Fred Shapiro, an associate director at Yale Law School’s library, has edited the Yale Book of Quotations since 2006. The book has been conceived as “the most accurate, most comprehensive, and most up-to-date major quotation dictionary”: “By using state-of-the-art research methods such as searching online collections of historical periodicals and books, the YBQ revolutionizes our knowledge of quotation origins. The Wall Street Journal has ranked it as the number two most essential reference work (behind only the World Almanac).”
Shapiro has updated the volume annually with a list of the top 10 quotations. He shared this year’s list on the listserve of the American Dialect Society, to which he is a frequent contributor, and he has kindly given me permission to re-post the list here.
Shapiro has told the Associated Press: “These are not necessarily quotes I agree with or quotes I think are eloquent or admirable. Instead, the quotations are chosen because they are famous or important or reflect the spirit of the times.”
I asked him if he has included any quotations related to higher education in the annual list since he began compiling it. Given the increasing number of faculty who have come under fire politically for supposedly outrageous statements that they have made, I was especially curious if any of those statements, made by faculty ranging from Ward Churchill to Steven Salaita, had either made it onto the list or had been seriously considered for inclusion in the list. Shapiro responded: “Higher education has figured in the lists over the years; for example, the first number one quote (2007) cited a University of Florida student exclaiming “Don’t tase me, bro.” In general, however, statements coming out of academia nowadays tend to be so outrageous (think Ward Churchill) that I cannot bring myself to include them even in lists largely composed of ridiculous quotations.”
Here are Shapiro’s top ten for 2014:
1. “I can’t breathe!” — Eric Garner, videotaped exclamation while being held by a policeman in New York, July 17.
2. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” — Bridget Anne Kelly, an aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in an email to David Wildstein quoted in The New York Times, Jan. 9.
3. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” — Chant of demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, August.
4. “Mr. Commissioner, we found out by one phone call. You guys have a whole legal department. Can you explain that?” — TMZ reporter Adam Glyn questioning NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on why the NFL had not been able to view video of the Ray Rice incident, at a news conference on Sept. 19.
5. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.” — Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in a remark to V. Stiviano on an audio recording quoted in Los Angeles Times, April 27.
6. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” — Hillary Clinton, ABC News interview, June 9.
7. “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I come to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” — Iowa Senatorial candidate Jodi Ernst, campaign advertisement quoted in National Journal, March 25.
8. “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi (Germany’s) war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’ … I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.” — Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, letter to the editor, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 24.
9. “We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.” — Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, statement on Paltrow’s website announcing their separation, March 25.
10. (tie) “Isn’t it a bitch? I mean, … this vice president thing?” — Joe Biden, response to student body vice president at Harvard College, Oct. 2.
10. (tie) “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” — Hillary Clinton, Atlantic Online interview, Aug. 10.
10. (tie) “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance — I’m home.” — Kansas Senator Pat Roberts responding to questioning about whether he actually resides in Kansas, KCMO radio interview, July 3.