“Be the change…” Gandhi? No. Stop misattributing quotes
There is a rampant problem on social media – misattributed quotes. Are you guilty? I bet you are.
- “Not everything you read on the internet is true.” – Abraham Lincoln
They’re everywhere, like diseases. I hate quotes, particularly the cloying inspirational kind (“Be the change you wish to see in the world!” No, YOU be the change I wish to see in the world. I wish people would stop posting syrupy quotes). But, even worse is when you tack the words “Mahatma Gandhi” on at the end – because there’s actually no evidence that Gandhi ever said that.
The internet is teeming – TEEMING I TELL YOU – with misattributed quotes, and misquotes, that just keep getting shared and shared, often by the very same people who claim to care about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like. Sure. Great. But won’t you spare some pity for truth and accuracy of information? Oh, please, won’t you?
Often, people are even just reposting half-baked platitudes not even deserving of quotation marks. Why would you even do that?
- “If there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s misattribution of quotations.” – Julius Caesar
Here’s the thing: when you don’t check your quotes you not only look kind of dumb, you’re spreading lies. It’s sort of like how people post “news” stories on Facebook without checking their veracity. But we’ll talk about that another time.
The other day someone I know posted the following quote on Facebook:
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein
And I was like, yeah, that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Albert Einstein would say.
A little recognizance proved, of course, that I was right, and that Albert Einstein very probably didn’t say the thing. And I don’t know if he would appreciate the misattribution, were he alive today.
Another one I saw recently:
“To all the girls that think you’re fat because you’re not a size zero, you’re the beautiful one, its society who’s ugly.” – Marilyn Monroe
Really? I don’t even need to look this one up BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS A SIZE ZERO DURING MARILYN MONROE’S LIFETIME. Sorry for getting all capsy, but come on, people.
In fact, while trying to find that exact quote I came across a whole page of quotations misattributed to MM. Fancy that.
Even if you think for sure you know who said it. Check it. This month alone I turned out to be wrong about two quotes. Thank goodness I looked them up.
- “When you misattribute quotes, you are spreading lies like fungus. And soon nobody will know truth from lies. That way lies only darkness.” – William Shakespeare
So, let’s all just stop posting quotes without checking them. OK? It will make the internet a better place.
In the immortal words of David Ogilvy, “check your quotes.”
Here are five quotes you probably didn’t know are usually misattributed:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” This is almost always attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It should in fact be attributed to Mary Schmich.
“Substitute ‘Damn’ Every Time You’re Inclined to Write ‘Very.’” Famously said by Mark Twain, right? No. More likely someone named William Allen White.
“Let them eat cake.” French queen Marie Antoinette never said this. There is no record of it anywhere. A similar phrase appears in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions – a “great princess” is quoted as saying “let them eat brioche” – but that book was finished in 1769 and Marie Antoinette didn’t arrive in France until 1770 (when she was 14 years old).
“I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.” Or “I did it with my little hatchet.” George Washington? The line comes from biographer Parson Weems’ 1800 book about Washington and the tale is apocryphal.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This was not said, as most people think, by Voltaire, but by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote the words in her book The Friends of Voltaire.