Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quotation marks don't make it so

Conservative clackers are throwing around a quote and attributing it to Nancy Pelosi.

You don't need [G-d] anymore, you have us democrats.

A Google™ search for the full string of the quote brings up a few pages of results. The quote looks like it made the rounds in a list of quotations by "great orators" in politics. The joke sneers at the current democratic leaders by comparing them to the historical giants: Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman and Kennedy. The new classics are in there. Bill Clinton's question about the definition of is. Barack Obama's 57 states. All the proof some people need that today's political party is made of fools.

The Pelosi quote is acting quite young. And perhaps apocryphal. All of the sources below attribute the quote along with the extra information said back in 2006 after Pelosi's name. Several include it in parentheses. This has cut-and-paste all over it.

The is the type of faithfulness that occurs when a line is sent around to a lot of people, probably in a forwarded email from your aunt. All your conservative cousins like the list, and nobody bothers to type it out, so the contents don't shift in transit.

A commenter here has done a little massaging of the line, writing that Pelosi said 'You don't need [G-d]; we're going to take care of you.'

Here in a February 24 2009 post.

Here in a February 10 2009 comment.

Here in a December 30 2008 post.

Here in a November 13 2008 comment.

Here in an October 29 2008 comment.

Here in an October 22 2008 post.

Here in a Sept 10 2008 forum post.

Here in an October 10 2007 forum post.

The October 2007 post looks like an early appearance but it seems an unlikely original source. It's also not an identical result. The line ends with "you have the Democrats" and no year is given.

This Free Republic post by Kimmers indeed claims an email as the source. An interesting detail: one commenter notes that the Pelosi quote is unfamiliar.

A little searching for the favored title of the piece and we find the history of these drafts:

This March 18 2004 post by David Flanagan is titled Great Orators of the Democratic Party and it starts off with the four quotes from Jackson FDR Truman and JFK. The current fool in 2004 was Kerry.

Four months later in this post Evilwhiteguy throws in a new Kerry quote.

By 2005 in this post Learning Richard has moved on to Howard Dean.

A search for <"great orators" democratic party> shows that this goes back a while. And it looks like Pelosi was thrown in sometime last year. At least in the online versions. Well that would make sense if she said it in 2006.

So I'm still looking for the source of the attribution, but I have found so little evidence of its veracity that I'll go out on a limb and guess that it's a complete fake. Even with a wider net we get very few hits. Just the first half of the quote alongside the search term 'pelosi' brings up only a handful of pages.*

It's also a good idea to check the Google™ News results. The full string search yields not a single hit. The first half of the line: nothing. the first half without quotes alongside the name Pelosi: 35 unrelated results.

This precious little nugget of mockable wisdom looks to be the product of some snide alchemy.

*Initial results promise 700+ hits, but that estimate gets whittled down quickly.


  1. That's some good sleuthing, Gumshoe.

  2. In fairness, I believe that more Bushisms were attributed to Bush than actually came from that particular source.

    As an aside, it is unfortunate, but seems to be a (bipartisan) human trait to want badly for a simple mistake to be evidence of either idiocy or malice, and that such a mistake be somehow indicative of the collective failures of the entire Other Side.

    Of course, simply making sh*t up is not playing fair. :-)

  3. yeah. i tried not to do much with the bush lines because i've flubbed some lines worse than that. and many of his were misquotes. and of course ultimately any quote says very little about a person.

  4. You read the NY Times today on Barack's tendency to say "I" when it "should" be "me?"

    "...a break for Michelle and I," or whatever.

    Interesting in a boring kind of way.

  5. >tendency to say "I"

    At the risk of getting way off topic (whoops, too late), I remember reading a piece once (and I'll never find it again -- I've looked) that said that the way to think of case grammar in English is that the nominative for pronouns is used if a singular subject immediately precedes the verb; other than that, all bets are off.

    Not entirely true, of course, but an idea that does encourage one to revisit pronouns forms without thinking in terms of traditional/historical cases. As I'm sure that many a graduate student has done. :-)

  6. Wishydig: is Wordzguy making fun of me? 'Cuz I don't know what "case grammar" is or what "nominative" means... or what it would look like for a singular subject to immediately precede a verb... or what cases there are that aren't traditional/historical. Or whether I made those mistakes when I was a graduate student.

