You Are What You Quote

By 26 April 2018

Is a quote merely a quote, or is it its author?

''We've got an unbeatable team.'' - Sauron

Do you ever ''let me quote'' at people? Doesn't matter, casually or for work. Maybe you're a president quoting a president from long ago, or just anonymous poster on the internet. Making a point, calling uponancient wisdom or common sense, or using motivational quotes to spread love, peace, and... get hyped up for the gym.

Maybe you like political quotes. They strengthen your political position, put you in sync with great minds of the past, leaders, founding fathers (and mothers), scientists, philosophers, and artists. That all makes sense. We didn't appear yesterday, and the human condition is more prone to the status quo than we're willing to accept, so to ignore the understanding of reality from generations before, would be an infantile and tragic move.

But one should be careful. Quoting is surely the soul of wit, but, whose wit? If you attach a name to a quote, that name gives authority, and it's half of the point. Some quotes change their meanings depending on the author.

''I have a dream.'' - Pol Pot

''Be the change that you wish to see in the world.'' - Jack the Ripper

''I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I'm out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.'' - Stalin

So, authors are important. It's important to understand that if you've got a ''wrong'' author, you're really undermining the idea behind transmitting your message across to the other party. Why? Because, if somebody is pushing their private political views while hiding behind an accomplished and proven expert, he's just committing unethical political propaganda. Cowardly standing on the shoulders of giants.

And history is full of fake quotes, the digital era handling it like firemen using gasoline to put out a fire at the orphanage. Fake quotes are everywhere. I would put them into three groups.

The first one is fake quotes we all know are fake, but we ignore that. A good example of that are Caesar's last words.

''Even you, Brutus?''

We all can agree it was probably something like this.


The second group is fake quotes that are so common that we don't know that they're even fake. They are all around us, all the time, so it's hard to really get through all the ''educated'' people that share them. People like poor Churchill got the brunt of it.

''The fascists of the future will be known as anti-fascists.''

''If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.''

''The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.''

International Churchill Society vehemently claims these are all fake quotes. Still, people around the world spread them without question.

The third group is my favourite. Fake quotes for satirical purposes. The one at the very beginning of this text is from Robert Lynn Asprin, one of my favourite writers. Pushed into this shady business with promises of chuckles and smirks, I also created some fake historical quotes. The experiment was simple. Do people in Croatia check their quotes?

I went straight for the jugular, quoting the father of the Croatian nation, Ante Starčević. The quote wasn't humorous, and the point was to catch the zeitgeist of the posters themselves. I was given inspiration from fake American quoting experts who used the founding fathers to push their financial ideology for decades. People hate taxes. They hate banks. They hate debt. It's something very universal.

''Loansharks and bankers are a bigger threat to our dream of a free Croatia, than all of the soldiers of Europe combined.'' Starčević, 1888.

My colleague Anton Radačić made the graphical design and off into the world wide web it went. Every day being quoted by more and more people. Soon it was quoted by lawyers, journalists, and even mayors. None of these people, even if agreeing with the point, bothered to check the origin of the quote.

Political parties use it for their Facebook cover images, and a simple Google search puts it on the front page. Nobody doing their due diligence. And to answer why? After a couple of months, Anton realised his own father posted the quote, and, after explaining to him how the quote was actually fake, after a minute of silence, he received this answer:

''Doesn't matter. It's true.''