Here are 15 of the most misattributed quotes of all time. Who’s to blame? The media and the way it portrayed these sayings:
1. W C Fields
“Anybody who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad.”
Actually said by: Leo Rosten: at a dinner introducing Fields.
2. Horace Greeley
“Go west, young man!”
Actually said by: John Soule
3. Mark Twain
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!”
Actually said by: Charles Dudley Warner
4. Charles Darwin
Survival of the fittest.
Actually said by: Herbert Spencer (Principles of Biology and earlier works)
5. Thomas Jefferson
“That government is best which governs least.”
Actually said by: Henry David Thoreau (who put it in quotation marks in ‘Civil Disobedience’ and called it a motto)
6. The Bible
Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Actually said by: John Wesley (Sermons, no 93, ‘On Dress’)
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Actually said by: Lao-Tzu (To Te Ching)
8. The Bible
“God helps those who helps themselves.”
Actually said by: Aesop (“The gods help them that help themselves”)
9. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
“God is in the details.”
Actually said by: Francois Rabelais
10. Harry S Truman
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Actually said by: Harry Vaughn (Truman’s friend, whom Truman was quoting)
11. Vladimir Lenin
Promises are like pie crust, made to be broken.
Actually said by: Jonathan Swift
12. Leo Durocher
“Nice guys finish last.”
He actually said, “Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys – finish last.” Elision of the subordinate conjunction in the final sentence turned an evaluation into a declaration that nice people are doomed to failure.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (“Je désapprouve ce que vous dites, mais je défendrai à la mort votre droit à le dire”)
He actually said, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too” from Voltaire’s Essay on Tolerance – that certainly doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The misquote actually comes from a 1907 book called Friends of Voltaire, by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
He actually said, ““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.”
15. Dr. Seuss
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Actually Said by: Woody Allen
About Alex Noudelman
Alex Noudelman is a digital marketing expert at iRISEmedia. He received his Honors B.A. from York University and a Masters in Adolescent Education from D’Youville College.