Saturday, November 16, 2013

Quotation or statement

I may be a descriptivist when it comes to language use, but that does not mean there aren't features of how people use language that I find annoying—that is, I have my peeves, too. The difference between me and a prescriptivist is that I'll give up my peeves if I notice that people are actually using words in a way that seems odd to me (as in my pondering the contemporary use of "geek", where I don't say that people are using the word incorrectly, but just that I don't quite get how they are using it).

So one pet peeve of mine is how people use the word "quotation." For example, a student writing about Hitchcock's "Rear Window" just began a sentence by referring to "Jeff's quotation about how 'sometimes it's worse to stay than it is to run' ..." My peeve is that the student is quoting not "Jeff's quotation" but "Jeff's statement". That is, Jeff is not quoting anything when he says that; he's saying something in his own words.

Similarly, I see things like this, in a discussion of Einstein's comment about God not playing dice: "Einstein's quotation was meant to convey his belief that the universe was not randomly designed." Again, Einstein was not quoting anyone, so it seems odd to me to refer to his remark as his quotation.

So that's my pet peeve, but when I'm grading a student's paper that uses "quotation" where I would prefer "statement," "comment," or "remark," I don't correct it, because it's my impression that that is how the word "quotation" is being used these days.

Perhaps I'll get a comment or two now telling me I should mark it as a mistake, but I'm really just wondering if others have the same peeve about this use of "quotation" or not. The usage is surely common enough that it is completely innocuous to many people.


Anonymous said...

You're a more generous teacher than I am, Gunga Din! "Quotation" used as in your examples is flat out wrong and ought to be squashed, not because it bugs us but because it makes no sense. I have to admit, though, that it's a usage none of my students have come up with yet....

Andrew Shields said...

It's a pervasive usage on the internet; I see it all the time. But I should add that my students are almost all non-native speakers, and I am more interested in correcting clear grammatical mistakes than in pestering them about subtleties of English usage that many native speakers do not consider worth worrying about.

By "clear grammatical mistakes," I mean things like this: "I have been in New York three years ago" or "I am in Basel since three years." (Though most of my students get beyond such straightforward Germanisms eventually.)

Jonathan said...

But once he quotes it it becomes a quotation for you, as the professor grading it.

Andrew Shields said...

But if it's a quotation from my perspective, it's still not "my" quotation or Jeff's quotation: it's the student's quotation of Jeff.

So what I hear in "quotation" has something to do with the act of quoting itself.

Donald Brown said...

As non-native speakers they can be forgiven for not knowing that a quotation is words borrowed by another, requiring the metaposition of taking words from one context and putting them in another (the paper) but not the actual statements in the film itself. They are simply confusing the quotation they are making with its content (it becomes "a quotation" to them no matter who says it). It seems to me you should let them know it's an incorrect usage and makes them sound a bit sloppy, if nothing else. If you see this error among native speakers you might be able to say "usage has changed" but I still would say "the kids don't know what they're saying." Now, I know an English professor who is still offended by the fact (and still corrects the usage) that students use "quote" when they mean "quotation" ("this quote from Shelley establishes..."), but I think he's fighting a losing battle on that one. "Quote" as short for "quotation" has been around for far too long, and is used in much "informal" writing (like newspapers).

Andrew Shields said...

"Quote" for "quotation" has been around since the 19th century, according to the OED. But the two examples from the 19th century are somewhat "at a slant," if you will: one is in quotation marks, and the other is in the expression "quote marks."

The first unambiguous example is from a 1922 letter from T.S. Eliot to Ezra Pound, referring to a "Conrad quote." :-)

There's more to say about quotations, but I think I won't say more unless I decide to put some real research into it with corpora!