That Quotations File

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
“Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, May 1849

If you look at my postings, each and every one starts with a quotation. If not, then … well, it should. I just love good quotations. In the early days of the internet I plundered quotation databases and websites, later I started copy-pasting good passages from books (digital reading has advantages). I also went through quotations books.

And I made these quotations available to me.

Since … pretty much since I’ve been online, I’ve had a file that contains the quotations I have selected. It’s a simple text file, it contains only things I would like to cite in an everyday conversation (so, not texts from, e.g., scientific articles, but usually things from fiction), and currently it’s a 5.9 MB text file.

That translates to 97.339 lines of text, or 5.847.098 characters, or 1.036.492 words. Which make up roughly 19.336 individual quotations.

Why am I writing about this? Two reasons, first, it makes up a huge part of what I am. Secondly, I think it’s tremendously useful.

Regarding making up a huge part of myself … when I first went online I had the habit of adding an individual quotation to each and every eMail I wrote. It was just … reading through the text and I would remember something I had read that would summarize it … well. Many people did not notice. These were the times when people used quotations like “Carpe Diem” (still a favorite in online dating, I’m afraid) as signatures in forums and emails. But there were exceptions. When someone told me he’d hire me as a student assistant, but then found out that he had less money than expected (curse you, German Research Society), I used “Life didn’t promise to be wonderful.” as signature — and it was picked up by the person I had sent it to. So yeah, it’s a quirk, but one I love.

But when it comes to being useful, I really think that quotations are that … useful I mean. I mean, I could quote:

The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages is preserved into perpetuity by a nation’s proverbs, fables, folk sayings and quotations.
William Feather

but yeah, there really is something to it. Of course, find any saying and you can find the reverse. Classic example:

“The early bird gets the worm.”

well, there’s the saying:

“The early bird gets the worm,
but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Which is why I agree with the quotation at the beginning of this posting: “Tell me what you know.”

But that’s also why I love quotations. Because they can bring individual experiences to … well, a point. They can express certain situations much better than I could ever hope to do myself.

And that’s the way quotations should work. You experience something, something you might not be able to describe, and you see something and you go: “Yeah, this is it“. It gives you a way to express yourself. That’s why I love quotations — because they provide me with a communication channel. It goes from experiencing something to expressing this experience with a quotation that can be understood. It does not go from reading something and seeing no need to experience something.

And that’s one reason why I keep a quotations file in my Mac OS X dock. Why I immediately associate certain experiences with well crafted words. And why I grok Ally McBeal’s associations to certain situations.

And why I wrote a quotations book. And another one.

And why, perhaps, one day, I should write one I can actually publish because it does not violate copyright with its use of images taken from the “net”.

And why that quotation file I keep in my dock is just so useful for me …

So, which quotations do speak to you?