no truth beyond one’s belief or opinion that something is true, then one cannot hold one’s beliefs or opinions to be false or mistaken, not to mention that relativizing truth to individuals demolishes the distinction between truth and belief. In other words, whilst the notion that anyone or everyone can have their own “take” on any statement or quotation may appear to be openly inviting, freely egalitarian and comfortingly democratic, it can also be flattening, stifling, stultifying and indiscriminating, insofar as such a permissive, accommodating, undiscerning and relativized notion tends to not only overlook, diminish or obliterate any intrinsic worth and objective reality of the statement or quotation, but also reduce or consign any “take” on the statement or quotation to an individual angle, a personal perspective, or even a faith, in which anyone’s interpretation or understanding of any statement or quotation can never (be deemed to) be intrinsically better or worthier than that of someone else, even to the extent of eroding the distinction between an argument that is prudent, measured or reasoned, and a remark made off the cuff or off the top of one’s head. This can also undermine the incentive or rationale for people to refrain from producing or condoning unnecessarily vexatious contents, needlessly flippant remarks, tediously glib opinions, or gratuitously unreasonable claims, and to abstain from compromising or even nullifying reasonable standards of intellectual responsibility and honesty.
Therefore, whether or not one comes to realize that many people, rightly or wrongly, often believe that they have found or acquired the(ir) truth or answer, one should critically beware of rampant relativism regardless of whether there is indeed right or wrong in matters of belief or opinion, and irrespective of why and how one could or should adjudicate such matters by way of, and to arrive at, dispassionate objectivity, transcendent wisdom, profound consilience or perspicacious erudition.
SoundEagle would like to encapsulate all of the abovementioned issues as well as the ensuing matters by coining a brand new term:
The Quotation Fallacy can be defined as any error or defect that weakens the construction, interpretation or treatment of a quotation as a consequence of invalid or faulty reasoning; intentional manipulation or misrepresentation; unintentional carelessness or ignorance; misleading notion or view; and mistaken belief or attribution.
Overall, the cognitive and social influences on forming judgements and making decisions in relation to interpreting and using quotations are far-reaching. Given that quotes are so often tossed around conversations, sprinkled in writings, and endlessly circulated in social media, the Quotation Fallacy is indeed very pervasive in everyday life and its concomitant human interactions, to the extent that people routinely and unintentionally commit this fallacy with impunity by being inadequately cognizant of, or accountable to, the effects and ramifications resulting from their desire to appropriate, perpetuate or reinforce particular views, sentiments or ideologies associated with certain quotes, which they render as status updates, social tweets, blog posts, personal flags, signature blocks, customized messages or memorable catchphrases to invoke inspirations or philosophical thoughts, and which they conscript as neologisms, truisms, dictums, epigrams, mottos, axioms, proverbs, mantras, slogans, manifestos or talking points to mobilize opinions, influence social dynamics, alter social discourses or bend social outcomes in countless situations, including those involving the media, academia, luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities, politicians, stakeholders, advertisers, Internet users and bloggers. The Quotation Fallacy is thus as unrelentingly unavoidable as quotations are undeniably indispensable, given the main reasons for using quotations as summarized below:
Quotations are used for a variety of reasons: to illuminate the meaning or to support the arguments of the work in which it is being quoted, to provide direct information about the work being quoted (whether in order to discuss it, positively or negatively), to pay homage to the original work or author, to make the user of the quotation seem well-read, and/or to comply with copyright law. Quotations are also commonly printed as a means of inspiration and to invoke philosophical thoughts from the reader. Pragmatically speaking, quotations can also be used as language games (in the Wittgensteinian sense of the term) to manipulate social order and the structure of society.
