Dear Internet, Please Stop Misquoting Me
10 Famous Misquotations and Misattributed Quotes
Abraham Lincoln once said: “The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can’t be sure of their accuracy.”
He raises an important point. Since we began to build an accuracy mechanism for the quotes on Quotesome, we’ve come to realize just how ubiquitous misquotations are. We’ve compiled ten popular misquotations as a token of respect to the people who never said those things. It’s not nice to have words involuntarily shoved down your throat.
1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
— Misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi
You’ve seen this everywhere. On posters, on your twitter and Facebook feed. It might even be one of your favorite quotes. But according to a mini-investigation of this quote on The New York Times, there is no evidence of Gandhi ever saying this. On a brighter note, we do have documented evidence of him saying:
If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.
2. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
— Misattributed to Albert Einstein
Ah — the famous Einstein quote.
Early appearances of this quote appeared in books by the psychiatrist Frederick S. Perls in the 1940s. At first Perls attributed the quote to “a famous astronomer,” then later to Albert Einstein. The wording of the quote changed too, and we can’t help but wonder if Perls’ memory can be counted upon as an accurate source for the quote (source). Research based on the Higgs Boson particle however, may confirm that the universe is in fact finite in its lifespan.
3. “Don’t walk behind me: I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me: I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
— Misattributed to Albert Camus
After conducting a year-long investigation on this quote, scrummaging through Camus books, letters, and anything ever written by Camus made available to the public… It’s safe to say that Camus never said this. My investigation concluded when I met Joel Calmettes, a Camus expert and documentary director. This guy knows everything about Camus. I felt like an amateur speaking to him. He is also good friends with Catherine Camus (Camus’ daughter), who is responsible for the posthumous publications of Camus’ works. I asked him about this quote along with several other quotes that have been dubiously attributed to Camus. He was baffled. He had never heard of any of these quotes.
The words appear in the lyrics to a Jewish children’s songs, although I’m not sure if the lyrics predates Camus’ misquotation or vice versa:
Don’t walk in front of me. I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me. I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
And together we will walk in the ways of Hashem.
4. “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
— Misattributed to Mark Twain (and several others)
Attributions for this quote have included Mark Twain, Muhammad Ali, Jack Benny, and Satchel Paige. Yet evidence seems to suggest that it first originated from an anonymous government researcher in 1968. Jack Benny and Muhammed Ali later used versions of this quote, and it somehow wound its way into being attributed by Mark Twain. (source)
5. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
– Misattributed to Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s no documented evidence of Nietzsche using such an expression. A similar version of the quote appears in “The Times” of London in 1927 without any attribution.
6. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
— Misattributed to Dr. Seuss
There’s no record of Dr. Seuss ever saying this. In Spanish, the quote has been attributed to Gabriel García Márquez, translating to: “No llores porque ya se terminó… sonríe, porque sucedió.” However, there seems to be no source for the latter attribution either. Some websites cite it as an anonymous proverb.
On a related note…
7. “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
— Misattributed to Dr. Seuss
This quote is most famously misattributed to Dr. Seuss. Some websites have recognized this misattribution, but proceed to falsely reattribute it to Bernard Baruch. Apparently Baruch said it when he was responding to a question about how he handled seating arrangements at a dinner party. However, this quote appears as early as 1938 in a London based journal for municipal and county engineers. A certain Mr. Davies used it to mock those who criticized the housing designs. There’s a story about the evolution of this quote on Quote Investigator.
8. “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
— Misattributed to Marilyn Monroe
Often attributed to actress Marilyn Monroe, this quote first appeared in an academic article written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a professor at Harvard University. She was writing, literally, about the well-behaved and virtuous women who never made history:
Cotton Mather called them “The Hidden Ones.” They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history; against Antinomians and witches, these pious matrons have had little chance at all.
Ulrich eventually commented on the quote’s escape into pop culture:
I got constant e-mails about it, and I thought it was humorous. Then I started looking at where it was coming from. Once I turned up as a character in a novel — and a tennis star from India wore the T-shirt at Wimbledon. It seemed like a teaching moment — and so I wrote a book using the title.
9. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
— Misattributed to Oscar Wilde
This quote is unsourced and nowhere to be found in Oscar Wilde’s writings. It is likely an abridged interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s thoughts and personality… in the form of a misquotation. Fret not. If you enjoy this quote, there are verified alternatives:
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
— De Profundis
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— The Critic as Artist
10.“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Misattributed to Mark Twain
We’ve all been guilty of quoting this at one point in our lives, yet the quote’s attribution to Mark Twain cannot be verified. The earliest documented evidence of this quote is found in H. Jackson Brown Jr’s P.S. I Love You, a collection of quotes and maxims attributed to his mother.
With that said, the misattribution shouldn’t discount the value of this inspirational quote. So go forth now! Explore. Dream. Discover! (Just do your best not to misquote anybody while you’re at it.)
This post originally appeared on the Quotesome blog.