The New Yorker
By Louis Menand
Ralph Keyes [is] a quotation specialist and the author of “The Quote Verifier” (St. Martin’s; $15.95). “Misquotation is an occupational hazard of quotation,” Keyes advises, and both he and [Yale Book of Quotations editor Fred] Shapiro have gone to considerable trouble to track down the original utterances that became famous quotations and their original utterers. Keyes finds that quotations tend to mutate in the direction of greater pith. He offers the original words of Rodney King as an instance: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? . . . Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.” This is the rambling outburst that became the astringent and immortal “Can’t we all get along?” Keyes calls the process “bumper-stickering.” It worked well for Rodney King.