In the Quotation Fallacy, the causes, effects and ramifications of misusing, misjudging or misinterpreting quotations, however invisible, unchecked and unacknowledged they may have been, can also include those arising from availability heuristic, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism (also called humanocentrism, human supremacy or human exceptionalism), anthropomorphism, animistic fallacy, pathetic fallacy, reification (also known as concretism, hypostatization or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness), confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias), bandwagon effect, truth by consensus, false-consensus effect (or false-consensus bias), overconfidence effect, selective perception, selective exposure, Semmelweis reflex (or Semmelweis effect), anchoring (or focalism), conservatism (or conservatism bias), reactance, anecdotal evidence, fallacy of suppressed evidence, positivist fallacy, Everest fallacy, Texas sharpshooter fallacy, illusory correlation, irrelevant conclusion (also known as ignoratio elenchi, false conclusion or missing the point), faulty generalization, hasty generalization, jumping to conclusions (officially the jumping conclusion bias, and also called the inference-observation confusion), fallacy of the single cause (also called complex cause, causal oversimplification, causal reductionism or reduction fallacy), implicit stereotype, fundamental attribution error (also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect), group attribution error, subjective validation (also known as personal validation effect), self-deception, self-serving bias (also called self-attribution bias), optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism), pessimism bias, positivity bias, negativity bias, hindsight bias (also called the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism), belief bias, belief perseverance, illusory truth effect (also known as the truth effect, the illusion-of-truth effect, the reiteration effect, the validity effect, and the frequency-validity relationship), illusion of validity, outcome bias, choice-supportive bias (or post-purchase rationalization), historian’s fallacy, strawman fallacy, quoting out of context (also known as contextomy or quote mining), cherry picking (also called suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence), begging the question, circular reasoning, Bulverism, prooftexting, association fallacy (including guilt by association and honour by association), fallacy of illicit transference (including fallacy of composition and fallacy of division), slippery slope argument, continuum fallacy, splitting (also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking), argument from ignorance (also known as appeal to ignorance, or argumentum ad ignorantiam), false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, or black-or-white fallacy), false analogy, divine fallacy (also known as argument from incredulity or personal incredulity), moralistic fallacy, naturalistic fallacy, appeal to nature, appeal to tradition (also called argumentum ad antiquitatem, appeal to antiquity, or appeal to common practice), appeal to novelty (also known as argumentum ad novitatem), and argumentum ad populum (also called appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to democracy, appeal to popularity, argument by consensus, consensus fallacy, authority of the many, bandwagon fallacy, vox populi, argumentum ad numerum (“appeal to the number”), fickle crowd syndrome, and consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”)). Some of these can be found in the following Cognitive Bias Codex.
In short, the abovementioned heuristics, effects, biases, tendencies and fallacies stem from simple, intuitive, efficient rules, measures or schemas that people routinely use to judge and decide, insofar as they are mental shortcuts that largely involve concentrating on one facet of a complex problem and ignoring others, whilst filtering or filling the details with assumptions, approximations, constructs, prejudices, stereotypes and generalities that gel with people’s existing mental models. In other words, people characteristically fail to account for complexity and succumb to cognitive biases, since their perception of reality and understanding of the world comprise a small, narrow and ineludibly unrepresentative set of observations. Therefore, they are much more predisposed to concentrating on the pure, well-defined and easily discernible at the cost of disregarding the seemingly messier and intractable. As a result, people tend to gravitate towards the quicker, simpler, familiar, stereotyped or expected rather than the more important, challenging, complicated, unaccustomed or unpredictable, even if the latter ultimately results in better outcomes and processes, superior judgements and decisions, or worthier expenditures of time and resources. Consequently, whilst these rules or mental strategies may suffice under most circumstances, they can often lead people to commit systematic deviations from logic, probability, rationality, or even decency and morality, causing various errors in judgements and decisions. These errors can detrimentally affect not only people’s choices in quotations but also their choices in matters like valuing a house, marrying a spouse, evaluating a person, appraising a situation, choosing an investment, or determining the outcome of a legal case.
There is seemingly a kind of ironic dependency, perpetual feedback, causal loop, recursive pattern, symbiotic nature or mutualism in our unending relationship with the Quotation Fallacy — our human flaws regularly contribute to the existence and characteristics of the Quotation Fallacy as we quote or are being quoted; and in turn, the Quotation Fallacy present in quotations or statements continues to stoke or stroke our human flaws — thus repeating, reaffirming and reinforcing this relationship. In many respects, the Quotation Fallacy qualifies as a crowning glory of human failings, foibles and follies rooted in irrationalities, misjudgements and misrepresentations, whether they are intentional or not.
As human beings, we cannot imagine a life without quotations manifesting as the organized receptacles of human thoughts and ideas, usually unedited but selectively extracted for conveyance. They versatilely function as textual and verbal memes as well as musical and visual assemblages, chosen or recreated by miscellaneous quoters from all walks of life, to be replicated and transmitted in person or via media, to be used or fitted together in certain fashions and contexts, to be written, said, read, heard or seen in private or public, to be rendered more potent and persuasive by appeal to authority, logic, reason, emotion or even time and space — at the right, critical or opportune moment. Being the most recognized, celebrated, remembered and repeated parts culled from original or secondary sources, innumerous quotations have long etched or embedded themselves in human lives through various forms of communications and activities. Hence, the presence of quotations is as portentous as it is pervasive, coming across as the familiar sayings or teachings by which a worldview or lifestyle is framed or followed; as the profound speeches dictated during ceremonies and rites of passage; as the promising declarations of goodwill; as the romantic reaffirmations of love; as the clarion calls to action or worship; as the tried and tested season’s greetings; as the well-trodden charm offensives; and as the unforgettably well-quoted passages of prose, lines of poems, parts of lyrics, and titles of songs, thereby lending us verbatim voices with flair or fervour but without fear or favour, and thus giving us the indispensable means to support, honour, endorse, inhabit, emulate, illustrate and illuminate original ideas, works or authors and their roles and minds without reinventing the wheel. Indeed, quotations have brought and connect ideas, identities and ideologies to many people who would otherwise never know the sources in detail, or would only know them in outline. The finest answers to many questions are quotations, which can prompt and stimulate us to discover or approach the sources, to give us more ways and avenues to reach out to or connect with other ideas, works or authors.
