Lauren, Publicity Assistant
For years, the public has not been able to get enough of Paris Hilton. She’s famous as a socialite, heiress, model, and now for joining the likes of Socrates and Mark Twain on the pages of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. No, she’s not quoted for saying, “That’s hot.” Ms. Hilton is instead immortalized for her advice, “Dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.”
But Paris’s entry is only one of more than 20,000 new quotations added to 7th edition. Other notable inclusions come from Sarah Palin, Stephen Hawking, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Philip Pullman. Here, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations editor Elizabeth Knowles reflects on the history of the almost 70-year-old treasury, and how new entries are chosen. To learn more check out the companion site here.
A classic reference book like this has to be regularly remade, without compromising its essential identity. Can we in fact have the modern and frivolous without damaging our book? I would say most definitely yes, where usage so dictates, and adduce in support two luminaries of the Oxford University Press of over sixty years ago. In 1931, planning the book, Kenneth Sisam, who identified an “intelligent elasticity” as an essential editorial quality, wrote to a colleague, “We shall have to guard against things quotable, as apart from things commonly quoted.” And in 1949, when the second edition was being planned, Humphrey Milford (formerly Publisher to OUP) commented, “I think the levity—comparative—of ODQ is partly the reason for its success.” In other words, the diversity of the book, and its mixture of the deeply serious and the frivolous, based on what people are quoting, is part of its essential nature.
Quotations are part of the fabric of the language: we use, and meet them, every day. We quote when we find that the words of another person, in another time and place, express exactly what we want to say. Or, events bring certain quotations to prominence, as the last year has given new relevance to Thomas Jefferson’s comment that, “Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.”
A dictionary of quotations is not a roll-call of the great and the good, nor a listing of an editor’s favorite passages. Although having said that, of course we all do have items in which we take a particular pleasure. I was especially pleased that the formulation, “We must guard even our enemies against injustice” (attributed to the radical Tom Paine) was revealed as the writer Graham Greene’s paraphrase of Paine’s more formal eighteenth-century diction. The history of this misquotation—linking two significant figures across the centuries, and coming to light through its resonance today—was very satisfying to explore.
At Oxford, we track language to ensure that we have the quotations people are most likely to look up, so that the next time a half-remembered quotation is on the tip of your tongue, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is ready with the answer. Inclusion is based on usage: evidence that a spoken comment or written passage is being quoted by others. And while there is a common quotations stock (Shakespeare, the Bible), we all have our own quotations vocabulary, that which we remember and quote because we encountered them at a time when they were particularly significant. The antique and serious often rubs shoulders with popular culture. The same newspaper column, for example, may quote from both the Book of Common Prayer and the Rolling Stones. The result is marvelously diverse, and properly so.