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Discussion 1 to Meditation 105
Quotation attribution

an exchange between Dan Quella & John Tyrrell

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Dan Quella wrote:

Quote #6 is attributed to a fictional character/comedy troupe name, Monty Python. The quote was actually by Graham Chapman of said troupe.


There's always a problem in attribution of that type of quotation. I take it that you are right that Graham Chapman actually uttered the words. (I'm not sure because I "borrowed" the quotation from someone else's list, and even though I've watched all the TV shows and all the movies several times, the quote never has stood out for me.) But is Graham actually responsible for coming up with the words?

Given the way the Pythons worked, it is quite possible he did not write the original words. While the overall authorship of most of the sketches is known, small amendments could be contributed by any of them and it might be difficult to identify the actual original author(s) of those specific words.

There is unfortunately no consistency in the attributed author of quotations in various collections when the quotation comes from a form of entertainment. Should the actor be credited with the words? Should the character? Should the original writer? I've done all three in these sets of quotations. I suppose this particular quote could be attributed to Graham Chapman, or to John Cleese (if he came up with it), or Brigadier Iforgetthenamewithoutreviewingthedvd, Mrs. (if that's the character Graham was playing at the time.)

In this particular case, I think attributing the quotation to the collective Monty Python is a fair compromise. However, if the quotation actually originated from Graham Chapman outside of a Monty Python performance, then indeed the attribution should be changed. Please let me know if this is the case.

It's a good point that you have raised - I'm just not convinced there is a truly right answer in this or in similar situations.

Dan Quella:

Well, he was the agnostic member of the troupe.

I didn't remember it being in from a sketch, but further Googling reveals, from the Contractual Obligation album:

Husband: Well, I've always said, There's nothing an agnostic can't do if he really doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not.

But I knew I had seen it attributed to him elsewhere, and I found a slightly different version on Amazon, on the page for the 280 Years of Python book, from the book's back cover:

There's really nothing an agnostic can't do if he really doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not." --Graham Chapman

So, I'd tend to say it should be attributed to Mr. Chapman after all. And besides, how many presidential quotes are really written by the presidents themselves?

By the way, thanks for the well-thought-out reply!


OK – you win. ;-)

It seems clear that the book was published with the cooperation and support of the Pythons.

Ergo, a quote attributed in that book specifically to one of the Pythons truly belongs to him.

The change will be made in the next update.