The Handicap of "Quotationitis"

A corrective to a bad ministerial habit.

By FRANK H. YOST, Professor of Church History, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

The term "quotationitis" has been coined for the too-frequent use of quotations in the spoken or written word. The quotations are sometimes so many that our thinking is obstructed with long readings or paragraphs of borrowed material. To know what the speaker or writer is himself think­ing, one must almost read between the lines. But when this is done, the results are often disappoint­ing.

Quotationitis" can be a troublesome affliction. Like most things of the sort, it has come upon us in a very innocent way. We are proclaiming truth. Too often, truth finds its progress opposed by pre­conceived notions and contrary convictions, and -controversy results. In overcoming opposition the proclaimer of truth seeks the support of authorities_ which opponents will respect and, it is hoped, heed. To be convincing he feels that these authorities must be quoted.

This has been our practice in presenting our views to the public, and much of our quoting in the past has been effective. But has it not become a habit and a device with us ? Or worse, may it not have become a line of least resistance to follow ? It is easier to quote a neat, concise statement from someone else than to labor to put down our own thinking concisely. But this is not a good habit to fall into.

Suppose we think over a subject, read much on it, then think further. We talk the matter over with our colleagues. We think and read again. Out of this process. we evolve what we preach or write. Is this then an original product? No, but it is our own organization and synthesis of material, and bears the impress of our personality as the channel of presentation. It has become ours and is So received by our associates. Then why quote?

Of course, if only the preliminary steps in this process have been taken, .if we have read and thought only a little, then the material has not been assimilated. It is not ours. In all honesty, if we use it, we must then quote. But to quote for this reason is an admission that we have not studied and thought sufficiently ; we have hurried into speech or print before we have carried our study process through to completion.

In such a case it would be better to quote in entirety from the authorities we have read, and tie the quotations together with only a running comment of our own to take care of transitions of thought. It is then only a compilation. We might then appropiately head our article:

Striking Quotations On________

Compiled by X. Y. Zest

Otherwise, to quote freely,-using a few comments of our own to connect the borrowed material, is to invite application of the phrase sometimes used by critics—a "scissors and paste" job.

But should we not give credit to those whose thinking has helped us? Certainly. Credit must be allowed. Let there be no plagiarism. Here is a suggestion: At the close of a speech, a para­graph, or a chapter we can say, for instance, "This is authoritatively emphasized by Mrs. E G. White, in The Great Controversy, page —" ; or, "You will find G. Campbell Morgan very helpful on this point in his book                            " We have digested the  material and are presenting the results. But we are letting our auditors or readers know who has helped us, and where they too may turn for further instruction or inspiration on the point. In more formal writing footnotes should be used to give proper credit.

Quoting must sometimes be done, and may be done legitimately. Under what circumstances ? Here is a suggestion : Where the exact wording of an excerpt is as important as the thought conveyed, quoting is legitimate. For instance, I learned early-in my study of the Sabbath-Sunday question that Sunday observance has a human origin. I read here and there that this is so, I believe it, and find it confirmed in history. I wish to acquaint others with the fact. But this is a technical matter. My presentation requires both technical and specific support. A voice more authoritative than my own is needed. I want from a certain authority not merely his thought but his exact words. So I quote very briefly the church historian Neander, "The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance," and give the ex­act reference.

But this method should approximate the excep­tion, and not be the rule. Let our presentations be made only after careful study and assimilation. Let us stand on our position as preachers and students of the Word, and as seekers of truth wherever it may be found. Having digested a subject, let us give it in our own words. Then let us by straightforward statement or clear footnote give honest credit to those who have helped us. At those comparatively rare points where the exact wording, rather than the thought, is the important thing, let us quote, as an exception. "Quotationitis" can profitably be avoided.

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By FRANK H. YOST, Professor of Church History, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

November 1944

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