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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quilt Quotes


Journalists call semi-fabricated quotes "quilt quotes."

As the name suggests, quilt quotes comprise sayings that have been assembled from separately spoken or written texts.


I prefer the even more colorful term used by video producers: "Frankenbites."

Quilt quotes, unless intended to distort a speaker's message, aren't the worst of writers' sins. But often the original statements are far more interesting than the fabrication.
Here's a case in point. Last week, I visited one of the Occupy DC camps. (Side note: Critics of Occupy should consider doing the same. You won't find a more patriotic gathering outside an American Legion picnic.) DC, of course, has a thing for memorials, particularly inscribed ones. The Occupants have turned the camp I saw into a memorial of sorts.  The sidewalks are covered with placards. While a few feature anonymous sayings, most are like the one above. 

I was so taken with Thomas Jefferson's words, I had to look them up. I quickly discovered that Jefferson never quite said them.

The first two sentences come from a section of his Notes on Virginia, written in 1781. In the passage where they appear, Jefferson argues for securing freedom of worship in a bill of rights before the Revolutionary War ends and America's leaders turn "corrupt," its followers "careless."
The third sentence comes from an 1816 letter Jefferson wrote to his farming buddy George Logan). Jefferson actually wrote: "I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
The "example" Jefferson meant was Great Britain. Spending by the British government on foreign wars was so out of control at the time, Jefferson felt certain it would bring "the ruin of its people," especially the "hereditary aristocracy" responsible for those wars. He didn't want to see Americans make the same mistake.

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