90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
How Great Quotes Shaped Our World

Great quotations. What makes them? And how they shape our language and our view of the world

Winston Churchill 1940 (AP)

Winston Churchill 1940 (AP)

“I hate quotations,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Tell me what you know.” But even that, says my guest today, was a quotation. The quotable quote, the durable quotation, is everywhere now. People stack them on their Facebook pages, tag them on their e-mails, tape them over their desks.

They quote Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Mae West and Lady Gaga. Erasmus and… Emerson. It’s not just a human tic, says my guest today. These quoted words shape our language, and our view of the world.

This hour On Point: the irresistible quotation.


-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Gary Saul Morson, professor of arts and humanities at Northwestern University, where he is also professor of Slavic languages and literature. He is the author of The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Times Higher Education Supplement “I own a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but I’ve always had a condescending and disdainful attitude towards it, even though it still sits next to the dictionary on my office shelf. I think I’ve used it exactly once, shortly after receiving it as a teenager, to look up “War is hell”, which Gary Saul Morson’s The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture informs me (quoting Louis Menand paraphrasing The Yale Book of Quotations) was not actually uttered by William Tecumseh Sherman; Morson also explains that it doesn’t matter that Sherman didn’t say it, and that he might as well have, and that, in a way, “William Tecumseh Sherman” did.”

Literary Review “Academics like me are skilled users of turnitin.com. Never heard of it? Ask the nearest undergraduate and watch their cheek blanch. Turnitin is the trade’s leading ‘plagiarism detector’. You upload the student’s essay or dissertation and it’s checked against trillions of words and phrases in seconds.”

Weekly Standard “Sooner or later, all good dinner table debates reduce themselves to semantics. Yes, John Stuart Mill argued that your freedom only extends to the point where you do harm unto others, but what is harm? Sure, you can say that the Beatles were the best rock band of all time, but what do you actually mean by best? This kind of futile parsing is the raison d’être of Gary Saul Morson’s new book, a work devoted to the arcane matter of what is and isn’t a quotation.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Dec 19, 2014
Alan Gross, waves as he and his wife Judy leave following his statement at his lawyer's office in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Gross was released from Cuba after 5 years in a Cuban prison. (AP)

Cuba reset. Russia’s rubble troubles. School massacre in Pakistan. Jeb explores 2016. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Dec 19, 2014
Soledad, and from left, Nina Pastori, and Lila Downs perform on stage at the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year Tribute honoring Joan Manuel Serrat at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP)

From crossover hits to hip-hop to soul, we look at a big year in the wide world of Latin music.

RECENT
SHOWS
Dec 18, 2014
A poster for the movie "The Interview" is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP)

A big Sony hack gets weirder and wider. And Hollywood and Homeland Security are on edge.

 
Dec 18, 2014
This handout photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday. (AP)

Following months of secret talks the US will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than fifty years.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: December 19, 2014
Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Rage, shortlinks and things you people seem to be into, we guess. Also, Putin.

More »
Comment
 
Cosby Accuser Beverly Johnson: ‘He's A Black Man. I Had To Separate The Trayvon Martins, The Michael Browns From What Happened To Me’
Tuesday, Dec 16, 2014

Beverly Johnson accused comedian Bill Cosby of drugging her in a high-profile Vanity Fair column. She tells us why she waited so long to share her story, and why it was even harder to share now.

More »
3 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: December 12, 2014
Friday, Dec 12, 2014

On listener engagement, the meeting of trans-Atlantic royalty and the elusive origins of the chicken. (We promise this feed hasn’t been taken over the BBC…yet)

More »
Comment