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The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When [Paperback]

Ralph Keyes

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Can Quote Me on This 28 Jun 2006
By Beckman Communications - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Two years ago, my co-workers made fun of me because I tried to use the word "eponymous" in a news release. They deleted it, saying that no one knows what that word means anymore. One of the many things I like about Ralph Keyes is that he uses words like "eponymous" -- and he expects that you'll know what it means, too. Keyes' writing will either teach you some really cool words to use at cocktail parties -- or make you wish that you had paid more attention during your 8th-grade vocabulary class.

With Quote Verifier (QV), Keyes has added more fodder to the quote mill, which he kicked off with his Nice Guys Finish Seventh. QV can be read from beginning to end, or it can be read non-linearly as a reference.

Who originally came up with "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."? Kennedy? Which one? Neither, actually. You'll find this under the alphabetical listings under ASK, where you'll find that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said something remarkably similar 80 years before JFK did. There's an entire section (under the "Ks") devoted to the Kennedys, especially John and Robert. Having grown up in Massachusetts, I was often treated to "Kennedyisms." John Kennedy usually cited his sources. Bobby often cited John and Ted credited Bobby.

Also, as a former and unreformed New Englander, I was ecstatic to see that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was correctly credited for his "Serenity Prayer," as opposed to "anonymous," which I so often see. (Niebuhr's widow lived up the street from me and was the speaker at my high school graduation.) However, "Shays' Rebellion" was spelled "Shay's Rebellion," a mistake commonly made in the Midwest. Daniel Shays hasn't been quoted for saying anything remarkable, or I'm sure Keyes would have gotten his name right.

The book is organized in a very user-friendly manner. The key words in each quote are in all caps and the quotes are listed alphabetically according to the key words. An index in the back directs you to the people who said -- or didn't -- what you're trying to find. Also in the back is a key word index directing you to the quote.

If you sit down and read this book linearly as I did, a few things are bound to happen:

1) You'll hear people cited for things all over the place for things they didn't think up first. Coincidentally, I was reading the section about an army travelling on its stomach when someone made reference to it on television (attributing it incorrectly to Napoleon, as most people do according to Keyes).

2) You'll be afraid to quote anyone for fear of getting it wrong.

3) You'll wonder how long Keyes worked on digging up each quote's source. His sources range from Celestial Seasonings tea boxes and Reader's Digest (which I am going to take with a grain of salt now) to university libraries and tottering biographers of celebrities of centuries past. If someone ever found the ancient libraries of Alexandria, Keyes would be the first in line to check out who really said that an army travels on its stomach. It's kind of scary.

I wouldn't want this to be a library book that I had to return. I would want it on hand, where I could refer to it frequently and react with my notes in the margins. This book would be a good purchase for people who like to use quotes (in speeches, newsletters, classes) and want to be correct. It would make a great reference for any student or writer, as well as anyone who wants to know more about the history of our favorite expressions.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Verifiably Excellent 23 July 2006
By Paul Kocak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was so impressed with a newspaper feature on Ralph Keyes's The Quote Verifier that I ordered the book right away. I was not disappointed. There are few books I have ever encountered that are more thoroughly researched -- and so entertaining. The book is either a conversation starter (or spoiler, depending on your audience). Keyes delights in debunking commonly held assumptions about famous quotes, but there's no malice. Just meticulous and entertaining research. He points out the evolution of quotations (often much like the children's game of Telephone). I love how this wonderful reference is organized: alphabetically according to key words, interspersed with special sections on those who are frequently quoted, and a "verdict" at the end of each entry to help the reader reach a decision on a quote's origin or evolution). Thus, a special section on Yogi Berra tracks down a bunch of alleged "Yogi-isms." You might be surprised. I was. Gems abound a nearly every page. And the research is cited in a way that makes it fun to learn the origin of a phrase (or the lack of such knowledge). An example is the famous phrase "Iron Curtain." It is commonly known that Winston Churchill used that phrase in a 1946 sppech about Soviet influence. But Keyes exhaustively points out a whole bunch of similar uses that occurred much earlier. Then he gives a verdict: "Many authors, one key publicist -- Winston Churchill." I loved reading the blurb on the phrase "fifteen minutes of fame" (is it Andy Warhol's? Hey, I don't want to give away the juicy tidbits) and on the phrase "May you live in interesting times" (is it really of Chineses origin?). And so many others. Keyes's book has delighted me so much I recently found it a worthy companion on a long trip. I recommend this book to teachers and professors (even just to educate students in acquiring a healthy skepticism), news reporters and editors, talk show hosts, and anyone interested in history or good conversation. It should be on every library shelf, both public and private.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Every Penny 15 Aug 2006
By Phillip G. Knightley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book does exactly what the title says it does. All those quotes you use from time to time and never know the source are now a thing of the past. I wrote a book once called "The First Casualty", taken from the quote "The first casualty when war comes is truth." I looked it up in this book and there it all was--who said it, where and when and an assessment of the value to place on each attribution. The book is worth every penny you pay for it.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Verifier 21 July 2006
By L. Longfellow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I could not have imagined a reference book that reads like a novel. Fortunately, Ralph Keyes could. An exceptional accomplishment.

Layne Longfellow, Ph.D., Author, Longfellow Reads Longfellow
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Black Book of Quotes 18 Feb 2009
By olingerstories - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not the type of book to read straight through, but rather to pick up from time to time and learn the brief history of the most famous quotations in English history. Most often, the myth does not match the fact. But, the history is never dull and Keyes' words explaining how the quote gained popular notice are often fascinating.
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