Soundbites and slogans join great quotes of the age

  • @davidlister1
THE SOUNDBITE has been acknowledged as equally important in the history of the 20th century as the seminal political speech or the utterances of the greatest scientists and inventors.

The paperback edition of the Oxford Dictionary of 20th Century Quotations is published at the end of the year, and the compilers have "Gone to work on an egg", setting up a generous section on advertising slogans bound to irritate novelists, and parents already driven to distraction by children mimicking TV catchphrases.

Alas, Salman Rushdie's "Naughty but Nice" from his brief sojourn as a copywriter fails to make the Oxford. He has to be satisfied with the less catchy quote from his post- advertising days: "One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable and ask difficult questions."

Elizabeth Knowles, the Dictionary editor, says: "It is possible to see different forms of source becoming dominant. In the first half of the century the major sources of quotation came from the written word in poetry, plays and novels, or the spoken word through the medium of major speeches on formal occasions. Latterly, the possible canon has widened to include what might be thought more ephemeral material - soundbites, online sources, films, television and advertisements."

Ms Knowles points out that through what seem ephemeral soundbites we can trace changes in manners and social mores, and track the "sound of the 20th century". She says: "`Evening all' is Sergeant Dixon's opening to Dixon of Dock Green, first spoken in 1956; a contrast to the 1990s aggression of "I'm Bart Simpson: who the hell are you?"

One of the most interesting sections deals with misquotations of the century. Ms Knowles says: "One of the features of popular culture is that quoted material is often modified by the quoter." So, if you thought someone really did say "Beam me up, Scotty" or "Crisis, what crisis?" or "The white heat of technology" or "Play it again, Sam" or "Me Tarzan, you Jane" you would be wrong. They were: "Beam us up, Mr Scott", and "Crisis, what crisis?" was a Sun headline, not a piece of prime ministerial rhetoric by James Callaghan. And even that might have been borrowed from a Supertramp album title. Harold Wilson actually talked about "The white heat of this revolution' and Humphrey Bogart said, simply: "Play it, Sam". And the immortal "Me Tarzan, you Jane" was neither in movies nor the books. The Tarzan film star Johnny Weissmuller said it in a magazine interview as a throwaway line.

``Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'' Winston Churchill on the Battle of Britain, House of Commons, 1940

``That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind''

Neil Armstrong, 1969

``You cannot be serious''

John McEnroe to a Wimbledon umpire, 1981

"Eat my shorts"

Bart Simpson, 1990 and onwards

"Go to work on an egg''

British Egg Marketing Board, 1957