Use Quotations Correctly

When properly used—not too often, and with exactness—quotations enrich our verbal expression, both oral and written.


When properly used—not too often, and with exactness—quotations enrich our verbal expression, both oral and written. Over­done, they suggest a lack of originality, and if misquoted they make the user seem careless. When a quotation particularly appeals to you, run it down and ascertain that you have it verbatim, word for word as its author ex­pressed it. Otherwise it is not truly a quota­tion.

The Bible is the most fertile source of such matter. There are perhaps more and better quotations in the Holy Book than in all other sources put together. But as commonly used, many of these are misstated, even distorted. A few examples will illustrate.

"That he who runs may read" is all wrong—misstated in a way that destroys the original meaning completely. As given, the implica­tion is that the thing referred to is so simple that anyone old enough to run may read it and comprehend. The full quotation, properly, is : "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." The intention was that the message be read, then spread to other people by the runners.

Again, the Bible does not say, "Money is the root of all evil." It is the love of money that is so stigmatized. "By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread" is another mistake; it should be "In the sweat of thy face."

Know where your quotations come from. Otherwise you cannot be certain that you have them right; and being unable to give the au­thority lessens the pleasure of quoting. A friend of mine assigned "A little learning is a dangerous thing" to Shakespeare, but I am sure it was Alexander Pope who said it. Sim­ilarly, Shakespeare is commonly thought to have said, "Comparisons are odious," but the word he really used was "odorous." How­ever, "Comparisons are odious," is a real quo­tation, coming from Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy." Such things are good to know. You often hear, perhaps use, "When Greek meets Greek," but it should be "When Greeks joined Greeks, then was the tug of war."

When I was a lad, I used to go fishing with a very scholarly man. On one occasion I thought I would show a little learning (which turned out to be a "dangerous thing"), and I remarked, "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink." Courteously, he informed me that the proper wording was "—nor any drop to drink"—and that correction has re­mained with me a good many years.—L. E. Eubanks, in Better English, February, 1938.

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