It seems that the glory days of spurious Jefferson quotations have gone. Rarely do we get these types of questions any more. Now that we are experiencing a breather on that front, I've had the chance to ponder the phenomenon a bit. One thing I've been thinking about is what gives spurious quotes away as "fakes." When we used to receive questions about these, we would often know right away that it wasn't a genuine excerpt from Jefferson's writings. How did we know? You do develop a sense of Jefferson's style if you are reading his (genuine) writings all the time, so when we're presented with an imposter quotation, I suppose we are subconsciously picking up all sorts of linguistic elements and habits of usage that distinguish Jefferson's writing style from the (mostly 20th-century) fakes. For those readers out there who'd like to be better equipped to spot a fake Jefferson quote, though, "go read Jefferson's writings all day for several years" is probably not a practical solution. So I thought I would set out to try to pin down the specific elements in spurious quotations that make our ears perk up. Here's the list of Signs of Fakery that I've come up with so far:
Contextual Red Flags
Sometimes it's not necessarily the quotation itself that's suspicious (or not only the quotation), but the context in which it appears.
So, there you go. Go forth and debunk with confidence; be sure not to mortally offend any lifelong friends or close relatives in the process; and please tell us about any brand-new spurious quotations you find!
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