I like to use quotes here and there but have found that some specious quotes get repeated over and over. For example, Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But the closest that researchers have come to verifying that is finding something he wrote that is vaguely similar about wine. Yet still, this quote is repeated countless times.
What are techniques that would be used to trace a quote back to its source? For example, it is often quoted that Eisenhower said something like, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” You can find this quoted in thousands of places, but nobody gives their source. How would you find out whether this was in a speech, an interview, a private conversation and therefore quoted secondhand, or a written document?
Have you tried books.google? Not everything that’s searchable is viewable, so you may require an actual library to follow the citations. For the exact quote, the only result in a book from 1900-1970 is from Nixon’s 1962 book Six Crises. Fiddle around with the dates and the exactness of the quote and you can often get somewhere.
Things on wikiquote are supposed to be appropriately referenced (and they agree with my quick judgment here). You might also be able to use Amazon’s search inside the book function. In the end, though, you’ve got to go to the primary source yourself if you really want to be sure.
I should add this on the Eisenhower quote: it’s clear that it’s fair enough to attribute it to him, but that doesn’t mean that he said it or that he’s the true source of the saying. Nixon may have got it wrong or put fine words into his boss’s mouth or (more likely) it’s an old military saying that Eisenhower liked to use. The *Columbia World of Quotations * says it was “One of Eisenhower’s favorite maxims.” Perhaps he came up with it. Perhaps it was a third hand reading of an old saying in another language.