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What’s the UK’s favourite quotation?

Today, Thursday 10th September, sees the UK publication of the new, seventh edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Elizabeth Knowles.

To celebrate, OUP have teamed up with Waterstone’s to conduct a national poll asking what Britain’s favourite memorable quotation is. Below is a selection of the thirty quotes you can choose from, as well as details about how to take part.

Classic Quotes

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…
Robert Burns

1940s and 50s

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
Winston Churchill

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
L. P. Hartley

1960s and 70s

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged on the colour of their skin
Martin Luther King

The Answer to the Great Question Of…Life, the Universe and Everything…
[is] forty-two.
Douglas Adams

1980s and 1990s

There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded
Diana, Princess of Wales

I’ll have what she’s having
When Harry Met Sally, Nora Ephron

2000s

We have not found any smoking guns
Hans Blix

The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice
Barack Obama

British readers can vote in the poll via the Waterstone’s website, and Waterstone’s loyalty card holders are also able to enter a prize draw to win a luxury stay in Oxford. So, what’s your favourite quotation? Tell us below.

Recent Comments

  1. Ray Girvan

    asking what Britain’s favourite memorable quotation is

    Actually, the favourite from an arbitrary list drawn up by someone else…

  2. Steve Eppley

    Since the winner of a poll or vote can easily depend on which voting method is used, there’s really no such thing as a group’s favorite.
    Here’s an example to illustrate. Suppose there are 3 alternatives, call them Left, Center and Right. (L, C and R.) Suppose the voters have the following preferences:
    40% think L is best, C is second best, and R is worst.
    8% think C is best, L is second best, and R is worst.
    17% think C is best, R is second best, and L is worst.
    35% think R is best, C is second best, and L is worst.
    The winner will depend on the voting method. (1) If everyone is asked to express just their favorite and the winner is the alternative selected by the most voters, then L wins with 40% of the votes. (2) If the voters are asked to rank the alternatives and the rankings are tallied by the Single Transferable Vote method (a.k.a. Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff) then R wins with 52% (35% + 17%) of the vote. (3) If the Robert’s Rules agenda voting method is used–in which two of the alternatives are voted on, one gets eliminated by majority rule, and then the other is paired against the third alternative in another majority rule vote–then C wins, since 60% prefer C over L and 65% prefer C over R. (3) If the voters are asked to rank the alternatives and the votes are tallied using any “Condorcet” method–the best being the Maximize Affirmed Majorities method (MAM) in my opinion–then C wins, again because 60% prefer C over L and 65% prefer C over R.
    MAM is a generalization of the majoritarian heuristic–the more people who think x is better than y, the more likely it is that x is better than y–to handle typical case where there are more then 2 alternatives. MAM works by first identifying all the majorities. (When there are 3 alternatives, there are 3 majorities. If there are 4 alternatives, there are 6 majorities, etc.) Since the number of votes that rank C over L (60%) exceeds the number that rank L over C (40%), there is a majority for C over L. Since the number of votes that rank C over R (65%) exceeds the number that rank R over C (35%), there is a majority for C over R. Since the number of votes that rank R over L (52%) exceeds the number that rank L over R (48%), there is a majority for R over L.
    Then MAM constructs the order of finish by considering the majorities one at a time, from largest to smallest (again: the more people who think x is better than y, the more likely it is that x is better than y), adopting into the order of finish each majority preference that doesn’t conflict (like rock-paper-scissors) with the (larger) majorities’ preferences already adopted. Since the majority for C over R is largest (65%), MAM finds that C finishes ahead of R. Since the majority for C over L is second largest (60%), MAM then finds that C finishes ahead of L. The majority for R over L is third largest (52%) so MAM then finds that R finishes ahead of L. The order of finish is 1:C, 2:R, 3:L. The winner is C.
    If MAM were used in public elections, candidates who want to win would have a strong incentive to take median positions on many issues. That’s because a candidate who doesn’t take the median position on some issue is risking that another candidate will take the same positions on other issues and the median position on that issue, so that a majority would tend to prefer that other candidate.
    MAM has many attractive properties. Spoiling would be minimized; MAM probably comes as close as is possible to satisfying Kenneth Arrow’s “independence of irrelevant alternatives” criterion without violating any of Arrow’s other criteria. Because candidates who want to win would take similar (median) positions on many issues, voters would be free to rank the less corrupt candidates over the more corrupt, reducing corruption. Issues would tend to get settled (until the median changes significantly), enhancing stability and incrementalism. Because more issues would get settled, politicians would become accountable to the electorate on additional issues, reducing corruption further.
    There’s another voting method that has properties similar to MAM’s but would be much easier for the voters. It asks each voter simply to pick one candidate. It’s called Voting for a Published Ranking (VPR). Prior to election day, each candidate would publish a preference order ranking of all the candidates. When a voter picks a candidate on election day, her vote would be treated as if it were the ranking published by her selected candidate. Then those (indirectly voted) rankings can be tallied by MAM. (This is similar to a shortcut available in Australian elections: A voter who wants to avoid the tedium of ranking all the candidates can instead select a party, in which case her vote will be treated as if it were the ranking published previously by the party.) Candidate L would have an incentive to rank C over R, since ranking R over C would be loudly criticized by L’s significant supporters. Similarly, R would have an incentive to rank C over L. Assuming neither L nor R is the favorite of a majority, C would win. As with MAM, candidates who want to win would tend to take median positions: candidates C1, C2, C3, etc. With VPR, good candidates wouldn’t need as much campaign money, since the way to win is to persuade other candidates to rank them over worse candidates, and it wouldn’t cost much to communicate with the other candidates.

  3. Ray Girvan

    I’ve just looked in detail at the list, and it’s ludicrous. Are they honestly proposing various modern political soundbites and Stephen Fry’s “The email of the species is deadlier than the mail” as possibly the most memorable quote of all time? What about ancient Greek and Roman quotations that are still current? This was a lost opportunity to do something creative and different such as highlighting the problem of rampant misattribution: the ODQ could have been marketed on its superiority to quotation websites.

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