Which Word Wednesday: Quotation vs. Quote

By August 3, 2011 language No Comments

As a writer, I often weave the words of others into my creative work. Each time I speak of these inserts, I get stuck. What do I call them: quotes or quotations? I know there is a difference, but I can’t remember what that is. It’s the perfect mystery for this week’s Which Word Wednesday.

First clue: The definitions from the Oxford American Dictionary:

quotation :: noun
a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker

quote :: verb
repeat or copy out (a group of words from a text or speech), typically with an indication that one is not the original author or speaker

Aha! One is a noun; one is a verb. When I use another’s words in my writing, I am quoting them. And when I point to a quote I’ve used, I call it a quotation.

The trouble is, I hear quote used more than quotation. Why is that?

Second clue: Dave Dowling mentions this phenomenon in his book The Wrong Word Dictionary: “Used informally, quote is the shortened word for quotation.”1

Aha number two! That explains it. These words are fuzzy in my brain because we’ve begun to abbreviate quotation to quote. Doing so means that quote can be used as both a noun and a verb. That means I am correct if I use quote in any context, right?!

Perhaps. But how difficult is it to say quotation versus quote? It used to be that in formal situations it was inappropriate to use abbreviations such as can’t, won’t, etc. Today it is accepted speech, although some argue that abbreviations should be used sparingly in writing.

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What’s my WWW verdict? If the fuzziness of my brain can lift, I should be able to use quotation when I am pointing to someone else’s words and use quote when I am actively using someone else’s words. Time will tell!

What’s your verdict? Do you use abbreviations in speech? How about in writing? Do share in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 189.

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