Leading Quotation Newsletter Now a Free Electronic Publication: Great Source of Carefully Researched and Attributed Material for Writers, Speakers, and Language Lovers

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Edited by Nigel Rees, Britain's leading authority on colloquial language, author of over 50 books on quotations and language, and the originator and host of the popular "Quote...Unquote" celebrity panel BBC radio program, the "Quote...Unquote" newsletter includes background articles on the origins of quotations and serves as an international forum for solving quotation queries submitted by subscribers.

One of the most helpful sources of great content for writers and speakers – and for anyone who enjoys reading about language and quotations – is now a free electronic publication.

It’s The “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter, published quarterly since 1992 by Nigel Rees, Britain’s leading authority on colloquial language, author of over 50 books on quotations and language, and the originator and host of the long-running “Quote…Unquote” celebrity panel program on BBC radio. See http://www.qunl.com for additional information.

The print version was $40/year. It’s been converted to an electronic format and the subscription fee has been dropped (a one-time $5 sign-up fee applies – see the website for details).

The newsletter includes background articles on the origins of quotations and serves as an international forum for solving quotation queries submitted by subscribers. More than just listing quotations, the newsletter includes engaging background information that writers and speakers can use in weaving the quotations into their articles and speeches.

A recent issue provided information and insights on lines like these:
“I never arrive late – I’m not important enough.”
“Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever”
“We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
“Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
“I think I will not hang myself today”
“My work here is done.”
“Play it again Sam.”
“Cities should be built for the convenience and satisfaction of those that live in it, and to the great surprise of strangers”

Particularly important for professional speakers and writers is the extensive background information provided for the quotations. More often than we like to admit, speakers and writers risk or loose their credibility by using unattributed or poorly-attributed material. "Quote ... Unquote", with its insistence on carefully documented attribution, can help bulletproof the quotations in your writing and speeches (See the interview with Mr. Rees in Forbes that details examples of mis-attributions at http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/12/nigel-rees-misquotes-opinions-rees.html or Google on the terms “Forbes Rees Policing Word Abuse”.)

One of the longest-running unsolved queries on the list is an observation about sex, usually attributed to Lord Chesterfield:

“The pleasure is momentary, the position is ridiculous, and the expense is damnable.”
The earliest citation so far is in—of all places—a report on the Labour Party Annual Conference at Blackpool in 1901: a speaker referred to someone’s “description of the act of human love-making in which he said that the satisfaction was fleeting, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable”. The query was initially published in the first edition of the newsletter in 1992.

In view of the extended election season now under way in the U.S., here are examples of articles from past issues of the newsletter concerning politics and politicians :

One includes details on the origins of one of the enduring truths about the political class:
“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought”.

According to Rees, “The Yale Book of Quotations states: ‘[This] is often attributed to Simon Cameron. However, Erwin S. Bradley in Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Secretary of War (1966) states that “apparently there is no basis for the definition of an honest politician commonly attributed to him.”’

“Instead,” notes Rees, “this is found in Mark Twain’s Notebook for 1890-1:
‘Bill Styles … spoke of the low grade of legislative morals. Kind of discouraging. You see, it’s so hard to find men of a so high type of morals that they’ll stay bought.’”

And Rees cautions readers to note that “… this is Twain quoting another, not writing it himself.”


Additional political insights from recent issues of the newsletter include this one on statistics, planning and free-market policies:

[Telling Milton Friedman, in 1963, why he kept no statistics] “If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll only use them for planning.” – (Sir) John Cowperthwaite (1915-2006). Financial Secretary of Hong Kong, quoted in his Times obituary (3 February 2006). The obit. noted that, “His introduction of free market economic policies is widely credited with turning post-war Hong Kong into a thriving global financial centre.” Also: “He trod a thin line between positive non-intervention and simply doing nothing.”

The newsletter also researched the origins of another observation on the subject of statistics, the one suggesting that you can employ the most sophisticated methodology but “it all comes down to the village postmaster filling in the forms and putting anything he damn well pleases.”
Something like one of those early and enduring computer laws: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

  •      Apropos the extremely low ratings given members of Congress is this caption from a 1940s cartoon that shows railway workers standing near a steam engine. One is saying to the others:

“There was only one man who entered Parliament with good intentions – Guy Fawkes.”

