Quotes:Quotability

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The following is an incomplete draft policy being prepared for formal proposal. Please direct any discussion of the content of this proposal to the talk page.

The standard for determining whether material should be included in WikiQuote is quotability. There are two levels of quotability to consider:

  1. Is the subject of a proposed article "quotable" enough to merit an article?
  2. Is a particular quote "quotable" enough to merit inclusion in an article?

Quotes by or about individuals

The tests set forth below are directed only towards the propriety of including entries on actual persons, and including quotes that are by (or about) such persons. They are not intended to address the quotability of novels, films, or television shows, for which other criteria apply.

There is no absolute test for the inclusion of either an article on a person, or a specific quote by that person; however, there are a number of factors to be weighed in determining whether either deserves a place in this compendium. These include:

  1. Is the quote itself particularly witty, pithy, wise, eloquent, or poignant?
  2. Is the author of the quote notable? If so, are they very notable, moderately notable, barely notable? Are they notable as a source of quotes (i.e., as a poet, pundit, or Yogi Berra)?
  3. Is the quote itself independently well known (as with proverbs and certain well-reported comments)?
  4. Is the subject of the quote a notable subject? Is it about a broad theme of the human experience such as Love, Justice, or Loneliness? Or is it about a narrow or mundane topic, like porcupines, lunch meat, or that new car smell? If the quote is about another person, is that other person highly notable?
  5. Has the quote stood the test of time?
  6. Is the quote verifiably sourced?

Further discussion of these concepts is set forth below.

The Quality of the Quote

It may be a very difficult and very subjective determination to say that one quote is "quotable" while another is not.

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously wrote:

Prose is words in their best order;
Poetry is the best words in their best order.

Where the author is highly notable, the inclusion of less literate statements by that author may be justified. Where the speaker is of little notability, we seek the witty, the pithy, the wise, the eloquent, and the poignant expressions. How a quote is weighed under this factor is a very subjective decision, which may be determined by consensus of the community.

For a quote from a poem or other literature, the key is whether the exact words are notable. However, when quoting a scientist the notability of the underlying meaning may suffice even if the exact words the scientist used are not well known, for example Isaac Newton's statement of the laws of motion, Johannes Kepler's statement of the laws of planetary motions, or Albert Einstein's discussion of the Theory of Relativity.

Length of the quote

A quote must be long enough to convey some kind of information or sentiment, but not so long as to become a wear on the reader. Typically, the most quotable quotes are one line or two short lines. In rare cases, just a few words may become immortalized as a memorable quote: "Cogito ergo sum"; "Veni, vidi, vici"; "E=Mc2"; "Et tu, Brute?"; "Eat my shorts". It is exceedingly difficult to find quotes of less than five words in English that convey sufficient information to merit inclusion, and most such quotes will be deleted unless they can be shown to have particular significance.

Excessively long quotes should be carefully examined to determine whether all of the material reproduced is really needed. An example of a lengthy quote which merits full inclusion would be Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which is 272 words. Quotes longer than that begin to approach the length of speeches, which are better suited for inclusion in Wikisource (with only key excerpts included in Wikiquote).

Notability is necessary, but not sufficient, for an article on a person

The fact that a person meets the notability requirements for inclusion of an article on that person in Wikipedia does not mean that this person is quotable. A person may in fact be highly notable for reasons unrelated to authorship of quotes, and yet never say a single thing worth quoting. An individual's notability will be weighed more heavily if they are notable as a source of quotes. For example, a famous poet or pundit is more likely to be quotable than a famous baseball player - unless that baseball player is someone like Yogi Berra, known for memorable comments.

Notability of the author is not required for a quote to be included in an article on a theme. It is the quote itself that must be notable. Thus, a particularly poignant or witty quote may be included even if the identity of the author is unknown. However, there are some circumstances under which an otherwise uninteresting quote becomes interesting because of the identity of the author. For example, if your neighborhood greengrocer (or even if a well-known movie star) says "golf is the most boring sport to watch, I don't know why they even put it on TV", there is nothing particularly quotable about that opinion. However, if the same comment were made by a world-famous competitive golfer, who frequently appeared in televised golf games, this quote would suddenly take on a different significance.

Individual notability of the author is required for a quote about another person to be included in an article on that other person. This is discussed further below.

