- 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
Hovering with a mouse cursor over a hyperlinked text or image in this post will bring up a tooltip showing descriptive information or instruction.
Click or touch an image to enlarge or comment on it.
SoundEagle in 疾風知勁草
Dear Readers and Followers as well as Lovers and Collectors of Fine Quotes,
On the one hand, exploring the eponymous Quotation Fallacy can curate and demonstrate the inventiveness and ingenuity as well as the ignorance and existential risks of humanity as observed from the complex interplay between the myriad manifestations of quotation and the manifold limitations of intrapersonal cognitive processes occasioning significant and recurrent biases, oversights, misjudgements, misrepresentations, vulnerabilities, unwarranted inferential leaps and faulty conclusions to the detriment of developing, advancing and sustaining civil discourse, human rights, democratic governance, social cohesion, community psychology, critical thinking, critical consciousness and sociopolitical development. On the other hand, the discerning mindset and emancipatory potential engendered by the percipient exercise of quotational intelligence plus the multifarious issues and perennial challenges entailed by the Quotation Fallacy call for the holistic and consilient recognition of the importance of quotational excellence, at least to the extent that how we quote (as well as how we live, choose, think and write) and our emotive, emotional, habitual, instinctual, soul-stirring or inspiriting response to a quotation or statement should be judiciously counterbalanced, tempered, filtered or enriched by the vigilance and diligence of our intellectual faculty as guided by philosophy, cognitive science, logical inquiries, sound reasonings and self-appraisals, in conjunction with information literacy and media literacy as well as social and environmental sciences, so that we can consistently have the guidance and mindset necessary for better logic, action, belief formation, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, decision making and problem solving.
In perusing the different sections of The Quotation Fallacy “💬”, this expansive post comparable in scope and function to a monograph provides you with structures of ideas unfolding across various conceptual landscapes and intellectual territories such that taken as a whole, you can be well on the journey towards attaining an in-depth understanding of the history of quotation, the philosophy of quotation, and the sociology of quotation, via an Analytical Prism refracting and dispersing quotational matters into a rich plethora of colourful topics regarding the motivational, psychological, behavioural, sociological, political, cultural, linguistic, intertextual, artistic, academic, philosophical and biological aspects of quotations, including how one perceives or deploys the role, power and potency of quotations; how quotations are formed, presented, disseminated and sourced; how quotations evolve or mutate with time and context; how quotations are generated, chosen, favoured, (ab)used and exploited across different scales, purposes and media; how quotations can provide revealing insights into human behaviour, cognitive pattern and social relation; how quotations are justified and promulgated via the intentions, activities or operations of individuals and organizations; how quotations can become the instruments or ingredients of fusion, appropriation, intertextuality, reimagination and recontextualization; how verbal quotations are indispensable ingredients of human dialogues and daily conversations in the arenas of spoken discourse; how quotations have manifested in not only texts and speeches but also visual arts, performing arts, animal vocalization, interspecies communication and biomimetics or biomimicry; how pictorial quotes become the lingua franca and communicative currencies tempting people with its artistic and expressive qualities but cause the visual defacement of images and the textual suppression of quotations whilst falling short on meeting the noble and inclusive goal of web accessibility; how quotations can be fabricated, misattributed, garbled, mistranslated or stated out of context to become misquotations; how certain forms of misquotation can be (un)intentionally produced to become novel, catchy or amusing statements such as anti-proverb (or perverb), malapropism, eggcorn, Yogi-isms and spoonerism or Sreudian flip; how quotations or statements are misattributed to illustrious authors and eminent authorities, and unjustifiably given more credence and circulation based on the perceived status, fame or fortune of quotees; how one man’s meaty statement is another man’s quoted poison; how quotations can appeal to emotion, consequences, fear, flattery, pity, ridicule, spite and wishful thinking; how quotations can be fallacious, biased, misleading or misguided, especially when they contain formal and/or informal fallacies; how the juxtapositions or pairwise comparisons of some seemingly sound quotations can reveal contradictions and incongruities as well as limits in their reliability, validity and generalizability; how quotations are essential for research and scholarly works in conjunction with paraphrasing, summarizing, referencing and citationality; how the use of quotations can lead to a concentration of knowledge, understanding, control and influence; how quotations can be conceived more as engaging knowledge than mastering information; how quotations are affected and finessed by graphic design, mass media, information technology, sociopolitical trends and sociocultural forces that shape knowledge production, social discourse, cultural reproduction, and the construction and transmission of meaning; how quotations have ascended to become the principal objects of commodification in the age of social media, advanced communications and mass consumerism; how the world has been vastly powered by the quotation industry in which individuals and organizations deploy mass communication to suborn or exploit ideas for matters ranging from self-promotion, testimonial advertising, influencer marketing and tabloid journalism to culture war, social control and political opportunism; how quotations have been used in or associated with ideas, claims, arguments, agendas, projects, campaigns, propagandas, demagogy, media manipulation, Internet manipulation, astroturfing operations and post-truth politics; how misquotations and misinformation have contributed to the growing pollution of the media landscape and information ecosystem; and how quotations can be relevant to and focused on transformative knowledge production and new modes of accountability by cultivating quotational intelligence and consulting the Quotation Checklist to facilitate transformational and sustainble change through critical thinking and quotational excellence.
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.” Marlene Dietrich can certainly be classified as an ardent devotee of letting authoritative quotes be the sounding boards by which one’s ideas are mirrored or resonated, as revealed by her statement “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.” If or when our own words and ideas cannot cut through the mundane or rise above the situation, we may indeed rely on an opportune sprinkling of the choicest quotations at the requisite moment to dispel the insipid and repel the anodyne so as to fire up our imagination and spice up our existence.
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 the quotation, quotee and quoter are available for scrutiny or amenable to analysis.
As elucidated later in considerable depth, humans have a strong tendency to automatically find certain quotations and statements 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 quotations and statements (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 quotations and statements 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 giving people the false impression of being in control of, or in harmony with, their choice and understanding of quotations and statements, 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. These discussions pertain to the perennial issues and common pitfalls in people’s daily lives and how people process data, identify problems, explore issues, conduct research, evaluate evidence, cite sources, select viewpoints, interpret opinions, validate beliefs, formulate ideas, make judgements, draw conclusions, create decisions and consider implications, the outcomes of which invariably depend on how people deal with the quotations or statements involved.
Aside from revealing the human factors in people mishandling quotations and statements due to their erroneous judgements and flawed decisions, the various discussions in this post also include uncovering the quotational factors in quotations and statements harbouring errors or defects that affect the logic, cogency, validity, reliability and generalizability of such quotations and statements. Overall, the quotational factors can compound the human factors, as the former can amplify or complicate the latter. The reverse, whereby the human factors influence or impinge on the quotational factors, is just as relevant insofar as the human factors can play significant roles in shaping the quality and validity of quotations resulting from the act of quoting, and from the selection or construction of quotations to be used for whatever purposes and circumstances. Simply put: A full and balanced understanding of the Quotation Fallacy requires the acknowledgement, identification and investigation of errors or defects pertaining to, and originating from, both humans and quotations. What can be unveiled and learnt by us in the process of doing so may indeed be quite sobering or even disconcerting, to the extent that to face the Quotation Fallacy is to confront problematic aspects of quotations as well as some of the most unflattering characteristics of human nature, many of which are as multifarious and consequential as they are ubiquitous and deep-seated. In that regard, one can be forgiven for being wary or doubtful about the worth of (deploying) quotations with respect to matters regarding rationale, representation, integrity, efficacy and consequence. For instance, Uldis Sprogis, self-described as “a semi-retired author, educator, encyclopedic blogger, truth seeker, and landlord with a Masters in Science Education”, has sized and summed up quotations in THE TRUTH ABOUT QUOTES* as follows:
My main objection to quotes is that there are often some or many exceptions to the stereotypic views of the world, especially the ones utilizing analogies and similes. Most quotes have some truth or much truth but they are usually biased subjectively and not very logical.… Quotes are frequently generalizations which have quite a few circumstantial exceptions… There are thousands of quotes and most of them try to make emotional and rare logical connections between a few or handful of words… Life is more complex than just a handful of quotes to live by… Quotes try to tell you what is good or bad but unfortunately are bad at filling in the details…
Nevertheless, Uldis Sprogis is undeniably prolific in quoting, as many as several times a day, his own insightful statements, each of which is superimposed over a photo, turned into an image, and published on his blog. His avid blogging with quotations is part of a hot trend, vogue or craze initiated by the rise of social media, messaging apps, self-publishing platforms and the cult of celebrity. Combining the piquant brevity of a quotation with the visual impact of an accompanying picture worth a thousand words has become the most favoured means of pu(bli)shing a certain idea or claim without investing in, or bothering with, the much more involved and time-consuming task of elaborating the idea or claim. Whether quoting oneself or others, the medium of pictorial quote in the form of quote-cum-image or text-on-photo is quick and convenient as well as space-saving, fitting nicely on the small screen of a hand-held device.
Dozens or even hundreds of images bearing quotes can be flicked across the screen, where each quote can be consumed in under a minute or mere seconds as news feeds, shared photos, season’s greetings, warm congratulations, prominent epigraphs, catchy taglines, memorable slogans, inspirational mottos, choice sayings, routine quips, thoughts of the day, musings of the hour, or the like, via (re)tweets, status updates, signature blocks, blog posts, webpage headers, advertisements and so on. In an era so saturated with individuals and organizations deploying mass communication to suborn or exploit ideas to the ends of self-promotion, testimonial advertising, influencer marketing and tabloid journalism as well as those of culture war, social control and political opportunism, the world is now manifestly brimming with new and old quotations, prodigiously powered by the “quotation industry”, and endlessly coopted by those who are riding the publicity bandwagon and those who are steeped in the cult of celebrity, as explicated by encyclopedia.com:
Out of the tradition of quoting chapter and verse from the BIBLE, of quoting lines from great writers and orators, and of quoting the remarks of the famous, there has grown a minor industry that marshals and highlights the comments, aphorisms, quips, bons mots, and verbal faux pas of the celebrated, notorious, or fashionable. It includes: (1) The compiling and publishing of anthologies of observations by famous people, works promoted and purchased as a means through which public speaking may be enlivened (‘quotes for all occasions’) or readers can enjoy instances of language used to good effect. (2) Brief, topical features in newspapers and other periodicals with such names as Quotes of the Week or They Said It, listing significant, thought-provoking, egregious, or fatuous observations or remarks made by people currently in the limelight. The existence of such items not only requires journalists to find material to fill them but may prompt public or would-be public figures to formulate snappy one-liners that might be listed and attributed.
A prominent exemplar and lucrative subset within the colossal quotation industry is a particular sector herein coined by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ as the motivational quotation industry, whose accomplished practitioners adroitly deploy inspirational quotes as the basis for establishing a living as professional quoters or quote makers. Many factors have coalesced to bring about the meteoric rise of the motivational quotation industry, including the widespread adoption of social media designed to foster rapid sharing of images amongst users; the ease of deploying text layout apps or graphic design software to create custom-made pictorial quotes; the maturing of the digital economy and intangible capitalism conducive to monetizing products and services on social media, blogs and websites; the decline of desktop and laptop computers due to the ascendency of portable devices and smartphones whose small screens are more amenable to unsophisticated content and low information density; the formats of SMSing, texting, tweeting and posting favouring the short and simple rather than the long and detailed; the tendency of media users to convey or display fickle allegiance, superficial solidarity and spasmodic benevolence in online social interactions; the growing inclination of people to treat or deal with a subject briefly or superficially due to attention deficit, update overdrive, information overload and multimedia overdose; the habitual gravitation towards instantaneous news and notifications by skimming over contents, reading only headlines and going for soundbites or video clips; the lack of the mental apparatus or consistent aptitude for differentiating that which is truly profound and meaningful from that which is contrived to impress without direct concern for or relevance to the truth or what genuinely matters; and the predominance of self-help gurus, motivational speakers, life(style) coaches, Internet celebrities, media personalities and social media influencers across social spaces and social discourses purposed and maintained for commercial gain, social capital, cultural capital, personal branding, niche marketing and public relations. The over-reliance on headlines, soundbites and quotations to capture the essence of an issue or topic, to summarize information and to entice the reader, viewer, voter or consumer at the expense of the broader context and deeper understanding has not only contributed to the potency and frequency of media manipulation (via the deployment of formal and/or informal fallacies, disinformation, or quotational, rhetorical and propaganda techniques), but also accentuated the comforming effects of social proof (also called informational social influence), a sociopsychological phenomenon in which people emulate the actions of others to undertake a certain activity, behaviour or experience in a given situation.
“How inspirational quotes became a whole social media industry” and a hugely conspicuous phenomenon of the Internet culture is explained at length by Victoria Turk, the features editor at WIRED UK:
You can barely go on a social media site without being bombarded by motivational quotes. But behind every corny line there’s a human that has lifted or crafted it – and it turns out that inspiration is a highly lucrative industry…
Motivational quotes are endemic on social media, with Facebook and Instagram in particular riddled with “profound” messages, often set against a whimsical background. You know the type – those pictures of waterfalls and sunsets with sayings like “You can’t have a rainbow without the rain” that your aunt keeps sharing with comments like “So true”.
They might make many cringe, but so popular are motivational quotes online that, for some, they can be big business – liked, shared and monetised to create a whole inspirational quote industry.
Shawn, 45 from Canada, runs several popular quote accounts on social media as well as his own quote-filled website. His Twitter account, @motivational, has 669,000 followers; his Facebook account @quotesandsayings has over 4 million. His interest in motivational quotes has proven lucrative, and while he still has a day job in the wireless technology industry, he says that he’s recently been taking home two to three times his regular income from advertising on his website. “I could quit my day job from the advertising revenue I’m getting.” he says.…
For a long time, says Shawn, his Facebook follower number was stuck around 45,000. Originally, he was just posting text quotes. He realised that the [social media] algorithm rewarded regular posting, and he suddenly started to gain thousands of new followers a day. He also started to do “share for share” deals with other popular quote pages, posting content from their pages in return for the same. One of these fellow quote enthusiasts advised him to move away from just posting text, and he embraced what he calls “quote pics” – the now-ubiquitous social media trend of inspirational quotes overlaid over images of sunsets and landscapes. He makes his own images using apps such as Word Swag – although he notes that many accounts seem content just to take and re-use quote pics [that] they find elsewhere if they don’t have a name attached.…
His own preference is for longer, more esoteric quotes, from writers and philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Arthur Schopenhauer – but that’s not usually what his followers respond to. “It’s always fascinating to see people reacting out of proportion positively towards some really basic piece of junk quote that you think is the worst thing ever,” he says. “Then you’ll see something online that’s great, it’s fascinating, and it gets no attention at all. Everybody’s at different levels in their own development, and you’ve got to realise [that] you’re edging humanity along inch by inch.”…
It’s not just quote pages that are capitalising on the motivational quote phenomenon; brands are also turning to the format as a good marketing tool. In 2018, copywriter Laura Belgray, who runs New York-based company Talking Shrimp, gained viral fame after she wrote a piece published on Money.com with the headline “I Get Paid $6,000 a Day to Write Inspirational Quotes for Instagram. Here’s how I perfected this dream job.”…
What is it that makes motivational quotes so appealing to some (and so repellant [sic] to others)? The format is arguably designed for shareability – originally by word of mouth or in books like the one Shawn found as a teenager, and now on social media. Gordon Pennycook, a psychologist at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, whose work “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2016, found that some people are more likely to ascribe profundity to nonsense statements than others, and that these people are less reflective and lower in cognitive ability, as well as more likely to hold supernatural beliefs and endorse complementary and alternative medicines.
