Quoting Out of ContextAlias:
Text, without context, is pretext.
Source: Jesse Jackson, quoted in Sheldon R. Gawiser & G. Evans Witt, A Journalist's Guide to Public Opinion Polls (1994), p. 111
Have the various fossil candidates for a place in our human ancestry stood the test of time?
Source: Robert Kofahl, Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter, Chapter 8, Question 4.
To quote out of context is to remove a passage from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its meaning. The context in which a passage occurs always contributes to its meaning, and the shorter the passage the larger the contribution. For this reason, the quoter must always be careful to quote enough of the context not to misrepresent the meaning of the quote. Of course, in some sense, all quotation is out of context, but by a "contextomy", I refer only to those quotes whose meaning is changed by a loss of context. The fallacy of Quoting Out of Context is committed when a contextomy is offered as evidence in an argument. Such fallacious quoting can take two distinct forms:
S. Morris Engel, Fallacies and Pitfalls of Language: The Language Trap (Dover, 1994), pp. 27-30.
S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) (St. Martin's, 1994), pp. 106-107.
Reader John Congdon writes about the Jesse Jackson quote:
The problem is that Rev. Jackson was himself quoting Dr. Donald A. Carson, professor of New Testament at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the author of several books, including (interestingly enough) one entitled Exegetical Fallacies.
Donald A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Australopithecus afarensis is the latest fossil hominid to be thrust before the public as the oldest evidence of mankind's existence. Not many (if any) have held the stage for long; by now laymen could be forgiven for regarding each new arrival as no less ephemeral than the weather forecast.
Source: John Reader, "Whatever happened to Zinjanthropus?" New Scientist, March 26, 1981, p. 805.
Kofahl quotes Reader as evidence of his claim that "fossil hominids" are discredited, but Reader's previous sentence makes it clear that he is saying only that it is the title to "oldest evidence of mankind's existence" that is ephemeral. In other words, still older evidence is discovered with sufficient frequency to make the title of "oldest" short-lived. This is no evidence at all supporting Kofahl's contention, in fact it is contrary evidence. By omitting the first sentence, the impression is created that Reader is talking about all "fossil hominids", instead of just the oldest ones. This false impression is reinforced by Kofahl's misleading editorial insertion in brackets of the phrase "fossil hominids".