Scholarly misquotation – Potpourri – tracking origins of quotes

Scholarly misquotation – Potpourri – tracking origins of quotes – Brief Article

Harold Orlans

University of Wisconsin historian and librarian

David Henise provides hortatory but ultimately futile advice on that basic brick in the edifice of scholarship, the borrowed quotation. Often, a quotation is encountered in, and borrowed from, a secondary source that may or may not cite its origin. But, Henise observes, the secondary (often, tertiary or remoter) source may be wrong. An ellipsis may be omitted, a word or letter altered, an error corrected or introduced. The only sure way to get the quotation right is to track it to the book or document where it originated.

Henise demonstrates the soundness of this procedure by showing the errors made or perpetuated by 20th century writers quoting from secondary sources well-known statements of prominent 19th century figures. However, his labor in tracking two statements to their source, his inability to find a third source, and his uncertainty about a fourth show that his advice, correct in principle, will often be impractical. (Journal of Scholarly Publishing, April2001 )

Harold Orlans has conducted many studies of higher education and research policy for private and government bodies in Washington, DC. He retains the copyright for this column.

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