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ColoradoGuy
05-07-2013, 06:52 PM
There is an interesting new post (http://crookedtimber.org/2013/05/06/the-wrongly-attributed-statement-was-our-democratic-poetry/#more-28682) up at Crooked Timber by Corey Robin. He has long been obsessed with running down the truth about quips and aphorisms attributed to famous people that they didn't really say.

Some of his examples include:



"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (wrongly attributed to Edmund Burke)
"Whoever is not a liberal [or a socialist or a progressive] when he is twenty has no heart; whoever is not a conservative when he is thirty has no brain." (Wrongly attributed to Churchill)
"America is great because she is good." (Wrongly attributed to Tocqueville)

He then goes on to speculate how these things happen. Here's his conclusion:


But the more I’ve thought about the [wrongly attributed statement] the more charming I’ve found it. Because in many ways the WAS is a tribute to the democratic genius of the crowd. Someone famous says something fine—Burke did write, . . . “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”—and some forgotten wordsmith, or more likely wordsmiths, through trial and error, refashions it over time into something finer: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Which is really quite fine.


The false attribution: it’s our democratic poetry.
The comments to the post have many more examples from the typically erudite crowd there. One quotes a T-shirt he saw: “The trouble with ‘quotes’ on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine” -Abraham Lincoln

Also this one:
“Fake quotations are pithier, more dramatic, more on point, than the things people usually say in real life. It’s not surprising that they are often the survivors of the evolutionary battle for mindshare."

robeiae
05-10-2013, 03:54 AM
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=260133&highlight=twain


"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn’t matter."

There no evidence Twain said this. There is evidence that Satchel Paige said it, however.

Also, there are misquotes, like the one that caused a bit of a flurry on the US Dept. of Education website. It was supposedly from Mao:

"Our attitude towards ourselves should be 'to be satiable in learning' and towards others 'to be tireless in teaching.'"

But that's not really what he said, or rather wrote. I dug into it in a blog post: http://thepondsofhappenstance.blogspot.com/2013/03/mao-quotes-another-indictment-of-us.html

My conclusion:


But no one, it seems, is aware of either point: where the real quote actually comes from and that the origin of the quote is Confucius. Nor could they be bothered to discover these things, before spouting off about the incident in one way or another. The lesson here seems to be that the serious lack of critical thinking abilities on display may very well be the U.S. education system's epithet.

The biggest problem right now are quote-sites like BrainyQuote. There's no reason to believe anything there is accurate, but people use such things as if they were true as a matter of course, just as they use facts from Wikipedia.

TerzaRima
05-10-2013, 07:43 AM
Electronic communication only reinforces misquotation and provides new sources--people particularly want to misattribute things to George Carlin, for example, and I know you've all gotten that cheesy graduation speech in your inbox, as well as the one that starts, "Yes, I'm a BAD American."

also, Gandhi never said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" but nobody believes me, probably because it says so on BrainyQuote.

robeiae
05-10-2013, 06:46 PM
The comments to the post have many more examples from the typically erudite crowd there. One quotes a T-shirt he saw: “The trouble with ‘quotes’ on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine” -Abraham Lincoln

Btw, Twain said that, not Lincoln.

Haggis
05-10-2013, 07:01 PM
As my favorite American philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, "I didn't always say everything I said." Except he did say that.

shadowwalker
05-10-2013, 08:16 PM
It can drive a person crazy trying to verify who said what. I've gotten to the point where I say "attributed to" instead of "by" when I quote things I can't actually find in a person's writings. :tongue

kuwisdelu
05-11-2013, 07:41 AM
I just attribute quotes to either myself or anon. Anon said a lot of cool things.