Fame of the quote

In some instances, a quote will come to far exceed the fame of the author. The news may pick up a stray comment that is amusing or interesting in context, and inject it into the public mind. Quotes with pithily express everyday realities (e.g. "A fool and his money are soon parted"; "Measure twice, cut once"; "He who laughs last, laughs best") may become proverbs, sayings, or aphorisms. An author may be notable as the originator of such sayings, but more frequently they arise from sources now unknown, and may be included in articles on proverbs, or on the themes reflected in the quote.

A famous quote that is generally accepted as originating from an otherwise little-known person may justify the existence of an article on that person. However, in order to insure that the quote itself is sufficiently famous for this purpose, it will be scrutinized heavily with respect to having withstood the test of time, as discussed below.

Notability of the subject

A quote is more likely to be deemed notable if it about a notable subject. Certain subjects, such as Love and Birth, are universally known, and are the topic of frequent comment. Quotes on a less notable subject may still merit inclusion, but they must be shown to have a stronger case for inclusion based on factors such as the notability of the speaker and the quality of the quote itself. See, for example, quotes included in Hippopotamus.

Recentism vs. the Test of Time

The older a quote is, the more likely it is that the quote has the characteristics that maintain the relevance of that quote in the public mind over the course of many generations. When evaluating the quotability of a quote, there must be a good case for believing that this quote will be of interest to people living ten, a hundred, perhaps even a thousand years from now.

Therefore, the more recent the creation of a quote, the less likely that it is quotable. As a guideline, any quote made within the past ten years will be scrutinized under the presumption that it is not inherently quotable. This presumption may be overcome if the other factors set forth on this page weigh heavily in favor of quotability; for example, if the author of the quote is highly notable, or if the quote received extensive coverage or has itself been adopted and repeated by other notable persons.

By contrast, a quote that continues to be repeated after over one-hundred years have passed will be presumed to be quotable.

Verifiability

Anyone can attribute a quote to a notable person. In order for the matter to be quotable, it must be demonstrable that the person cited as the author of the quote is indeed the author; or at least that some independent and unbiased source attributes the quote to that author.

The presence of a quote in a collection of quotations is strong evidence of quotability, both as to the quote and as to the author of the quote. Such collections occasionally misattribute quotes; in such instances, the quote may be listed as "misattributed" at the entry for the wrongly identified author, and may also be listed in the entry of the actual author.

Quotes containing criticism of other people

There are certainly notable quotes in which one person criticizes another. However, because of the potential for abuse of this project, such quotes receive high scrutiny. For a critical quote to be included, the following conditions must be considered:

  1. Is the author of the quote a highly notable person?
  2. Is the subject of the quote a highly notable person?
  3. Was the quote made less than ten years ago?
  4. Are either the author or the subject deceased?
  5. Is the quote itself particularly novel and original?
  6. Is the quote itself unusually pithy, witty, wise, eloquent, or poignant?
  7. Is the quote verifiably sourced?

These factors are weighed in concert. A criticism recently attributed to a living person of minor notability against another living person of minor notability will not be included.

If a critical quote which goes against the weight of the above criteria is inserted into an article, it may be removed with reference to this page.


Quotes from specific forms of media

Different forms of media require different assessments in determining quotability of a work. In every case where the work in question has not been established as being in the public domain, it is important to be wary of copyright infringement (see Quotes:Copyrights).

Films

Films released in theaters are generally written (or adapted from previous works) by professional screenwriters. They are expected to have a certain amount of memorable dialogue, and it might therefore be reasonable to expect that a substantial percentage of all movies ever made should have a Wikiquote entry. However, some standards must be applied to limit those films that are both utterly lacking in notability within the film world, and which offer nothing original or clever in their content. For films based on plays or novels, many of the most memorable lines may come from the original work and should be attributed accordingly.


TV shows

Although TV shows are also generally written by professional screenwriters, they tend to have a different aim than writers of films. Because of the low production costs, and the over-riding interest in selling commercial time, TV shows tend to create a great deal of filler of no particular importance. This, combined with the magnitude of material that has been written for television, requires that a high bar be set for the inclusion of any material from a TV show. Non-commercial broadcasters such as the British Broadcasting Corporation may have higher standards than others.


Plays

Plays which are actually produced and performed, much like theatrically released films, may be expected to contain a certain amount of memorable dialogue. Most plays which have been professionally produced are therefore likely to merit a Wikiquote entry.


Books


Comic books