'You Lie,' 'Hands Off' Among Year's Top Quotes

The quotes of current times are not great rhetorical speeches, but outbursts and clever remarks. This year's No. 1 quote, as selected by the The Yale Book of Quotations: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," uttered by an anonymous attendee at a town hall health care meeting in South Carolina.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here's a dubious corollary to that dubious Chinese curse about living in interesting times. It's a curse to live in times when people say really notable, historically interesting things. I mean, after all, all those great quotations from Napoleon and Lincoln and Churchill and FDR were uttered in times of war or economic devastation.

So if memorable rhetoric is the offspring of distress, then 2009 should be pretty rich in catchy quotations. We've had wars, we've had a recession, we've had immensely contentious politics in Washington. So, it's with great expectations that we turn now to Fred Shapiro, editor of "The Yale Book of Quotations." Welcome to the program.

Mr. FRED SHAPIRO (Editor, "The Yale Book of Quotations"): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And we should explain that in addition to your - being associate librarian and lecturer in legal research at Yale Law School, you annually survey the year in quotations.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Yes, it's a way of updating "The Yale Book of Quotations," and amassing material that can be added to the next edition.

SIEGEL: One very famous quotation - or infamous quotation, I guess, was the interruption of President Obama during his speech to the Joint Session of Congress: You lie.

Mr. SHAPIRO: That was number four on the list. That epitomized the times, I think, in that it was a poster child for incivility in political discourse -reflected the polarization that seemed to dominate the year.

SIEGEL: You lie is in fourth place. What's in third?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Third place, a less controversial quote - there's an app for that, Apple's advertising slogan for the iPhone.

SIEGEL: Now, we're up to the silver medal for the year in quotations. What's the second biggest one, you think?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Well, this one was actually a positive, inspiring quote. We're going to be in the Hudson, Captain Sully Sullenberger's response to air traffic controllers asking him which runway he preferred to land in.

SIEGEL: So, we've got a statement of incivility, a statement of commercial language, and a statement of courage. And the number one quotation, what does it express?

Mr. SHAPIRO: OK, time for the drum roll.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAPIRO: The number one quote of the year: Keep your government hands off my Medicare. An anonymous speaker at a health-care-reform town hall meeting in Simpsonville, South Carolina, said this to congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican congressman who answered him by saying that Medicare is entirely created by the government.

SIEGEL: Yes, there's the catch�

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: �about Medicare.

Mr. SHAPIRO: And I think what this represents is the extremism, or the confusion, of our political times.

SIEGEL: Are there any quotations on your list that are - sort of the traditionally, carefully wrought, well-shaped, little bits of rhetoric that we might have expected from a John F. Kennedy or a Churchill.

Mr. SHAPIRO: In a word, no.

SIEGEL: No. I see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAPIRO: I mean, I have to say, having really studied this, there are no Shakespeares or Lincolns out there, that the kinds of quotes we get nowadays are entirely different in nature. You know, maybe there are eloquent, inspiring quotes out there, but it would just take a while for us to realize it.

SIEGEL: But it isn't for lack of politicians giving set-piece speeches and trying to sum up their ideas very eloquently. That's a very common event.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Well, it is a common event - although, I guess, one surprise of the year was that Barack Obama - a very intelligent, eloquent person - in his speeches did not really try for the rhetorical heights. He really, I think, made a conscious decision to go for substance rather than style. And I don't believe that were any future famous lines coming out of his inaugural address.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks a lot for talking with us about it. Fred Shapiro, editor of "The Yale Book of Quotations," on the quotations of the year. Thanks a lot.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: