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Sunday, May 11, 2003
On sources

Dragging myself away from affairs of state: torturing puppies and kittens, looting hospitals and eavesdropping on MP's conversations - you know the sort of thing - I sometimes turn for relaxation to fiction. (And by fiction, I do not mean Murdoch-owned newspapers.)

One of my recent reads has been The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (published 1961) by Muriel Spark. Miss Brodie's inability to distinguish between a fact and an opinion reveals her as a sort of latter-day Mrs Malaprop. But she manages some memorable bons mots, too.

When talking of Girl Guides and Brownies, Jean Brodie says to the pupils with her 'For those who like that sort of thing...that is the sort of thing they like.' (Penguin edition, p. 31). I've read this or similar expressions before. I may even have used some such myself. I had never looked for the origin of the saying but a recent edition of the programme 'Quote... Unquote' on Radio Four said that it originated with the English chemist John Dalton (1766-1844).
Later appropriated by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 or 65, without attribution, the quotation has found its way into the quotation books with Lincoln given as the originator.

Even the egregious (today's word of the month) Julie Burchill managed to acknowledge Jean Brodie when she used it. Could this mean that journalists are more trustworthy than politicians?

I wonder who said: ‘Originality is the art of concealing one’s sources’. It's very true. Except for bloggers, of course...

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