- The Yale Book of Quotations (review)
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 28, 2007
- pp. 203-205
- View Citation
Reviews203 The Yale Book of Quotations. Edited by Fred Shapiro. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. 1104. i; [n recent years, the composition of dictionaries on historical principles has been radically transformed by die rapid growth of digitized archives of texts. Fred Shapiro's Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) officially ushers in a similar transformation in the world of quotation dictionaries. Shapiro has set a very high bar for any future reference work of this kind: no longer will a book of quotations with pretensions to comprehensiveness be able to throw around such vague words as "attributed to..." and "anonymous" with reckless abandon. Under FUQstandards, those are terms of last resort, used only when all other avenues of research have been exhausted. Shapiro, a law librarian at Yale University, has been a trendsetter in exploring the possibilities (and the pitfalls) of tracking the usage of words, phrases, and sayings via digital corpora of historical texts. As early as the 1980s, he was blazing the trail by exploiting databases such as LexisNexis for the purposes of discovering antedatings and other citations of interest for projects in historical lexicography (most notably the Oxford English Dictionary) . For YBQ Shapiro applies his formidable research skills to create a quotation dictionary unlike any other. The book is rife with gems of detective work, based on the latest investigations by Shapiro and other devoted researchers. (Many of those researchers, including this reviewer, made contributions that eventually entered FUQvia the American Dialect Society mailing list.) Who first said, "No man who hates dogs and children can be all bad"? Most quotation dictionaries would simply attribute the line to W.C. Fields, or perhaps Leo Rosten speaking about Fields, and go no further. Shapiro tells us that Harper's Magazine quoted the journalist Byron Darnton as saying this classic bit of cynicism in 1937, trumping claims by Fields and Rosten. What about the saying popularly attributed to Horace Greeley, "Go West, young man"? In a typically enlightening note, Shapiro calls this "one of the great examples of the prevalence of misinformation about famous quotations" (322). Some sources claim that Greeley used it in an 1850 book, while others give credit to an 1851 editorial byJohn Babson Lane Soule that supposedly inspired Greeley. The latest historical research has determined, however, that Soule actually had nothing to do with the quote, and attributions to Greeley only begin showing up in 1870. Besides being at the forefront of attribution sleuthing, FUQ is also noteworthy for expanding the usual boundaries of quotation dictionaries, which, for the most part, have been heavily skewed toward prose and literature of the nineteenth century and earlier, especially from British writers. Shapiro has created a reference work in tune with die times, with more Groucho Marx Dictionaries. Journal ofthe Dictionary Sodety ofNorth American (2007), 203-205 204Reviews than Karl Marx, more Bob Dylan than Dylan Thomas, more Monty Python than Montaigne. Its particular forte is American popular culture of the twentieth century, and in this regard it is unmatched by any reference work that I have seen. This is most evident in the special sections on categories of quotations typically neglected by quotation dictionaries, such as advertising and political slogans, television and radio catchphrases, and film lines. What makes these special categories of quotations particularly compelling is that Shapiro has enriched them with historical background and intricate cross-references. To take one example, an item listed in the section on radio catchphrases is the original opening narration for Superman, broadcast in 1940. In the explanatory note, Shapiro also provides the more familiar variation from later broadcasts ("It's a bird! It's a plane!"), along with crossreferences from the Superman canon (the superhero's first appearance in Action Comics no. 1, the opening of the television series Adventures of Superman ), as well as literary echoes (Nietzsche on the Übermensch or George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman") . This intertextual layering is so impressive that it is surprising to find occasions where Shapiro has missed a potential cross-reference. For instance, though FUQ lists both Buddy Holly's 1957 song "That'll Be the Day" and the appearance of that catchphrase in the John Wayne movie "The...