Who said that? Librarian tips for verifying quotes.

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.


One thought on “Who said that? Librarian tips for verifying quotes.”

  1. a) There are additional quote-searching hints and links from the Library of Congress here:

    b) One of the experts cited there, “Quote Investigator,” posted recently to American Dialect Society List a plausible origin for the quote mistakenly ascribed to E. O. Wilson, but in a book co-edited by him:

    “I hypothesize that the quotation was derived from a passage in the
    book “The Biophilia Hypothesis”, a 1993 collection of pieces edited by
    Stephen R. Kellert and E. O. Wilson. The passage occurred in the
    introduction which was written by Kellert.

    Date: 1993 Copyright
    Book Title: The Biophilia Hypothesis
    Editors: Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson
    Section: Introduction by Stephen R. Kellert
    Quote Page 20
    Database: Google Books Preview

    [Begin excerpt]
    The biophilia hypothesis proclaims a human dependence on nature that
    extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical
    sustenance to encompass as well the human craving for aesthetic,
    intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction.
    [End excerpt]

    The passage above was compressed and rephrased to yield the statement
    under examination. The phrase “aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and
    even spiritual” was preserved exactly.



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