“We Are What We Quote”

Geoffrey O’Brien, author of “The Fall of the House of Walworth,” and general editor of the 18th edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” has a lovely piece in today’s New York Times: “We are what we quote.”

He doesn’t say anything about fake quotes, but if we are what we quote and we pass on fake quotes, what does that say about us?

Quotes are the mental furniture of my life. From certain angles my inner landscape resembles a gallery hung with half-recalled citations, the rags and tag-ends of a lifetime of reading and listening. They can be anything at all, the exquisitely chiseled perceptions of poets and philosophers or the blurts of unscheduled truth-telling by public figures caught in the spotlight (the former Jersey City mayor Frank Hague’s “I am the law” or Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook”); the punch lines of 1930s comedians or the curtain lines of Jacobean dramatists; or words of wisdom or anguish or ridiculous humor, or simply, for instance, M.F.K. Fisher’s recollection of “the potato chips I ate slowly one November afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace.” They are the dangling threads that memory can latch onto when everything else goes blank.

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