June 17th, 2013

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The Canon of Quotability

Chasing up the source for a quotation just now I came to the OED's page of sources, listed in order of citation frequency. It makes for quite interesting reading. The top three places are taken by The Times (38,816 citations), William Shakespeare (33,144) and Walter Scott (17,029). After that it tails off slowly, with Dickens, at number 15, being cited 9,250 times, and Ruskin, at 100, a mere 3,232.

About half the sources are named authors, with the rest being made up of periodicals and anonymous works. Now, here's a quiz. Who do you think the highest ranking named female author is, and what is her rank?

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"But where's the Bible in all this?" you may be asking. Good question. It doesn't do as well as you might think, because the OED treats each translation as a separate work. Wycliffe's is highest ranked at 19, with the Authorized Version (to my surprise) languishing at 57.