To be clear, Pennycook’s work used statements made up of nonsense buzzwords as opposed to actual motivational quotes, which do at least make some kind of sense (usually). But in one study where participants were asked to rate the profundity of both these ‘bullshit’ sayings and actual motivational quotes, those who rated the bullshit quotes as more profound were also likely to rate the actual motivational quotes as more profound, and Pennycook sees a similarity between the made-up bullshit he and his team used and some of the more cringeworthy quotes that pop up on social media. One common characteristic is using floral language to make a sentence appear more important or impressive than its actual meaning. “In many cases it’s pretty trite,” he says. “Most self-help books are very elaborate ways of saying ‘You should try harder’ in different ways.”
Ultimately, Pennycook says, we tend to share things that pull on our emotions – whether that’s fake news or inspirational quotes. And while it’s easy to mock people who may read too much into trite platitudes, being too skeptical can also have its downsides. “It does pull some of the magic from the world,” he says.
In short, a pictorial quote is the (re)packaging of a quotation by using software to convert the quotation from its original textual form into an image to be stored, distributed and viewed as a visual presentation on printed materials or digital media. The inexhaustible sources of quotation that people can find and access, the absence of copyright restrictions on using or adapting quotations, and the simplicity with which any chosen quotation can be transformed into a visually pleasing format, have virtually guaranteed a ready-made market and unending (over)supply of pictorial quotes, so much so that a large number of them have become the de facto vehicles for hackneyed ideas or trite statements promoted and promulgated for their intellectual accessibility, instant appeal, gratifying messages, clichéd imports, simplified perspectives, prepackaged worldviews and superficial profundities, all too often lacking originality or freshness, if not ultimately mundane and dull on account of overuse.
Riding on the freewheeling spirit of the digital frontier and the Internet economy, the quotation industry is ostensibly one of the shiniest, trendiest signs that quotations have ascended to become the principal objects of commodification in the age of social media, advanced communications and mass consumerism, where the medium of pictorial quote in the form of quote-cum-image or text-on-photo and the prodigious parading of celebrity quotations and quotes for all occasions have increasingly become the lingua franca and communicative currencies in the domain of branding and marketing as well as the realm of social interactions and relationships, however fleeting or ersatz they are often destined to be due to saturation, overabundance and kitschification. Being shared by the millions daily, the prevalence of pictorial quote is one of the most inescapable signs that image and space have significantly replaced history and narrative as the primary means, preferred modes and organizing principles of cultural (re)production.
There is no exaggeration in concluding that the power of visual communication in the digital age has turned quotation in general and pictorial quote in particular into a poster child, becoming a vital part of promotional material and advertising. The same power has also reduced the patience and attention span of human beings, according to Baris Gencel writing for The Brandberries as follows:
In Effective Advertising, words are not the only way we can communicate ideas and feelings. A more important weapon is the visual. A picture in a print ad captures more than twice as much information as a headline does. In fact, research shows that 90% of the information that sticks in our brains is visual.
10% of people remember what they hear.
20% of people remember what they read.
But 70% of people remember what they see and do.
It’s more than just that. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, and It’s also true that 93% of our communication is non-verbal.
In a world that has become totally digital, are we becoming more like Neanderthals?
During the last few years, humans have been changing. Interestingly, our visual intelligence is actually increasing while verbal intelligence is on the decline. According to UCL study, the way we communicate is becoming more caveman-like. Modern man is moving more towards a “pictographic form of communication”. Professor John Sutherland from University College London embellishes this when he says:
“This harks back to a caveman form of communication where a single picture can convey a full range of messages and emotions.”
On average, a person is distracted after just 8 seconds.
With all these new forms of media on digital platforms and social media, our attention spans are changing too and we have so many distractions. Imagine looking at Weibo, Facebook, WeChat and Instagram with many incoming messages all at the same time. Our attention span is shortening and we are becoming less patient than ever before.
As we can see, today’s fastest growing social media platforms are visual-based. This number is increasing and 84% of communication is visual-based too.
Given that a pictorial quote is the (re)packaging of a textual quotation into a visual format to be viewed on printed materials or digital media, our being aware of the form, function and design conducive to effective visual communication and quotational excellence is paramount to enhancing our quotational intelligence, given the reach and ubiquity of pictorial quotes in the contemporary world. The basic form of a textual quotation from its inception is purely functional, containing the quoted phrase(s) or sentence(s) between quotation marks. In contrast, the form of a pictorial quote is affected and finessed by graphic design, mass media and information technology. On the one hand, the advancements of technology and social media determine how a pictorial quote is stored, indexed and disseminated. On the other hand, the software for manipulating texts and images affords opportunities for considering how a pictorial quote looks and feels, and for focusing more on the aesthetic experience and on creating additional connection with the quote consumer or dedicatee, especially when a quote is not presented in the usual digital or printed form on screen or paper, but is destined to be featured or immortalized on a treasured object or sentimental item such as a special gift, engraved present, framed picture, keepsake, heirloom, memorabilium, tattoo, trophy, badge, medal(lion), plaque, insignia or emblem. The approach can range from simply placing the intended quote on the printed part of an item to aptly incorporating the quote as part of an abstract or visually provocative design such that the resultant pictorial quote becomes the hero of the visual language and artistic design conveying the meaning and worth of the item. Additional depth, texture or tactility can be imparted by the inclusion of embossing, debossing, inlaying, carving, sculpting, holography or three-dimensional printing. In imparting, accentuating or complementing form, function and design, the medium of pictorial quote tempts the quote maker with the freedom and delight of being artistic and expressive, and seduces the quote consumer or dedicatee with the artful juxtaposition of quotation and imagery.
As discussed earlier and seen from the examples above, pictorial quotes can afford any quoter a good degree of artistic licence and scope for creative flair in designing and superimposing a quotation onto a photo or image, even though the final product may often bear no attribution to the quoter or the quotee. Such are the appeal and popularity of pictorial quotes that they can be seen to adorn computer monitors as screen savers and desktop backgrounds, to decorate interior spaces as framed photos and wall art, and to serve as inspirational materials for, or enhanced features of, signature blocks, customized messages, slideshows, blog posts, status updates, social tweets, greeting cards, printed shirts, posters, bookmarks, epigrams, keepsakes, memorabilia, sentimental items and artworks.
Hence, there is no surprise in finding that pictorial quotes are one of the most pinned and shared categories of images on a “visual search engine” like Pinterest, which is an image sharing and social media service affording users to search, discover, save, catalogue, share and promote information or “ideas” online using images (plus GIFs and videos on a smaller scale) in the form of pinboards. Word Swag App not only offers a quick way for users of smartphones to “create beautifully custom text layouts that would normally take minutes – or even hours – with just a tap” as though “a graphic designer in their pocket”, but also comes with “[h]undreds of quotes, thoughts, and jokes so you’re never at a loss for words”. Those who wish to find a free and expedient way of making pictorial quotes as well as having access to a decent source of curated pictorial quotes can visit picturequotes.com, which allows anyone to create their own pictorial quotes to share with family and friends. Those who are more experienced can rely on the sophisticated features offered by Canva, a graphic design platform that integrates millions of images, fonts, templates and illustrations, and that facilitates users to create social media graphics, presentations, posters and other visual content. Specifically, Canva has published guidelines for creating pictorial quotes in its well-illustrated article entitled “100 stunning picture quotes that will supercharge your creativity”, which are summarized as follows:
- Add graphic images that complement your quote: Bring your quotes to life with a graphic image. Other than helping [to] tell a story and providing context to the quote, graphic images bring oomph to your text.
- Frame your quote: Framed quotes are great for home and office decor — a harmonious collection of framed images and picture quotes may be used to create a gallery wall.
- Turn the text itself into art: Put your creativity to work, by transforming the text into an illustration. Make sure [that] it remains within the right context by having it take a form relevant to the message of the quote.
- Leave something to the imagination: Abstract picture quotes encourages [sic] the reader to think [more] deep[ly]. You can use symbols and visual hints to provide context.
- Breathe life into your quote by incorporating it [as] an image of the outdoors: When all else fails, take inspiration from nature. Your picture quote can then function as a nice escape from a stressful work day or as a reminder of how you’ll reward yourself with a vacation after a challenging project.
- Make it a poster: Picture quotes attain larger[-]than[-]life power when it’s printed as a poster.
- Use an unconventional canvas for your quote: Quotes can humanize an otherwise impassive object like a wall or building.
- Make It Fun and Childlike: Even the oldest quotes can live forever in youthful fonts and colors. When done right, this style can make even the most complex ideas easier to understand.
- Remember that sometimes, less is indeed more: Minimalist design is popular in the modern design scene — it is simple, yet elegant. A minimalist quote graphic typically displays no more than text and a simple background for a clean look.
- Don’t be afraid of fancy fonts: Cursive or script fonts just feel more personal, [as if] it could be a handwritten letter.
There is a further outcome that can be observed in the ascent of pictorial quote. The background image or photo framing a quote gains in meaning when it is seen in context against or in connection with the quote, since the image or photo per se does not carry specific meanings or signify something concretely. In other words, the image or photo accrues, derives or plays off meanings from or against its superimposed quotation such that it takes on more specific quality — a quality that has been overlaid, heightened or rendered prominent by the (interpretation of the) meanings encapsulated by the quotation. In that sense, there is an interrelationship or synergy between the quote and the image or photo insofar as the pairing generates related understanding to influence the reader and add layers of depth to a quote, based on the reader’s response to both. This accumulation of meanings across different media, where an image or a photo has its signification or significance coloured, altered or crystalized by being “read” or viewed in the context of a quotatation, is a new and rather revolutionary phenomenon, one that would have been considered to be odd, objectionable or even outlandish in the past when hardly any image or photo had ever been brazenly “branded” or “disfigured” by overlaying text beyond the traditional practice of captioning with a title or explanation beside an image or photo. Perhaps the saving grace of, or rather the concession to, using pictorial quotes despite incurring visual defacement lies in the fact that some of the background images and photos conscripted for the purpose are admittedly (somewhat) bland, mundane, nondescript or uninteresting in themselves, be they ever so ripe or copyright-free as to be picked for undergoing quotational defacement in the first place. Whether the looks or messages of such images and photos can be somehow enhanced (without inept handling of the cosmetic compromise or visual interference incurred) by the superposition of quotations is veritably a subjective matter open to debate, if not largely a function of the skill, taste, whim, discretion and quotational intelligence of the pictorial quote maker.
To make matters worse, pictorial quotes harbour yet another disadvantage as they contain only graphic or pictorial data devoid of the actual texts constituting the intended quotations, thus excluding them from being relationally found, indexed and ranked by search engines, which, unlike humans, can neither “read” nor textually reconstitute quotations that have been previously reduced to nontextual information in the form of image data. After all, search engines, web browsers, social media and mobile apps scarcely possess sufficient artificial intelligence to decode the contents of visually embedded quotations or image-based quotes other than treating pictorial quotes as regular images. Even if image decoding could somehow be introduced to process pictorial quotes online for “reading” or reconstructing their visually embedded quotations, the time and computing power required could be prohibitive and the decoding accuracy could often be unsatisfactory, considering that even the most decent optical character recognition software would only be optimally proficient at extracting texts from a solid-coloured background, and would tend to produce subpar, unreliable or unmeaningful results from a photo-realistic image, especially in cases involving fancy fonts, intricate pictures and low image-font contrasts. Consequently, textual suppression arising from the ubiquitous practice of creating, presenting and circulating pictorial quotes has markedly deprived quotations of their textual autonomy and existence, insofar as the ascendancy of graphics has led to the sustained suppression of quotational texts, along with the widespread defacing of images and photos. So prevalent are the distribution of and the demand for pictorial quotes in applications ranging from banners, billboards and posters to (re)tweets, status updates, signature blocks, blog posts, webpage headers and advertisements that countless images and photos have been reduced to commodifiable fodders destined for quotational defacement anytime, regardless of their provenance and prominence, even (more so) if they happen to be inspirational, awesome or iconic pictures of nature, landscape, luminary, art, architecture, social event, historical moment or astronomical phenomenon. That quotation, even in its disembodied, nontextual, image-defacing form, has (been strategically coopted to) become a social currency, driving force and principal means for branding (via distinctive wording, quoting and design to promote a particular product, individual, party, company or cause) and virtue signalling (through publicly expressing opinions or sentiments to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue) is all too apparent, if not increasingly turning into a cause for concern with respect to the simultaneous commodification of quotation and image to the detriment of their respective autonomies and intrinsic values, whether or not one may justifiably grant or recognize in pictorial quote its own autonomy and validity as a contemporary form of utilitarian tool, practical art or meme carrier.
Last but not the least, the textual suppression in every pictorial quote is the utter bane for millions of those who are (legally) blind, visually impaired, illiterate or have a learning disability, since these people have no viable and reliable way of “reading” the visually embedded quotation that sighted and literate folks can optically decipher from the image or photo with ease. Many people who are compromised in seeing, reading or learning routinely rely on some form of assistive technology that renders text and image content as speech or braille output, such as speech synthesizer (also known as text-to-voice converter or text-to-speech system), screen reader, or refreshable braille display (also called braille terminal), to navigate and comprehend on-screen data normally presented for sighted and literate users via the graphical user interface, the main interface for human-machine interaction. Web browsers, word processors, email programmes, icons and windows are some of the most essential computer applications regularly deployed by users of assistive technology. Given that pictorial quotes are graphics drawn on the screen at particular positions, there is no purely textual representation of the graphical contents of the display that can be converted into speech or braille output. Hence, the quotations contained in pictorial quotes always remain “invisible”, inaccessible and non-existent to users of speech synthesizer, screen reader or braille terminal. Such issues caused by textual suppression also remain unsolvable when pictorial quotes are presented on printed materials. In summary, pictorial quotes have fallen short on meeting the noble and inclusive goal of web accessibility, which is to remove barriers to communication and interaction that numerous people face in the physical world, especially people with compromised hearing, movement, sight and cognitive ability, by providing equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities, on the basis that access to information and communications technologies, including the world wide web, has been defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
To circumvent the two disadvantages of pictorial quotes, namely, the visual defacement of images and the textual suppression of quotations, and also to enhance web accessibility, SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ has sought to present quotations above their respective images to preserve and honour them in good faith, as can be seen in the Illustrated Quotations showing Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes at the end of this post. Each of the images there can be clicked or touched to reveal an entirely separate comment section in which to submit comment(s) or reply to existing comment(s) regarding the specific quote and image. On the whole, this manner of treating quotations as (if they are) captions or descriptions of their accompanying images or photos imparts a double advantage: the images or photos remain intact and their respective quotations remain machine-readable textual data amenable to full-text searching and browsing by all and sundry, regardless of where they situate on the spectra of sightedness and literacy. An example of such an Illustrated Quotation is shown below:
As the Illustrated Quotation above demonstrates, separating the quotation from the image confers the benefit of permitting the quotation to be shown with greater liberty in any font size and font style without being constrained by the dimensions and composition of the image.
