Famous Quotes, Misquotes, False Quotes, and Misattributed quotes
This post is inspired by a skit John Oliver did recently on his show, Last Week Tonight about famous misquotes. I have been meaning to write this for months and I could not find enough famous misquotes to fill the post. In my search for accuracy in writing my posts, I have found a number of famous quotes that I thought were accurate, but when I looked them up, there was no record of the person ever saying it. To make matters worse, the internet is rife with errors, that anyone can find a picture of a famous person and add words to it and make it seem real to any reader.
When it comes to famous quotes, there are many types of errors that appear all over the internet. Most of these quotes fall into three categories:
- False Quotes – Famous quotes that were not actually said by the person being quoted. This is where the original source is not known.
- Mis-Attributed Quotes – Famous quotes attributed to the wrong person. Frequently a more famous person gets the credit of a quote.
- Misquotes – Famous quotes that are not accurately transposed – Many times the errors are small or the quote is paraphrased.
The obvious problem is the internet is both a place for people to have fun as well as a place for people to do research. What is real simply fades into the background. It is much easier to just pull something you see from a website that seems reputable than to actually research the quote and its accuracy. This is why many of these quotes go undisputed for years.
Some of the more common famous people with quote errors are Albert Einstein, Buddha, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, and Mark Twain. I tried to limit the number of quotes attributed to each of these people but it was a bit of a challenge. Movies are also another common source of famous quote errors. I also tried to limit these since they tend to be misquoted frequently and it is less important to get these correct. It is much more important that the president of the United States correctly quote a founding father.
If you didn’t watch John’s skit, here is the link to watch it.:
This is my collection of Misquotes, False Quotes, and Misattributed Quotes from famous people. Enjoy
Misquotes are quotes that are not accurate. The person may have said something similar or the quote may have been paraphrased from the original source. Some of these misquotes are material differences and some are minor. This is a list of famous quotes that are actually misquotes.
- “If you have to ask how much they are, you can’t afford one.” — J.P. Morgan (misquoted) Correct Version: “You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question.” – J.P. Morgan
- “Money is the root of all evil.” (misquote) “The love of money is the root of all evil”, according to Timothy 6:10 from the King James Bible
- “Nice guys finish last.” — Leo Durocher (misquote) Correct version: “Nice guys actually finish seventh.”
- “The devil is in the details.” — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (misquote) Correct version: “God is in the details.”
- “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal and hoping someone else will get burned.” — Buddha (misquote) “When we direct anger at another, it comes right back to us—like fine dust thrown against the wind.”
- “Elementary my dear Watson.” —Sherlock Holmes (misquote) appears in, P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist
- “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong (misquote) correct phrase: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
- “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (misquote) “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
- “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” — Oscar Wilde (misquoted) “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”
- “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill (misquoted) “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”
- “Play it again, Sam.” — Ingrid Bergman (in Casablanca) (misquoted) “Play it Sam.”
Famous False Quotes
This list of famous quotes includes some of the more common ones I have seen. I have left out some of the obscure ones since many people may not know the speaker. If you know of some other notable ones I have missed, please leave a comment in the section below or send me a note so I can improve the list.
- “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” – Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
- “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent” — Thomas Jefferson (true source unknown)
- “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” — Benjamin Franklin (true source unknown)
- “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
- “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” — Mark Twain, or Jack Benny, or Muhammad Ali (true source unknown)
- “I cannot tell a lie. I cut down the cherry tree.” — George Washington (true source unknown)
- “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
- “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.” — Albert Camus (true source unknown)
- “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity.” –Albert Einstein (true source unknown)
- “Bigamy is having a wife too many, monogamy is having the same.” — Oscar Wilde (true source unknown)
- “Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.” — Oscar Wilde (true source unknown)
- “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
- “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” — Mark Twain (true source unknown)
- “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” –Mahatma Gandhi (true source unknown)
- “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead (true source unknown)
- “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” — Abraham Lincoln (true source unknown)
Famous Misattributed Quotes
This is a list of famous quotes that are misattributed or attributed to a different person than who originated it. Some of these quotes on this list are accurate, but the quote was not originated with this person. This means they are just quoting someone else.
- “You can’t build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down.” — John Kasich (possible correct source: Rev. William J. H. Boetcker)
- “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes.” — Andrew Jackson (possible correct source: Colonel William Prescott)
- “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” –Albert Einstein (possible correct source: Kurt Vonnegut and misquoted from, “Any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year -old what he was doing was a charlatan.”)
- “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they tried everything else.” — Winston Churchill (possible correct source: F. E. Smith)
- “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” — not Marilyn Monroe (possible source: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)
- “There’s a sucker born every minute.” — not P.T. Barnum (possible source: Adam Forepaugh)
- “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” —The Buddha (possible source: Swami Sivananda)
- “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” —Abraham Lincoln (origins unknown. Bill Clinton used this quote attributing it to Lincoln)
- “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” —Virginia Woolf (possible source: Michael Cunningham)
- “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” —Teddy Roosevelt (he did say this, but didn’t originate it. It originated from an African proverb)
- “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” — Vince Lombardi (he did say it, but did not originate it. It was first said by Red Sanders)
- “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein (possible source: Rita Mae Brown)
- “The ends justify the means.” — Niccolo Machiavelli (possible source: Roman poet Ovid)
- “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” — Winston Churchill (possible source: Francois Guizot)
- “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” — Nelson Mandela (possible source: Marianne Williamson)
- “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” — Dr. Seuss (possible source: Mr. Davies)
- “Standing on the shoulders of giants” — Sir Isaac Newton (possible correct source: Bernard of Chartres)
- “Let them eat cake.” — Marie Antoinette (possible correct source: Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
- “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire (correct answer: Evelyn Beatrice Hall)
- “Success is not final, Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill (possible correct source: Don Shula)
Funny Images of Famous People with Quotes Attached
I have to add this at the end of this post because I found so many images of famous people with funny quotes on them. I hope you enjoy, and please don’t think any of these are real.
Please send me your favorite misquote. I want to continue to build up this collection. Please add them to the comments section.
About the author: Kirk Chisholm is a Wealth Manager and Principal at Innovative Advisory Group. His roles at IAG are co-chair of the Investment Committee and Head of the Traditional Investment Risk Management Group. His background and areas of focus are portfolio management and investment analysis in both the traditional and alternative investment markets. He received a BA degree in Economics from Trinity College in Hartford, CT.