The Volokh Conspiracy

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The New Yale Book of Quotations Is Published (Post 3 of 3)

The New Yale Book of Quotations follows an Oxford English Dictionary model not only with regard to historical research, but also with regard to crowd-sourcing the contributions of readers around the world.


Immediately after the publication of the original Yale Book of Quotations, readers—some of them scholars, but more of them ordinary quotation-lovers—sent excellent new information to the editor. These discoveries are now incorporated into The New Yale Book of Quotations. The preeminent contributor was Garson O'Toole, who was inspired to create the magnificent website. The help furnished by the crowd-sourcing resulted in a new volume that not only traces famous quotes to their true origins, but also captures the many famous quotations omitted by other reference works. Below is the third part of the NYBQ's introduction.

The publication of the first edition of The Yale Book of Quotations triggered a remarkable "crowd-sourcing" response by quotation-lovers and researchers spanning the globe. Employing printed books, online searching, and their own memories, many readers emailed, or communicated by other avenues, outstanding contributions of quotations for inclusion or of improvements in information about quotes in the YBQ. The names of the more active such contributors are given in the Acknowledgments above, but special credit needs to be elaborated here for Garson O'Toole.

In 2007 O'Toole became curious about the genesis of the supposed Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times," which Wikipedia had traced back to 1950. He then was able to find the curse in a 1944 book and posted his discovery on a blog. This posting was noticed by the Yale Book of Quotations editor, who added a comment pointing out that the YBQ had a 1939 citation. O'Toole later wrote that he "purchased a copy of The Yale Book of Quotations and began purposefully scanning its entries." The rest is history, as he was inspired by the Yale volume to create, three years later, a website he titled Quote Investigator ( Quote Investigator has grown to include well over a million words of authoritative quote-sleuthing. O'Toole's brilliant researches have greatly aided The New Yale Book of Quotations, which has many dozens of entries reflecting Quote Investigator findings.

The compilation of the present book has also benefited from extensive use of the electronic mailing list of the American Dialect Society and the Project Wombat network of reference librarians and researchers, both of which bring together very skilled people dedicated to answering sophisticated questions. Specific contributors are listed in the Acknowledgments. Finally, traditional methods of library research, utilizing the resources of the Yale University Library and Yale Law Library as well as interlibrary borrowing from other institutions, were pursued to verify quotations and to find their origins.

The research efforts outlined above were devoted not only to tracing and verifying quotation origins, but also to ensuring that all of the most famous quotations were included in this book. As a result, many important quotations not found in prior quotation dictionaries appear here, such as Willard Motley's 1947 suggestion to "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse"; the famous sentence from Lou Gehrig's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939: "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth"; and Friedrich Nietzsche's 1888 epigram, "Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger." More than a thousand previous quotation collections and other types of anthologies were canvassed; many Internet resources were perused; and experts on specific authors and types of literature were consulted.

As a result of the unique approaches and methods employed, The New Yale Book of Quotations has a Janus-like duality. As noted above, the NYBQ serves a very traditional function of gathering the monuments of literary expression and other forms of enduring culture. It also, however, captures the most celebrated items of contemporary discourse and public life. Thus William Shakespeare and Donald Trump coexist in these pages. One of them is far less eloquent than the other, but, for better or worse, both are now part of our verbal heritage, with Mr. Trump's most remarkable utterances and Tweets carefully recorded here. Other recent individuals whose quotes have been introduced or supplemented in this edition include, among many others, Warren Buffett, Hillary Clinton, Pope Francis, Jonathan Franzen, Alan Greenspan, Steven Jobs, Cormac McCarthy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, David Foster Wallace, and Warren Zevon.