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Beam Me Up Scotty: Literature
  • "Elementary, my dear Watson" was never in a Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes book or story. Although Holmes did express similar sentiments often [he said "elementary" on a couple of occasions and frequently addressed Watson as "my dear Watson" (or my dear fellow, or my dear doctor. Holmes was quite possessive), and William Gillette's play came nearer with Holmes saying, "Elementary my dear fellow!", the actual phrase originates in a P. G. Wodehouse tale called Psmith, Journalist.
    • The closest Doyle came to writing it was in "The Crooked Man":
      "I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
      "Excellent!" I cried.
      "Elementary," said he.
    • In John Cleese's parody The Strange Case of the End of Civilization As We Know It, this is lampshaded, with "Watson" calling for help on a crossword, and "Holmes" answering with repeated homonyms of "elementary", followed by "my dear Watson".
    • Watson breaks out an "elementary, my dear..." in the Rathbone/Bruce film Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.
    • Holmes is never described by Conan Doyle as wearing a deerstalker. This came about from the original illustrations. William Gillette took inspiration from the Sidney Paget illustrations in costuming his play, and later Basil Rathbone used the same such costuming in his famous films, effectively cementing the image in the public mind. Later illustrations would have him wearing the rural hat in a city, quite a faux pas.
      • The exact description is earflapped travelling cap; Sidney Paget's classic illustration, showing a deerstalker, strongly suggests that few if any other types of headgear would be conjured by that description, just as the phrase "a straw hat" would (at that time) invariably suggest a boater.
      • It is also worth noting that the cape and deerstalker were outdoor clothing, and would only have been worn when Holmes was active in rural settings. Sporting such attire in central London or indoors, as he is often portrayed in popular culture, would be equivalent to a modern detective wearing an anorak, walking boots, and a woolen hat in the same locations. In other words, he'd look pretty silly.
      • One case of this being done correctly was the Classics Illustrated Junior adaptation of A Study In Scarlet, where Holmes wears both quite often, because many scene take place in the Midwest, outdoors, at night. Even in summer, Midwestern nights can be very cold.
    • In the early twentieth century, for whatever reason the popular catchphrase for Holmes was "Quick, Watson, the needle!" referring to the detective's drug habit. Not only was nothing like this line ever uttered in the stories themselves, but it doesn't even make sense as something that Holmes would say; Watson, who was bothered by Holmes' drug use, would be unlikely to assist him in it.
      • That phrase actually comes from The Red Mill, a 1906 comic operetta by Victor Herbert (of Babes in Toyland fame). It comes in a scene where the two Con Man protagonists are disguised as Holmes and Watson. (Basil Rathbone also uses a similar phrase - "Oh, Watson? The needle!" - at the end of the 1939 film of The Hound of the Baskervilles.)
  • Machiavelli never said "the ends justify the means", which is a mistranslation. His exact quote is "si guarda al fine", which should be translated to "one must think of the final result" in regards to the ultimate effect a prince's words and actions have on his image.
    • Ironically, Machiavelli would likely disagree with the statement "the ends justify the means". Machiavelli cares very much about the means. If a prince were to choose a means which would anger his populace, then it would invoke hatred from his populace, which Machiavelli considers to be the absolute worst position for a prince to be in.
    • Similarly, the line is "It is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both", not "It is better to be feared than loved", and the message that it was best to be respected. Also, there's that whole "avoid being hated" thing that everyone seems to forget.
  • The first poem in the Mother Goose book of rhymes starts "Find a pin, pick it up", not "Find a penny, pick it up."
    • And not "See a pin/penny" either.
  • None of Enid Blyton's The Famous Five books include the phrase "lashings of ginger beer". That comes from the infamous Made-for-TV Movie parodies by British comedy troupe The Comic Strip, "Five Go Mad In Dorset" and "Five Go Mad on Mescalin". It has its origins in the Five's (or at least their human members') penchant for ginger beer and the fact that their lovingly described meals do frequently sport lashings of an appropriate accompaniment such as gravy or cream.
  • There is no-one to say "follow the white rabbit" in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; the line only appears in The Matrix.
    • Also, aside from the title, the word "Wonderland" is never used anywhere in the book. The title was a last minute change because Carroll's publishers suggested it should sound more whimsical. (The original title was Alice's Adventures Underground)
  • Hagrid's oft-quoted line "you're a wizard, Harry" appears only in the first Harry Potter film — in the book, his line was "Harry — yer a wizard".
