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On Quotations

I rarely ever quote; the reason is, I always think.

Thomas Paine

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My love affair with quotations started early when I was a child. It began by being amazed by the quotes or witticisms that my wise mother would say every now and then, and by the decision to remember them and even memorize her words. From grade school on, I would write down all the quotes I heard her say at the back of school notebooks, bringing them to school just in case a teacher would also say inspiring words. They were very simple and familiar to begin with, things that most people would have heard of. I still remember some of them:

There are three sides to a story: my side, your side and the truth.
What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
When the sage points to the moon, the fool sees his finger.
Misery loves (miserable) company.
When the list grew and became disorganized, I would rewrite them in long yellow sheets and even photocopy them for safekeeping as if they were worth some money. I've kept on the habit since then with differing ways or systems of storing. There came a time when I would type them and keep them in the computer in high school, and in college, I started writing them in index cards which I found was more convenient. Today, I have some three boxes of those cards in my study.

In high school, being the president of the class and in charge of writing down assignments and announcements on the board, I one day decided to dedicate a little corner of the board for a daily dose of quotations. Nobody seemed to mind, and even though at times my classmates would change some words in the quotation I wrote to make it funny, I kept on writing. And I carried it with me even as I taught. Before starting class, I would also write down a quotation on the top left side of the board as the students would eagerly look on and copy them. I did this every class. I wrote down things which would deepen their understanding of the lecture seen from a different point of view. Some of them appreciated it telling me after the year ended that they too collected all of the lines.

I even have a friend back in college, who, upon knowing of my interest in quotes, sends me text messages every now and then of quotations he glossed from his own readings. He has been doing that for years already. I've also acquired a couple of books on quotations, Bartlett's and Oxford, for example, though I have come to realize that much of the quotes that I use are the ones that I myself have come across in my own reading. So I rarely use those books of quotes. I guess the eye for quotations is very personal; what strikes me may not be so great for another. That is why my own collection would be very personal and unique much like my own garden with the flowers I handpicked. But it is also a great feeling to find out later on that what you have seen as beautiful would be a line that was also often quoted by others.

There are some people however that believe that quotations are an excuse to thinking. In the academe especially. They say that using quotations is like arguing in the words of authority, like standing behind what someone said instead of speaking for yourself. Also, some say that using quotations is much like cheating in that you lift out lines from its context and give it your own interpretation (Case in point, Nietzsche's "God is dead," which, if taken out of its context will merely lead one into thinking that the philosopher killed God whereas it was his point that it was man who by being unable to believe anymore was the one that killed Him).

I agree somehow but answer back that it takes great art and skill to use quotations in the right manner. I for one do not use them to fill a gap in my argument or thinking; I use them as an example that can only make clearer what I want to say. I do not hide behind them; I let them show me. Also, I believe that such lines make writing more beautiful, more rounded and more visual. And as for the charge that quotations are merely lifted out of its context, I believe that the more beautiful quotes are indeed those which can shine on its own without its background or horizon. They surface, and stand alone in the beauty of its words and the meaning they convey. That is essentially why they are quotations: like a rose that you pick out of a garden of roses but by doing so you see the beauty of the rose by itself.

I will not be able to read every book or much less remember everything I read. But I can hold on to some lines, treasure them and keep them to heart. And when I die, I hope to leave a treasury of such lines and perhaps even some of my own.


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