Killer Quotes

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Quotations are likable, nay lovable for many reasons, not the least of which is the vainglorious experience of having someone quote something that you said or wrote.

Gentlemen, start your egos. – Billy Crystal

On the other hand, it’s somewhat humbling to note that people who are routinely and widely quoted are so phenomenally rare that we often honor them with various prizes—Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, Emmy, etc. Personally, I have yet to fly to that particular stratosphere, although I can certainly see the appeal of an award for professional excellence, especially those that come with a large check.


Forget the stratosphere. Let’s start with the basics:

Quotation def. text or speech repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.

Dreadfully dull!

Such formal definitions completely fail to capture the real essence of a quotation, which may be entirely dependent on where a quotation is used.

In Academia
In academia, a quotation is serious business and must be carefully cited with appropriate references. Citation is defined as crap at the bottom of the page that no one reads and even fewer people bother to verify.

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality. – Beatrix Potter

In Journalism
In journalism, a quotation is a string of words that can be taken completely out of context in order to appear titillating to the news consumer. The goal, of course, is to make a parking lot fender-bender appear to be the Holocaust.

One of the reporters must have flunked journalism school because he asked a question that went straight to the point. – P. J. O’Rourke

In Politics
The voters in nearly all democracies have elected some of the least impressive people on the planet. In most cases, politicians quote great men and women from history because they are incapable of personally doing anything of substance, or of hiring speech writers who cherish original thought.

Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening. – Bill Clinton

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"In Folklore (AKA Pearls of Wisdom)
Every generation thinks itself wiser than its predecessors. Frankly, that’s arguable. However, it is fair to say that every generation produces insightful individuals who offer us unique insights into nearly every aspect of life. Such pearls of wisdom are traditionally passed down generation to generation, and may become lost or evolve over time as they are mixed in with adages, platitudes, clichés, and things our parents said when we weren’t really listening.

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. – Dave Barry

What is the ideal quotation?
The ideal marketing position for any product is to have the brand name become synonymous with the product. For example, asking for a Kleenex™ (brand name) is understood by everyone to mean ‘Hand me a tissue.’

Killer quotations deservedly have that same type of identification with readers. Some become so widely known and accepted that they are repeated for generations, or become entrenched in our language. Consider a few examples:

• Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
• 1984 (George Orwell)

• What light through yon window… (Shakespeare)
• I’ll be back. (Terminator, 1984)
• Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. (Groucho Marx)
• I think therefore I am. (René Descartes)
• Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn! (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

Many writers needlessly shy away from quotations. If a quotation works well, improving the reader’s experience, use it. If it also produces a laugh, use it with relish.

Regarding your original work, it should be noted that there is no secret sauce to guarantee a particular line will impact the public consciousness and become widely quoted. Just as no joke will make the whole world laugh, trying to write a line guaranteed to become a viral quote is a waste of time. Write a great joke instead. Write a great article, book or script. If you’re very, very lucky, people will quote you for generations.

Parting Funny: If Adam and Eve can’t make it work in Paradise, how am I going to make it work in Lewisham?Sara Pascoe

Check out some of my favorite funny quotes by great writers: TidBITS!

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