    • Also, Voldemort's line "There is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it," is this when applied to the book, where the line was "...that there is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it," and spoken by Quirrell, not Voldemort, as part of a much longer monologue with a different tone before Voldemort even puts in an appearance. Voldemort does say the line in the movie, though.
    • Ron never says his movie Catch Phrase ("bloody hell!") in any of the books. However, there are many instances in the books when "Ron swore loudly", so perhaps he was saying "bloody hell" each of those times.
    • "Wait 'till my father hears about this!" is often thought of as Draco Malfoy's catchphrase. Not only is it in none of the books, he only says it with that wording once in all eight films, during this scene. There are two more instances of him saying a variation on the phrase, "Wait until my father hears Dumbledore's got this oaf teaching classes!" in the third film and "My father will hear about this!" in the fourth film, but that's it.
    • A more meta example. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger are often referred to by Rowling (and her fans) as the Golden Trio. Nobody in the books ever call them that, but don't tell the fanfic writers that, where it's a common nickname.
  • Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is often quoted as "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink"; the actual line is "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink"
  • Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". Often misquoted as either "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" or "Methinks thou doth protest too much."
    • Also most people when quoting the line misuse "protest." At the time "protest" meant "a formal declaration," NOT "a statement against." Gertrude is complaining that the lady is stating her allegiance and love for her lord *too much* not complaining that the lady is being overly contrary.
    • Hamlet's line in the graveyard is generally quoted as 'Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him well'. What he actually said was 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.
  • Not a quote, but reference is frequently made to Robinson Crusoe finding Friday's footprint in the sand. The footprint he finds could have belonged to any one of several dozen "savages"; it was almost certainly not Friday's.
  • "'Will you walk into my parlor,' said the spider to the fly", not "come into my parlor."
    • The poem at The Other Wiki, in case you didn't even realize it was a (mis-)quotation in the first place.
    • The mistake here was also perpetuated by The Cure, who misquote it in their son "Lullaby" as come in to my parlour, said the spider to the fly, I have something here...
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes did not say "Boston is the hub of the universe." The line from "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" is "Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar." One commenter notes "'universe' for 'solar system' can be overlooked, but 'Boston' for 'Boston State-House' is unpardonable."
  • The Devil's Dictionary said the brain was "An apparatus with which we think what we think", not "An apparatus with which we think we think."
  • 1984 is about "doublethink", "newspeak", "crimethink", "goodsex", "sexcrime" and "duckspeak", not "double talk", "groupthink" or "doublespeak".
  • In Spanish-speaking countries, it is very common to attribute to Don Quixote the expression "Ladran, Sancho, señal que cabalgamos" ("There's barking, Sancho, it shows that we're riding") — in other words, to succeed, one has to face criticism from envious people. This is an abbreviated version of the following exchange:
    Sancho: Señor, señor, que nos ladran los perros.
    Don Quijote: Señal que cabalgamos, Sancho.
    The translation could be like this
    Sancho: Sir, sir, that the dogs bark at us.
    Don: A sign that we ride, Sancho.
    • Another example is (mis)quoted to Don Quixote: Con la Iglesia hemos topado, Sancho.¡ Could be translated as: With the Church we have encountered, Sancho. With the replacement of the word dado by topado, and completely foreign to the context of that chapter, the phrase has been used to indicate that the Church or some other authority stands in the execution of a project. In Part II, chapter IX, we read:
      Don Quixote took the lead, and having gone a matter of two hundred paces he came upon the mass that produced the shade, and found it was a great tower, and then he perceived that the building in question was no palace, but the chief church of the town, and said he, "It's the church we have lit upon, Sancho."
  • The title line from John Donne's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is often misquoted as "Ask not for whom the bell tolls", though it is actually "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls".
  • Ask "What is the meaning of life?" on the Internet and it's almost guaranteed that somebody will respond "42." Technically, 42 isn't the meaning of life - rather, it is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, whatever that may be.
    • Six by nine, of course.
  • "The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry," is frequently attributed to Robert Burns, but the actual line in his poem To a Mouse is: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley"—which means the same thing.
    • John Brunner got this right when he composed a feghoot ending "The best-paid gangs of Meissen men scheme AFTER Clay."
