The greatest words Churchill never uttered

During World War II, when it was suggested that funding for the arts should be cut, Winston Churchill had other ideas.

“What are we fighting for then?”

The words say so much about the importance of the arts in our society, and in the value in knowing what you are fighting for.

But unfortunately, Churchill never uttered them. He might have said something similar, and, if you tried, you could see that he meant something like the quote, but you’ll have to squint.

In 1941 when the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was first published, it all seemed much simpler. At the time, it was taken for granted that a quotation was a familiar line from a great poet or a famous figure in history, and the source could easily be found in standard literary works or history books.

In the era of fake news and alternative facts, it is increasingly hard to know what to believe, particularly when misquotes can spread at the speed that social media and 24-hour news sources allow.

In addition, it can be difficult to question the accuracy of a particular quote when we really, really want it to have been what our heroes said; it is comforting and reassuring to know that individuals of power and prestige have expressed opinions that align with our own, and one well-expressed line can have more impact than any scholarly essay or detailed speech. And so, we republish their words on our own social media accounts and blogs, validating our own beliefs and interests.

I was thrilled and moved when I heard that CS Lewis had said,

“We read to know that we’re not alone”,

Here was the great writer, putting into words something I had always felt, but never articulated. I felt a sense of kinship with the great CS Lewis. I understood him, and somehow, he understood me. We both held books as providing a kind of comfort and companionship.

However, kindred spirits we were not. It turned out the words had not a flash of truth and brilliance conceived by CS Lewis, but the line was actually given to his character in the film Shadowlands, and so the credit for it should really be given to the screenwriter William Nicholson.

It is not hard to see how these misquotes can take hold, as unfortunately, sometimes the misquote is mightier than the more accurate version.

In the case of Churchill’s quote, he did speak in support of the arts at more length than the more famous misquote, including saying,

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them. The country possesses in the Royal Academy an institution of wealth and power for the purpose of encouraging the arts of painting and sculpture…”

And so, the powerful and succinct  misquotes are spread far and wide across the digital sphere, becoming synonymous with those who never uttered those particular words. Here, they are used to support argument and debate, strengthening a viewpoint with the weight of the words of a historical statesman.

However, while the internet might make it easier for misquotes (as well as other types of misinformation) to spread, through retweets, shares and even publication by fast-moving, 24-hour news services, technology has not had an entirely detrimental impact on the reliability of quotations. In some ways, it has made direct quotes much easier to source.

Words that might have seemed impossible coming from a US President are easy to trace to their origin through Twitter. While in the past, political leaders might have claimed they never said such a thing, criticising the height and girth of another world leader, the evidence is conclusive. And when phones can be used to record the words of public figures, and celebrities, the evidence is irrefutable.

An individual’s words can tell a powerful story about who they are and what they believe. They can help us form our own opinions, reinforcing prejudices or opening minds. But before we gleefully proclaim our favourite past prime minister made a critical point about the arts for us decades ago, it is useful to check the sources. Those words might be convincing, eloquent and erudite, but the might not have been his at all.

By Fleur Morrison, Marketing and Communications Advisor, OUP Australia

The Little Oxford Gift Box

A Christmas favourite, The Little Oxford Gift Box features the popular Little Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs and Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Kwaussie in conversation

The Australian Word of the Year 2017 has attracted plenty of attention, from those who are celebrating the merging of the Kiwi and the Aussie, to those who are surprised by its selection.

Kwaussie, defined as a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent, was selected by the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University from a shortlist of words that reflect the  significant events of 2017 that shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year.

However, if you want to know more about the word and its origins, here is Australian National Dictionary Centre Director Amanda Laugesen speaking on the ABC today.

ABC Hobart (Mornings with Leon Compton)

ABC Radio National (with Fran Kelly)

ABC Radio Canberra (with Dan  Bourchier)

Have your say on whether Kwaussie is the best choice for Australia’s Word of the Year.

 

Australian Word of the Year 2017: Kwaussie

Kwassie has been named Australian Word of the Year 2017!

Kwaussie: ‘a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent’.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre, based at The Australian National University, selected Kwaussie, a blend of Kiwi and Aussie, as the most interesting term associated with the dual citizenship crisis engulfing the Australian Parliament in 2017.

It was used to describe the most high-profile casualty of the crisis, Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. He revealed to parliament in August that, despite being born and bred in country New South Wales, he was also a New Zealander by descent. The first evidence is found in a 2002 New Zealand newspaper article discussing Russell Crowe: he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie’).

Subsequent evidence suggests its use is predominantly Australian, and is found chiefly in social media (and also found with spelling variants including kwozzie and kwozzy). Thanks to the two kwaussies identified as ineligible to sit in parliament, Barnaby Joyce and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, the term is now becoming better known.

Kwaussie was chosen from a shortlist which included makarrata, jumper punch, postal survey, robodebt and WAXit.

The 2017 Word of the Year  shortlisted words are selected by the editorial staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who with Oxford University Press publishes the Australian National Dictionary of words and phrases unique to Australia.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre undertakes research into Australian English in partnership with Oxford University Press, and edits Australian dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

The Word of the Year is based on extensive research as well as public suggestions. Vote for your 2017 Australian Word of the Year:

 

View the previous Words of the Year on the ANDC blog page:

2016 – democracy sausage
2015 – sharing economy

2014 – shirtfront
2013 – bitcoin
2012 – green-on-blue

Oxford Word of the Month: December – John Farnham

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noun: used allusively of a comeback or reappearance, especially after a final performance or retirement.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

John Farnham (‘Johnny’ in his early days) is a hugely successful Australian contemporary pop singer. His professional career spans fifty years from the 1960s until the present, and his 1986 album Whispering Jack remains the highest-selling album in Australia. With ‘The Last Time’ tour (2002–2003) he announced his intention to stop touring nationally, but he has made several comeback tours since then. Indeed, his love of touring has made his name a byword for an inability to remain in retirement:

She said she wouldn’t but Suzi Quatro has done a John Farnham, booking an encore tour two years after her farewell tour of Australia. The leather-clad legend … gets the joke when asked if she was ‘doing a Farnsie’. (Townsville Bulletin, 28 September 2016)

The Farnham habit is not restricted to the music business:

Some call it persistence and tenacity. My daughter describes it as a Johnny Farnham comeback. I call it standing up and fighting for what you believe in, and not allowing the bastards to grind you down. (Pauline Hanson on her return to political life, maiden speech to the Senate, 14 September 2016)

And there are a number of variations on the theme. You can find evidence for do a Farnham, pull a Farnham, chuck a Farnsie, and have more comebacks (or farewells) than John Farnham. The Johnny Farnham comeback tour is the name of a cycle ride on a social network site for athletes (Strava, 23 April 2017), and the phrase was also used to describe a Question Time tactic in the Australian parliament:

By yesterday, awkward segues to Dastyari were looking a little tired; today they felt like a John Farnham comeback tour. (The Monthly, 14 September 2016)

The use of Farnham’s name in this way harks back to another Australian singer renowned for comebacks: Dame Nellie Melba, the world-famous operatic soprano. She staged a number of ‘farewell’ concerts in the 1920s, with her last in 1930, the year before she died. Her name lives on in phrases that date from the 1940s and are still in use today: to do a Melba and more farewells than Melba. However, in the comeback context, John Farnham is now giving Dame Nellie a run for her money.

The allusive use of John Farnham and variants on the name will be considered for future inclusion in the Australian National Dictionary.

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