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Quotation and quote: Noun and verb (mostly)

I know I’m fighting a losing battle, but there is to me a basic distinction between the words quotation and quote.

Quotation is a noun meaning “a group of words taken from a text or speech written or spoken by another person.” It can also be used as a mass noun, as in It was a discussion full of quotation from the Bible and Quran.

Quote is a verb meaning “to cite the words of a text or speech” from another author or speaker.

As well, quotes is often used to refer to quotation marks, as in You need to put quotes around that excerpt. My internal style guide will always keep quotation and quote in different linguistic categories. Don’t ask me why, but the editor in me, allows quotes as in You need to close the quotes there.

But language wonderfully plastic, aways changing, always adding new words, changing the meaning of words, adding and subtracting to what is considered Standard English. In linguistics, using quote as a noun is called a “back-formation,” a type of neologism (new word) that takes a noun or a verb makes it into either a verb or noun. You can find a short list (100’s!) of English back-formations here.

For instance, ten years ago there was no verb to friend. And when did gift become a verb? And regift?—which was either invented or popularized by the sit-com Seinfeld along with the word degifted (as a politically correct alternative for Indian giving, which—if you think at all about U.S. history at all—should really be American giving).

In business, of course, the word quote is also used to refer to an estimate for what a job will cost or be billed out as:

Floridian: I need a quote on what it will cost to get my house out of that sinkhole, please.

Learn more about how to incorporate quotations and acceptable attributions to your copy.

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Posted in Grammar Diaries