from Churchill to Sir Mix-a-Lot
The collections of quotes were once simpler: there was Oxford for home consumption, and for a change, Bartlett, closely pursued by Brewer, across the pond. There were others, of course (the ever-caustic American essayist HL Mencken offered a pleasantly tangy example), but, in every way, this trio of cardboard, multi-page offerings provided the must-have heavyweights. .
Like Samuel Johnson (good for 110 quotes here), who chose only the “best writers” to provide the examples of the use of his dictionary, such were the foundations of these long established tomes. You were on predictable, solid (but also stable) ground with everyone. Draft horses have done their job, becoming more and more tattered, less and less contemporary, but whatever. They gave and you were happy to receive.
If we are not careful, the quote is the motto of the cracker of the intellectual classes. Easy to come, easy to know. The problem, it turns out, is that (too) often you’ve deluded yourself. Research was much more difficult in the days before the Internet, and the defaults were sometimes accepted: when in doubt, attribute the word wandering to Churchill. Failing him, Wilde or perhaps, reluctantly pulling a hat to gender parity, Dorothy Parker. If it starts with “Monsieur …”, give it to the Grand Cham. Like the popular etymology, this was a mistake.
In 2006, Fred Shapiro of the Yale Law Library (and one of the main contributors to the OED) published the result of nine years of research: The Yale Book of Quotations. Using the level of research made available by the Internet and targeting the kind of bibliographic and chronological accuracy that Oxford demands of its lexicographers, he took a fresh look at the field. And in doing so, he brought the old stagers up to date.
His collection recognized much of the monochrome reliability of the classic canon, but added the sometimes sinister color of modernity, and even leaned towards the CGI specialties of the digital world. This second revised and enlarged edition continues as before.