YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Take My Word!

Quote as a Noun Now Comes Naturally

February 12, 1986|THOMAS H. MIDDLETON

There are people who will tell you that quote is a verb and that it is a solecism to use it as a noun. Quotation is the noun. I think at one time I might have agreed with them, largely because my father used to make that distinction many years ago. But I'd have agreed only to a certain extent, because for decades now, "That's a direct quote" has been used far more often that "That's a direct quotation," and by highly respected speakers and writers. Anyone who said, "That's in quotation marks" instead of "That's in quotes" would be thought unnecessarily prolix, I should think. And for the past 20-odd years, I've been working with quotations virtually every working day of my life, and, with that sort of familiarity, calling them "quotes" comes naturally.

I'm the author of word puzzles called Crostics for the New York Times, Harper's magazine, and Simon & Schuster's puzzle book series.

Chances are that you're unfamiliar with the Crostic form. I've grown quite accustomed to the fact that most people--even most puzzleheads--have never heard of my creations. A Crostic is based on a quotation, or quote, from a published work. It's the solver's job to fill in the quote, its author and the title of the work. Fans consider them more interesting than crosswords, because they wind up with a statement that says something entertaining, rather than just a box of words.

Something Special Registered

Last Thursday, I was constructing a puzzle for my next Simon & Schuster book. The quotation said, "The Grand Canyon is a stunning tapestry of sustained, stratified brilliance. The sheets of color are endless, radiating a nacreous kind of beauty. Silence is in them, arresting thought. It is a breathless moment, the first viewing." It is from T. C. McLuhan's "Dream Tracks." While much of the labor of creating these puzzles is rather demandingly creative, there are several steps in the process that are more mechanical. While I'm doing the mechanical part, I often have a radio, or even a television set on in the background. So I had "Midmorning L.A." on as I was working on the McLuhan puzzle, and there was the irrepressible Geoff Edwards interviewing the very lovely Teri C. McLuhan on the subject of "Dream Tracks." I'm one of several writers I know who, in the solitude of our workaday world, sometimes talk to radios and television sets, and I said, out loud, "Hey, Teri! I'm working on a quote from your book!" and for some reason my use of quote as a noun registered something special in my mind.

Benefit and the Harm

"Dream Tracks," subtitled The Railroad and the American Indian 1890-1930, is a remarkable book. The illustrations are taken from miraculously preserved old tinted glass photographic plates of the type used in what used to be called "magic lanterns," the predecessors of both motion pictures and slide projectors. Many of these photographs were taken by photographers in the pay of the Santa Fe Railroad. McLuhan, long a scholar of Native American cultures, writes superbly (not surprising, as she is the daughter of the late Marshall McLuhan). In conjunction with this collection of photographs, she evokes the American Indians of the Southwest in their beauty and complexity.

The book is peppered with quotes, or quotations, from people as diverse as H. L. Mencken, Thomas Merton, Gertrude Stein and Soren Kierkegaard, as well as several anonymous Indians, like the "Hopi Artist" who expresses an appealing sort of pantheism: "You asked about the line that goes to the heart. It leads to the spirit which resides in all things--the spirit of life and hope. When we show respect for the spirits around us, they respect us. From this comes good. We show respect in prayer and ceremony--in all things. We demonstrate this by showing that all animals, even snakes, possess souls."

That's lofty. That's a quotation.

Los Angeles Times Articles