A partial compromise is possible without sacrificing the machine-readability and indexability of an Illustrated Quotation. If the same quotation demonstrated above must be bounded by or appear within the image for any reason, then the superposition would often necessitate a smaller font size or a larger image. In addition, a font shadow or font outline would enhance the visual contrast between the quotation and the image. The placement of the quotation should ideally harmonize with the composition of the image such that the most specific, salient or defining features of the image remain most visible or least obscured, as the next example shows. Note that the quotation is real text.
In spite of the far greater reliance on the power of visual communication in the digital age, the centrality of quotation in playing the essential role of portraying or sculpting messages in the visual and textual domains through the inventive use of pictorial quotes and Illustrated Quotations is also apparent in the arenas of spoken discourse through the use of verbal quotations, which are indispensable ingredients of human dialogues and daily conversations, repeating not just what is said as words but also what is conveyed through verbal expressions, intonations, emotions, gestures and body language. The roles and intricacies of verbal quotation manifested in quotidian situations involving speech, social discourse, storytelling, open discussion and argumentative exchange can be gleaned from the following extract from Wikipedia:
In spoken discourse
Traditionally, quotations — more specifically known as direct quotations — have been distinguished from indirect quotations. Direct quotations differ from indirect quotations in that they are reported from the perspective of the experiencer, while indirect quotations are reported from the perspective of the reporting speaker (e.g. “He said: ‘I am leaving now’” versus “He said (that) he was leaving immediately”)…
Both direct and indirect quotations in spoken discourse are not intended to be verbatim reproductions of an utterance that has been produced. Instead, direct quotations convey the approximative meaning of such an utterance along with the way in which that utterance was produced. From a sociolinguistic perspective, a direct quotation in spoken discourse can therefore also be defined as “a performance whereby speakers re-enact previous behaviour (speech/thought/sound/voice effect and gesture) while assuming the dramatic role of the original source of this reported behaviour”. Indirect quotations are simply paraphrases of something that a reporting speaker heard.
Reasons for using
Quotations are employed in spoken discourse for many reasons. They are often used by speakers to depict stories and events that have occurred in the past to other interlocutors. The speaker does not necessarily have to have been an original participant in the story or event. Therefore, they can quote something that they did not hear firsthand. Quotations are also used to express thoughts that have never been uttered aloud prior to being quoted. For example, while telling a story, a speaker quotes inner thoughts that they had during a specific situation. Finally, speakers use quotations to propose future dialogue for participants in a situation that may take place in the future. For example, two friends talk about their 10-year high school reunion that will take place in the future and propose what they would say. While future dialogue can be proposed for a situation that will likely happen, it can also be based on a situation that will not actually take place. In the latter usage, the proposed dialogue only exists in the conversational context.
The quoted material is usually not a verbatim replication of an utterance that someone originally said. Instead, quotations in spoken discourse reproduce what a speaker wishes to communicate to their recipients; quotations demonstrate something that someone said, the manner in which that person said it, and the current speaker’s feelings about what was said. In this way, quotations are an especially effective storytelling device; the speaker is able to give a voice to the protagonists in their stories themselves, which allows the speaker’s audience to experience the situation in the way that the speaker themselves experienced it.
Quoting something as well as seeing or hearing something quoted may be deemed as irreducibly personal to the extent that any value or impact of the quotation(s) present is indexed to the person who comes to the understanding of the quoted content. Nevertheless, they can also be seen as highly interpersonal in the context of relationships or communication between people at social events or cultural settings “based on inference, love, solidarity, support, regular business interactions, or some other type of social connection or commitment”.[❆] Therefore, the value or impact of the quotation(s) present is not only public but also communicable to other persons at those events or settings, through the inclusion of quotational highlights or accentuations that inject particular points of interest within the flow of ideas, speeches or discourses. Accordingly, quotations constitute a regular component of sociocultural dynamics and currencies. Since many quotations are rarely featured alone, their impacts, influences and contributions are often veiled, underestimated and insufficiently recognized, unless such quotations are specifically conscripted to function as prominent catchphrases, epigraphs, mottos, axioms, proverbs, mantras, slogans, manifestos or talking points to bring or engineer some consequential outcomes. Whatever degree of sociocultural embeddedness that various quotational practices may have assumed throughout their respective spheres of influence at one time or another, the range and power of influences that quotations have collectively wielded in societies throughout human history can be as portentous and immeasurable as they are penetrating and far-reaching. That quotations have had such a pervasive reach in the lives of people across ages, and that they have been used as some of the most potent tools of persuasion, incitement, inspiration, and even conversion or coercion, should beckon more of us to focus our attention on our own quotational intelligence and maturity as well as our quotational ignorance, assumptions and liabilities. In particular, quotational intelligence is hereby coined and defined by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ as the capacity to construct, interpret or treat quotations with or for logic, action, belief formation, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, decision making and problem solving. More generally, quotational intelligence can be described as the ability to properly perceive or infer information from quotations, and to retain the information or quotations as knowledge or resources to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment or context.
Via a series of analytical and multipronged approaches, this post seeks to uncover and elucidate 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 to protect, preserve or enhance our quotational intelligence. Considering that a good quote can pointedly reflect or meaningfully project one’s worldview, attitude, intention or identity like a shining beacon, inspiring lodestar or scintillating jewel, it does pay 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.” Like precious gems embedded in the intellectual matrix and sprawling groundmass of an oeuvre, fine quotations are far more destined and deserving to be found by a man of wit who recognizes them as the good things that come in small packages.
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.
In literary theory, quotations are closely linked to citationality, a measure of an author’s citation of other authors’ works through quoting or through using endnotes and footnotes. On the one hand, certain works are highly citational by virtue of making frequent use of various quotations from and numerous allusions to other works. On the other hand, works with low citationality can appear to be isolated entities existing in a vacuum without identifiable quotations from or explicit references to other authors or texts.
In certain creative idioms, citationality is very much a product of the playful language of references, often featuring tongue-in-cheek, whimsical quotations with considerable verve and inventiveness. By and large, citationality has become a typical feature of postmodernism, especially in some manifestations, phenomena and genres of pop culture, insofar as parody films such as Meet the Spartans, animated sitcoms such as The Simpsons, television comedy series such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, and educational comedy television series such as Adam Ruins Everything, thrive on and make their mark with clever use of quotations and citations by referencing many other films, TV shows, people and pop cultural events of the time or in the past, via humorous forms or entertaining means of allusion, imitation, appropriation, reinterpretion, reimagination and recontextualization.
Away from mass media and no less significant in the textual realm, citationality also relates to intertextuality, the relationship between texts, via the roles of quotation and other cross-referencing figures as follows:
Intertextuality is the shaping of a text’s meaning by another text. It is the interconnection between similar or related works of literature that reflect and influence an audience’s interpretation of the text. Intertextuality is the relation between texts that are inflicted by means of quotations and allusion. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an ‘interrelationship between texts’ and generates related understanding in separate works. These references are made to influence the reader and add layers of depth to a text, based on the readers’ prior knowledge and understanding. The structure of intertextuality in turn depends on the structure of influence. Intertextuality is a literary discourse strategy utilised by writers in novels, poetry, theatre and even in non-written texts (such as performances and digital media). Examples of intertextuality are an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text, and a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another.
Intertextuality does not require citing or referencing punctuation (such as quotation marks) and is often mistaken for plagiarism. Intertextuality can be produced in texts using a variety of functions including allusion, quotation and referencing.…
The degree of citationality and intertextuality may be regarded as on a dramatic increase insofar as quotation has been heavily conscripted in postmodern art, literature, music and movies not just to express an aesthetic or movement characterized by fusion and hybridity unfolding via the intertextual dynamics of borrowing, fragmentation, melange, pastiche, and pop eclecticism intermixing high and low cultures or blurring their distinctions, but also to signify, celebrate or glorify irreverence, irrationality, irony and playfulness, often in accessible formats or popular standards amenable to (re)interpretation without specialist knowledge or expert adjudication, often interwoven, whether interestingly, reflexively or embarrassingly, with the characters and performances of contributors and participants, often aiming for or resulting in jumbled storylines, simulated realities or phantasmagorical scenes, often elaborating or concluding without a clear moral or central message, without a sequential plot or grand narrative, and yet often still able and free to mock or challenge the status quo, social norm and authorship with zany, quirky, outré, mordacious or uproarious references to established concepts, entrenched practices, prevailing aesthetics and mainstream values, even to the point of providing serious commentaries on the existing state of affairs and social or political issues with backhanded zeal, mock insouciance, oblique rectitude, or other ironic or unexpected juxtapositions. On the whole, the penchant for spinning quotational webs is one of the most defining features of postmodernity.
By now, it should be patently clear that quotation is a many-splendoured thing — for it can encompass a plethora of presentational forms and functions within a medium or between media. 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 the domains of design, the visual arts or the spatial arts, visual quotations are incorporated into projects or artistic works by means of visual representations, images and photographs ranging from simple juxtaposition, collage and assemblage to graphic illustration and digital manipulation. We are veritable quoters when we imitate, appropriate or pay homage to some musical genres, paintings or buildings in our own works; when we follow certain ideas, recipes, fashions, rituals or lifestyles in our own lives; when we copy someone’s mannerism, persona, habits, quirks or jokes for fun; and when we live by or subscribe to particular mindsets, paradigms or traditions.
As an example of multicultural or cross-genre quotations, the following musical composition of SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ demonstrates a copious amount of quoting and mixing some of the most stylistically identifiable features of musical genres from various regions and cultures in the world through the fine art of orchestral arrangement and instrumentation. Lasting nearly three minutes, this set of musical quotations is tantamount to a somewhat humorous pastiche comprising a medley of pieces imitating the multicultural parade of a great circus:
Far from being confined to the human world, quotations also abound in the nonhuman realm, for animals can be excellent quoters and quotees in their own right, as revealed in the interdisciplinary post entitled “🦅 SoundEagle in Debating Animal Artistry and Musicality 🎵🐕🎶🐒🎹🐘🖼🐬🎨”. Both animal calls and anthropogenic sounds have been given ceremonious quotations by some of the finest mimics in the animal kingdom. Mockingbirds and starlings in the northern hemisphere as well as Australian magpies, bowerbirds and lyrebirds in the southern have unhesitantly appropriated into their repertoires the sounds of human speech, machine guns, excited monkeys, barking dogs, mating cats, flushing toilets, police sirens, walkie-talkies, mobile phones and computer games. Pet owners and bird lovers are regularly treated with the cross-species utterances of spiritually possessed, self-humanizing or auto-civilizing ravens, magpies, hill mynahs, parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels, galahs, parakeets, rosellas, macaws and budgerigars, as these avian friends communicate with their human companions, often quoting them with wanton adroitness, reproducing phrases with convincing intonation and credible mannerism.
The medium of interspecies quotation involving extraspecific sounds and gestures presents a fascinating way for both human and nonhuman quoters to enlarge or enrich their repertoires and vocabularies well beyond the normal confines of communicating in their intraspecies native tongues. It is thus to be expected that imitating and quoting the sounds (via onomatopoeia or musical rendition), movements, colours, shapes, actions and behaviours of nonhumans in mythologies, literary genres, poems, narratives, rituals, dances, songs, music, visual arts, performing arts and applied arts have long been present in virtually every human civilization, and lately in modern societies via biomimetics or biomimicry for solving complex human problems and inventing novel engineering solutions, by emulating the models, systems and elements of nature in new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nanoscales, such as animal-like locomotion, biofeedback, self-healing abilities, environmental resistance, exposure tolerance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, optics, photonics, solar energy, permaculture and bioremediation.
The strength and quality of nonverbal communication such as body language, facial expression, eye movement, body posture, gesture, touch, and the use of (personal or public) space, like those observed in everyday activities as well as performing arts, depend on the finesse of the individual person or performer in quoting human gesture and movement for expressing meanings or intentions, and for executing or reenacting behaviours, especially in the absence of written or spoken words. Some performance art exploits and conveys visually encoded human experiences to such an effective degree that optical illusions have become the lingua franca of certain artforms. For example, prodigiously proficient in the theatrical technique of suggesting or quoting action, character and emotion without words or speech, professional mime artists can seamlessly engage and entertain audiences as they convincingly titillate the human imagination using only gesture, expression and movement to communicate a story or depict a situation to their audiences, as demonstrated at the start of the post entitled “👁 Optical Illusions 👁🗨❇️😵✳️👀”. Here, the expressive and evocative power of gestural quotation can be brought to bear by the performer through gesticulations to transform what is ostensibly a featherweight balloon into a cumbersome object with enough inertia to resist strenuous pulling and pushing.
In the final chapter entitled “9. What Is Quotation and Why Do We Do It?” of her book published in 2011, Ruth Finnegan elaborates on the centrality and diversity of quotation in cultural transmission, having gained considerable insights through her academic research into the comparative sociology/anthropology of artistic activity, communication and performance. The gist of the elaboration can be distilled from the following excerpts:
The dominant educational practices; presumption of widespread literacy; particular mix of media; literary genres; the tensions surrounding notions of plagiarism; the uses and prohibitions of quoting and their fluid dynamic amidst changing technologies and ethics; even the linguistic forms through which we speak and write – all these between them present one specific case within the long human experience of quoting and quotation.…
Quoting can be used for originality or routine; for challenging authority or for lauding it; to control or to rebel; for excluding or including; for passive memorising or for brilliant extemporisation and creatively applied insight. As speech act, quoting can accomplish a multitude of things, from asserting or subverting or manipulating tradition to uplifting in sermon or imposing rigours on the young. Others’ words and voices can be called on to convey irony or humour, to situate writer, speaker and character in narrative, to carry the voice of the divine, to bond within a group or to distance from it. Quotation collections can be exploited as mines or as symbols, prized by some, resented or ignored by others. Short quotes like proverbs or verses from sacred writings can resonate in the memory, interrupt an otherwise smooth text, stir up activism, exert pressure, settle disputes, or persuade others.…
Quoting can put something on stage, elevated as an object for the expression of some attitude to it. The ’look at me’ stance in aesthetically marked genres is itself a kind of quotation, or at any rate akin to it. This displaying is turned to many purposes: recognised as art, as the object of exegesis or contemplation, as something to be ridiculed or attacked. It draws attention to itself as something needing ’reading in slow motion’ and with ’multiple meanings’… Taking on others’ words and voices can be for indirection too. Veiled and metaphorical quotations convey others’ messages and formulations in an evocative rather than explicit way, or make a point without seeming too personal about it. They can carry layers of meaning for some but not all participants… The literary device of allusiveness can link in subtle indirect ways to other people, places, times, ideas – even to other dimensions of oneself.
