26 Authors on the Art of Quotation


August 30, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow


For my last post in the #AUTHORityAugust series, I thought I’d get all meta on you, and let the medium be the message. It was actually the quotation by Elaine Gill, toward the very end, that compelled me to try to balance the scales in this series where citations from men and women were concerned. And yes. Though I love Bernard Shaw, the placement of the last two quotations is quite deliberate.

If I have missed any favorite authorial quotations of yours about the noble practice, feel free to mention them in the comments. My own personal favorite “I improve on misquotation,” is attributed to Cary Grant, who is sadly not an author of anything.

And yes yet again. You are very bright readers, and you saw what I just did there. Because we all know there is more to AUTHORity than publication. You can even quote me on that. 


A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought. ― Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night


He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors. ― Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions


What is a quote? A quote (cognate with quota) is a cut, a section, a slice of someone else’s orange. You suck the slice, toss the rind, skate away. Part of what you enjoy in a documentary technique is the sense of banditry. To loot someone else’s life or sentences and make off with a point of view, which is called “objective” because you can make anything into an object by treating it this way, is exciting and dangerous. ― Anne Carson, Decreation


Like your body your mind also gets tired so refresh it by wise sayings. ― Hazrat Ali


At any rate, nothing was more characteristic of him [Walter Benjamin] in the thirties than the little notebooks with black covers which he always carried with him and in which he tirelessly entered in the form of quotations what daily living and reading netted him in the way of “pearls” and “coral.” On occasion he read from them aloud, showed them around like items from a choice and precious collection. ― Hannah Arendt


Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. ― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary


It is an old error of man to forget to put quotation marks where he borrows from a woman’s brain! ― Anna Garlin Spencer


Be careful–with quotations, you can damn anything. ― André Malraux


Did you ever read my words, or did you merely finger through them for quotations which you thought might valuably support an already conceived idea concerning some old and distorted connection between us? ― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches



[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business. ― A.A. Milne, If I May


He lik’d those literary cooks
Who skim the cream of others’ books;
And ruin half an author’s graces,
By plucking bon-mots from their places…

― Hannah More, Florio, 1786


When you broadcast your book reading voluntarily, it creates moments of fascinating serendipity. ― Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better


Sharp! yes, her tongue is like a new-set razor. She’s quite original in her talk too; one of those untaught wits that help to stock a country with proverbs. I told you that capital thing I heard her say about Craig—that he was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow. Now that’s an Æsop’s fable in a sentence. ― George Eliot, Adam Bede


I feel a reassuring oneness with other people when I find that even my most intimate, anguished, socially inadmissible emotions and desires are known to others…. Kindred souls—indeed, my selves otherwise costumed—turn up in books in the most unexpected places. Discovering them is one of the great rewards of a liberal education. If I quote liberally, it is not to show off book learning, which at my stage of life can only invite ridicule, but rather to bathe in this kinship of strangers. ― Yi-fu Tuan, “Intimate: From Justice to Love,” Who Am I?: An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit, 1999



If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

― Dorothy Parker, referring to Oscar Wilde


A transcript reproduces the words it records; it does not use them. Quoting is an attitude and practice, central to aesthetic and literary experiences as different from each other as the sublime and camp. ― William Flesch


[A]ll great soundbites happen by accident, which is to say, all great soundbites are yielded up inevitably, as part of the natural expression of the text. They are part of the tapestry, they aren’t a little flower somebody sewed on. ― Peggy Noonan


Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author? ― Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life, 1873


They verbally attacked each other with Mao’s quotations, making cynical use of his guru-like elusiveness–it was easy to select a quotation of Mao’s to suit any situation, or even both sides of the same argument. ― Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

jung chang



The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. ― William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice


The point of quotations is that one can use another’s words to be insulting. ― Amanda Cross, mystery writer, aka Carolyn Heilbrun, feminist scholar


It is better to be quotable than to be honest.― Tom Stoppard



One has to secrete a jelly in which to slip quotations down people’s throats—and one always secretes too much jelly. ― Virginia Woolf



What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before. ― Mark Twain, Notebooks


If you have any doubts that we live in a society controlled by men, try reading down the index of contributors to a volume of quotations, looking for women’s names. ― Elaine Gill


I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.― George Bernard Shaw


Find all the posts in the #AUTHORityAugust series below. You can also type the hashtag – or the word quotations – into the blog’s search bar.



12 thoughts on “26 Authors on the Art of Quotation

  1. A wonderful list there and Shaw’s at the end is the best :) Thanks for sharing!


  2. Judith Post says:

    I hope you had a great August break, but the quotes look like a lot of work to me:) A different kind of work, though, so I hope you’re refreshed.


  3. Love these. Great choices. #20 is classic. But #24 is fantastic. :-D They’re all, um, so quotable.


  4. Diana says:

    I love reading the comments on these posts, too. I always go back and look at the entries others have commented on — and often appreciate them more. So thanks to the commenters, as well as to you, Paula! Great list, yet again.

    My favourite in this list is Yi-fu Tuan, #14 — “kinship with strangers.” Another way of looking at it (not worded nearly as well) is that sometimes we read a line or two, and it’s like the author/stranger has put into words something that keenly resonates in us, but hadn’t to that point surfaced. I love these “aha!” moments when reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Diana. When I was in graduate school, Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place had just come out, and I was taking a seminar on Wordsworth’s Prelude. There was one student in this graduate seminar from the geography department, where Tuan was resident guru and, I believe at the time, department chair. This poor geography student was not at all prepared for the game graduate students in literature played; she was just passionate about the things Tuan wrote, and how they could be applied to what we were reading. It was really quite fascinating, but we were all stuck in our little specialized holes and unable to get her perspective. I never saw her again, but i promised myself that someday I would read that book.


  5. Terry Tyler says:

    Wonderful choices, excellent post ;)


  6. aubreyleaman says:

    Like everyone else here, I really enjoyed these quotes! I especially liked the Rudyard Kipling one! But I AM a sucker for similes…


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