Famous Quotes That Most People Get Wrong

The credible hulk facts and documented sources

Whether you are giving a speech, writing a paper, or making a point on social media, it’s always helpful to have a good quote from a reliable source to emphasize your point. When you do, be sure you verify the source of the quotation. As Socrates famously observed, “The central aspect of wisdom derives from realizing that everything on the internet isn’t entirely true.”*

We also explore this topic in “Some of the Best Things That Didn’t Get Said.” Today, we go into greater detail, delving in particular with three main categories of quotation mistakes:

  1. Misquotes – Famous quotes that are not accurately restated. The errors are often small or the quote itself is a paraphrase.
  2. False Quotes – Famous quotes that were not actually said by the person being quoted. This is where the original source is not known.
  3. Mis-Attributed Quotes – Famous quotes attributed to the wrong person. Frequently a more famous person gets the credit of a quote.

Famous Misquotes

How many of the following misquotes have you heard or used? Notice the difference between what is frequently used and what the original person actually said:

  • “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” — J.P. Morgan
    • Correct Version: “You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question.”
  • “Money is the root of all evil.” — I Timothy 6:10
    • Correct Version: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
  • “Nice guys finish last.” — Leo Durocher
    • Correct version: “Nice guys actually finish seventh.”
  • “The devil is in the details.” — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
    • Correct version: “God is in the details.”
  • “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal and hoping someone else will get burned.” — Buddha
    • Correct Version: “When we direct anger at another, it comes right back to us—like fine dust thrown against the wind.”
  • “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong
    • Correct Version:That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
  • “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” — Oscar Wilde
    • Correct Version: “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”
  • “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill
    • Correct Version: “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”
  • “Play it again, Sam.” — Ingrid Bergman (in Casablanca)
    • Correct Version: “Play it, Sam.”

Famous False Quotes

It is surprising how many of our favorite quotes originated with someone whose name has been lost to the ages. The following quotes have a lot of good messages, but those thoughts did not start with those to whom they are so often attributed:

  • “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” – Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
  • “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent” — Thomas Jefferson (true source unknown)
  • “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” — Benjamin Franklin (true source unknown)
  • “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
  • “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” — Mark Twain, or Jack Benny, or Muhammad Ali (true source unknown)
  • “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
  • “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.” — Albert Camus (true source unknown)
  • “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity.” — Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
  • “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” — Edmund Burke (true source is unknown)
  • “Bigamy is having a wife too many, monogamy is having the same.” — Oscar Wilde (true source unknown)
  • “Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.” — Oscar Wilde (true source unknown)
  • “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
  • “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
  • “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi (true source unknown)
  • “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead (true source unknown)
  • “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” — Abraham Lincoln (true source unknown)

Famous Misattributed Quotes

A lot of the quotes floating around out there are really cases of misappropriation. The quote may be accurate, but the source is flat out wrong:

  • “You can’t build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down.” — John Kasich (possible correct source: Rev. William J. H. Boetcker)
  • “Elementary my dear Watson.” —Sherlock Holmes (Actual source is P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist)
  • “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes.” — Andrew Jackson (possible correct source: Colonel William Prescott)
  • “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” –Albert Einstein (possible correct source: Kurt Vonnegut and misquoted from, “Any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.”)
  • “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they tried everything else.” — Winston Churchill (possible correct source: F. E. Smith)
  • “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” — Marilyn Monroe (possible source: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)
  • “There’s a sucker born every minute.” — P.T. Barnum (possible source: Adam Forepaugh)
  • “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” —Buddha (possible source: Swami Sivananda)
  • “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” —Abraham Lincoln (origins unknown)
  • “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” —Virginia Woolf (possible source: Michael Cunningham)
  • “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” —Theodore Roosevelt (he did say this, but didn’t originate it. It originated from an African proverb)
  • “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” — Vince Lombardi (he did say it, but did not originate it. It was first said by Red Sanders)
  • “The ends justify the means.” — Niccolo Machiavelli (possible source: Roman poet Ovid)
  • “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” — Winston Churchill (possible source: Francois Guizot)
  • “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” — Nelson Mandela (possible source: Marianne Williamson)
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” — Dr. Seuss (possible source: Mr. Davies)
  • “Standing on the shoulders of giants” — Sir Isaac Newton (possible correct source: Bernard of Chartres)
  • “Let them eat cake.” — Marie Antoinette (possible correct source: Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
  • “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire (correct answer: Evelyn Beatrice Hall)
  • “Success is not final, Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill (possible correct source: Don Shula)

*Of course Socrates didn’t really say that. Any idiot knows that he spoke Greek, so it would have been something like this: “Η κεντρική πτυχή της σοφίας προέρχεται από το να συνειδητοποιήσουμε ότι όλα στο Διαδίκτυο δεν είναι απολύτως αληθινά.”

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