These variegated modes of using others’ words and voices intersect and overlap. Multiple purposes and effects can go along together, or work out differently not only in differing times and places but for differing participants in the same moment. Within this bundle of usages there are near-infinite purposes to which the human activities of quoting can be turned.
… the far and near of quoting, its paradoxical duality. In quoting in its widest sense – the interweaving of others’ words and voices in our own – we do indeed evoke the past and the far removed, hear the words and voices of others, set texts at a distance, look from outside ourselves. But also, by that very act, we brand the past with the present, capture others’ voices into our own, draw the distant to ourselves. In quoting we simultaneously enact past and present, enstage both ourselves and others.
All linguistic action is in a sense rooted in what has gone before. But quoting is pre-eminently so. It deploys words and voices from the past. Even a report of the most recent of conversations rehearses a prior event, while other wordings go back in actuality or perception for years or centuries. Learning the ’great sayings of the past’ is a recurrent element in the education of the young, and the processes of cultural transmission from one generation to another have not seldom included an obligation to conserve and pass on the words of those before them. Quotations connect to the personages of the past, not just within our families and intimates, but to iconic individuals and symbols of history. Using their words is to associate yourself with an evocative figure of the past.
The words and voices are from the past. But to quote is not only to see them as before and beyond, but to bring them to the present and take them to yourself. It is to insert yourself into the unfolding of history – or of eternity – and lay claim to a part in it.
Some for renown, on scraps of learning dote,
And think they grow immortal as they quote
quipped Edward Young (1728, Satire I) – satirically no doubt, but he had a point. Quoting is at once to capture voices from the past into the here and now, and to extend the present into the past – not immortality exactly, but a stride over the gap of chronology, a touch of continuity outside time.
The conjunction of far and near also comes out in the distancing dimension inherent in quotation. We call on text or voice outside the self, beyond the ephemeral interests of the passing moment. Here is an external voice to which the speaker or reader of the moment conjoins their own, endowing it with the aura and tone of the other. They put another perspective on some situation – the voice of revered authority, of some universal human dilemma, of the truth in proverb, of some recollected voice – and in doing so venture to bring that outside vision to themselves. Quoting can give speaker and listener a stance outside the quoted words, looking in from the outside. Here, some would say, is that key act of objectifying that enabled the scientific revolution or, for others, the great commentaries on literary and religious texts or the enduring human power to see themselves from the outside. Here too lie the possibilities of parody, of mockery, of critique, contemplation, challenge. Chunks of words can be isolated – more, or less – away from the flow of action, set up for reflection or play, detached from the speaking or writing self.
Putting matters into perspective, the discussions so far have manifoldly illustrated that quotation is central to cultural learning and transmission, whereby humans and animals within and between groups, societies or cultures learn, relay and share information via their ability and willingness to quote and be quoted. 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, providing the means for excerpting, abstracting or telescoping; for showcasing, targeting or extending ideas; for modelling or imitating styles and contents; for transmitting or transplanting the quoted materials through time and space; and for demonstrating the validity or applicability of a quotee’s work or view documented in the past, to be (re)introduced or (re)considered in the context of the present via the quotational mechanism of restating, reprising, reclaiming, reinvigorating, reinterpreting or re-envisioning.
As a further illustration of the many-splendoured nature of quotation, the case below exemplifies the emotional delights, titillating prospects, risk-reward justifications, opportunistic explorations, pick-and-choose satisfactions, and strategic evaluations, both resulting from and created by our manifold associations and relationships with quotable materials, or rather, our varied approaches and reactions to making and using quotations, the creative process of which is introduced and elaborated enthusiastically at A Quiver Of Quotes as follows, where in its most heightened form may even arouse frisson or aesthetic chills in the quoter who concurrently experiences psychophysiological excitement involving paresthesia (skin tingling), piloerection (goose bumps) or mydriasis (pupil dilation):
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?
The resoundingly positive endorsement towards the use of “quotes, good quotes, and better ones” on account of “the influence [that] they wield over the reader or listener” is also similarly echoed by Reverend Doctor Robert C Stroud (also known as Robert Charlesson), who provides five admirably convincing reasons in his post entitled Using Quotations in Your Writing to answer his own questions “Do you consider quotations good or bad? As a reader, do you think quotations enhance what you are reading . . . or do they detract from the text?”:
My personal opinion is that the educated use of quotations enriches writing. (Sloppy quotation is another matter.) Positive contributions made by quotes would include:
They can offer “authoritative” support of a point being made by the writer.
Quotations can offer a refreshing change of pace in a lengthy work.
The selection of the individuals quoted gives me insight into the mind of the current writer.
A well-chosen epigraph piques my curiosity about the chapter which follows.
And, frankly, I simply enjoy a brilliant turn of phrase or a timeless but fresh insight.
Such reasons are also both similar and desirable in the domains of design, the visual arts or the spatial arts, where visual quotations by means of visual representations, images and photographs ranging from simple juxtaposition, collage and assemblage to graphic illustration and digital manipulation are commonplace. Four reasons for the inclusion of visual quotations are identified by Mic L Porter in discussing a pragmatic approach to “misrepresentation and visual quotation in design and art”:
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🦅ೋღஜஇ. Being as enjoyable to read as it is edifying to digest, the thoroughgoing revelation or radical reckoning attained from the detailed study of 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 whilst sharpening one’s quotational intelligence.
Paying good attention to the Quotation Fallacy puts us on the path of being competent evaluators of the quality, authenticity, validity and reliability of quotations by increasing our skill and motivation for uncovering whether a quotation is a Bogus Quote (fabricated and falsely attributed), Misattribution (attributed to the wrong person), Misquote (garbled but similar to what the quotee actually stated), Mistranslation (garbled in translation), or Contextomy (a selective excerpting of words, phrases or sentences from their original linguistic context in a way that alters or distorts the source’s intended meaning — a practice commonly called “quoting out of context”).
An apposite understanding of the Quotation Fallacy can also assist us in recognizing overt or hidden flaws in quotations, which can often lead us astray with various sorts of Formal Fallacy, error in logical form or structure (also called Logical Fallacy, Deductive Fallacy or Non Sequitur), and Informal Fallacy, error in content or reasoning (also called Relevance Fallacy, Conceptual Fallacy or Soundness Fallacy). Detecting and identifying such fallacies are essential in determining whether a quotation in question contains any claim or argument that 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).
Accordingly, 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, ideologues, politicians, pundits, stakeholders, advertisers, influencers, Internet users and bloggers, particularly in the era of post-truth politics, fake news, personal attacks (including ad hominem, damaging quotations, trolling and flaming), misquotations, misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentation, sensationalism, alternative facts, false reality, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, yellow journalism, astroturfing, historical negationism and anti-intellectualism, 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. The more we commit the Quotation Fallacy, the less we possess quotational intelligence, and the more easily we can be convinced or manipulated to defend, support or purvey the interests, beliefs, agendas and actions of those who propagate problematic quotations or statements.
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.
Moreover, in an age where many regions of the world are severely beset with environmental destruction, socioeconomic turmoil, political corruption, rampant discrimination, ubiquitous misinformation, widespread inequality and even systematic persecution, there is indeed a heightened urgency that our voices along with those of concerned citizens be heard and heeded, as Michael Reynoso has so eloquently expressed as follows:
Our voice is what we have to say to the world. So, make it worth hearing!
Having a voice is something that wants to get out of us. It’s a feeling that you would not have fully lived, without letting the world know.
Our voice is in fact, our contribution to mankind.
Our Voice Matters
Our very own words and our cherished quotations are the fundaments of our voices. Yet, we must endeavour to never lose sight of the cardinal fact that how our voices are (liable to) being (mis)represented and (mis)quoted is also becoming a highly critical matter capable of affecting our lives with various challenges and repercussions ranging from the positively transformative to the negatively disruptive, as we navigate through the trials and tribulations of an increasingly troubling age, the numerous issues of which will be teased out in the ensuing discussions. These issues can have significant bearings on matters regarding quotational intelligence, critical consciousness (an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions as well as taking action against oppression), critical thinking (the rational, sceptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence), community psychology (with respect to understanding and enhancing the quality of life of individuals within groups, organizations, institutions, communities and society through collaborative research and action), and sociopolitical development (defined as “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, analytical skills, emotional faculties, and the capacity for action in political and social systems necessary to interpret and resist oppression.… [it] is vital to human development and the creation of a just society”).
To those who are more academically inclined, intellectually curious, philosophically motivated or existentially driven, this very expansive post explicating the Quotation Fallacy and all its corollaries may serve well as “a valuable text for a critical thinking class”, according to Professor Hugh Mercer Curtler, “a retired academic who taught philosophy and Humanities (Great Books) for 41 years in three different colleges and universities”. For those who are also vocationally minded, the usefulness and practicality of understanding the Quotation Fallacy can reach far beyond the walls of academia in relation to meeting career demands and facing upcoming challenges in the job market, considering that critical thinking is listed by the World Economic Forum in its Executive Summary of 2016 entitled “The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” as the second of the top ten skills required to thrive in 2020 and beyond, when the market demand for higher cognitive abilities with respect to creativity, reasoning, problem solving and social skills will significantly increase.
||Food for Thought and Veg for Critical Thinking|
In addition, presented in style at the end of this post is a collection of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes chosen for you by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ. By now, you would have realized that this comprehensive post might first appear to some readers to be dealing with the pitfalls of quotation as people navigate through the process or action of quoting, and with the rather wanton, problematic and indiscriminating ways in which many people use and share quotes. For those readers who persist in perusing the post in its entirety, what ultimately appears at the end of the tunnel of this well-formatted, book-length post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬” is the transformative spirit of, and the dogged quest for, critical thinking, in the aim of living a more examined life and cultivating a more sagacious mind, even in the midst of situations, cultures or societies where critical thinkers are unwelcome, misunderstood or persecuted. Ultimately, the litmus test and sustained validation of the profundity, influence and resonance of even the choicest quotations or statements come not from the passive words, authoritative ideas and prescriptive passages in time-honoured scriptures, pedagogical disquisitions, philosophical monographs and academic treatises, but from the active embodiments and critical engagements of our knowledge, insight, wisdom and humanity as experienced and expressed dynamically via our very own quotational intelligence throughout the course of our lives, for we are the living conduits through which quotations may come alive, as we appreciate or (re)create quotational excellence within a certain page, stage, speech, canvas, music, gesture, performance, ritual, narrative or tradition via the processes entailed in communication, research, knowledge transfer, habitus (socially ingrained habits, skills and dispositions acquired through imitation (mimesis)), mimesis (imitative representation using analogies), prosopopoeia (impersonation or personification), Dionysian imitatio (the rhetorical practice of emulating, adapting, reworking and enriching a source text by an earlier author), imitation (an individual observes and replicates another’s behaviour), representation (the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else), appropriation (the process of constructing knowledge from social and cultural sources, and integrating it into pre-existing schemas), (re)interpretation, (re)signification, (re)contextualization, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self (impression management or self-presentation), all of which are creative avenues and adaptive modalities enriching and interpenetrating our lives via our vast arrays of quotational enactment, wherein our best moments can be vividly expressed and captured in their finest details as living epitomes and quotable exemplars.
Many quotes have reached us in the present from the distant past. For example, the first quote 疾風知勁草 昏日辨誠臣 勇夫安識義 智者必懷仁 as presented below is a Chinese poem that has existed for more than one thousand and three hundred years, and is available in several variations. The poem is reputed to be written by Emperor Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 (28 January 598 – 10 July 649), previously Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin (李世民), postumous names Wen Huangdi (文皇帝) and Wen Wu Dasheng Daguang Xiao Huangdi (文武大聖大廣孝皇帝). He was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty (唐朝) of China, ruling from 626 to 649. Also known as a politician, (military) strategist and poet, he has been deemed as one of the greatest emperors in China to the extent that his reign became the exemplary model against which all future emperors were benchmarked. Known as the “Reign of Zhenguan” (貞觀之治), his era is regarded as a golden age in ancient Chinese history and was treated as required study and reference material for future crown princes. Emperor Taizong continued to develop imperial examination systems, and asked his officers to be loyal and true to the policies, not the people, so as to eliminate corruption.
This poem functions as the emperor’s approbation of the upright character of Xiao Yu 蕭瑀 (574 – 647), courtesy name Shiwen (時文) and posthumously known as Duke Zhenbian of Song (宋貞褊公), who served the emperor either as a chancellor or in other designated roles six times and was dismissed six times before being chosen by the emperor in 643 to become one of the 24 dignitaries of Lingyan Pavilion (凌煙閣) commemorated with life-size portraits for their meritorious services and contributions to the Tang empire. Apart from enduring repeated recruitments and dismissals by several emperors under whom he served justly and faithfully, Xiao Yu not only had the courage and perseverance throughout his careers to advise, persuade and admonish those emperors without fear or favour, but also had surrendered and dedicated his own lands, real estates and military power without hesitation to Emperor Gaozu of Tang 唐高祖, the founder of the Tang dynasty. Such an upright and incorruptible character as embodied by the honourable deeds as well as the scrupulous dedication and unflinching sacrifices of Xiao Yu is patently worthy of being immortalized by the poem. In light of the frequency and prevalence of social turmoils and gross injustices caused by official misconduct as exemplified by egregious cases of malpractice and malfeasance in the business, financial and political spheres in various countries and regions across the contemporary world, the potent messages borne by this seventh-century poem have gained even more gravity and relevance in the twenty-first century. Visit the post entitled “💨 Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 🌾 疾風知勁草” to learn more about the poem.
However, quoting the poem and attributing the authorship to Emperor Taizong is somewhat problematic because the first line of the poem, “ 疾 風 知 勁 草 ”, literally meaning “ Strong wind knows tough grass. ”, already existed as an idiom (a phrase or expression with a figurative, non-literal meaning) as early as 23 AD, supposedly conceived by Emperor Guangwu 光武帝 (15 January 5 BC – 29 March 57 AD) of the Han dynasty (漢朝). It can be translated more freely and meaningfully into less literal but more idiomatic English prose as “The storm puts strong grass to the test.”, conveying that one’s true colours are revealed after a severe or daunting test. The second line, “ 昏 日 辨 誠 臣 ”, literally means “ Dusky day recognizes honest statesmen. ”, signifying that one’s integrity is tested during gloomy, turbulent times. The third line, “ 勇 夫 安 識 義 ”, rhetorically asks “ How can brave men ever know rectitude? ”, declaring that one’s sense of justice and morality is beyond mere bravery. The last line, “ 智 者 必 懷 仁 ”, states “ Wise persons must possess kindness. ”, indicating that wisdom and compassion go hand in hand.
