50 Famous Misquotations (and What Was Really Said)

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Don't believe everything you read online (or see posted in a cheesy mockup on Instagram, for that matter). Below are 50 examples of popular sayings that are actually misquotes or misattributions. Study up, because regardless of what that girl who went to your high school posted on Facebook, Marilyn Monroe probably didn't say it.

1. "I MOURN THE LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF PRECIOUS LIVES, BUT I WILL NOT REJOICE IN THE DEATH OF ONE, NOT EVEN AN ENEMY."

That quote, which went viral after Osama Bin Laden's death, is most often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. However, it actually came from the Facebook status of a 24-year-old English teacher.

2. "WEAR SUNSCREEN."

You know that famous Kurt Vonnegut commencement address that begins, "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 1997: Wear sunscreen?" You know, that one that was such a brilliant speech that Baz Luhrmann turned it into a hit song, and was so genius that when Vonnegut's wife, Jill Krementz, got an email containing the transcript, she forwarded it to the kids? Yeah, Vonnegut didn't give that speech. The text was actually an article from The Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich.

3. "BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD."

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Gandhi never said this. What he actually said, according to The New York Times: “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.”

4. "FIRST THEY IGNORE YOU. THEN THEY LAUGH AT YOU. THEN THEY ATTACK YOU. THEN YOU WIN."

Gandhi probably didn't say this, either. However, The Christian Science Monitor points out that it's incredibly close to a speech union activist Nicholas Klein delivered in 1918: "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America."

5. "THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS."

Machiavelli never said this, or its Italian equivalent. What he actually said is, "One must consider the final result," which just isn't as catchy.

6. "OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS NOT THAT WE ARE INADEQUATE. OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS THAT WE ARE POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE."

Nope, that wasn't Nelson Mandela, but instead a passage from self-help guru Marianne Williamson's 1992 tome.

7. "MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL."

Here's what the Bible actually says: "The love of money is the root of all evil."

8. "THE LION SHALL LAY DOWN WITH THE LAMB."

The Bible doesn't say this, either. Isaiah 11:6 actually states, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together."

9. "THAT'S ONE SMALL STEP FOR MAN, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND."


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This one doesn't make sense to begin with, because man and mankind are synonyms. Fortunately for Neil Armstrong, that's apparently not what he actually said. The transmission blurred the fact that he said, "One small step for a man."

10. "HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM."

This was never spoken by Jim Lovell on the Apollo 13. But Tom Hanks does say it in the movie.

11. "FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION."

No one on the Apollo 13 crew uttered this line, either. After all, the whole situation had arisen because failure clearly was an option.

12. "LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES."

Speaking of Tom Hanks, that Forrest Gump quote is actually "Life was like a box of chocolates."

13. "ME TARZAN. YOU JANE."

This one was never said in any version of Tarzan the Ape Man.

14. "DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?"

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry actually says, "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" Either way, it's fine with us as long as he doesn't say it to an empty chair.

15. "MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL …"

The Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs conjures up her BFF by calling him "Magic mirror"—not by saying "mirror" twice.

16. "I WANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD."

Dracula never said this.

17. "HE'S ALIVE."

Speaking of fictional monsters, Dr. Henry Frankenstein actually says, "It's alive!" in the 1931 film based on Mary Shelley's classic. Also, his assistant is not named Igor—his name is Fritz—and just so we're clear, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster he whipped up in the laboratory.

18. "I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN KANSAS ANYMORE."

When Dorothy and her trusty canine first land in Oz, what she actually says is, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

19. "IT'S LIFE, JIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT."

Spock's supposed quote actually comes from from "Star Trekkin", a song by The Firm. This is the very same song that brought us the beautiful lyrics, "Star Trekkin' across the universe/On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk/Star Trekkin' across the universe/Boldly going forward, still can't find reverse."

20. "BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY."

And Captain Kirk never said this exact phrase, although he did urge Scotty on more than one occasion to get him back to the ship, stat.

21. "A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME SMELLS JUST AS SWEET."

Of course, Captain Kirk himself was responsible for popularizing a misquote of the Bard. The actual quote, as written by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet is, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."

22. "BUBBLE, BUBBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE."

 

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

Poor Shakespeare would be alarmed by how frequently he's misquoted. This line from Macbeth actually begins, "Double, double."

23. "ALAS, POOR YORICK! I KNEW HIM WELL."

The opening line of Hamlet's famous monologue is actually, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"

24. "METHINKS THE LADY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH."

And Queen Gertrude doesn't say, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" in Shakespeare's text. Instead, that "methinks" arrives at the end of the quote.

25. "ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD."

The Merchant of Venice warns that "All that glisters is not gold." There's no mention of glistening or glittering. It seems Smash Mouth wasn't as well versed in Shakespeare as they wanted to appear.

26. "HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED."

This one's actually adapted from William Congreve, a late 17th century English writer. He originally wrote, "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

27. "DREAMS ARE THE ROYAL ROAD TO THE UNCONSCIOUS."

In his early 20th century work The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud expressed this in a much more nuanced manner, writing, "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."

28. "SOMETIMES A CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR."


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Though it's attributed to Freud, historians seem to agree that this one is probably apocryphal.

29. "I DISAPPROVE OF WHAT YOU SAY, BUT I WILL DEFEND TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT."

This words weren't written by Voltaire after all, but were instead a summary of his attitude towards a contemporary by the author S.G. Tallentyre in 1907.

30. "I CANNOT TELL A LIE."

This one, supposedly uttered by a young (and guilty) George Washington after he cut down a cherry tree, was actually fabricated by his 19th century biographer.

31. "IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE ME AT MY WORST, YOU DON'T DESERVE ME AT MY BEST."

Despite what Tumblr and Pinterest would have you believe, no one can prove that Marilyn Monroe ever actually said this.

32. "WELL-BEHAVED WOMEN RARELY MAKE HISTORY."

And she definitely didn't say this. A University of New Hampshire student by the name of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who would go on to become a Harvard professor, should get the credit.

33. "MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU."

Surprisingly, Obi Wan Kenobi never says this in the original Star Wars trilogy. Han Solo does.

34. "LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER."

This one is actually, "No, I am your father."

35. "HELLO, CLARICE."

This now-iconic greeting doesn't actually appear in The Silence of the Lambs.

36. "I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING."

The most popular version of this quote has been condensed significantly from Kilgore's actual Apocalypse Now monologue.

37. "YOU WANT THE TRUTH? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH."

In A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character never utters the first part of the quote that's so often attributed to him.

38. "THE ONLY TRADITIONS OF THE ROYAL NAVY ARE RUM, SODOMY, AND THE LASH."

Although Winston Churchill would go on to say he wished he'd come up with this one, these words weren't his. Instead, they were spoken by his assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne.

39. "BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS."

Churchill did say, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," but that's much less catchy than the "blood, sweat, and tears" that caught on.

40. "THE BRITISH ARE COMING!"

Paul Revere probably didn't say this. The iconic line attributed to him was taken from the patriotic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere's Ride."

41. "THE ONLY TWO CERTAINTIES IN LIFE ARE DEATH AND TAXES."


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Mark Twain gets credit for saying most of the things that have ever been said in human history, including, "The only two certainties in life are death and taxes." But that was in fact either Edward Ward or Christopher Bullock.

42. "I HAVE NEVER KILLED A MAN, BUT I HAVE READ MANY OBITUARIES WITH GREAT PLEASURE."

Twain also didn't say this. That's a shortened version of a Clarence Darrow quote.

43. "REPORTS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED."

When Twain wrote a response to his rumored death in the New York Journal in 1897, he did not say this. He simply said, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

44. "DON'T FIRE 'TIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES."

A soldier by the name of Israel Putnam—relaying orders from Colonel William Prescott—actually said this, not Andrew Jackson.

45. "THE JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP."

The actual quote—“A journey of 400 miles begins beneath one’s feet”—was Lao Tzu, not Confucius.

46. "A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING."

This is a misquote of Alexander Pope's original statement, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

47. "WALK SOFTLY, BUT CARRY A BIG STICK."

The actual Teddy Roosevelt quote

is, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

48. "GO CONFIDENTLY IN THE DIRECTION OF YOUR DREAMS! LIVE THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED."

Here's what Henry David Thoreau really said (we admit, it isn't quite as pithy):

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness."

49. "[I] DID EVERYTHING FRED ASTAIRE DID, BUT BACKWARDS AND IN HIGH HEELS."


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Ginger Rogers never said this about dance partner Fred Astaire. And in fact, in her autobiography My Story, she writes that the quotation actually came from a newspaper comic.

50. "LET THEM EAT CAKE!"

Marie Antoinette never said this—the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau did. What's more, he wasn't even talking about Marie, or cake. He wrote, "Let them eat brioche!"

Can You Ever Truly Lose Your Accent?

DGLimages, iStock via Getty Images
DGLimages, iStock via Getty Images

You may be able to pull off a Spanish accent when showing off your Antonio Banderas impression, but truly losing your native accent and replacing it with a new one is a lot harder to do. The way you speak now will likely stick with you for life.

According to Smithsonian, our accent develops as early as 6 months old—accents being the pronunciation conventions of a language shaped by factors like region, culture, and class. When a baby is learning the words for nap and dad and play, they're also learning how to pronounce the sounds in those words from the people around them. Newborn brains are wired to recognize and learn languages just from being exposed to them. By the time babies start talking, they know the "right" pronunciations to use for their native language or languages.

As you get older, your innate understanding of foreign accents and languages gets weaker. If you're an English speaker raised in Boston, you may think that the way someone from Dallas speaks English sounds "wrong" without being able to articulate what it is that makes them sound different. This is why pulling off a convincing foreign accent can be so difficult, even if you've heard it many times before.

Around age 18, your ability to learn a second language takes a steep nosedive. The same may be true with your ability to speak in a new accent. If you immerse yourself in a foreign environment for long enough, you may pick up some ticks of the local accent, but totally adopting a non-native accent without making a conscious effort to maintain it is unlikely as an adult.

There is one exception to this rule, and that's Foreign Accent Syndrome. Following a head injury or stroke, some people have reported suddenly speaking in accents they didn't grow up using. The syndrome is incredibly rare, with only 100 people around the world having been diagnosed with it, and medical experts aren't sure why brain injuries cause it. But while patients may be pronouncing their words differently, they aren't exactly using foreign accents in the way most people think of them; the culprit may be subtle changes to muscle movements in the jaw, tongue, lips, and larynx that change the way patients pronounce certain vowels.

[h/t Smithsonian]

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
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Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
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How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
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Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
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In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
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In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

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