Research Methods


Shipps, Anthony W. The Quote Sleuth: A Manual for the Tracer of Lost Quotations. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1990. 194 pp. PN6081.S44 080′.72.

A guide to tracing unidentified, misidentified, modified, or mistranscribed quotations. Advice on techniques alternates with evaluations of and hints on using standard resources in chapters treating general dictionaries of quotations; subject and special category quotation books; single-author quotation books; English-language dictionaries; concordances and word indexes to English and American literary works; indexes to first lines, last lines, opening words, and keywords; clues to authorship within quotations; and classical and foreign quotations. Concludes with axioms of a quote sleuth, a brief section on journals that print queries on untraced quotations, and an extensive, evaluatively annotated bibliography whose organization follows chapter divisions. Indexed by persons and subjects. Embodying the experience of the foremost practitioner of the craft, Quote Sleuth is the indispensable guide for anyone needing to identify or verify a quotation.



Bartlett, John. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. Ed. Geoffrey O’Brien. 18th ed. New York: Little, 2012. 1,438 pp. PN6081.B27 808.88′2.

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: Expanded Multimedia Edition. Ed. Thomas Hine. Multimedia ed. Boston: Little, 1993. CD-ROM.

A collection of some 22,000 quotations chosen for their familiarity “as well as for their literary power, intellectual and historical significance, originality, and timeliness” from literary works, sacred writings, media, and other sources (written and verbal) throughout the world. The approximately 2,550 authors or sources are listed by date of birth, publication, or initial broadcast (ranging from c. 2600 BC, for the author of “Song of the Harper,” to 2011); anonymous works follow the author list. Under each author, passages are organized by publication date; sources are identified by act, scene, line, stanza, or chapter whenever possible. Footnotes occasionally provide the original text for a translation, identify the translator, explain the context, or cite related quotations. Indexed by authors and titles of anonymous works at the front, by keywords (with context) at the back. The multimedia edition adds audio, video, and still-photo “quotations” (e.g., the smiley face, the peace symbol, the William Tell Overture, and a video clip of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech). Long a standard source, this is the fullest, most accurate, representative, and thoroughly indexed dictionary of quotations. The 16th edition (1992; 1,405 pp.) broadened the cultural base of the work and was less hesitant than its predecessors to admit profanities and unpleasant topics; the 18th edition expands international coverage. Because passages are dropped, earlier editions remain useful; as O’Brien aptly observes, Bartlett’s “has always been, and will remain, a work in progress.” For the genesis and publishing history (through the 16th ed.) of Familiar Quotations (along with a selective bibliography of studies and reviews), see Kerry L. Cochrane, “‘The Most Famous Book of Its Kind’: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” Distinguished Classics of Reference Publishing, ed. James Rettig (Phoenix: Oryx, 1992) 9–17; on the various electronic versions, see Joseph Yue, “How Familiar Is It Any More? Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations Goes Digital,” Reference and User Services Quarterly 42.1 (2002): 26–29. Review: (18th ed.) Fred R. Shapiro, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 1 Feb. 2013: 7–8.

An essential complement to Bartlett, which retains an American emphasis, is The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, ed. Elizabeth Knowles, 7th ed. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009; 1,155 pp.; the 6th ed. [2004; 1,140 pp.] is online through Oxford Reference [I530]). The Oxford Dictionary is more current, more thorough in covering literary works and women writers, and cites some passages in their original languages (with English translations). Because each new edition is extensively revised, earlier editions (especially the second [1953; 1,003 pp.]) remain important sources; for an overview of the changes in each edition, see “History of the Dictionary” in the 7th edition. Review: (4th ed.) E. S. Turner, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 11 Dec. 1992: 7–8.

Most reference collections stock an array of other general and specialized dictionaries of quotations. For convenient lists, see Guide to Reference (B60); New Walford Guide to Reference Resources (B65); the bibliography (pp. 122–85) in Shipps, Quote Sleuth (U6310); and Patricia McColl Bee and Walter Schneider, Quotation Location: A Quotation Seeker’s Source Guide (Ottawa: Canadian Lib. Assn., 1990; 73 pp.), with valuable evaluations and descriptions of differences between editions of the more popular dictionaries. If none of these yields the source, consult one or more of the following:

  1. a concordance to the Bible (King James version) or Shakespeare, the two most frequently quoted sources

  2. historical dictionaries—such as Oxford English Dictionary (M1410), Dictionary of American English (Q3355), Dictionary of Americanisms (Q3360), or Webster’s Third (Q3365)—that cite illustrative quotations

  3. first-line indexes to poems such as Columbia Granger’s Index to Poetry (L1235)

  4. dictionaries of proverbs (see section U: Literature-Related Topics and Sources/Folklore and Literature/Genres/Proverb/Dictionaries)

  5. a Web search engine (use the advanced search screen and search for an exact phrase)

  6. digital archives, such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online (M2238) and Early American Imprints (Q4005 and Q4125)

If these fail, send a query to the journal Notes and Queries.

See also

Dictionary of Australian Quotations (R4455).

Hamilton and Shields, Dictionary of Canadian Quotations and Phrases (R4575).