  7. @Casey -- not at all. Just that supposed mistakes in the of "I" are mistakes only when you compare English to, say, Latin, rather than sitting down with English as it is actually spoken and working out grammar from that.

    Here's a classic example: people say "I went to the movies." No problem. They also say "Me and my friend went to the movies." (And they do say this, no question.)

    Yer traditional grammarian will tell you that using "me" for the subject of a sentence is wrong, because only "I" can be the subject of a sentence. If the grammarian was steeped in (e.g.) Latin grammar, they'll say that the subject of a sentence must be in the nominative case (I, he/she, we, they) not the objective case (me, him/her, us, them). They'll further say that that's because the nominative case is used to mark subjects, and the objective case is used to mark objects ("he (subj) hit him (obj)").

    My point -- and sorry for the jargon -- is that Mr-or-Ms Latin Grammar is not looking at how English actually works, because people say "Me and my friend went to the movies" all the time. So the notion the subject of a sentence must always be in the nomimative case -- ie, must always be I, he/she, we, or they -- is, you know, suspect.

    Ditto with "between you and I"; that same gramamarian will tell you that the object of a preposition must always be in the objective case (hence, me, him/her, us, them). That's true for singular objects -- "They sent the package to me", but doesn't hold up when you start getting into multiple objects (e.g., you will hear "They sent the package to Michelle and I").

    The last comment was that this is the sort of thing that's excellent fodder for graduate-student research. That's what I would have studied had I my own self pursued graduate studies in linguistic. :-)

  8. Wait, doesn't mxrk says this like every other day? At the White Castle drive-thru?

  9. Thanks, Wordz... that actually does make a lot of sense to me. I wonder if Latin speakers, when Latin was a "living" language, spoke differently than they wrote?

    For example: most published writers will use the nominative as the subject of a sentence -- if only because it's conventional. But as you said, many (if not most) speakers use the objective case. So will future linguistic historians look back at 2009, read our literature, and derive a "rule" about the use of pronouns as subjects-of-sentences based on our literature? Is that what we've done with Tacitus (or whoever)?

    Incidentally: do I best serve my children (or my students) by not objecting to their use of the objective-as-subject-of-sentence form? Whether "Linguistics" likes it or not, there does seem to be a language of power...

  10. casey: that is in fact a concern with studying texts. for that reason we sometimes use another term for the study of a language as set down on the page: philology.

    comparative reconstruction gives us another angle to figuring out how speakers actual spoke their language. we look at the daughter languages and we know how they're spoken and we reconstruct the mother language as spoken.

    lest you think that historical linguists are too confident in the reconstructed proto forms they are very careful to put a little star before the forms that are reconstructed but not verified.

    regarding your last paragraph: sometimes i get the impression you haven't been listening. linguists don't dislike the fact that there is a language of power. in fact many linguists spend a lot of time studying how those dialects (or in some cases registers) have come about and how their power is maintained and enforced. without trying to undo them or take away the power.

    this is off topic so i'll go ahead and do a follow up that i hope speaks to your interest.

  11. Make sure to start your follow-up post, "My friend Casey, who seems to have a difficult time understanding the most basic assumptions of linguistics,..."

    No, really: I'm listening. It just seems to me like ya'll have it in for grammarians. But from where I sit, grammarians are no more or less correct than teenagers who are always introducing new forms. My impression--correct me if I'm wrong--is that linguists tend to prefer the invention of youth to the rigidity of the elders: you love the word of the year, but dislike everything Safire says. When I call you out on it, of course, you retreat into the language of objectivity.

    Sometimes it takes an outsider's ear to really listen.

    One more thing: I will some day ask you to explain to me why/how a person could be a libertarian when it comes to linguistic order (that is, understanding the spontaneity and dynamism of the unregulated whole) while believing that no-such-process could ever work in the realm of economics, where strict regulation is assumed to be important, and more regulation is generally understood to be better.


Thanks for reaching out.

You can also contact me at wishydig[at]gmail[d0t]com.