This question and answer indicate that when the source of a quote comes from an unverified source, we may say it's "attributed", or that it's "apocryphal". Both of these terms imply that there is some error or uncertainty in who is credited with having said the quote being referenced.

However, I have a situation where the source of a quote is known, but the original version is an idea expressed over a few paragraphs. Over time, with many retellings, the idea has been trimmed down to an efficient and snappy phrase. So, I want to give credit to the person who had the idea, but use the snappy version that people are familiar with.

Note that no one person is known to have come up with the snappier version. Each retelling always attributed whatever version to the original source. Most people assume the original person said the snappy version the first time round.

Using a generic example, I was thinking that I would add the word (paraphrased), something like this:

"A snappy quote is a short quote."

~ Joe McFamousguy (paraphrased)

But I wondered if maybe there was a standard for this kind of thing.

What's the best way to express that this is a variant or version of a quote, but that there is no uncertainty that the source is the correct one?

  • 2
    Perhaps a slight tweak to your suggestion would be more common: 'To paraphrase Joe McFamousguy, "A snappy quote is a short quote." ' Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 12:48
  • I'm have a hard time reconciling quote marks with the word "paraphrased." Quote marks signal to the reader that Joe said what's in between the quotes, word for word. As the reader absorbs the quote issuing from Joe's lips, the added "paraphrased" puts doubt in the reader's mind, and weakens the impact of your writing. (What did Joe really say? Is the writer injecting his thoughts and attributing them to Joe?)
    – rajah9
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:14
  • There's no such thing as a "snappy quote" -- that's no quote. A quote attributed to someone needs necessarily to reproduce it verbatim, commas and all. 'Paraphrase' is of course, the word.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:27
  • Is Joe McFamousguy the one who came up with the 'idea expressed over a few paragraphs' or the guy that came up with the seven word paraphrasing of it?
    – Frank
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:39
  • 1
    @rajah9 That's only one of the (admittedly conflicting) uses of quotation marks. Another one is merely to highlight a particular string being mentioned within a reporting matrix, as here: The phrase "lovely, dark and deep" begins to suggest ominous overtones. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 22:47

3 Answers 3


The short version is: Use quotation marks only if you are quoting someone's actual words. If you are not quoting someone's actual words, do not use quotation marks. There is no parenthetical you can add to correct for this.

In an apocryphal quote, you are quoting the actual words that are attributed to the person; for example: "I cannot tell a lie" can be quoted and attributed to "George Washington (apocryphal)". If there was a definite source for the shortened version, you could list that person's name: "Play it again, Sam" could be attributed to "Woody Allen (paraphrasing Humphrey Bogart)".

But if the paraphrase is not part of someone else's quote, you can't put it in quotation marks; in formal writing, this will be seen as sloppy; in academic writing, dishonest. Instead, you need to put it in a sentence. "Abraham Lincoln said that we got here eighty years ago" is appropriate. "We got here eighty years ago." --Abraham Lincoln (paraphrased) is not.

Depending on the specific quote you want to use, you might be able to get away, in informal writing, with an (attributed). For example: "Play it again, Sam" -- attributed to Humphrey Bogart. Who it's attributed to him by can remain unsaid. Or, if the paraphrase is close enough, you may be able to "fix" it with brackets and ellipses: "Play it [again], Sam."

But much as I hate to say it, the best solution is to use a different quote. Consciously perpetuating a misquotation, no matter how you dress it up, will lead to mistrust in your audience.

  • How about: "Play it again, Sam" -- mistakenly attributed to Rick in Casablanca?
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 15:49

disjecta membra: scattered members; disjointed portions or parts: applied to fragments of poetry or fragmentary quotations.

  • I think the OP is looking for a standard for paraphrases, not the class.
    – rajah9
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:07
  • 2
    An example of a published edited quote from The dictionary of quotations; . MacMunn, Norman: "The halcyon sleep will never build his nest In any stormy breast." Cowley, Paraphrase of Horace *s Odes,
    – Third News
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:16
  • 1
    I would like your answer better as a comment, and your comment better as an answer (though you might make clear that 'Paraphrase of Horace's Odes' is the actual title.) Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 14:19

The problem with paraphrasing is that you leave out a lot of (important / necessary) details which might be crucial for the understanding of the idea. If you give the person credit for the paraphrased quote, his idea is thereby under credited.

I would suggest crediting the person who made the paraphrase, but also including the person who created the idea:

"Bla bla bla" - John Doe (paraphrased from Guy Mcman)

Since I'm not a native speaker I don't know if 'from' is the best word here, but overal I would chose for a lay-out like this.


I have to correct my previous response.
According to APA, whenever the wording is not the authors, it is not a quote, it is a paraphrase. According to the rules, you cannot credit the author for a quote he did not say. A quote is an exact wording retractable to a source (even if the source is unknown). You can only submit the sentence as a paraphrase, in which case you cannot use quotation marks. Only then can you credit the creator of the idea.

  • You seem to have missed many key points in the question. Most importantly, that there is no second person responsible for the paraphrasing.
    – Questioner
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 0:26
  • Ah excuse me, I see that I have missed that it's not possible to attribute the actual paraphrase to a certain person. I will edit my response Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 0:36

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