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Palin, Fey top list of year's memorable quotes

Sunday, December 14, 2008 | 6:12 p.m. CST

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Sarah Palin lost the election, but she's a winner to a connoisseur of quotations.

The Republican vice presidential candidate and her comedic doppelganger, Tina Fey, took the top two spots in this year's list of most memorable quotes compiled by Fred R. Shapiro.

First place was: "I can see Russia from my house!" spoken in satire of Palin's foreign policy credentials by Fey on "Saturday Night Live."

Palin's actual quote was: "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."

Palin also made the third annual list for her inability to name newspapers she reads. When questioned by CBS anchor Katie Couric, Palin said she reads "all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years."

Palin's quotes were pivotal, said Shapiro, associate librarian and lecturer in legal research at the Yale Law School who compiles the list.

"This quote helped shape the election results," he said of the Russia quote. "As it sank in, the public realized this was someone really, really inexperienced and perhaps lacking in curiosity about the world."

Shapiro issued his "Yale Book of Quotations," with about 13,000 entries, two years ago after six years of research. He expects to release the next edition in about five years but plans to issue annual top 10 lists in the meantime.

Picking the best quotes this year was especially challenging because the presidential race and financial crisis provided so much material, Shapiro said. Last year's list ranged from "Don't Tase me, bro" — shouted by a Florida college student — to a quote from a Miss Teen USA contestant who gave a confused and mangled response to a question about why one-fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a map.

Shapiro said that when he began the list, he thought he would select the most profound, eloquent or witty quotes. But the celebrity culture and political discourse led him down a different path.

"What I have come to do is pick some quotes that really say something about our culture, and they tend almost exclusively to be quotes that are notable for negative reasons rather than being admirable or eloquent," Shapiro said.

Palin's running mate, Sen. John McCain, also made the list twice, once for his "the fundamentals of America's economy are strong" comment in April and again for saying "maybe 100" when asked last January how many years U.S. troops could remain in Iraq.

Shapiro said the quotes may have been somewhat unfairly construed. "Nonetheless, these quotes cemented his image as someone who was out of touch with economic realities or indifferent to economic realities and being someone who was fanatical about prosecuting the war in Iraq," he said.

Shapiro relies on suggestions from quote-watchers around the world, plus his own choices from songs, the news and movies, and then searches databases and the Internet to determine the popularity of the quotes.

Phil Gramm, a McCain adviser, made the list for saying, "We have sort of become a nation of whiners" in July in reference to Americans concerned about the economy.

President-elect Barack Obama didn't make the list, not even for his much-criticized remark in which he said some small-town Americans "cling to guns or religion."

"To me it didn't seem like a very remarkable or very foolish quote," said Shapiro, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat. "Ultimately I decided against it, but it was a close call."

However, a crude remark about Obama by the Rev. Jesse Jackson did make the list. Jackson apologized for the comment during what he thought was a private conversation in July.

"It indicates Republicans do not have a monopoly on quotes that are deplorable," Shapiro said.

Although Obama dominated the year and produced memorable quotes, "quotes from people like Palin were more celebrated and said more about our times than anything Obama said."


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Comments

Ray Shapiro December 14, 2008 | 10:12 p.m.

Too late for me to get my uncle Fred to include "Whoops!" among his 1300 most memorable quotes. Sorry, John.

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