For over 70 years, Oxford has been collecting, sourcing, researching, and authenticating quotations, and in so doing it has developed one of the richest language resources in the world today.
Where do we find quotations?
Quotations can represent words in any form: books, newspapers, journals; broadcast interviews; plays, films; online publication. We face a daily torrent of words, just a few of which may lodge in the public mind to be remembered and quoted days or weeks later.
How has it changed?
In the beginning, print was the dominant medium – every quotation could in the end be tracked down to a printed source. It was through print, in books, journals, and newspapers, that information was chiefly conveyed. Matters of great urgency might be published in a bulletin (‘The King’s life is drawing peacefully to its close’) or form the subject of a broadcast (for example, Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Fireside Chats’), but it could be assumed that any words regarded as important would swiftly appear in print.
On the airwaves
Modern communications mean that any international events are reported on the ground; we hear directly from the people involved, not from a radio or television announcer paraphrasing what a politician or sportsman has said. Notable comments and answers in interviews are heard and spoken of long before they are written down. Key documents may be posted directly on the Internet.
Who said it?
Quotations from a known person are only part of the story. Many references are introduced with the words ‘as X says’ – calling up the support of a distinguished writer or thinker for our own ideas. Sometimes these are justified, sometimes they are misremembered – and as Dorothy Parker once pointed out, ‘We all assume that Oscar said it’. Our team of readers pinpoint and capture these allusions. for storage in our Quotations database.
In earlier decades, the results of the reading programme were written on slips of paper and stored in specially constructed wooden boxes. Now, material is captured online, and held in the electronic database which is the major source of material for new quotations dictionaries as for new editions of existing bestsellers. This means that the resource is infinitely more exploitable: an electronic search can be made not just for the possible author but for any element of the quotation or its source or date.
When a quotation is selected for inclusion in one of our books, detailed follow-up research is carried out to verify its authenticity and to provide clear details of its context and background. The new information is entered in the database, ensuring that our records are fully up to date.