  • The poem "In Flanders Fields" opens "In Flanders fields the poppies blow", not "grow". Even the author (John McCrae) made this error when asked to supply a fair copy several years later.
  • Dante never referred to The Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia) by that name: he simply called it Commedia ("comedy"). The epithet "divine" was added by Boccaccio.
  • Poet Dylan Thomas's last words are often given as "I've just had eighteen straight whiskeys in a row - I do believe that is some sort of record", but he actually said the far less triumphant "After 39 years, this is all I've done".
  • In Parson Weems's story about the young George Washington, he never says "I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.", because he doesn't chop it down, he "barks" it, slicing the bark off with a hatchet. He also didn't say "I did it with my little hatchet."
    The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; ...he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house; ... Nobody could tell him anything about it... "George," said his father, " do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? " This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all- conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." "Run to my arms, you dearest boy," cried his father in transports, "run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold."
  • A number of lines and names associated with Frankenstein are not in the original novel:
    • Frankenstein never said, "It's alive!" when he gave life to his creature. This line first arose in the 1931 film adaptation.
    • Frankenstein is the name of the man, not the creation, which is never named. Even calling it "Frankenstein's Monster" is not strictly correct, since the term "monster" isn't the only term used to describe it. Various terms, including "demon" and "ogre" are used, though "creature," coming from the word "create," seems to be the most generally appropriate.
    • Adam as the creature's name is also not stated in the novel. The creature does refer to himself as the "Adam of [Victor's] labours" but this is not his given name.
    • Victor Frankenstein is never called "Doctor Frankenstein," since he never receives his doctorate. He's only a student when the creature is born.
    • All accounts of lightning-powered animation, or the theft and stitching together of corpse parts to make the creature, are later additions (though the part-collecting is implied). Frankenstein's narrative deliberately omits any mention of how he brought his creation to life, as he didn't want anyone to repeat his mistakes.
    • In a misinterpretation of the movie itself, popular portrayals of the story somehow seem fit to have a mob go after Frankenstein's blood with torches and pitchforks because of the monster. Among the details glossed over about the mob scene as presented in the movie, there are three mobs, each focused solely on an organized "search and destroy" operation targeting only the monster, and Frankenstein himself is the leader of one of those mobs, searching for the monster in the mountains.
  • This phenomenon is discussed in More Information Than You Require, which jokingly claims, among other things, that when Franklin D. Roosevelt said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he was, in fact, referring to just his cabinet, who were protected by a thick steel wall. "Normal Americans need to be afraid, very afraid indeed. And not just of the Depression, but also flash floods, night-stabbers, and plague."
  • "The spice must flow!", while spoken by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the '84 Lynch film and spoken often, was never actually in any of the six Dune books.
    • The popular chant "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion", while it sounds like something from the books and is quoted all the time by sci-fi geeks, is nowhere found in the original book, nor is the premise quite the same. It was written by Lynch for the movie.
      • The programmers' version, which credits caffeine, was composed by Mark Stein at the 1993 Arisia science fiction convention in Boston.
      It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.
      It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed,
      the hands acquire shakes, the shakes become a warning.
      It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.
  • The Three Musketeers' "One for all, all for one." D'Artagnan only said it once, when he was trying to convince Athos, Porthos, and Aramis that he wasn't committing a selfish act by letting the husband of his lover be taken to jail by the Cardinal's guards.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Gandalf never said "You shall not pass!" in the book, only in the movie. His full line in the book goes:
    'You cannot pass,' he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. 'I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.'
    • Note also that he says the lines in a calm manner, as opposed to dramatically shouting them like he does in the movie, and perhaps similar to Obi-Wan's demeanor when facing Vader for the last time in Star Wars. Gandalf also says "You cannot pass!" again after blocking the Balrog's sword strike, but never "You shall not pass". Also, in the book, he says "Fly, you fools!" during his fall down the abyss. The book does however say that he "cried aloud" when he smote the bridge, which is when the movie version of him yells it.
    • Gandalf's defiance of the Lord of the Nazgul at the gates of Minas Tirith is similar:
    'You cannot enter here,' said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. 'Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!'
    • The oft-quoted line "Not all who wander are lost" is a slight rephrase from the marginally less quotable "Not all those who wander are lost". While the more well-known phrasing might be a bit more pithy and poetic on its own, the poem that it's from ("The Riddle of Strider" from The Fellowship of the Ring) is written in a verse form with eight syllables in each line, necessitating the extra word.
