Skip to main content
Select Source:

QUOTATION

QUOTATION The act or practice of repeating a phrase, sentence, or passage from a book, speech, or other source, an occasion of doing this, and the words used: a speech full of quotations. The informal noun quote is also widely used, especially by journalists: Can I have a quote on that? That's the quote of the week. In classical and medieval times, reciting and quoting were closely related; because books were rare and not always at hand when needed, it was necessary to memorize and be able to repeat large parts of important texts, especially scripture. Unlettered people, the vast majority, could only learn them if the literate could quote them verbatim (Latin: word for word). Preachers and orators would use and identify specific quotations for insertion in their sermons and speeches, to add weight and substance to what they said. When necessary, especially in matters of religion and law, texts would be produced, places of reference marked, and relevant sections read aloud or pointed out. Because of this, quotation also referred to the provision of references to parts of texts, to the listing of such references, and to copying out quotable excerpts by hand.

Quotation, plagiarism, allusion

The concept of quotation depends on identifying (briefly or in detail) the source to which reference is made and from which words have been taken. It also usually requires justification, explicitly stated or implicitly accepted: one quotes in order to substantiate a claim, bolster an argument, illustrate a point, demonstrate a truth, catch out an opponent, amuse an audience, or impress one's listeners or readers. A spoken quotation may be presented in a variety of ways: for example, with a lead-in that relates quotation to topic, followed by something on the person to be quoted, then the quoted matter itself, as in: ‘Talking about the Canadian predicament, the former prime minister Mackenzie King put it this way: “If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography.”’ Another possibility is: ‘The humorist Stephen Leacock described the matter as follows in 1994: “In Canada, we have enough to do keeping up with two spoken languages without trying to invent slang, so we just go right ahead and use English for literature, Scotch for sermons, and American for conversations.”’ The written forms used here to frame these quotations show how they are conventionally integrated into running text. Quotations in isolation, however, are usually set apart in paragraphs of their own, with plenty of white space, have the quoted matter first, then the name of the originator, often followed by such information as source and date, all of which may be presented in a variety of formats. For example:Without quotation marks and with a dash, etc.
America is God's Crucible, the great
Melting-Pot where all the races of
Europe are melting and re-forming!—
Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot,
1908.
Without quotation marks and with
parentheses, etc.

The most important thing to know about Americans—the attitude which truly distinguishes them from the British and explains much superficially odd behaviour—is that Americans believe that death is optional ( Jane Walmsley , ‘A Native's Guide to Ameri-think’, Company, Mar. 1984).
With quotation marks (British style), and both
a dash and parentheses, etc.

‘The Irish are a fair people—they never speak well of one another’— Samuel JOHNSON, quoted in James Boswell , Life of Johnson (1775, vol. 2, p. 307).
With quotation marks (American style), and
both a dash and parentheses, etc.

“And while we don't exactly hate New Zealanders, we're not exactly fond of each other. While they regard us as vulgar yobboes, almost Yank-like, we think of them as secondhand, recycled Poms.”— Phillip Adams , The Age (Melbourne: 18 June 1977)
.

If sources are not identified by such means as these, and the borrowed materials is substantial and presented explicitly or implicitly as a writer's own, the person who does so may have engaged in PLAGIARISM, the theft of someone else's words. If, however, the unassigned quotation is brief, appropriate to a situation, and belongs by more or less general agreement to a shared cultural tradition, it is neither quotation nor plagiarism, but ALLUSION: the oblique and entirely legitimate reference to a source, part of whose effect is the pleasure (or frustration) listeners or readers feel as they identify (or fail to identify) the source in question. In addition, many expressions that belong entirely in the public domain, such as proverbs and idioms, may have a quotation-like flavour, or be quotations so often quoted that they have become detached from their sources. This is generally the case, for example, with The pen is mightier than the sword, a statement as proverbial as A stitch in time saves nine. It may be thought to have a Biblical or Shakespearian feel to it, but comes from the work of the 19c English politician, novelist, and poet Edward Bulwer-Lytton:
Beneath the rule of men entirely great The pen is mightier than the sword. (Richelieu, or the Conspiracy, a play in blank verse, 1838, 2.2)

Misquotation and non-quotation

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.

The ‘quotation industry’

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. See DIALOGUE, DIRECT AND INDIRECT SPEECH, ELLIPSIS, PROSE, PUNCTUATION.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"QUOTATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"QUOTATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/quotation

"QUOTATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/quotation

quotation

quo·ta·tion / ˌkwōˈtāshən/ • n. 1. a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker: a quotation from Mark Twain biblical quotations. ∎  a short musical passage or visual image taken from one piece of music or work of art and used in another. ∎  the action of quoting from a text, speech, piece of music, or work of art: a great argument with much quotation of Darwin. 2. a formal statement setting out the estimated cost for a particular job or service: you will be sent a written quotation for the cost of repairing your machine. ∎ Stock Market a price offered by a broker for the sale or purchase of a stock or other security. ∎  Stock Market a registration granted to a company enabling their shares to be officially listed and traded.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"quotation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"quotation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/quotation

"quotation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/quotation