However, as flawed human beings, we cannot imagine a life without the Quotation Fallacy manifesting as the unorganized receptacles of human biases and shortcomings; the cognitive cracks and fissures from which misconstructions and misconceptions wantonly escape or subconsciously elope; the litany of honed heuristics, emotional responses, basal instincts, inner promptings and primal inclinations that navigate routine transactions and prompt fight or flight in both the verbal and written realms; and indeed the true source of many misgivings and misunderstandings as well as conflicts and discriminations, controversies and contentions. Ultimately, as a flawed species causing the world ecological crisis and the sixth mass extinction, it is high time that human beings face the noise and music of the Quotation Fallacy, so that we may sort ourselves out in the larger scheme of things, and in the natural order.
As can be gathered from all of the preceding discussions, the cognitive footprints, intellectual costs, analytical tolls and reasoning exactions of the Quotation Fallacy have been, by and large, not only impressively high, culturally consequential, socially influential, politically strategic and existentially far-reaching, but also often concealed, seldom acknowledged and rarely exempted in our daily lives. This stems from the sobering fact and irrevocable truth that whilst the Quotation Fallacy can prevent any quotation or statement from being cogent, reliable or logically valid, it cannot prevent it from swaying people’s minds and evoking some particularities of human nature, habit, intuition and emotion, which have been the major contributors to, or the main culprits of, the Quotation Fallacy, a volatile mix and heady blend of errors or defects eminently capable of leading people to being grievously wrong about reality, egregiously amiss about their assessments, or injudiciously awry about their judgements. Nevertheless, the better people understand the Quotation Fallacy, the better they can mitigate its effects, ramifications and consequences, reducing both their magnitudes and frequencies.
Understanding the Quotation Fallacy also teaches us that in excogitation, cerebration and intellection we shall find daily wisdom in fine quotations. Philosophy, cognitive science, logical inquiries, sound reasonings and self-appraisals can show us the pitfalls and misconceptions in not only how we live, choose, think and write but also how we quote. In conclusion, whilst we invariably gravitate towards choosing only certain quotations for their potency in representing, accentuating or validating our personalities, identities and beliefs so as to uphold or disseminate preferred views and favoured ideas, we should be aware that our opinions or reasonings involved in the selection and judgement of quotations can be imperfect and prone to the Quotation Fallacy. As a corollary, we can indeed do very well to appreciate and investigate the Quotation Fallacy reliably and responsibly, for doing so can inform us not just how to quote but also how to live, choose, think and write reliably and responsibly. Furthermore, apprehending the Quotation Fallacy can help us to study and develop the vocabulary and skills needed to better evaluate the claims and arguments of stakeholders and advertisers, Internet users and bloggers, experts and gurus, leaders and politicians, luminaries and dignitaries, celebrities and superstars, as well as historical figures or the like, both in the media and in person. It can also help us to better understand the human condition and human nature.
Without further delay, SoundEagle hereby invites you to relish the following quotes in the hope that you will be much more careful when seeing, hearing or using quotes, even in the case of the most familiar or accepted kinds, so that you can consistently approach them with more reservations and deeper understanding, but with fewer encumbrances and misconceptions of any kind, including the sorts of mistakes in reasoning that arise from, or result in, the mishandling of the content and context of any quotation.
- Introduction: Fostering Quotational Excellence
- Misquotation: Improper Quoting, Sourcing, Context, Appropriation
- Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias
- Logic versus Fame: Formal Fallacy, Genetic Fallacy, Halo Effect
- Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion
- Classical Logic: Contradiction, Context, Scope, Validity, Generalizability
- Compromise and Subjectivity: Special Pleading and Relativist Fallacy
- Definition and Ramifications: Description, Scope and Corollaries
- Illustrated Quotations: Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes
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