    • In The Hobbit Smaug never says "I am king under the mountain!" He did say it, however, in TheDesolationOfSmaug the second film.
  • The often misquoted line from The Aeneid, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," is actually a mistranslation of the original phrase, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." The correct translation is, "I fear the Greeks, even if they bear gifts." note 
  • The proverb "There's no smoke without fire" is an example. The original Latin proverb actually translates as "There's no fire without some smoke".
  • In The Hunting of the Snark, if your snark turns out to be a boojum, "You will softly and suddenly vanish away, / And never be met with again." Not "softly and silently", as generally misquoted.
    • "Silently vanish away" is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Day Is Done".
  • Also, there is no "Mad Hatter" in Alice in Wonderland, only a "Hatter" who is mentioned as being mad. Same goes for the "Mad March Hare".
  • In The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, Ogilvy never said "The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one." Instead he said "The chances against anything manlike coming from Mars are a million to one." The first quote is from the musical by Jeff Wayne.
  • The expression "survival of the fittest" generally is attributed to Charles Darwin, but it was actually coined by Herbert Spencer. Note that the phrase almost always is used incorrectly: "the fittest" does not mean "the strongest individual". A much more accurate paraphrase is "the individual or trait that fits the best within a particular environment". (This use of "fittest" is no longer common in modern English.)
    • This is why "fit or fat" is a misnomer.
  • A Christmas Carol's Ebenezer Scrooge is often observed as having said "Bah-humbug!", but most works miss the emphasis. The phrase is given like it's all one word, whereas "Bah" is actually an interjection of disgust, e.g. "Bah! Humbug!"
    • And in film and stage adaptations, he tends to say it many more times than in the novel.
    • He tends to say "Humbug!" by itself in the book, too. He only says "Bah! Humbug!" twice.
  • The famous British magazine Punch contained many satirical cartoons with captions, all of which are understood in the popular imagination to end with a dry, brief line like "Collapse of Stout Party" when in fact of none of them did. Ronald Pearsall notes this in the introduction to his book Collapse of Stout Party: Victorian wit and humour:
    To many people Victorian wit and humour is summed up by Punch, when every joke is supposed to end with "Collapse of Stout Party", though this phrase tends to be as elusive as "Elementary, my dear Watson" in the Sherlock Holmes sagas.
  • In Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky, the nonsense word "borogoves" is often mispronounced "borogroves."
  • The line is "Second to the right and straight on till morning." The Disney version changed it to "Second star to the right...", probably in an effort to make more sense...even though it wasn't supposed to make sense, since Peter had made it up on the spot in an effort to impress Wendy. The whole "think happy thoughts and you'll be able to fly" thing was a similar made-up bit of information by Peter—he wanted to confuse Wendy and her brothers by trying to make them fly before they had any fairy dust, the thing you really need to fly. (And it's fairy dust, not pixie dust). But try telling that to any adaptation...
    • Fairy dust wasn't even in the original play. Barrie put it in because someone warned him kids might hurt themselves trying to see if you could really fly on happy thoughts.
  • William Cowper's Light Shining Out Of Darkness: "God moves in a mysterious way", not "God moves in mysterious ways"
  • Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade includes the following lines: "Theirs is not to make reply, / Theirs is not to reason why, / Theirs is but to do & die [...]" At varying points you will see "Ours" exchanged for "Theirs," which is reasonably justifiable, but to use the line "Theirs (or Ours) is but to do OR die" should merit flogging, at the least.
    • And it's not "theirs not to question why".
  • José Rizal's poem popularly known as Mi Ultimo Adiós was originally untitled. The title was added posthumously, and the phrase itself nowhere appears in the text.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche is variously quoted as writing something like "when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back", or myriad variations. The original phrase used by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil is: "And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."
  • Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men never said "Which way did he go, George?".
  • T. S. Eliot's poem the Hollow Men states "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper." instead of"with a whisper"
  • Many twee quotes commonly attributed to A. A. Milne come not from his Winnie the Pooh books but from Disney greeting cards and Direct-to-Video movies. For instance, "You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think" comes from the 1997 video Pooh's Grand Adventure, with which Milne (d. 1956) obviously had little to do. Nor did Milne's Pooh ever say "Today is my favorite day," or "If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus one day, so I never have to live a day without you."


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