In a digital world where famous quotations are used in memes and inspirational social media posts, often, like a game of telephone, quotes evolve into something that differs significantly from the original words spoken or written. Verifying the authenticity of quotes can take time and effort. Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Librarian for Literature, has provided tips and tricks to streamline the search process!
- When using an online authentication website, i.e., The Quotations Page, don’t use the whole quote because you might get inaccurate results if it’s incorrect. Consider using a word or phrase from the quote plus the author’s name.
- Try searching using a quotation reference volume (such as the Oxford Essential Quotations) available digitally from the library. Digital reference books can be searched using the same method described above: author’s name plus a keyword or phrase from the original quote.
- Another quick tool to consider is using Google Books and searching by the author or person’s name plus keywords or phrases from the quote. If the quote exists, an excerpt is likely going to come up. If cited, you can follow the citation from the eBook to the original document where the words were issued, such as correspondence, diaries, speeches, interviews, etc.
Most of all, don’t get discouraged; sometimes, it is impossible to nail down a precise quotation. Recently, Arianne worked with a scholar trying to verify a quote attributed to Edward O. Wilson: “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.” She hunted for the quote in the general quote collections, science-specific quotation sources, and Google Books, which cited Biophilia; however, Biophilia did not provide this quotation, leaving the origins of those words as a mystery indicating somewhere along the way words were modified. The scholar went so far as to reach out to Edward O. Wilson, who was unsure of its origins! This example demonstrates the complexities of verifying quotations and that, occasionally, there’s no definitive answer. Still, it is always good to do due diligence before using a quotation in a paper or article. We hope with these tips, it may be possible for you to get at close as possible to the approximation of who said what! For more suggestions, visit Arianne’s Literature in English research guide.