Why We Love a Good Quote
June 19 2015

Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “[Life] is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Here’s another one: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot

Oh, and I love this one, too: “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Coco Chanel

I could do this all day, and I bet you could too. 

Quotes are one of the top categories searched on Google. Six hundred and sixty-six million results are returned with just the single word, “quotes”. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, but then, that’s a quote for you. Word for word, a quote gives maximum impact.

Quotes are a mainstay of the Oxford Exchange, as anyone who has visited can attest. Into our restaurant checks (given in small vintage books) go bookmarks bearing inspirational, thought-stimulating quotes from some of history’s most quotable sources: Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt, and more. 

The long, thin cards are meant to mark one’s place while reading (yes, they are given out in the bookstore, too), and reflect our passion for literature. But their prime purpose is to carry a quote that will make a difference in the day, if not in the life, of the recipient. 

Why do we, as a society, love quotes so much? Quotes distill in a compact, digestible form, deep truths about life vast enough to fill entire books. Quotes hit you squarely with their rightness, articulating a thought or feeling that had eluded capture until the quote lassoed it and anchored it to earth. Many quotes are easily memorized, and allow the quote-lover to repeat them in conversation, or in speeches, cards, in triumph or defeat. Quotes make a point like no other form of dialogue. In fact, dialogue often creates quotes. “Make my day,” anyone? Special occasions beg for quotes, serving as a philosophical flourish to trumpet the significance of the moment. (“The doer alone learneth,” Freiderich Nietzsche. Happy Graduation!)

I take it as greatly encouraging that quotes are prized so highly by Internet trawlers. In our short-attention-span culture, quotes have become ever more important, as they stand in for the long hours of reading we used to do. To me, it signals that the ideas behind great art, emotional encounters with history, the gravity of civic responsibility, and the changing tides of fortune, are as profound as ever, and not lost on the human psyche. 

We seek understanding of our experiences, and quotes, by means of their economy, actually produce illumination faster, and with greater accuracy, than lengthy texts. We know it when we hear it: This is it! Yes, we say, exactly! Just as often we say, I never saw it that way. Now, I see more clearly. 

Clarity, concision, and connection are the gifts of quotes. They can also be wonderfully witty, and, as we know, brevity is the soul of wit. That’s also one of my favorite quotes. So is this one by Grouch Marx: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” 

Before we go, I’ll share with you my favorite short quote. It’s the shortest of the short, but it expresses what life is really all about in my bookmarked book. In two words it sums up what we are here to do, what this blog is here to do, what the Oxford Exchange is here to do, and it comes from English novelist and quote-master, E.M. Forster: “Only connect!” Just don’t forget the quotation marks. Between those four little marks lies the entire universe.

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