The first half of the poem begins with a metaphorical proclamation that only the grass that can withstand the force of an intense gale is truly known to be strong. It then intimates that only in times of sociopolitical turmoil can a person in office be identified as a loyal minister or an honest statesman. The second half of the poem asserts with a rhetorical question that people who exercise courage without wisdom are just brave men who do not know righteousness at all. It concludes that only those who are both wise and brave can truly possess benevolence and righteousness, for they have genuinely comprehended what kindness and justice are. The whole poem edifies us that only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil; and that only the wise and valiant can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.
Considering that the quoted poem comes in at least two variations (one of which has “ 板 蕩 識 誠 臣 ” as the second line), and given that its first line, “ 疾 風 知 勁 草 ”, is a figurative idiom that already existed roughly at the start of the first millennium, more than 600 years before the poem was written, one is left with some trepidation about specifying the pedigree or provenance of a quotation, which in this case happens to be an ancient Chinese poem presenting the issue of partial indeterminacy or circumscribed accuracy of its origin(s) and authorship(s) to any quoter who wishes to credit the quotee with total precision or unequivocal fidelity. Another issue incurred by such a quotation is the challenge posed by translating idioms, where a literal word-by-word translation of an opaque, abstruse or inscrutable idiom will most probably fail to convey the same meaning in other languages. Indeed, any quotation presented with misattribution (attributed to the wrong person) or mistranslation (garbled in translation) qualifies as a misquotation.
The second quote shown below 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 AD to 180 AD, 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.” The more prominent a person or entity, oeuvre or canon, story or legend, and news or data, the more likely and frequent that they will be quoted, misquoted or misattributed. The history of quotation has been littered with misquotations, many of which have pulled the wool over our eyes as to the true origins of many familiar sayings and famous lines. A quotation (mis)attributed to a famous person, leader or even deity not only commands more attention and credibility but also confers a decent impression and reflected prestige on the quoter, who is momentarily linked to the idea, ethos or spirit of the quotee. People’s desire or incentive to be associated with distinguished persons or entities, esteemed oeuvres or canons, remarkable stories or legends, and noteworthy news or data, has been injecting increasingly greater uncertainties into the provenance of diverse quotations. One can hardly conceive of another more expedient and straightforward way of being in the good company of some eminent characters or historical figures than appearing to know their finest statements and quotable sentences by heart, especially when there will be scarcely any negative sanctions or repercussions for doing so, and when the true import and intrinsic value of a quotation are subordinate to the imputed prestige of the quotee as well as the underlying intent and the derived satisfaction of the quoter. Indeed, there continues to be a prolonged state of quotational affair with renowned public figures in human societies across the world throughout many eras, as Ruth Finnegan sums up in her book entitled “Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation” this widespread phenomenon interminably stoking misattributions for the sake of quoting larger than life and pandering to the iconic:
… Confucius, Shakespeare, Mao, Churchill, Roosevelt, Marx or, in earlier times and to an extent now too, St Augustine, Cicero, Virgil or Plato – these are among the personages widely acclaimed as quotable. After all, ’People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first’ as David Comins put it, and, depending of course on the particular situation, it always sounds acceptable to attribute a quotation to, say, Gandhi, Aristotle, Mark Twain, or, of course – and specially in memorial or family occasions – ’my grandmother’.…
It is striking how readily certain revered personages have attracted quotations to themselves. We have all doubtless encountered claims like ’My mother always said…’, or ’To quote my late boss…’ without necessarily taking them too literally. For personages in the public domain it goes further. The evocative ’If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’, regularly ascribed to Isaac Newton, had notable precursors in ancient sources (unpacked in Merton 1965), just as many of Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorisms were lifted from others: ’The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ had already been said in more or less the same words by Montaigne in 1580, Francis Bacon in 1623, the Duke of Wellington in 1832 and Thoreau in 1851 (Pennycock 1996: 208). Such ’misattributions’ will no doubt continue to circulate. They are what these personalities might have said, and there is something appealing about crediting to some named hero sayings that have rung down the ages. They are the personalities – iconic quoters – who par excellence are categorised as authorised vehicles of quotation.
Having demonstrated the indeterminate origins of the first quote and the second quote, both of which have come to us from antiquity in ancient China and the Roman Empire respectively, let us proceed with examining the extent of the history pertaining to a quote that has emerged in various incarnations much more recently. Before doing so, we should take a proper moment to examine and reflect on the significance and implications of this particular quote. At once pithy and piquant, the third quote intimates that how we take things to be is quite independent of how things really are.
To the extent that our views are coloured by our expectations and upbringings, they have a strong tendency to be personalized or relativized, thus routinely deviating from and becoming at odds with the realities of life and the true nature of things. After all, our perspectives (particular slants, views, prospects or outlooks on things), orientations (basic attitudes, beliefs or feelings regarding certain subjects or issues), frames of reference (how issues or matters are structured and contextualized via a set of criteria or stated values in relation to which measurements or judgements can be made), and points of view (specific attitudes or ways of considering issues or matters) characteristically entail limitations, imperfections, biases, value judgements, opinions, interpretations, assumptions and even speculations. Whether or not we are aware of and willing to acknowledge the ongoing sociocultural mediations and intrapersonal cognitive distortions separating our subjective reckoning from the objective reality, there is no escaping that we are individually conditioned and compelled to project our views and expectations onto matters through the lenses and filters of our minds and perceptions, often occasioning assorted pitfalls, prejudices and fallacies, as elucidated in the subsequent sections of The Quotation Fallacy “💬”. The anonymous author at Philosophical Epiphany, a “blog [that] revolves around Philosophy, Mind, and Art”, has even gone as far as declaring that “Life is Mostly Imagined”:
Most of the time we are so fanatical with our thinking (in such a ubiquitous manner) that we fail to realize our relentless thinking. Nearly all of our perceptions are contaminated by our beliefs, expectations, inclinations, and biases. At times, this perceptual contamination prevents us from interacting with the world as it is in itself. More often than not, we struggle to perceive our environment without infecting the objective reality with our naive attributions.
Evolutionary theories suggest that we rely on inherent biases and stereotypes to interact more efficiently with our daily encounters. Piaget’s assimilation model as well as Le Châtelier’s principle in chemistry may be stretched to encompass this philosophical dimension: When met by a novel experience, our mind will endeavor to alleviate the stress via ‘experience-integration’ under pre-existing categories. In addition, Piaget suggests that when impressions do not fit into an ideological meadow, we begin to accommodate the data by fostering a new cognitive faction. However, note that accommodation will evidently stem from our concealed prejudice, beliefs, upbringing, desire, and inclinations of the world.
[E]xorbitant over-analysis of the world causes objectivity to suffocate in a sea of biased subjectivity; successively, tainting the authenticity of the world as it presents itself to us. Furthermore, overlaying the manifestations of the world with ‘biased’ attributions contributes to an aberrant imagination.
We ought to change the ideas in our mind to unveil the true realities of the world
The definite origin or actual provenance of the third quote as seen above, namely “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”, is equally indeterminate if not even more so than the previous two, for the pedigree of the quote cannot be traced and attributed decisively to a single quotee or definitive source. Instances as well as precursors and variants of this often quoted adage, maxim or saying have appeared in various works and publications since the beginning of the nineteenth century, as revealed by Quote Investigator and summarized by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ with amendments and hyperlinks as follows:
- An instance of the adage was deployed by Anaïs Nin (a French-Cuban American diarist, essayist, novelist and writer of short stories and erotica) in her 1961 work “Seduction of the Minotaur” where the character “Lillian was reminded of the talmudic words”. [Page 124, sixth printing in 1972]: “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
- A thematic precursor to the adage appears in the 1801 sermon by an English wit, writer and Anglican cleric, Reverend Sydney Smith, published by the University of Oxford, Second Edition, Volume 1 of 2, “On the Predisposing Causes to the Reception of Republican Opinions”. [Page 104]: “not as the truth of things is, but as we are ourselves.”
- Another instance of the adage can be found in a Danish-to-English translation of the 1876 “Nicolai’s Marriage: A Picture of Danish Family Life” by a Danish theologian, professor and author, Carl Henrik Scharling, who credited the influential Prussian German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, as the source, though the quote has yet to be located in the writings of Kant by Quote Investigator. [Volume 2 of 2, Page 211]: “we see things not as they are, but as we are.”
- The adage is quoted as an epigraph in a 2006 article entitled “How We See Sharon–and Israel” by religious minister Marc Gellman for Newsweek Web Exclusive in Newsweek magazine, where the quoted adage is the result of a loose English translation of a comment from a section within the Talmudic tractate Berakhot (folio 55b) concerning the interpretation of dreams. “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
- Two original statements containing the gist of the adage can be located within the domain of dream analysis from the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 55b, translated into English by Maurice Simon under the editorship of Rabbi Dr Isidore Epstein. According to this Talmudic notion of dream analysis, since people can only dream about things that they have come across or thought about, their dreams thus comprise or constitute not reality but a version filtered through the lens and scope of their experiences. “…to each man according to his dream he did interpret.” and “A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts…”
- A version of the adage is printed in a March 1890 article entitled “The Psychology of Prejudice” by writer George Thomas White Patrick, who published it in “The Popular Science Monthly”. In June of the same year, an excerpt from the article was reprinted in “Current Literature, Random Reading–Current Thought and Opinion”. [Pages 634 and 440 respectively]: “We see things not as they are but as we are…”
- A variant of the adage was used by a Harvard College instructor of elocution, Samuel Silas Curry, in his 1891 textbook entitled “The Province of Expression: A Search for Principles Underlying Adequate Methods of Developing Dramatic and Oratoric Delivery”. [Page 392]: “we do not see things as they are, but as we are ourselves.”
- Another form of the adage can be witnessed in the 1914 newspaper column presenting homilies (as religious discourses intended mainly for spiritual edifications rather than doctrinal instructions) in Column 4, Jersey City, New Jersey (GenealogyBank) on 8th June for “Jersey Journal, Christian Endeavor Activities”. [Page 8]: “we see things not as they are but as we are.”
- A different variation of the adage can be seen in a tale called “The Gift” by a British writer and journalist, Henry Major Tomlinson, in his 1931 collection of short stories entitled “Out of Soundings”. [Page 149]: “We see things not as they are, but as we are ourselves.”
- Another variation of the adage was stumbled upon by Dr Joseph Garriso, a columnist writing for Column 2 titled “A Happening: We Only See As We Are” on 17 January 1970 in “The Greensboro Record” newspaper of North Carolina. Garriso claimed that he saw the saying penciled on a bookmarked page in a friend’s book, and that he did not know “[w]hether this was original or a quotation”. [Page A7k]: “We never see anything as it is, but as we are.”
- A slight variation of the adage was deployed by Dennis Kimbro (a tireless educator, public speaker and business consultant) and Napoleon Hill (a lecturer, author and consultant to business leaders) in their 1991 famous self-help book entitled “Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice and Daily Motivations for African-American Success” written for black Americans. [Page 245]: “we see things not as they are but as we are.”
- Two instances of the adage have been used without any attribution by an American educator, businessman, motivational author and keynote speaker, Stephen Richards Covey, in his 2004 book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. [Page 28 or 36 depending on the edition]: “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are” and [a variant form on Page 277 or 289 depending on the edition]: “all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.”
Until concrete, demonstrative evidence about the precise origin and evolution of this relatively familiar and somewhat thought-provoking adage, maxim or saying can be obtained from further research or future discoveries, one must conclude in the meantime that the author or source of the expression that has come to be more or less recognized in the form as “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” should be designated as Anonymous or Unknown, even though the expression has been found, cited, stated, quoted, credited, translated, epigraphed, referenced and even handwritten, in one variant or the other, by Anaïs Nin, Sydney Smith, Carl Henrik Scharling, Marc Gellman, Berakoth in the Babylonian Talmud, newspaper columns, George Thomas White Patrick, Immanuel Kant, Samuel Silas Curry, Dennis Kimbro, Napoleon Hill, Stephen Richards Covey, and possibly more yet to be uncovered and attributed. It is indeed a very sobering affair that even wielding a fine scalpel with such a commanding degree of forensic diligence and investigative precision has yet to yield a definitive genesis of the adage, maxim or saying. Nevertheless, the process of conducting “quotational etymology” has so far managed to shed some light on the abovementioned authors and sources, regardless of the extent to which each of them can qualify as a putative, tentative or obscured quotee or quoter within the nexus or constellation of similar-sounding quotes or imperfectly cloned statements accumulating in time from the 1800s (if not even earlier) to the present and well into the future, as the adage, maxim or saying continues to be quoted verbatim or replicated with variations.
Likewise, the quotation “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” has continued to be misattributed to George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Cyrus Stuart Ching, J Frank Condon, Richard P Calhoon, N H Eagle, Cale Yarborough and others, although the claims of origin have seldom been commensurately verified or adequately challenged, and the provenance of the quotation has yet to be collaborated or substantiated by any solid evidence that directly connects the alleged quotee to the quotation. Even a common source for locating the origins of certain quotations such as Wikiquote merely designates the quotation as being unsourced. Nevertheless, an extensive trace mounted by Quote Investigator reveals a rich tapestry of what seems to have become a popular metaphorical adage in the form of “Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.” or “Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.”, along with listing chronologically various instances of the quotation undergoing transformation or adaptation. According to the following excerpt from Quote Investigator (QI), the quotation approximating its modern form is conceivably traceable to an unnamed relative of Cyrus Stuart Ching around the mid-20th century:
Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.
The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.
In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.
The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.
The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2
A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.
“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.’”
Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.
Misattributions aside, all of the previous examples also demonstrate that both the form and the origin of a quotation are not always clear-cut or immutable, and that the quotation itself can undergo incarnations and alterations, waxing and waning in popularity depending on usage, circulation and circumstance. In short, the provenance of a quotation cannot be taken for granted, even if its providence (in terms of soundness, usefulness, profundity or edification) is not in question. There can exist precursors and variants regardless of how definitive or authoritative we may (have been led to) believe about a quotation. Consequently, both the quotee and quoter can indeed be regarded as the temporary, if not permanent, chains or links in the existence and evolution of a quotation, as Quotation Mutation unfolds.