Rees’s research led him to the British soldier and politician Lieut-Col. A.D. Wintle MC (1897-1966), who fought in both world wars and who ran for Parliament in 1945. Wintle’s posthumously-published memoir, The Last Englishman (1968) included this comment: “My slogan was this: ‘The last person who went into the House with any good intentions was Guy Fawkes.’ It’s time they had another, like me, with explosive ideas.”

Pushing back further in time, Rees tracked down this version, attributed to Philip Hoffman MP in the House of Commons in a debate on February 20, 1924:

“[I heard] the other day that no one goes into this House on good intentions, or, at least that only one person had ever got into this House with good intentions, and that was Guy Fawkes.”

And the search goes on …


A famous parliamentary jibe of the last century came about in a speech to the House of Commons on June 14, 1978, when Denis Healey, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, on being attacked by Sir Geoffrey Howe in a debate over his budget proposals, said:

“That part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

In 1989 Healey revealed in his memoirs that “the phrase came to me while I was actually on my feet: it was an adaptation of Churchill’s remark that an attack by Attlee was ‘like being savaged by a pet lamb.’ Such banter can often enliven a dull afternoon.”

Rees notes, however, that “I have not encountered anyone else who remembers the Churchill version, but he was noted for his Attlee jokes (and busily denied that he had ever said most of them). In 1990, the victim of Healey’s phrase, Geoffey Howe, also claimed that it wasn’t original: ‘It came from a play,’ he said sheepishly.”)


Meanwhile, the newsletter is looking for a source for the anecdote about Lord Palmerston saying (to Queen Victoria?):
“Change, change, all this talk about change. Things are quite bad enough already!”


Finally, a cautionary note on careful research and attribution: Several years ago the newsletter awarded its Misattributing Something to Mark Twain Award to Al Gore:

“Claire Johnson told me that in his film An Inconvenient Truth, the former Vice-President attributes to the Sage of Hartford: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it is what you know for sure jus tain’t so.” Surely, Gore has access to a copy of the Library of Congress’s excellent work Respectfully Quoted? I can but reproduce its entry No. 966 in its entirety:

“‘The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so’ – Attributed to JOSH BILLINGS (Henry Wheeler Shaw) by The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3d ed. (1979). Not verified in his writings, although some similar ideas are found in Everybody’s Friend, or Josh Billings’ Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874). Original spelling is corrected: ‘What little I do know I hope I am certain of’ (p.502). ‘Wisdom don’t consist in knowing more that is new, but in knowing less that is false’ (p.430). ‘I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so’ (p.286). Walter Mondale echoed the words above in his first debate with President Ronald Reagan, October 7, 1984, in Louisville, Kentucky: ‘I’m reminded a little bit of what Will Rogers once said of Hoover. He said it’s not what he doesn’t know that bothers me, it‘s what he knows for sure just ain’t so.’ – Transcript, The New York Times, October 8, 1984. This has not been found in Rogers’s work.”


To join this quarterly celebration of language, go to http://www.qunl.com and sign up and download your first issue. If you’re interested we can also send back issues. You’ll find yourself enjoying the unique talent and style of a writer and broadcasting personality who has been called “Britain’s leading expert on colloquial language.” (by Sir David Frost); “The BBC’s quotation guru.” (The Sunday Times), and “Britain’s most popular lexicographer – the lineal successor to Eric Partridge and, like him, he makes etymology fun.” (The Spectator).


One more thing: Rees has also begun publishing ebook versions of some of his most popular collections of quotations. Go to amazon.com and look up Kindle versions of The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations, The Best Guide to Movie Quotes, and The Golden Age of Graffiti. These are expanded versions of earlier print collections that sold in the $20 -$40 range for paperback books and are now available at Kindle prices (for example, $7.99 for the humor collection, plus you get the handy Kindle search capabilities.)


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