The seemingly simple task of asking who said what has perhaps never been more difficult. In the digital age, quotations can be moved around, attributed, questioned, re-appropriated, and repeated in the blink of an eye. If someone is “widely quoted” as saying something and it sounds more or less right, many people take this to be sufficient proof of the quotation’s origin. With that said, do you really know who said what?
When the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was first published in 1941, it all seemed so simple. It was taken for granted that a quotation was a familiar line from a great poet or a famous figure in history, and the source could easily be found in standard literary works or history books. Those early compilers of quotations did not think of fake facts and the internet. “Fake facts”, or perhaps more accurately misunderstandings, have been around in the world of quotations for a long time.
No-one was neutral about Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership (and ever since), she has inspired both wild enthusiasm and determined opposition, and many vivid descriptions as a result. Many critics have described Margaret Thatcher as divisive, accusing her of paying little attention to social issues. Do you know which of these remarks were made by her supporters and which by her opponents?
Only a few years after the death of Robert Burns in 1796, local enthusiasts began to hold celebrations on or about his birthday, on 25 January, called Burn’s Night. These have continued ever since, spreading from Scotland across the world. From the earliest occasions, a focal point of the Burns supper was, of course, the haggis.
With the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee only a few days away, it is perhaps a good moment to look back at some other long-serving monarchs of the British Isles. Inevitably, those who rule for a long time come to the throne early: Queen Victoria was 18 at her accession, and was described by Thomas Carlyle on her Coronation as ‘Poor little Queen! She is at an age when a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is laid on her from which an archangel might shrink.’ After her reign of 63 years, H. G. Wells thought differently: ‘Queen Victoria was like a great paper-weight that for half a century sat upon men’s minds, and when she was removed their ideas began to blow about all over the place haphazardly’.