The lack of a definitive origin or provenance, the risks of misattributions or misquotations, and the pitfalls of Authority Bias and Author Bias (to be discussed later) necessitate that the Illustrated Quotations featuring Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes in the final section of this post are displayed anonymously with their imports and implications carried by their contents alone, so that readers and admirers of fine quotes can appreciate them without being encumbered, influenced or prejudiced by their own prior knowledge or preconception of the quotees, to whom those quotations, illustrated or otherwise, are likely or even surely to have been misattributed.
Therefore, it is beyond any doubt or contention that there are many issues to consider apart from simply quoting some statements to demonstrate certain points, to the extent that we should strive to beware of how those statements have been quoted, attributed and disseminated to avoid or reduce the risk of misquotations. 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. Contextomy refers to the selective excerpting of words, phrases or sentences from their original linguistic context in a way that alters or distorts the source’s intended meaning — a practice commonly known as “quoting out of context”. Here, the (problem of) misquotation caused by quoting out of context arises not from the removal of a quote from its original context per se (as all quotes are subjected to being separated from their sources anyway), but from the quoter’s decision to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby phrases or sentences that together constitute the original “context” that serves to clarify the meanings and intentions behind the quoter’s selected words, phrases or sentences. Overall, quoting out of context (sometimes referred to as contextomy or quote mining) is an informal fallacy in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to alter or distort its intended meaning, thus producing misquotation, misinformation and misrepresentation. On the one hand, quoting out of context or contextomy can be intentionally created to strengthen a case, support an argument, bolster a viewpoint, fortify a stance, persuade specific individuals or mislead certain people, often largely based on or driven by some dubious or questionable position, premise, purpose, motive, agenda or goal. On the other hand, quoting out of context or contextomy can be accidentally produced by someone who misunderstands or misinterprets the quotee’s meaning, or who omits something essential on account of assuming it to be inessential. Regardless of the intent or the lack thereof — as a fallacy — quoting out of context differs from false attribution insofar as the resulting out-of-context quote is still attributed to the correct source. Therefore, verification of the validity, veracity and reliability of a quote by checking (with) its source(s) is both prudent and necessary to identify or deal with misquotation arising from quoting out of context.
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 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.
Having a rather discernible leaning towards journalism, an online resource known as ✔️ocabulary.com provides a straightforward definition and some good examples of what constitutes quoting a person or a piece of spoken or written text inaccurately. Note that the word “misquote” can be both a verb and a noun:
To misquote someone is to incorrectly repeat the words they’ve said. It’s unethical for a journalist to deliberately misquote the subject of an interview.
It’s extremely common for people to misquote famous figures like Gandhi (who never literally said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”) and Machiavelli (who didn’t exactly say, “The ends justify the means”). These examples can also be called misquotes. As with many words, Shakespeare is credited with being the first to use this combination of mis-, “wrong,” and quote, “repeat or copy out exact words.”Usage Examples
- The CDC was muzzled, the WHO was belittled, the scientific experts were either shouted down, spoken over or misquoted.
- Mr. Adams, 63, proceeded to spend around eight minutes listing supposed examples, beginning by misquoting something Mr. Biden said during last week’s Democratic National Convention.
- Sporting more of a performative style than a coherent ideology, he is, to misquote Lenin, a “useful idiot.”
- After President Donald Trump claimed that Redfield was misquoted, the director walked his statement back, saying [that] he did not mean [that] the current crisis would be worse, just “more difficult and potentially complicated.”
As discussed later, numerous instances of bogus quotes and misattributions plus other forms of misquotation can be (un)intentionally produced to become novel, catchy or amusing statements, such as anti-proverb (or perverb), malapropism, eggcorn, Yogi-isms and spoonerism or Sreudian flip, the last of which is a whole class of speech errors encapsulated by various quotations that 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 amplifying effects of communal reinforcement and herd mentality (also called mob mentality, pack mentality and gang mentality) 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, corroborative data, demonstrative proof, systematic test, methodical research or scientific verification.
Folklore, factoid and urban legend aside, the everyday life of our hyperconnected environment characterized by the widespread and habitual use of phones and smart devices that have Internet connectivity has enabled quotations to be sourced from texts, images, soundbytes, news and real-time events on various digital platforms, and to be disseminated by users on social media and messaging apps with ease and impunity. In such an environment, misquotation has even been (mis)used by quotees as a tool or strategy to gain publicity, or as an excuse or cover for dodging certain responsibilities, accountabilities or consequences resulting from their actions or statements, by citing that their perceived, alleged or putative disreputes, infamies, misdeeds or transgressions are solely or partly the intentional or unintentional outcomes of quoters misquoting them in certain ways, irrespective of whether such quotees should not have been quoted at all in the first place, and regardless of whether they have been quoted against their wish or without their permission. SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ thereby coins the term Appeal to Misquotation to explain social tactics or human behaviours that engage or exploit misquotation to produce a certain publicity stunt, insincere claim, poor defence, inane apology, deceptive pretext or invalid argument. A descriptive explanation of misquotation falling within the purview of Appeal to Misquotation can be found at encyclopedia.com as follows:
Until the 20c, quotation was largely from written and printed sources; in recent decades, however, quotations have increasingly been taken from live performance, especially speeches and interviews, the taking of excerpts being done in shorthand or, more recently still, with the help of tape recorders. As a result, ‘quotees’ are increasingly aware of the risks of being misquoted or may take refuge from the consequences of what they have said by claiming that they were misquoted. People in the public eye may seek to establish ground rules for interviews and statements to the media: these range from the more informal Don’t quote me (on this) to the more formal This is off the record and perhaps the requirement that a statement be unattributed, except perhaps to ‘a usually reliable source’. Such requirements may or may not be respected; they may or may not even be meant to be respected, but intended instead to serve as an indirect way of gaining publicity.
Regarding the origin or authenticity of a quotation spread by any person, entity or media, including files, archives, books, magazines, newspapers, emails, text messages, 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🦅ೋღஜஇ 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 and media consumers during the course of interacting with websites, reading (electronic) books and magazines, watching news and videos, and listening to radio and podcasts. 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 authentication. As a contributing writer for The New Yorker, and the author of The Confidence Game and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova attributes the prolonged and intractable mess of misquotations to the tendency of the human cognitive apparatus to abbreviate reality and simplify sensory data, filtering them with habits and preconceptions, as well as approximating them according to previous experiences, all in the service of easy comprehension and recall. She also links misquotations to memory errors, typos, misprints and negligence, resulting in successive accumulations and propagations of quotational deviations. SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ hereby coins the term Quotation Mutation to refer to the change, whether one-off or accumulative, gradual or sudden, in a hitherto verbatim quotation caused by any intentional or unintentional human error (such as memory lapse, speech error, typo, miscopy, misprint, misattribution, mistranslation, mishearing, misinterpretation or negligence), resulting in a variant form that coexists with the original or eventually eclipses, usurps or replaces it. Furthermore, the forms of speech error include anti-proverb (also called perverb), malapropism, eggcorn, Yogi-isms, and spoonerism (also known as Sreudian flip), all of which are explained in great detail later. The upshot of Quotation Mutation is that pithy and catchy misquotations are more likely to be remembered and circulated than their unadulterated counterparts, creating a snowballing effect, which is further amplified by the replicating and disseminating power of social media and messaging apps on the Internet. The following excerpt from Maria Konnikova’s article entitled “‘Beam Us Up, Mr. Scott!’: Why Misquotations Catch On” presents the gist of her explanations for the longevity and prevalence of misquotations.
But in the modern age, where basically everything is track-downable, what’s our excuse? Why do misquotes arise—and why are they so persistent and hard to eradicate?
The persistence part is simple, especially with the rise of the Internet. It has become far easier to share—and incorrect information is just as sharable as valid information. The more something is shared, the more hits it gets, the more difficult it becomes to verify, and so forth. It becomes easier to just quote and hope for the best. But why do we misquote in the first place?
Have you noticed how incorrect quotes often just sound right—sometimes, more right than actual quotations? There’s a reason for that. Our brains really like fluency, or the experience of cognitive ease (as opposed to cognitive strain) in taking in and retrieving information. The more fluent the experience of reading a quote—or the easier it is to grasp, the smoother it sounds, the more readily it comes to mind—the less likely we are to question the actual quotation. Those right-sounding misquotes are just taking that tendency to the next step: cleaning up, so to speak, quotations so that they are more mellifluous, more all-around quotable, easier to store and recall at a later point. We might not even be misquoting on purpose, but once we do, the result tends to be catchier than the original.…
That’s the thing about misquotations. They tend, for the most part, to arise not out of malice or intentional misrepresentation but out of understandable cognitive processes. (That, and improper punctuation. Remember Jessica Dovey, the inadvertent heir to Martin Luther King?) And the more understandable a process, the more likely it is to play out in similar fashion for multiple people—and the more likely the misquotation is to spring up at various times and in various places, instead of being immediately corrected.
Of course, the other common reason for misquoting is simple laziness. We think we remember something and so we just write it down, rather than spend time checking. Or, we like the way a phrase sounds or the message it has and so we just assume our (likely online) source is correct—and the more sites there are with the mistake, the more persuasive it becomes—instead of painfully tracking down the original to verify it for ourselves.
So how do you spot that misquote? There’s (sadly) no effortless way to go about it. The most we can do is to always be skeptical of ourselves, especially if something sounds too right or fluent or spot on. Because the better it sounds, the more likely it is to be a little off. That, and check quotes before we perpetuate them in cyberspace or print. Otherwise, we might end up like Bob Dylan, who once remarked, “I’ve misquoted myself so many times, I don’t know what I’ve said.” (He totally could have said that, right?)
It is a foregone conclusion that misquotations can never be adequately contained let alone completely eliminated on a global scale. For conscientious creators and consumers of quotes who wish to foster quotational excellence and espouse quotational intelligence, the time and effort incurred in preventing and managing misquotations can be an insurmountable stumbling block without a ready access to some reputable sources and dependable means of authentication, 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:
A wise man will know what game to play to-day, and play it. We must not be governed by rigid rules, as by the almanac, but let the season rule us. The moods and thoughts of man are revolving just as steadily and incessantly as nature’s. Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this. Where the good husbandman is, there is the good soil. Take any other course, and life will be a succession of regrets. Let us see vessels sailing prosperously before the wind, and not simply stranded barks. There is no world for the penitent and regretful.
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 (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), misinformation (false or inaccurate information, including questionable statements, false rumours or insults and pranks) or misrepresentation (the action or offence of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something), 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.
The arena of appropriation by quotation has never been one of egalitarianism as measured by the levels of equality in terms of opportunity, recognition and censorship. The significance of quotes tends to be asymmetrically perceived and skewed towards those originated from authority. The use of and access to quotations have been unevenly distributed across the human population, as they depend on the quoters’ age, race, rank, seniority, gender, status and profession, as well as their levels of attainment in education, religion, politics or other social positions, plus the places, cultures and eras in which they live — all of which condition, regulate and structure the repetitions of others’ words and works. Colonised or marginalised groups lacking adequate or legitimate control, ownership and (re)presentation of their works have been particularly vulnerable to exploitation and (mis)appropriation. Forging aboriginal artefacts for profit as well as quoting or appropriating passages from indigenous works and oral traditions unprotected by intellectual property rights have happened repeatedly and extensively without due acknowledgement or retrospective ascription, even under the purview of (ethnographic) research in which the utterances and stories of research subjects are treated as research data rather than (recorded, transcribed, translated or interpreted) quotations requiring attribution of authorship. Yet, extensive or even wholesale quotation (with or without explicit attribution) is a common feature of some genres and practices, ranging from the scissors-and-paste compilations of Chinese historiography (reproduced from verbatim extracts and whole documents of earlier texts), centos (poetical works comprising verses or passages culled from other authors), found poetry (created by using words, phrases and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them by modifying spacing and lines, adding or deleting text to create new meaning, or producing a literary collage), Medieval texts (constructed by monks from the words of earlier authorities), and Renaissance commonplace books (scrapbooks filled with passages from other texts, such as quotes, proverbs, poems, letters, prayers, recipes, concepts, facts, legal formulas, or tables of weights and measures, to serve as references or memory aids for readers, writers, students and scholars), to turntablism (the art of manipulating sounds to create new or modified music, sound effects, audio mixes and other creative sounds and beats by using two or more turntables and a DJ mixer with cross fader), plunderphonics (any music produced by taking one or more existing audio recordings and altering them in certain ways to make a new composition), remix culture (a society or lifestyle permitting and fostering derivative works that combine or edit existing materials to produce a new creative work or product), and Creative Commons (an American non-profit organization at the forefront of the copyleft movement devoted to supporting the building of a richer public domain by providing an alternative to the automatic “all rights reserved” copyright through expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share, reuse or redistribute freely), as well as open collaboration projects such as Wikipedia (a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content) and Appropedia (an open website for sharing knowledge to build rich, sustainable lives by exploring collaborative solutions in sustainability, sound principles, appropriate technology, original research, project information, poverty reduction, international development and permaculture), plus works and products produced via open science, open data, open research, open access, open content, open source, open format, open design, open manufacturing and so forth, such as Scholarpedia (a peer-reviewed open-access English-language encyclopedia where knowledge is curated by communities of experts). In particular, digital natives and online citizens have been disproportionately quoting and sharing far more than their offline counterparts, since they have unimpeded 24-hour access to a wide range of online quotational tools ranging from emails, Internet petitions, chain emails, web feed (or news feed) and web syndication to social bookmarking, reposting, retweeting and reblogging available on social news services, microblogging platforms, social networking sites, and content management systems.
In any case, who the quoter can or should be is neither a given automatically, nor to be taken for granted indiscriminately. In many traditional myths, tribal legends and ceremonial rites, specific passages can only be recited by designated shamans, priests or elders. Throughout history and across civilizations, when, where and how the quoter may deliver what quotation to whom are consequential insofar as an apposite quotation is one that is apt in the circumstances or apropos in relation to the situations at hand. Quoting something in the wrong circle, setting, context, occasion, convention or etiquette, let alone genre or language, would produce an inapposite quotation, and could be construed as infelicitous, harassing, provoking, violating, profaning, desecrating, shameful, cheeky, unbecoming, inconsiderate, pretentious, vexatious, impudent or impertinent. For instance, quoting proverbs, maxims or adages is generally more appropriate and acceptable to peers, younger persons or socially subordinate individuals than to superiors or seniors. Similarities and differences in age, class, status, identity, personality, perspective, belief, outlook, worldview and allegiance are some of the major ingredients or determinants influencing the acceptability, desirability or even the availability of a quotation. It would require little time or effort to reveal age-old faultlines by quoting the wise to the fool, the valiant to the craven, the utopian to the dystopian, the optimistic to the pessimistic, the extrovert to the introvert, the positivist to the pragmatist, the naturalist to the artificialist, the scientific to the superstitious, the atheistic to the religious, the evolutionary to the creationary, the revelatory to the obscurant, the progressive to the conservative, the politically correct to the politically suspect, the democratic to the despotic, the integrationist to the segregationist, the cohesive to the divisive, the ecologist to the economist, the eclectic to the dogmatic, the broad-minded to the intolerant, the liberal to the bigoted, the permissive to the puritanical, or the moderate to the extreme. In general, severe deviation from or transgression of quotational norms could disrupt social harmony and incur moral or even legal sanctions, especially in cases involving sacrilege, blasphemy, piracy, plagiarism, misappropriation, misrepresentation or defamation.
