Don’t quote me on that…

Author quotes. Who doesn’t love ‘em, eh? After all, who better to write a quote, than a writer? As natural wordsmiths, authors no doubt find it effortless to pen a short, profound, funny, or even disturbing quote – a quote that may spend the next few decades, or even centuries, being repeated in polite, intellectual conversation, or perhaps gracing Twitter and the blogoshpere with its concise ingenuity.

But the thing is (I’ve often wondered), where do these quotes originate from? Are they utterances from writers who strike literary gold when asked a question, or are they simply small chunks of text taken from their papers, journals and novels?

I suspect it’s the latter.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.17.04For example, there’s a quote I love to use when life is throwing handfuls of muck at me: it’s a line taken from Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, and it goes: ‘Demons breed in still water’.

In other words, it can be beneficial when the little things in life are going wrong, because if no minor issues are ticking away in the background and keeping you on your toes, then you’re setting yourself up for a much more serious problem in the not-too-distant future. This is a philosophy that I truly believe and take comfort in, plus it never fails to impress at parties when I comment, “you know, there’s a Dostoevsky quote that says…”

Now, I didn’t discover this gem on some writers’ quotes website or inside a fortune cookie. I found it within the book itself, I lifted it from a piece of character’s dialogue, and I turned it into a quote. Simple.

Of course, this method then raises the question that by concocting quotes in this way, are we losing, altering or just plain fabricating the author’s original meaning? But then again, haven’t religion, politics and journalism been doing that for years?

So anyway, getting back to the point of this post, I wanted to try out a couple of quotes that, again, I discovered within the text of a book. What I found remarkable, though, (and hence worth blogging about) are the source of these quotes.

See what you think about these:

Quote #1: He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is greatly deceived.

In other words, if you do someone harm, then buying them off later with presents and chocolates and what-not, will not make them forget what you did. Be nice.

Quote #2: Act like the clever archers who take aim much higher than the mark to be able, with the aid of so high an aim, to hit the mark they wish to reach.

This one’s obvious: Always aim high.

In all honesty, I adapted this from the original text which reads: Act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.

So, while I may have chopped it down to a quote-size segment, the words are still those of the author and the context remains intact. But this does, once again, ask the question of how and where author quotes originate from.

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned the person who wrote these two judicious phrases. And that’s because the answer to this question is a little surprising.

Can anyone guess who wrote these stirring little gems of guidance?

To add a little fun to this post I shan’t tell you the answer here – you can use this link to find out – but do have a guess first and then stick it in comments box. Or perhaps you already recognise these quotes? I’ll be impressed if you do (and no cheating).

Thanks for reading.


5 comments on “Don’t quote me on that…

  1. An interesting read my friend!

  2. This reminded me of Frost’s forever famous and forever misunderstood The Road Not Taken. I suppose if a quote serves to bolster someone, then maybe it’s alright even if it is taken out of context.

  3. I think these days people are going ahead and ripping quotes straight from text and film, as you say, to feed the quote machine. Lot of quote-based twitter accounts, so people are dredging the bottom of the barrel (and sometimes uncovering gems).

    One example – this article of writing tips by Neil Gaiman

    I’ve seen one line from it quoted numerous times. “Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesnt work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

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