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Don’t quote me

Is the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as good as it claims? Nicolas Walter says that its revised fourth edition is still unable to distinguish between the essential, the pointless and the dubious

By Nicolas Walter   January 1997

The Oxford dictionary of Quotations enjoys the reputation of a standard reference book, an essential item for every library, a basic tool for research, a constant companion for dipping, a publication without a rival. Why is it so bad?

The problem is partly one of false expectations. Reference books claim an authority which they do not deserve, as is known by everyone who has ever worked on one. The Oxford dictionaries, books and companions make even more special claims, which are seldom challenged.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (ODQ) has had four and a half editions over more than half…

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