In short, the iterability of quotation has always been limited insofar as the capacity of a quote to be repeatable in different contexts is both contingent (acceptable only if certain circumstances are the case) and circumscribed (restricted to certain roles or situations). After all, quotation is a communicative process and social construct that varies by context and culture, in which creators and consumers of quotation may have (been entrusted with) different rights and responsibilities, however overtly or tacitly they may have been defined or agreed upon. On the one hand, quotation may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that effectuate or accentuate the (dis)empowerment of certain voices or the (mis)represention of certain groups. On the other hand, quotation may also be leveraged by individuals and organizations to occasion change or create opportunity for personal, civic, social, economic or political gains.
Quotation as a legal and social construct also manifests in the contexts of publishing practices, access to information, the commodification of information, citation practices and intellectual property laws. Continuing the preceding discussion on the unequal use of and access to quotations in relation to opportunity, recognition and censorship as a function of the quoters’ sociodemographic background and social standing, there is even the twist of double irony in the outcome of appropriation by quotation (or appropriating through quotation), described as follows. On the one hand, artists, authors and composers of greater reputation are much freer than their less prominent colleagues to appropriate and quote at length (with or without attribution) and yet less likely to be chastised for copyright infringement, forgery, piracy, plagiarism, misquotation or being copycats, considering that the extent to which an artist, author or composer of great renown is deemed to have erred or strayed in their (approach towards) appropriation or quotation of works by others may indeed depend not so much on the objective evaluation of their questionable practice as on the subjective judgement of (the merit of) their oeuvre and prestige, which can be substantially swayed by authority bias, a proclivity whereby people assign greater weight or accuracy to the opinion or work of an authority figure, and thus become more influenced by such opinion or work, even to the point of being oblivious to its intrinsic value, reliability, validity and legitimacy, or rather, the lack thereof, as discussed later under the heading Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion. For example, the revered maestri and esteemed colleagues who borrow heavily or cobble together from previous outputs or other sources, and who often publish under the “mini-paper with same data from slightly different angle” approach to maintain a certain research output volume, are more likely to accrue admiration for their veritable “research”, “recycling”, “repurposing” or “(re)creative licence”, rather than condemnation for their “appropriation”, “plagiarism”, “publish-or-perish mentality” or “quantity-over-quality strategy”. Even in the supposedly meritocratic environment of academia, condign punishments or punitive measures are more prone to be less likely or less severe when such transgressors possess high academic status or social standing, and when the research projects involved are deemed to have high visibility, (commercial) value, financial reward, or applicability. On the other hand, in the normal course of creative freedom or academic collaboration, eminent artists and certified scholars are more likely to be accused of and criticized for counterfeit or plagiarism than their student counterparts, who are usually let off lightly because they are still deemed to be subordinate apprentices, and who, paradoxically, are always expected and motivated to emulate their “masters” by appropriating or quoting apposite works of experts and canonical authorities, but at the risk of turning in inferior works or naive scholarship and being labelled as cheaters or plagiarisers when quoting excessively without adequate citations, or worse still, being reprimanded by their teachers or supervisors for committing piracy as a result of having free access to quoting through the world wide web to excess (and uncritically), or intentionally attempting to represent the works of others as their own.
Notwithstanding academic seniority, research productivity and the degree or threshold of originality, all academic research and scholarly work invariably rely on disciplined, systematic and cumulative inquiry or discourse via the judicious use of quoting (word for word), paraphrasing (with different words and phrasing) and summarizing (by condensing to an overview of a text) to integrate evidence or source material and to incorporate the ideas, writings or discoveries of experts, and therefore require proper documentation of cited texts and referenced sources in the form of citations, which are abbreviated alphanumeric expressions embedded in the body of a work and their corresponding entries in the bibliography, for acknowledging the relevance of others’ works to the topic(s) of discussion at the spots where the in-text citations (called parenthetical referencing or Harvard referencing) or the sequential reference numbers (known as the citation-sequence system or the Vancouver reference style) appear, as shown in the examples below. In the academic environment, citations are necessary to uphold intellectual honesty and avoid plagiarism, to attribute prior or unoriginal works and ideas to the alleged, correct, bona fide or original sources, and to allow readers not only to ascertain independently whether the referenced materials support the claims or arguments of the author(s) or researcher(s) in the stipulated manners or methodologies, but also to gauge the validity and reliability of the materials and methodologies used. Simply put, a citation is a quotation from or reference to an author, passage, book, paper, article, webpage or other published item as evidence for or justification of an argument or statement, especially in a scholarly work.
The following excerpt from the post entitled “🦅 SoundEagle in Earth Day 🌍🌎🌏” demonstrates the citation-sequence system or the Vancouver reference style involving the use of the bracketed and superscripted sequential reference numbers and the respective numbered entries in the reference list. Hovering the mouse cursor over where any of the reference numbers appears in the text will bring up a tooltip showing the corresponding full citation. This on-demand and in-situ feature enables the reader to see the citation proper without being interrupted by being taken to the reference list to see the same after clicking or touching the reference number to jump to the corresponding entry in the reference list, and then having to return to the point of departure by clicking or touching the caret symbol (^) at the right of each reference number in the reference list. In fact, this useful pop-up feature can even replace both parenthetical referencing or Harvard referencing and the citation-sequence system or the Vancouver reference style.
In the case of this book-length post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬”, implementing citations using the combination of on-demand, in-situ pop-up references and hyperlinks is a matter of prudence and practicality to dispense with the overly expansive space that would otherwise be required to accommodate a bibliography or reference list whose entries are in the hundreds, which would have made the already lengthy post even longer.
In contrast, parenthetical referencing or Harvard referencing makes use of in-text citations in lieu of the sequential reference numbers applicable to the citation-sequence system or the Vancouver reference style. Each of the in-text citations is usually abbreviated to (the first) author’s name, year of publication and page number(s) but always placed in parentheses. Where there are three or more authors, all authors other than the first are represented in the in-text citation by et al. (for “et alia” meaning “and others”), but are usually given in full in the bibliography. Included herewith are three examples: (Arditti et al. 2012:413), (O’Hanlon et al. 2014:127-8) and (Nilsson et al. 1988:59-60), which correspond to the following three journal references extracted from the long bibliographic entries in the “Related Sites and Articles” section of the post entitled “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve? 🥀🐝🌺🦋”:
‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’- Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedicta (academia.edu) Joseph Arditti, John Elliott, Ian J. Kitching, and Lutz T. Wasserthal (2012). ‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’- Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedicta. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 169, 403–432.
Pollinator Deception in the Orchid Mantis (jstor.org) O’Hanlon, J., Holwell, G., Herberstein, M., & Natural History Editor: Mark A. McPeek (2014). Pollinator Deception in the Orchid Mantis. The American Naturalist, 183(1), 126-132. doi:1. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/673858 doi:1
Hawk-moth scale analysis and pollination specialization in the epilithic Malagasy endemic Aerangis ellisii (Reichenb. fil.) Schltr. (Orchidaceae) (onlinelibrary.wiley.com) Nilsson, L. A. and Rabakonandrianina, E. (1988). Hawk-moth scale analysis and pollination specialization in the epilithic Malagasy endemic Aerangis ellisii (Reichenb. fil.) Schltr. (Orchidaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 97: 49–61. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.1988.tb01686.x
As discussed and illustrated above regarding giving full bibliographical information for the cited sources in an academic work, either the Harvard referencing’s combination of an in-text citation and its bibliographic entry or the Vancouver reference style’s combination of a reference number and its numbered entry in the reference list constitutes what is commonly regarded as a citation, whereas bibliographic entries by themselves or other list-like compilations of references are not.
In scholarly work, referencing the ideas and findings from experts and other sources requires bibliographical citations; whilst explaining, explicating or elaborating on these ideas and findings requires the coordinated use of quoting (word for word), paraphrasing (with different words and phrasing) and summarizing (by condensing to an overview), as mentioned earlier. Paraphrasing and summarizing mandate analytical and writing skills to develop and demonstrate cogent understanding and interpretation of major ideas or concepts; whereas quoting necessitates precise replication of spoken or written words to provide strong evidence, to act as an authoritative voice, or to support certain statements, arguments or positions. All paraphrases and summaries can (in turn) become quotations, for they are themselves (potential) fodders to be quoted in the endless cycles of quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing that permeate academic endeavours in the constantly expanding intellectual world of humanity. Therefore, on the proviso that misquotation can be kept at bay indefinitely, quotation is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a staple tool and practical means for the transmission and verification of knowledge, as it ultimately provides the closest link to, and the unadulterated reproduction of, the chosen aspects or pertinent parts of certain referred materials, regardless of whether such aspects or parts are the results of quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing in the first place. In stark contrast to craft, experiential or religious knowledge, the world of scholarly knowledge is indeed a stage of quotation (accompanied by citation), where proper citation curtails (the likelihood of) misquotation.
Incorrect, defective, unethical or fraudulent citation practices automatically lead to misquotation and misrepresentation in many ways. Such practices are becoming much more tempting and prevalent since scientific kudos and academic publishing have become embodied by what can be unenviably described as the citation race, relentlessly fuelled by the publish-or-perish mentality and increasingly benchmarked by scientometric indicators of scholarly output, publishing performance and citation impact, all of which can significantly affect decisions regarding manuscript submissions, academic careers, research funding and journal standings. To begin with, although citation as an accounting of knowledge sourcing and intellectual honesty is an important metric for academics, it can be easily compromised by attritions whereby citations to online sources become invalid or nugatory as cited webpages become defunct, and by human errors ranging from inconsistent or erroneous use of citation styles or systems, to sloppiness or carelessness of researchers, authors or journal editors in the publishing procedure. Even more sobering regarding both the quantification and impact of citation is that both can be insidiously manipulated and consequently tarnished by conflicts of interest in academic publishing leading to unethical behaviours of both the authors and journal staff, such as inflating journal impact factor whereby up to 30 percent of total citations to some journals are generated by commissioned opinion articles; forming citation cartels whereby certain groups of authors cite one another disproportionately more than they do other groups of authors working on the same subject to artificially boost academic recognition or scientific excellence by mutually increasing the number of their own citations; and practising coercive citation whereby a scientific or academic journal editor forces an author to include spurious or extraneous citations within an article before granting publication, for the purpose of inflating the journal’s impact factor to raise the profile or reputation of the journal. On the whole, the citation race can detrimentally affect the behaviours of scholars, editors and other stakeholders explicitly, and of readers and writers implicitly, leaving behind parlous implications and unresolved issues about the social value of research assessment, whilst highlighting the precarious nature of maintaining intellectual integrity and academic careers.
Even when properly sourced and cited, and by extension, cogently paraphrased or summarized, quotation — like many things in life — also has its share of dark sides, given that it can be used for good as well as bad intent that readily engenders or exacerbates misunderstanding, unease, tension, displeasure, torment, conflict, contention, contretemps, fallout, infringement, misappropriation, shame or even infamy, which one may from time to time recognize or encounter in cases mired in the consequences or repercussions of quoting certain sensitive, privileged, controversial, problematic, flawed, dubious, questionable or objectionable passages of some sources ranging from private message, personal letter, intimate memoir, confidential correspondence, secret memorandum, classified text and restricted file to historical monograph, revealing chronicle, religious scripture, political document, research paper and official report. There is no shortage of ways and avenues in which quotation could quickly become the bane of life, at least to the extent that most folks would fare poorly in the face of their secrets, wrongs, flaws, failings, misgivings or insecurities being revealed or exposed via quotation, and that many people would object to their work, character, status, identity, affiliation, conviction, reputation or achievement being affronted, tarnished, denigrated, ridiculed, lampooned, denounced, scapegoated, scandalized, misrepresented, misappropriated or counterfeited through (mis)quotation. It is unsurprising that quotation has been unhesitatingly deployed as an expedient display and acerbic instrument of scorn, revenge, rancour or enmity at any scale and frequency, rendered all the more tempting, potent, rapid and widespread by digital technology and social media. Some of these negative aspects of quotation have been identified by Ruth Finnegan who writes about Controlling Quotation: The Regulation of Others’ Words and Voices in her book entitled “Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation” as follows:
… quoting is often an applauded activity. But at the same time it can draw intense controversy… Quoting is after all a risky undertaking.… Many approved of quotation in the right circumstances, but also described how people quoted to show off, to annoy others, or to make unjustified claims. Quoting could be pretentious and a way of excluding others, resented if used inappropriately or by unauthorised people, and to be condemned if merely ’parroting’ others or making free with what belonged to someone else. ’Plagiarism’ above all was denounced in the strongest terms, seen as a serious menace above all in this age of the internet.
There is a long background to such ambivalence. Quoting has indeed been turned to valued purposes in many situations. People have used quotation to create beautiful literature, gathered wise and lovely sayings from the past, commented with insight or humour on the human condition – or on their fellows – and engaged reflectively in the processes of human living. But it also has an ambiguous side, and quoting and quotation have long been surrounded by doubts and restrictions. The terms surrounding quoting … include negative notions like regurgitation, copying, plagiarism and theft, or two-sided ones like appropriation, imitation or collage, and for centuries individuals have brought out the dark as well as the bright side of repeating others’ words.…
… Like other strong forces in social life quoting and quotation cannot be left unfettered, and through the ages have been subject to a plethora of social, ethical, aesthetic and legal constraints.
As a strong force in social life, quotation has not always been sufficiently tempered with restraint and respect, especially when it is unleashed in full might without the censure of conscience. “The power of quotation is as dreadful a weapon as any which the human intellect can forge”, according to John Jay Chapman, a lawyer, literary critic, essayist, lecturer, journalist and writer. For better or worse, both quotations and misquotations can serve as some of the most persuasive means to concentrate partisan perspectives, undermine collective cohesions, exacerbate factional conflicts, intensify cultural divisions, deepen ideological cleavages, summon political rallies, instigate public protests, or incite social changes, even initiate and sustain social movements. However, certain forms or instances of misquotation and quoting out of context are so egregiously misleading, incendiary, vilifying, belligerent, defamatory, slanderous, libellous, calumnious or scurrilous 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.
