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In the standard LaTeX classes the quote and quotation environments are defined as lists. Is there a particular reason for this? After all they do not look like lists!

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Most LaTeX environments, which start on a new line, are defined this way - as lists. Think of a generic list as displayed text material: some items with indentation left and right and possibly with space before and after. It might be just one item as well.

So, the generic LaTeX command which starts an indented environment is \list. \quote is such an environment even if there are not several items but just one. Thus it uses \list.

The name \list might unfortunately be a bit misleading.

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