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Publishers of famous quote book struggle to keep pace


A book titled Bartlett’s Familiar Quotes has been published in the United States since the 1850s. A quote is something that has been said or written that people like to repeat.

It all started with John Bartlett, owner of a bookstore near Boston, Massachusetts. He selected words or quotes from famous people including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and John Keats for the book.

Geoffrey O’Brien is the current editor of the 170 year old book. He said it was difficult to keep up with so many quotes due to “the speed of events” in modern times. “No matter when we went to press, we would be cut in the middle of the story,” he said.

The 19th edition of Bartlett’s just got out. It is the first publication since 2012 and the second under O’Brien. “With the Internet and cable news, you have the constant fabrication of statements of one type or another,” O’Brien said. Thus, he tried to choose quotes that have power beyond current news.

The book’s editors paid attention to people like writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Tesla founder Elon Musk and President Joe Biden.

But of all the quotes, or quotes, over the past 10 years, O’Brien said former President Donald Trump’s words presented both a clear choice and a problem.

FILE – In this May 28, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks as he receives a briefing on the 2020 hurricane season in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. The United States left the Paris climate agreement the day after the presidential election. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Trump said a lot of things. He said them at all hours of the day. And his news-making quotes came from everywhere, from radio and television programs to Twitter. O’Brien said he tried to search for important or memorable words. “His guesses at best since no one knows how things will turn out,” he said.

One of Trump’s quotes came from a speech in Nevada where he said, “I love the poorly educated!” During a debate with Hillary Clinton, he said: “Such a nasty wife.” And there were even a few bad words from her interview with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that were included in an investigative report by Robert Mueller.

O’Brien said Bartlett’s has “evolved overtime.”

At first, the book consisted mostly of quotes from white men. But recently, the book includes lyrics from singer Beyoncé and track and field athlete Usain Bolt. It even has thoughts of other languages ​​like Russian and Navajo, a Native American language. The Russian quote is: “To live with wolves, to yell like a wolf. The Navajo part is about the hunt: “Blessed am I, in the luck of the hunt.”

With so many new quotes, some older ones had to be deleted. O’Brien said he was sad to drop the comments by John Dryden, one of his favorite poets.

O’Brien must also keep the book to around 1,400 pages. Thus, once a very well-known American comedians like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson aren’t in the last book. Quotes from former US Vice President Dan Quayle and actress Sally Field are also gone.

FILE - Dolly Parton poses for a photo before the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy ceremony at Gotham Hall on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022 in New York City.  (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

FILE – Dolly Parton poses for a photo before the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy ceremony at Gotham Hall on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022 in New York City. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Singer Dolly Parton is included for the first time. His comment on his appearance: “it takes a lot of money to watch this cheap” is in the book but the lyrics of the famous song Jolene are not.

O’Brien said the purpose of the book is to be “representative” but not like an encyclopedia. Not everyone can enter. He said he was sad that he could not include a comment from American civil rights activist and politician John Lewis, who died in 2020.

I am Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on an Associated Press report.


words in this story

familiar –adj. often seen or heard

editor -not. a person whose job is to edit something

guesses -not. the act of finding an answer by guessing

nasty –adj. very unpleasant

evolve -v. change or grow slowly

to yell -v. make a long loud sound

actor -not. a person who performs in front of the public to make people laugh

cheap –adj. something inexpensive


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