Wikiquote:Quality and Quantity

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In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, the title character remarks on his love for Ophelia by saying that "forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum." The same logic can also apply to the selection of quotes on a Wikiquote page; the quantity of quotes on a page does not influence its quality, only the quality of the quotes themselves can.

Quality and quantity go hand in hand when making a page on Wikiquote. The subject of a page on Wikiquote should be inherently notable, the quotations on a page should also be sufficiently notable in relation to the page's subject and other factors, and pages should not contain too many quotes (for organizational reasons, or even legal reasons in some cases), so ensuring a balance between the quality and quantity of quotes on a page is crucial to a page's quality as a whole.

Quality of quotes[edit]

Quotes by or about individuals[edit]

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 quote original to the author to whom it is being attributed?
  5. 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 a mundane topic, does the author have particular expertise on that topic? If the quote is about another person, is that other person highly notable?
  6. Has the quote stood the test of time?
  7. Is the quote verifiably sourced?

Further discussion of these concepts is set forth below.

Factors of notability[edit]

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.

Additionally, quotes should only be attributed to the person or work which coined it. Many works use stock phrases such as "Let's get out of here!" (which appeared in print in William M. Bobo, Glimpses of New York City (1852), p. 191, and may have been used elsewhere before that). Such phrases are by their nature not original to later works, and therefore should not be included on the page for that work or its author, except when such a phrase as part of a larger section of dialogue for which inclusion of the phrase is necessary to display the context of the discussion.

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

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[edit]

In some instances a quote will come to far exceed the fame of the author, and will be widely repeated in secondary and tertiary sources. 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.

Originality of the quote[edit]

A quote should be attributed to the person who coined it. Many works use stock phrases such as, for instance, "Let's get out of here!" (which was reported at least as early as William M. Bobo, Glimpses of New York City (1852), p. 191; and may have been used elsewhere before that.)

Such phrases are by their nature not original to later works. Although such stock quotes may be included on a general page about a theme that they address, they should not be included on the page for a later work repeating the quote, or for the author of such a later work. Minor variations such as "let's get out of here, Joe", "let's get the heck out of here" or "let's get out of this place" are also not sufficiently original to include on such pages. There are two primary exceptions to this rule. The first is where the occurrence of such a phrase as part of a larger section of dialogue, for which inclusion of the phrase is necessary to display the entire context of the discussion. The second is where the quote has become so widely associated with a person or a work that it merits inclusion for the very purpose of explaining that its actual origination lies elsewhere.

Notability of the subject[edit]

A quote is more likely to be deemed quotable if it is 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.

With regards to quotes about people, notability of a person as the subject of quote can be even more difficult to quantify, but it is clear that a person may be notable as a subject, even if that person has said nothing quotable.

Recentism vs. the Test of Time[edit]

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 reported or repeated after over one-hundred years have passed will be presumed to be quotable.

Verifiability[edit]

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 (see Wikiquote:Sourcing).

The presence of a quote in a published collection of quotations is strong evidence of quotability, both as to the quote and as to the author of the quote. However, this is not necessarily adequate evidence of verifiability. Such collections occasionally misattribute quotes; in such instances, the quote may be listed as "misattributed" in the entry for the wrongly identified author (along with an explanation of why this is believed to be a misattribution, and an identification if possible of the correct author), and may also be listed in the entry of the actual author.

Quotes containing criticism of other people[edit]

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.

Quantity of quotes[edit]

Length[edit]

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 cultural or historical 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).

Whole scenes from movies or television shows, or large chunks of dialogue from them, are rarely quotable. While they may seem "exciting" or "readable," they are nonetheless not quotable, and really provide only a method for fans of the film to vicariously re-live watching it. When including dialogue from a film, it is often possible to take out one character's statement as a quote of its own; if this is possible, it is preferred. Often, if this isn't possible, the interchange lacks significant quotability. A pop-culture example of this is from Gone with the Wind:

Scarlett: No! I only know that I love you.
Rhett: That's your misfortune.
Scarlett: Oh, Rhett! Rhett! Rhett, Rhett! Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?
Rhett: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Of this scene, much dialogue could be included, but the only piece of it that has really entered the pop-culture lexicon is "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Dialogue only ought be included when the interchange is quotable, terse, and/or pithy on its own (as well as understandable):

For example, from The Matrix,
Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You've never used them before.
Morpheus's response is meaningful, sharp, understandable, and even beyond that, has some "philosophical" quotability. Its delivery necessitates the use of dialogue.

Plot revelations and other story-related statements are typically not quoteworthy for the general Wikiquote audience unless the words themselves mean something outside of the immediate context. Dialogue sections often stem from this: remember, we collect words that stand on their own, not just important plot points from stories. One exception to this is if some particular interchange in a film became exherently famous; thus, while it may not be quotable in the traditional sense, it is still significant (and therefore quotable, as it has been oft quoted). Such dialogue can come from frequent media usage, references in other sources, or even from a piece of material that is often parodied. An example of this is Kirk's exclamation "Khhhhaaaaaaaan!!!" from Star Trek:The Wrath of Khan. While not quotable by any traditional standards, the exclamation has entered the pop-culture lexicon as a frequently alluded to and oft-parodied "quote."

Page length and number of quotes[edit]

A page shouldn't have too many quotes; the only reason a page should have too many quotes is because the majority of them are unremarkable. The number of quotes on a page for a work be dependent on its length and medium: the average half-hour television episode should only have 2-4 quotes, while a two hour film should only have 10-14 notable quotes. However, these are only maximums; as always, only quotes that are considered notable per the aforementioned guidelines should be used.

Legal considerations[edit]

The length and number of quotes on a page may also be influenced by legal considerations, particularly those involving copyright and the fair use doctrine. Fair use could be claimed for pages containing quotes from copyrighted works, since Wikiquote is a non-profit entity, it is not copying a substantial portion of the work, and curating excerpts from the work using a set of guidelines is a form of criticism and commentary.

The U.S. case Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group ruled that an unofficial trivia book on the TV series Seinfeld, which incorporated 643 fragments (including quotes and expressions of the writers' work on the show's content) from 84 half-hour episodes was deemed too substantial to be considered fair use in this particular case because it wasn't a critique or parody of the show. Nonetheless, the community attempted to use the case (despite Wikiquote being a non-profit who is "critiquing" these quotations through the curation process) as consensus to impose strict limits on the number of quotations for these works. These included specific cases restricting films to 5 quotations per hour in length, television programs to 2 quotations for a half hour and 5 for a full hour, and only 3 quotations for video games, irregardless of length or amount of dialogue.

If a page follows the aforementioned guidelines for determining whether a quote is notable enough for inclusion, it should not have to reach a state with possible legal issues.

Of course, if a work is in the public domain, there should not be any legal issues in having a page containing a substantial number of quotations, leaving the factors of quality as the only concern.

See also[edit]