Design a site like this with
Get started

‘Diveable’ Quotations

After recently finishing Jennifer Webb’s superb How to Teach English Literature: Overcoming Cultural Poverty, I started to think about what she calls ‘juicy’ quotations.

These are those images or quotations in a text that almost demand detailed linguistic and thematic analysis. They are those quotations that if successfully grappled with will yield countless interesting things to say. Basically, they’re those quotations that we hope our students will gravitate towards and analyse. I’ve also heard them called ‘power’ quotations or ‘neon’ quotations. Or, I suppose, if we’re being pedestrian, just ‘key’ quotations!

Here’s four from Macbeth:

  • ‘It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness’
  • ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’
  • ‘Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t’
  • ‘Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires’

I think labelling these quotations something is a really good way to signpost their significance and also useful shorthand for getting students to appreciate the kind of images that reward detailed analysis. But, what to call them?

My personal preference and what I’ve been using for a little while is ‘diveable quotations’. There are a few reasons why I think this works well:

  • It does a good job of communicating what makes these quotations useful to explore: they are linguistically and thematically ‘deep’, there’s a lot of analytical depth and a lot to say. They repay continued discussion or contemplation. In other words, you can ‘dive’ into them.
  • I enjoy telling my students to ‘dive into the pool of language’ and accompanying quotations on PowerPoints will little diving board images. I’m not sure they enjoy this as much as I do…
  • I also find it a useful way to differentiate between quotations that repay analysis to those that don’t. For example, I talk a lot about ‘shallow’ quotations that we ought to avoid and ‘diveable’ quotations that we should actively seek out, learn, and use.
  • Similar to ‘juicy’, the use of ‘diveable’ provides a useful way to express the need to keep pushing and analysing, even when it might appear the image has exhausted itself. So, I’ll often encourage my students to ‘keep diving’ or ‘dive deeper’.

Of course, simply labelling these quotations is not automatically (if at all) going to improve the analysis and a lot of work goes into teaching students how to ‘dive’ into a quotation. But, I have found it to be a useful way to conceptualise the effort of analysis and a shorthand to communicate an image that will reward such effort.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: