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Finding Quotations

Quotation Dictionaries

While seemingly old-fashioned compared to the many online resources, quotation dictionaries are sometimes the only source for locating a full citation. The dictionaries are used for multiple purposes: to verify a known quotation or to find a full citation; to locate quotations by a particular person; to find quotations related to a profession such as law or teaching; or to trace quotations relevant to a location or an ethnicity. Quotation dictionaries by subject may be useful for finding relevant quotes to enliven a speech or writing. Some people simply read quotation books for inspiration or amusement.

Quotation dictionaries can be arranged or indexed by specific subject or broad topic, author, time period, or by keyword. A thorough keyword index is usually the most useful for locating a known quotation if the author is unknown. As discussed in the section on Full-text Searching (Free Online Resources), it is sometimes necessary to search on just a portion of the full quotation or on the most unusual keywords. Reliable quotation books include full citations to the source.

Most public and academic libraries include at least several quotation books, usually in the reference collection. Information about locating quotation dictionaries can be found in the section on Tips and Additional Resources. Some of the most commonly-found works are listed here, along with examples of the various types of dictionaries. In many cases, there are multiple editions of these quotation sources. The links for each resource will display fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Virtually any subject lends itself to a compilation of quotations: gardening, language, reading, war, dogs, love, humor, political science, science, religion, sports, the environment, film, the Civil War, and many others.  Search library catalogs under a subject followed by --quotations, maxims, etc.  or --quotations. For example: Nature--quotations, maxims, etc.; Cats--Quotations, maxims, etc.

Numerous quotation dictionaries are dedicated to particular individuals' pearls of wisdom. Both William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln are so popular that dozens of quotation books have been published. Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, and Maya Angelou are just a few of the many people known for their wit and wisdom. While they are frequently quoted online, full citations are often lackinga problem that may be solved with these special quotation books.

As with quotation dictionaries by subject or individual, virtually any profession or field of knowledge may have a book of quotations dedicated to it. Medical, legal, business, literary, culinary, gardening, art or teaching professionals may find inspirational and amusing quotations in these types of volumes.

Numerous books of quotations specific to geographic regions or nationalities, ethnicities, or particular groups have been published. Here are just a few examples.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a proverb as "a short, traditional, and pithy saying; a concise sentence, typically metaphorical or alliterative in form, stating a general truth or piece of advice; an adage or maxim."1

While some dictionaries provide slightly different definitions for maxim, adage, and aphorism, in many cases they are used synonymously with proverb. These sorts of sayings share commonality in that they are anonymous. They are traditional to a particular culture or may express a sentiment used worldwide, but the original author is unknown. Some proverb collections provide explanations for unusual sayings; others include written examples over time.


  1. "proverb, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2018, . Accessed 29 March 2019. Back to text