“Let them eat cake.”
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
“Luke, I am your father.”
Everybody loves a good quote
These are certainly great quotes. Many of us have heard or read them thousands of times. There is just one problem – none of these are actual quotes. Despite what Google or the number of websites devoted to listing famous quotations tell us, these words were never uttered by anyone real or imaginary.
Whether we hold positions in universities, government, or private industry, communicators have long been plagued by the use of quotations. Quotes sound great in speeches. Quotes help us fill content on social media. Quotes are inspiring when you put them on plaques for retiring employees. And, probably most importantly, our bosses love them and rely on communicators to provide the next great quote.
Using quotes can be an emotional rollercoaster
I once found the perfect quote from Plato for an administrator’s annual holiday card. It was almost as if Plato had written the text for just this purpose, but I needed to confirm the quote’s authenticity. Since my Greek was little rusty, I turned to the head of our Classics Department who informed me that not only was this not an accurate quote, but it was actually a combination of three different things Plato said, at three different times, on three different topics. I am not sure if I was more disappointed or frustrated.
So what are we as communicators to do the next time we are asked to produce a quote for this year’s holiday card or in a commencement speech? Are we stuck with Google and brainyquote.com?
Help is out there
I have been relatively successful using a couple of resources to find good, verified quotes:
The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbra has an outstanding, searchable database of materials – both written and spoken – from U.S. Presidents. In some cases, they even have YouTube videos. The search function is key – you can search for keywords such as land-grant, agriculture, engineering, and even cookies. Yes, cookies. Check out what Ronald Reagan said in 1986:
“That underlying generosity of purpose is seen in the likes of Ray Kurzweil, whose genius has given us a computer that can read books to the blind; or Wally Amos, who has devoted his profits from his Famous Amos cookies to help disadvantaged children get an education.”
Another great resource is the Oxford Reference library, a section of which is also devoted to quotations. It is also searchable and if you dig deep enough, you can find an alphabetical list of quotable folks and some of their more famous quotations. The list is organized by first name – go figure.
Quotes can be fun but they can be a pain to find and verify. Using good resources can save you time, trouble, and embarrassment. And if you want to impress your friends, Darth Vader actually said, “No, I am your father.”