Monday, April 1, 2013

Who Said What: Why I Don't Repeat Quotations Found Online

Today my local newspaper reprinted an article from the Columbia News Service about the common practice of finding and repeating false quotations on the Internet. The article by Jennifer Hollander leads with the example of a quote I saw often on Facebook after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which was falsely attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.: "I mourn the loss of thousands of previous lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one. Not even an enemy."

In  fact, writes Hollander, it was the Facebook status of an American living in Japan, who followed her eloquent statement with a quote from King. A friend reposted it, dropping the quote marks, after which it went viral, with the false attribution.

The article reminded me of a little project I undertook a couple of years ago, to make a little booklet of quotations from children's books that offered humorous "good advice for all occasions."

The project started with a quote I remembered from a book I had read to our children more than once, Talking to Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, the last book in her Enchanted Forest series. The lead character, Princess Cimorene, had, in the very first book in the series, run away from the pampered and boring life of a princess (as she saw it) and gone off to seek adventure or at least intellectual stimulation in the company of dragons, which turned out to be rather erudite creatures.

In the last book, Cimorene was sending her son, Daystar, off on adventures of his own, and her parting words to him included the simple advice, "Always be polite to dragons."

Alice illustrates a quote from the Red Queen. 
I filled the six-page mini book with a few other favorites I remembered from reading various books to the kids when they were little, and which I could easily check because we hadn't gotten rid of any of the books, even though both kids are now in their twenties. But I needed one more quote and so turned to the Internet to find it.

There I came across a charming quotation attributed variously to Kenneth Graham or more specifically his book Wind in the Willows: "Come along inside ... We'll see if tea and buns can make the world a better place."

Such a sweet sentiment. So I did a drawing of tea and buns to go with it. Then I realized that I needed a more specific attribution for the quote—which character said it and to whom? So I took out my copy of Wind in the Willows and started perusing. I couldn't find it. Maybe I skimmed right past it, I thought. I found an online searchable copy of the book and looked for it there. Nothing.

I found an online source of other works by Kenneth Graham, yet still could not find the quote.

In the end, I gave up. Not knowing the true source of the quote (it may still have been said/written by Kenneth Graham, but in what I do not know), I decided to use a different quote. But I already had my drawing of tea and buns, and I wanted to use it, so I remembered that Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn had said something about drinking tea mindfully, and I set out to find that one to use instead. On the Internet I found several slight variations; fortunately, we have several of his books, and I guessed correctly that it must surely be in The Miracle of Mindfulness, which it was.

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole world revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." —Thich Nhat Hanh

And that's how my little booklet of quotations from children's stories ended up with one quotation from a book for adults about living our lives with intention. (And why I illustrated a Buddhist quote with a drawing of a very English-looking cup of milky tea and brioche buns.)


  1. It is amazing how many completely wrong and slightly wrong quotes are passed along through Facebook, etc. George Washington once said, "If you want to make sure you are really heard, then attribute your words to Abraham Lincoln." ...teeheehee


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