Behind the Dictionary

Lexicographers Talk About Language

Quotable Moments of '08

Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, is constantly on the lookout for new quotations that might make the cut for the next edition of his authoritative (and entertaining) quotation dictionary. Below, find out what he thinks are the top ten quotations of 2008.

In 2006 I compiled The Yale Book of Quotations, published by Yale University Press.  This book is the first major quotation book to emphasize modern and American sources, including popular culture, sports, technology, law, and politics, and the first quotation book of any sort to use state-of-the-art research methods to comprehensively collect famous quotations and to trace quotations to their accurate origins.  The research behind the YBQ enabled me to rewrite the histories of many of the most famous sayings.

Below is The Yale Book of Quotation's third annual list of the most notable quotations of the year. Please note that these are not necessarily eloquent or admirable quotations, rather they have been picked because they are important or they are particularly revealing of the spirit of our times.

  1. I can see Russia from my house!
    —Tina Fey satirizing Sarah Palin's comments on her foreign-policy credentials, NBC "Saturday Night Live" broadcast, Sept. 13, 2008

  2. All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.
    —Sarah Palin responding to Katie Couric's asking her to specifically name newspapers or magazines she reads, CBS News interview, Oct. 1, 2008

  3. We have sort of become a nation of whiners.
    —Phil Gramm on Americans concerned about the economy, quoted in Washington Times, July 10, 2008

  4. It's not based on any particular data point, we just wanted to choose a really large number.
    —Treasury spokeswoman explaining how the $700 billion number was chosen for the initial bailout, quoted on, Sept. 23, 2008

  5. The fundamentals of America's economy are strong.
    —John McCain, interview with Peter Cook on Bloomberg TV, Apr. 17, 2008

  6. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
    —Department of the Treasury's proposed Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, Sept. 2008

  7. Maybe 100.
    —John McCain on how many years U.S. troops could remain in Iraq, response at town hall meeting, Derry, N.H., Jan. 3, 2008

  8. I'll see you at the debates, bitches.
    —Paris Hilton, video responding to John McCain ad attacking Barack Obama as a celebrity, Aug. 2008

  9. Barack, he's talking down to black people. ... I want to cut his nuts off.
    —Jesse Jackson picked up on a hot microphone before a Fox News interview, July 6, 2008

  10. Anyone who says we're in a recession, or heading into one -- especially the worst one since the Great Depression -- is making up his own private definition of "recession."
    —Donald Luskin the day before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, "Quit Doling Out That Bad-Economy Line," Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2008

Fred R. Shapiro is the editor of the highly praised Yale Book of Quotations and a world-recognized authority on quotations and on reference in general. He edited the award-winning Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, and he was the principal investigator for a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for study of the applications of Internet resources for research into quotations and terminology.

What quotations do you think were most memorable this year? Let us know in the comments section!

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday December 24th 2008, 5:39 AM
Comment by: robert B.
While these are certainly memorable quotes, I'll bet Mr. Shapiro has another collection that express forward thinking, positive, useful ideas.
Wednesday December 24th 2008, 8:01 AM
Comment by: William C. (Columbia, MD)
Was “Oui, on peut!” included?
Wednesday December 24th 2008, 9:48 AM
Comment by: Pondswimmer (Ste Foy La Grande France)
"I saved the world" - Gordon Brown Dec 2008
Wednesday December 24th 2008, 10:41 AM
Comment by: Ben Zimmer (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus ContributorVisual Thesaurus Moderator
William: "Oui, on peut!", mais non. But if you'd like to hear me talk about "Yes we can!" and the Spanish precursor "Sí se puede!", check out this interview I did on Wisconsin Public Radio earlier this week about political and economic words of the year.
Wednesday December 24th 2008, 4:59 PM
Comment by: james S.
Did Mr. Obama say _anything_ ludicrous?
Friday December 26th 2008, 8:33 AM
Comment by: Bob O.
Mr. Shapiro, like many academics shows his political color. Come on there are other comments that deserve highler elevation than these!
If he's pluggged into the political scene why wouldn't he quote Joe Biden's many gaf's?
Friday December 26th 2008, 9:32 AM
Comment by: Fred S.
Yes, there were forward thinking, positive ideas expressed in 2008. Yes, Barack Obama, and especially Joe Biden, made gaffes during the year. For example, many people have expressed indignation that I didn't include Obama's statement about visiting 57 states (he said 57 when he clearly meant to say 47, not a major or particularly revealing gaffe, in my opinion). But what I was trying to do was to capture "game-changer" quotations that influenced events such as the outcome of the election. Since Obama and Biden won the election, no gaffe of theirs changed the outcome of the election. I expect that next year, with the Democrats presumably much more in the spotlight than the Republicans, Democratic gaffes will be more prominent.
Sunday January 18th 2009, 11:21 AM
Comment by: Mary Louise (PHOENIX, AZ)
I didn't expect to have to read left-wing propapganda (disguised as notable quotes with the Yale imprimatur. Disappointed.

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