On the one hand, 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, anti-intellectualism, personal attacks (including ad hominem, trolling and flaming), opposition research, crowd manipulation, post-truth politics, fake news, disinformation, political infighting and negative campaigning (also called mudslinging) to defamation (also known as calumny, vilification or traducement), destabilisation, social undermining, professional ruination and public ostracization. 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, discredit, disparage, dishonour or bully the victim. Dispensers of damaging quotations characteristically deploy a mix of open and covert methods to achieve their aims, such as manipulating information, misrepresenting views, manufacturing dissents, falsifying data, misquoting statements, twisting truths, spreading lies, sowing doubts, casting aspersions, shifting blame, deflecting attention, denying culpability, avoiding scrutiny, glossing over details, using weasel words, deploying rhetorical flourishes, planting and fostering rumours, feeding conspiracy theories, raising false accusations, and deploying smear tactics, all of which can be presented in, distributed with, or fomented by spoken insults, speeches, pamphlets, flyers, posters, campaign ads, cartoons, Internet memes and social media posts.
On the other hand, damaging quotations are not always the instruments or (by)products of malicious intents or nefarious purposes, as they can be in the service of placing a spotlight on some problematic or questionable governance, management, administration or dealing in a position of trust, whether in public office or private workplace, at least insofar as damaging quotations can exacerbate damaging allegations of, and instigate investigations into, certain bad deeds, ill conduct, deception, corruption, malversation, malpractice, malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance or connivance. Even seasoned dispensers of damaging quotations are by no means impervious or invulnerable to (the threat or pressure of real or potential) scrutiny and sanction, since their claims, antics and behaviours in authorizing, sanctioning or rationalizing damaging quotations as a justified means for exerting reputational damage or even inflicting character assassinations on people, social groups, institutions, countries, laws, regulations or constitutions are often so glaringly public that they can be studied in detail to reveal the plots, motives or agendas behind those damaging quotations.
How and why quotations can be produced and weaponized to become damaging are elucidated (with slight amendments to grammar and spelling) as follows on Wikipedia, especially in the contexts of culture war, social control, corporate hegemony and political opportunism that exist to sustain political support or boost political influence to the exclusion, erosion or detriment of pertinent ethics or political principles:
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🦅ೋღஜஇ’s previous image entitled “Best Quotation to Win an Exclusive, Loyal Contract to Make Pig Boss’ Company Great Again”. In a heuristic cartoon, all is not as straightforward as it seems. Hence, this cartoon is not so much a political statement or posturing as it is a graphical and succinct way of highlighting bullying behaviours, one of which is demanding loyalty, attention and/or contribution from victims and allies alike. Of course, there are additional layers and meanings in the cartoon, including those imparted by the mordacious use of the polysemic word “quotation”, which ironically also happens to be the central topic of this post. Moreover, how viewers interpret the cartoon is also very much a good reflection or indication of their backgrounds, experiences, expectations and internal states, which certain well-designed cartoons or statements can elicit or uncover, regardless of viewers’ political persuasions or affiliations. Anyone is welcome to decode or unpack the meanings (both connotations and denotations) encapsulated or implied by the cartoon.
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.
Ruth Finnegan sums up the value and diversity of quotation as a universal resource in the opening paragraph of chapter 7. Arts and Rites of Quoting in her book entitled “Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation” as follows:
Quotation, imitation, tradition, allusion, model, reminiscence – these and similar notions run through the study of literature, of ritual and of culture. Others’ words and voices come in speeches on official occasions, in rituals, religious texts, and genres conceptualised as ‘high art’. The works of Milton or Wordsworth are crammed with allusions and parallels; Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the poems of Alexander Pope, the writings of Coleridge and countless other works in the literary canon borrow from earlier writers; and Renaissance literature fed among other things on the anthology of saws from earlier texts. Kuna ritual oratory featured quotes within quotes, Greek and Latin historians used their characters’ speeches to forward and embellish their narratives, and quotation was a key dimension of the literary arts of the West African Yoruba. Alluding has been among the most frequently used literary devices, sermons and theological expositions brim with biblical quotation, and the works of certain modern writers are sometimes described as wholly made up of quotations. However it is defined, quotation in one or another of its many transformations weaves through the literary arts and rites of humankind, as creators and hearers evoke and play upon the words and voices of others.
Whilst some notable forms of allusion, imitation, appropriation, resignification, reinterpretation or recontextualization are based on the clever use of literary devices and 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, creative mishearing 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 five 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.
Three cases of malapropism created from the mind of SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ are shown as follows. The third case even manages to exhibit 14 malapropisms.
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).
An eggcorn is a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used for another word or phrase in a seemingly logical or plausible way. The new word or 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.
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 a speech error or word play caused by phonetic mix-ups whereby 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🦅ೋღஜஇ 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. Two more examples created from the mind of SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ are shown as follows. The first example even manages to exhibit two spoonerisms or Sreudian flips:
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 a significant bearing 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, extant viewpoints and prevailing expectations, not to mention our longstanding propensities and eccentricities, and to say nothing of our outstanding passions, desires, urges, impulses, feelings and sentiments as well as our established habits, motives, beliefs and affiliations, plus our past traumas, unhealed wounds, emotional attachments, well-guarded blindspots, clever egos and mental traps, all of which can have some bearing on not only how we feel about any quotation but also how, what, why, when and whom we quote. 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 copiously 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, which is 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, affect heuristic 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.” Moulded by affect heuristic, these (judge)mental shortcuts are helpful since they provide effort-reduction and simplification in decision-making to offset or compensate for the limited human capacity to process information comprehensively or exhaustively. Whilst such shortcuts assist people in quickly getting to where they want or need to be, many of the shortcuts can often increase the likelihood, risk and cost of people being sent off course, because people’s judgement and reasoning can be (subtly, surreptitiously or subconsciously) influenced and distorted by people’s affective state and their concomitant experiencing of feelings or emotions.
Deprived of a reset button or default setting, 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, labile 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. Appeal to emotion or argumentum ad passiones is a logical fallacy or literary device characterized by the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions in order to manoeuvre certain situation(s) or to win some argument(s), especially in the absence of factual evidence or logical reasoning. Accordingly, the manipulative, emotive nature of appeal to emotion in achieving a seemingly plausible though ultimately irrelevant tactic to persuade with emotion(al diversion) is a type of red herring waiting to exploit people’s emotional vulnerability and to prey on their lack of reasoned judgement. Encompassing several logical fallacies such as appeal to consequences, appeal to fear, appeal to flattery, appeal to pity, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite and wishful thinking, appeals to emotion constitute some of the most common and effective argument tactics in which persuasive language is used to develop the foundation of an appeal to emotion-based argument in lieu of working with substantiated facts, cogent reasons and logical processes, without which the validity of the premises that establish such an argument does not prove to be verifiable or demonstrable to be true, accurate or justified. Overall, an appeal to emotion is intended to elicit inward thoughts or feelings from the acquirer or recipient of the information, who, in turn, is intended to be convinced that the claim(s) or fact(s) presented in the fallacious argument are true, accurate or justified solely on the basis that the quotation(s) or statement(s) proferring the argument may induce emotional stimulation such as fear, pity, joy, anger, spite and so on, thus potentially triggering biased reactions, hasty judgements, false conclusions or injudicious responses as a result of being influenced or overcome by the stimulation, particularly with respect to contentious situations, (in)tense circumstances, hot-button issues, controversial matters or partisan politics. Even though these emotions may be provoked by (the intentional deployment of) appeals to emotion to increase the persuasiveness of some statement(s) or to win certain argument(s), neither the validity nor the reliability of the quotation(s) or statement(s) involved has been admissible or upheld as long as substantial proof and proper validation of the argument(s) are unprovided or unforthcoming, and the premises of the argument(s) 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, including the use of loaded language (also called loaded terms, ethical words, emotive language, high-inference language and language-persuasive techniques) to invoke an emotional response or exploit stereotypes.
An appeal to emotion (which can include appeal to consequences, appeal to fear, appeal to flattery, appeal to pity, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite, and wishful thinking) is in such a contrast to an appeal to logic and reason because even though an emotion as elicited via emotive language may form a prima facie reason for action, there is always further work, thought, effort or cognitive reflection required before one can obtain a considered reason or response, particularly regarding unfamiliar, vexed, contentious, chronic or complex issues. To do so, one needs to cultivate scepticism and exercise critical thinking insofar as the truth or value of any claim contained in a quotation can be far better uncovered, appreciated and (pre)served by the strength of one’s reasoning, and by the reason or evidence presented in the quotation, than by the emotional impact, preference or bias engendered by the quotation. Applying scepticism and critical thinking requires one to defer judgement, suspend doubt and eschew drawing conclusions until or unless adequate evidence or cogent reason can be established from (studying) the content and context of the quotation. It encourages one to determine whether the quotation is relevant, clear, precise, accurate, profound and insightful (plus other qualities and criteria enumerated in the Quotation Checklist). It also behoves one to be cognizant of assumptions, biases and fallacies both within oneself and within the quotation itself.
Given that emotion is our affective apparatus for perceiving and comprehending the emotional content and its expressive constituents within a quotation, and that the import and resonance of a quotation are dependent on and coloured by our emotional profiles, histories and experiences, being a sceptic and critical thinker is not so much ignoring or severing our emotion as justifying or validating it. In other words, the goal of evaluating a quotation with scepticism and critical thinking is less about divorcing, suppressing or containing our emotion, and more about whether our emotion aroused by the quotation should be given credence, particularly when one or more forms of appeal to emotion have been apparent or identified in the quotation.
Although it can be hard for logic and reason to prevail over emotion, there are good incentives and valid justifications for deploying the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgements critically, not just for moderating or modulating our emotional response but also for innoculating ourselves against the assault of untruth, misinformation, disinformation and prevarication, lest we should become victims or even (willing or unwitting) participants in manipulation, indoctrination, chicanery, duplicity, sophistry, hoax or fraud. For instance, it has been shown by the research findings and studies conducted by David G Rand who is “an Associate Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, the Director of the Human Cooperation Laboratory and the Applied Cooperation Team at MIT, and an affiliated faculty member of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and MIT Institute of Data, Systems, and Society” that the lack of reasoning resulting from mental slackness or lazy thinking characterized by having a low cognitive reflection test score has a greater impact than wilful ignorance, bias, partisanship, motivated reasoning, and even the accuracy or veracity of information, on people’s ability to winnow truth from falsehood, as well as their willingness and likelihood to share misinformation or disseminate false or deceptive news, regardless of their sociodemographic background, intelligence and political allegiance. Rand concludes that people need not be held captive by their (political) biases if they bother to exercise their reasoning; read full articles rather than just headings before opining, recommending or sharing; induce themselves and their friends to deliberate on (the accuracy of) what they read and share; whilst also guarding themselves against being distracted by the trappings and frivolities on social media that predispose them to not thinking critically, which causes them to be more prone to deception and manipulation online.
Furthermore, emotive arguments and loaded language are often particularly effective and persuasive in eliciting raw and quick reaction by exploiting the potential for emotional complication caused by the human predisposition for acting impulsively, spontaneously or passionately. However, such an emotive reaction based upon an emotional response without the rein of further considered judgement can ultimately be highly unconducive and even detrimental to situation, argument, discourse, writing or speech where fairness, impartiality and sagacity are required.
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 conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, anti-intellectualism, anti-expertise sentiment, populism, conspiracy theories, post-truth politics, demagoguery, ochlocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy, 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” in pursuit of the scoop to the point of bending facts, distorting truths, ignoring science and even becoming vexatious or insulting by goading and taunting interviewees to provoke strong reactions or visceral responses to generate compelling viewing and dramatic soundbites.
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 on the one hand, and failures or negative events to situational factors on the other. 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 quotation or statement “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 and epistemic injustice, let alone the perennial issues of age, gender, sex, race, caste, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance, height, 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.
At an academic blog named “Voices from the Margins: A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony” and created “to encourage dialogue about possibilities and support for alternate ways of communicating that celebrate the inclusiveness of diversity”, Dr Carol A Hand highlights in her post titled “Disunited States – Reflection on the Morning After” the impacts of socialization and acculturation as well as entrenched sociodemographic factors and unresolved social injustices in producing systemic and structural (dis)advantages that shape the trajectories and outcomes of individual human lives, especially those who have been marginalized:
What do we expect from the soul of a nation built on genocide, enslavement, and unearned entitlement based on gender, the claim of property “ownership,” and ancestry? Why should it be surprising when the legitimacy of the governing structure of such a nation is challenged by those who inherited their positions on the margins and view themselves as victims of its unfair system?
In a very real sense, all of us have been socialized to accept and internalize our congenital place in a given society. Every aspect of the social values and institutions we encounter is affected by our positionality – our birth, where we live, how our parents parent us, the quality of nutrition, care, and education we receive. We are constantly reminded about our place in the social order. Myths of meritocracy encourage a largely unattainable false hope that we can achieve increased social status if we work hard enough. We are rarely, if ever, encouraged to question the legitimacy of the values or institutions that constrain our life possibilities, though.
The work and resources of people on the margins are essential for the continuing existence and comfort of the parasitic elite. The issue of how to control the vastly more sizeable percentage of the population that is marginalized has been accomplished through a capillary network of discriminatory practices in every aspect of people[’s] lives by their ability to pay. Education is a crucial dimension in the socialization process. Those who are lowest in the social structure are the least likely to receive an education that prepares them to think critically and aspire to professional careers (other than sports) or leadership positions.
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, epigraphs, 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 forms of books, videos, seminars, workshops, conferences, coaching sessions, mentoring classes, networking avenues and the like. Nevertheless, the power of certain quotations to inspire, as well as the feasibility, realizability and reward of what the quotations claim, can often be overpromised and much less egalitarian than many people would care to know or admit. “Quotes by famous humans frequently have more validity for those with a potential to be great”, and even then, “[q]uotes are motivational only if you agree with the statements based on your personal experience or have a belief in the wisdom of an authority figure whom you admire and respect”, as commented by Uldis Sprogis who has earnestly pondered THE TRUTH ABOUT QUOTES*. Furthermore, 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.
Disadvantaged people’s lives and voices are far less privileged, facilitated and represented because of the sociocultural, political and economic statuses that they cannot acquire, access or amass by having the social class, birthright, credential, identity or habitus that their advantaged counterparts possess in disproportionate abundance via structural causes and institutional means, insofar as their disadvantages are also the result of their ongoing and systemic “exclusion from the institutions devoted to making sense of, describing, and explaining human experiences — the institutions, such as newspapers and universities, that are most able to add new concepts to the common stock of concepts that we use for communicating to other people about our experiences. Miranda Fricker argues that unequal participation in the activities that shape the categories through which we understand the world makes some people’s lives less intelligible — sometimes, less intelligible to themselves, and often, less intelligible to others.”[❆] This lack of intelligibility and recognition further degrades and alienates (the lives and voices of) the underprivileged and disenfranchised. The tentacles of differential advantage, cumulative dominance, runaway polarization, rampant inequality and epistemic injustice 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, well-resourced, well-cited or well-connected 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 quotation or statement 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 quotation or statement “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 fe