Behind the Dictionary

Lexicographers Talk About Language

Quotable Moments of '09

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 quotation dictionary. Below, find out what he thinks are the top ten quotations of 2009.

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, children's literature, sports, technology, politics, law, and the social sciences, 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.  Since the YBQ was published, I have continued to make significant discoveries about important quotations, aided by talented people throughout the world who contact me with information they have found using techniques similar to those I employ, including searching of online resources such as Google Books, Newspaperarchive, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

One way in which I have supplemented my book is an annual list of the most notable quotations of the year, which has received widespread publicity through wire services, print newspapers, and broadcast media.  I present below the fourth such list, covering the year 2009.  Please note that these are not necessarily eloquent or admirable quotations, rather they have been picked because they are famous or they are important or they are particularly revealing of the spirit of our times.

  1. Keep your government hands off my Medicare.
    —Speaker at health care reform town hall meeting in Simpsonville, S.C., Comment on the government-created Medicare program, Quoted by Washington Post, July 28, 2009

  2. We're going to be in the Hudson.
    —Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, response to controllers asking which runway he preferred to land US Airways Flight 1549, Jan. 15, 2009

  3. There's an app for that.
    —Apple's advertising slogan for iPhone

  4. You lie!
    —Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted retort to President Obama's address before joint session of Congress, Sept. 9, 2009

  5. The Cambridge police acted stupidly.
    —Barack Obama, comment on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s arrest in Cambridge, Mass., news conference, July 22, 2009

  6. Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!  One of the best videos of all time!
    —Kanye West, comments interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at MTV Video Music Awards, Sept. 13, 2009

  7. Um, you guys said that we, um, did this for the show.
    —Falcon Henne, CNN Wolf Blitzer interview about Henne's parents' balloon hoax, Oct. 15, 2009

  8. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel."
    —Sarah Palin, posting on her Facebook page, Aug. 7, 2009

  9. The governor is hiking the Appalachian Trail.
    —Spokesman for Mark Sanford of South Carolina, statement about Sanford's disappearance, June 22, 2009

  10. You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.
    —Jesse Ventura, CNN Larry King Live interview, May 11, 2009

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!

Click here to read more articles from Behind the Dictionary.

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"Death panel" was one of the potent phrases shaping the debate over health care.
Quotable Moments of '08
Fred Shapiro selects the top quotations of 2008.
May I Quote You?
Shapiro talks about what makes a notable quote, and why we're so fascinated by quotability.