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( Lyotard, Jean Francois | Knowledge )

The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations


The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Ed. Tony Augarde. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. 371 + xii.

The editor alerts the reader in the preface that this book of quotations differs from others in that the selection of entries results not from editorial caprice but from cataloguing more than 200,000 quotations from "novels, plays, poems, essays, speeches, films, radio and television broadcasts, songs, advertisements, and even book titles (p. v)." For this reason, he contends that this collection of quotations is objectively determined, but one assumes that there was a subjective element in the choice of the initial 200,000 quotations. No such book, however, could be expected to include all the most used proverbial expressions that color twentieth-century speech. One misses, for example, the oft-quoted "It ain't over till it's over" but finds "The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." The entries are arranged alphabetically by author and are presented in the following manner:

Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964)
Misquotation is, in fact, the pride and privilege of the learned. A widely-read man never quotes accurately, for the rather obvious reason that he has read too widely. Common Misquotations (1962) ch. 6

As further aids to the reader, there are a How to Use this [sic] Dictionary section and a key-word index. A perusal of this index produces many a smile of recognition of well-turned phrases.

The paremiologist will find this book useful in finding a source of an expression that has become proverbial through repetition and familiarity. Some of these locutions have become part of our cultural inheritance because of stylistic felicity:

"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."
"Man is the only creature that consumes without producing."
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
"Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration."
"Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun."

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 5:1997 & Issue 6:1997, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.


The book is designed efficiently and attractively and ought to find its place on the shelves of all those who love words and ideas. Scholars will see the necessity of making further inquiry into the histories of some of the quotations (those that restate pre-twentieth-century material), but this book is an admirable starting place.

George B. Bryan
Department of Theatre
Royall Tyler Theatre
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405


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